Merrell Fankhauser

Band members                             Related acts

- Merrell Fankhauser -- vocals, guitar


  backing band (1985)

- Ben Benay -- lead guitar

- Bill Berg --

- Colin Cameron -- bass

- John Cipollina (RIP) -- lead guitar

- Bill Cuomo --

- Marty Davitch -- 

- Maui Joe --

- Mary Lee -- violin

- Gary Malabar -- drums, percussion

- Steve Meese -- 

- Jim Murray --

- Ray Purcell --

- Donnie Smith -- 

- Artie Wayne --


  backing band (1986)

- Susan Costantini -- keyboards

- Art Dougal -- drums

- Bill Fapiano -- guitar, backing vocals

- Laura Fapiano -- backing vocals

- Wendy Lee -- backing vocals, violin, mellotron

- Anna Romero -- backing vocals

- Joel rose -- sax

- Bruce Sahroian -- bass, backing vocals


  backing band (1988)

- Bill Berg -- drums

- Jeff Cotton -- guitar, vocals

- Jimmy Dillon -- guitar

- Mary Lee -- backing vocals, keyboards, violin, mandolin

- Ollie Lgnacio -- bass

- Steve Meese -- keyboards

- Jeff Parker -- bass

- Randy Wimer -- percussion, vocals





- Fapardokly 

H.M.S. Bounty

- The Impacts

- Merrell and the Exiles

- Mu





Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  A Day In Paradise

Company: Source

Catalog: 2

Country/State: Louisville, Kentucky

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: still in shrink wrap (opened)

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 6054

Price: $30.00


Ah, Merrell Fankhauser ... one of my favorite rock and roll enigmas.  There's a film waiting to be made about Fankhauser's colorful life so I'm not going to even try to cover it - besides there are already a couple of books that discuss his career.  If you're interested, I'd suggest you check out Unknown Legends of Rock 'n' Roll by Ritchie Unterberger.  The book includes a chapter on Fankhauser.  Enough to say that after the breakup of his band Mu, the late-1970s and early-1980s found Fankhauser living and working in Hawaii.


Recorded in Los Angeles and Hawaii, 1985's Fankhauser produced "A Day In Paradise" was released by the small Vermont-based Source label.  Credited to Fankhauser and the Maui Band, the album featured material that had been recorded in the mid-1970s following Mu's breakup.  The sessions featured support from a slew of local musicians and a couple of big names including Steve Miller drummer Gary Malabar and the late Quicksilver Messenger Service lead guitarist John Cipollina.  Here's what Fankhauser's own website has to say about the set:


"In 1977, Merrell returned to Hollywood to record several songs with Gary Malabar, drummer from Steve Miller's Band: studio guitarists Ben Benay and Art Munson: and bassist Colin Cameron. One of the songs, "Calling From A Star" featured Peter Noone singing with Merrell. "


Musically the album served as a perfect showcase for Fankhauser's strengths and weaknesses.  The strengths - Fankhauser had a great voice that was exceedingly versatile, yet warm and likeable, and quite commercial.  He had a knack for crafting catchy and commercial melodies.  He wrote some of the weirdest lyrics you've ever heard - tales full of extraterrestrials, UFO encounters, lost civilizations (Mu), and other sci-fi staples.  The weaknesses - well those unconventional lyrics certainly weren't for everyone, nor was his hippy-dippy persona. 


- 'Calling From a Star' was a perfect example of Fankhauser's ability to blend a quirky lyric (the science fiction title and lyrics speak for themselves), with a highly commercial and catchy melody.  I would have loved to have seen Peter Noone trying to make sense of the lyrics.  The only blemish on this one came in the form of the cheesy synthesizer washes.  YouTube has a copy of a homemade 1978 video partially filmed at Haleakala Crater on the island of Maui:  The UFO segments are worth your time alone.   rating: **** stars

- A breezy acoustic ballad, 'I Saw Your Photograph'  was one of the nicer mainstream efforts with  Mary Lee providing a violin solo which actually improved the song.   rating: *** stars

- Returning to tales of UFO citings and extraterrestrial adventures, 'On Our Way To Hana' may have sported some of his most bizarre lyrics, but musically this was one of Fankhauser's prettiest compositions with  Quicksilver guitarist  Cipollina turning in a great guitar solo.  Beats me why, but this one always makes me smile.  YouTube also has a clip of this one.  The hippy chick dancers are hysterical and the man even had a Volkswagen bus !!!  rating: ***** stars

- The first disappointment, 'Sail It Over the Ocean' was one of the album's most conventional compositions.  A pretty, but bland ballad, this one actually sounded like Fankhauser had written it specifically for radio airplay.  Maybe that very commerciality is what sinks it for me.   rating: ** stars

