The Misunderstood were an American band – from Riverside, California – but invariably appear on compilations of UK psychedelia, thanks to the fact that they were encouraged to head over the pond to find fame and fortune by DJ John Peel (then still known as John Ravenscroft). Peel had seen them perform at the opening of a shopping centre while he was working at Radio KMEN in San Bernardino and had become the band’s mentor, helping them to find bookings and record demos.
After forming as surf band The Blue Notes in late 1963, they changed name in 1965 and evolved into a fine garage / rhythm and blues outfit, releasing a single in April 1966 on the Blues Sound Co. label, ‘You Don’t Have To Go / Who’s Been Talking’. The blues covers on this 45 are pretty standard fare but the group quickly developed their sound to include feedback and raga-like guitar, as can be heard on their acetate version of The Yardbirds’ ‘I’m Not Talking’ from August 1966 (included on the essential Cherry Red retrospective Before The Dream Faded). They also experimented live with lights plugged directly into their amplifiers that would ebb and flow in intensity with the volume and frequencies of the notes being played.
By all accounts the band’s time in London didn’t live up to their expectations – for a start Peel had promised that they could stay with his parents but when the band arrived, the Ravenscroft’s weren’t expecting them and had no idea who they were. Then guitarist Glen Treadway was drafted and had to return to the US, being replaced by Englishman Tony Hill. The band lived a hand to mouth existence, even resorting to scavenging bags of chips thrown out by fish and chip shops, but they did manage to secure a deal with Fontana and record six songs for the label at the end of 1966. These would turn out be their finest recordings – indeed, to my ear some of the finest psychedelia to have ever been recorded!
Two of the songs appeared on the band’s debut UK single released in December 1966. A-side ‘I Can Take You to the Sun’ begins in a blissed out fashion that contrasts perfectly with the harder edged bridge that follows. You are immediately struck by the ethereal sounds conjured by pedal guitarist Glen Ross Campbell. These give the music a unique, other wordly quality. The break builds in intensity until we are wrong-footed by a final section anchored by subtle acoustic guitar from Tony Hill that concludes with some fine Spanish-style fretwork.
‘I Can Take You to the Sun’
Flip ‘Who Do You Love’ is of course a cover of the Bo Diddley classic but transformed for the psychedelic age! The opening interplay between the electric and pedal steel guitars draws you in straightaway, before the familiar words of the first verse kick in accompanied by a barrage of evocative guitar tones and effects. After the chorus the band then confound us again with a transformative passage of tranquil beauty where a raucous guitar break might have been expected.
‘Who Do You Love’
Two more songs from the session made up the group’s equally wondrous second UK 45 ‘Children of the Sun / I Unseen’ but this didn’t appear until February 1969. In the meantime, singer Rick Brown was drafted (though he did briefly make it back to the UK before heading to India) and the other American members of the group had their work permits revoked and were deported, leading to the band splitting up in 1967. Glenn Ross Campbell did return to reform the group in 1969, though he was the only remaining member from the classic line-up. This Misunderstood released two singles in a more bluesy, progressive vein (and recorded other unreleased material since collected on the Golden Glass retrospective).
Campbell later moved on to heavy rockers Juicy Lucy and Tony Hill to the mesmeric High Tide (their Sea Shanties album from 1969 on Liberty is a personal favourite and packed to the gunwales with Hill’s fearsome guitarwork and intense violin from Simon House, later of Hawkwind).
Reissues: I strongly recommend that you get hold of the Before The Dream Faded retrospective mentioned above. Side 2 has the US single and other early garage recordings, plus the excellent cover of ‘I’m Not Talking’. But Side 1 is the main reason to acquire the set – it has the six songs recorded for Fontana, the two singles together with two more gems ‘My Mind’ and ‘Find a Hidden Door’. The mind only boggles as to what The Misunderstood could have achieved if that line-up had been able to stay together.
- You Don’t Have To Go / Who’s Been Talking (Blues Sound Co., 1966)
- I Can Take You to the Sun / Who Do You Love (Fontana, 1966)
- Children of the Sun / I Unseen (Fontana, 1969)
- You’re Tuff Enough / Little Red Rooster (Fontana, 1969)
- Never Had a Girl (Like You Before) / Golden Glass (Fontana, 1969)