By the summer of 1971, Caroline Peyton and Mark Bingham had the bulk of Mock Up safely in the can. Their well-practiced thumbs were getting them rides toward California and out of their challenging record's birthplace: Bloomington, Indiana. Before setting out, they had set humble goals: Hang out and re-unite with old friends like saxophonist Bill Noll in Kansas City and, if luck would have it, make a connection with someone---anyone---in the music business.
As members of the Needmore Commune a few miles northeast of Bloomington, they'd already endured some truly comic hippie hardships. Caroline Peyton had lived in a tool shed to avoid the disorganized, slovenly hippies who lived in the various farmhouses and cabins that dotted the rural landscape. A few months earlier, Bingham and Peyton had taken leave of the commune to tour with their band, the Screaming Gypsy Bandits. When they returned, the commune's chickens had flown the coop, eaten the garden bare, and taken over the farmhouse, smashing through windows and destroying furniture in a near kamikaze assault.
And things kept going downhill from there.
They spent a couple of calm days with Noll, who would later record with them. But back on the road, Bingham and Peyton had barely enough money for food. Alighting in Boulder, Colorado, they gathered where the other hippies did, near the University of Colorado. They caught a circulating rumor about a U Haul truck heading to California, and soon enough a box truck materialized, trailer in tow. They'd planned to take off in the evening and cross Utah's San Rafael Desert during the cool night, but a rider slipped out of the box truck just as they were embarking, and the trailer rolled over her hips. This delayed the departure and forced all those riding in the truck to the edge of suffocation as the gang barreled through the desert amid the day's angriest heat.
With all its trials, the trip seriously distressed Caroline Peyton and Mark Bingham's personal relationship, which had colored the songs Bingham had written for Peyton to sing on Mock Up. Waking up together bathed by sprinklers in a Central Valley bean field might sound like a romantic interlude and a variation on the California dream to which Bingham's Mock Up songs so lightly allude---but not everything was so idyllic. Peyton eventually made it to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, where she tried and failed to hitch back east. Two sun-scorched days later, she phoned her father for the first time in a year, asking for a plane ticket home in exchange for her re-enrollment at Bloomington's Indiana University. Leaving her adventure to die on that bridge, she flew back to the Midwest.
Caroline Peyton had spent the first six months of her life in Brookhaven, Mississippi a small town about 30 miles north of the Louisiana border, when her father took a job at Columbia Gas in Charleston, West Virginia, and brought the family along. She had grown up a singer, harmonizing on Peter, Paul & Mary numbers with her sisters, Suzette and Alice. Caroline also displayed a theatrical talent early on, and every summer her parents sent her to a drama workshop. Following her junior year of high school, she traveled to Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, where she met guitarist and singer Mary Flower. They shared an interest in folk and blues, and after graduation in spring 1969, Peyton paid Flower a visit in Bloomington.
Although she'd been accepted at the Boston Conservatory of Music, Caroline Peyton was drawn to the burgeoning Bloomington scene, which sported a number of folk, rock 'n' roll, and jazz musicians living at the periphery of the Indiana University music school. Shortly after her arrival, Peyton caught a performance by Bob Lucas, a singersongwriter who lived with his wife and kids in a cabin in the woods outside town. Entranced by Lucas, she began visiting Patrick Callahan, a member of the nascent Screaming Gypsy Bandits, and at the behest of her father, split time in Chicago attending acting classes at Northwestern. In spring 1970, Callahan traveled to Chicago and returned with Caroline Peyton in tow.
Kathy Noyes-Canada was busy blowing through her inheritance when she bought a plot of Indiana land for the Needmore Commune. A commune in spirit only, Needmore offered individual farmhouses and cabins built by the farmers who originally worked the land; little organized effort was made to pool resources or distribute food and money. Still, Needmore managed to attract its fair share of artists, dropouts, and musicians. It made the perfect landing spot for Mark Bingham.
Bingham, born in Bloomington on January 30, 1949, attended high school in Mt. Kisco, New York before moving to Los Angeles to work as an in-house songwriter for fledgling boho record label Elektra. Bingham's firing at the behest of Elektra impresario Jae Holzman was inevitable; he was just too out there, even by the standards of the label that boasted the Doors and Arthur Lee's Love. The scrapping of Bingham's Warner Brothers solo album following his producer's arrest for heroin possession sealed his return to central Indiana.
It was Jeff Armour, the Bandits' drummer, who brought Bingham to Needmore. The two had bunked together in Hollywood and were now living on a farm out in the middle of Indiana's Brown County. Bingham immersed himself in the Screaming Gypsy Bandits and the rest of the Bloomington scene. He thought big, played bigger, and-most importantly-got others to listen, including BRBQ label financier Kathy Canada.
