Reflections on Cataracts and Indiana psychedelic music

Sir Winston and the Commons

  • Sir Winston and the Commons

It was nearly 20 years ago, but I remember like it was yesterday. The high point of my short-lived academic career.

It was the first semester of my freshman year at the high school I would soon be dropping out of and art was my first period class. Our teacher, Mr. Melevage, kept a small tape player on his desk. He typically played only classical music, so it wasn't odd to hear the sound of an orchestra tuning up as I wandered into class groggy-eyed in the morning. But it wasn't Bach's Brandenburg Concertos emanating from the tape deck this time. It was the famous intro to The Beatles' psychedelic masterpiece Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I sat transfixed for the next 40 minutes as a majestic carnival of audio delights poured out of the tiny speakers. This was my first experience with The Beatles' music, or psychedelic music period. The consciousness-expanding attitude of the LP was the perfect antidote to the unbearable conservatism of the suburban wasteland I felt so trapped in. That experience changed my life and initiated my obsession with psychedelic music and art.

That obsession was reignited last Saturday at Garfield Park as I caught the final moments of the Cataracts Music Festival. I arrived late as the festival was winding down. Following the sound of the music, I struggled to find my way through the darkness. I walked toward some lights flickering on the horizon, which turned out to be a performance featuring Friar Sonny und die Berlin Wallflowers. As I approached the band, I was reminded of the famous scene in Tarkovsky's 1966 film classic Andrei Rublev where the movie's protagonist accidentally wanders into a primitive medieval pagan ritual during his nightly walk. The monk Rublev finds himself seduced by the mysterious sensuality of the ceremony he witnesses.

Friar Sonny and band were draped in ancient tunics and flowing dashikis and jamming on a droning, Eastern groove. The psychedelic light show was the only source of illumination in the whole field. As I stood among the gyrating bodies I was transported back to the late 1960s, a time when psychedelic sounds ruled the Indiana rock scene. The Hoosier state produced some of the best underground psychedelic music of the era. So if you're still catching a buzz in the afterglow of Cataracts, then I hope this list of legendary Indiana psych bands will help you continue your trip.

Zerfas - Zerfas (700 West) In the words of local psychedelic music scholar Stan Denski, this self titled LP by Zerfas is "The Sgt. Pepper of the Midwest." Produced and released by the New Palestine-based 700 West Records the LP received little attention until it was rediscovered by the collectors community in the 1990s. "They were a gifted teenage band in a studio with limited technology, using every trick in the book to craft a record that offers surprises with every passing second," Denski says.

Sir Winston and the Commons - We're Gonna Love (Sundazed) This reissue EP collects all releases by one of Indianapolis' best and most important psych/garage acts. "We're Gonna Love" is a fuzz guitar, garage rock classic.

Anonymous - Inside the Shadow (A Major Label) Sir Winston guitarist Ron Matelic recorded this amazing private press LP in 1976. The vocals of Marsha Ervin recall Fairport Convention's Sandy Denny and the band's music has earned comparisons to classic Fleetwood Mac.

Primevil - Smokin' Bats at Campton's (700 West) Heavy psych in the vein of Mountain or Black Sabbath.

Oscar and the Majestics - No Chance Baby (Sundazed) An essential collection of tough, fuzzed-out, blue-eyed soul from Northwest Indiana's premier rock outfit.

Funk Inc. - Chicken Lickin' (Prestige) Funk Inc. are famous for their groove driven soul-jazz sound. But the simmering psychedelic guitar work of Steve Weakley earns them a spot on this list. The paranoid "They Trying To Get Me" rivals Eddie Hazel's furious guitar work on the Funkadelic classic "Maggot Brain" and contains what might be the greatest guitar solo ever pressed to wax by an Indianapolis band.

Coven - Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls (Mercury) Debut release from Indy's satanic rock pioneers. The LP contains a 13-minute recording of an actual satanic mass. Singer Jinx Dawson deserves wider recognition as an influential female rock personality.

The Olivers - Complete Recordings (Break-A-Way) Includes their 1966 classic "Beeker Street" an incredible blast of psychedelic madness from the Fort Wayne-based group.

Ebony Rhythm Band - Soul Heart Transplant (Now Again) Includes the manic psych classic "Drugs Ain't Cool," the band's winning entry in an anti-drug music competition sponsored by then mayor Richard Lugar. According to an interview I did with Ebony bassist Lester Johnson the band promptly "went out and bought about $350 bucks worth of weed with the anti-drug money."

Various - Psychedelic States: Indiana In The 60s Vol. 1(Gear Fab) This essential 2006 comp collects 28 impossibly rare mid 60s psych/garage burners.

Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features a variety of classic Indiana psychedlic rock.

1. The Olivers - Beeker Street

2. Sir Winston and the Commons - We're Gonna Love

3. Oscar and the Majestics - Got To Have Your Lovin'

4. Zerfas - You Never Win

5. Anonymous - J. Rider

6. Coven - White Witch of Rose Hall

7. Primevil - Hey Lover

8. Endd - Project Blue

9. Blues Inc. - Get Off My Back

10. Oscar and the Majestics - House of the Rising Sun

11. Ebony Rhythm Band - Drugs Ain't Cool

12. Zerfas - Fool's Paradise

13. Endd - Come On In To My World

14. Sir Winston and the Commons - Not the Spirit of India

15. Anonymous - Shadow Lady

16. Funk Inc. - They Trying To Get Me

17. Zerfas - Hope


Kyle Long pens A Cultural Manifesto for NUVO Newsweekly and in 2014 began broadcasting a version of his column on WFYI.