THE DAMNATION OF ADAM BLESSING HISTORIC CONTEXT
By Paul Major
Feed your mind, yeah… FEED YOUR MIND! Nearly half a century has passed since the day I first heard the Damnation Of Adam Blessing. In 1969 their stunning psychedelic anthem "Cookbook" became a big hit on local AM radio in Louisville, Kentucky where I grew up. It sounded dangerous. Songs with blatant messages concerning the adventure and enlightenment possible through drugs and mind expansion were still a relatively scarce thing on mainstream pop radio. "Cookbook" not only suggested taking the psychedelic journey, it dared you to do it. You can hear it in the singer's attitude. You can hear it in the first guitar break which rips in right after the first verse, they just couldn't wait to smoke you. That dare stands. "Cookbook" is a dose with no expiration date. It is the opening track on the band's first album and it sets the scene. Once you hear it you need more. Hooked. These first ever exact vinyl reissues taken from the original master tapes guarantee the full trip. You get to see inside the earliest days of hard rock, when the more optimistic psychedelic trends had largely run their course, reality and rock music both taking a turn towards a darker and heavier mood. Still somewhat psychedelic but much less interested in being pretty, cosmic and reflective. Turn up the guitars and go on offense. Feed your mind.
The world was a different place then and that is part of the reason why this music resonates strongly today. An unprecedented convergence of youth, electric guitars and drugs led to the formation of bands similar to the Damnation Of Adam Blessing locally throughout the country. Most had started as garage bands reflecting the enormous impact the Beatles and British Invasion had on the rapidly expanding youth market. They were already doing gigs. Then the sixties drug fueled counterculture on the coasts spread across the heartland. Every city and town had it's expanding contingent of what used to be called "heads". Their growing numbers were becoming alarming… an alien invasion of stoned social deviants out to get everybody else stoned, too. One thing even more threatening to parents of the era than a "head" was a "head" with a guitar, deceitfully leading their children into a doomed world of sex, drugs and revolution using incomprehensible psychedelic noise. The Damnation Of Adam Blessing not only exemplify the edgy flavor of those times, they also had the skills and songs ready to take it all the way.
The band was more successful than most. They built a strong regional following through countless shows including opening slots for some of the biggest acts of the day. They got signed by a major label. They were poised to break big but their record label blew it with poor promotion and distribution. That basic historic scenario was played out by regional bands all across the nation. Many of those bands left us with one decent if spotty album, maybe a couple of hot tracks that stand the test of time. Damnation Of Adam Blessing have left us two entire quintessential albums capturing that magic moment when psychedelia was morphing into the sort of hard rock that eventually became termed "classic". Case in point, "Back To The River" from their second LP. It is so "classic" sounding I find it hard to believe even extreme record label incompetence could have stopped it from becoming a massive national hit. Topping that, the song appears at the end of what I consider a perfect album side, one that never fails to deliver. In my imagination millions of partied-out copies are scattered across the entire country. Should be reality, it's that good.
Take a look at the band photo inside the gatefold cover for "The Second Damnation". People who looked like that in the midwest back in 1970 were still considered bad news locally, even in bigger cities. Magnets for trouble. Walking warning signs that the California LSD free love disease was on the move and anybody's kid could get taken next. People who looked like that were assumed to be on drugs at all times. Feed your mind. On a mission to dose the world. This music was a fresh step ahead loaded with cultural implications and it's excitement endures through time so well because the exploratory primal youthful energy it emits is universal.
I've noticed that the edgier bands with cultural implications from the late sixties era are the main ones that kids still listen to today, especially when it comes to hard rock. When you are first getting out in the world you want adventure. Your instincts are right, you can't be faked out by poseurs, you want the real stuff made by people who mean it. Even though the music is from decades back the good stuff speaks to you now. You can get a contact high from across time. It is no surprise records by the Stooges, MC5, and Velvet Underground that made little immediate impact when they were released are now listened to by millions. They were for real and that transcends time. Always relevant because the characters involved are genuine and the guitars cook. Damnation Of Adam Blessing get me off today because they were "heads" who created a time machine in their music that brings their genuine character right out of the speakers a half century later.
Bands like this were pioneers in the wilds of an emerging underground freak America, truer to the original ideals of freedom than the government or general population at large. It's hard to convey today how new and exciting the earliest hard rock psychedelic music sounded in the context of.the times. When a hot band got a song as overtly about psychedelic activity as "Cookbook" on pop radio it seemed like a secret message from the headquarters of the "heads" to grab a fuzz guitar, drop acid and come join them. Other people who are of similar age to me have said they know exactly what I mean. You can hear it clearly in the two Damnation Of Adam Blessing LPs even if, like me, you can't exactly describe it. Hearing these records when they came out was like being a member of a secret society. I have a primal memory of listening to the first Damnation LP when I was sixteen in an attic room where a friend named Greg lived complete with a lava lamp and a bong. We had a towel stuffed under the door frame to keep the weed smoke discreet. We had to keep our voices down but we were singing along. Feed your mind.
You can read in-depth details about the band's history in articles published by the great magazine Ugly Things. As we near a half century later we are fortunate that so much vital sound captured back then is available now, especially the lesser known bands who had a new music and lifestyle that was freshly disturbing to the society that spawned them. With the official reissue of the first two Damnation Of Adam Blessing LPs a sizable piece in the puzzle of early underground hard rock has been put in place. The sound and atmosphere of these albums are ageless, even though they are vividly of their own time and place. That is because what they represent is more than pop music, it is a way of life that can still be lived today. It was a wonderful time when the underground flirted with the mass market. Genuine freak bands were scooped up by the music industry. Damnation Of Adam Blessing's potential moment to break big came twice, either "Cookbook" or "Back To The River" could have been pushed into being national hits had the label been on the ball when regional airplay broke out. The first two Damnation Of Adam Blessing LPs are solid from beginning to end, they have the goods. The path was there. The time was right. The LPs were not in the shops when things were starting to really happen for the band. They became collector's items. All over the world a growing hungry audience for real psychedelic hard rock developed. There are countless reissues of bands who were waving their freak flag high in the late sixties. So many that you need some tips if you are not already deeply into it. Many of them have the interesting cultural context but are not essential to hearing what it was all about. They simply don't have the songs and performances built to last. If you want to get into the real stuff get both Damnation Of Adam Blessing LPs. You'll feel like you just grew an extra head.
When I was a kid I was baffled that they did "Last Train To Clarksville" on the first LP. Why was a genuine freak rock band doing a plastic pop Monkees hit, even if it was a good one? They screwed with it and made it heavy. Now I know they had begun doing the song as a goof live in the first place. That they also did "Morning Dew" made more sense as it was a song already associated with the Grateful Dead, Jeff Beck and other artists popular with the counterculture. The basic eternal elements of electric guitars and attitude are what drives the longevity of the best hard rock. Another essential is a singer with personality. It only lasts in the longer frame of time if the songs are strong. Damnation Of Adam Blessing does it right on all counts with a wide range of tasty arrangements, terrific songs and a taut balance between energy and idea. The guitars are locked in, the bass really moves and the singer sounds ominous and stoned. Those were the right moves to turn on kids and scare parents back circa 1970, a proven formula for success. There were many great bands and only limited space at the top of the charts, where this band could've gone. We can settle here for legendary, dig the music, light one up today and realize that more people are getting into this Damnation Of Adam Blessing with each passing year. That magic moment in time breathes on.
Paul Major is a legendary record collector, author of Feel the Music: The Psychedelic Worlds of Paul Major, and front-man of the amazing Endless Boogie.