To call BRBQ a record label would be something of an overstatement. Records came out, but there was no active promotion or sales team, no president, no accountant, and no budget. But BRBQ did document the Bloomington bands that were coalescing around Needmore. Canada put up $2000, and Mark Bingham plowed it all into six months of off-hour sessions at the cheapest studio in town: Gilfoy Sound. The first BRBQ record was supposed to be the Screaming Gypsy Bandits' Back to Ooghead, but the project never made it out of the studio.
Warped by his Los Angeles experience, Bingham had returned to Indiana with a healthy disregard for the prevailing confessional mode of singer-songwriters such as James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. Instead, he'd write songs that threw narrative over the fence, with sections that sounded as composed as works by Ned Rorem or Brian Wilson. In Caroline Peyton, he found an interpreter whose gifts and training enabled her to sing virtually anything he put in front of her. They had begun working together shortly after Caroline hit town; their love emerged from a sylvan acid trip that Bingham ended by making a salad topped with Thousand Island dressing to bring Peyton down.
Mock Up would be recorded in two sessions: one in 1971 and another, in which Bingham and Peyton finished the record in spring 1972. Both sessions happened at Jack Gilfoy's Gilfoy Sound Studios, located in the garage of Gilfoy's house at 300 Gilbert Ave. in north Bloomington. A decade older than Bingham and Peyton, Gilfoy had been raised in Indianapolis and came to Bloomington as a drummer. His studio was first-rate, with a solid eight-track machine, an Urban Sound console with no EQ, a control room, a vocal booth, and a collection of excellent microphones that Gilfoy, an avowed audiophile, had collected over the years. The Mock Up sessions went quickly. Everything was cut live, with no overdubs.
For this, her first studio session, Peyton learned a set of songs written by Bingham in Bloomington. Singing in Bingham's original keys-some well outside her own natural range-pushed Peyton's voice to its limits and introduced a strain that adds immeasurably to Mock Up's emotional impact. Though an accomplished sight reader Peyton never got sheet music from Bingham; he'd sing his songs to her or produce a tape with a sheaf of his handwritten lyrics.
The Gilfoy sessions were dotted by a Who's Who of the Bloomington scene. Bandits guitarist Bruce Anderson checked in on "Lorel iii," Bill Noll's alto sax and voice appeared on "Bill Monroe"-a primal-wail therapy session which ends on Peyton's best impression of a donkey in ill health-and Bandits bass player Don Beggs managed to get a song named after him, though he doesn't appear on the album. But the record's instrumental soul owes its existence to pianist Mark Gray. An Indianapolis native, Gray was a hard-core jazz musician completely conversant with Stockhausen and other avant-garde 20th-century composers. He had serious chops, and after leaving Bloomington for New York, Gray added his touch to recordings and performances by the Brecker Brothers, Phyllis Hyman, and Sonny Rollins. Unfortunately, he was also a junkie with a serious appetite for all manner of drugs; Peyton remembers the two driving around Bloomington to score Robitussin AC cough syrup. As a musician, though, Gray was dead serious. When Mock Up's original drummer disappeared into a haze of dope, Gray took over. His work adds nuanced colors to nearly every performance on the album, elevating Bingham's droll and disaffected take on countercultural verities with bold experimentation that complements Peyton's pure, passionate soprano.
Despite obvious affinities-both had dropped out of school, with Bingham never earning a degree after attending classes at IU-Peyton and Bingham brought different sensibilities to the Mock Up material. Peyton even remembers the musical collaboration as somewhat competitive. Bingham's songs were absurdist non-narratives that made sense only as products of time spent at Needmore and in the close-knit Bloomington scene. Always the protagonist, Bingham tinkered with lyrics until the last possible minute, twisting some into the kind of male-only declarations that must've given Peyton pause. In the waltz-time "Gone For A Day"- whose title was rendered on the original LP sleeve as "Come For A Day" the line "Dreamed and schemed and tried to wake" morphed into "Dreamed and schemed and creamed in my jeans." And on "Pull"- a superb, abstract family/city blues with Gray pounding away like an unhinged Leon Russell imitating Floyd Cramer-Peyton simply refused to enunciate the last word of "I pull it right out my pants."
Enamored of Gray's talent, Peyton began a semi-covert relationship with him, creating a charged situation in the recording studio. Playing guitar on "Between-Two," Peyton interacts with Gray in almost symbiotic fashion, and throughout Mock Up , Gray ripples and comments on structures that allude to pop song form. "The Hook" features an exquisite moment-never repeated despite the song's title-during which Peyton sings "I can feel 'em moving on back from California." It's a rare relaxed interlude on a record riddled with tension.