- Opening up with some cheesy sound effects and synthesizers, 'The Mothership' was a nice summary of Fankhauser's view of mankind's roots (blame the aliens for all of our collective issues).  With another pretty melody and some of Fankhauser's nicest vocals, it was a shame this one couldn't have been slotted into the soundtrack for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.   rating: **** stars  

- In spite of the touchy-feely new age lyric, 'Dharmic Connection' served as side one's hardest rocker and one of the best performances.  Folks tend to forget that Fankhauser started out in a surf band so he's got the chops required to write and handle a straight-ahead rock song.   Another YouTube clip:

 rating: **** stars  

- 'Waterfall' was another pretty ballad, but with the exception of Cipollina mock Hawaiian slat key guitar solo, really didn't have a great deal going for it.  Well, at least the video he did in 2001 for the song was nice:

 rating: ** stars

- Well, in the case of the short instrumental 'Jungle Drums' the title was an apt description of the song itself.   rating: * star

- Hum, Irish bar band-meets-Hawaiian hippies ...  yeah, I guess that's a pretty good description of the oddly titled instrumental 'LaLa Does the Boo Ru'.  rating: ** stars

- A nice country-rocker, 'Some Them Escaped It All' sported another stereotyped '70s hippy lifestyle lyric , but was saved by a killer Fankhauser guitar solo.   rating: *** stars

- Sporting plenty of twin lead electric guitar and a bluesy rock edge, 'Money Hungry Woman' was an atypical song for the set, but one of the standout performances.  About as down-and-dirty as Fankhauser got on this one.   rating: **** stars

- Strange even for Fankhauser, the swing-flavored 'Daddy's Song' sounded like something off of a Commander Cody album.  Based on the baby laugh at the end of the track, I'm guessing it was written for one of Fankhauser's young children.   rating: ** stars

- With a great AOR rock melody that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Journey album and some of his sweetest vocals, 'Oceans of Intelligence' was one of the best songs on the album.  You could even overlooked the typically bizarre lyrics on this one.   rating: **** stars

- The album ended with a brief instrumental reprise of 'Calling From a Star'.  Excellent Cipollina guitar solo on this one, if the spoken word segment at the end was goofy.   rating: **** stars


I'll readily admit that this isn't anywhere near as good as H.M.S. Bounty, or his Me catalog, but with five strong songs it was well worth checking out.


"A Day In Paradise" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Calling From a Star   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 3:12

2.) I Saw Your Photograph    (Merrell Fankhauser)- 2:54

3.) On Our Way To Hana   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 3:17

4.) Sail It Over the Ocean   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 2:57

5.) The Mothership   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 4:12

6.) Dharmic Connection   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 2:55

7.) Waterfall   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 3:24


(side 2)
1.) Jungle Drums (instrumental)   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 1:35

2.) LaLa Does the Boo Ru (instrumental)   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 2:00

3.) Some Them Escaped It All    (Merrell Fankhauser)- 3:39

4.) Money Hungry Woman   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 4:32

5.) Daddy's Song   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 2:59

6.) Oceans of Intelligence   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 3:56

7.) Calling From a Star (reprise)   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 2:00


For anyone interested Fankhauser has a fascinating website at:






Genre: rock

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  The Maui Album

Company: Reckless

Catalog:  R.E.C.K.10

Country/State: Louisville, Kentucky

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 306

Price: $30.00


Best time to play: This'll sound weird, but it's a great album to listen to when doing yard work.



So here's what the liner notes had to say about this 1988 compilation :


"In 1974 Merrell Fankhauser was living in a jungle shack on the island of Maui with his group MU and his girlfriend Mary Lee, an accomplished violin player.  Their lifestyle was mystically oriented and ascetic; they followed a vegan diet with no drugs of alcohol.  Later  that year guitarist Jeff Cotton and drummer Randy Wimer left for the mainland to become Christian ministers.  Merrell and Mary Lee retreated further into the depths of jungle continuing their research into the lost civilization of Lemuria.  Occasionally they emerged to play club dates as a duo.  Late in 1975 they visited L.A. and recorded "The Maui Album".  Popular locally [released on Fankhauser's own Maui Music Company label], it sold 12,000 copies but was not subsequently re-pressed.  The Reckless version of "The Maui Album" contains four extra tracks recorded by MU before they disbanded."


