The Fallen Angels

The Fallen AngelsFrom: Washington, D.C., MD, USA

In the mid-to-late 1960’s, the Washington, D.C. area was a breeding ground for rock music talent. John Phillips, Cass Elliot, Jim Morrison, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Roy Buchanan, John Hall, Nils Lofgren, Emmylou Harris, Walter Egan, Bill & Taffy Danopff, Punky Meadows, and Danny Gatton are but a few of the locals from that era who moved on from D.C. to leave their mark on American music.

There were other local musicians, however, who were equally (or even more) talented, but through poor management or just plain bad luck missed out on commercial success at the national level. The most Poignant example of this phenomenon is the legendary band known as The Fallen Angels. Formed in 1965, The Fallen Angels were a dynamo of musical creativity and stage theatrics. They had an amazing ability to synthesize diverse musical styles (i.e., Beatles, Dylan, jazz, classical, etc.) into a cohesive sound that was distinctly their own. And as anyone who ever saw them perform live can attest, their grip on an audience was nothing short of charismatic. Excellent musicians all, the band members were ravenous mimics with a penchant for political satire.

It wasn’t unusual for the band to begin a live set in total darkness except for a blinding white strobe light while abruptly segueing from a off-key rendition of obscure fifties rock & roll to twangy country & western a la Buck Owens on acid. The effect was disorienting yet somehow exhilarating. Probably the most comparable live performances were by the original Mothers of Invention, who were contemporaries of The Fallen Angels.

During their meteoric career, The Fallen Angels went through a few personnel changes. However, the most well-known incarnation of the band featured the following lineup. Jack Bryant was the lead singer, bass player and a prolific songwriter. Jack provided the creative focal point of the group and with his full beard and shoulder length hair, he was the spitting image of a counterculture “Christ” Figure. Jack had an amazing vocal range, equally adept at belting out powerhouse rock/blues or subtly phrasing folk/jazz lyrics. He also was a heck of a bass player. The bulk of the songwriting came from Jack and was often autobiographical and eloquently expressed his intense personal philosophy.

The Fallen Angels
L TO R: JACK LAURITSEN (GUITAR), HOWARD DANCHICK
(KEYBOARDS), JACK BRYANT (BASS & VOCALS), WALLY
COOK (LEAD GUITAR), & JOHN “THUMPER” MOLLOY (DRUMS)

Wally Cook, lead guitarist, was a master of any style. Wally had a quiet stage presence which was counterbalanced by the ferocious sounds which emanated from his guitar.

Howard Danchik handled the keyboards and songwriting. A classically trained musician, Howard was a comedic talent who loved to have wacky interactions with the audience members. In many ways, Howard was reminiscent of a young, psychedelic Peter Sellers.

Jack Lauritsen, also classically trained, was a multi-instrumentalist who started off as a rhythm guitarist and moved on to develop his own searing, jazz-flavored lead guitar style. In addition to providing beautiful string arrangements for various Fallen Angel compositions, Jack did hilarious impersonations of then president LBJ when the band performed at anti-war protests.

John “Thumper” Molloy played the drums with a solid, no-frills, driving intensity. Thumper typically played while wearing a black turtleneck, and given his strong upper body development, he projected a foreboding persona – almost like masked medieval executioner – from behind his drum set.

Obviously destined for stardom, The Fallen Angels were signed by Laurie Records., After achieving regional success with their top ten radio hit “Every Time I Fall In Love”, the band was contracted by Roulette Records to release two albums. Unfortunately, Roulette was looking for hit-making successors to Tommy James And The Shondells and consequently never had a clue as to how to properly promote the iconoclastic Fallen Angels.

The first album (entitled simply “The Fallen Angels”) received a very favorable response but had no top ten hits due in large part to a sub-par production effort by the recording studio and an ill-conceived promotional strategy aimed at the conventional tastes of AM listeners.

Needless to say, their music was too “far out” for the “straight” audience and received very limited exposure to the burgeoning “underground” music scene associated with west coast bands such as the Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead. Despite playing to wildly enthusiastic crowds at venues all along the east coast, The Fallen Angels had not been able to establish their identity nationwide

Even with all the problems concurrent with it’s release, the first album contains some real gems that reflect the attitudes of both hope and cynicism which prevailed during the psychedelic era. Listen carefully to songs like “Introspective Looking Glass”, “Your Mother’s Homesick, Too” and the album’s tour de force, “No Way Out”.

Conflicts with Roulette records came to a head when the band was slated to promote their single “Hello girl” on Upbeat, a Cleveland-based TV show clone of the American Bandstand. Upon arriving at the TV studio, the band heard a version of their song that, unbeknownst to them, had been completely rearranged by Roulette to the point where it bore little resemblance to their original composition.

