The Rockin' Sounds of '60s New Mexico

I like to spend time looking for records in my home state and second home—in the music mecca of New Orleans, where the getting is very good. Once upon a time I thought it wasn't worth my while to dig in Albuquerque as I knew of no exciting Land of Enchantment music traditions that would have been documented on vinyl and suited my fancy. That naive assumption was squashed several years ago when I decided to make a local-ish 8tracks mix for the inaugural post for an early iteration of this here blog. At first I thought I'd compile vintage western film scores, The Fireballs, and maybe some other music from Norman Petty Recording Studios. Instead I found that, just like everywhere else in the U.S. during the mid- to late '60s, the British Invasion, with its reimagined take on American musics, spawned a hoard of righteous but long-forgotten New Mexican garage bands (some with psychedelic tendencies). Nowadays when I come across a box of 45s at a thrift / junk / antique store, I jump at the chance to inhale its dusty contents. Without further ado, I give you a half hour of the Land of Enchantment's '60s sonic bounty.

Albuquerque band The Fe-Fi-Four Plus 2 formed in 1966 and released its garage psych banger 'I Wanna Come Back (From the World of LSD)" on local label Lance Records the following year. Though the group disbanded in 1968, this track—an obscure classic— has found its way onto a variety of compilations, including  Pebbles, Vol. 5 .  

Albuquerque band The Fe-Fi-Four Plus 2 formed in 1966 and released its garage psych banger 'I Wanna Come Back (From the World of LSD)" on local label Lance Records the following year. Though the group disbanded in 1968, this track—an obscure classic— has found its way onto a variety of compilations, including Pebbles, Vol. 5.  

Track List:

1) "Vaquero" • The Fireballs

2) "Sand Surfin' " • The Four Dimensions

3) "I Wanna Come Back (From the World of LSD)" • The Fe-Fi-Four Plus 2

4) "How About Now" • King Richard and the Knights

5) "I'm Over You" • The Kreeg

6) "I'm Getting Tired" • The Grass

7) "I Dig Girls" • Rudy and The Soulsetters

8) "Something You Got" • Doc Rand and the Purple Blues

9) "Girl in the Mini Skirt" • Era of Sound

10) "No Correspondence" • The Beckett Quintet

11) "The Bummer" • Lincoln St. Exit

12) "Wipe In" • The Imposters  

Route 66: Mojave Time Travel

If you’ve ever taken I-40 west en route to Joshua Tree you’re familiar with the stretches of two lane highway between the Mojave National Preserve and Twentynine Palms, California. Exiting the Interstate at Route 66, the road heads southwest toward Los Angeles and winds for about 40 miles until you arrive at Amboy. Here you turn south and drive for another 50 miles. The stretch before Amboy is a series of sparse desert scenes and moody, Tolkienian ranges known as the Granite, the Providence, and the Bullion Mountains—prime 1970s National Geographic material. Somewhere out in the desert a young, naked, blonde woman dances in front of a campfire at sunset, smoking grass while the remains of an extinct volcano and a troupe of Hell's Angels look on.

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This stretch, like much of Route 66, possesses a dystopian charm. It’s in the unbuttoned remains of a once-thriving tourist thoroughfare, and their promises of adventure in an imagined U.S.A. Amboy was founded as a railroad station in the 19th Century, but saw its height—with a population in the dozens—after the famous road was established in 1926. A large and sturdy but decayed futurist sign for Roy’s Motel and Cafe has been standing since the ‘50s. In its heyday, before I-40 and its ilk exacted countless inadvertent misfortunes on the country, this 24-hour enterprise was a calculated oasis, summoning travelers who’d not have seen another service station for some distance. Now, and maybe then too, this deep desert seems like a spooky place. The ‘80s travel-horror picture The Hitcher was shot here, as were other macabre cinematic undertakings, some remains of which can be found in the community’s abandoned buildings.   

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After waiting for a train to pass, maybe, and crossing the railroad tracks, the terrain over the next 50 miles is mostly more of the same. However you’ll find rural San Bernardino County homesteads—some advertising far right politics—as well as abandoned parcels with the ruins of Oldsmobiles and manufactured housing. There are salt basins and stoic farms. When it rains puddles sparkle in dry washes, and mists clasp the mountain tops.

Ultimately you’ll find your way to Twentynine Palms Highway, a route running east-west, just north of Joshua Tree, and marked by the number 62. If you’re not the camping sort, a variety of lodging options are available along this highway. Some are music landmarks—e.g. the Harmony Motel where U2 stayed, and, more importantly, the Joshua Tree Inn where Gram Parsons died. There are also boutique hotels like the minimalist Mojave Sands, and, a ways down the road and up a hill, the cowboy kitschy Pioneertown Motel. Desert cabins and the like can be found on Airbnb as well. I hung my hat at the 29 Palms Inn. The hard-to-find-in-the-dark establishment is off National Park Drive and next to the Oasis of Mara, a real oasis and site of the original 29 palm trees planted by the Serrano people thousands of years ago, according to folklore. It’s also the site of the National Park Service’s main Joshua Tree visitor center. The inn sits on a large property and offers unique rooms with a friendly, rustic-cozy hippy vibe. A poolside restaurant / bar / music venue is a highly appealing amenity after a day in the car. Sitting in the front desk lobby and sipping a drink while waiting for a table was like visiting some long-lost relative’s earth-toned living room in 1974, and feeling like you want to stay awhile. 

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Bald cypress on the swampy lake in Caldwell Parish. Photo by Byron Carr.

Bald cypress on the swampy lake in Caldwell Parish. Photo by Byron Carr.

Until I was seven I lived on an old farm turned hunting camp along the Ouachita River in a rural part of Caldwell Parish, Louisiana. There were pastures, gardens, crawfish ponds, and a swampy lake on the land, but it was mostly occupied by wild riparian river forest and hilly hardwood forest. My playtime range was large enough that half a dozen trees were designated as favorites for climbing, while several secret nooks served as studios for my stick-and-foraged-plant-matter sculptures. This old growth landscape generously contributed to the formation of my vernal psyche.

“The tree shows us how, from a tiny, bare seed of potential, the self can come into existence, centered and contained, around which occur incessant processes of metabolism, multiplying, perishing and self renewal." A book I'd long pined for arrived in the mail this week: Taschen's 800+ pager, The Book of Symbols—Reflections of Archetypal Images. That passage, from the "Plant World" section, discusses the tree’s ascent into the heavens while rooted in the underworld’s invisible realms, a dualistic existence in opposing eternities.  

In 1990—just after my honky cat family left the woods for the upstream river burg of Monroe—some of the oldest earthwork mounds in North America were found nearby, dating as far back as 3,500 BCE. For thousands of years children before me had climbed magnolias where I did, avoided the thorny locust, and sat on roots at the mossy base of the swamp chestnut oak, disassembling acorns in order to squish their orange inner paste. They bathed in biological diversity and formed relationships with these non human beings, and as a gift the woods shaped them too.