|There are some striking career parallels between singer / songwriter Essra Mohawk and Procol Harum ... the cult following, the brilliant albums underpromoted, the missed opportunity at Woodstock, the celebrity covers. But there's a highly-specific personal overlap as well: it was Essra who opened for Procol Harum on their first visit to America; subsequently she and Keith Reid became 'an item', and in the aftermath he sent her a poem in a letter, that in the end became a song. Here is Essra's tale in her own words:|
[Keith and I were] just two young romantics who were an item briefly in the 60s. [See] the letter in which he wrote the lyrics (originally a poem from him to me explaining how he felt about what had transpired between us). I really don't believe there's anything in there that Keith would feel embarrassed about. The poem reads, "I'm lost amidst a sea of wheat where people speak but seldom meet."
I don't know if [sending poems] was something Keith did a lot or not. Being a poet, I would imagine it is something he has done on occasion and mine is not an isolated case. It is very natural to put our feelings into verse in our letters. They don't all become songs ... I was very pleasantly surprised that it became a song on their album. I'm always writing songs about others. How wonderful that someone should write one for me. And such a good one. Of course, it's very flattering and what lady wouldn't be delighted to have a song written for her?
Note that there's no sign
here of the variant words Gary
sings on the German single of Quite Rightly So
I thought you might like to read the above as it was an attempt by me to put down how I felt about us ...
... We (the group that is) are in the final stages of putting an album together ...
Synchronistically, I have the same birthday as Shakespeare, April 23, but ['an ode by any other name'] is probably something that just flowed out of Keith and fit texturally and contextually with the rest ... not really having anything to do with my literary interests or my birthday. More likely it's a direct reference to us being star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet (certainly longer lived than those two, thank goodness).
I believe it was 1967 when we met. Essra has been my name since 1968 ... my name was still Sandy [Hurvitz] when Keith and I met. "'Uncle Meat' days": that's what Frank Zappa called me when I used to perform with his band, the Mothers of Invention, back then. Not only did I sing with the Mothers every night at the Garrick Theatre, but I also opened to them singing my own songs, playing the piano. The Garrick and the Café a Go-Go were in the same building and the owner, Howie Soloman had me opening to whoever was playing there as well. Due to this arrangement, I was often performing nine sets a night.
I opened to Procol Harum when they played the Café a Go-Go. I believe it was their first gig in the US! They were and are wonderful! I really can't remember [what they played] after all these years ... surely the songs were off that first LP and included Whiter Shade of Pale (a vague but real memory pops up in my mind's eye). As to who struck me in particular, I thought by now you had surmised ... it was their lyricist!
I think that Procol Harum is a wonderful band. I loved them from the first time I heard them (when I opened to them) and their music most certainly has withstood the test of time! I've never heard anything but praise for them from my peers (and their peers) however I don't recall ever hearing Frank say anything about them ...
I have a few letters from Keith from those days. The envelope for the one in question is postmarked 14 March 1968 during "our aftermath" as Keith put it in the letter. Keith is and was always a high-minded gentleman and I was an idealistic flower-child (s'pose I still am except for the "child" part). Keith and I are still friends and have co-written a couple songs (this in the 80s). Although the songs we wrote together were demoed, they've never been recorded for release. They are presently unavailable commercially ...
One song, Next Time, I wrote from lyrics he gave me which I changed some for the music. It's a rocker. Another song we worked on is a cool ballad. We did get together to work on it. There's not as much of Keith in that one ... just a couple great verses that I worked around ... called Look Out For Me. I really love this one ... it has a future life ...
I believe Keith mentioned something about a [Procol Harum] tour last time we spoke. I had no idea it fell through. I'm sorry to hear that. I believe my music would be of interest to Procol Harum fans. I have two CDs available and a third just awaiting packaging. The working title is: Essie Mae Hawk Meets the Killer Groove Band
Raindance from 1995 is available in the UK, I'm told. Unfortunately, the label it's on (Schoolkids Records) went under. I have some left so they're available from me until they're gone. A certain major label here is considering releasing all my 70s recordings. Check the Mohawk website for upcoming news of that. I'll try to keep you posted.
In the meanwhile, I painstakingly baked and cleaned and mastered old tapes to create a CD compilation of my older stuff. I'm very proud of this offering. It's called Essra Mohawk: The Secret Diva. (Very few secrets have been kept as long as mine has.)
Thanks, Essra, for sending BtP a prime piece of Procol history
Keith Reid's non-Procol songwriting
About Essra's Raindance CD, including sound samples of that voice!