Insect Trust, The


Band members               Related acts

- Bill Barth (RIP 2000) -- guitar (1967-70)
- Luke Faust -- vocals, guitar, fiddle (1967-70)
- Trevor Koehler (RIP 1973) -- reeds (1967-70)
- Nancy Jeffries -- vocals, keyboards (1967-70)
- Robert Palmer (RIP 1997) -- sax, clarinet, reeds

 

  supporting musicians:

- Bob Bushnell -- bass

- Ralph Casale -- rhythm guitar

- William Folwell - bass, trumpet

- William Gardner -- trumpet

- Elvin Jones -- drums

- Donald MacDonald -- drums

- Charles Macey -- bass, rhythm guitar

- Joseph Macho -- bass

- High McCracken -- rhythm guitar

- Charles Nealy -- drums

- Bernard Purdy -- drums, percussion

 

 

 

- The Holy Modal Rounders (Luke Faust)
- Octopus (Trevor Koehler)

- The Solip Singers (Bill Barth, Nancy Jeffries, and 

  Robert Palmer)


 

Genre: psych

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  The Insect Trust

Company: Capitol

Catalog: ST-109

Year: 1968

Country/State: Hoboken, New Jersey

Grade (cover/record): VG / VG+

Comments: rough edges and corners; bullet hole; gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: not yet listed

Price: $50.00

 

If nothing else, their instrumental line-up should warn you that The Insect Trust was not your run--of-the-mill late 1960s rock and roll outfit.  The group's talent pool consisted of guitarists Bill Barth and Luke Faust, reed players Trevor Koelhler and Robert Palmer and vocalist/keyboard player Nancy Jeffries . Even though they were one of the era's more eclectic outfits and attracted little attention (and even fewer sales), their out-and-out experimentation had a substantial impact on music and if you're willing to make the investment of time and energy (and a bit of money), getting into their short catalog can be a rewarding experience. 

Having previously played in The Solip Singers (along with Holy Modal Rounder Pete Stampfel), by 1968 Barth and Jeffries had moved on to form The Insect Trust (the name supposedly inspired by Bill Lebvy's poetry journal The Insect Trust Gazette, though Jeffries is quoted as saying it was inspired by a Williams S. Burroughs novel).  In the process they somehow scored a contract with Capitol Records.  Legend has it that while at a New York party, hearing a particularly crappy piece of music on the stereo Barth told a fellow guest he hated the song - the fellow guest happened to be Steve Duboff who had produced it.  Rather than take offense at the comments, Duboff invited Barth and company to audition for him.  They did and were rewarded with a $25K signing advance.

left to right: Bill Barth - Robert Palmer - Trevor Koehler - 

Nancy Jeffries - Luke Faust

 

Produced by Duboff, the band's self-titled 1968 debut offered up an impossible to describe aural grab bag of influences. With all five members contributing material "The Insect Trust" somehow managed to incorporate influences ranging from 1920s-era anti-war tracts ('World War I Song'), bluegrass ('Foggy River Bridge Fly'), C&W, jazz, discordant avant garde (the second half of 'The Skin Game'), blues (the blazing 'Special Rider Blues') and what would even pass as a precursor to today's world music genre ('Going Home'). Propelled by Jeffries' crystalline voice and the band's penchant for unusual instrumentation and bizarre arrangements (often within the same song), to my ears the results were simply fascinating. Personal favorites; the mesmerizing 'Miss Fun City' and the sweet ballad 'Been Here and Gone So Soon'. Clearly too unusual for radio (to say nothing of the rank and file listening public), the album instantly landed in cutout bins.  

