Ya Ho Wha 13
Dec. 15, 2008
A man somewhat resembling an elf plays his guitar with an eagle feather, singing freestyle verse about the altar of life. The drummer, named Octavius Aquarian, sucks into the microphone between rapid drum fills. Sunflower adjusts his bass strap after leading a measly Monday night Nectar crowd through a breathing exercise. How and why such a flashback inducing session of music went down on an uber-cold Seattle night is the stuff of legend, the moss that grows on myth. Come with me, back 40 years to “The Source“; to Los Angeles.
Jim Baker had started an organic vegetarian restaurant on the Hollywood strip, catering to movie stars, John Lennon, and anybody who needed decent food. While the patrons ate, Baker would speak and share his cosmic, love-based, digestible message. Why did the patrons listen? Because Baker was an ex-marine, martial arts master, who was a gentleman. Robes appeared and, before you know it… Shazam! A commune blossomed in California.
In that effervescent era of America’s past, I guess people took chances; soon Baker was known as Father Yod (pronounced like “yoad”) and amassed hundreds of followers. He had 13 wives and watched a musical group sprout out of his followers. It is worth noting that Baker is sometimes also credited as the first to put sprouts on sandwiches.
The band, Ya Ho Wah 13, played totally improvisational music in the garage of their Hollywood mansion. At times their sound is like Hendrix or Bill Frisell but, at other times, it is much more brooding and ethereal. Father Yod began to sing, beating gongs and really going at it, while often discussing the breath with his audience. Some of the pics of Baker from this era are choice, with the spiritual leader looking like a wholesome pimp and straddling his Rolls-Royce. Ya ho Wha 13 recorded 65 albums, most of which have since disappeared. Many believe “Penetration” (1974) to be their masterpiece. Their most recent album is called “Sonic Portation” (2008) and marks their reunion.
Forces of nature can do powerful things. Observations of deep space provide phenomena almost as weird and wonderful as the human potential. The Source Family is no exception and soon had grown too big for its California shell. They moved to Hawaii.
After observing the nudibranchs that slide along the reef and greeting questioning locals, Father Yod decided to go hang-gliding. He had never done it before, but believed he could, visualizing himself soaring on Oahu’s thermals. What happened next is unclear but, from what I can gather, he floated for some time before crash-landing on a Hawaiian state park beach. Yod would eventually die 7 hours later. It is rumored that the autopsy revealed no precise cause of death. He appears to be without any drastic injury in the photographs, stunningly displayed on NPRs website. Maybe he broke his back, maybe he flew into the sun, maybe he did both. Regardless, The Source and their family band soon disintegrated. This all occurred in 1975 and they didn’t play music together again for 30 years.
Jump ahead to Monday morning; the sky crystal clear after our recent snowfall here in the Northwest. Ya Ho Wah 13 is playing their first true “gig” here in Seattle, although they are still located in California. This remarkable reunion tour loosely coinciding with a book, “The Source, The Untold Story” of which they are the focus. They drive 14 hours, installing and removing chains for their automobile, crawling over mountain passes, finally arriving at their destination, The Nectar Lounge. I’m there at Nectar. Other hippies from the commune are there. Kids with black eyes are there. It’s really chilly. Soon the band teaches us about them, leads us through some “star” breathing exercises, and then were off.
It took awhile to warm up, but I immediately recognized that Octavius is a force to be reckoned with. His eagerness and rhythm kept the drum set shaking like Stewart Copeland. Deep bass bombs merged with Djin and his guitars open chords. When your “average Joe” might initially envision this type of music, they probably wouldn’t predict the scary, haunting effect of the pedal work. They probably wouldn’t anticipate the sounds resembling that of approaching helicopters, either . But, like all attacking forces, they must eventually retreat, and become helicopters of love.
I was impressed with how quickly the band let great ideas pass, remembering the premium of improvisation. The show was pretty good, I was beginning to loosen up during the last song, which was tribal, loose, and fucking awesome. Ya Ho Wah was obviously tired, but they still delivered. It can be stressful driving on I-5 all day, so I was glad that they even performed at all. I felt like I was witnessing something with historic undertones. These guys are still honest in their delivery, regardless of their complete lack of playing for the last 30 years. At times, the Nectar crowd didn’t quite know how to handle it . Some made comments that the band should be playing in a temple and not a rock bar. Personally, I recommend checking out their tour as they creep down the West Coast over the course of this week.
Dec 17th Humboldt Brews – Arcata CA
Dec 18th Slims – San Francisco CA
Dec 19th Spaceland – Los Angeles CA
Final note on communes: Whether as a result of Manson or the menagerie of other patriarchal nuts, they indeed get a bad rap. If I can find one that can assure me that in 30 years I can do a reunion tour and shred minds like my self’s in 2038, sign me up.