Michael Mathis and White Lightening

Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1  

- Michael Mathis -- vocals




- Bud Mathis & the Fairviews

- Michael Mathis (solo efforts)





Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Old Hickory & the Pirate

Company: Hawkins

Catalog: HR #1001

Country/State: US

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2187

Price: $80.00


So here's what the liner notes have to say about this obscurity - let me warn you, they're pretty bizarre::


"The singing career of Michael Mathis began at the tender age of twelve.  He and his brother Mark, learned songs their Dad wrote and did all his demos for him.  One of the demos so impressed a record producer that he decided to record the boys.   That record was never released, but it led to another try with Michael as a solo.  When it was discovered as [sic] a rehearsal that Mark's voice was suddenly changing, and he couldn't hit the notes right.  Michael's first release was a single for the Blue Ruver {sic] label, in 1962, at the age of fourteen.  The record made "picks to hit" and record of the week in several cities, but just as he was all set to tour, after a Las Vegas appearance, alas, he too suddenly had a voice change.  This stopped everything, as far as recording was concerned, and due to many unusual developments in the world and his life, Michael wasn't recorded again for over a year.  When he resumed his career, he discovered, as do many artists, that the road to stardom is layden {sic] with many bumps and detours.  It took awhile, but finally an album was completed, and this is the first release, post adolescence."


Assuming there was some truth to the liner notes, Michael and Mark's father was Los Angeles scene maker Bud Mathis .  Think along the lines of Kim Fowley, Mathis fronted Bud Mathis & the Fairviews, served as a writer and producer, and managed a couple of L.A. bands including The Joint Effort (which morphed into Clear Light (recording an album for Jac Holzman's Elektra Records), as well as managing  The Brain Trust.  


It turns out there was also a short-lived early-'60s Los Angeles-based Blue River label.   The label only released about a dozen 45s, but there was at least one 45 credited to Mike:


- Mike Tomack 'I Know You Love Me' b/w 'Unemployed' (Blue River catalog number 45-202)


Not sure if his record was one of these.  The first one is a throwaway doo wop tune.  Not sure about the second one.




So if Michael recorded his first single in 1962 when he was 14, he was 29 when he got around to recording "Old Hickory & the Pirate".  Released on the small Hakim imprint, this 1977 set seems to have been a vanity project.   Though the album was credited to Michael Mathis & White Lightening, it certainly didn't sound like a band effort.   It got even stranger.  In addition to producing the album most of the songs on the album were credited to Bud.  Discomboober' was actually a tune recorded by Bud Mathis and the Fairviews,  'The Third Eye' and 'Mary On a Go 'Round' were both recorded by The Joint Effort back in 1967.  The latter song sounded exactly like The Joint Effort version.  The inclusion of a pair of sitar powered pieces ('Home of Us All' and 'Waiting Time') simply added to the album's bizarre nature,   Those two songs were credited to Ashish Kahn which makes me wonder if this was another typo and the real writer was Indian musician Aashish Kahn (who like Ravi Shankar, was playing in California in the mid-'60s).  Against that backdrop you were left to wonder if this was actually a compilation of Bud's material, or if it really was material recorded by Michael Mathis.  Another possible explanation - the album certainly had some of the characteristics found in tax scam releases.


So what did "Old Hickory & the Pirate" actually sound like?   Well, maybe because my expectations were so low, the overall results were surprisingly enjoyable.  Ten of the twelve songs were written, or co-written  by Bud.   The track listing seemed to reflect a mixture of older and newer tunes.  As mentioned, the lysergic-tinged 'The Third Eye' and 'Mary On a Go 'Round' were written for and recorded by The Joint Effort back in 1967.  In fact, to my ears it sounded like Mary On a Go 'Round' was actually The Joint Effort version of the song.  Similarly, 'Discomboober' appeared to be a tune Bud had recorded back in the mid-'60s while leading Bud Mathis & The Fairviews.   The rockabilly flavored 'My Old Woman' sounded like an early-'60s demo.   Other performances like ' I Don't Ever Want a Woman (Who Won't Let Me Be a Man)' and 'Rules & Regulations' had a more modern sound and feel.   And then you came to the two Ashish Kahn tracks. 'Home of Us All' and 'Waiting Time' were a completely out of place pair of Indian raga numbers.


