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Fifty Foot Hose

Fifty Foot Hose were one of the most unusual '60s San Francisco psychedelic bands, in part because they weren't really that psychedelic. Like a few other acts of the time (most notably the United States of America), they were trying to fuse the contemporary sounds of rock with electronic instruments and avant-garde compositional ideas. Only one album resulted from the ambitious enterprise, and that record (Cauldron, 1968) still remains unknown to all but hardcore collectors. Although an erratic work, it was intriguing for its mix of jazzy psychedelic rock tunes with electronic sound effects that anticipated future models of synthesizers, but sounded fiercer and more primitive.

Fifty Foot Hose were founded by bassist Cork Marcheschi, who had previously been in a conventional rock/R&B band the Ethix. Under Marcheschi's prodding, in 1967, the Ethix released one wildly atonal single, "Bad Trip," whose violent musique concrète foreshadowed the avant-garde postures of his subsequent group (in fact, "Bad Trip" was more avant-garde than anything Fifty Foot Hose would record). (Apparently it was played once on a local underground radio station, and then never again.) Interested in the ideas of experimental composers like Edgar Varese, John Cage, Terry Riley, and George Antheil, Marcheschi constructed his own electronic instrument from a combination of elements like Theremins, fuzz boxes, a cardboard tube, and a speaker from a World War II aircraft bomber.

Fifty Foot Hose were filled out by guitarist David Blossom and his vocalist wife Nancy, who brought both psychedelic and jazz influences to the band, and a couple of musicians who had played with Marcheschi in other acts. A home demo successfully demonstrated their fusion of electronic effects and songs that were loosely in tune with the San Francisco psychedelic vibe. It led to a deal with Limelight, a subsidiary of Mercury that focused more upon experimental music than conventional rock and pop outings.

Cauldron was perhaps more interesting for its experimental textures than the sometimes routine compositions -- eerie electronic swoops and jolts swam through the background and foreground of the tracks, enhanced by techniques like putting instruments through an FM transmitter. The jazzier and spookier tunes worked better than the bluesier hard rock items, yet it was an admirably risk-taking effort. But, ultimately, a pretty uncommercial one -- although they got some live work in San Francisco, the album was heard by few at its time of release. Fifty Foot Hose were finished, ironically, by the temptations of a much more commercial project -- when the musical Hair came to San Francisco, most of the members joined the production to satisfy their need for more reliable income. Interest in the group resurfaced in the 1990s, as they became recognized as precursors to the electronic rock sounds of groups like Throbbing Gristle. Marcheschi is now a respected sculptor, specializing in public work using neon, plastic, and kinetic characteristics. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
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