Lorenzo W. Milam wrote these liner notes for the record album 'The Girl
in the Chair' by the Roots of Madness.
It must have been sometime in 1970. Or maybe
'71. To the best of their recollection, that's when THE ROOTS OF MADNESS
came together. In the suburban living room of a Del E. Webb stucco home,
in San Jose, California, U.S.A.
"We thought we could sound better than anyone on radio" is the humble
statement of one of the members telling why this magic group came
Paradoxically, and practically, THE ROOTS OF MADNESS came together in
Mrs. Maddox's 12th grade Journalism Class at Leigh High School. "God, it
was dingy!" is the fond memory of the group of those halcyon days at
Leigh. "We couldn't handle assignments for teen-age fashion shows, so we
all flunked." Thus, THE ROOTS OF MADNESS.
The group likes to think of itself as "Downtown." And when they say
"Downtown" they mean the "Bascom Avenue" San Jose as opposed to the
"First Street" San Jose. They like to recall the many other musicians
that have grown up in, and forgotten, San Jose.
"Santana started off here, and when they got successful," says Geoff,
"they started calling themselves a Bay Area Group. We, on the other
hand, wouldn't be caught dead denying our heritage as part of the
'Little Los Angeles' of Northern California." Several critics have come
to point out that THE ROOTS OF MADNESS is probably part of the South Bay
Delta Blues Confluence, rather than the Ben Lomond Blues School as
represented by Blind Joe McBlind.
August, 1970. That was the year of The Big Shock. There was a power
shortage. And that was when "We found Jim Kulczynski could play nothing
but the blues." Little Jim: no bigger than the palm of your hand
standing a proud four foot eleven. Graduate of Leigh, proud alumnus of
The Leigh Lepers (an avant-garde group of young misfits who found
themselves in music and, some say, were the direct precursors of THE
ROOTS OF MADNESS.)
"In our own way," Jim likes to remember: "We were Leigh's finest." There
was Jay Horney Henry, and Rhino Boy, and The Girl In The Chair. "We were
the hairyest of Leigh's intellectual maelstrom. We were the first of the
North Santa Clara Musique-concrete set." It was through their passion
for the use of klaxons in 3/4 time that caused them to stumble across
(and partially deafen) Geoff Alexander known as "The Gumball Greek"
after his patent family heritage and orthodontry problems.
Geoff --- on his own --- had just begun to experiment with “The
Sunnyvale Sound” as it was later to be called. It consisted of Electric
Trumpet, Short-wave Radio (tuned to WWV - Denver), and Proctological
Tubing. The melody base was an obvious borrowing from the blues-guitar
style of the late P.P. McFeelie. In fact, the entire ROOTS OF MADNESS
proudly claims brotherhood with this obscure Ebo City musician who died
tragically of Phlebitis shortly after recording YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE
(included here for comparison).
It was perfectly natural, given the ethos of that fateful journalism
class at Leigh, that Geoff should run into Joe Morrow. '' Big-Little'
Joe, standing (then, as now) an even 6' 8" in his stocking, and weighing
in at an even 374 pounds. Joe, with his unabashed affection for two-inch
'sweet potatoes' --- bringing with him the brilliant Don Campau.
"It was Donald who was our great inspiration," says Joe through his
speaking tube. (An early, and unfortunate bout with Kyphosis, makes it
impossible for Joe to use his larynx. Doctors have fashioned an
experimental plastic reed which is inserted directly into his duodenum.
Thus the piercing sound in some of the compositions as Joe 'plays' with
his voice as if it were a flute). "Don was an inspiration because of his
willingness to play piano with only one arm."
Here Joe is referring to Donald's tragic experience at age 5 when he
lost one arm in a player piano ratchet. And yet, ironically, it is the
player piano that Don favors the most --- hitting it (pounding it,
really) with his one remaining arm. "It may be twisted and horney ---
but man! Can Don do the old 88s!" says Joe with obvious approbation
through his clear plastic flue. Joe likes to think of himself as "An
Attentive Ear" as Don races up and down the vary instrument that tried
to "eat" him.
It would be Impossible for me, in this short time, to give you the
intimate feeling of inspiration, musicianship, guts and sheer sweat that
sets THE ROOTS OF MADNESS apart from other folk, blues, rock, and modern
musicians. I first heard them on Country KTAO --- a Santa Clara County
radio station which calls itself "a peep-hole into the very nuts of
Twice a week, Geoff would wheel himself into the studios of KTAO, put
his hook into the trumpet, adjust his Speculum Bag —- and blow his heart
out. It was and is a very moving experience. Even the janitor whose job
it was to clean out the bile-pipes would be moved to listen. A visitor
once asked him what he thought of Geoff and His Residue (as the group
was called then) and he said 'It's a Gol-darn mess. It is.' It was said
that he was frightened by 'Old Gimpy' Dolfin who, in those days as in
this, would remove and leave on the table his stump when he was working
the Short Wave Receiver.
