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Essra Mohawk: Creem

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Creem, May 1986, Canada







Photo: Leonard D. Lubianitsky

Do you know who Essra Mohawk is? She does. She’s 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 that personally."

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.

Dave DiMartino



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