The United States of America (band)

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The United States of America
Usa-band.jpg
(Back, l-r, Byrd, Moskowitz, Marron.
Front, l-r, Bogas, Woodson, Forbes)
Background information
Origin Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres Electronic rock
Experimental rock
Psychedelic rock
Psychedelic pop
Art rock
Years active 1967–1968
Labels Columbia
Associated acts Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies
Past members Ed Bogas
Rand Forbes
Gordon Marron
Dorothy Moskowitz
Craig Woodson
Joseph Byrd
For the 1990s alternative group see: The Presidents of the United States of America.

The United States of America was an American experimental rock and psychedelic band whose works are an example of early electronic music in rock and roll.

History[edit]

Formed in 1967 by Joseph Byrd, the band membership consisted of Joseph Byrd (electronic music, electric harpsichord, organ, calliope, piano, and Durrett Electronic Music Synthesizer); Dorothy Moskowitz (lead vocals); Gordon Marron (electric violin, ring modulator); Rand Forbes (an early adopter of the fretless electric bass), and Craig Woodson (drums and percussion). Ed Bogas also performed on the record with occasional organ, piano, and calliope; he became a full member of the band on its first and only tour.

Album[edit]

For further information see The United States of America (album)

Their eponymous album was recorded in December 1967, produced by David Rubinson for Columbia Records, and released in 1968. It was rereleased on CD by Sundazed Records in 2004 with various alternate takes, demos, and outtakes.

Their sound blended a range of musical genres, including avant-garde, psychedelic, and art rock. One of the more notable points of the band was that it had no guitar player, which for its time was quite radical, as the electric guitar occupied a central position in rock music of the time. Instead, they used strings, keyboards and electronics, including primitive synthesizers, and various audio processors, including the ring modulator.

The record was released in early 1968, at a time when there was a receptive audience for “underground music” which combined musical experimentalism with radical social and/or political lyrics – other examples, in their very different ways, including the Velvet Underground (who shared a common background in the New York experimental music scene; according to Moskowitz, Nico at one point tried to join the USA), Frank Zappa (whom Byrd disliked, considering him a niche-marketer "subsumed in a self-referential loop"[1]), Love's Forever Changes, Country Joe and the Fish, and Jefferson Airplane.

Whether intended or not, the record took the form of a coherent "song cycle", a radical commentary on contemporary American society. The words ranged from satires on decadence ("The American Metaphysical Circus", "..Wooden Wife..", (this title being a parody of the old music hall song, "I Wouldn't Leave My Little Wooden Hut for You" by Tom Mellor and Charles Collins) to lyrical expressions of longing (the pastoral "Cloud Song", the political "Love Song For The Dead Che"). Musically, the songs ranged from pseudo-classical elegance ("Stranded In Time", "Where Is Yesterday") to aggressive discordance and hard rock ("The Garden of Earthly Delights", "Hard Coming Love"), with heavy electronic distortion and collages of "found" music such as brass bands, Byrd being heavily influenced by Charles Ives. The final suite "The American Way of Love" integrates most of these elements, with a dreamlike ending containing a collage of earlier tracks.[2]

Break-Up[edit]

Despite the widespread support of music critics, the album sold poorly and soon disappeared - at least in the USA, although in the UK it remained fondly remembered, in part because of one track ("Wooden Wife") being used on a popular CBS sampler album.

The band's tour in support of the record led to difficulties of its own. Members of the band were arrested for drug possession, and they had a number of serious equipment failures - these and other tensions made Byrd increasingly difficult to work with, and the group largely unmanageable, and resulted in the band splitting up.

  • Joseph Byrd went on to form Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies, who released an LP, The American Metaphysical Circus, in 1969. Byrd also released a number of additional recordings under his own name, as well as scoring a number of films, writing music for television, and working as a music producer. He is married, lives in northern California near the Oregon border, and teaches music-related classes at College of the Redwoods.
  • Dorothy Moskowitz(-Falarski) later worked with Country Joe McDonald's All-Star Band, married, has two daughters, and lives in a suburb of Oakland, California. She writes for and teaches music to children in her local school system, and has developed a number of other music projects in the San Francisco Bay area.
  • Gordon Marron became a Los Angeles studio musician and now lives in Hawaii.
  • Craig Woodson teaches percussion in the Cleveland, Ohio area and has toured with the Kronos Quartet. He has also developed the educational World Drumming project used in American schools nationwide.
  • Ed Bogas composed soundtracks for Peanuts and Garfield TV cartoon specials and for Ralph Bakshi's film Fritz the Cat.
  • Rand Forbes has worked as an Oracle DBA, owned a software development company, and continues to play classical bass in Southern California. Rand currently lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area, close to Craig Woodson.

Discography[edit]

Albums

Year Title Peak chart positions
UK[3] US[4]
1968 The United States of America 181

Singles

  • The Garden of Earthly Delights / Love Song For The Dead Ché (CBS 3745, UK, 1968)[5]
  • Hard Coming Love (2004)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kevin Holm-Hidson. Progressive Rock Reconsidered, Routledge, 2002, p. 61
  2. ^ According to Lillian Roxon, the 3-part suite "dealt most explicitly with the activities of homosexual prostitutes on New York's notorious 42nd Street" (Roxon, Lillian: Lilian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia (Grosset and Dunlop, Universal Library Edition, 1972) p502 ISBN 0-448-00255-8)
  3. ^ Warwick, 2004. p.320
  4. ^ "The United States of America > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-06-09. 
  5. ^ Record Collector Rare Record Price Guide 2010, ISBN 978-0-9532601-9-5

External links[edit]