The Human Instinct, Stoned Guitar (1970)
I picked up one of the several reissues of The Human Instinct‘s Stoned Guitar years ago at a CD store in Manhattan that I’m sure by now is long gone. Can’t imagine I was the first person ever to make the purchase for this reason, but yes, it was absolutely the title that sold me on it. I mean, seriously. It’s Stoned Guitar and it’s from 1970. How on earth could you possibly go wrong?
When one encounters a record like this one, whether through a happenstance vinyl bin encounter, disc-searching, YouTube clickholing or rigorous online market search, the temptation is generally to ascribe to it some sense of prescience — as though The Human Instinct, who were founded in 1969 by drummer/vocalist Maurice Greer and made their debut that same year with Burning up Years, had some sense of the decades of THC-addled riffing that would follow, and because of that, to position their work as a lost classic and some kind of forgotten founding document of a musical movement still evolving today. That’s fun if you happen to be the person writing the marketing copy, but the truth, as usual, is more complex. Stoned Guitar, with its problematic-in-hindsight blues rocking opener single “Black Sally” (a cover of the Aussie band Mecca) the Mountain-esque cowbell and mega-riff that start “Midnight Sun,” the wonderfully psych-jammed “Jugg-a-Jug Song,” and the faked-live finale take on Rory Gallagher’s “Railway and Gun,” was released on the private press label Pye Records. It uncautiously straddled the line between blues and acid rock, and the looseness of its swing along with Greer‘s crisp vocals, Billy “TK” Te Kahika‘s scorch-prone guitar and the bass work of Larry Waide offered no shortage of charm. I don’t know if it’s the lost ark of stoner jamming, but it most definitely lived up to its name, and that in itself is a landmark achievement.
As with much of the heavy rock of the day, which now we’d probably fairly call “proto-something-or-other” though it was certainly breaking new ground at the time, one can hear the inflections of Jimi Hendrix, Blue Cheer and the like, but Billy TK‘s leads, layered and swirling on “Jugg-a-Jug Song” and occupying a noise-laden soundscape on the title-track, are a beast unto themselves. Whether he’s deep-diving into a funky rhythm on “Stoned Guitar” or strumming out acoustic on “Tomorrow” (another cover, of John Kongos), the guitar is a constant presence that proves worthy of the focus it gets. That’s not to take away from Waide, without whom the blues stomp of “Black Sally” would fall utterly flat, or from Greer himself, who played (and still plays, by all accounts) his drums in a standing position so as to better lead the band as its singer. They probably could’ve called the album Stoned Everything and gotten by, but they didn’t. It’s Stoned Guitar, and sure enough, the guitar is front and center for much of it. Even as Derek Neville adds baritone sax to “Midnight Sun,” Billy TK is just waiting in the wings to answer him back with yet another searing, soaring, “right on”-earning solo. And indeed, right on. I’m not sure there’s any other way to respond to the jam that ensues in that song, improvised-sounding as it is and peppered with falsetto late by Greer as he and Te Kahika and Waide and Neville seem to be having two ongoing musical conversations just as the track goes into its fade. It’s one of many moments of righteousness to be had throughout Stoned Guitar, which, again, isn’t necessarily a record that changed the world around it, but for sure still has something to offer its audience 47 years later. Maybe more now than it did when it was first released.
Billy TK stuck around for one more record, 1971’s Pins in It, and then left the band, which Greer refocused on a less heavy-minded aesthetic with a new lineup. A couple more albums followed, more lineup changes, and so on, and eventually they fizzled out as so many did and do. It wouldn’t be until 2001 that The Human Instinct would release Peg Leg, which was originally recorded in 1975, and which Greer supported through periodic live performances. A new The Human Instinct studio album, with Greer, bassist Tony Baird and guitarists Phil Pritchard and Joel Haines, followed in 2010 called Midnight Sun, and continues to be available on a somewhat limited basis. Among other guests? You guessed it: Billy TK. It was a collaboration well worthy of a revisit, which Stoned Guitar only continues to prove.
