Monday, November 28, 2011

Down The Rabbit Hole

"Times were simpler then, where have all the flowers gone and how many roads must a man walk down were the only thoughts that weighed heavy on our minds"

Thom Parrott has been called "Albuquerque's Bob Dylan." the Duke City's link to the "folk boom" of the 1960's. His best known compositions include "The Aberfan Coaltip Tragedy"(which tells the tragic tale of Aberfan in South Wales, where in 1966  a tip of coal waste slid onto the village, killing 144 people including 116 school children) and  "Pinkville Helicopter" (included on the Smithsonian Folkways "Best of Broadside" compilation album) Written by Parrott about the My Lai massacre in the Quang Ngai Province of Vietnam in 1968. "Hole in the Ground" is also set in Vietnam during the war, it tells the story of a ten year boy tricked by U.S. soldiers into betraying his own father.  Another one of his songs, "Teardrops on Tap" was recorded by country singer Randy Rhodes in 1988.

Born in Washington, D.C. Thom began his transformation into a folk troubadour playing with a trio while enrolled at Stetson Univ. in Florida. In 1964 Thom made his way to New York City where he caught the attention of the publishers at Broadside Magazine* (Sis Cunningham & Gordon Friesen) They published several of his songs and were instrumental in having him included on concert bills around the East Village. His appeal was such that he was asked to record for Moses Asch's Folkways Records. (now Smithsonian Folkway) Cashbox Magazine in a review of his first album referred to Thom as "one of the new wunderkind" He became an intergal part of the New York folk scene, appearing at The Newport Folk Festival and at Carnegie Hall.  (*a broadside was a song or poem dealing with a topical issue, usually political. Writers would sell these as a way to make money and stir up controversy)

Thom Parrott

Folk music's days were numbered, between Bob Dylan going electric, Beatlemania and The Summer of Love,  folk's appeal as popular or topical music started to wane. In the early 1970's Thom Parrott moved to New Mexico and became a music teacher at UNM. He taught guitar and harmonica, but it was his jug band class that would have the biggest impact on Albuquerque's music scene. In 1975, Thom & Steve Wilkes formed The Watermelon Mountain Jug Band, Albuquerque's venerable purveyors of traditional American music. (Preceded only by Dick Bill's Sandia Mountain Boys, the Duke City's first hillybilly band) The Watermelon Mountain Jug Band is still around, the band's website proudly describes it as "one of New Mexico's treasured natural resources."

In 1980 he teamed up with Cabin Lance to form Illegal Aliens, the band's first gig at Okie's in Albuquerque featured Thom, Cabin, Ron Hogan & a full troupe of rastafarians. After the show, the reggae faction broke off to form their own band "Strictly Roots."  A very young Caleb Miles came on board to round-out the Illegal Aliens line-up.  (which also featured a revolving cast of drummers including Jim Schwar who along with Thom provided musical accompaniment for Alan Ginsberg during an Albuquerque performance by the beat icon.)

Cabin Lance was as well known around Albuquerque as anyone in those days. Cabin Lance sightings were as common then as Don Schrader sightings are now.  Cabin, an advocate for legalized marijuana and political change, ran for the office of Mayor in 1981, "getting more votes per dollar than any other candidate." The Illegal Aliens would play at  "Smoke in the Mayor" an event held in honor of newly elected Mayor Harry Kinney at Civic Plaza. The following year, a "Smoke In" held at Roosevelt Park, featuring The Illegal Aliens was rudely broken up APD officers. (some on horseback  trampled a couple of attendees)

Caleb Miles

Caleb Miles quit the band in 1982 (after a stint in Sundog, he reunited with Cabin Lance in F.O.R.) and then turned up playing guitar for popular Albuquerque indie roots rock band  A Murder of Crows. Caleb took a circuitous route to Portland, where he played with Lewi Longmire (Apricot Jam) and a band called Kentucky Snakehandlers. Since 2005 he's lived in Nova Scotia, (a place most people know only as home to The Trailer Park Boys) As a solo artist he's recorded three albums,  Brickyard Road in 2006, Memory Well in 2008 and his latest release (just out this month) Strange Weather, a CD release party is scheduled for Dec. 17 in Wolfville, Nova Scotia if you're up that way.

After a disastrous show at Graham Central Station's battle of the bands. Illegal Aliens restructured its line-up with Richard LePage on drums, Rebecca Standifer on vocals, Mike Manthey-bass, Tom Lewis, vocals & guitar, added to the core of Cabin Lance, Thom Parrott & Ron Hogan. The band continued to make a go at it, but essentially faded from the local scene by the mid 1980's. Thom Parrot resurfaced in 2003 with the album "Everything is Fine" backed by Caleb Miles on guitar, Jim Schwar on drums and Bonnie Bluhm, vocals.  Parrot and Schwar also partnered in the band Pssst! and of course made guest appearances on AR & The Ramblin' Rats'  "Going to Kansaquerque"

Cabin Lance, third from left

Cabin Lance also played with F.O.R. and See the Bunnies before forming what was described as "a multi-cultural, bi-lingual musical group"  Los Flaming Cool Arrows, they were a combination of "Norteno, Hispanic folk styles, rock & rancheras"  After that, Cabin recused himself from the public stage and has not been active in music since then.  The most recent news concerning Cabin Lance is a post by Caleb Miles on his website that he's overdubbing instrumental tracks to some of Cabin's vocals, recorded eons ago in Albuquerque. He refers to these recordings as "The Cabin Lance project" no word yet if they'll be made available to the general public. 

"And now our tale is done, And home we steer, a merry crew, Beneath the setting sun"