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

June 25th, 2009 · 9 Comments

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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

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  • 1 isis aquarian // Jun 25, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Sky Sunlight Saxon/Arelich was one of those rare beings who never had a bad
    word to say about anyone or anything, I kid you not! He was constant in this
    personality all the 30 some years I knew him. He was such a sweetie and so kind
    and giving. He never gave up on the possibilities that things could always be
    better. I am not saying he was perfect and did not have his stuff..we all do.
    But this one was his signature vibration.

    He was the one who basically started our movement to re unite the family after
    so many years…He got the music together and produced the famous Box set of
    Yahowha 13 music and spirit of 76. It is now a collectors item. This brought
    us out of the closet to say.

    He was married 4 or 5 times, and has about 14 children. His last recording to
    be released was “The Seeds, back to the Garden” how appropriate?
    The New York Times called me today for write up on him also re his passing. For
    many garage rock bands he was a true visionary and helped bring about the Punk
    wave of a few years later.

    He was always champion for the Dogs, which he said was God backwards. The
    source family has gathered in cyperspace on our private site and we are doing
    our family ritual of chanting for him 3 1/2 days. this is our belief that it
    takes this long to review your river of life. We all have taken one to two hour
    slots so that we are covered 24×3 1/2
    ox
    isis aquarian
    Source Family

  • 2 Dan Collins // Jun 26, 2009 at 2:12 am

    I was at that show of Nels’ and Sky’s, and despite whatever sake and sound-equipment problems there might have been, it was mesmerizing and sonically lovely! The only thing I can compare it to is to Professor Cantaloupe, but with a very unique majesty and grace and otherwordliness.

    Sky was in many ways an outsider artist who knew how to get his “in,” and every era of his music was worth paying attention to, from the caveman fuzz of the original Seeds to his KROQ eighties tunes, to his bizarre collaborations with a drug-addled Arthur Lee, to his gone-to-seed days in the last decade, when he constantly turned in beautiful performances with friends and musicians of all stripes.

    The tragedy here, besides the obvious, is that whatever Sky’s foibles, he was far from done making new sounds. I just hope that Los Angeles gives him his dues. His memorials better be worthy of the beautiful life and ramshackle example he set for generations of bands and scenes! He was a uniquely pure human being. He will be missed and missed and missed.

  • 3 Sandy // Jun 26, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Very nice and well said! If only more music blogs and mags gave tribute to this legendary King of Garage.
    http://grimygoods.com/2009/06/26/sky-sunlight-saxon-rip/

  • 4 Sabrina Saxo // Jun 26, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Thank you so much for a wonderful tribute article. So much outpouring of love for Sky on our facebook and myspace pages … I’m so overwhelmed with gratitude …

    facebook.com/SabrinaSaxon
    myspacecom/theseeds

    LOVE LOVE LOVE

  • 5 Nick McKinney // Jun 26, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Nels – a wonderful tribute to Sky – he truly had that great, abiding energy right up til the end. I was lucky enough to spend almost a year filming with Sky off and on in the US, Greece and Europe when he toured with that last manifestation of the Seeds and at every show I continued to be struck by Sky’s incredible abilities. Seeing Sky perform always made me feel like I was watching what Rock and Roll is supposed to be – visceral, dangerous and even imperfect sometimes.

    I’ll think of him often, fondly and with a big smile.

    Nick

  • 6 Rick Collins // Jun 26, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Nels Sky loved your energy and sound so much, remember he kept calling you Niles, like in the Nile river? I kept correcting him but he said no it must be Niles because his sound is epic like Egypt.
    I wish you could have recorded your version of Flower Lady and Her Assistant with him, darn.
    But the track you laid down on the Red Planet Album “Judge with a Bomb” was classic I was honored to be a part of it.
    Here’s a pic I dug up of you and Sky playing that night.
    Cheers, Rik

  • 7 Ben Jammin // Jun 30, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Now I’ll never get that $32…

  • 8 JM Dobies // Jul 3, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Dig this podcast tribute to Sky:

    THE MAL THURSDAY SHOW #16: Riot on Sunset Strip Revisited

    In an episode dedicated to the memory of Sky Saxon, Mal Thursday trips back in time and space to Los Angeles, California, circa 1966, and the teenage riots that inspired the exploitation classic Riot on Sunset Strip. Then, dig some bitchin’ Seeds covers from Thee Headcoats, Alex Chilton, the Zeros, the Fiends, and the Freak Mountain Ramblers, as well as a set of Mal’s favorite Seeds tracks. Special guest appearances by Deborah Walley and Mimsy Farmer.

    http://blip.tv/file/get/Malthursday-TheMalThursdayShow16789.mp3

  • 9 Kaycee Wilson // Jun 26, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    In honor of Sky Saxon, who was a close companion of mine for a long time, I would like to make a proposal. Sky was, as those who knew him, an active advocate for wolves and dogs, and he spoke intently about vegetarianism. His words were, “Please don’t eat Father’s animals.” Thus, I pledge and propose to take a day and pronounce it
    National Vegetarian Day…could be on his birthday (Aug. 20) or on the day of his passing (June 25) or both. Anyone care to join?
    Of course, the most obvious way to honor him would simply be
    to plant a seed. Yes, it is quite appropriate that his final recording album is entitled, Back to the Garden.
    Judge with a Bomb, is a strong criticism of the system, and on that same CD is Save All The Animals,
    one of my favorites and a brilliant, timeless composition and statement. Are you performing on that as well Nels, Rick?
    Sky was not shy about making his ‘radical’ progressive thoughts known. Thus both counter cultures,
    hippies and punks alike, have revered him equally…he is truly the master of Flower Punk. Hail Sky Saxon and the Seeds, your legacy lives on.

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