Fugs in 1994. Left to right Scott Petito, Steve Taylor, Tuli
Kupferberg, Ed Sanders, Coby Batty.
of the Fugs
I rented a former Kosher meat store on East 10th Street in late-1964,
with groovy tile walls and chicken-singeing equipment which I
transformed into a vegetarian literary zone called the Peace Eye
Bookstore. I left the words "Strictly Kosher" on the
Next door above the Lifschutz wholesale egg market lived Tuli
Kupferberg, a beat hero who was featured in anthologies such as
The Beat Scene, and who published several fine magazines,
Birth and Yeah, which he sold on the streets of
the East and West Village. I had published Tuli's poetry in my
literary journal, Fuck You/ A Magazine of the Arts.
The term "folk-rock" had not been invented in late-1964
when I approached Tuli, after a poetry reading, about forming
a rock group. Tuli eagerly assented, and was the one who came
up with the name, the Fugs, borrowed from the euphemism in Normal
Mailer's novel, The Naked and the Dead.
We drew inspiration for the Fugs from a long and varied tradition,
going all the way back to the dances of Dionysus in the ancient
Greek plays and the "Theory of the Spectacle" in Aristotle's
Poetics, and moving forward to the famous premier performance
of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi in 1896, to the poèmes
simultanés of the Dadaists in Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire
in 1916, to the jazz-poetry of the Beats, to Charlie Parker's
seething sax, to the silence of John Cage, to the calm pushiness
of the Happening movement, the songs of the Civil Rights movement,
and to our concept that there was oddles of freedom guaranteed
by the United States Constitution that was not being used.
Tuli and I began to write songs at a fevered pace. We created
at least 50 or 60 between us. Soon we asked a friend, Ken Weaver,
to join the Fugs. Weaver had been a drummer in his high school
band, and brought fine song-writing skills and stage presence
to our performances.
Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders were
friends, and agreed to perform at the grand opening of the Peace
Eye Bookstore in February of 1965. They also joined in with the
Fugs, our world premiere, at that party. Peace Eye was very packed;
Andy Warhol had done cloth wall banners of his flowers image,
and literati as diverse as William Burroughs, George Plimpton
and James Michener were on hand for the premier croonings of "Swinburne
Stomp" and other Fugs ditties.
We knew the famous filmmaker and artist Harry Smith, who had produced
one of the most influential collections in history, The Anthology
of American Folk Music for Folkways Records in 1952. It had
influenced an entire generation of singers. Harry came to many
early Fugs shows, and brought our attention to Moe Asch of Folkways,
who agreed to issue our first album.
The first Fugs recording session, in April of 1965, featured Sanders,
Kupferberg, Weaver, plus Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel. Some
of the tunes on the first Fugs album came from the 23 tunes recorded
on this session.
The second Fugs recording session occurred in June of 1965. Its
purpose was to create a demo tape for Verve/Folkways, a new label.
On this second session were Sanders, Kupferberg, and Weaver, with
John Anderson on bass, Vinny Leary on guitar, and Steve Weber.
Peter Stampfel did not perform on the second session.
I listened to the tapes over and over, for both sessions, selecting
a sequence of tunes, and then Harry Smith and I edited the album.
I wrote some notes and it was ready to be released.
The Fugs began appearing in galleries, clubs and theaters in New
York City beginning in early 1965. They sang, for instance, at
the opening party for the new location of Izzy Young's Folklore
Center on 6th Avenue. They performed a number of times at Diane
Di Prima's American Theater for Poetry on East 4th St. And they
began a series of midnight concerts at the Bridge Theater on St.
Mark's Place, which were always packed.
In the fall of 1965 the Fugs headed out on their first cross-country
tour, part of an anti-Vietnam War protest, and performed here
and there at colleges, and while in San Francisco did concerts
with the great bard Allen Ginsberg, the Mothers of Invention,
Country Joe and the Fish, and other bands. The Fugs then consisted
of Sanders, Kupferberg, Weber and Weaver.
We returned to the Lower East Side in our Volkswagen bus in the
late fall to find that our first album, titled The Village
Fugs-- Ballads and Songs of Contemporary Protest, Points of View
and General Dissatisfaction had been released by Folkways
Determined to Thrive
The Fugs returned to New York with very little position in the
world of music, but determined to make their mark. We felt a little
like Rastignac at the end of Balzac's Pere Goriot, standing
at the summit of Pere-Lachaise cemetery, looking down upon Paris
and hurling out a determination to thrive and survive. We vowed
to live from our art, to have fun and party continuously, and
to get our brains on tape.
