Magic Fern

Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1966-67)

- Brian Conrad -- drums

- Tim Cooley -- bass

- Tom Sparks -- lead guitar, vocals

- Mike Waters -- lead vocals, guitar


  line up 2 (1967)

NEW - Mike Allan -- bass (replaced Tim Cooley)

- Brian Conrad -- drums

- Tom Sparks -- lead guitar, vocals

- Mike Waters -- lead vocals, guitar




- The Time Machine (Mike Allan)






Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  The Magic Fern

Company: Piccadilly

Catalog: PIC-3386

Country/State: Seattle, Washington

Grade (cover/record): NM/NM

Comments: sealed copy

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 1

Price: $150.00


Brian Conrad, Tim Cooley, Tom Sparks, and Mike Waters met while students attending the University of Washington.  As Magic Fern they began playing dances and club, frequently opening up for better know Seattle acts like The Crome Syrcus, The Daily Flash and national acts like Country Joe and the Fish, The Doors and The Grateful Dead, winning modest cult status with their fellow students.


Word of mouth seemingly brought the band to the attention of Jerry Dennon, who signed them to the Seattle-based Jerden label.   The label subsequently released their debut 45 which was then reissued by the Piccadilly label::

- 1966's 'Maggie' b/w 'I Wonder Why' (Jerden catalog number 813)

- 1967's 'Maggie' b/w 'I Wonder Why' (Picadilly catalog number 235)


A remake of an old traditional folk song, to my ears the tune's always sounded like a relaxed Grateful Dead tune.  Quaint, but nothing real special.  


With former The Time Machine member Mike Allan replacing Cooley on bass, the band apparently recorded a bunch of demo material, though the only thing to see daylight was another cover - a surprisingly enjoyable folk-rocked up cover of another traditional tune:






- 1967's Nellie' b/w 'Cloudy Day' (Piccadilly catalog number 240)








A decade after the band called it quits the Piccadilly label released 1980's "Magic Fern".  In addition to the four sides from the band's two singles, the compilation pulled together four previously unreleased tunes that spanned the musical spectrum from good timey jug band ('Cloudy Day') to West Coast jam band territory ('Solar Plexis').  I'll readily admit to being somewhat disappointed by the results.  I actually liked Waters voice and Sellers was an impressive guitarist.  That said, with the exception of the totally bizarre acid-jazz jam 'Solar Plexis' there wasn't a great deal of originality flowing across these grooves.  Their updates of traditional folk numbers like 'Maggie' and 'Nellie' were decent, but hardly life changing.   And that gets you back to the ten minute 'Solar Plexis'.   With a distinctive West Coast      Frankly, I've always wondered why the label chose these particular tunes since the band seems to have recorded quite a few, frequently superior, songs including the rocking 'Find Your Rider Gone', 'Laugh Like a Gypsy', and the chugging instrumental 'Viva Sativa'.


"Magic Fern" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Maggie   (I.M. Flowers) - 2:38   rating: ** stars

As mentioned, 'Maggie' served as their recording debut.  A folk-rock timged number, the tunes always reminded me of a mash-up of The Grateful Dead and John Sebastian and The Lovin Spoonful.   I wouldn't call it great, but it was certainly cute.

2.) Wonder Why   (I.M. Flowers) - 2:10  rating: *** stars

The flip side to their debut 45, 'I Wonder Why' opened up sounding like the band had cloned the theme song to the Green Acres theme song.  More good timey jug band material which showcased the abnd's nice harmony vocals.  With a tasty little Tom Sparks guitar solo, I actually liked it better than 'Maggie'.  

3.) Beneath a Tree (Mike Waters) - 2:40   rating: **** stars

One of the most commercial folk-rock things they recorded, 'Beneath a Tree' could have easily been mistaken for John Sebastian and the Lovin' Spoonful.  Bouncy and tuneful, if would have made a great 1067 era single 

4.) High Flyer   (I.M. Flowers) - 1:35   rating: **** stars

It still included plenty of folk-rock influences, but 'High Flyer' found the band stepping towards a more psychedelic sound.   With a strong Mike Waters vocal it was one of the album highlights.  Shame the song was so short.    

5.) Cloudy Day   (Tom Sparks - Mike Waters) - 1:35   rating: ** stars

Very bouncy, old-timey jug band feel that didn't do a great deal for my ears.   


(side 2)
1.) Nellie - 2:13
  rating: *** stars

Probably the best of their traditional covers, as mentioned this one was their second single.

2.) Found Me a Lover - 3:20   rating: ** stars

With a stark arrangement and a weird mommy's boy lyric, 'Found Me a Lover' sounded like an unfinished demo.   

3.) Solar Plexis (instrumental) - 10:58   rating: **** stars

If you heard this ten minute instrumental train wreck on an album by a better know West Coast act you'd have label it plodding and pretentious.  And it was.  A ten minute stretch probably best described as acid-jazz, the song sported plenty of Tom Sparks fuzz guitar (some played at speed of light temps), and an extended Brian Conrad drum solo, but unless you were buzzed it's hard to imagine this one was going to do a great deal for you.  Even with those limitations, it was easily the standout performance on the album.