Brown Acid Compilation Series

The Eclectic Brown-Aid Acid Test:
Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Record Collectors

There was kind of a weird spot just a smidge past the mid ’60s when the halcyon, zombie-dance daze of the much vaunted hippie era took a dark turn. Music critics and pop culture obsessives will probably argue till the end of time over which watershed event in particular held the quintessence of the turning of the guard. Altamont and/or the Manson Family murders sure are convenient touchstones from 1969. Or maybe it was earlier, when showman extraordinaire Anton LaVey founded his own San Francisco-based franchise of Satanism in 1966, casting a pall over the legendary Haight Ashbury neighborhood a year before the “free love” debauchery of the Summer of Love became a thing?

Then again, maybe it was just that there was always a dark side to psychedelia. Sure, Owsley’s acid purportedly delivered clean, strychnine and bummer-free trips for the “gentle people” who partook. But soon thereafter, the streets were flooded with tooth-gnashing-inducing, rat poison- and amphetamine-laced “LSD” that turned those who had previously been benignly anesthetized hippie dullards into homicidal, ahem, “sex perverts.” I mean, it’s pretty much common knowledge that the Merry Pranksters were really just an itinerant band of letches tripping balls across the country in a filthy, flea-ridden, broken-down, day glow painted bus. For every numinous LSD experience, there was a bad trip. Like, bummer, man.

Anyway, there was definitely a dark side to ’60s psychedelia. So, of course, there was a liminal phase of acid rock that somehow, backhandedly, probably accidentally, even, spawned heavy metal – or something like that.

Lucky for us, Lance Barresi, owner of Los Angeles’ hippest of the hip vinyl boutique, Permanent Records, has seen fit to chronicle the aforementioned dark side of obscure American psychedelic rock via a series of compilation albums called Brown Acid. In five short years, Barresi and his mates at Riding Easy Records have released 10 (!) volumes of Brown Acid. At ten songs per comp, that’s 100 Rosetta stoned tracks of proto-metal and heavy psych, delivered in convenient vinyl and CD formats, legally licensed and at a reasonable price. So slavering record collector geeks everywhere, well, a couple or three of ‘em, anyway, are really fucking stoked.

 Brown Acid all kind of started from me being an obsessive record collector in general,” says Barresi. “For five or six years, I was DJ at a club night called ‘Feed the Freaks’ at a place in L.A. called the Black Boar. I played hard rock, heavy psych and proto metal.

“On those nights I’d record my DJ sets,” Barresi continues. “And a friend of mine said to me, ‘man, you ought to sell those tapes of your DJ sets at your shop!’ I knew people really wanted this stuff, but I’d feel pretty uncomfortable selling other people’s music without having the rights. So that led me to the idea of shopping around, doing a mixtape of the songs that were licensable from my collection. And most of those songs happen to be of the private press variety or self-released. I mean, the idea of dealing with major labels to put together a comp like this is really arduous and expensive. There’s a lot of red tape and, you know, legal paperwork mumbo-jumbo involved.”

No stranger to hard work, obsession, red tape and mumbo-jumbo in general, Barresi began his quest to track down members of the obscure, self-released bands he’d spun at the Black Boar. This was an arduous quest that was not for the faint of heart.

“Daniel [Daniel Hall from Riding Easy Records] got on board and kind of gave me the green light to start licensing as many tracks as I could. And that really lit a fire under me to track down band members whose records I already had.

“So I started digging super, super deep into the genre. Some of the records that I liked to play on my DJ nights were really rare and really expensive – almost unattainable. So I started tracking various members of the bands. You know, when you want to find something, go straight to the source – even though the likelihood of [band members] having something from 40 or 50 years ago is slim.

“There were umpteen times when I spent hours and hours trying to find someone from some unknown band that led to nowhere. Sometimes I’d find out that all of the band members were dead, and I’d hit a brick wall.”

Still, Barresi’s obsessive qualities paid off – at least some of the time. The end result is ten freaking volumes of scary, mind-blowing and downright awesome psych rock. And what a strange trip it’s been.

“I have thousands of 45s in my collection, and we’re on the Tenth Trip. There are usually 10 tracks for each comp – so that’s only 100 songs that we’ve released so far. What we’ve been able to license is only a fraction of what’s actually out there.

“If I had to give a statistic, I’d say that tracking an old band works out about 25% of the time,” Barresi continues.  “One of four bands I research, I have luck – not only finding a living member but actually getting a license from them.

“Sometimes I would just Google a band, and their website would be the first hit. So that makes it pretty easy. When a band from back in the day is still performing and is an ongoing concern, well, that make it super simple. So, tracking the bands can be as simple – or it can be the most complicated thing you could imagine.”

