Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Michael Cassidy Interview Krsna Rock #26

In all my Krsna Rock research, one name seemed to be always surface-Michael Cassidy. Regardless of the label or band name, he seemed to be involved. So you can imagine how suprised I was when he got it touch and directed me to his website! This was a major breakthrough!
He is still playing and was kind enought to help me sort out some of the confusion I had about various Krsna related records. These stories document some pretty wild times.

WWDIS: How did you get involved in Krishna consciousness? Were you in bands early on?
MC: I first heard the maha-mantra when I was in a band in high school called Gobi Desert. The mantra was on a record our drummer picked up in the East Village. Later in 1970 we had a group called the Moon Farm Band. We rented this great place just outside Walden, New York. I met a devotee couple who moved into the cottage just behind the band's farmhouse. I dropped in to say hi one evening and they had an LP of A.C. Bhaktivedanta singing the Brahma Samhita. I asked them what is was and the guy picked up the album and pointed to Prabhupada on the back cover and said “It’s the Swami. He’s spiritually very high.” Then he turned the LP over and pointed to a picture of Radha and Krishna and said, “This is God and this is His Girlfriend. He’s got His own planet.” I just look in amazement and said, “Of course.”

WWDIS: Did either Moon Farm Band or Gobi Desert record? (can't help it, I'm a record nerd, first!)
MC: Gobi Desert did some basement recordings. One was an original called "Sunday Kind of Love" but I have no idea where any of those are. The Moon Farm Band was a good sounding five-piece acoustic folk-rock group with guitars, bass, fiddle, and hand drums. No recordings.

WWDIS: What was the progression of the albums and labels?
MC: The first temple I visited was New Vrindavan in West Virginia—January 1st, 1971. But I ended up staying in the Columbus, Ohio temple and found a guitar in the basement. I wrote a song a few months later called "Lord Chaitanya's Moon is Rising. *Note: Early roadshow impromptu recording put to kirtan footage:

When Kirtanananda Swami came to Columbus to do a radio show, he heard my song and asked me to play it at the interview so I did. The people at the station liked it and Kirtanananda had me join him for several more shows. Later that year he formed The Roadshow—a drama/music troupe. We did college engagements throughout the South. It's all in a book called Radha-Damodara Vilasa by Vaiysaki dasa Adhikari.

So The Roadshow was the first Krishna-music band I was in. We did a lot of gigs but our biggest was the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We toured for a little over a year and also played in New England and Montreal.

WWDIS: Was there a second Golden Avatar record?
MC: In 1975 I played some demos of my songs for my teacher A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami at the Golden Avatar studio in Los Angeles to ask him what he thought. He listened to three songs and said, "Do it. It will be successful." At that point I felt the whole project was blessed. My partner Carl Lang and I soon met David Stout, who was a great arranger. David agreed to work on the project for a minimal amount and a lot of free studio time. Besides a pretty decent 16-track, we didn't have much. I didn't even own a guitar. John Fahey, who lived in the neighborhood and sometimes dropped into the studio, had offered me his Martin to record. That's how we made the demos.

Carl and I soon got a $4500 personal loan from a friend to produce the LP "A Change of Heart." Later when the person who loaned us the money heard the finished product, he told us to consider it a donation.

Everything was perfect, well almost. To make a long story short, I soon lost control of the LP "A Change of Heart" in 1976 because of a temple leader. The temple used the name of the studio, Golden Avatar, as a band name. So that's how that band name happened. I got the Master Recording back in 2000.

The album never got me any monetary gain, but my real purpose was served. I had said to my teacher my idea of the LP was to promote the values and concepts of Krishna consciousness, and as he predicted, that happened. MIllions of LPs were distributed all over the world.

"A Change of Heart" received a Gold Record in Canada for units sold. Six years ago I spoke to the former temple president of the Toronto Temple to see if he would send me the mounted Gold Record plaque. He said that back then they regrettably considered the award mundane. It was tossed into a closet and he hadn't seen it in 25 years.

I still receive letters of appreciation about "A Change of Heart"—from the U.S. and Canada, and from people in Europe, South America, and Australia.

