NELS CLINE ON SKY SAXON: "MY FIRST ROCK IDOL"

June 25th, 2009 | News

Guitarist Nels Cline (spotted most recently with Wilco) grew up in the shadow of the Seeds and Sky Saxon and later went on to perform and record with Sky himself. He takes some time today to send L.A. RECORD these thoughts:

I am truly saddened to learn of the death of Sky Saxon. As a boy growing up in Los Angeles, Sky Saxon was my first rock idol of sorts. The Seeds’ music was important to me, sure, but Sky’s amazing charisma—as he appeared rather ubiquitously on TV shows like “Boss City” and “The Groovy Show” around 1966—was galvanizing. I would stare in disbelief as he—clad in shiny satin Nehru shirts bedazzled with some gaudy brooch—would gyrate around lasciviously, holding the microphone in every cool way imaginable. He seemed from another planet. I thought he was amazing.

Years later, in the late ’70s, Sky became known as “Sunlight,” and manifested a few eccentric and quite acid-soaked (or so they sounded) recordings that led credence to the rampant stories of his decaying mind and artistry. He came into the record store I worked at for years and—with his face covered in a long mane of hair, massive beard, and shades—went silently through the stacks with wraith-like fingers. I was dismayed and a bit freaked out by this creature—the former beautiful god of rock ‘n’ roll otherness.

But only a few years ago as my friend and colleague Carla Bozulich and I were going into our local Trader Joe’s, we ran into a bass player friend of mine named Rick, who had in tow a gray-haired, aging hippie type of man with an unavoidably compelling face and style. Carla, not normally interested in old hippies, immediately whispered to me, “Who’s THAT?!” Of course, you know it was Sky Saxon. And Rick was playing in the new version of the Seeds, recording just down the street from Carla’s house! Long story short, I went and hung out a bit, ended up recording a song about a corrupt judge on the then-upcoming Seeds record. (Sorry that the titles escape me today.) Sky was really quite deferential to me. Plus he seemed to be in quite good shape. He gave me a record, recently issued, of some of his pre-Seeds 1950s doo-wop-ish rock songs. How old IS this guy? I wondered.

We ended up doing a duo gig of almost totally improvised music one night at Zen Sushi. I was ecstatic. I suggested we call ourselves the Flower Lady & Her Assistant, but Sky immediately countered with the Flower God Men and Their Assistants. I had gear problems on the gig, and Sky had a bit too much sake before we played, but it was amazing to me. There were barely 30 people there anyway! I started plotting ways to do some more improvising with him. He was going off in a very Beat-style manner. I thought of collaborations with my trio, The Singers, but then Sky went off to more European touring, headed back to Shasta. Rick moved to New York…

I won’t ever be able to do those things with Sky. I feel lucky to have ever even seen him on TV, yet alone to have played some wild, extemporaneous psychedelia with him. They say Mick Jagger copped tons of his moves and style, and I believe it. But there was so much more to this man that remains to be revealed.

– Nels Cline
Glendale, CA
6/25/09