What goes around comes around.
In the sixties, there seemed to be a lot more experimentation in music than today. Bear in mind, when a person got formal musical training in that time period, odds were nine-to-one that he’d be getting classical training. There were no schools for rock, rap, or whatever then.
There was the ‘street-school,’ of course, which meant sleeping wherever one could find a couch or a floor and hoping to sit in and earn a few bucks from the jazz musicians who were very popular at the time. But there was little chance of learning music from an institution of learning unless it was classical. Street buskers were routinely arrested and jailed for anything from loitering to panhandling.
You’d never hear a violin in the music of that particular 1960′s era, until a very few people had the vision. Think of Hot Tuna, Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen, already offshoots of Jefferson Airplane. They had the audacity to bring in Papa John Creech for the Outlaw Folk/Country/Rock that the Tuna were then famous for. Hot Tuna personified Outlaw before there even was Outlaw. If you don’t believe me, just look at photos of the two of them from the Tuna albums. I defy you to say Kaukonen and Casady aren’t Outlaw!
Around that same time, halfway across the country, a sadly underrated jazz-rock group from Chicago called The Flock brought in a violinist named Jerry Goodman, giving a whole new meaning to the word rock.
Just to see Goodman’s photo on the album jacket of their second and final album, long hair wildly flying as he brings the fans up out of their seats in amazement and wonder — whipsawing his violin, sweat flying, and shirt off — is to get a vague idea of what this phenomenon was all about. Goodman went on to record with John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, as well as become a renowned solo artist. Papa John Creech was already famous in his own right before joining up with the Airplane and Hot Tuna.
Now, within the space of two days, I’ve read two completely off-the-wall articles about Jimi Hendrix, relating his art to classical music, and specifically, to George Frideric Handel and to the Turtle Island Quartet. The two articles are dated 10 days apart (although I just got around to reading them both within the past 24 hours).
Although they were a couple hundred years apart, Handel and Hendrix both lived at 25 Brook Street, which is in the swank Mayfair section of London. Well, OK — Hendrix actually lived next door, and he allowed visiting music students entrance while Handel’s Messiah was playing on the stereo. The Handel Museum uses Hendrix’s old upstairs apartment as offices.
Another group still playing today which uses a violin in an unlikely setting is the Danglers. Formerly out of Milwaukee, now Chicago, the Danglers play a lot of experimental and progressive rock, leaning heavily on King Crimson and Robert Fripp, among others. Oh yeah, they play Handel and Hendrix, too. You can find more about the Danglers by going here and here.
With the resurgence of old-time string bands such as the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and other groups such as Arcade Fire, the violin does seem to be getting more of its fair due today. Give a listen. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
And unless you’re phobic about learning, check out the articles linked above.
One last note: If you decide to give a listen to some music by the Flock, I suggest their first two albums. The first is titled The Flock (1969), and the second and final one with Goodman is Dinosaur Swamps (1970).