Saturday, October 12, 2013


 Fronted by San Franciscan poet David Meltzer, the Serpent Power was a sunshiny folk-rock group, whose songs were musical translations of Meltzer's poetry. They were first noticed by Ed Denton, manager of Country Joe and the Fish, when he saw them perform at their first-ever gig, a benefit for the Telegraph Neighborhood Center. This was in November of 1966 — Denton recommended them to Vanguard Records (Country Joe's label) and by 1967 the band was signed and had released their first and only album.The Serpent Power was formed by Meltzer and his wife Tina (who sang both lead and harmony vocals), and also included Denny Ellis and David Stenson on lead guitar and bass, respectively, both of whom had gotten their start with San Francisco folksters the Grass Roots. The band became a full rock outfit with the inclusion of John Payne on organ and Clark Coolidge on drums. The album, also entitled The Serpent Power, received a somewhat limited pressing and, despite featuring some excellent examples of folk-rock, the band never got that big, known mostly within the San Francisco area. The album's last track was a raga-rock epic which included electric banjo player JP Pickens, who stayed on as a permanent member as the band entered its second incarnation.Ellis, Stenson, and Payne left shortly after The Serpent Power was recorded, replaced by Bob Cuff (who'd come over from folk-pop band the Mystery Trend), on lead guitar and Jim Moscoso on bass. Although they continued reaching in ever-more exploratory directions, the band didn't record another album, and disbanded in 1968. David and Tina Meltzer went on to record another album, Poet's Song, under their own names.
 1969: After Serpent Power, our first LP for Vanguard,  Benny Ellis (rhythm guitar) & David  Stenson (bass) quit the band.  They'd been w/ The Grass Roots & did the Vanguard recording session as a favor to mutual friend Chris Brooks. Clark Coolidge & I were the sole survivors since Tina, the lead singer, quit after hearing the first album & then performing at The Fillmore.
We had a contract for a second album & had a year to put together a new band & get our shit together.  Working out of a cave-like basement in a big office building in San Francisco — w/ mounds of dirt in various uneven slopes & ridges — Clark I began auditioning musicians for the new band.
Mostly we spent hours improvising.  We hired Bob Cuff, rhythm guitarist, who was a member of The Mystery Trend, one of the first art school art bands in SF, & Jim Moscoso, bass.  Jim was the younger brother of our friend Victor Moscoso, an artist & one of the vanguard poster & underground comic artists of the 60’s. We also re-enlisted banjoist J.P. Pickens to join in whenever he had the time. (J.P. & I had been experimenting at the Coffee Gallery of our version of free folk-music, sometimes joined on acoustic guitar by Jim Gurley (who became lead guitar for Big Brother.)
This newly formed group was invited by John Rockwell (now a NY Times cultural critic) to perform on his weekly show on KPFA-FM in Berkeley. Cuff, Coolidge, Moscoso, Meltzer, & Pickens walked into KPFA & were greeted by Daniel Moore (visionary poet, leader of The Floating Lotus Opera Company, & now Sufi teacher & storyteller in the East coast.)  He introduced us to his friend Christian who had an alto saxophone which he was in the first stages of learning how to play. They wanted to sit in. Daniel was/is one of the greatest intuitive musi­cians I've run into.  He brought his shenei (Chinese oboe) & a bunch of bells & conch shells into the studio.  It was all decidedly spontaneous & in the moment since none of us had really played together.  (Daniel & Christian were to become regular members of the band when we worked weekend gigs in North Beach clubs; Pickens wd sit in whenever he cd, developing new sounds from his amplified banjo.)
This hunk of that first confrontation is one of 2 reel-to-reel tapes recorded at KPFA that night.  I gave the other half to Jim Moscoso & suspect it's lost in Borgesville.

                                     David Meltzer

                                     Oakland, CA

                                     Autumn, 2006

1st LP Tracks:

01. Don't You Listen to Her 2:20
02. Gently, Gently 2:36
03. Open House 3:31
04. Flying Away 4:26
05. Nobody Blues 3:50
06. Up and Down 3:37
07. Sky Baby 2:32
08. Forget 3:34
09. Dope Again :47
10. Endless Tunnel 13:14

2nd LP tracks:

11. This Side 10:37
12. The Other Side 24:41



Anonymous said...

Thank you for the 2 jam tracks "this side/other side" A discovery for me ! Where is it comin' from ? If by any chance, you own live recordings from Serpent Power .... I will be very happy !


24HOURDEJAVU said...

The two jam tracks were released as a second serpent Lp with new band members as the write up states The white image of the snake is the artwork for the effort It was called Orourobous. No other live work is out there that I am aware of

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