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emcecil on 11/03/2011 at 09:29AM

The Marijuana Q: Twistin' One Up w/ Stan Hubbs

Hubbs_cover_lgIt's Thursday.  It's sunny and it's growing colder in New York.  I'm on the phone with Will Louviere, one of the fellas behind Companion Records.  I've never met Will.  He's never met Stan Hubbs.  Neither have I.  And we can't meet him, because Hubbs is dead.

"It true he died from smoking too much pot?" I ask Will.

There's laughter, of course, though not much -- Will's probably fielded this question one too many times since he reissued Hubbs's private-press rock meisterwerk, Crystal, this past summer.

"Well," he says, "that's up for debate.  No one will ever really know the truth on that one.  But if anyone could, it was Stan."

I'd guess as much.  Ever since reading the outlandish marijuana anecdote in the latest edition of Patrick Lundborg's outsider-rock encyclopedia, The Acid Archives, and ever since I've been priveleged enough to pore over the reissue and thumb through its amazing lyric booklet, it's been clear to me that Hubbs was at least a consummate 'head, a dyed-in-the-wool '60s/'70s relic who nailed down an impossibly hazy and lysergic hard-psych recording in '82 -- years after such music was fashionable or fathomable.  He had to be grinding seeds/stems way back when.

"Oh, he was a dedicated smoker," confirms Louviere.  But that's the least interesting footnote in Hubbs's story.  And it's a story Will started researching immediately after a friend found two original copies of the 100-press album in a Californian thrift store some years ago. 

According to Louviere, Hubbs was the wayward son of an aristocratic, academic family hailing from Chicago.  He reportedly drove a van emblazoned with an airbrushed portrait of Ernest Hemingway, and he dabbled in victimless vices, and he loved to rock, and he loved it so damn much he eventually took himself and Papa Van Hemingway to California, where he recorded -- with a hired band consisting of Larry Doyle (guitar), Ron Castro (drums) and Kriss O'Neill (vocals) -- the entirety of Crystal in "two sessions, tops" in his Sonoma County cabin.  To support himself and his music, he worked a number of odd jobs as a gas station attendant, or restaurant employee, or etc.  He married four times, and his fourth bride orchestrated the recording of the LP.

And he was a total badass.

And he was confident in his music.  Or maybe he just believed in it to the death, same as any icon.  As Louviere tells it, well after the advent of Crystal, Hubbs played alongside a few teenagers in a metal band throughout the '90s.  Louviere tracked the band down, and "when I asked them about Stan dying from too much pot," he says, "they all exploded in laughter."

Grass and laughter aside, Crystal is a very serious and ambitious endeavor.  It's also far better than it has any right to be. The album's a killer blend of hard rock pummel and psychedelic snarl, but the real standouts are the haunting, mid-tempo burners like "Let's Go On Back to Camp," "Young St. Augustine" and "Golden Rose," wherein Hubbs and O'Neill's vocal harmonies ride atop a nearly baroque keyboard arrangement, a brow-beaten pall draping over the whole din like heady rose-colored fog. 

Unfortunately, Companion's 500-copy repress of the album is long gone, but you can still find copies of it in stores and distros domestically and abroad.  For those of you who're digitally inclined, the label will release an iTunes version of the record shortly. I recommend it heartily.

'Til you geek your own copy, enjoy the two tracks above, courtesty of the Free Music Archive.  Please twist one up and relish the days when jukes shone blue -- and purple, crimson, yellow.  Wherever you are Hubbs, thanks.  Hope Joe and Gina crossed that street safely, chum.

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gladbeast on 11/04/11 at 02:17PM
This reminds me a lot of David Axelrod, oh for the days when it was affordable to press a few hundred copies of your lp.
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