The Holy Modal Rounders
|The Holy Modal Rounders|
|Origin||Lower East Side, New York, NY, USA|
|Labels||Prestige, Rounder, ESP-Disk, Elektra, Metromedia, Adelphi, DBK Works, Water, Big Beat|
|Associated acts||The Fugs
John Wesley Annas
Richard Tyler (deceased)
The Holy Modal Rounders were an American folk music duo from the Lower East Side of New York City which started in the early 1960s, consisting of Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber. Their unique blend of folk music revival and psychedelia gave them a cult-like following from the late 1960s into the 1970s. For a time the band also featured prolific and famous playwright and actor, Sam Shepard.
Origin of the name
Stampfel explained the origin of their name in the webzine Perfect Sound Forever:
- We kept changing the name. First it was the Total Quintessence Stomach Pumpers. Then the Temporal Worth High Steppers. Then The Motherfucker Creek Babyrapers. That was just a joke name. He was Rinky-Dink Steve the Tin Horn and I was Fast Lightning Cumquat. He was Teddy Boy Forever and I was Wild Blue Yonder. It kept changing names. Then it was the Total Modal Rounders. Then when we were stoned on pot and someone else, Steve Close maybe, said Holy Modal Rounders by mistake. We kept putting out different names and wait until someone starts calling us that then. When we got to Holy Modal Rounders, everyone decided by accumulation [sic] that we were the Holy Modal Rounders. That's the practical way to get named.
Stampfel and Weber were introduced to each other by Greenwich Village figure, Antonia, who also wrote or co-wrote many of their songs. The Rounders' first album, The Holy Modal Rounders, was released in 1964, and their version of "Hesitation Blues" featured the first use of the term "psychedelic" (here pronounced as "psycho-delic") in popular music. Shortly after their second album in 1965, The Holy Modal Rounders 2, they joined Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg in The Fugs for a short time. Their 1965 recordings with the Fugs appear on the albums The Village Fugs, Virgin Fugs, and Fugs 4, Rounders Score. Weber notably wrote the cult classic "Boobs a Lot" for the Fugs, which the Rounders would later record themselves on the Good Taste is Timeless LP.
After leaving the Fugs, the Rounders reformed with Sam Shepard and Lee Crabtree to record their third album (Indian War Whoop), and to appear in Shepard's play Forensic. The fourth album, The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders, recorded in 1968, included "Bird Song". "Bird Song" was essentially Ray Price's "You Done Me Wrong" with altered lyrics and was prominently featured in Dennis Hopper's film Easy Rider. In 1968 the band performed "You've Got The Right String But The Wrong Yo Yo" on the TV series Laugh-In, with appearances by the park-bench oldtimers duo played by Ruth Buzzi and Arte Johnson.
In 1970, Robin Remailly and Dave Reisch joined the band, which relocated to Boston and then Oregon, adding Ted Deane, Roger North, and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter. Stampfel stayed in New York but would play and record with the band on occasion. The band released their fifth album, Good Taste is Timeless, in 1971 on Metromedia, and their sixth, Alleged in their Own Time, in 1975 on Rounder Records.
Stampfel also formed the short-lived (1975–77) Unholy Modal Rounders with Kirby Pines, Charlie Messing, Jeff Berman and Paul Presti. The Unholy Modal Rounders were part of the collaboration, Have Moicy!, along with Michael Hurley and Jeffrey Frederick and the Clamtones.
After releasing Last Round in 1978, the Holy Modal Rounders broke up once again although Stampfel and Weber reunited briefly to record Going Nowhere Fast (1980).
While working for his wife, Betsy Wollheim, as submissions editor of DAW Books Stampfel formed the Bottle Caps, releasing Peter Stampfel and the Bottlecaps (1986) and The People's Republic of Rock n' Roll (1989), as well as an album of standards, You Must Remember This (1994). He won a Grammy in 1998 for writing part of the liner notes for the CD reissue of the Anthology of American Folk Music. When asked if he had plans for his award, he was quoted in the New York Times as saying "I'm going to put honey on mine and lick it off."
The Holy Modal Rounders continued for 20 years without Stampfel, as the band relocated to Portland, Oregon, and Stampfel opted to stay in New York. The band toured the country and Scandinavia but remained rooted in Portland. They still were billed as The Holy Modal Rounders, although some fans nicknamed them "The Electric Rounders" since, like many other bands, they had changed their acoustic sound to try to attract larger audiences.
Stampfel and Weber reunited again under the Rounders name for 1999's Too Much Fun. Since then, Stampfel has released records with the Du-Tels (No Knowledge of Music Required, 2001) and the Bottle Caps (The Jig Is Up, 2004). He continues to be highly active musically, playing with a number of groups, largely in New York City. Some of the performances from a 2008 tour in the Pacific Northwest were scheduled to be released by Frederick Productions in 2009 and in 2010 he released his Dook of the Beatniks album.
Weber, meanwhile, is reportedly working on solo material. He recently released Steve Weber and the Holy Modal Rounders, B.C. A number of Rounders live albums have also surfaced over recent years.
In 2006 a documentary film, The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose, was released, directed by Paul Lovelace and produced by Sam Douglas. The film offers insight into the lives of Weber and Stampfel and their career as The Holy Modal Rounders. However, after the movie was released Weber went on record saying the film grossly misrepresented him and saying that the film makers deliberately got him drunk to make a fool out of him. Weber has said the movie destroyed the Holy Modal Rounders, strained the relationship in the band, and made any future reunion impossible.
- Bear Suit Follies: the Songs, Stories and Letters of Antonia, by John McFadden
- M. Hicks, Sixties Rock: Garage, Psychedelic, and Other Satisfactions (University of Illinois Press, 2000), pp. 59-60.
- Pareles, Jon (1998-02-26). "Dylans, Father and Son, Gather Grammys; Shawn Colvin Wins for 'Sunny'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-25.
- Lovelace, Paul (Director) (2006). The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose (Motion picture).
- The Holy Modal Rounders at AllMusic
- 1996 Stampfel interview in Perfect Sound Forever
- 2010 Stampfel interview on Outsight Radio Hours
- All of Peter Stampfel's audio interviews on the podcast The Future And You (in which he describes his expectations of the future)
- NPR interview