Disgusted and disheartened, the band rebelled at the idea of lip-synching to this bastardized version of their song. Finally, they agreed to go on TV, but as soon as the camera began to roll, Jack Lauritsen pulled a toy doll out of his jacket and proceeded to rip off it’s limbs and throw them directly at the camera. It was a classic Fallen Angels performance, albeit one which was highly edited prior to the broadcast.

Realizing the futility of trying to control this band, Roulette Records allowed The Fallen Angels almost total artistic freedom in the production of their second album, entitled “It’s A Long Way Down”. The group’s efforts resulted in what many aficionados of the psychedelic genre consider a masterpiece. Without any outside meddling, The Fallen Angels were able to craft a recording which more accurately portrayed the group’s eclectric musical approach. Song selections which especially stand out include: “Horn Playing On My Thin Wall”, “Look To The Sun”, One Of The Few Ones Left”, a soaring, jazzy “Look At The wind” and the haunting finale “I’ll Drive You From My Mind”.

Although the album was an artistic triumph, Roulette’s promotional campaign was practically non-existent. With no top ten hits, The Fallen Angels were unceremoniously dropped from the label.

Relegated to the status of local legends, The Fallen Angels continued creating and performing original music in the D.C. area until the fall of 1969 when the group disbanded.

Still years after their demise, The Fallen Angels may be gone, but not forgotten. In the February ’72 issue of Stereo Review, music critic Joel Vance wrote an insightful article entitled “The Fragmentation Of Rock”, which analyzed the problem of developing new talent in the industry. To illustrate the overwhelming odds against succeeding, he states:

“The Fallen Angels, for example, a remarkable band from Washington, D.C., put out two astonishing albums for Roulette Records in 1967/68. But they never made it, even though they were far better than most American groups of the time.”

Records by The Fallen Angels have become true collectors’ items, with original vinyl LPs going for upwards of $200 each, if you are lucky enough to find one! The second album has even been bootlegged in Europe, where there has been a resurgent interest in authentic psychedelic music.

The unique music of The Fallen Angels would have remained shrouded in myth had it not been for the efforts of Collectables Records, who made special licensing arrangements with Rhino Records to digitally reproduce the original master recordings (which fortuitously had been stored in the vaults at Abbey Road Studios ).

~ Doug McCullough ©1994

Doug McCullough is a producer of high-tech laser shows for major planetarium theaters from New York to California. He got his start in the business by creating psychedelic light shows in concert with the Fallen Angels.

In 1994 Collectables Records released two CD’s entitled “The Fallen Angels – The Roulette Masters Part 1 (COL-CD-5445) and Part 2 (COL-CD-5446) . These CD’s correspond to the two Roulette LP’s entitled “The Fallen Angels” and “It’s A Long Way Down”. They can be purchased at Amazon.com, or ordered from Collectables Records, Inc. P.O. Box 35, Narbeth, PA 19072, Tel: (215) 649-7565, Fax: (215) 649-0315.

The story of The Fallen Angels could’ve ended back then, but in 1997, Jack Bryant reformed The Fallen Angels with original guitarists Wally Cook and Jack Lauritsen plus new members Tomas Mansell (drums, percussion), Kevin Armstrong (bass), Sunny Davis (vocals, keyboard, percussion), and Ben Meyer (percussion, vocals, keyboard). When this incarnation of The Fallen Angels first began working on their sounds at Mapleshade Studios, the results were captured on tape and released on a CD entitled “Rain of Fire” in October of 1998. Subsequently, the band has expanded its repertoire and is performing live at Washington area venues such as the Birchmere and Jaxx.
In 2009, Sundazed Records released a vinyl 45 of Who Do You Love and Hello Girl. These were originally recorded in 1966. Check it out! ~ http://www.thefallenangels.com/main.htm

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Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

  • Everything Would Be Fine (Originally Unreleased)

From the 1967 album The Fallen Angels

R-2779650-1300667270

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Love, Don’t Talk To Strangers
  • Most Children Do
  • Painted Bird
  • Room At The Top

From the 1968 album It’s A Long Way Down (Roulette Masters Vol 2)

The Fallen Angels - It's A Long Way Down

  • A Horn Playing on My Thin Wall
  • Didn’t I
  • One Of The Few Ones Left
  • Poor Old Man
  • I’ll Drive You From My Mind
  • It’s A Long Way Down
  • Look At The Wind
  • Look To The Sun
  • Silent Garden
  • Something You Can Hide In