Though their only single was issued under the name The William Penn Fyve, this band actually performed as William Penn and His Pals. They formed in late 1964 at the College of San Mateo in California and had many personnel changes prior to the release of the 45. Original singer Neil Holtman took the stage name William Penn (after the founder of the Province of Pennsylvania), but after he left the group vocal duties were mainly handled by keyboard player Gregg Rolie, who went on to join Santana and then Journey. At one point the band had two drummers, one of whom was Mickey Hart, later of The Grateful Dead.
To fit in with the historical associations of their name, the band played in old fashioned English long coats and tri-cornered hats, though they updated their image when they opened for Paul Revere and The Raiders, as they didn’t want to be seen as imitating the American Revolutionary War-era uniforms that the headliners often wore.
Aside from high school and junior college gigs, the group also played at the likes of the Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco, took part in a Battle of the Bands against The Warlocks (the early Grateful Dead), and were supported on one occasion by Big Brother and the Holding Company.
William Penn and His Pals had recorded demos for Fantasy Records, including an early version of ‘Blow My Mind’ with the dual drummer line-up, but in the end opted for their 45 to be released on the Thunderbird label in November 1966. ‘Swami’ is another headswirler that I first discovered on that fantastic agglomeration of mind mangling sounds that is Pebbles Volume 3: The Acid Gallery. It was recorded at Coast Studios in San Francisco and was composed by lead guitarist Mike Shapiro, though the lyrics were thought up by the group as a whole in the studio as the producers didn’t like the ones that Mike had written.
‘Swami’ opens with jangling guitar and Eastern style chanting, which is quickly augmented by scything fuzz guitar and some breezy piano. It’s probably a bit much to say that the lyrics are a comment on the fashion at the time for seeking out mystics and gurus. They are a little more tongue-in-cheek than that, describing the kind of fake fakir you might encounter as a fairground attraction rather than the real deal. There’s an excellent raga-esque break from Mike as well.
‘Blow My Mind’ continues the great work. It has a driving, insistent beat with confident vocals, this time delivered by drummer Ron Cox rather than Gregg Rolie, a swirling keyboard break and a wigged out rave up ending with searing guitar.
‘Blow My Mind’
Reissues: Both sides are on the retrospective William Penn and His Pals: San Francisco’s Historic Band From The Sixties and also the vinyl Sounds Of The Sixties San Francisco Volume 2. The a-side is on Pebbles Volume 3 of course and Garage Beat ’66 Volume 6.