The Godz recorded Contact High just after Jim's recovery from a bout with hepatitis (during which time he shared a hospital room with none other than Lou Reed) at A-1 Sound, owned and operated by the aforementioned Herb Abramson, the very same guy who founded Atco Records. (Abramson in fact was very open minded to the Godz' strange ideas, and even appeared on their third album as a sideman of sorts.) Stollman wanted to release a 45, but the Godz wanted more, so they took it upon themselves: "He told us we could go in and do a single with two songs," says Larry, "but we really had eight or nine songs. Most of these songs were, like, skeleton songs, and we were one of the first bands to ever do a Hank Williams song ("May You Never Be Alone"). We went in and instead of doing the single, we just did one song after another. The engineer, Andrew (Burliner) even played on it, he got all excited and he loved us." By the time they were finished, the two-hour session ESP had set up for them had stretched to six hours, and they had recorded seven songs more than was expected of them. But when Stollman heard the results, he liked it all so much he finally gave in and agreed to release a full album, and Contact High was born.
ESP put Jay Dillon to work designing the album cover. He portrayed the Godz as serious, mysterious, and a bit spooky, with its photographic depiction of Jay being "lynched" by the other band members, using liner notes and photos taken of the group in front of a fireplace by Marc Crawford, a local photographer and black activist who "didn't like white people, but liked us for some reason," according to Paul. But Jim McCarthy wanted to design his own cover and portray the band as just a bunch of fun-loving freaks, putting studio shots on the front cover in which he appears to be holding a joint. In the best diplomatic interests of the band, they had a cover contest, with Stollman as the judge. When he couldn't decide which cover he liked best, he decided to release both simultaneously, giving the listener the unique option of choosing whether to view the Godz as serious or humorous.
To be fair, the Godz were a little of both, but they were never above making fun of themselves. Jim's self-penned liner notes proclaimed them "four New York freaks who can't play their instruments," and their only non-LP track, "I Want A Word With You" (the B-side of their first 45, "Lay In The Sun"), ends with the voice of one member suggesting they "should practice more." But even the Godz were subject to an earful of artistic advice from a label like ESP, particularly in regards to the wall of wailing cat sounds which would become Contact High's most notorious track, and which Stollman originally wanted to release as their single. Says Larry, "We had called that song 'Meow' and he said, 'Oh, you've gotta call that song 'White Cat Heat,' cuz you're white cats and you sound like you're in heat!'" Stollman also took it upon himself to name the album, and wanted the Godz to assist him in his championing of the so-called "universal language" which had given the label its name, according to Jim: "Bernard wanted us to sing in Esperanto! One time he brought us into his office and he had this old geezer in there, and he spoke with this Eastern European accent, and he tried to teach us Esperanto and we couldn't have cared less!"
Having an album in the stores meant an easier time getting gigs for the Godz -- never mind the fact that theirs was no ordinary album. Says Larry, "Nobody ever listened to it first, they just figured that since we had an album, we were just like everyone else!" This would probably best explain the band's participation in a benefit for Pete Townshend's favorite guru, Meher Baba, or an even more bizarre booking Larry remembers: "We played the Miss Greenwich Village Pageant! They were trying to get us off the stage and we wouldn't leave!" Adds Paul, "That was at the New York Coliseum. It was sponsored by a ski shop and they wouldn't let us onstage unless we wore ski sweaters, so we had to get in a taxi and go to their shop on the east side to get ski sweaters. And then, after our first song, one of the go-go girls went over to the manager and said, 'We can't dance to this!'" Jim recalls the Meher Baba gig: "We played the Civic Center in Durham, North Carolina, and it was a great show. There was a pretty good local blues band that opened up for us and they were baffled out of their minds that we had top billing over them!"
As you would expect, the Godz live were as free and freaky as they were on vinyl. "We were so outrageous for our time," Larry says. "We were pre-punk. Even the Fugs had some type of show, but we were just total anarchy onstage. We used to argue with the audience. They thought we were kidding when we came out with a psaltery and plastic flute and acoustic guitar and big drum sticks, and we would just tune up for half an hour! And these people would be yelling! The freaky people liked us, but the regular people who were going down to Greenwich Village from Brooklyn or wherever were looking for some kind of folk singer, and we would come out!"
"We certainly let mistakes work in our favor," says Jim. "Art is about taking things that occur and letting them go and seeing what happens, and that goes for any art form. All we did was try to express our feelings honestly. We wanted to show that you didn't have to be a music student to express yourself."