"Old Hickory & the Pirate" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Old Hickory & the Pirate   (Bud Mathis) - 2:54    rating: **** stars

Sounding like a mash-up between a slice of Tony Joe White-styled swamp rock and a Schoolhouse Rock segment,  normally a "story" song like the title track would drive me crazy.  Yes, the song was really about Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans ....  The funny thing is there was something disarming about this goofy tune.   Michael's sense of enthusiasm and patriotism just left you smiling. The tune was also released as an instantly obscure promo single:





- 1977's 'Old Hickory & the Pirate' b/w 'Rules & Regulations' (Hakim catalog number HR 101) 







2.) The Third Eye   (Bud Mathis - Ed Villareal) - 3:12    rating: **** stars

Interesting tribute to his father ...  Michael's father Bud originally recorded this song in 1967 while a member of The Joint Effort (great name for a band).  Recorded a decade after his father's release, Michael's remake wasn't all that different that the original (a little less jangle rock), but retained a lysergic edge full of electric sitar, exotic percussive touches and a general sound and vibe that reminded me more than a little of Merrell Fankhauser (that being a good thing).     




In case anyone was interested in tracking down the original song:


- 1967's 'The Third Eye' b/w 'The Children' (Joint Effort catalog number JE - 1)







3.) I Don't Ever Want a Woman (Who Won't Let Me Be a Man)   (Dave Callens - Bud Mathis) - 2:52

  rating: ** stars

With references to women's liberation and teaching his woman a lesson, the country-flavored 'I Don't Ever Want a Woman (Who Won't Let Me Be a Man)' was clearly a more recent composition ...   I dare you to listen to this one and not smile at the blatantly misogynist sentiments.  

4.) My Old Woman   (Bud Mathis) - 2:00  rating: *** stars

Nothing more than speculation on my part, but 'My Old Woman' had a distinctive early-'60s rockabilly feel which made me wonder if this was actually an early Bud demo added to the track listing.   The song was no great shakes, but admittedly had a great guitar solo.  

5.) Rules & Regulations   (Bud Mathis - Ed Villareal) - 3:22  rating: ** stars

Hum, if you listen to the self-serving lyrics, the tune seems to be a plea for understanding in a case of statutory rape.  Musically it sounded like a slice of second-rate Lobo. 

6.) Mary On a Go 'Round   (Bud Mathis - Ed Villareal - Dave Callens) - 2:47   rating: **** stars

'Mary On a Go 'Round' was a fantastic slice of mid-'60s LA folk-rock.   Full of jangle-guitar, sweet, slightly stoned vocals, the tune just encapsulated that moment in time.   For what it was worth, I tracked down a copy of the original Joint Effort single and as far as I can this is The Joint Effort version.   That's not meant as a criticism since this tune is that good.  





- 1967 'The Square' b/w 'Mary On a Go 'Round' (Spin catalog number S-127)







(side 2)
1.) You Got Me
   (Bud Mathis) - 2:33  rating: *** stars

Mathis actually had a very nice voice and the country-rock tinged 'You Got Me' served as a nice example of the guy's talent.   The mix was interesting; especially when the acoustic guitar came jumping out at you and then dropped away.    

2.) Third Rate Rund Down Room   (Bud Mathis) - 2:05  rating: *** stars

Given the lack of proofreading on the liner notes it shouldn't come as a surprise to learn the title was actually 'Third Rate Run Down Room'.   Nice singer/songwriter  tale about appreciating what you have - no matter how little it may be.  

3.) Discomboober   (Bud Mathis) - 2:33    rating: **** stars

'Discomboober' was a track recorded by Bud Mathis & The Fairviews.  Sounding like something recorded in 1963-65, the goofy, frat boy tune was guaranteed to bring a smile to your face ...  If you liked The Hombres, The Swinging Medallions, etc., this was the perfect tune for you.   

4.) Home of Us All   (Ashish Kahn) - 4:50    rating: **** stars

The Summer of Love explodes across your speakers  ...  'Home of Us All' was a near perfect blend of Eastern and Western musical influences.  Easy to imagine John, Paul, and George gladly sacrificing Ringo to the god Kali in order to come up with something as good.   Lysergic bliss and the album's unexpected highlight.   

5.) Waiting Time  (Ashish Kahn) - 4:10  rating: *** stars

In contrast to the prior tune, you could have been forgiven for mistaking 'Waiting Time' for a mid-'70s George Harrison tune.  Like a lot of Harrison material, this one attempted to blend rock and Indian musical elements.  And like a lot of Harrison's work, it wasn't all that good.  Extra star for the exotic Indian instrumentals. 






Anyone intrigued by this album should check out a  2000 release on the Dionysus label - "Take The Brain Train To The Third Eye: Bud Mathis' Sunset Strip 1963-1967" (Dionysus catalog number BA1147).