Trance Grooves ala Fred Neil
Music was struggling to reinvent itself in the early sixties; wanting to break out of the staid song structures to run free over the hills and vales of improvisational tones and rhythms. Fred Neil was one of many instituting a wake up call to modern music, especially acoustical folk music, that there were new song formats that did not fit the Tin Pan Ally formula of song writing. Ragas are a form of music from India made popular by master musician Ravi Shankar, introduced to the West by Beatle George Harrison. This music investigates the subtle tones and rhythms that are really close to each other and create a pulsing dissonance that American ears found disconcerting when we first heard it, but Fred Neil used this ancient musical approach to invent a folk raga type of acoustical guitar music where the musicians would more or less stay on the same chords, usually in an open tuning using droning bass strings, for a long time and investigate the rhythmic and harmonic potential while cooking along in either a fairly brisk tempo or sometimes in a very slow meditative groove. Meditation was unheard of in mainstream America in the early sixties, but it was being discovered by beatniks and folk singers, poets and jazz musicians and devotees of caffeine emporiums in order to find a way into the new consciousness that humans were inexorably being drawn toward. The evolution of human consciousness was activating parts of our brains that could handle unique functions, such as long drawn out grooves. This was an ancient human musical trait in many cultures but in the US this was something tedious and did not sell toothpaste, so it had not been used by commercial music composers. The foraging into musical styles was accomplished by the musicians on the fringe, and as Marshal McLuhan stated, that fringe element eventually becomes the mainstream. With the advent of electric guitars, and drum sets, the possibilities for trance grooves expanded into territories unheard of in music. Not only groups like Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead stayed on one groove for an eternity, witnessing changes in their psychology and sense of spirituality as the grooves droned on but every garage band in America, and England were trying to hit that special groove note where the universe would open up and the pimple faced player would feel part of a greater consciousness while the girls swayed to the steady beat. Now we take this style of music for granted but when it was being born there was resistance in our modern culture. The imperative had been to consume and progress, which did not imply staying on one note for a very long time. This was the beginning of the self help movement, health food, ecology, the yoga movement, meditation, zen, all being fueled by musicians working outside the parameters of conventional musical orthodoxy. They were not welcomed with open arms by the music industry. But thanks to fearless musical pioneers like Fred Neil we have this in our musical palette.
excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russel Buddy Helm ©2014