They played at the Scene, Café Wha, Gerde's Folk City (their live debut, which ended with a more-than-fairly inebriated Larry falling off the tiny stage), and Café-A-Go-Go (a gig Jim remembers primarily "because we were thrown out of there for smoking grass in the dressing room"), in addition to various "open mikes." They wreaked havoc on the WBAI airwaves and recruited the hosts of the show as their soundmen. When they played in New Jersey, someone called the police. They opened for the Fugs at the Bridge Theatre on St. Mark's Place (until just recently home to the pricey "punk boutique" Trash & Vaudeville), and were halfway to the stage when Larry realized he had forgotten his violin -- one which he had managed to persuade his reluctant grandmother to lend him. The instrument wound up in splinters when Jim accidentally kicked it down a flight of stairs in the midst of the resulting mad rush to retrieve it.
Somewhere in the midst of all this activity, the then-up-and-coming experimental filmmaker and visual artist, Jud Yalkut, who at the time was working at Sam Goody with the rest of them, made the Godz subjects of a nine-and-a-half-minute, eight-millimeter film short. Yalkut shot a couple of live performances and gathered them at Larry's apartment one evening to film them just hanging out and acting silly. You see Jay playing his autoharp and Jim strumming the very same acoustic he used on Contact High, perhaps the cheapest one ever built in guitar history, and the boys getting stoned and watching a football game on Larry's TV. Accompanying this silent footage is a long medley of "Lay in the Sun" and "Come On Girl Turn On," interspersed with plenty of improvisation, actually owing more to the overall feel of the second album than of the first. Today, this film can be viewed in its entirety on Youtube, complete with its soundtrack which to this day remains unreleased on vinyl or CD.
Paul Thornton claims nobody told him about the Ampeg endorsement deal which provided them with the equipment used on Godz 2, and was stuck with the same old kit he'd used on Contact High. He had, however, started taking lessons from famed 1960s east coast session drummer Gary Chester, whose beats propelled such hit tunes as "My Boyfriend's Back" and "I'm a Believer," amongst a million other oldies, and who helped Paul create the primitive and infectious rhythms heard (and played while standing) on "Radar Eyes" and "Soon the Moon." For the second of two very rare white-label promo 45s, they recorded "Wiffenpoof Song," an insanely catchy, anthemic garage-chant that's one of their finest moments, and backed it with a mono remix of "Travelin' Salesman," which added overdubbed crowd hysteria swiped from the Stones' Got Live if You Want It and run backwards.
The Godz were also taken under the wing of Michael Soldan and Judy Parker, who published the legendary Eye magazine (original copies of which now fetch fairly large sums on Ebay), designed and photographed the cover of Godz 2 (and went criminally uncredited for it), and added a light show to the band's live act. Says Larry, "He was a photographer from England and she was from Rhode Island, and Jay was very close to them -- he started working at Eye magazine. We used to rehearse at their loft, and they loved us. We were really getting good by then. They had 50 or 60 of our practice tapes." "She was a very aesthetic, lovely woman, slender, tall," says Bernard Stollman, "and Michael was short and boyish and charming, and they were such an exquisite, sweet pair. I just liked them both a lot." Larry recalls that The Godz' music also had an unusual influence of sorts on Soldan's photographs of British rock stars: aiming to get the wildest facial expressions imaginable out of his subjects, "they used to play our tapes for the English bands and the guys would freak out while they took the pictures! They never heard this sort of music before, and they would act nuts!"
But tragedy struck on Memorial Day in 1968, when Soldan and Parker set out on a fateful, LSD-fueled boat ride off Long Island Sound, went missing in a flash flood and were presumed drowned, their bodies never recovered. "Their deaths were devastating to us, because they were our mentors," says Larry. Jay Dillon was especially spooked by this loss as he was originally scheduled to accompany his friends on the voyage, and his grief was a major factor in his decision to leave the Godz shortly afterward. Additionally, says Larry, "he'd grown disgusted with our lifestyle. He was much more of an intellectual than the three of us." Jim agrees: "Jay was the one who wanted us to get intellectual with the Godz. He wanted us to go to schools and teach kids how to play music!"
Without Jay, the remaining Godz released The Third Testament in late '68, inviting several friends to invade the studio and freak out on a few numbers (a concept mirroring the Red Crayola's Parable of Arable Land), then filling in the rest with solo numbers by each member. Despite the band being in its final stages by this point, Larry proclaims it his favorite Godz album: "I really liked where that one went." He broke his neck in a diving accident the following year, and that was the end of the Godz... almost.