For a guy with only three proper studio albums released over the course of a forty-plus-year-career, hearing new music from folk-raga guitar hero Peter Walker, 72, is akin to anticipating the next film from legendarily reclusive movie auteur Terrence Malick.
In fact, if not for Josh Rosenthal, the CEO of the small, but brilliantly influential outsider folk label Tompkins Square, prodding Mr. Walker to release a new album in 2008’s brilliant, underrated foray into Flamenco music, Echo of My Soul, longtime fans of the Woodstock, New York resident’s unique enmeshment of Indian classical music and the Greenwich Village folk would only have his two late 60’s Vanguard releases, 1967’s Rainy Day Raga and 1968’s Second Poem for Karmela, or Gypsies Are Important to enjoy (for a pretty penny, as both are out-of-print and highly scarce). Not to mention the great tribute album Tompkins Square released in 2008, A Raga for Peter Walker, which featured such students of Walker as Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, electronic folk wizard Greg Davis, and avant-folk guitar prodigies Steffen Basho-Junghans, James Blackshaw and Jack Rose, performing their favorite ragas from Walker’s early output (in addition to four new compositions from the man himself), thus introducing the man to a whole new generation of string benders and mind expanders.
Released at the behest of Rosenthal upon its discovery in an old box at Walker’s home, Long Lost Tapes 1970 marks the fourth proper Peter Walker release in existence, certainly a monumental find for not only diehard fans of the guitarist, but also for the legions of listeners just getting into his catalog thanks to the loving endorsements of such new school raga heroes as Blackshaw, Rose, Davis and Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance, whose playing most resembles that of Walker’s. The sessions, recorded at friend and neighbor Levon Helm’s house while the legendary Band drummer was out of town, contain six extended instrumental pieces featuring a ragtag array of friends and associates, including Maruga Booker on trap and frame drums, renowned clarinet player Perry Robinson, tabla player Badal Roy,(on retreat from the depths of Miles Davis’ famous “jungle music” sessions that produced such early ‘70s electric jazz classics as On the Corner and Big Fun), bassist Rishi, and free jazz young lion Mark Whitecage on flute and alto sax. The jam was recorded by acclaimed prog rock producer Eddy Offord, famous for his work on such titanic ventures as Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Tarkus and just about every Yes album worth owning.
“One cold late fall weekend I put a session together,” Walker explained on New Year’s Eve of 2008 in reference to the release of these sessions after informing Tompkins Square label chief Josh Rosenthal of the tape’s existence and obviously gung-ho about the idea of putting it out. “It all came together at Levon Helm’s house while Levon was away. I traded with Eddy Offord for the equipment rental and engineering, so in so many ways it was a classic ‘Woodstock Production.’ It was my last major effort before years of obscurity and remained in storage all these years.”
Walker also made mention that legendary blues harpist Paul Butterfield also stopped by the Helm estate during these recording sessions as well, but didn’t play because the music Walker and friends were creating wasn’t blues-oriented. In fact, the six compositions created that weekend probably gravitated closer to those LSD-laced “celebrations” he organized as Dr. Timothy Leary’s musical director. The sound here is definitely more electric than on the two Vanguard albums, as signified on tracks like the multi-tonal freak-out “Meditation Blues” and the propulsive, circular “City Pulse”. “102nd Psalm” is a full-on Hindu meditation that reflects upon Walker’s classical Indian music education under Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, where he learned alongside George Harrison, while “Camel Ride” would not sound out of place thirty-somethng years later on a NoNeck Blues Band album. And the influence of the Village, where Walker held court with the likes of Fred Neil and Karen Dalton, not to mention the works of fellow Vanguard guitar heroes John Fahey and Robbie Basho, can easily be heard in the raga-rock fusion of “Missing You”.
A big thanks goes out to Mr. Walker for digging up and finally releasing this revelatory find, and Tompkins Square for convincing him to do so. Long Lost Tapes 1970 is a minor landmark of Upstate, New York music history that is to be as valued amongst raga heads as The Basement Tapes is for rock fans.
// Notes from the Road
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