Maruga Booker turned up at Woodstock in 1970 as Tim Hardin’s bongo player. But at some point during the weekend, he wandered into a temporary ashram and came out converted by the Swami Satchidananda.
Not necessarily one of rock history’s marquee names, Booker rather bizarrely came onto Uncut’s radar a couple of times last month. Once, when John Robinson interviewed him for his Woodstock oral history that you can find in the current issue of the mag. And once when the second Peter Walker album of the year arrived in the office.
Walker, as I mentioned when I reviewed a live show last year, is one of the few surviving members of the great ‘60s generation of American guitarists who fused folk with raga and other, adventurous musical forms. Besides being an amazing guitarist, Walker also seemed to have been a discreet presence in very hip ‘60s scenes: last time I mentioned his connections with Karen Dalton, Sandy Bull, Janis Joplin, Dr Timothy Leary, Ravi Shankar and George Harrison.
“Long Lost Tapes 1970” is a jam session recorded in Woodstock with Maruga Booker and a few other musicians at Levon Helm’s house. According to Walker, “Paul Butterfield heard about it and came by but didn’t play, it wasn’t blues but it wasn’t his thing.”
What it was, though, was a revelatory mix of raga, free jazz and psychedelia, a very natural follow-on from the second of Walker’s ‘60s Vanguard albums, “Second Poem To Karmela”. Over free-flowing tablas and drums, and occasional flurries of flute, Walker’s guitar-playing is spidery and levitational. Often here, he plays electric, and there’s a much closer affinity with Sandy Bull than I’ve noticed previously.
It’s a deep and exhilarating listen, and a rich addition to Walker’s expanding canon. Weird, though, that “Long Lost Tapes” can be easily available in 2009, while “Second Poem To Karmela” and the astonishing “Rainy Day Raga” seem to be out of print. A nice companion piece, too, to Walker’s other fresh release, “Spanish Guitar”, a live album from 2006.
Like last year’s “Echoes Of My Heart”, “Spanish Guitar” is a showcase of what Walker’s been up to during what seems to have been a 30-year creative hiatus. In fact, he was absorbed in mastering the techniques of flamenco guitar, as this album illustrates. I can’t pretend to be an expert on this stuff, or in the cultural common ground between flamenco and raga which evidently fascinates Walker, but it’s another beautiful album. Frustratingly, though, there’s purportedly a new album (for the French label Megaphone) of folk/raga material which has yet to see the light of day. Be good to hear that to see the full range of this remarkable guitarist’s late renaissance.