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In Praise of Touch

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Everywhere in the older Chinese writers he encountered praise of music as one of the primal sources of all order, morality, beauty and health. — Hermann Hesse

Those of you who’ve read previous pieces in this “In Praise of …” series may note that the other musicians I've written about were, in order of appearance – Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, and Led Zeppelin. Next, in slot number six, I’ve chosen to write about Touch.

Huh? Who?

That people will say Huh? and Who? boggles my mind, but I’ve come to accept such things in this upside down, looking-glass world we live in.

The sixties were an unusual time. Expansion of the mind was the watchword of the day. ‘Living large’ meant that your mental and spiritual horizons were limitless, not how much bling and Cristal you could buy. Not that anybody actually said ‘living large’ back then, but you get what I mean. The exploration of possibilities was what it was about.

People had dreams back then, not of the biggest crib but of a better world, of understanding your true self, of people getting along, of a time in some distant future all of us would be free to live as we were, when people of all genders and races could rise to whatever levels their abilities were capable of taking them, like, say… President of the United States. It was good to live through a time when people had dreams. It still is.

We used to go down to my friend Bruce’s basement bedroom and get stoned. He had this crazy, massive speaker system for his record player, which was powered by a guitar amplifier head going through an EQ and two speaker columns that were about four feet long and had four speakers in each. It made for a complete listening experience. We’d light up the incense to mask the smell, (though wasn’t the smell of incense enough of a clue to negate the purpose? Somehow Bruce’s mom never caught on, though.) pass a joint or two, get righteously stoned, and listen to music. We were all in the same band at the time, in Reading, Mass, called Rabbit. Me, Steve, Bruce and Gary. Gary had played in another band with one Brad Whitford, later of Aerosmith fame, but I begin to digress…

Whenever we got really really stoned on some great pot, maybe some opiated hash, someone, usually Gary, whose eyes looked like that R. Crumb ‘Stoned Again’ character when he smoked, would suggest we play a certain album. Bruce had a pristine copy of that album. Gary would get a sly, slightly crazy smile and say, “How about we do up some Touch?” We’d all act like characters in Wayne’s World, nodding sagely and commenting on what a good call it was, then sit back in comfortable positions, getting ready for a sonic and psychic journey.

See, listening to the Touch (eponymous titled) album was, and is, a total experience. Touch came out of the late 60s. The leader of the band was Don Gallucci, who’s previous claim to fame was that he wrote the organ riff for Louie Louie, recorded it with the Kingsmen and played keyboards for them. Don was only 15 at the time, and couldn’t go on tour because his mom wanted him to stay in high school. MOM!!!

Don got another band, called Don and the Goodtimes, and they had a minor hit with “I Could Be So Good To You.” But the real story started when Don, who’d moved the band to LA, brought together a new line-up of musicians and they dropped acid and decided to change the name to Touch. The five musicians who were Touch are Don Gallucci (keyboards, vocals), John Bordonaro (percussion, vocals), Joey Newman (guitar, vocals), Bruce Hauser (bass, vocals), and Jeff Hawks (vocals).

Gallucci and band wrote the first Touch song, “Seventy-Five,” under the influence of lysergic, and it’s a mind trip of a song, with its church organ beginning and muscular guitar swoops. Jeff Hawks’ magnificent voice swoops in, with its high vocal range, somewhat similar to John Anderson of Yes, though Hawkes the superior singer, in my view. “Each night, I close my eyes and see the sight, of things long past and yet to be, things that you don’t see… things that you don’t see… your eyes they just see truth, you make them lie, if you would only let them see, why not set them free?…”

It’s an eleven minute sonicpsychiclandscape designed to… well, blow your mind. Wide open. Gallucci is a keyboard virtuoso, with classical and jazz and carnival elements popping up throughout, sounding like a mad genius running fingers over the keys in frenetic magnificent velocity then switching gears on a dime to follow with a loving, delicate touch. Joey Newman’s guitar solo at the end of Seventy–Five is a beautifully structured piece of playing, classically influenced, majestic, glorious. The tightness of the band, the way Brad Hauser’s active, lead-line, seperate-voice bass playing interlocked with flawless drummer John Bordonaro and the guitar and keyboards is astounding. Perfect.

