King Solomon's Mind

 Although I have been writing about music from outside the mainstream for more than ten years, making fun of the oddball and the obscure through this very blog, I have often felt uncomfortable about finding humour in what U.S. writer and DJ Irwin Chusid labelled ‘outsider music’. Although some outsider musicians – The Shaggs, for example – have found cult acceptance for their naïve musical meanderings, many of the artists whose work has found itself lumped into this loosest of genres have been battling with drink, drugs, and other demons. I find it hard to laugh at someone (say, Zappa protégé Wild Man Fischer) whose work so often and so clearly reflects their own mental health issues.

 So where does that leave legendary outsider musician Jerry Solomon?

Originally from San Diego, Jerry recorded several singles during the 1960s and issued three albums in the 1970s, all of which are completely insane; Jerry rambles, croons, hoots and shrieks through his material like a psychotic. Andy Kaufman was a fan, and Jerry made a brief cameo in the Jim Carry film about Kaufman, “Man on the Moon”. Very few copies of these albums exist, and so sought after are they that when they do come up for sale it’s usually for silly money.

U.S. company Sundazed Music/Modern Harmonic have just re-issued Jerry’s outsider magnum opus Past The 20th Century, as well as a double album compiling the vast majority of his rocking horse-shit rare 45s in one place for the very first time, Virginity For All. Sadly his first recording, Crying Over You, which he made as a teenager around 1959 or 1960, is the one missing chapter in the bizarre but absolutely essential collection. Keenly sought after by collectors, the complete Jerry Solomon discography – thirteen 7” singles, an EP and three albums issued on his own Sunlite and Fountain labels (the latter of which Jerry himself described as “probably the smallest record company in the world” and sold on the street, often with handcrafted sleeves - would previously have set you back several months’ wages.

According to Mike Ascherman, in the book Acid Archives, Jerry “sounds like a late ’50s vocals group from the Twilight Zone. His self-accompaniment consists of a repetitive one-chord (maybe two) guitar strum that predates Jandek and a toy piano that is ‘strummed’ and sounds like a lysergic zither from the Third Man soundtrack. The songs range from nostalgia for the earlier years of his life to total despair.”

Jerry’s recordings all sound as if they were knocked out in his bedroom, with him trying not to disturb his roommate – or perhaps his mother. In fact, many of Jerry’s early recordings were made at Ted Brinson’s Recording Studio in Los Angeles: from his garage, former bass player Brinson had recorded the doo-wop hit Earth Angel (by the Penguins) and had worked with Little Richard.  Jerry’s other albums, Through the Woods and Live at the Show Biz, were recorded on a portable cassette player, the former in his apartment… quite possibly in that bedroom.

In his 30s, Jerry – who had what he describes as “a phobia” about narcotics - was given a dangerous drug as a joke by a friend, a self-described junkie, and suffered brain and heart dysfunction. The happy-go-lucky man became paranoid and mentally impaired, and what followed was a decade-long battle with misdiagnosis, missing hospital records and mistreatment. He quite literally lost his mind. It would take him more than ten years to regain some of his former functions, nearer twenty to get back to what he feels is normality. Jerry’s book, A Drug Free Life and a Glass of PCP (revised and expanded as A Drug Free Life and a Glass of PCP Book Two), details his experience (as best he can recall it) in harrowing detail.

The odd thing is that almost all of Jerry’s recordings were made before he partook of that fateful drink.
He’s spent many years on the periphery of showbiz, appearing as an extra in a number of TV shows (including Barney Miller) and performing at stand up and open mic events around L.A. Now in his mid-70s, and pretty much fully recovered from his journey into the unknown, Jerry is still trying to carve a showbiz career for himself. He’s quite a character: a few years ago, he auditioned (unsuccessfully), for America’s Got Talent, singing a self-composed song about Viagra to the tune of O Sole Mio! He had his own cable show – a couple of uncomfortable-to-watch clips are on YouTube – he ran for Governor of California in the early 90's (and received a total of 12 votes), made appearances on The Gong Show and has appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
To celebrate the re-release of these incredible records, Sundazed/Modern Harmonic have put out a short film, narrated by Jerry himself, about his wild career. It makes for fascinating viewing, and includes Jerry’s ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameos in Wayne’s World and Barney Miller. 

To buy Past The 20th Century and Virginity For All go to https://sundazed.com/jerry-solomon.aspx
Enjoy!

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