It wasn't going to be easy. We were challenging the system on
several levels, and yet we were determined somehow to survive
in the economic apparatus of the system. We knew there would be
trouble; in fact there already was trouble. The police raided
Peace Eye Bookstore a few hours after a midnight New Year's Eve
(1965-'66) concert at the Bridge Theater. They seized copies of
my magazine and I was arrested. The ACLU, to my lasting gratitude,
took my case, which I ultimately won after a trial in the summer
We began performing at the Cafe Au Go Go on Bleecker Street in
Greenwich Village, where we shared bills with Danny Kalb, Al Kooper
and the Blues Project, with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and with
a young man named Richie Havens, who sat bent over close to his
guitar singing Bob Dylan's tunes sometimes better than Bob Dylan.
At the end of 1965, Steve Weber left the Fugs. We ran ads in the
East Village Other and Village Voice for a replacement
and found Pete Kearney, a guitarist who worked at the New York
University bookstore. Pete Kearney had a gravelly, high tenor
harmony which can be studied on "Coming Down" on this CD. He looked
good on stage. We sometimes called him "Bomb Eyes," because they
had a haunting combination of wastedness and wildness.
A Deal with a Record Company
We met a human being named Bernard Stollman who owned a record
company called ESP Disk, which his parents were bankrolling for
him. We lunched at a vegetarian restaurant by Union Square, and
worked out a tentative deal. The Fugs very badly wanted an Off-Broadway
Theater where we could set up scenery and lights to work our tunes
and routines. ESP agreed to acquire us a theater, and we agreed
to record an album for them.
And, again without any outside help, such as a lawyer, we signed
a strange, shackling contract. We had signed a strange deal with
Folkways, and the deal with ESP was stranger. For example, the
ESP royalty rate was 25 cents per album, regardless of the retail
price, which in 1966 was $5.00 per unit. The 25 cents included
both publishing and recording royalties, so our royalty rate was
less than 3%, one of the lower percentages in the history of western
Recording the Second Album
One good thing happened as a result of the Fugs relationship with
ESP we met engineer/producer Richard Alderson, who owned
(with Harry Belafonte) RLA Studios on West 65th Street, a building
later torn down when they built Lincoln Center. Alderson had built
his own studio in order to experiment with electronic music.
We wanted to get beyond tribal primitive in our recording techniques.
RLA Studios had a four-track Ampex and a two-track, which was
state-of-the-art for 1966; even the Beatles recorded 4-tack. So
the second Fugs album involved many 4-track to 2-track to 4-track
bounces to free up tracks for overdubs. Richard Alderson wasn't
one of those "don't touch the console" technobots so
that the Fugs could learn the art of recording simultaneously
while we cut the tunes. He had good ears and good ideas, and he
brought precision to our recording.
For the second album the musicians consisted of Sanders, Kupferberg,
Weaver, brilliant keyboardist Lee Crabtree, Vinny Leary on guitar,
Pete Kearney on guitar, and Jon Anderson on bass.
Whereas the first Fugs album required just two afternoon sessions,
the second Fugs album occupied us, off and on, for four weeks
during January and February of '66. Our harmonies still lacked
the polish of the Beach Boys, but just as we had done in our original
1965 sessions, we crowded in front of the microphones and gave
forth all the totally attentive energy and genius the Fates and
our genetic codes would allow us to summon. With our new renown,
we acquired some equipment. Ampeg gave us some amplifiers in exchange
for our "endorsement," and Ken Weaver advanced from
congas to a full set of rock and roll drums. John Anderson designed
our red, white and blue Fugs logo which we stenciled on the bass
The Astor Place Playhouse
While we were recording the Fugs Second Album we began weekly
performances at the Astor Place Playhouse on Lafayette Street
across from what is now the Papp Theater. We performed there from
January 21 till the middle of May. Other ESP recording artists,
among them Albert Ayler, Jeanne Lee, Ran Blake, and Sun Ra and
the Solar Arkestra, played the Astor Place Playhouse during those
We began doing television shows-- in early 1966 we were on the
David Susskind show in New York, and the Les Crane show in Los
Angeles. For a while we hired a publicist named Tim Boxer who
brought in gluts of ink for us.
A man who identified himself as a vice president of the Coca Cola
company came to a show at the Astor Place Playhouse and approached
me indignantly afterward, threatening to sue over one of our more
randy tunes, "Coca Cola Douche."
I begged him, "Please, please sue us!"
