In search of Manakin

Perhaps the first post of…well, I doubt *many,* but we’ll see where initial inquiries lead. [EDIT: and I’ve got enough now for a second post!]

Starting in the middle, earlier today friend Mackro shared a link with some friends, refusing to tell us what it was but simply encouraging us to watch it. A fine idea, so:

(The flashbacks of seeing both Skip Stephenson and Richard Dawson are not good for my tender soul, it should be noted.)

The context for this clip’s relative fame is as such — some months back a new user joined YouTube and listed and favorited some videos over the months. Two of the three videos he uploaded had to do with the church he currently belongs to and leads in Hawaii as part of a larger congregation. (And unsurprisingly looks like they’re all big on music.)

The third, without much description, was the above clip — the only information he provided was:

Live on Jerry Lewis Telethon.
“Something is Locked Inside of My Soul”

And if you compare the singer in the clip with the photo of the pastor linked on the Hawaii church site, it’s definitely the same fellow! Meanwhile a commenter, PeacelandMusic, posted the only response so far:

Too cool, Brent…
You guys sound like Genesis…
I remember gigging with your band…
Fun times…

As for the clip itself, two days ago WFMU got a hold of it via Beware of the Blog, leading to the Stranger’s music blog Line Out to post it and so forth.

So on the one hand, the demi-music journalist in me is curious enough now to want to drop a line to Brent to find out more about this band and how/why they ended up on the Jerry Lewis Telethon as an unsigned act (not entirely surprising given all the acts and people that ended up on the telethon to this day, but still, there’s got to be a story!) On the other hand — as mentioned, this act was unsigned and in fact utterly obscure. No records seem to have been released, and initial googling and other searching turns up a slew of more recent acts using the name, but nothing about the original.

Or so I thought — a little more finessing with Google (always use as much information as you have to hand) turned up what appears to be the only live review of the band currently on the Net, though in ways it raises more questions than answers. The live review itself is part of an intriguing, Los Angeles-specific archive of early 80s band reviews and stories by Billy Eye and Judy Zee, two writers for what is described as “a gay entertainment magazine called Data-Boy, which had a decades long publishing history in West Hollywood” but which apparently stopped publishing sometime in the late eighties. hosts this archive, so good on ’em, and it apparently was recently upgraded/redone from a 1994-era (!) version of the site, so even better!

So if you’re into all kinds of stories and reviews on acts, local and touring, like 45 Grave, Rain Parade, Missing Persons, Wall of Voodoo, the Plimsouls, XTC, Human Sexual Response, John Cale…you get the drift (plus a story about how a bunch of glam dudes called London strolled into the magazine office to announce their name change to…Motley Crue!), you’ll want to scrounge.

Among all these stories is a review of…Manakin! And yet, there’s something about the description of the band that is both clearly the group in the clip and yet not, or at least not the same version. So something’s up. Here, in any event (with odd spellings at points intact) is Judy Zee’s review:

“Welcome back Manakin for an unannounced performance on April 14th at Club 88” ran a Man from Uncle-like psychedelic coded message in Showtime. With crystal clear, technologically clean melodic instrumentation; and Brent’s expressive vocals- this ensemble has been swaying Los Angeles audiences consistently.

So we showed up for this one. Manakin has been missing in action for four months already, and friends and fans were getting restless.

Opening with “Manakin-land”, you enter their cartoon. Brent par usual, is carried, a frozen full sized human doll, onto center stage. Then, they start in with their Temptations-like stage presence savoring 60’s-ish black vogue. The pace is upbeat, integrated and intense.

Manakin sounds fuller than ever, much of it do to the addition of a thoroughly appropriate bouncing keybrd/synthesist.

The untabulated eloquence of “Children of Paradise” as well as “Just a Dream” never fails to sway Ms. Zee, tumbling into the imagination of what really could be; strongly grasped romantic ideals, seen through rose colored glasses waltzing to the cadence of human aspiration; stretching towards the near perfection we all feel at times. Manakin nearly composes these utopias merely through sound.

“Bridges on the Other Side”, joyfully rhythmic, breaks on through the windows of Raggae, reminding one of “Dangerous Rhythm” (one of Ultravox’s most overlooked songs, 2nd album).

Punkasso gives a description of the Club 88 dance floor at this point: false manakin puppeteers prolificate on the floor in a Devoesque bath of the 60’s, it was such a cliche I could hardly move.

I wish Manakin was on record already, so that you could hear what I am referring to. No clones these guys. Cream of drums, Guy Epstein shoots off sparks, snaking round the set. On bass you’ve got Andre. The keyboardist is Chas Coleman playing a shoulder strap hand held bone like instrument which is hooked up to a sequential circuits Prophet 5. His presence and musicianship are both outstanding. Bob ‘Moonstone’ Walker’s running liquid quarter notes make up the river world of Manakinland, and synchronize like clockwork with the synth.