In 1977 I released "Nature's Secret." I produced this project myself and was able to get more of the sound I was looking for. A friend who heard The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo gave me Steve Bartek's number. Steve and I got along great. When I heard his solo for the song Spirit of Reason, I knew he was the man for the job. I ended up having him play on "Beyond Illusion" as well. *Note: "Nature's Secret" on his current site, but not "Beyond Illusion":

I went for a bigger production in 1978 with "Beyond Illusion." I asked David Stout to do the arranging. We recorded at Spectrum Studios, Venice Beach. I sent a finished copy of that LP to Jaya Tirtha, then head of London temple, to see if he wanted to buy the rights to manufacture and distribute it in the British Isles. He said he loved the album but wasn't able to make that happen. Two months later a friend living in South Africa sent me a copy of the London Temple's new LP "Progress" which was a mutated bootleg version of "Beyond Illusion" redone with a few other songs on it. I sued Jaya Tirtha for $4000 dollars, my original asking price, and won.

In 1979 I recorded "Take Me Back." It was a bluegrass acoustic album I did with Virginia Johnston. On all of those original four LPs, I used some songs I had co-written with my good friend Jeffery Armstrong. These days he's a published author and still writes great poetry.

WWDIS: Have you seen a Golden Avatar record called "Pastimes"? Were you involved in this or was it another hijack?
MC: I found this “Pastimes”:
I'm not sure, but it appears someone in Australia re-packaged "Beyond Illusion" as "Pastimes." Just a note about "Pastimes": The songs listed on the album are the songs from "Beyond Illusion" but the credits were copied from the back of "A Change of Heart" and pasted as the "Beyond Illusion" credits. My best explanation for these copyright infringements is that many early ISKCON devotees had a misinterpretation of "Everything belongs to Krishna."

WWDIS: Was the Golden Avatar Studio a Krishna enterprise or was it outside the movement?
MC: The business was owned by the temple, but it was a hybrid; we were allowed to book the studio to local acts to make money to upgrade the equipment, and we traded studio time for help with our own projects.

WWDIS: What was it like to meet Prabhupada?
MC: He was grave. He was focused. He was funny. He was an exciting man to be around. I had been in the movement for five years and had attended eight or more lectures in different temples across the country where I heard Prabhupada speak in person. But to sit and talk with him face to face about something that meant so much to me, and was so controversial in the movement, had to be the most intense experience of my life.

After Prabhupada listened to three of the demos we made, he asked "What is this for"? I told him "To convey the values and concepts of Krishna consciousness to Americans." He asked "So what's the problem"? I told him that some of the big men, the temple leaders, said it was maya (meaning it was a waste of time). He looked at me, then smiled and said, "Let the cows moo." That's when I said "So it's okay to do this"? and he said, "Do it. It will be successful."

WWDIS: Why the two different covers for "Nature's Secret"?
MC: With "Nature's Secret," I had very little money after recording and mastering. I told an artist my cover idea, but he wanted more money than I had, so I put together the first cover thinking that after I sold some albums, I could pay him. And that's what we did. I loved his cover. Unfortunately the original art piece wasn't included in the price—just the use of the image. A few years later, the artist started working for the Disney animation department. He's done a lot of well known work for them including the huge landscapes for "The Lion King."

WWDIS: Were you involved with Hansadutta? How did you end up recording some of his tunes?
MC: I only met Hansadutta for the first time in West Virginia in 2003. I've never recorded any of his melodies. I co-wrote songs with Jeffery Armstrong that were used in The Roadshow. Hans may have put his own tunes to some of Jeffery's lyrics later on, but I can't say because I've never heard any of Hansadutta's songs to date.
(WWDIS-I got the chronology wrong, Hans must have covered these songs already written by Michael and Jeff. Protoplasmic Crud is one of the songs in question.)

WWDIS: Were you aware of other KC bands like Rasa or Murari? Rabarinda or Benediction Moon?
MC: I heard of Murari but hadn't heard their music until I moved to Tennessee in 1997 and went to the Murari farm. There I met the drummer, Gayatri, who played on the Murari recordings. He has since played on my last two AverageSoul CDs ("Lay It Down" 2004 / "Do What You Do" 2005) as well as on my "Trying to Connect with You" CD 2002.

WWDIS: Were there any other bands who never recorded or have any lost classics in the vault?
MC: Gayatri has two CDs on the AverageSoul website and iTunes under the artist name Guy Autry. Check them out. ("Rescue Me" / "Gardens of Gold"). My wife Yamini, aka Joie Frye, has three CDs of children songs: "Krishna Pastimes" (Vol. #1 & #2) and "Meeting Lord Chaitanya." I also did an album called "The Hare Krishna Festival" 1976. It was released on cassette only. It had full marching band orchestration, and some of the music was played by a professional marching band in the 1977 San Francisco Ratha-yatra Festival.

