Mixtape: Pastures of Plenty: A Raccoon Records Primer
It’s been a little while since I’ve had a guest mixtape (since the great Xian Country mix by Bobby Lee) but this week the tradition revives with a new mix from site favorite Jeffrey Alexander. Alexander (Dire Wolves, The Iditarod, Jackie-O Motherfucker) has been having an excellent run with The Heavy Lidders over the last few years and he’s lining up a great 2023, with two new Lidders records on Arrowhawk this year and a solo tape on the way from Aural Canyon. Jeffrey reached out with an idea to explore the varied and unique catalog of Raccoon Records. It’s an origin story that could have only come out of the cash-stuffed label system of the ‘60s, but a roster that’s as solid as any for the curious collector. Jeffrey explains below.
Raccoon Records truly released music for heads. Wild-eyed dreamer heads. The label only existed for three short years, producing 15 LPs and 13 singles. A handful of those full-lengths were also issued on 8-track, cassette and even 4-track reels. Despite their brief life-span, Raccoon’s releases touch on nearly every aspect of what I am interested in musically: modal and free jazz, soft fingerpicked folk, rustic psychedelic blues, airy 70s pop sounds, California bluegrass, extended harmolodics and supremely stoned improvisational studio jam-outs. Even some field recordings. The disparate sounds of the catalog are held together by a looseness and a warm vibe that really appeals to me. I feel that this sort of thing is apparent in the music that I make with my various bands and recording projects too: folk and free rock and electronic freakery. Variance also makes for a great mixtape, or radio show. I’ve been including these Raccoon releases on my various radio programs for the last 30 some years. It’s good stuff!
This was a small label run by The Youngbloods: Jesse Colin Young (bass, guitar, vocals), Joe Bauer (drums) and Banana (guitar, electric piano, banjo, pedal steel, etc). In 1968, they had relocated from New York City to rural West Marin, California. Around the same time, their contract with RCA was expiring and they were shopping around for a new record label. Based on the million-selling single “Get Together”, the band was able to strike a deal with Warner Bros. Records, which included giving them their own record label with complete control. I realize that Warner Bros were banking on a few more jackpot singles, but still – how did this even happen? I was curious, so I figured what-the-hell, and I emailed Lowell Levinger (Banana) out of the blue – I included my cell phone number. Who knows, right? Surprisingly, he called me within the hour.
Banana: “So Warner Bros said, these guys are obviously going to get more million-selling hit records. Let’s get em! And we said, well what we want is our own record label and we each want to have our own recording studio and we want to be able to record anybody we want and have you guys put it out. And they said, well if you can give us 3 Youngblood records a year, then OK. So we each got our own studio and we got to record these crazy records ourselves instead of going down to LA. Those Fools! You know Crab Tunes (laughs), Moonset, Kenny Gill, but we also introduced California bluegrass to the world with High Country. And you know, now, I’m pretty proud of it all.”
Jeffrey: “This is incredible. Tell me more about your studios.”
Banana: “Studio A was up on the ridge at Jesse’s house – and it is still there. Ethan Turner (son of Rick Turner – Alembic, Wall Of Sound, etc) miraculously, heroically, single-handedly saved it from the 1995 Mount Vision Fire which completely destroyed Jesse’s house which was right above the studio. He kept squirting it with the hoses, panicking like crazy you know. And it’s still there and it’s where I make my records. Studio B was also in Inverness in a cabin in the back of my house which I doubled the size of, soundproofed and put in a control window, you know. And that is now where my youngest son lives.”
Jeffrey: “Is that where you recorded Moonset?”
Banana: “I just made a really great recording of frogs about six days ago (laughs).”[Note: Those of you dusting off your Maxell XLII-S 90’s for this (as I did), you’ll need to flip sides during “Frogs”, an intermission of sorts for this mixtape]
Banana: “A lot of it was just improvising at the schoolhouse in Olema – Joe’s brother’s place. And some of it at his house. But yeah, it was all recorded on Sony reel to reel. 770s. And then, you know – mixed and mastered in the studio. That was all just extemporaneous improvisation.”
Jeffrey: “Then there’s Crab Tunes and Noggins…” [It’s so good, and also so incredibly odd. Listening to different takes of these songs over and over. Amazing that this is actually a Warner Bros. release]
Banana: “(laughs) Yeah they are sort of two different melodies, as I recall. I haven’t listened to it in years and years. But yeah, that was kind of: well, so they said we can put out anything we want, eh? How about THIS? (laughs) And they put it out. I think it sold about 25 copies. A rarity – if you have one, you’re lucky.”
We had a great phone chat and its fascinating for me to now place these musical memories to solid reference points in space and time. Back when we used to live in San Francisco, Miriam and I would often retreat to Point Reyes for multiple-night backpacking camping adventures. Spending each night in a different site from Sky Camp down to Wildcat, Glen, Coast and back… we enjoyed so many hikes on those trails, some were literally just a few feet away from Raccoon’s Studio A up on Buck Point Rd. We usually stopped for lunch in Olema (population 100) or at Hog Island on Tomales Bay. And putting this mix together took me right back there: long chaparral hikes, smelling the sharp Pacific air, savoring the sweet briny oysters. I started off here with a Tim Hardin cover, recorded live by the legendary Bob Matthews and Betty (board) Cantor for the first ever Raccoon release. There’s a few other covers in here as well: Fred Neil, Woody Guthrie, and Jeffrey Cain’s take on one of my favorite Richard and Mimi Farina songs (Banana would later go on to play with Mimi Farina for many years).
Please, have another hit of that sweet California sunshine and dig in.
1. The Youngbloods – Misty Roses – Rock Festival 1970, Raccoon #1
2. Jeffrey Cain – Pack Up Your Sorrows – Whispering Thunder 1972, Raccoon #12
3. Joe Bauer – Five Ten – Moonset 1971, Raccoon #3
4. Banana And The Bunch – Familiar Patterns – Mid-Mountain-Ranch 1972, Raccoon #13
5. The Youngbloods – The Dolphin – Ride The Wind 1971, Raccoon #4
6. Crab Tunes/Noggins – Crab Tune #5 – Crab Tunes/Noggins 1971, Raccoon #8
7. Michael Hurley – The Werewolf – Armchair Boogie 1971, Raccoon #6
8. Banana And The Bunch – Interlude – Mid-Mountain-Ranch 1972, Raccoon #13
9. Kenny Gill – Valley Of All Brothers – What Was, What Is, What Will Be 1971, Raccoon #5
10. Joe Bauer – Frogs – Moonset 1971, Raccoon #3
11. Jeffrey Cain – Heavenly Blue – For You 1970, Raccoon #2
12. Crab Tunes/Noggins – Crab Tune #2 – Crab Tunes/Noggins 1971, Raccoon #8
13. High Country – California Blues – High Country 1971, Raccoon #7
14. Jesse Colin Young – Pastures Of Plenty – Together 1972, Raccoon #10
15. Joe Bauer – Moonset – Moonset 1971, Raccoon #3
16. Banana And The Bunch – The Rights Of Man – Mid-Mountain-Ranch 1972, Raccoon #13
17. The Youngbloods – Good And Dusty – Good And Dusty 1971, Raccoon #9
18. Michael Hurley – Blue Driver – Hi Fi Snock Uptown 1972, Raccoon #14
19. Crab Tunes/Noggins – Crab Tune #6 – Crab Tunes/Noggins 1971, Raccoon #8
20. Jeffrey Cain – Mockingbird – Whispering Thunder 1972, Raccoon #12
21. Joe Bauer – Pelicans – Moonset 1971, Raccoon #3