The Rounders Ruffle Folkie Feathers

The Rounders Ruffle Folkie Feathers

When the Holy Modal Rounders got together, after first playing together at the Gaslight, the traditionalists maintained a strict purity—for example, they would not perform songs written after the Great Depression. Around 1963, Peter Stampfel wondered, What would happen if you could take all the Anthology people at the age they were then—you know, young—and introduce them to what was going on in the 1960s—you know, rock ’n’ roll? This was a lot more interesting than following the dictum “Don’t do anything past 1939.” More practically, this meant that whenever Stampfel couldn’t understand the original words from an old, crackling 78 rpm record, he had some creative license. “So the fact that my alterations were actually an improvement was still another reason to not be a cookie-cutter copy.” The Rounders’ self-titled debut was recorded on November 21, 1963, the day before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and its song “Random Canyon” contained the first use of the word psychedelic on record. “Take me back to Random Canyon, where the gryphon’s always riffin’ and the unicorn is horny in the spring,” Stampfel sang in his high-pitched warble, “and the psychedelic sage keeps the cattle in a rage, and the changing range is getting pretty strange.” Stampfel said he wanted to be the groundbreaker, so he very consciously inserted the word psychedelic into his song. The Rounders were irreverent to their core, which ruffled some folkie feathers, and their first album was largely ignored by their target audience—save for folk bible Sing Out! magazine, which dismissed the group as not being serious enough.

From Chapter 15 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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