 

Capitol actually tapped the LP for a pair of instantly obscure singles:

 

- 1968's 'Miss Fun City' b/w 'Special Rider Blues' (Capitol catalog number P-2386)

- 1968's 'Been Here and Gone So Soon' b/w 'World War I Song' (Capitol catalog number P-2496)

 

"The Insect Trust" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) The Skin Game   (Bill Barth - Nancy Jeffries - Robert Palmer - Trevor Koehler) - 4:07
2.) Miss Fun City   (Bill Barth - Nancy Jeffries - Robert Palmer) - 5:04
3.) World War I Song   (J. Callicott) - 3:18
4.) Special Rider Blues   (J. Nehemiah) - 7:45
5.) Foggy River Bridge Fly (instrumental)   (Trevor Koehler) - 1:07
6.) Been Here and Gone So Soon   (Bill Barth - Nancy Jeffries - Robert Palmer) - 3:29

(side 2)

1.) Declaration of Independence   (Robert Palmer) - 2:30
2.) Walking On Nails
3.) Brighter Than Day   (Bill Barth - Nancy Jeffries - Robert Palmer - Trevor Koehler) - 2:31
4.) Mountain Song   (Bill Barth - Nancy Jeffries - Robert Palmer - Trevor Koehler - Luke Faust) - 2:49
5.) Going Home   (Bill Barth - Nancy Jeffries) - 5:10

 

 



Genre: psych

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Hoboken Saturday Night

Company: ATCO

Catalog: SD 33-313

Year: 1969

Country/State: Hoboken, New Jersey

Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+

Comments: minor wear on the cover

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5934

Price: $75.00

 

Two years after making their debut on Capitol, The Insect Trust reappeared with a new album on Atlantic's ATCO subsidiary.  

 

top left to right: Luke Faust - Trevor Koehler - Robert Palmer

bottom left to right: Nancy Jeffries - Bill Barth

 

Still unique among performers, the Steve Duboff produced "Hoboken Saturday Night" found the band continuing their unique experiments in merging diverse musical genres. Stylistically all over the aural road map, the album found the band taking stabs at everything imaginable including bizarro folk-rock ('Trip To Me'), Stax-styled instrumentals !!! ('Ducks'), bouncy country-rock ('Reciprocity') and free form jazz-rock fusion. While she still wasn't the world's greatest singer, Nancy Jeffries again displayed a light and surprisingly attractive voice, while the rest of the band showcased a consistently attractive sense of taste and style.  You could only wish that BS&T and Chicago had as much imagination and restraint when it came to horn charts ('Ragtime Millionaire').  Elsewhere, 'The Eyes of a New York Woman' featured lyrics written by novelist Thomas Pynchon.  Made aware that his words had been 'borrowed' without prior consent, Pynchon threatened a lawsuit, demanding the album be withdrawn.  In the end he settled with the band withdrawing the lawsuit in return for the group's commitment not to perform the song live. (In case you cared, the band was supported by a number of all-star sessions players, including guitarist Hugh McCracken and drummer Bernie Purdie.)  

 

- Clocking in at under a minute, 'Be a Hobo' left you wondering if you'd stumbled into a drunken Indian hoedown ...   rating: ** stars

- Showcasing Jeffries' voice at its very best, the title track was a surprisingly mainstream and rocking number ...  Complete with a great melody and some fantastic group harmony vocals, you had to wonder why ATCO management didn't tap this one as a single.  What were they thinking?   rating: **** stars

- Once again showcasing Jeffries' attractive voice, 'The Eyes of a New York Woman' was a breezy, blues number.  The song took awhile to click, but once it got rolling, it  took no prisoners.   One of the few songs I've heard with a killer flute solo !   rating: *** stars

- Though it had a great chorus, 'Ragtime Millionaire' was simply too period cute for my personal taste.  That said, the ragtime arrangement was impressive and Luke Faust turned in a taste electric guitar solo.   rating: *** stars

- The first couple of times I heard 'Someday' I absolutely hated it.  It sounded frantic and discordant to my ears.  Well, the song is both frantic and discordant, but kicked along by Faust's spastic vocal, the song was simply so weird that you had to sit up and take notice.  By the way, the horn charts are amazing.   rating: *** stars

- Kicked along by a great uncredited bass pattern, 'Our Sister the Sun' was an extended, jazzy-tinged ballad.  On the surface this should have been another song that I wanted nothing to do with, but Jeffries gave the song a haunting feeling that was underscored by Elvin Jones impressive, jazzy sax solo.  One of the album's biggest surprises ...   rating: *** stars

