The local music scenes of the 1960s and 1970s produced a treasure of remarkable records, often released only as limited vanity pressings. A combination of social upheaval, pioneer optimism and DIY philosophy paved the way for unknown talents to put forth their vision without having to succumb to trendy demands or major label commercialization. The result: hundreds, maybe thousands, of highly personal and sometimes unique musical testaments whose lasting quality often overshadows the more famous artists of the time.
One of the most dearly beloved discoveries within this "private pressing" field comes from a band called VIRGIN INSANITY. Even among a wealth of unlikely idiosynchracies this album stands out, due not just to the timeless nature of its music, but also because of its unlikely origins. It's hard to imagine a locale less appropriate for intimate basement folkrock than Dallas, Texas, 1971, where bands like Bloodrock and Nitzinger ruled the day.
Of course, Virgin Insanity was not your traditional local rock band of beer-fuelled rehearsals and local bar gigs. The group was created mainly to record the album, although it turned out to exist beyond that escapade. The main engine behind the group and album was Bob Long; songwriter, arranger, guitarist and coordinator, who after an unsuccessful attempt to break into the westcoast music business had returned to Dallas determined to produce something tangible. Living under meagre conditions the financing of an album, even a budget custom pressing, was difficult. As the band's website tells the story, Bob Long made ends meet by working as a department store Santa Claus in late 1970, which is where he met his future wife and future Virgin Insanity member, Eve. Unemployed after the Christmas holidays, Long was offered another job in the glamorous sewage and wastewater business, which would prompt the LP title, "Illusions Of The Maintenance Man".
In early 1971 the couple rebuilt their Plano apartment into a makeshift recording studio, using stacked chairs and draped blankets to create a "soundproof" tent-like structure. A Radio Shack tape recorder was on hand to capture the music, which was put together via "bouncing" tracks in classic do-it-yourself fashion. Apparently unconcerned about the audio deterioration with each subsequent track bounce, every instrument and vocal was recorded by itself. Fortunately, the album is relatively sparse in its instrumentation. Apart from guitar, bass and vocals courtesy of Bob and Eve Long, two college student friends were brought in to play second guitar (Wayne Lamar Boggs III) and drums (Jud Chapin).
The 10 songs that form "Illusions Of The Maintenance Man" had been written over a 2.5-year period; "Livin' Lives" was written when recording was already in progress, while "Touch The Sky" and "Time Of Sorrows Gone Soon" had been composed shortly before. "Charity", the earliest song, was written by Bob as an 18-year old in 1968. "Don't Get Down" refers to the frustrating experience of trying to get into the music business, while "Once" is an anti-Vietnam War song; apart from these the vast majority of the material is personal love songs. The memorable line "This is not goodbye/It's just farewell for a while" comes directly from a phone conversation between Bob and Eve shortly before they got married; a good indication of how close the songs were to Long's reality.
One of the album's assets is the strong consistence it displays, due partly to the distinctive sound created by the home studio, but also from a deliberate effort to create a concept album, with songs selected to function both as single pieces and as part of a greater whole. While each listener will come out with a different experience, certain keywords keep recurring when the album is discussed; such as "warmth", "atmosphere", "purity". Comparisons to the sparse, nocturnal moods of the third Velvet Underground LP have been made by more than one listener, no doubt prompted by a similarity in instrumentation as well as a certain resemblance in the male/female vocal styles. As is often the case, this was a coincidence rather than a case of inspiration, and when asked recently Bob Long confessed never even having heard the VU album: "… Off the top of my head the most influential musical folks at the time we made the recording were; The Beatles, Moody Blues, George Gershwin, Woody Guthrie, Carlos Jobim, Hank Williams, Sergio Mendez, Crosby Stills & Nash, America – pretty well pop stuff at the time. I'm not sure I can peg another group or album that we sounded like, the attempt was to create something truly original."
After a master was cut in Dallas in mid-1971, 200 copies were pressed by a custom operation, a small run even for a vanity pressing, where 500 is the usual minimum. Furthermore, an actual printed sleeve exceeded the Virgin Insanity budget, and the band opted for rubber-stamping their monicker and album title manually onto the plain cardboard sleeves, making each copy unique. Sales were confined to friends and family, although Bob Long managed to get scattered local radio stations in Texas interested, no mean feat under the circumstances. Nevertheless, the 200 copies took some time to sell out.
Following the "Illusions" album, the band soon went into another recording venture, the "Toad Frog & Fish Friends" project which was recorded the same way and by the same personnel as the LP. Unlike "Illusions", this was a collection of songs with no overall aesthetic concept, nevertheless the sound is similar and likely to delight fans of the earlier album. Again, some tracks reach back to the late 1960s, and a title such as "Poor Boy" was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. The disenchanting encounters with the LA music business is reflected in several songs, while "She Ain't Nothing Like I Dreamed" shows a clear Dylan influence. The range of emotional expression is impressive, from the raw teenage anger of "In The Eyes" through the jazzy sophistication of Eve-sung numbers such as "Love Is" into the almost-commercial mid-60s folkrock nostalgia of "Clifton T", about Bob Long's memories of his maternal grandfather.
However, the slow sales of "Illusions" caused Bob Long to hold back the manufacture of this second album, and in the interim the original band - never more than a studio outfit - dissolved. The "Toad" album never reached the vinyl stage, but most of the tracks can be found on this CD, available for the first time ever. A few months later there was a brief reunion of the band, as the Long couple joined guitarist Wayne Lamar Boggs III for a nervous performance at the NSU student union building in Denton, where Boggs attended college. Apart from a few earlier gigs at parties and small clubs in Dallas, this coffeehouse booking was the only live performance of Virgin Insanity.
Still interested in breaking into the music business, Bob and Eve Long moved briefly to Nashville before ending up in Austin, which was rapidly emerging as a new musical hotspot. During 1972 the couple, now billed as "Bob & Eve" performed regularly at various Austin clubs as well as the first Kerrville Folk Festival. This active spell did not yield permanent success, and towards the end of the year the couple had drifted apart. Bob Long embarked on a solo project, "The Odometer Suite", which was a concept work about the life of an itinerant country & western singer, in a musical style far from the Virgin Insanity recordings. With typical productivity, Bob composed and recorded ten songs, two of which ("Take Your Time" and the surprising "Hallelujah") can be found on this CD. Like "Toad Frog & Fish Friends" the "Odometer Suite" did not progress beyond home demo recordings. After completing his third project in less than two years, Bob put his musical ambitions aside to return to college and pursue other interests. Virgin Insanity and the "Illusions Of The Maintenance Man" was a thing of the past, and apart from the value it held for those involved and their friends and family, was unlikely ever to be heard of again.
This situation remained for a decade and a half, until Virgin Insanity's name began popping up among curious musicologists during the early days of rediscovering unknown albums from the 1960s-1970s. After a few copies had been uncovered in Texas flea markets and purchased from band members, one copy was put up on auction by noted New York record dealer Paul Major in 1988, who described it as "Great garage hippie folk… sparse & warm human feel, mesmerizing in a way like the third Velvet Underground LP…obscure late night magic in the most basement sounding way". This trend-setting exposure coupled with the album's unique qualities began a cult appreciation that grew slowly but steadily over the years, until the demand was such that the album, once barely sellable at $3, traded hands for upwards $1000, while requests for a reissue grew impatient. And here they are once more, arguably one of the most talented bands to emerge from Texas in the early 1970s, certainly one of the most unique.
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