The Flag of the Lower East Side
For their day, our shows were very controversial, though nothing
when measured against what is allowed, on television for instance,
in the year 2000. Lenny Bruce had been prosecuted not long before
in NYC by a overzealous hater of personal freedom. And so naturally
we were nervous when representatives of the NY District Attorney's
office attended a show at the Astor Place Playhouse. We decided
not to confront them, and did not alter a single wiggle, erotic
expletive or complaint about the Vietnam war in our show. Only
years later, after we got our FBI files, did we realize that there
was a full-fledged investigation by the government of the Fugs.
At the Bridge Theater however, an antiwar group had burned an
American flag, which is always controversial in America. As a
result there were front page news stories and police and fire
inspectors at all the East Village theaters.
We decided to burn a flag representing something we held very,
very dear-- to make the point that it's just a flag, and you could
still love a book, even if you burned its cover. So, we painted
a flag that said "Lower East Side," and on stage at the Astor
Place Playhouse we torched it. Sid Zion wrote a piece in a New
York City newspaper which said we'd "burned a flag," The NYC establishment
assumed it had been a U.S. flag, so that the theater was visited
by fire inspectors and building inspectors, and soon the Fugs
had to leave the Astor Place Playhouse, after a run of almost
A Visit to the Charts
The Fugs second album was released in March, 1966, with liner
notes by Allen Ginsberg. It was a success, at least for the record
company. A few weeks later we experienced the strange and eery
(and very temporary) thrill of being on the charts.
On July 9, the Trogg's "Wild Thing" was number seven
on the singles list and "Paperback Writer" was number
two. And wow! there on the album charts! The Fugs! at 89, just
above Martha and the Vandellas Greatest Hits! It spawned
the peculiar hunger which I call "chart-anguia," a thirst
to get on the charts again, difficult to do with tunes like "Kill
for Peace" and "I Feel like Homemade Yodel."
The Players Theater
By the summer of 1966, the Fugs began a run at the Players Theater
on MacDougal Street, in Greenwich Village, which lasted over 700
performances. During the summer of 1966, our bass player John
Anderson was drafted, and he went off to join the army. Pete Kearney
left the band, and during that summer Jon Kalb was our lead guitarist.
And so, the summer of '66 Fugs included: Sanders, Kupferberg,
Weaver, Kalb, Leary and Crabtree. We were joined at various points
in our run at the Players Theater by Jake Jacobs, a fine arranger
and singer. For a while we hired a vocal coach, Bruce Langhorne,
reputed to be the inspiration for Dylan's "Hey, Mr. Tambourine
Jimi Hendrix was playing in a little club in the basement beneath
the Players Theater, and the Mothers of Invention thrived three
blocks away at a theater on Bleecker Street. With our second album
on the charts, and our shows sold out, we were treated to the
eery sensation of sudden fame. Though I lived in an apartment
in a slum building, fans found it and hovered outside near the
incredibly dingy ash cans and their squashed lids connected by
chains to the cans.
All through June and July of 1966 we partied and had fun with
friends like Jimi Hendrix and Zappa, although we were reminded
of the sad substrate of partying by the untimely deaths at summer's
close of great comedian Lenny Bruce and great poet Frank O'Hara.
Famous people began to watch our shows at the Players Theater
and we were thrilled to shake the hands of stars such as Richard
Burton, Peter O'Toole, Tennessee Williams and Leonard Bernstein
in quick backstage visits. To Kim Novak we gave a Fugs teeshirt,
hoping she might pop it on.
The Ghastly Attention of the FBI & the Justice
Popularity also brought us the attention of the United States
Federal Bureau of Investigation. A few weeks after the Fugs Second
Album was released, there was an FBI investigation of the Fugs,
which I learned about years later when I obtained part of my files
under the Freedom of Information Act.
Someone at a radio or television station wrote an indignant letter
to the FBI complaining about The Fugs. Of course, in those years
the FBI was known to write letters to itself, or set up such letters,
in order to justify investigations of American activists.
In the early summer a FBI memorandum stated that a Postal Inspector
had finished an investigation: "He advised The Fugs is a group
of musicians who perform in NYC. They are considered to be beatniks
and free thinkers, i.e., free love, free use of narcotics, etc.
.... it is recommended that this case be placed in a closed status
since the recording is not considered to be obscene."
If we'd only known about this, we could have put a disclaimer
on the record, "Ruled NOT obscene by the FBI!"
A Hunger to Record Again
Our lead guitarist Jon Kalb returned to college in the fall of
1966, and we began to change personnel for a number of months,
until we arrived at a stable band for the remainder of the 1960s.
