"Musician to Napster Judge: Let My Music Go"

By Damien Cave

By Salon Staff
Published April 26, 2002 7:24PM (EDT)

Read the story.

I read with interest the recent story by Damien Cave on Joe Byrd (of Joe Byrd & the Field Hippies and the United States of America). "The American Metaphysical Circus" was a landmark psychedelic record of its (1969) time, and I still own a sealed copy of the LP in addition to my "play" copy and the CD.

The CD was released a few years ago on One Way (One Way A-26792), which I believe is an offshoot of the old Sutton Record Company, a noted cut-out record wholesaler of the 1970s that was eventually busted for piracy, as they were pressing new copies of "deleted" records to sell as cut-outs (and bypassing artist royalties as a result). One Way specializes in re-releasing popular older LPs and will sometimes generate a "new" CD master from an original LP if the original tapes are unavailable. To hear the artists receive nothing wouldn't be a surprise.

The "American Metaphysical Circus" album was a very unusual recording in its presentation in various ways and subjects unlike anything before or since. Joe Byrd was one of the first "rock" musicians to really explore the still-infant synthesizer, and the three-part "Sub-Sylvan Litanies" that opened the record was a piece I described over the years many times to friends as "an entire acid trip in 11 minutes," featuring unusual synthesizer effects and hugely sensual vocals by Susan de Lange and Victoria Bond. Other highlights included the aptly named "Elephant at the Door," which was another ode to acid, the 78-rpm-sounding "Mister 4th of July," and the truly bizarre tribute to Seal Beach's "Leisure World" featuring longtime "Voice of ABC-TV" Ernie Anderson. The record also featured unusually complex horn arrangements, including then-West Coast studio staple Tom Scott, among others.

I played this record countless times as a teen coffeehouse DJ in Ohio, but also learned its effects on those "under the influence" of the day's hallucinogens was such that I had to note the recording as "Handle With Care" -- its potential effects were that strong. I often compared it the other "big" psychedelic record of its day, Pink Floyd's "Echoes," which it made look like a tea party.

I can also speak directly to the record's longevity/popularity in the CBS/Sony catalog, in part as a former import and cut-out buyer for the Peaches Records chain in the mid- to late 1970s. Despite its very odd location as part of Columbia's "Masterworks" series (MS 7317), which was mostly reserved for Sony's classical artists, "The American Metaphysical Circus" did in fact remain in print for many, many years, with only Soft Machine's "Third" (another One Way CD) rivaling it as a long-term obscurity in the CBS catalog of that era. The record's staying power was based almost solely on its huge word of mouth reputation with the psychedelically induced.

As to the copyright issues, let's hope Columbia can somehow manage to do the right thing, as I expect Mr. Byrd might well be entitled to far more royalties than he'd otherwise believe. And as an expert certified by the U.S. Supreme Court in communications issues, I'd be happy to lend him a hand should it ever get to that, and I wish him nothing but success.

-- Tom Meek

Salon Staff

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