(L) Cover of 'The Girl in the Chair' by Pete Blind
(R) Don, Chris, Geoff, 1971: a parody of the photo on rear cover of
Santana's 'Love, Devotion, Surrender' LP
The avant-garde musical group
The Roots of Madness was formed in San Jose, California in
1969 by Geoff Alexander and Don Campau, and included
Joe Morrow, Jim Kulczynski, and David “Dave Dolphin”
Leskovsky. This core group was joined frequently by Gary and Chris
Campau, Patrick Evans, and Vickie Leskovsky. Geoff, who was
influenced by the likes of John Coltrane, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and
Japanese ichi-genkin music, was unaware of the rock musical
revolution taking place 60 miles to the north in San Francisco. Don,
influenced by British blues and San Francisco psychedelic rock, was
unaware of avant-garde jazz. The melding of these influences became
the framework for the group’s eclectic compositions and arrangements.
The Roots existed from
1969 to 1973, and played in unconventional venues, such as laundromats
and freeway overpasses, arriving unannounced, setting up instruments,
and performing sets of up to two hours. Their only scheduled
performance was at Forbes Mill in the town of Los Gatos, where they
were joined by pianist Russ Ferrante (who later would form the
and local avant-garde musician and artist John Hayden.
Their phonograph record, ‘The
Girl in the Chair,’ was pressed in
1971, in a run of 500 copies, 100 of
which were distributed by the legendary Norm Pierce of San Francisco’s
Jack’s Record Cellar. Norm also distributed ESP-Disk recordings, and
felt that The Roots would appeal to the same listener (he later noted
that it was one of the few times he was wrong). The record was funded
radio owner Lorenzo Milam, who wrote
detailing the physical disabilities of the group, and on whose
Los Gatos FM station The Roots had performed on many live occasions
(somewhat incredibly, upon hearing the finished album, Lorenzo said the
recording wasn’t avant-garde enough for his taste). Listen to Lorenzo's
'You Are My Sunshine,'
also on the disc.
By the time the group
recorded its last session in 1973, a total of 10 records had been
Justin F. Farrar's review
of The Girl in the Chair in SF Weekly.
(L) Don, live performance at
(R) Dave Dolphin
The back story of the Roots of Madness
Geoff and Don met each
other while enrolled in Leigh High School’s journalism class in 1968,
neither having anything in common with 98% of the student body’s zest
for football, cheerleading, and Christian social clubs. Geoff had a
radio program on KTAO, an FM station in nearby Los Gatos owned by former
Random House editor Bill Ryan, and journalist Lorenzo Milam, and Don
soon started hanging out there with Geoff. Eventually, Lorenzo bought
out Bill’s share of the station, Don got his own program as well, and
he and Geoff took on the lion’s share of the responsibility of placing
records in the station’s library. The KTAO library was unlike any
other in the world. Milam, a millionaire who eschewed financial success
in radio, was determined to be uncompromising in bringing eclectic music
to the listeners of Northern California. He would routinely order
the entire catalogue of any record label in the world engaged in ethnic,
baroque, old-timey, avant-garde, or just plain weird.
By the time The Roots of
Madness were formed in 1969, Geoff and Don had heard hundreds of musical
forms from around the world, and had begun acquiring musical
instruments. In the same time period, high school friend Joe Morrow and
Geoff’s brother David Leskovsky had joined the on-air staff at KTAO as
well. There, they met artists Pete Blind (who designer the cover art
for ‘The Girl in the Chair’), and John Hayden. Hayden, who hosted
informal avant-garde musical sessions in his home, had been involved
with the San Francisco ‘Beat’
generation, and a friend of
Geoff, Don, Joe, Dave, and Jim Kulczynski (who has been in Geoff and
Don’s journalism class) began playing regularly at John’s.
The Roots had nine formal
recording sessions from 1969 through 1973. Most were recorded in the
kitchen-dining room of Geoff’s parents’ house, and household “found”
sounds (including his barking dogs, the Kirby vacuum cleaner, and the
Volkswagen keys) were liberally incorporated into the musical
sessions. Recordings were done mostly on Don’s reel-to-reel Sony tape
recorder, with only two mics. VUs were set for every instrument,
which was placed in a distance that would slightly put the needle into
the red, when played at full volume. When a fade-out was desired, the
player simply walked out of mic range. In ‘Réalisation II,’ the
shortwave radio piece which introduces ‘The Girl in the Chair,’ the
volume on the radios is controlled by volume knobs, whereas music box
volume is enhanced or decreased by moving them toward or away from the
mics. Most of the Roots recordings were done in this suburban
kitchen, with a large family and friends coming, going, and walking
through the recording sessions.