original 1976 pressing on Maui Music Company catalog number M-101


Hard to believe, but the story's apparently true and much of the music sounded like it had been inspired by an off-the-grid tropical lifestyle.  And that's going to make "The Maui Album" an acquired taste for lots of folks.  If you're into the '70s hippy vibe then you'll probably love these acid-tinged paeans to love, peace, and harmonic convergence  (I know Fankhauser and company supposedly abstained from such vices)..  If that worldview wasn't something you can easily condone ...  well, you better run away as fast as you can.  I'll readily admit I initially found about half of the collection to be truly cringe inducing - it was particularly difficult to get through the sappy ballads like 'Lovely Lady', 'Waterfall', and 'Sail It Over the Ocean'.  For goodness sakes, 'Love Is All There Is' actually sounded like a David Gates and Bread outtake.  Things did get better.   Given a couple of spins, the album started to reveal some of it's charms.  Fankhauser had a wonderful voice and a knack for charming melodies (check out the closer 'Make a Joyful Noise').   As mentioned in the liner notes, the album also included four previously unreleased MU tracks - 'It's Love That Sings the Song', 'In Mu', 'You and I', and 'One More Day'.  As a big fan of the MU LP, I'll tell you these were every bit as good as the earlier MU material; particularly the atypical rocker 'One More Rocker'.  The album was probably worth buying just for those four tracks.


"The Maui Album" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Lovely Lady   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

The fact of the matter is Fankhauser had a wonderful voice.  Yeah, he may have wasted it on slushy ballads like 'Lovely Lady', but the guy was certainly talented.  rating: ** stars

2.) I Saw Your Photograph   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

- A breezy, old-fashioned sounding  acoustic ballad, 'I Saw Your Photograph'  was one of the nicer mainstream efforts with  Mary Lee providing mandolin and a violin solo which actually improved the song.  Goofy, but in an intriguing fashion.   rating: **** stars

3.) We Were All Free   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

Yeah, the lyrics were hopelessly naive, but there was something charming in Fankhauser's optimistic outlook and the song had a lovely melody.  rating: *** stars

4.) On Our Way To Hana   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

My pick for Fanhauser's best solo effort, the autobiographical 'On Our Way To Hana' was a completely serious description of his brush with aliens.  A seriously beautiful song though the subject material was definitely a bit offbeat ...   YouTube has a clip of Fankhauser and band performing the track in front of a small and seemingly stoned crowd:  rating: **** stars

5.) It's Love That Sings the Song   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

As mentioned in the liner notes, ' It's Love That Sings the Song' was one of the four previously unreleased MU songs.  Technically it was a bit on the raw, under-produced side, but the song itself was quite stunning, with Fankhauser and company turning in a simple, but hypnotizing ballad,  Once again Mary Lee all but stole the show with a stunning violin solo (and I don't even like violin).   rating: **** stars

6.) In Mu   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

Another unreleased MU track, 'In MU' was a pretty acoustic ballad with some of Fankhauser patented UFO lyrics.  Jeff Cotton turned in a wonderful slide guitar solo.   rating: *** stars

7.) You and I   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

Hum, MU does CSN&Y ...  Maybe not a perfect comparison, but the breezy melody and close knit harmonies certainly bore at least a passing resemblance to CSN&Y.   rating: **** stars

8.) One More Day   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

The liner notes indicated 'One More Day' was recorded in 1972 before Fankhauser and company headed off to Maui.  That made perfect sense given the track's hard rocking sound (Fankhauser actually sounded a bit like Black Oak Arkansas' Jim Dandy Mangrum), sounded completely unlike the rest of the collection.  That wasn't meant as a criticism since the track was actually a killer ...   rating: **** stars  


(side 2)
1.) Gardens In the Rain   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

Another pretty ballad, 'Gardens In the Rain' literally sounded like Hawaii ...   The ultimate hippy track ?   rating: **** stars

2.) Waterfall   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

'Waterfall' was one of the tracks I've never been able to warm up to.  A sappy and fey ballad, about the only nice thing I can think of to say is that it was short.   rating: ** stars

3.) La La Does the Boo Ru (instrumental)   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

One of the weirder tunes, the instrumental 'La La Does the Boo Ru' sounded like a mash-up of country, Irish folk, and traditional Hawaiian slat key influences.   rating: *** stars

4.) Sail It Over the Ocean   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

If David Gates and Bread had decided to ditch LA for Maui, I bet the results would have sounded like 'Sail It Over the Ocean'.  Way too sappy for its own good, the song was still quite commercial ...  geez it really was like a bad Bread song.   rating: ** stars

5.) Love Is All There Is   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

And in case you missed the David Gates comparison, there was always the ballad 'Love Is All There Is'.   Dreadful.  rating: ** stars

6.) The Source   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

More aliens surrounded by a pretty acoustic melody ...  I hate to admit it, but this was a great track.  rating: **** stars

7.) Make a Joyful Noise   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

Picking up the tempo while espousing their back-to-nature-lifestyle, 'Make a Joyful Noise' was a nice way to end the album.  It started out slowly, but picked up considerable energy as it went along and before you knew it, you were humming the giddy refrain.   Add in Mary Lee on mandolin and violin (wonder whatever happened to her) and it was another album highlight ...  rating: **** stars


Assuming you can locate a copy, an original copy of "The Maui Album" will set you back over $100 bucks so this is a great backup plan.   