"Engram" unfurls as a comment on Peyton and Bingham's relationship, complete with regret, jealousy, and forbearance. Whatever its intent, Peyton plays and sings as if her life depended on it. The wit of "Engram" is in keeping with the album's penchant for sly jokes and double meanings. "White walls with their pictures hanging/In me there's a noose and if I turned it loose on you/We'd go back in time," she sings.
This reissue slightly alters the sequencing of the original album. Gone is "Lorel iii," a non-Peyton tune with a mad vocal by Bingham, electric-guitar flourishes by Bruce Anderson, flamenco overtones, and a triple-time feel. In its place is "Breathe," a song recorded live in 1972 on Jack Gilfoy's portable two-track. Like "Bill Monroe," "Breathe" represents the loose, anarchic side of a Screaming Gypsy Bandits performance: Peyton singing through a vacuum-cleaner hose was not unheard of.
The cover of Mock Up stands among the cruder efforts of the LP era, its purple lettering scrawled in ugly conflict with a yellow background. As befits an album of insular beauty, the text contains in jokes-Peyton is referred to as "Mye Chinchilla"-and some words are scratched out entirely. Bingham claims he simply delivered text to the pressing plant and let an anonymous worker take a crack at the cover's "design."
I could carve a better commune out of a baked potato.
As Mock Up was released in the fall of 1972, Peyton, Bingham, and Gray came to the attention of Mark Spector, an A&R man for Columbia Records to whom Bingham had sent a copy of the LP. At Halloween, Columbia flew the trio to New York, where they awaited an audition with Clive Davis. Ailing on the day of the scheduled meeting, Davis put them off for 24 hours, giving Gray time to score heroin while Bingham and Peyton splurged on room service and entertained friends at the New York Hilton. At the audition, Davis entered the room accompanied by assistants and waited to introduce himself to the trio. Gray stuck to his piano, refusing to acknowledge Davis. He finally relented to say, "That was way too hip for these stupid motherfuckers." Amazingly, Davis still listened to their performance and taped the audition, presumably, which consisted of Mock Up material and a version of Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got A Hold On Me." Columbia passed, but Peyton remembers taking a call from Mark Spector upon her return to Bloomington. "If you ever wanted to get in front of a band, you could eclipse Janis Joplin," he told her.
Gray, Bingham, and Peyton played only a handful of live dates, but Screaming Gypsy Bandits kept performing. At this time, the band-including Gray, Bingham's high school friend Brendan Harkin, drummer Rick Lazar, bassist Eric Hochberg, and Lloyd T. Jones Jr.---gigged as opener for Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Sly and the Family Stone. After Mock Up, Gray took off for New York, and in late 1972, Peyton and Bingham-whose musical relationship continued even as their romance faltered-relocated to Albany, New York. They'd reside in a house owned by Ron Kurtz, who had ended his stay at Needmore by leaving this biting note: "I could carve a better commune out of a baked potato."
Three songs from 1973's In the Eye album-conceived in part at the Albany house, and later in New York City-appear on this reissue. "All This Waiting," featuring a placid chromatic guitar figure and three criss-crossed vocals, would later appear remixed on 1977's Intuition. "Path of Light" rides a pair of drones and Peyton's overdubbed voice to merge with the organ part and pennywhistle. Written about an enigmatic child at Needmore, "White Teeth" puts tabla and sitar atop folk guitar and a sixteenth-note pattern to delve still further into Indian fusion. Restless creativity had brought Peyton and Bingham some distance from the safety of singer-songwriter pop.
Mock Up's own thrillingly varied documentation-of a romantic and musical affair; of superb vocal technique pushed past the brink; of a collaboration that embraced the autocratic and cynical impulses of its composer-summed up a back-to-the-land experience that both Peyton and Bingham seemed intent on transcending from the very first note. But it was a document heard by almost no one. Though Bloomington nourished Peyton and Bingham, much of Mock Up consists of escape strategies and tales of provincial ennui. Peyton may've perceived herself as an interpreter and nothing more, a mere "chick singer" in thrall to Bingham's ironic subversion of sacred emotions and time-honored lyrical conventions. But such a view neglects the fraught dynamics of the recording studio and of the bedroom. Here were two crazy hippies who needed each other. Where Peyton was wounded yet full bodied, Bingham cracked wise and indulged his formalist tendencies. However reluctantly, Bingham's lyrics reveal true feelings as they are progressively liberated by Peyton's voice; Peyton reveals herself without ever being sure of just whose freedom she was actually embodying. Never at ease with its ties to the singer-songwriter genre and the classic American pop song, Mock Up truly mocks up both musical conventions.
- Edd Hurt, October 2008