Photo: Leonard D. Lubianitsky
Do you know who Essra Mohawk is? She
does. Shes a very talented, very industrious young woman
who happens to have a very distinguished recording career
behind her and, very likely, an equally distinguished
career ahead of her. She is a very good singer and a very
good songwriter. I think she's tremendous; if you've heard
her, you do too.
Some past: a Verve album from 1967 by
one Sandy Hurvitz called Sandy's Album Is Here At Last.
The cover title is written in a word balloon mouthed by
Frank Zappa, who's on a TV screen. It makes sense. The album
was one of the first bearing Zappa's infamous Bizarre logo;
the singer was an occasional member of the Mothers of
Invention. "They were doing one of my tunes, plus I was
singing background and doing monkey songs and stuff: 'Hee,
eee, eee."' This from Essra Mohawk, many years later, who of
course was Sandy Hurvitz back then and also very young.
It's a nice album, really, though the instrumentation's a
little bare. "It still holds up, though," says Essra in the
'80s. "It took me a while to even bee able to listen to it."
Next came her best album ever,
Primordial Lovers on Reprise, circa 1970. A collector's
item these days, it's a beautiful, erotically-tinged
recording that makes a fine companion piece to Tim Buckley's
classic Happy Sad moodwise, not least because of the
presence of guitarist Lee Underwood on both LPs. It's a
dreamy album; the arrangements and textures are near
perfect. Find it.
In '74 she returned with an Asylum
album produced by Tom Sellers it's the one with the fake
Maxfield Parrish cover. It's commercial, it's good, and it
sold diddly. It's also her favorite. "I think it holds
together the best," says she. She should know. Two years
later Essra emerged on the fabulously incompetent
Private Stock label. It sunk without a trace. And that's the
last most people have heard of her. Sort of. "I got off of
Private Stock and left for L.A. in '77," she recalls for
those chronogically-minded. "Thinking to start all over,
that it had always been easy to get a deal, and just do
better with this one, you know? But what happened then, of
course, was that the music business plummeted. I didn't take
An album no one's really heard came
next from West Coast producer Matthew Katz, whom you might
know from his past association with Moby Grape, It's A
Beautiful Day and (very) latter-day Tim Hardin. l'd
sure like to hear it. And very recently last year in fact
E-Turn found its way into America's best record
stores. It's the Essra of the '80s, and it sounds it. If
you'd like to hear it, might want to drop a line to ... If
you'd like to read about it, you are.
In 1986, Essra Mohawk is a practicing
Buddhist who lives in Philadelphia. She chants, as do Tina
Turner, Sandie Shaw, Herbie Hancock and other famous
entertainers you've heard of. She has a very energetic, very
enthusiastic approach to life. She performs regularly with
her new band, which consists of Charylou Roberts on
keyboards, Jesse Gress on guitar, Patti Nichol on rhythm
guitar and backing vocals, Donnie Markowitz on bass and Tass
Philipos on drums. She is as deserving of a major-league
record deal as any other recording artist in this country,
but she currently lacks one. If you are a record company
executive, please fix this.
"I can't wait to do the next record,"
enthuses Essra. "Because it's sevens, man. The next one will
be my seventh album, and the tunes that I have now, ready
for it, are just so, so hot that they should be out right
now. And this one is a good album, and I love it, but I'm
always excited about what I'm gonna do next .
"It's like, in this Buddhism, it's
cause and effect. If you don't like the effect that you're
receiving, then you take responsibility; you make the cause,
you get the effect. So anything that happened to me in the
past or now or later I can't blame on anyone else."
You will hear of Essra Mohawk again in
the near future. "No matter how fine and grand you may think
of yourself," she says, "you're still underestimating what
you can do."
I think she can do no wrong, but I
might be underestimating her.