Hats off to Arlo Guthrie!
By Robert Palmer
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 May 13 via Vanguard. 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, legendeary 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 last Nov. 15 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 familiar with the case. Harper’s trial has been set for this coming August.
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.