Phantom's Divine Comedy

Band members                             Related acts

   line up 1 (1973-74)

- Phantom (aka Ted Pearson, aka Arthur Pendragon) -- vocals,

  guitar, keyboards
- X (aka James Rolland) -- drums, percussion
- Y (aka Harold Beardly) -- bass
- Z (aka Russ Klass) -- keyboards 




- The Happy Dragon Band 

- Pendragon (Arthur Pendragon)


Gerne: psych

Rating **** (4 stars)

Title:  Phantom's Divine Comedy Part 1

Company: Capitol

Catalog: ST-11313

Year: 1974

Country/State: Detroit, Michigan

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4829

Price: $175.00


I started out as a college marketing major  (great way to spend four years of your life), so the Phantom's Divine Comedy story always fascinated me.  "Phantom's Divine Comedy Part 1" was one of the first album's I bought when I started collecting and as much as I liked the music, I have to admit the marketing scheme and audacity of the folks involved played a part in buying a copy of the album (I actually own two copies).  As a consumer I was also impressed by the willingness of so many folks to buy into the concept - in this case the marketing strategy basically boiled down to "Jim Morrison didn't die".  


Let me just add there's still considerable confusion over the actual story.  You'll see all sorts of plotlines including Jim Morrison never died; Iggy Pop was the singer.  Tom Carson was the singer.  Ted Pearson was the singer.  Arthur Pendragon was the lead singer.  A gentleman by the name of R.F. Francis has gone as far as writing two books on the subject:  "Tales from a Wizard: The Oral History of Walpurgis" The band behind Phantom's Divine Comedy: Part 1" and "The Ghosts of Jim Morrison, The Phantom of Detroit and the Fates of Rock 'n' Roll: The Tales of the wizard behind the mysterious 1974 album Phantom's Divine Comedy: Part 1".   Both are available through Amazon and no, I have not read either.


For what it's worth, here's my take on the Phantom story.   There was an early-1970s Detroit band named Walpurgies (not to be confused with the German, or Swiss outfits).  The line-up featured Harold Beardly on bass, Russ Klass on keyboards, Ted Pearson Jr. (later know as Arthur Pendragon) on vocals, guitar and keyboards and James Rolland on drums.  The group scored  club work throughout Michigan, recording some home demos that attracted the attention of Detroit A&R man Gary Gawinek.  Garwinek brought the demos to Hideout Records owner/producer Punch Andrews.  Andrews expressed interest in recording the band resulting in the release of a 1973 single under the nameplate Phantom's Divine Comedy:  

- 1973's 'Calm Before the Storm' b/w 'Black Magic, White Magic' (Hideout catalog number H-1080)


Unfortunately Andrews and eccentric front man Pearson/Pendragon ran into personality and business conflicts and Andrews was more than happy to have Capitol Records buy-out his contract with the group.  Perhaps hoping to capitalize on the single's Doors-styled sound, Capitol quickly reissued the single:


- 1973's 'Calm Before the Storm' b/w 'Black Magic, White Magic' (Capitol catalog number 3857)


The reissued 45 did little in terms of sales, but Capitol Records agreed to finance 1974's "Phantom's Divine Comedy Part 1".  With Pearson/Pendragon writing all eight selections, the set wasn't particularly original, but was surprisingly good.  While the album wasn't exactly a concept piece, Pearson/Pendragon's fascination with the medieval fantasy world of wizards, magic and dragons came flying through.  As reflected by the laughable spoken word intro to 'Merlin', the album was occasionally a bit on the pretentious side, but then this was the mid-'70s.  Material such as 'Tales from a Wizard', 'Black Magic/White Magic' and 'Spiders Will Dance (On Your Face While You Sleep)' (great song title for any friends who suffer from arachnophobia), was uniformly strong and well executed.  The rampant Jim Morrison comparisons were debatable.  I'll admit that on tracks like the single 'Calm Before the Storm', opener 'Tales from a Wizard' and 'Black Magic/White Magic' Pearson/Pendragon and company occasional bore a passing resemblance to an early Morrison.  How you felt about The Doors was going to play a major role in whether that added of your enjoyment of the album, or was simply a major irritation.  That's not to say every vocal was a Morrison clone.  On over half of the performances the vocals sounded nothing like Morrison.   I'm not a big fantasy fan so overlooking the band's penchant for mystical themes, songs like 'Devil's Child', 'Stand Beside My Fire' and the over-the-top 'Welcome To Hell' were first rate slices of mid-'70s guitar rock.  Just my opinion, but keyboard player Klass was the band's secret sauce, injecting an attractive Vincent Crane feel into his work.  For hardcore fans the album included a series of eight short backward tape segments. The volume was very low making them hard to hear, but the segments apparently reflected different versus of what reads as a bad piece of poetry.   Believe it or not, someone took the time to run the album backwards and transcribe the words.  You can find the transcription on-line.  