Other recordings by various
Roots members were made during this era, including "The Geoffrey 3” and
several recordings by Don & Chris Campau. All of these recordings
are available in CD format
at Don Campau’s Lonely Whistle website.
Music after the Roots era
KTAO went off the air in
1974, and Geoff and Don formed Dogmouth Records, a used-record
store, that year. At least one of the Roots’ last recordings was made
at the store, a converted house (the shower was located inside the
store, and showers were sold to customers at 50 cents each). In 1976,
Dogmouth went out of business, a victim of Los Gatos town planners, who
felt that an anti-trendy store like Dogmouth wasn’t--- like KTAO --- in
keeping with the image the town wanted to portray.
Geoff soon attended
Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and played salsa for a year with
Louie Romero’s ‘Los Reyes del Ritmo’ in East San Jose. In the late
1980s, he made two cassettes of his own compositions and arrangements, ‘Canódromo’
and ‘San Jose Confidential. His
‘New Directions for Farfisa Organ’
CD, consisting of his avant-garde pieces for organ performed in 1987,
was released in 2004.
Don never stopped playing
and recording, having made dozens of tapes of his own music, and
collaborating with others. His
label highlights the breadth of his innovative and collaborative musical
radio show, running for more than 20 years on Cupertino, California's
KKUP-FM, the longest running program of home tapers, collaborative
mnusicians, and small studio productions in the world, is also now
broadcast on shortwave in Europe on Radio Marabu.
The name: what goes around…
Don named the group after an
academic film he saw in high school in 1968 called “China: The Roots
of Madness.” The film was part of the film library of the Santa
Clara County Office of Education. That film library was bought --- by
Geoff --- in 1995, and became the beginning of what was to become the
Academic Film Archive of North America.
‘The Girl in the Chair’
was named for a disabled girl in school who, confined to a wheelchair,
wheeled around the high school parking lot, busting fellow students
for necking and smoking cigarettes. Somehow, neither her advisors,
family, nor fiends were able to fathom that this duty would make her one
of the most ridiculed people in school. ‘The Girl’ became a metaphor
for all the forces which combined to turn places of education into
mini-prisons, where questioning, creativity, and freedom to be oneself
were routinely repressed.
On the rear cover of ‘The
Girl in the Chair,’ just under the liner notes, some will recognize the
half-tone of legendary murderess
in the electric chair, photographed just as the switch was thrown. She’s
‘The Girl’ too. The Roots' dark sense of humor was not for everyone.
In an old magazine, Geoff found an old photo of Mussolini hanging by
his heels, with a crowd standing around. He flipped the shot
vertically, so Benito appeared to be standing up, with his arms raised
high. “Action at recent Roots of Madness Concert” read the
caption, and was used in Roots publicity fliers.
The Roots of Madness album
‘The Girl in The Chair’ was reissued (2005) by
records of Minneapolis with witty, revisionist liner notes, jointly
re-issued by the Child Of Microtones label from Vermont.
A few copies of Roots of Madness original recordings, and individual
recordings by Don and Geoff can be found at Don’s
Some online reviews of the
The Girl in the Chair:
"realisation II. All I can say.
It gives me the creep. I need beat." :D
"It is a very valuable original
press, but special because of the stain as you can see at the boobs!"
"The moment I heard the first
track “Realisation II” then I knew I’d fallen in love with this music.
It’s not a perfect theory but sometimes a certain kind of music is so
cool is probably because it covers certain ranges of genres and were
combined coolly. They thrill and stimulate you."
"rip that mutha. i got to hear
el sabor, 2004
"There are collage-sound,
kitchen sink-concrète albums that sound as mysterious and appealing as
The Girl In The Chair, but you can bet none of the groups that made them
were from San Jose, and none of them had the sense of silliness and fun
so valued by Roots of Madness.The sounds that compose The Girl In The
Chair include fragments of transistor radio frequencies, frantic piano
tinkling, music boxes, spoken word recitation, tape-recorded messages,
Ayleresque horn flares, and sonic booms of all shapes and degrees."
Sam Sweet, 2005
"The recordings breathed with a
total musty basement air vibe, and were a defining bridge in many ways
between the lost minds of the 60's and the high weirdness of the 70s
that was yet to peak."
"A refreshing lost artifact of
pure American fizz resurrected from the iconoclasm void... an essential
LP for anyone concerned with the paramount energy fields of all the
above ground sound subterrains."