Hats off to Arlo Guthrie! Previously unreleased album on colored vinyl or cassette only.
By Rob Gordon
Long-rumored, but never confirmed: the one-off collaboration of musical giants that wags once cynically termed “The Corpses Of Folk” has finally been revealed as fact, and it’s headed to stores on April 15 via Scorpio. The label, which earned infamy in the ‘90s as a bootleg label that issued titles by Dylan, Springsteen and other icons, resurfaced earlier this year as a legitimate imprint of a certain Los Angeles-based archival label. It plans to release the project on starburst swirl purple vinyl and cassette for Record Store Day, April 15; a digital and CD releases will follow later in the year.
Corpses Of Folk comprises sessions recorded over (as a press release puts it) “one stoned weekend in Woodstock” in late ’71 and co-produced by Jimmy Page and Arlo Guthrie. The musicians? Bedsit icon Nick Drake, avant-provocateur Tim Buckley, scene godfather Pete Seeger, and reluctant cricketer Roy Harper. The four had convened at the behest of Led Zeppelin’s Page, who’d struck up a friendship with Harper and, after suggesting the off-the-wall summit as a kind of dream date for him, had his manager, Peter Grant, get in touch with the other three.
Grant used his, er, legendary powers of persuasion to land Drake, Buckley and Seeger—apparently the long-standing urban legend of Grant’s bodyguard dangling the sickly Drake outside a window by his ankles until he assented is just that, an urban legend (albeit one convincingly circulated by rap impresario Suge Knight)—and voila, a supergroup was born. Sadly, at the time the four principals’ record companies could not come to a contractual agreement despite Page and Grant’s assurances that their label, Swan Song, which would release the album, would see that everyone was fairly compensated. So the sessions were shelved, until now.
Apparently My Morning Jacket’s Jim James obtained a bootleg CDR of the music and was so entranced that he used his estimable clout to bring the project to contemporary fruition. James receives an executive producer credit on the album (as does Grant, who passed away in 1995 but still commands fear and respect in the industry from the grave), and both James and M. Ward reportedly “sweetened” some of the guitar and backing vocal tracks, but the material is otherwise presented in exactly the form it was recorded.
(Apparently there are a number of outtakes from the sessions that will remain in the vaults, including Harper’s version of the blues standard “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and a Harper original provisionally titled “The Chicken Hawk Waltz.”)
Oh, and about that band moniker: While Drake, Buckley and Seeger have passed away and Roy Harper is technically still among the living, the name “Corpses Of Folk” took on fresh cachet in November of 2013 when Harper was charged in England with “unlawful sexual intercourse, indecent assault and gross indecency” regarding allegations about a young girl he’d known between 1975 and 1977. “He’s among the walking dead,” stated a London-based music industry publicist at the time.
However, as Wikipedia notes, “on 5 February 2015 Harper was unanimously acquitted by a jury of indecent assault. The following day, Harper was cleared of a second charge of indecent assault, and the jury at Worcester Crown Court was discharged after failing to reach verdicts on the remaining charges. According to the BBC, the judge Robert Juckes QC then gave the prosecution two weeks to consider whether they wished to seek a re-trial on the undecided charges, but it wasn’t until 9 November 2015 that the prosecution announced that they were dropping all allegations of sexual abuse against Harper.”
It’s widely assumed that the resolution of the Harper controversy is what finally cleared the way for the release of the tapes, but a representative from the Harper camp declined to comment on that count, simply saying, “That’s all in the past.
Go here to listen to the Drake-Buckley duet, “Time Has Told Me to Get On Top,” which is, incidentally, the only track to feature Guthrie. He’s on the part-spoken, part-sung backing vocals.