Sky Saxon

The Telegraph, UK/June 29, 2009

Sky Saxon, who died on June 25 aged 71, was a rock singer with one of the strangest careers in popular music. His brief success in the 1960s was followed by decades of seclusion in a religious cult before his musical reputation was resurrected by bands such as The Strokes and The White Stripes; he then styled himself "The King of Garage Rock".

He was born Richard Elvern Marsh in Salt Lake City, Utah, on August 20 1937. Arriving in Los Angeles in the early 1960s he sang doo-wop as Little Richie Marsh, but, inspired by The Beatles, he formed a rock band and changed his name to Sky Saxon.

After brief stints in several local outfits he formed The Seeds in 1965 as lead singer and songwriter. The band developed a raw, abrasive sound and began performing at clubs on Sunset Strip, quickly picking up a record deal.

The Seeds broke into the American Top 40 with their debut single Pushin' Too Hard, which reached number 36. Though the follow-up - Can't Seem To Make You Mine - stalled at 42, they quickly became the most popular new rock band in Los Angeles, earning $6,000 a night.

With their second album, A Web Of Sound, released in late 1966, they embraced the pervasive psychedelic culture, repeating the trick the following year with Future, an attempt to create a hippie soundtrack comparable to The Beatles' Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Despite a live album released in 1968, The Seeds had by then been overtaken by more talented rivals: The Doors and Love. As a result Saxon reshaped the band as Sky Saxon's Blues Band and released the 1969 album A Full Spoon Of Seedy Blues with sleeve notes by the veteran bluesman Muddy Waters (who optimistically called them "America's own Rolling Stones").

The album's commercial failure led to GNP releasing the band from their contract. Saxon issued a handful of unsuccessful singles on different labels while the IRS confiscated his house in Malibu due to non-payment of income tax.

But he had already found another obsession to replace his fading rock career: The Source Family, a Los Angeles religious cult whose founder, Jim Baker, ran The Source, a fashionable vegetarian restaurant. Baker believed himself to be Ya Ho Wha (Jehovah). Living in a Los Angeles mansion, the cult recorded their own primitive psychedelic music with Saxon. They sold these albums at The Source for $1 each.

Baker named Saxon "Sunlight" and from then on he would be known as Sky Sunlight Saxon. The Ya Ho Wha cult moved to Hawaii in 1974 and Saxon remained there, very occasionally issuing mail order-only recordings.

In 1984 however, the British label, Psycho, managed to coax Saxon out of retirement to record the Starry Ride album. He then issued two albums under the name Firewall, often recording with Los Angeles musicians. Retreating to Hawaii in 1991 he remained unheard of bar a 13 CD collection of Ya Ho Wha recordings in a wooden box issued by a Japanese label.

Finally, in 2002, Saxon emerged again to put together a version of The Seeds and tour Europe and the United States, where his 1960s recordings were in vogue again. In 2006 he recorded the album Transparency in London for Jungle Records. He continued to record and perform in America and Europe, those who encountered him likening him to a man who appeared to have stepped off the Sunset Strip circa 1969.

The Seeds' original 1966 recordings remain popular, often featuring on film and television soundtracks and advertisements, and Saxon's songs have been performed by The Ramones, Noel Gallagher and many others. Sky Saxon is survived by his wife, Sabrina Saxon, and their son, Joshua Aquarian.

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