Oxford Circle

ocp12From:  Davis, California

Although the Oxford Circle are remembered by hardcore psychedelic collectors as a San Francisco psychedelic band due to their shows on the city’s ballroom circuit in 1966 and 1967, to the uninitiated, the name Oxford Circle may only be recognizable from a faded Fillmore or Avalon poster, where they once shared the bill with the Dead, Quicksilver or Big Brother. Amongst the cognoscenti, however, their name is mentioned in the hushed, awed tones reserved for only the truly great. Amazing to think that such immense repute stems from the outfit’s sole recorded legacy, the $500-rated single Foolish Woman / Mind Destruction. But all it takes is one listen to this masterpiece of throbbing punk hysteria, and its demented, off-the wall flipside, to vindicate the legend of the Circle.

Contrary to public opinion, the Circle were not in fact a San Francisco band. Rather, they hailed from the university town of Davis, just outside state capital Sacramento. Gary Lee Yoder, Dehner Patten, Jim Keylor and Paul Whaley had been kingpins in the over-populated northern California teen scene ever since they got together in late 1964 as the Hide-Aways. One year later they had become the Oxford Circle, in deference to their trademarked interpretation of the blueswailing English punk sound. Patten tore off spiky, spindly leads with dexterity; bassist Keylor and drummer Whaley constituted one hell of a powerhouse rhythm section; and the Circle were fronted by the soulful, full-blooded warbling of Yoder, who was also not averse to writhing around the stage floor or coaxing ear-splitting electronic noises from his Gibson.

Sensing the constrictive nature of their immediate environs, the Circle frequently journeyed south to San Francisco. There, their tight and dynamic stage show quickly got them booked at the ballrooms, and the combo would regularly blow their more illustrious contemporaries off the boards. No further evidence is needed than LIVE AT THE AVALON 1966, where Family Dog honcho Bob Cohen’s dynamic recordings capture the Circle at the peak of their powers. From the nine-minute improvised feedback assault of Mystic Eyes that opens the disc, via ripping takes on punk staples such as You’re A Better Man Than I, Baby Please Don’t Go and I’m A Man, through to Yoder’s tuff originals like Soul On Fire and Since You’ve Been Away, LIVE AT THE AVALON firmly establishes the Circle as the pre-eminent psychedelic garage band, bar none. And it crystallises that brief but magic moment when punk fury took on an experimental zeal and mutated into something quite breathtaking indeed.

Drummer Paul Whaley eventually joined Blue Cheer, which sowed the seeds of the Oxford Circle’s breakup, though oddly enough, future blues star Joe Louis Walker played with the group briefly. Gary Lee Yoder, the Oxford Circle’s principal songwriter, formed Kak (which recorded for Epic) and also showed up in a late version of Blue Cheer. An entire 1966 concert, in surprisingly excellent fidelity, formed the basis for an Oxford Circle CD in 1997 that also included their single and a couple of unissued cuts.

~ Alec Palao, Big Beat Records

~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi

Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1997 album Nuggets of the Golden State- Live at the Avalon 1966

  • Foolish Woman
  • Mind Destruction
  • Mr. You’re a Better Man than I
  • Since You’ve Been Away
  • The Raven
  • Today
  • Troubles