As always, I hope you enjoy.
If you’ll indulge a bit of scene-setting: As I write this, it’s a little before six in the morning. I took the day off from work and have been up since about 4:30AM. The alarm was set, as it has been this week, for 4:45. I rolled out of bed after laying there for a couple minutes with The Patient Mrs., who’s still asleep. Came downstairs, turned on the coffee pot with the Burundi Bourbon that I ground before going to bed last night ready to roll, went back up to the second floor, brushed teeth, showered, etc. Now I’m at the kitchen table, which I just cleaned off. In the basement, the first of several loads of laundry for the day is in progress. The dishes, I did last night. It’s still dark out, but when the sun comes up, I’ll take out the recycling.
I’ve got my second cup of coffee, my bluetooth speaker playing the new Alunah, and an iced tea on the table. The Little Dog Dio is asleep in her kitchen bed — as opposed to her living room pillow or her actual preferred spot, which is stage right on the couch — and past her, I can see out the sliding door it’s still dark out, the moon just more than halfway full. In a while the sun will come up. I’ve got a couple more posts that came in late for this morning that I need to put together still and a list of chores I want to do today, principal among them are grocery shopping and the aforementioned laundry. I hope to accomplish everything as early as possible, maybe start reading that new George Saunders novel, and spend as much time relaxing this afternoon with The Patient Mrs. as I can. Her schedule means she’s off on most Fridays apart from the odd work meeting. I don’t think she has one today, so all the better.
This — all of it — is essentially what I want my life to be. I’ll wrap the day’s writing shortly, which is two news posts as if there weren’t already enough, and get everything up throughout the early part of the day, then roast macadamia nuts and make myself a protein shake for lunch. Dinner is a ham sandwich on low-carb bread (an incredible 1 net g per two thin slices, and it’s pretty good) with provolone and pesto, some fake potato chips on the side. I’m already looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great day, and I can see by just the first hints of light on the small deck out back that it’s already getting underway. Couldn’t be more stoked.
It was a hard week. The last couple have been difficult, and I’ve found myself increasingly anxious along the way. Yesterday at the office I tried to abate this by making lists. I made the grocery list I’ll take shopping today, the to-do list cataloging what I wanted to do this morning/afternoon, a CVS list (forgot Band-Aids, and they didn’t have my preferred kind of mints), and basically planned out my meals through the end of the month. I don’t know if it helped, but at least it took a little time out of my day. I’d been counting the minutes until yesterday was over and today could start.
There’s a lot to do, but I’m much happier in my current state. It’s warm, music’s on, I’m not pounding my coffee to get out the door, and in a little while, The Patient Mrs. will get up and sit across this table from me with her wonderful, radiant face and we’ll have breakfast together — her, yogurt or eggs or some such; me, coffee with protein powder in it. Then I’ll switch over the laundry, handle that recycling and get back to writing. Yes. That’s what feels best. I’m fortunate to be able to take the day when I need it. Today, I need it.
Here’s what’s doing for next week. People are starting to come out of the woodwork with new albums for March, April, May, and tours as well, so a lot of it is news again, as was the case this week and certainly today, which turned into an eight-post day kind of out of nowhere. All subject to change, of course:
Mon.: Radio adds, hopefully a quick Q&A with Dave Sherman about the new Earthride lineup.
Tue.: Review and track premiere for the new Atavismo, which rules. News on Brown Acid, the new Isis live record, etc.
Wed.: Review and track premiere for the new Kingnomad, which rules.
Thu.: Full album stream of the new Void Cruiser, which I’m still getting a handle on. Psych grunge makes for a fascinating blend.
Fri.: Overdue review of the Kandodo McBain record from last year. There’s a story behind the delay, but I’ll tell it maybe in the photo caption.
I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Mine’s just getting rolling right now and I hope to relish every second of it.
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