Remember, we’re talking the dark side of psychedelia here. And we’re talking about music from the “sweet spot” span of (mostly) 1968 to 1974. So, this is wild, dark music made by people who were wild, dark adolescents – and it’s 50 years later. Not all of the musicians Barresi was able to find were exactly bowled over by the prospects of re-revealing the lysergically-induced primal screams of their youth in public these days.

“Some people just don’t want to be involved for one reason or another,” says Barresi. “I won’t mention any names, but there’s a band out of Florida I really wanted to work with. I found the guy – and he was a really, really sweet guy. But now he’s a born again Christian and I think the context of his old band and kind of what Brown Acid is all about doesn’t really jibe with his beliefs now. You know, it’s not a very Christian-friendly thing, exactly.

And then there’s the matter of lingering, intra-band disagreements.

“Occasionally the situation can be that there’s bad blood among the former band members,” says Barresi. “Something I had to come to terms with right away is that you’ve gotta think back about what these guys went through and put it in context. Because the band that they were in when they were in high school – the music sounds cool and it’s so badass that they were rocking back in 1969 or whatever. But that doesn’t mean that the band members weren’t sleeping with other band members’ girlfriends. I mean, these [bands] don’t always end well. Sometimes these guys hated each other’s guts. And sometimes they still do to this day. So you can see how those master tapes could disappear real quick back then. If things didn’t end well, boom! You know, all that shit gets destroyed, the photos get torn up, the tapes get burned, the records get thrown in a dumpster, and that’s that.”

Thankfully, though, Barresi’s fortitude and, ahem, “stick-to-it-iveness” has paid off much of the time.

So, Barresi kept his nose to the proverbial grindstone to re-release little-known hard rock classics for a new audience. All well and good. Still, there’s a lot more to it than merely obtaining the artists’ consent some 50 years later. All 10 issues of the Brown Acid series sound remarkably clear – and the volume levels are consistent. That’s no small feat when you consider the source.

“We get it [the music] however we can,” says Barresi. “But more often than not, the master tapes are long gone. So most of the time, the cleanest copy of a 45 is usually what we use as the master. We take whatever we can get – if we can get it. Sometimes the master tapes are still available. Sometimes, if the band is still functional, they’ll have their old material already digitized for us. It varies.

“I mean, there have been times when I had to take an original copy of a record, have it digitized, and then mail it back to the band member because that copy is literally the only one. The process is really across the board. We have one guy that’s really good at removing the pops and ticks from the recordings of the original vinyl – and the whole thing is mastered to make the levels more uniform across the record. There’s very little editing that goes on, but there is a bit of tweaking here and there to make the sound cohesive for each volume.”

The latest installation, Brown Acid: The Tenth Trip, prominently features the Atlanta band, Bitter Creek. Bitter Creek’s song, “Plastic Thunder,” is proof positive that a scary psych/proto-metal scene was happening right here in our own backyard, some 50 years ago. Amazing. Still, Barresi says that while he was thrilled to obtain rights to release the song, he did not uncover any mythic folklore in the tracking process. “The guy from Bitter Creek, he didn’t have a lot to say,” says Barresi.

“We licensed the song by Bitter Creek a real long time ago,” Barresi continues. “Honestly, I can’t remember how I came across that band originally. Bitter Creek is fairly well known amongst guys who collect this kind of stuff. There’s even been stock finds of that 45 over the years. The original vinyl is still expensive, but, you know, that song [‘Plastic Thunder’] is a notorious one. There are quite a few copies of that record floating around – in a way that some of the other songs in this series are not. Like, I even have some of the original vinyl of that record for sale – which I can’t say for very many of the other tracks in the series.

“You know, I have a real soft spot for homemade, earnest, private press records of all genres. A big part of my personal musical things goes back to punk rock, really. Enjoying punk led me down the road of Killed By Death [a series of punk comps that is THE punk comp series – if you like your punk to be down and dirty, real punk that is], which is kind of the rawest, most far out version of punk I think. It’s kind of the same way that Nuggets and Pebbles are the rawest, most far out versions of garage rock. So I see Brown Acid as the bridge between Killed by Death, Nuggets and Pebbles. It is the neglected, red-headed stepchild of the era between garage and punk. And there is a lot of amazing music that came out at that time that, until recently, was never categorized or collected in a serious way before.

“I’ve always been a collector. And as soon as I got into record collecting, it was all over. So, when you see other people making compilations…for guys like me, that becomes something that, automatically, you just want to do – to help contextualize things and categorize things, and, also, to make a legacy for yourself. You know, there’s something about this that is really fulfilling. It feels good to have my name stamped on a thing that is long-running, and loved and enjoyed by so many people. There’s more to come, for sure.”