Rochester, NY-born and Southern California raised David Del Conte (aka Damon)—after trying on a grab-bag of styles in the earlier ‘60s aimed for chart action—gave birth to Song of a Gypsy, one of the most revered psychedelic artifacts extant, after undergoing a personal, spiritual transfiguration. As a working musician who issued a near dozen singles prior to his cult-deserved LP, leads flashed and extinguished to great disappointment for his tortured soul—which tussled with a sordid life of crime, infidelity and addictions. After his dream of long-term marital bliss imploded and he went through a particularly self-destructive period, he sought to get his mind right in the wild, and circuitously found his way to a getaway near Big Sur. By luck, the utopia he crashed into happened to be run by a childhood friend who welcomed him with open arms, and a fortuitous and unexpected event was to occur there that shook his creative frame. Unexpected visitors and fellow searchers Ravi Shankar and George Harrison staged an impromptu sitar jam, and not wanting to miss this opportunity, with just five working strings on his guitar at disposal, David tuned his instrument to fit the moods of the masters, got in the groove, and turned on to a new path. Midwifed by circumstance and limitation he found the sound he was to use henceforth, and never thought about a sixth string again.
Originally issued in 1968, Song of a Gypsy is a deeply compelling work of staggering genius, imbued with longing for love, a deeply spiritual feel, and startling honesty. Taking the whole thing in is like a snapshot of a man’s life with searing, yet gentle fuzz guitar provided by collaborator Charlie Carey throughout, mellow-funky rhythms (“Don’t You Feel Me, “The Night”), Eastern modes (“Poor Poor Genie," “Do You Ever”), and the assorted local musicians that fit the envisioned vibe. Within the expansive, book-like annotation Now-Again has come to be known for, there’s even tale of an MGM promo man who was sweet to sign the Damon project, but sadly the man got the can before that option could be executed. It’s a dream to consider the audience the album could’ve acquired with a bit of push, and the full story behind the man, behind the scenes photos, and new artwork for his creation only serves to strengthen its impact.
Ranging from the near monotone surf-pop (“Lonely Surfer”) and doo-wop (“Don’t Cry”) of his first single—where’s he backed by the pre-Turtles combo the Crossfires (billed as the Castaways)—to calypso-tinged tunes of ten pen babes (“Bowlin’ Alley Jane”), the proto- Real People teener vibes of “A Face in the Crowd,” a Motown-tinged Tom Jones feel in “Little White Cloud,” and groovy beach party/spy soundtrack sound of “Lovin’ Man,” the general impression across the bonus material is of Del Conte riding the cultural tides with charm to spare. Stretching the tentacles further there’s the near folk-rock of “I’ve Got My Pride,” funky punk-jangle in “ I Wonder Why,” a Sgt. Barry Sadler-like move with “The Battle Hymn,” and the creeping “Dirty Daddy Blues”—the latter two beginning to hint at the mellifluous vocal qualities that colored his later, classic work. It’s material that’s sure to please fans of various strains of cool, and serves as illuminating groundwork of where he ventured next. This is also one time where I highly recommend acquiring the CD, as only six of the sixteen bonus tracks appear on the vinyl release.
In both its original, bootleg and previously licensed versions Song of a Gypsy has been plagued by pitch and speed issues, which in this edition has been corrected to sound as close to Del Conte’s original vision as possible without the aid of master tapes. Gypsy has long been one of those rarified obscurities that you can play for the average man to illustrate why you dig beneath the surface, and it’s a blessing it’s finally been preserved and offered widely as it was originally intended to be.
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