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The Holy Modal Rounders

The Holy Modal Rounders were almost the very definition of a cult act. This isn't a case of a group that would be described by such clichés as "if only they got more exposure, they would certainly reach a much wider audience." Their audience was small because their music was too strange, idiosyncratic, and at times downright dissonant for mainstream listeners to abide. What makes the Rounders unusual in this regard is that they owed primary allegiance to the world of acoustic folk -- not one that generates many difficult, arty, and abrasive performers.

The Holy Modal Rounders were not so much a group as a changing aggregation centered around the two principals, Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber. When the pair got together in 1961, the intention was to update old-time folk music with a contemporary spirit. As Stampfel told Folk Roots in 1995, "The Rounders were the first really bent traditional band. And the first traditionally based band that was not trying to sound like an old record." They weren't the only musicians in New York thinking along these lines, and Stampfel and Weber contributed heavily to the first recordings by a similar, more rock-oriented group, the Fugs.

The Rounders began recording in the mid-'60s for Prestige as an acoustic duo. Even at this early stage, they were not for everybody. Although clearly accomplished musicians, and well-versed in folk traditions, they were determined to subvert these with off-kilter execution and strange lyrics that could be surreal, whimsical, or just silly. They outraged folk purists by simply changing melodies and words to suit their tastes on some of their cover versions of old standards; Stampfel once wrote in the liner notes that "I made up new words to it because it was easier than listening to the tape and writing words down."

On their 1967 LP Indian War Whoop, Stampfel and Weber added other musicians, including playwright Sam Shepard on drums (Shepard also wrote some material). The resulting chaos was just as inspiring, but both material and performance improved on 1969's Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders. This addled combination of folk and psychedelia was their most inventive work, and featured their most famous song, "If You Wanna Be a Bird" (which was used on the Easy Rider soundtrack).

The haphazard style of the Rounders perhaps militated against any sort of stable lineup (Jeff Baxter, later to play with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, was one of the musicians who passed through the group briefly in the 1960s). Good Taste Is Timeless, in the early '70s, was engineered in Nashville by legendary Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore, and generated one of their most renowned songs, "Boobs a Lot." Shortly afterward, Stampfel and Weber separated for a time, although they reunited in 1976 for Alleged in Our Own Time on Rounder. By this time, the Rounders were more of a concept than an ongoing group, and 1979's Last Round was recorded with various musicians who had been part of the group at some point. 1981's Goin' Nowhere, billed just to Stampfel & Weber, was their last recorded joint partnership.

Stampfel has been much more visible as a solo recording artist than Weber, acting as a key contributor to Michael Hurley's critically lauded Have Moicy! in 1976. He's been recording on his own since the mid-'80s, sometimes with the Bottlecaps, in a fashion that keeps the spirit of the Holy Modal Rounders alive without sounding embarrassingly revivalist. ~ Richie Unterberger
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Too Much Fun

1. Happy Rolling Cowboy

2. Antoinette

3. Bad Boy

4. Violets So Blue

5. Euphoria

6. Sail Away Ladies

7. Penny's Farm

8. Bonaparte's Retreat

9. Tea Song

10. Precious Jewel

11. A Blues Serenade

12. Skin Game

13. Long Journey

14. Crowley Waltz

15. Little Girl And The Dreadful Snake

16. Year Of Jubilo

17. New John The Revelator

x

Track List: 1 & 2

1. Blues In The Bottle

2. Give The Fiddler A Dram

3. The Cuckoo

4. Euphoria

5. Long John

6. Sugar In The Gourd

7. Hesitation Blues

8. Hey, Hey Baby

9. Reuben's Train

10. Mr. Spaceman

11. Moving Day

12. Better Things For You

13. Same Old Man

14. Hop High Ladies

15. Bound To Lose

16. Bully Of The Town

17. Sail Away, Ladies

18. Statesboro Blues

19. Clinch Mountain Backstep

20. Down The Old Plank Road

21. Black Eyed Suzie

22. Hot Corn, Cold Corn

23. Crowley Waltz

24. Fishing Blues

25. Junko Partner

26. Soldiers Joy

27. Mole In The Ground

28. Chevrolet Six

29. Flop Eared Mule

x

Track List: Good Taste Is Timeless

1. Once A Year

2. Black Bottom

3. Happy Scrapple Daddy Polka

4. Spring Of '65

5. Livin' Off The Land

6. Love Is The Closest Thing

7. Boobs A Lot

8. Melinda

9. Generalonely

10. Alligaror Man

11. City Blues

12. The Whole World Oughta Go On A Vacation

x

Track List: The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders

1. Bird Song

2. One Will Do For Now

3. Take-Off Artist Song

4. Werewolf

5. Interlude

6. Dame Fortune

7. Mobile Line

8. The Duji Song

9. My Mind Capsized

10. The STP Song

11. Interlude 2

12. Half A Mind

13. The Pledge

Comments

Report as inappropriate
ritchiec53
Best stuff we ever heard at Tuna Creek. ut then again, we weren't very particular. This one's for Gussy.
Report as inappropriate
Im an aussie and fair dinkum I have never heard of holy modal rounders. They are madder than a cut snake and a few sheep short of a paddock.
Report as inappropriate
where is the song Good by to Booze? or Moving day
Report as inappropriate
their unadulterate d joy of the music is there in every note.
Report as inappropriate
Whether you like the HMR or not depended on what you had smoked or ingested,,no t that i know anything about ,,,,,,,,i'm just saying :-)
Report as inappropriate
I used to go see the Holy Modal Rounders EVERY week at Gerdes Folk City in NYC. They also played at a bar called Good Time Charley's. That place was closed because they had skipped the formality of getting a liquor license.
Stampfel was a great musician and a great guy.
Report as inappropriate
Hell yea! This is the s**t........ . . . . . . . F e s t i v a l music!!!!!!
Report as inappropriate
When the HMR moved to Portland, OR (without Stampfel), they formed an alliance with Jeffrey Frederick. When he fronted, they were the Clamtones (later Les Clams); when Weber fronted, they were the Holy Modal Rounders. Check out Jeffrey's music -- that is more than "similar artists."
Report as inappropriate
If you look at th similar artists list it soon becomes apparent there are no similar artists.
Report as inappropriate
note that this info is wrong in that they have several records post 1981. Cacaphony forever.
Report as inappropriate
http:/http:/ / w w w . p a n d o r a . c o m / m u s i c / a r t i s t / d o n o v a n / w w w . p a n d o r a . c o m / m u s i c / a r t i s t / d i x i h t h t t p : / / w w w . p a n d o r a . c o m / m u s i c / a r t i s t / i n c r e d i b l e + s t r i n g + b a n d t p : / / w w w . p a n d o r a . c o m / m u s i c / a r t i s t / r o d + m a c d o n a l d e + c r a c k e r s

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