Backed by bizarre liners notes which failed to identify the participants, Capitol's initial marketing effort opened up the door that this could be a Jim Morrison product. Needless to say the surviving Doors and Jac Holzman's Elektra label were less than thrilled, threatening Capitol with an injunction which lead to a quick end to the marketing campaign and effectively killing album sales.  Plans for a tour and a follow-on album were quickly dropped.  Capitol also froze funds derived from the album pending Hideout and Pearson/Pendragon settling their differences.  

"Phantom's Divine Comedy Part 1" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Tales from a Wizard   (Phantom) - 5:21   rating: **** stars

To be honest, if you were only a casual Doors fan I can see where you might easily think this was early career Jim Morrison and crew.  Pearson/Pendragon's voice certainly came close to Morrison's delivery and the song certainly copied the Doors' patented slow, ominous, bluesy build-up, complete with Klass' Manzarek-styled keyboards and Kreiger-styled lead guitar adding to the overall effect.  What's the old adage - "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."   I was quite impressed.
2.) Devil's Child   (Phantom) - 2:21
   rating: *** stars

At least to my ears the funky rocker 'Devil's Child' sounded nothing like Jim Morrison.  That's not to say the tune was bad.  Pearson/Pendragon's swampy voice injected considerable energy into the song.  Wish it had been longer.
3.) Calm Before the Storm   (Phantom) - 3:26
   rating: **** stars

Previously released as a single, 'Calm Before the Storm' again spotlight Pearson/Pendragon's Morrison tendencies.  With a tasty melody and a glorious guitar solo  this one was easily the album's most commercial offering.  I've always wondered why the singles bombed.
4.) Half a Lie   (Phantom) - 4:06
   rating: *** stars

'Half a Life' was a pretty, but somewhat plodding ballad.  This time around Pearson/Pendragon's lead vocals didn't have a strong Morrison vibe.

5.) Spiders Will Dance (On Your Face While You Sleep)   (Phantom) - 4:11   rating: **** stars

After the single, 'Spiders Will Dance (On Your Face While You Sleep)' was my second favorite performance.  With a jittery start and stop rhythm, awesome percussion, blazing Pearson/Pendragon guitar solo and disturbing imagery it was the perfect tune for the Morrison-esque vocals.   Remember, spiders will dance.

(side 2)

1.) Black Magic/White Magic  (Phantom) - 3:18   rating: **** stars

Yeah, it was another pseudo-Doors tune, but 'Black Magic/White Magic' was actually quite catchy.
2.) Merlin  (Phantom) - 5:24  
rating: ** stars

Ever heard any of Jim Morrison poetry?  Yeah, it's pretty painful.  The opening spoken word segment of 'Merlin' is just as painful.  Docked a star for the spoken word intro and the fantasy lyrics.
3.) Stand Beside My Fire  (Phantom) - 5:31
   rating: *** stars

'Stand Beside My Fire' found the band pushing into dark hard-rock territory.  As reflected on this one, Pearson/Pendragon non-Morrison voice was quite impressive and he was a first-rate guitarist.
4.) Welcome To Hell  (Phantom) - 5:12
   rating: *** stars

Well if you were going to go over-the-top then you might as well put everything you've got into it.  The molten ballad 'Welcome To Hell' certainly tried.  Do you know how irritating it is to walk around humming 'welcome to hell' all afternoon ?  Scandinavian death metal years ahead of the genre !!!



As a side note, the English music magazine Mojo carried an article on the late Jim Morrison.  The article included an interview with Ray Manzarek where he actually talked about his brief run-in with Phantom's Divine Comedy.  "[The Phantom was] a guy named Ted something-or-else, from Detroit, and he sounded like Jim.  He was a weird guy who dressed in black and would only wear silver jewelry".  Manzarek even played a couple of songs with Phantom and company at a July 1974 Jim Morrison memorial concert hosted at L.A.'s Whiskey.



Pearson/Pendragon is no longer alive.