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I'll Give It to You Anyway - Essra Mohawk

Essra Mohawk, who died of liver cancer on December 11th last year, is a classic example of one of those American music professionals who lived their lives on the fringes of stardom, without ever quite making it themselves.

She has all the credentials of a sixties also-ran: she recorded a legendary, "classic" but financially unsuccessful album in 1970, was asked to replace Grace Slick as lead singer in Jefferson Starship before being gazumped at the last minute, was an uncredited member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, just missed performing at Woodstock because her driver took a "wrong turn", was a one-hit-wonder in that a version of her song "Change of Heart" by Cindi Lauper reached number 3 on the US charts in 1986, and moved from New York to California, to Philadelphia to Nashville - a wandering songwriter chasing each region's musical success.

Her first husband, Frazier Mohawk, has an equally colourful résumé: as well as being publicist for the Beatles' legendary Hollywood Bowl concert in 1964, he was instrumental in the formation of legendary band Buffalo Springfield (see previous post ) in that he was driving the car Stephen Stills and Ritchie Furay were in when they met Neil Young and drummer Bruce Palmer in Young's converted hearse going the other way (see post ). He met and married Essra (at that time Sandra Hurvitz) when he was producing her second album, the aforementioned legendary platter "Primordial Lovers" of 1970.

Essra and Frazier's lives together feel like those of the central characters in a novel about the music business by Thomas Pynchon, or a rock combination of Zelig and Forrest Gump.

At first listen, the album "Primordial Lovers" is of its time, a cross between the Carole King of "Tapestry" and early Laura Nyro, no bad thing, especially when you realise it was released a year before "Tapestry"; but it's a record that gets under your skin after a while, and you keep coming back to it, like an addiction or something you shouldn't eat in the fridge.

Also like "Tapestry", "Primordial Lovers" was so good it was almost impossible to follow and represented the high point of Mohawk's musical career. But unlike King's album, it didn't get the commercial success it deserved, and would have got had she played Woodstock. Cue a life of songwriting LP fillers for other more successful artists, and turning out songs for films, tv series and educational kids' shows (see the wonderful "Interjections" from "Schoolhouse Rock" ), as well as a string of obscure albums on her and her partner Jim Hinchliffe's own "Mummypump" label.

She was always an optimist as her later albums such as the defiant and upbeat "Revelations of the Secret Diva" testify, as well as a good professional. On missing Woodstock, while acknowledging the difference it would have made to her career, she was philosophical, later saying "“Knowing me, being the feral child that I was, I would have had no restraint, and I would have been long dead.”

"I'll Give It to You Anyway" Track 3, Side One, from the album "Primordial Lovers". A gem from a minor masterpiece.


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