Genre: rock

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Message To the Universe

Company: One Big Guitar

Catalog:  OBGLP 9002

Country/State: Louisville, Kentucky

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: UK pressing

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 437

Price: $30.00


Even for Merrell Fankhauser, 1986's "Message To the Universe" was a stretch ...  after all what were you to make of an album that's widely referred to as The Alien Rock Suite ?    Written and produced by Fankhauser with an assist from bassist Lumpy Sahroian, this was clearly intended as a concept piece built on Fankhauser's experiences with extraterrestrials.   It will sound incredible goofy to many folks and I'll readily admit the subject matter didn't make it particularly mainstream (though it was nice to hear an album that wasn't misogynistic - not a single lyric devoted to hos, or bitches), but at the same time there was something incredibly charming about the album.   Seriously, how many folks would be willing to put themselves out there with an album devoted to cruising the outer galaxies and interacting with aliens.  Was it a metaphysical rock opera ?   Well if such an artistic statement exists, then this is it ...


"Message To the Universe" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Unexpected Journey   (Merrell Fankhauser - Lumpy Sahroian) - 

Okay the alien encounter lyrics were strange, but if you could get over that minor stumbling block, 'Unexpected Journey' was a great tune.  With a breezy, memorable rock flavor including some tasty wah wah guitar from the man himself, you couldn't help but groove to the tune and the Atari space invader sound effects were a total hoot.    rating: **** stars

2.) Alien Talk   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

Ever heard 10cc's 'Bloody Tourists'?   Well this reggae tinged number sound a bit like that track, though Fankhauser managed to meld it with a lyrics and sound effects that sounded like something out of the cantina scene from Star Wars with Ewoks chattering in the background.    rating: *** stars

3,) Space Shuttle Mechanic   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

Hum, country-rock as the soundtrack to life as a space shuttle mechanic ...   well it actually rocked though the cheesy sound effects didn't help much.   rating: *** stars

4.) Jammin At Johnnies   (Merrell Fankhauser - Lumpy Sahroian) - 

So when you're cruising the outer galaxies, you'll know where to stop for cocktails and a good band ...   Nice mid-tempo rocker with Fankhauser showcasing what a talented guitarist he is.    rating: **** stars

6.) Hookipa (instrumental)   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

Side one ended with a nice groovin' instrumental including a killer sax solo from Joel Rose.   rating: **** stars


(side 2)
1.) End of an Era   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

Fankhauser is gift with a knack for crafting wonderful melodies and that's seldom as obvious as on the mid-tempo rocker 'End of an Era'.   There's nothing particularly original or sophisticated about the song, but it has one of those melodies that simply climbs into your head and won't leave ...   Imagine mid-'70s era Fleetwood Mac stoned out of their brains (not a stretch) and focusing on aliens rather than their interpersonal dysfunctionality and you'd have a feel for what this one sounded like.  rating: **** stars

2.) The Wind Cried Maui (instrumental)   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

Kicked along by some wonderful Fankhauser acoustic 12 string guitar and Sahorian's acoustic bass, 'The Wind Cried Maui' was probably the album's prettiest composition.  Very atmospheric number ...   rating: **** stars

3.) Peace In the World   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

Yeah, the lyric was positively naive, but you had to love the man for giving it a shot and once again he wrapped it up in a beautiful melody.  rating: **** stars

4.) Mother Sea (instrumental)   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

Only a matter of time until this one gets purchased as part of the soundtrack to some ocean oriented documentary.   I think this is the ocean-themed track that Crosby and Nash always wanted to write, though I doubt they would have included the sound effects (cheesy dolphins and bubble noises).   rating: *** stars

5.) Matthew's Dream   (Merrell Fankhauser) - 

So, I've always wondered does Fankhauser really run into folks like 'Matthew'' or this all part of his goofy persona ?   Only real complain about this one was the inclusion of a needless, extended drum solo.   yeah, I understand it as meant to provide atmosphere, but it just went on and on and on ...   Regardless, it'll make your life sound pretty dull and staid, though maybe that's not a bad thing.     Another classic Fankhauser tune ...  would love to hear someone brave enough to cover one of these tunes.   rating: **** stars