WWDIS: What other projects did musicians associated with you go on to?
MC: There is a list of the musicians on the back of the "Change of Heart" LP. Jerry Peterson / sax, did some solo stuff. Harry Kim / trumpet, recorded and toured with with Phil Collins.

I do have a few notes on some of the innovative instrumentation we used: On “A Change of Heart” we used a Moog for the solo in "Time for Going Home." That was a big deal back then. The take you hear was the Moog player's first time through never having heard the song. We did twenty more takes but none of them came close. On “Nature's Secret” we used a Mellotron on several tunes—Spirit of Reason, Hidden Worlds. It was used by the Moody Blues on Knights in White Satin, so I thought I'd try it. This thing looked like a harmonium but the musician dropped this shiskabob of little, round prerecorded tapes into it with one violin note per little round tape. It was crazy. Check out:
On Protoplasmic Crud, Arnie the engineer suggested I blow into the straw of my milkshake. He recorded it, added some reverb, and that's the sound of protoplasmic crud in the opening of the song.

WWDIS: Are you still involved with Krishna consciousness?
MC: I think it's important to differentiate between these:
1. Krishna consciousness—a state consciousness.
2. ISKCON, which is an institution.
3. And the Hare Krishna Kirtan movement—a grassroots movement dedicated to delivering Hare Krishna Kirtan to every town and village. My teacher's encouraging words declared clearly that Hare Krishna Kirtan is not limited to the musical style of any one culture. Praising God as a person is the definition of kirtan, and its presentation is not limited to a particular musical style or language. I have been an advocate of chanting-meditation and been part of the Hare Krishna Kirtan movement since the early ‘70s.

WWDIS: Are you/were you aware of KC's presence in the hardcore punk scene?
MC: When I moved to Central California in 1985, I paid the rent and fed the kids by playing country bars till I left for Nashville in '97. I found out about the Krishna-core punk scene when I first got on the internet in '96. So It seemed like the whole thing came and went while I was buried in the lounge at Harris Ranch playing Turn the Page. I was sorry I missed the heyday. I hope it comes back.

Thanks again to Michael for his time!


Joie said...

There are four people I need to mention in connection with my Krishna Music interview to make it more complete.

One is Ilan Chester who has been a big South American performer for many years. He released “Songs From the Future” in 1980 under the band name Ananta. He recorded it at Golden Avatar Studios. I remember it as a well produced Prog. Rock LP. The link below has a nice pic of the cover but doesn’t seem to have any mp3s to listen to. http://sincopa.com/rock_pop/cdinfo_rock/ananta_2songsfuture.htm

Ron Marinelli was a big innovator of kirtan in the Krishna movement and pushed the genre towards a purer form of the Bengali style during the mid 70s. He also co-produced my CD “Trying to Connect with You” as well as the album: “Dasi: Prayers by Women,” the artist being Karnamrita. Ron’s site is http://www.bluemonsoonmusic.com/

Eric Dailey was one of the original members of Shelter. In 1998, as Ekendra dasa and the Planet Cow Orchestra, he released “God Project” on Krishnaphonic Records. His second CD, “200 Proof Absolute Truth” is great. His link: http://ekendradasa.com/music.html

T.K. is a West Coast Krishna Rocker. Has a lot of good albums. All can be found at:

All the best
Michael Cassidy

Anonymous said...

As far as Ilan Chester is concerned, his initiation name is Havi das. With the band Ananta he produced two LPs: "Night and Daydream" and "Songs from the Future"

I have mp3s of both albums.

Later on he produced a CD under his legal name, titled: "Bhakti"

He lives in Florida. His son, Jagannatha Suta, is a member of the band Mayapuris. You can find them on FaceBook.

- Willem (willemv369@gmail.com)

Anonymous said...

flysatreduarHari Krsna Matajis and Prabhus,my name is RadhaMadhava dasa,i remember Change of heart back in the 70,s as a very young disicple,and just wanted to thank the devotees who made this very dear offering.

Anonymous said...

I've been a huge fan of the "A Change of Heart" album for about twenty years now since I first discovered it. I never thought I'd find all this information about Michael Cassidy and I just wanted to say thankyou so much for doing this and shining a light on this musical mystery for me after all these years. -Anon, UK

Sakhya Prema said...

The Change of Heart did wonders for my heart and transformed it from a gross materialistic egocentric monster into lesser materialistic egocentric moron. A definite improvement and I attribute this to Michael, Geofrey, the musicians, producer and Srila Prabhupada for creating such a transcendentaly potent iconic album. Thanks a billion and you deserve more than just money for this masterpiece!