The Fugs relationship with ESP records was, mildly to state it,
turbulent. We were told, for instance, that the mafia was illegally
manufacturing Fugs records and selling them. We can be forgiven
for not really believing that the Genovese crime family would
bother with the Fugs, when there were the Beatles, the Stones,
Mantovani, and Petulia Clark to rip off. The owner of ESP had
insisted on ducking some of the lyrics of Ted Berrigan's song,
"Doin' All Right" when we mixed it. The more we learned about
the implications of our contract, the more the shackles came into
Signing with Atlantic
With the constant changes in line-up, the original Fugs
Sanders, Kupferberg and Weaver became, in effect, the Fugs,
and thereafter became the core group.
I had met one of the owners of Atlantic Records, Jerry Wexler,
when Atlantic had put out a recording of Allen Ginsberg reciting
his great poem "Kaddish." We began to explore the possibility
of the Fugs signing with Atlantic. We cut a demo at Atlantic studios,
and they offered us a deal. Jerry told us to record whatever we
wanted. There'd be no censorship. In fact, he encouraged me to
be as controversial in song material as I wanted.
For a few weeks we had a fine guitarist named Stefan Grossman
with us. Then we hired Jake Jacobs. We'd seen him sing and play
at the Night Owl Cafe around the corner from the Players Theater.
Jake was known for his fine voice and his guitar work in the studio.
Jake had played guitar on at least one of the Monkees' big hits.
Recording at Talentmasters on 42nd Street.
We recorded an album for Atlantic at Talentmasters studio on West
42nd. It was where Otis Redding apparently had also recorded,
because there were lots of his track-tapes in the storage room.
It was a case of situation ethics. We listened to some abandoned
Redding instrumental tracks. They were great!! All we would have
had to do was stick on our own wild Fugs lyrics and vocals and
we'd have had a bunch of quick tunes! But we didn't.
The Fugs line-up for these sessions, in the fall and winter of
1966-67 was Sanders, Weaver, Kupferberg, Crabtree, and Jake Jacobs.
In addition, we did some tunes with some great studio players--
Eric Gale on guitar, Chuck Rainey on bass, Robert Banks on piano
and organ and Bernard Purdie on drums. Chris Huston was the engineer.
After a few weeks, we completed the album, and sent the mixed
master to the honchos at Atlantic Records.
I learned I was on the cover of Life magazine in February
of 1967 when the Johnny Carson television show called to have
me on as a guest. Before I would appear, I insisted on having
the Fugs sing "Kill for Peace" on national television as a protest
against the Vietnam War, which they refused.
It wasn't always so friendly to be suddenly famous. Someone mailed
a package to me at my post office box in the East Village. I opened
it up in the lobby of the post office. It was a brand new copy,
with a bright red dust jacket, of the Modern Library edition of
Dostoievsky's The Idiot. As I held it, the cover popped open and
I heard a kind of mousetraplike whacking sound. I saw that the
inside had been very neatly cut away to make a square compartment,
into which were arrayed a battery, a spring-driven on/off switch
and some wires attached to some small cylinders. I walked over
to the counter and told the clerk, "I think someone has sent me
a bomb." Wow, did the postal employees scatter!
It turned out to be a ersatz bomb. The explosive cylinders turned
out to be CO2 cartridges of the sort that were used to power model
rockets. Whoever sent it had glued a card to the inside of the
Big Boy has the Contract
Red is the Finger
You are the Mark
Not long thereafter an anonymous phone call came into Avenue A,
with my 2 year old daughter asleep in her room, that the caller
was first going to bomb my house, then the home of Frank Zappa.
As a result, for the next ten years we had an unlisted telephone
The Year of Flower Power
Nevertheless 1967 was had seething sequences of glory. We made
our second visit to Los Angeles in early 1967. Met Janis Joplin,
and helped prevent her from signing with ESP. Later in the year
I finally won my case from the police raid on Peace Eye Bookstore,
although they refused to return the hundreds of books, letters
and personal archives they stole from the store.
Did the Les Crane television show. Met Phil Ochs. Played with
Eric Burden and the Animals in Santa Barbara, and fans mobbed
us, tearing off our shirts.
In the Spring of '67 the Fugs appeared at a free concert with
Country Joe and the Fish at the Panhandle of Golden Gate park,
near Haight Ashbury.
1967! Yes. It saw a swelling of hope in America. The culture seemed
like the swelling bug of a flower of instant promise. We were
beginning to understand the strength of right wing nuts in the
American power structure. There were revelations about the CIA
in the spring of '67 and it looked like John Kennedy had been
killed by right wing U.S. government slime.