Enough speculations. I want you to set down your dislikes and your
incomprehensions. I want you to lay aside your prejudices about San Jose
and its deformed and crippled. I want you to open up your ears to some
of the swingin'-est, smarmiest, satinist music since Holst hung up his
If you like Glen Yarborough, you'll delight in the tragic WE HAD A LOVE
(BUT IT DIED). Let the strains of the alto sax clarinet, and Little
Upright Organ scour through your mind, delicately 'mash' the stuff of
LISTEN! Let your ear soar Into THE OLD MAN'S ASS. Remember that this
brave group, THE ROOTS OF MADNESS, can only count five arms, seven legs,
two glass eyes, an iron lung, a half-dozen mouths, and one bladderpump
among them. And yet --- despite all odds --- they can produce such
music. SUCH MUSIC! Don't be put off by their self-mocking fantasy. You
might hear the rattling of Don's Sputum Cup on THE FLIGHT OF THE OCKA
BIRD. You might not even be aware of the fact that Geoff had a petite
mal seizure during the actual recording of REALISATION II.
Forget all the rumors of incest, pederasty, masochism and onanism that
their detractors are trying to lay against THE ROOTS OF MADNESS. Even in
San Jose, the Prune Capital of The World, there are vitriolic detractors
out of the very Steven's Creek avant-garde that spawned this hardy band.
Even as this precious, once-in-a-lifetime disc is going to press, Don is
busy penning an opera THESES DE FECES. Joe is forming Morrow's Big Band
featuring ESP-type jazz and poetry; Jim's Dream Band is exploring the
fine points of blues, and the Geoffrey 3 (trumpet, trombone, guitar)
attempts to achieve knowledge of the inner concept of existential
THE ROOTS OF MADNESS has been and will always be an original, soulful,
great 'dingbat, diddle-burdled, batshit’ --- to quote from their song
dedicated to memory of the San Jose Water Works Project. THE ROOTS OF
MADNESS is "Nihility in Being" (from Lord Chesterfield), and no
miscreant essaying to bring them and their instruments into the Reyes
Point Veteran's Hospital for "observation" (as has been tried more than
once) is going to threaten the depth of feeling and obvious originality
of this "genteel, gibbous, genial, ganglia in genitalia..."
UP YOUR ROOTS OF MADNESSI
--- L. Milan
1. "Realisation II" (Campau-Alexander-Morrow) (11:35)
Don: shortwave variations, vocal
Geoff: shortwave, walkie-talkie, trumpet, percussion, vocal
Joe: shortwave, recorder, trombone, percussion, clarinet, vocal
2. "Nihility In Being" (Morrow) (1:07)
Gare: beat drumming
3. "Mass At Time Of Circumcision Of King Leopold XVII Of Belgium For
Bull-horns, Glass Harmonica. Tympani, and Fret-work Drums" (G. Beaumont)
4. "Cat's Tail" (Campau) (1:35)
Don: acoustic slide guitar
5. "We Had A Love (But It Died)" (Kulczynski) (5:08)
Jim (Blind Burrell): gultar&vocal
1. "The Yell" (Dolfin) (1:47)
Dave Dolfin: mouth harp, yell
2. "The Big House" (Alexander) (6:50)
3. "The Old Man's Ass" (found in Old St.Paul"s Church, translated by G.
Geoff: recitation, percussion
4. "Flight Of The Ocka Bird" (Campau) (5:21)
Don: electric slide guitar
Jim; rhythm guitar
Geoff: trumpet, hummato
5. "You Are My Sunsh1ne"(Trad.) recorded live June 21, 1940; originally
on the Spherophone label, 35423-2 (1:30)
P.P. McFeelie; guitar, vocal
Material contained herein is protected by The Geneva Convention of 1947.
It is suitable for reproduction through bladder-operated stereopilcon
equipment. It was mastered on a Teriyaki Model if 44 lathe-driven
Recorder, using Wollensak B-19 microphones. The mastering tape
was Dak 120 Econo-line, and the whole was produced in Studio A of Radio
#5 University Avenue, Los Gatos, California 95030.
"At The Sign Of The Retching Dogmouth."
THE GIRL IN THE CHAIR
BALH - 1760