Wednesday, September 28, 2016

THIS IS THE GODZ' TRUTH: 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Part 3)


Once out of the hospital, Larry successfully persuaded Bernard Stollman to give him back his salesman gig at ESP. He also started singing for a more conventional rock band called Seventh Street, while at the same time Paul was forming a new band with Leslie Fradkin and Bob Unger. In late 1971, the legendary rock journalist Lester Bangs published a major analysis of the Godz' music in Creem Magazine (later republished in the Bangs retrospective Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung). Says Jim, "Lester's was the definitive thing on the Godz. He really knew where we were coming from." (Jim was later asked to join Lester's band Birdland, but didn't like his music and so declined.) With the Creem article generating new interest in the Godz' back catalogue, Stollman suggested that Larry try to reform the Godz. The others weren't so sure they wanted to do it, so a compromise of sorts was reached.

"Godzundheit was Paul's band and some of my band members," says Larry of their rather nondescript final album. "Bernard thought it might be a good idea if we try to pull together, but we just did our stuff with our own bands. 'Whiffenpoof Song' was added (at the insistence of Bangs) to give the album some authenticity. It really wasn't us, it was just something that proved that we could sound just like any other band if we chose to." With ESP almost dead by then as well, only 500 copies of Godzundheit were pressed, on crackly, non-virgin vinyl -- perhaps just enough to go around for all the diehards.

And with the singer-songwriter formula being all the rage in the early '70s, Stollman finally gave in to Jim's solo aspirations and invited him to follow Godzundheit with a somewhat underrated (though still distinctly un-Godz-like) effort of his own, Alien, in 1973. Meanwhile, Paul joined forces with Godzundheit's producer Leslie Fradkin, veteran East Village eccentric David Peel, and (supposedly) even Paul & Linda McCartney to record the Pass On This Side album, on which "Walking Guitar Blues" from The Third Testament reappeared in a new, more polished version. Paul then joined Peel's Lower East Side and appeared on several of their mid-seventies albums on the Orange label, including Bring Back the Beatles, whose sessions were witnessed by a young studio apprentice named George Thorogood, years before he became a classic-rock icon. ESP stopped producing records in the mid-seventies (though it had been unofficially "out of business" since '68), and Stollman gave Larry the original master tapes of all four Godz albums. Some of these tapes were later sourced for Kessler's own 2015 retrospective, The Godz Remastered.

But we're still not quite finished with our story. In 1992, Stollman, after several years spent outside the music business as New York's assistant attorney general, resurfaced in Europe through the ZYX label in Germany. Suddenly the entire ESP catalogue began reappearing in CD form, though in poorly-remastered-from-vinyl editions. At this point, Leslie Fradkin stepped into the picture again and suggested that the Godz capitalize on the new interest generated by the reissues by attempting a reformation. He put Paul and Jim back together, and the three of them played a reunion show at New York's famous Bitter End. Jim left immediately afterward and thus ended the reunion.

Some time later, Larry registered The Godz as a trademark in his own name, then released a 5-track EP called Godz Revival in 1996. It included a heavy-metal remake of "Radar Eyes" as well as a 5-minute "Godz Techno Mix" incorporating samples from their first three albums. A few years later, Leslie and Paul managed to talk Larry into joining them for a new CD. Larry flew to California, tried to get something going with them, and bailed out as quickly as Jim had from the earlier reunion, leaving Fradkin and Thornton to finish it without him and release it as Godzology in 2000.

Jim McCarthy still lives in New York and has won acclaim for his music photography, which has appeared everywhere from the New York Times to Bob Dylan boxed sets. (In fact, his first experiences involved shooting publicity photos of some of ESP's jazz artists while he was still in the Godz.) Paul Thornton also calls NYC home to this day, and has made his mark as an TV and movie actor in recent years. Larry Kessler still lives in Baltimore, where he drives a cab and runs a used record store; he and Paul have played live together recently with a new Godz lineup, and more new recordings under the name have surfaced on the Manta Ray record label.

Sadly, Jay Dillon, who never spoke to the other members again after leaving the band in '68, passed away in 2002 after a quiet life in South Plainfield, New Jersey as a painter and graphic designer. So reclusive had he become that no one even knew of his death until I investigated his whereabouts while in the process of reuniting the Godz three years later.


In 2005, ESP finally relaunched independently in NYC after several overseas licensing deals went bust. Stollman's quest to reissue the label's entire catalogue included plans for a boxed set of all the Godz' albums with a bonus DVD of Jud Yalkut's forementioned 1967 promo film. To this end, the label called on none other than myself  to act as assistant project coordinator, after seeing my Godz fansite and learning I'd recently been in personal contact with Larry Kessler. Although many legal and personal battles ultimately canceled the boxed set, I nonetheless was more than happy to meet with the original members of the group, which in time did bring about a more proper Godz reunion which involved some new recordings and a settlement of their longstanding differences with Stollman, who died in 2015 of cancer. It was a dream come true to meet the Godz and I would like to thank Larry, Jim and Paul for their kindness and congratulate them on the 50th anniversary of a band that has greatly influenced me and many outsider musicians around the world.

Larry Kessler has the final word on what the Godz meant to him, and many others as well. "The Godz were just about being there for the time and we were being as honest as we could be. It might not have been pretty, but it was art. I knew that we were doing something artistically correct because there were so many people who didn't understand us, and if they would have understood us, then I would've felt that we were wrong. The music needs to grow in people's minds. There are so many things we did that broke new ground, and I'm proud of it."

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