Music Reviews
11:06 am
Thu August 16, 2012

Autosalvage: The Psychedelic Band That Vanished

Originally published on Fri August 17, 2012 2:14 pm

A little over 10 years ago, a friend with a small record company in England called me and asked if I wanted to do liner notes for an album he was re-releasing. When he told me it was the Autosalvage album, I flipped. Of course I did!

There was a small problem: I didn't have any idea how to get in touch with any of the band members. I'd heard, though, that Rick Turner, one of their guitarists, had made some instruments for the Grateful Dead, and so I contacted an authority on that band, David Gans. Gans is not only a writer, he's also a musician, and he told me he'd been lusting after a Turner guitar for ages. And sure, he had the phone number.

Turner told me that he'd been part of the Boston/Cambridge folk scene, playing on stages with Tom Rush, Taj Mahal, and Richard and Mimi Farina. He had a friend named Tom Danaher, who'd amassed a bunch of instruments from a music store that had gone out of business, and they played together informally. Ian & Sylvia tapped Turner to play guitar on a tour in 1965, and he made some friends in New York.

Traveling between the two folk meccas, he was walking down Bleecker Street in New York and ran into Danaher, who said he was putting a band together, so Turner, intrigued, moved to New York to be in it. Danaher also recruited Darius LaNoue Davenport, son of a member of the New York Pro Musica, on drums, and Skip Boone, brother of Lovin' Spoonful drummer Steve Boone, on bass. They began rehearsing in the notorious basement of the Albert Hotel but soon moved to a shared space with the Lovin' Spoonful, who were on tour much of the time. The band got a job opening for the Mothers of Invention at a club called the Balloon Farm, and whatever name they were using, they changed it after Zappa suggested they use the name of the tune they used for a long jam.

They were soon offered a deal with RCA Records, home of their friends The Youngbloods, and were booked into Studio B, which Turner had used for some Ian & Sylvia sessions. None of the technical personnel really knew how to deal with a band this loud, and the band was delighted to be in an 8-track studio, one of the world's first. Turner says the producer, Bob Cullen, just gave them free rein over the recording, and they cut loose.

Autosalvage's self-titled album came out in March 1968. Nothing happened. They got a couple of good reviews. Nothing happened. They got a gig opening for Richard Pryor at the Cafe au Go-Go on Bleecker Street. "In the year and a half we were together," Turner told me, "we probably played only 30 gigs. ... Unless you were a neo-Chicago blues band or a pop rock band, there wasn't any work. We were just on the wrong coast."

His friend Jesse Colin Young had urged him to move west, where there were psychedelic ballrooms, underground FM stations (one of which was actually playing their album) and good times to be had, just as Young's band, The Youngbloods, was experiencing. Turner needed no convincing and went on an exploratory visit, but when he got back, the rest of the band wouldn't budge.

Turner moved anyway, got a job with Alembic, a company that made electronic stuff and instruments, and eventually opened Turner Guitars. Danaher got a doctorate in psychology, Davenport works in rehab in California, and Boone is a contractor on Long Island. And the album, with my liner notes, is long out of print.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

There are lots of stories about the band that got away, the act that never caught the gold ring or lost out on fame for reasons unrelated to their talent or the music on their records. For rock historian Ed Ward, one of those bands has always been Autosalvage, a New York quartet that made one album and vanished.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

AUTOSALVAGE: (Singing) Well, I can't see but I think I know for sure whose house this is and the thing that I know is yours. Wearing furs and your jewels and your TV set, you know, I'm going to take what I can get my hands on. If you could find...

ED WARD: A little over 10 years ago, a friend with a small record company in England called me and asked if I wanted to do liner notes for an album he was re-releasing. When he told me it was the Autosalvage album, I flipped. Of course I did.

There was a small problem: I didn't have any idea how to get in touch with any of the band. I'd heard, though, that Rick Turner, one of their guitarists, had made some instruments for the Grateful Dead, and so I contacted an authority on that band, David Gans. Gans is not only a writer, he's also a musician, and he told me he'd been lusting after a Turner guitar for ages. And sure, he had the phone number.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

AUTOSALVAGE: (Singing) A hundred days. No, in a hundred days, a hundred years ago. I am too (unintelligible) and I cannot set it down. For the drunkards see that you will only see as close as I could come.

WARD: Turner told me that he'd been part of the Boston/Cambridge folk scene, playing on stages with Tom Rush, Taj Mahal, and Richard and Mimi Farina. He had a friend named Tom Danaher, who'd amassed a bunch of instruments from a music store that had gone out of business, and they played together informally. Ian and Sylvia tapped Turner to play guitar on a tour in 1965, and he made some friends in New York.

Traveling between the two folk meccas, he was walking down Bleecker Street in New York and ran into Danaher, who said he was putting a band together, so Turner, intrigued, moved to New York to be in it. Danaher also recruited Darius LaNoue Davenport, son of a member of the New York Pro Musica, on drums, and Skip Boone, brother of the Lovin' Spoonful's drummer, Steve Boone, on bass.

They began rehearsing in the notorious basement of the Albert Hotel but soon moved to a shared space with the Lovin' Spoonful, who were on tour much of the time. The band got a job opening for the Mothers of Invention at a club called the Balloon Farm, and whatever name they were using, they changed it after Zappa suggested they use the name of the tune they used for a long jam.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AUTOSALVAGE")

AUTOSALVAGE: (singing) La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la. Inside the auto salvage, on the inside looking in, looking in. On the inside looking deeper. It'll make your hands swing to think of the people that owned them. Like the (unintelligible) what kind of person owned a '53 Nash?

WARD: They were soon offered a deal with RCA Records, home of their friends The Youngbloods, and were booked into Studio B, which Turner had used for some Ian and Sylvia sessions. None of the technical personnel really knew how to deal with a band this loud, and the band was delighted to be in an 8-track studio, one of the world's first. Turner says that the producer, Bob Cullen, just gave them free reign over the recording, and they cut loose.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

AUTOSALVAGE: (Singing) You don't have to know at first. All you do is come along. You just have to watch your step. If you want to trust yourself, then trust the one that talks to you. And the highway from here on in is more lifelike than before. Lifelike than before.

WARD: The album came out in March, 1968. Nothing happened. They got a couple of good reviews. Nothing happened. They got a gig opening for Richard Pryor at the Cafe au Go-Go on Bleecker Street. In the year and a half we were together, Turner told me, we probably played only 30 gigs. Unless you were a neo-Chicago blues band or a pop rock band, there wasn't any work. We were just on the wrong coast.

His friend, Jesse Colin Young had urged him to move west, where there were psychedelic ballrooms, underground FM stations, one of which was actually playing their record, and good times to be had, just as Young's band, The Youngbloods, were experiencing. Turner needed no convincing and went on an exploratory visit, but when he got back, the rest of the band wouldn't budge.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

AUTOSALVAGE: (Singing) Why don't you see there? Why can't you leave there? Why can't you see them? Why can't you leave them? You would be lost without feeling. Drive to the land of your dreams.

WARD: Turner moved anyway, got a job with Alembic, a company that made electronic stuff and instruments, and eventually opened Turner Guitars. Danaher got a doctorate in psychology. Davenport works in rehab in California. And Boone is a contractor on Long Island. And the album, with my liner notes, is long out of print.

DAVIES: Ed Ward lives in France. And there's this postscript to Ed's story. Since the piece was recorded, the band started talking about getting back together. Now they are committed to reuniting and have applied to perform at the South by Southwest Music Conference in March. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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