A lost San Francisco saga

Part two of the Herman Eberitzsch Jr. III story

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Eberitzsch, right, with Joe West

arts@sfbg.com

Part one of "A lost San Francisco saga" ran in the March 17, 2010 issue of the Guardian. It can be found at www.sfbg.com/2010/03/16/lost-san-francisco-saga.

MUSIC In 1971, Herman Eberitzsch Jr. III decided it was time to record and somehow save his organic experiences of playing at clubs and avant-garde cafes in the city. He assembled a quartet from his "grapevine of connections" — including good friend Joe West, a Rasputin-looking guitarist, whom Eberitzsch originally met at the Post Office — and booked sessions at Roy Chen's recording studio in Chinatown. With no previous studio background, Eberitzsch rehearsed the musicians, taught them the arrangements, and guided their inspiration in a quest for abysmal funk and thunderous jazz. These sessions produced an enchanting trip into "Rapture of the Deep," a left-field meditation on rebellious passion, "Funk Punk," and the ethereal moral fable "Dark Angels." The unrestrained songs pull you head over heels into their internal worlds; their oceanic tides carry you great distances. Still, Atlantic Records saw no commercial success in the tapes, finding them much too experimental, and shelved the project.

Undaunted, Eberitzsch invested in a new quintet, Motion, "to bring some bread to the table." He met Coke Escovedo along the way and joined his frenetic Latin outfit Azteca in 1973. During the first rehearsal, Eberitzsch called out "I got a tune!" as soon as a silence held the conversation. He taught them heavy joints that "came from outer space" — including "Life is a Tortured Love Affair," "Make It Sweet," and "Rebirth." These songs would help land the contract for Coke's seminal solo debut. They demonstrated Eberitzsch's gift for concise, soulful lyricism, a quality he would cultivate over the course of his songwriting ventures.

Feeling reassured of his own talents and industry potential after such a success, Eberitzsch moved on to spearhead a new project with his close friend and lead singer, Johnny Lovett. He herded the grapevine once again, including songstress Linda Tillery, and brought Motion to Wally Heider studios in 1974. Always one to incorporate past experiences, Eberitzsch fused the propulsive pathos of Latin funk into his broad-flowing musical direction. The verdant, multilayered arrangements and groove-laden percussion were augmented by surging horn riffs and a lush string section.

These songs by Motion were tighter in form, shaped in part by Eberitizsch's focus on concise lyrical narratives: testaments of joy and calls for solidarity in the face of injustice. It was the wake of the civil rights era, although America's failed political experiment of dreaming national unity did not so much destroy idealism as redirect its boundless strength to a more grassroots level. "Our music was simply a product of people coming together in a community and expressing ourselves," says Eberitzsch. "It was a groundswell of inspiration." But Columbia also "didn't hear it at the time," and another set of tapes found their way to Eberitzsch's basement.

These setbacks still didn't disillusion Eberitzsch. He recorded at Different Fur Studios in 1976 and established the loose framework for an adventurous modern soul sound he would continue to develop and transform for the next five years. He worked extensively on Lee Oskar's solo effort and collaborated once again with Greg Errico. He would record more challenging work in the late 1970s and early '80s, fragmenting and experimenting with untapped techniques of musicality. (In 1984, he made "Morons," a confessional tale about rude, party-crashers who eat all the furniture — something of a coarse minimal-wave racket destined to go viral on tomorrow's blogosphere.)

 

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