- Luke Faust's sole writing credit, 'Reciprocity' sported a surprisingly enjoyable old-timey feel.  Nice horns and Faust turned in a tasteful guitar solo.   rating: *** stars  

- With Jeffries unveiling her big bluesy voice, 'Trip On Me' found the band again returning to a fairly straightforward rock sound.  Just speculation on my part, but in hindsight you had to wonder if the lyrics were inspired by a growing musical and personal rift between Barth and Jeffries.   rating: *** stars

- A clear reflection of the group's country and string band roots 'Now The Sweet Man/'Mr. Garfield' was way too country for my taste.  Musically it was something you'd expect to hear at a small Irish bar.   rating: ** stars

- With a distinctive country flavor, 'Reincarnations' was s curious choice for a single.  Faust's lead banjo gave the track a feel-good rhythm and Jeffries vocal was quite good, but it was simply too eclectic to have made much impact.

- I've always hated songs that feature young children singing.  I hate the first part of the 'Glade Song'.  And suddenly the track shifted gears into one of the funniest songs you've ever heard.  I've never figured out who handled the lead vocal, but the male lead sounded like he was completely fried on speed.  perfectly encapsulating the band's eclectic stew of influences, this one was simply too bizarre to adequately describe.  rating: **** stars

- The second album found the band supported by a large collection of Memphis sidemen and the instrumental 'Ducks' was where their influences finally exploded.  (Though technically I guess you couldn't call it an instrumental since Jeffires provided scat and nonsensical vocals on it.)  Imagine a Stax instrumental complete with percolating horn charts and Steve Cropper-styled guitar and you'll know what to expect on this one.  rating: *** stars

 

ATCO also tapped the album for a single:

 

    

 

- 1970's 'Reincarnations' b/w 'Reciprocity' (ATCO catalog number 45-6764)

 

Reading back over this the results don't sound particularly inspired or impressive, but the set exhibited a hard to describe charm that made it a true lost classic.  Mind you, it's simply too eclectic for most folks, but if given a chance, it'll grow on you. 

"Hoboken Saturday Night" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Be a Hobo   (Louis Hardin) - 0:35
2.) Hoboken Saturday Night   (Bill Barth - Nancy Jeffries - Robert Palmer) - 3:00
3.) The Eyes of a New York Woman   (Thomas Pynchon - Jeff Ogden) - 3:08
4.) Ragtime Millionaire   (Bill Barth - Nancy Jeffries) - 3:20
5.) Somedays   (Trevor Koehler) - 2:47
6.) Our Sister the Sun   (William Folwell - Arloha Folwell) - 7:20

(side 2)

1.) Reciprocity   (Luke Faust) - 3:23

2.) Trip On Me   (Bill Barth - Nancy Jeffries - Robert Palmer) - 2:45
3.) Now The Sweet Man /  Mr. Garfield   (Trevor Koehler / traditional arranged Luke Faust) - 3:07
4.) Reincarnations   (Trevor Koehler) - 3:15
6.) Glade Song   (Trevor Koehler - Luke Faust) - 3:00
7.) Ducks (instrumental)   (Trevor Koehler - Warren Gardner) - 5:40


Like the debut, the sophomore album vanished without a trace.  Barth began spending more and more of his time focused on recreational drugs.  Jeffries subsequently ended their personal relationship and was Barth reportedly handed his walking papers. The band briefly struggled on with replacements, but without a true fan base, or label support, quickly collapsed in the wake of his departure. 

 

Barth went on to a varied career, eventually relocating to Amsterdam in the mid-1980s where he focused on an art career (though he found time to buy a small blues club in Mississippi). He died from a sudden heart attack in July 2000.

 

Jeffries reappeared on the business side of the industry working for years as a talent scout and A&R person. 

 

Koehler reappeared in the band Octopus before committing suicide in 1973. 

 

Palmer went on to become a respected rock critic (one of the genre's more articulate and engaging members). Sadly, in need of a kidney transplant, he died in 1997.  

 

 

 


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