By Richie Unterberger

Co-founded by Frank Zappa and his then-manager Herbie Cohen, the sister labels Bizarre and Straight are most known for issuing (on Bizarre) several Mothers of Invention and Zappa solo albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. During that same period, Bizarre and Straight also issued a handful of LPs by numerous other artists, the most famous of them being Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica and Alice Cooper's first three albums. It's less well known that Straight in particular served as an outlet for several other interesting, somewhat less celebrated cultish acts, including Tim Buckley, vocal group the Persuasions, and notorious Los Angeles groupies the GTO's.

    Even lesser known is Tim Dawe's 1969 Straight LP Penrod, which perhaps holds the distinction of the most obscure release ever to appear on the label. If there was only one thing predictable about a Straight release, it's that contrary to what the label name might lead the unsuspecting to expect, it would never be a "straight" or conventional rock record. Such was the case with Penrod, which boasted an enigmatic mixture of psychedelia, early singer-songwriter moves, almost crooning troubadour folk, baroque classical influences, and inventively florid arrangements and orchestration. Such is the rarity of original copies today that it seems unlikely it sold much upon its first appearance, or that the musicians who recorded it stayed together much longer after its release.

    Many releases on the Straight label had a direct connection to Frank Zappa and/or Herbie Cohen, whether the artists (such as Buckley) were also managed by Cohen, or whether the musicians had at times played with Zappa (like Captain Beefheart and one-time Mothers of Invention bassist Jeff Simmons). It was a similar deal with Penrod, which was produced by Jerry Yester, who'd issued a late-'60s psychedelic cult classic on Straight with then-wife Judy Henske, Farewell Aldebaran. Yester and Henske were also managed by Cohen, and Yester had also produced or co-produced two late-'60s albums for fellow Cohen client Tim Buckley, Goodbye and Hello and Happy Sad. When Cohen was considering having Tim Dawe cut an album, he sought out Yester's input.

    Tim Dawe, believes Yester, was probably first seen by Cohen at a hootenanny night at the famed Los Angeles club the Troubadour, as "that's where Herbie found a lot of his artists. I think he first saw [Tom] Waits [whose first album Yester would produce] there, for example. Herbie called me and said, 'Listen man, I saw this group at the hoot. I want you to go down to San Diego and listen to them, and see if we need to make a record of them.' As soon as he said that, I decided that he needed to make a record of it, because I was out of work at the time," he laughs. "They would have had to have been pretty bad for me to say 'No go.' Judy and I went down [to San Diego to see Dawe], we were still together then. As it turns out, they were very good. So it was with some relief" that Jerry took the job of producing the album.

    To clear up some confusion, though it's sometimes been reported that Dawe had previously been in Iron Butterfly and Rhinoceros, that appears not to be the case. There was a Jerry Penrod who played bass in those groups, and the assumption seems to have arisen from the mysterious Penrod title of Dawe's LP. Penrod, says Yester, was actually the name of the group Dawe fronted as singer-songwriter (as well as playing acoustic guitar).

    Indeed, the actual LP sleeve seems indecisive as to whether the name of the artist is Penrod or Tim Dawe, putting the name Penrod in large all-caps lettering on top, and printing the name (and a tiny picture) of Dawe in much smaller type in the lower left-hand corner. The four other musicians were not session guys using pseudonyms, as has sometimes been speculated by collectors, but Dawe's actual band, including keyboardist Arnie Goodman, drummer Claude Mathis, electric guitarist Chris Kebeck, and bassist Don Parrish. Goodman, says Yester, is brother of violinist Jerry Goodman, famous for playing in the late-'60s Chicago rock group the Flock, and later as a member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra with guitarist John McLaughlin.

    When he heard Dawe and his band, remembers Yester, "I said, 'This is going to be a piece of cake.' I don't know how long they'd been together, but they were pretty tight. They had their parts down. They'd rehearsed the stuff a lot, and it was like record-ready. I remember taping them on a really early cassette machine in a place where they rehearsed, and listening to it, it just seemed like it was taken off a record. So it seemed like not a lot of work to do."

    In the studio, Jerry continues, "it took a very short time to do. Maybe a couple of weeks, and we were finished with everything—mixing and mastering and everything. There might have been a couple of things where I suggested something here and there, but they were pretty together. Getting their sound was just no problem, because they were so well-rehearsed. We just set up the mikes and bingo, it was like one- or two-take kind of stuff. The guitar player was really good and really proficient—none of the problems usually associated with guitar players!" he laughs.

    Dawes himself, Yester adds, was "a really nice fellow and easy to get along with. He seemed unlikely as a rock'n'roll singer. His approach was just way different than anybody else. He had a real kind of formal-sounding voice, is the only way I can put it." Though Dawes's vocal style has sometimes been compared (by the relatively few people who've heard and written about Penrod) to Tim Buckley, perhaps because of the Yester/Straight association, to Jerry "it never struck me that way at all. Tim [Buckley] was real moody and a lot more bohemian. Tim [Dawes] just seemed crisp and such an upstanding guy. I'm not saying that [Buckley] wasn't. But [Buckley] really had no regard at all for convention. And [Dawes] could have been a scoutmaster."

    Like the Straight album Yester had recently done with Judy Henske (Farewell Aldebaran), Penrod was in some respects so eclectic as to defy classification. Parts were reminiscent of earnest mid-to-late-1960s folk-rock singer-songwriters like Eric Andersen, Phil Ochs, and Tim Hardin, yet with edgier, harder-rocking psychedelic-influenced backing. "Sometimes Alone" and "Didn't We Love" climaxed with psychedelic distorted dissonance, yet "Some Other Time" featured gorgeous classical-influenced keyboards by Goodman. And as he had on Goodbye and Hello, Yester added some orchestration to the folk-rock-psychedelic core. "That was still pretty early in my orchestration career, and I liked to do it every time I could," he notes. "I didn't force it on people, certainly, but if I thought it could use it, I suggested it."

    Perhaps the standout cut on the record is the seven-and-a-half-minute "Junkie John," a brooding downbeat tale set against haunting funereal organ, wailing backup vocals, and a languid yet mordant jazzy groove. "The best line in that [is] in the spoken intro that he does—'when he walked into a room, you got the feeling that somebody just left'," feels Yester. "I've used that over the years, 'cause I've known people like that. I knew what he meant. That was a pretty good line."
    The Penrod album went virtually unnoticed, however, and Dawes and the musicians would never issue another album together. With the exception of one occasion on which Arnie Goodman got Yester a job teaching a two-week intensive course at Chicago's Columbia College around a couple years or so later, in fact, Jerry would never see any of them again. "I have a feeling they didn't really perform very much," Yester concludes. "I think if they did, they would have developed a following, because they had a really interesting collection of tunes. It seems they would have been appealing. It was just an odd kind of a thing. It came and went in my life in less than a month." -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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