Various Artists

Lights Out: San Francisco

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"It's midnight, lights off, clothes off, candles glowing, incense is fading away, don't need no electricity, baby, I'll be your amplifier, 'cause we can boogie in the dark'" -- and so pioneer San Francisco disc jockey Voco introduced himself every Saturday night at midnight, while proceeding to expand the musical palette of his stoned audience. KSAN was the first radio station to bring "hippie music" to SF area listeners, a large and devoted following whom the laid-back Armenian DJ introduced to an eclectic mix of blues, funk, and world music, until 6 A.M. rolled around and the tired heads rolled into bed. In 1972 Voco convinced Blue Thumb to release a double concept album based on his radio show, and gathered together some incredible musicians from the Bay area as contributors. Lights Out: San Francisco, subtitled "Voco Presents the Soul of the Bay Area" is an excellent overview of the diverse and exciting San Francisco music scene in the early '70s. Voco produced the sessions and himself penned several of the songs, including the killer opener "Lights Out," enthusiastically belted out by John Lee Hooker with his band augmented by 18-year old-phenom Neal Schon and Freddie Roulette on Hawaiian guitar. Sylvester, then the flamboyant centerpiece of the marvelous Cockettes drag queen revue and not yet a national R&B star, adds two songs, one an interesting Leonard Cohen cover, and the other a blistering workout with the Pointer Sisters in full voice capped by a superb Schon solo. But even Sylvester's debut takes a backseat to four cuts by the marvelous Tower of Power, captured just as their funky horn section was rounding into full swagger. Greg Adams, Emilio Castillo, and Rocco Prestia are in fine form here; a few months later, the addition of Lenny Williams would turn TOP into an explosive powerhouse, blowing the minds of audiences up and down the West coast. Two of the TOP songs are trademark funk instrumentals, while the others include nice vocal contributions by future Grammy award winner Linda Tillery and Cold Blood's Lydia Pense. (By the time Lights Out was released, TOP had signed with Warner Brothers, who would not allow the band's name on the cover, prompting Blue Thumb to put little brown strips over the band's name on the already-printed record jackets). Other artists of note to appear include Cliff Coulter, Fahil Shahin, and Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks.

Voco, better known as Abe Kosh, worked quietly in the San Francisco music scene for over a decade, and was influential in the careers of Blue Cheer, Harvey Mandel, the Charlatans, and others. (Blue Cheer later noted that Kosh was very laid-back in the studio, although he did insist on cutting a minute out of "Summertime Blues" for radio -- leading to the massive success of that single). In 1980 he suffered a heart attack that left him disabled; his fans sent an astonishing 40,000 cards and letters to his San Rafael hospital. Voco passed away in 1989 at the age of 56. The album (which has not yet been released on CD) remains a worthy legacy of Voco's career, and a solid snapshot of a musical community of startling talent. The selections by Sylvester and Tower of Power are unavailable elsewhere; fans as well as aficionados of Bay area music will want to add the out of print 'Lights Out: San Francisco' to their collection as soon as they can find a copy.

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