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Saturday, June 06, 2009

More or Less Hudson's Bay Again: The Masked Marauders

A few email exchanges with my internet pal and colleague Sean over at RightWingBob about the likelihood of Mr. D. collaborating with Paul McCartney, and possibly even Ringo, got me to thinking about that other supergroup session that took place in 19 and 69, when Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Mick Jagger got together as "The Masked Marauders."

You don't know that story?  Well, sit down, boys and girls, and let the ol' geezer at Dreamtime tell ya.

"It was late, I was tired," Greil Marcus later said about the genesis of The Masked Marauders. Marcus was then a Rolling Stone editor and would later go on to fame as critic and author of such works as The Old, Weird America, aka Invisible Republic.

According to Marcus, after a long, hot day at the keyboard, he had been sitting around gassing with friends about the so-called "supergroup" and "supersession" albums that were all the rage in the dog days of the late Summer of rock-n'-roll that was 19 and 69.  The group got to speculating about if there were a real supersession, with John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and whoever else was around to jam with them, what would it be like?   Oldies of course.  Maybe Duke of Earl? Why not? Maybe a few country classics, since Mr. D. was in his Nashville Skyline phase. Maybe a nod to contemporaries?  Hey, about Dylan doing Donovan doing Dylan in an 18-minute jam version of Season of the Witch?

Things got crazy from there. Marcus wrote a fake review of The Masked Marauders double-LP (double in a nod to the Great White Wonder bootleg), creating such overheated bon mots as "Paul showcases his favorite song, 'Mammy,' and while his performance is virtually indistinguishable from Eddie Fisher's version, it is still very powerful, evocative, and indeed, stunning. And they say a white boy can’t sing the blues!" and "Produced by Al Kooper, the album was recorded with impeccable secrecy in a small town near the site of the original Hudson Bay Colony in Canada."  and "...[Jagger's rendition of ] 'I Can't Get No Nookie' is an instant classic!"  He signed it "T.M. Christian" in a nod to the Terry Southern novel, turned the review over to Jann Wenner, who thought it a giggle and Rolling Stone ran it straight-faced in October of 19 and 69.

And things got weirder.  A lot of people thought it was real.  A lot of people wanted it to be real, in-your-face jokes or not. "There's no telling some people anything," as Our Host has said more than once on Theme Time Radio Hour.

Letters and phone calls began pouring into the Rolling Stone offices from both fans and record stores wanting to know when the album would be released. Reportedly even Allen Klein (Beatles and Rolling Stones' manager) and Albert Grossman (Dylan's manager), checked in, plaintively asking Rolling Stone if they could spare them a copy of the LP. While that last part was probably untrue, given the usual state of artist/managerial relations, it was too good a story to let pass.

Knowing a joke with legs when he saw one, Marcus decided to continue with the spoof.  With another Rolling Stone editor, Marcus recruited a band which recorded three of the songs cited in T.M. Christian's review: the Nashville Skyline-inspired instrumental Cow Pie, a pseudo-Jagger doing his instant classic, I Can’t Get No Nookie, and a Bob Dylan imitator gamely voicing Dook-dook- of Earl. Marcus took the tapes to a San Francisco radio station, which aired them as real cuts from The Masked Marauders... and the switchboard lighted up.

A joke is a joke, but money is money. The pranksters began looking for a label to produce a full album. Warner Bros. offered the sham supergroup a $15,000 advance, and released The Masked Marauders as a single LP in November of 19 and 69, just one short month after the Marauders were but a gleam in Greil Marcus' jaded eye. Warner even created a sub-label for The Masked Marauders, Deity, since that was the label name T.M. Christian's review had used.

The Masked Marauders, the album, sold more than 100,000 copies and spent twelve weeks on the Billboard charts, peaking at Number 114.

Most people eventually got the joke.  The album's tracks only slightly matched the T.M. Christian review: no Paul McCartney singing Mammy (the mind boggles); the 18-minute Season of the Witch curtailed to 10; the voices barely resembling Jagger's and Dylan's; the last track a rant about the album being "a rip-off." Just to ensure that the purchaser was clued in - albeit after buying the L.P. - Warner even included a reprint of a Ralph Gleason column detailing that it was all just a gag.

Who were The Masked Marauders?  Over the years, the pseudo-supergroup was said to be Christopher Milk, not a person, but an obscure band formed by John Mendelsohn & Surly Raph Oswald, which released one album, Some People Will Drink Anything, before Mendelsohn went on to better-paying gigs as a rock critic.

Also under suspicion was a soul group from British Columbia, Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers, apparently because of the Canadian connection and the fact that Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame, had been a one-time member.

However, Marcus finally identified The Masked Marauders as a Grateful Dead associated group, from Berkeley, CA, The Cleanliness And Godliness Skiffle Band, who described themselves as an "'acid'-influenced skiffle band. The Cleanliness And Godliness Skiffle Band would release one album under their own name, 19 and 68's Greatest Hits.

And that, kidlets, is your Saturday story of how Mr. D., Uncle Mac, and Jumpin' Gas Flash all got together in the Fall of 19 and 69 and created the  superest of all supergroups, The Masked Marauders.  If you want a sample of their wares, below is a Youtube video of Dylan doing Donovan doing Dylan, with help from Mick on Season of the Witch. And if that tickles you for more, you can find The Masked Marauders on disc at Amazon or on mp3.

Now take off, kiddies, ol' Gramps Dreamtime needs his nap.

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