That’s what’s often been said of Touch and their only album, Touch, is that it’s perfect. They wrote and rehearsed the record in a rented castle in LA (it was the 60s) and invited record exec’s to come by and listen. Again, the 60s. Coliseum/London records signed the band at a very large, for the time, $25,000 advance. During the making of it, word got out about this amazing band in LA, and Grace Slick, Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix came by to listen to the sessions. Everybody’s mind was blown.

Touch have been credited with being the pioneer American progressive rock band, which both cubbyholes the band and diminishes them with faint praise. Touch were a massively talented and groundbreaking band, with jazz, classical and rock elements, but they were unique in their personality and sound. “We Feel Fine” opens with band calling out “Wake up people and feel it in the air, it’s the time of hope for man, Jesus was right, sensitivity reigns, but the fighting and the hatred go on and on and on…” then “on a hill we’ll take some tea, and watch LA fall in the sea…” The song ends with the vocals in chorus singing, “We Feel Fine,” in the wake of possible chaos and in the light of mankind’s blindness.

Despite creating the records in the immersion of psychedelic substances, Touch weren’t naive, as in “naive hippies.” Gallucci and other members of the band were influenced by the writings of P. D. Ouspensky, which relate the teachings of mystic G. I. Gurdjieff. “The Spiritual Death of Howard Greer” lampoons a ‘happy’ suburban life for its shallow aspirations, creating a mock funereal ending where singer Hawkes wails for Greer’s spiritual death, with a chorus of singing mourners alongside. “Miss Teach” castigates the school system in a critical light that is as sharp today as it was then. “Down at Circe’s Place” begins with a circular piano riff that builds in layers of added instruments until you think it can’t contain any more sounds, then it abruptly breaks at just right moment with Hawkes whooshing vocals, which entreat the listener to “slowly pull back your mind petals and listen listen listen…”

Again, the sonic landscape builds and thickens, creating a chaotic controlled mass of sound that disappears in a gong to open the delicate “Alesha and Others,” with gorgeous cascading piano and Hawkes sweet vocals, about a beautiful, entreating woman. The song riffs off into a jazz section that deconstructs in a humorous manner, then into the end, eleven amazing minutes of “Seventy-Five.”

The only thing that disrupted the total experience of listening to the Touch album back when was that you had to get up mid-record and turn the vinyl over. I remember being stoned and musing with the boys about a future time where there’d be some kind of disc that you wouldn’t have to turn over, and would play for a whole hour, a whole record's worth. Heavy, man… can you imagine…?

When the Touch record came out, it sold very few copies. Gallucci didn’t want to tour behind the record to promote it, since there wasn’t any way they could re-create live, at the time, the sounds they’d captured on the record. The band sat still, ran out of money and disbanded, ending a career that could have been as large as the likes of Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Or even bigger, who knows?

A loss, certainly, but sometimes one perfect thing is enough. Which the Touch album is. It’s been reissued in a few configurations and is available online as a CD, at Amazon and CD Universe.

Get it. Savor it. Tell everyone.

And listen, listen, listen…

PS – I noticed that Brad Hauser of Touch wrote a reply to another piece at Blogcrits. If he or any of the members of the band see this, please contact me, I’d love to talk with you guys about the band.  willbrennanco@aol.com

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About Will Brennan

  • JC Mosquito

    I might’ve mentioned this once.. when I was a about 12 – 13 years old, my parents sent me down the block on an errand – to make a long story short, the woman with whom I had business that day said, “My son collects records too,” and took me to the basement room to meet him. He was about 18 years old – nice enough guy – and we looked through his collection. At one point he pulled out this Touch album and played it for a bit. Until this very day (a few moments ago) I have never even seem the album cover, much less know anyone who had it or even heard if it. Thanks – now I know for sure I didn’t imagine it. And to the best of my memory, it was pretty cool.

  • Will Brennan

    Real glad to hear that story, JC. There’s a myspace site someone put up with some of the album tracks in streaming audio so you can hear it again…
    here it is URL…

  • Hi Will, I’m the guy who created the Touch myspace page. Forgive me for being a bit unfamiliar with the nuances/protocol of this format. I was hoping to correspond with you directly. As you probably know, it’s rather difficult to find much info about Touch on the web and I found yours to be one of the more thorough and articulate pieces I’ve seen. Nice work!
    Evidently my email address looks like spam to your filter so I’m at something of a loss…
    Is it possible you contacted me on myspace and subsequently deleted your account?

  • shark

    from a few years ago: Great Revolutionary Albums You Never Heard Of