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S

urrealism

 

70

s

 The Psychedelic 

 and

 

 

…Elvis?

                                                                                    by Kevin McMahon

 

 

 

Ask any fan of psychedelic music to name some of their favorite artists, and you might expect to hear the Mothers of Invention, the Amboy Dukes, Donovan, Pink Floyd, or any number of other pioneers of the musically weird.  One answer you probably wouldn't expect is Elvis Presley.  But strangely enough, Elvis does share some peculiar ties to the world of the psychedelic and bizarre.  In film and in imitation, the King of Rock N Roll defends his crown from those who would otherwise ignore his presence.

 

While Presley himself is not really considered to have contributed to the causes of surrealism, his likeness pops up in curious associations almost as if it were somehow directed from some underground chamber far below the foundations of Graceland. 

 

Look no further than the cult favorite Bubba Ho-tep, in which Elvis (played by Bruce Campbell) isn’t dead, but living out his years in our time at a Texas nursing home.  A wholly original concept, the bizarreness really gets going when the spirit of an ancient Egyptian mummy begins stirring up trouble, and only Elvis and his cohort can solve the mystery.  And it is worth mentioning that this cohort of Elvis’ just happens to be president Kennedy, post Dallas 1963.

These strange encounters with Presley in the annals of psychedelia are infrequent, but do appear often enough to arouse our curiosity.  None may be more unexpected than the circumstances around one of the foremost Elvis impersonators, who still performs in the role professionally today.  Rick Saucedo is his name, and he’s been in the business of suiting up as the King for more than 30 years.  “I started doing Elvis when I was seventeen, but didn’t give a lot of thought to it as a career,” Saucedo explains.  “It didn’t become apparent until after he died, that my show was in greater demand.” 

So what’s the connection between Saucedo’s Elvis and the psychedelic 60s?  Well, in this case it was actually more like the late 70s.  That’s when this Elvis aficionado briefly let go the costume and the assumed persona and the covers, to record an album of his own self-penned music.  And not just any music, but something very special, indeed.  “I traveled a lot in the 70s and being on the road gave me time to experiment with chords and writing music,” he notes.  It also helped that one of Saucedo's primary musical influences at this point – besides the King – was the Beatles, even after the height of their popularity.  And more than just writing music, he was also taking up guitar, bass, sitar, banjo, keys and drums – all healthy ingredients in concocting a psyched-out record. 

Titled Heaven Was Blue, the album was recorded and released in 1978, seemingly a decade too late for much of the taste it reflected.  Still, what Saucedo managed to get on tape is a unique take on Americana-styled folk music, but one with a deceptively conveyed dark side.  Side One features four shorter tracks which range from the rockabilly History Makin’, Country Shakin’ and harder driving Ka Mon We’re Gonna Rock All Night Long to the more introspective, loner-folk Reality and In My Mind, which together open the album with a hint of the darker things to come.  ”I didn’t care for the music of the time,” says Saucedo of the album.  “I wrote it for my own satisfaction.”

Saucedo’s Elvis: his true gems aren’t the rhinestones

 

It is on the album’s second side, that we glimpse the truly unexpected behind the veil of this would-be Elvis.  The whole length is occupied by the opus title track – an 18+ minute voyage far below the optimistic attitudes that accompany most folk melodies.  The song opens with a mellow acoustic jangle and returns here several times throughout.  But as the track progresses, we’re treated to additional melodies, some wonderful acoustic and electric guitarwork, and Saucedo’s own vocals which alternate from boyish octaves to a deep, echoing chant (which would sound perfectly at home with Coven or Erkin Koray).  The mostly acoustic instruments resonate a purely American, almost Appalachian quality.  But the change in melodies suggests an elaborate structure, the type of which is known only to prog and symphonic pieces.

Saucedo again refers to the Beatles influence, but also cites a different source for the lyrical components: “They were based on the stories of Edgar Allen Poe,” he reveals.  “Also, I was getting into Pink Floyd at that time.”  The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Poe?  There may not be a more potent recipe for out-of-this-world, mind-blowing mercilessness.

    Not only is Poe evoked in the lyrics… but in the artwork, too

 

Despite the decidedly different phases of his career, Saucedo seems content to promote all aspects with equal pride.  Unlike other artists who’ve made sea-changes and hope to ignore their past incarnations in the belief that doing so will make them disappear completely, Saucedo doesn’t shy away from any of his past output.  After Heaven Was Blue, he recorded six more albums of original material in various styles.  Today he carries on with live performances and also a weekly radio program.  But it was the psychedelic foray of this country rocker that keeps the story such a novelty.

Aside from putting together folk sounds in such a non-folk composition, Saucedo’s most significant contribution to psychedelic and progressive music may come from the album’s challenge to our assumptions of such music.  Because Heaven Was Blue is about the last thing we might expect from someone who’s made a career (if not a whole institution) out of impersonating Elvis, we’re left to reexamine our basic expectations – our prejudices – of the simple ingredients that comprise so grand a finished product.  And that inward questioning is what is at the core of all truly progressive music.

 

Learn More:  www.ricksaucedo.com, http://heavenwasblue.bravehost.com/

Progressadelic featured the title track to Heaven Was Blue on our 9/26/09 program.  See the full playlist here.

 

 

Text Copyright 2009, Kevin McMahon

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