A couple moments of erotic beats were caught and frozen into a time/space continuum, encompassing the overall experience of the night. The jam was real.

Rock on.

Now this was three years after the Jerry Lewis clip, and without putting too fine a point on it, it almost sounds like they’d gone through at least one reincarnation if not two (talking about adding a keyboardist when they clearly had one in 1978 perhaps meant they were trying without one for a while, maybe unavoidably). What’s interesting about this review, as well as the clip, is a reminder of just how fluid genre terminology is, and how what seems codified by a later generation means little at the time.

By which I mean — if you look at the clip, the sound and style suggests a poppy prog approach, with the one YouTube commenter mentioning Genesis specifically while other comments on the blogs featuring the clip have invoked Styx. Jobriath also got mentioned by somebody, which makes even more sense. (As well as Klaus Nomi, perhaps the ultimate transitional figure of the time in general, a comparison that also leapt to my mind as well — but it’s interesting to note that Manakin’s TV appearance was some time before Nomi and his compatriots fully codified his look and style; I don’t think there’s a specific connection at work, but it’s interesting to see.)

But this review invokes other connotations — the Temptations, Devo, John Foxx-era Ultravox. At once different from what was already talked about…and not. John Foxx-era Ultravox is definitely as much ‘prog’ as anything else, and the whole idea of then-contemporary artists such as (to name only three!) Devo to Ultravox-worshipping Gary Numan to, say, Nash the Slash up in Canada (a Numan collaborator!) to who knows what else is this nexus point where all sorts of themes, styles and sounds mesh and recombine, all laden with the idea of being ‘the future’ or at least futuristically theatrical. An extension of glam, a romanticism in new wave, etc. etc.

Manakin in all this remind me most — especially given Judy Zee’s comment about how they hadn’t released anything — of two other LA bands that similarly never got it quite together on that front — Zolar X and the Screamers. The one was proto-alien glam metal as such, the other synth-punk oddness, then you have these guys and whatever they mutated into further between 1978 to 1981…something’s all there, not a scene per se but a bunch of square pegs and round holes.

And now I kinda want to know more! There’s at least some stories to tell — if they’re willing to tell it! Maybe Brent doesn’t want to go into much more detail, I don’t know, but the least I can do is ask him — and maybe find out more about the band, its compatriots, where they played, what breaks they had. And there are some names listed in that review of the 1981 version of the band, at least — are you all out there? Anyone know them? Also willing to talk?

Can’t hurt to ask!

[EDIT — friend Sean C. suggested privately that besides Styx, who were invoked on WFMU, I think, another obvious point of comparison might be the Tubes! This makes perfect sense.]


15 Responses to “In search of Manakin”

  1. Ian Says:

    i’m excited there are people trying to dig up more on Manakin! they did at least one more song that day (and judging how the video ends, i’m guessing it is on the same tape) and i’d love to see it. high schmaltz, but fun to watch.

    it’s cool to read Billy Ingram’s punk past, too..

  2. Ned Raggett Says:

    Yeah, this is all turning rapidly very interesting! I have heard from a mutual friend of Brent’s (who has let him know I’m ‘harmless’ — always handy!) and will have a second post later tonight or tomorrow with more. I’m really wishing some of the other band members can be found as well! There’s at least three years of history here involving a group during one of the most musically interesting times in this area and I’d love to hear the stories.

  3. James Musser Says:

    Hi Ned,
    Awesome writing!
    We only did one show that I remember on the Redondo Beach Pier, early 80s, at the venue that was located under the pier. Our band was called “Praises” at the time, which later changed to “Underwater Traffic”. Brent is on, and that’s how I found the YouTube clip. Brent was a couple years older than us, but I was good friends with another mutual friend, Al Bowman of Los Angeles Music Awards. I believe Al was involved with Manakin at some point. I remember Manakin being a good band, the video seems to show them off rather well!!! I know Brent was involved in Castle Bravo, and Richard Larsen was the Keyboard player (another very good friend of mine), and Richard is currently involved in another rather successful project you could ask him about (e-mail edited for privacy!). He played with Berlin for a while.

    • Tom Southern Says:

      I was a friend of a friend of “Scal” Bowman back in 81 and had some good times attending gigs around the Strip. Manakin rocked. The one youtube clip hardly does them justice. Precise and professional, and very very original. I used to help set up the “manakin” as the act opened, and every time it was astounding. To this day I still have “Private Eye” running through my head!! Glad to hear Al and Brent and the guys went on to do well.

  4. James Musser Says:

    I believe Andre was also in a band called Catalyst back in those days, but don’t know much about the other members. They were a “cover band” I believe, but pretty good at it.

    I rememeber one time, Brent was selling his entire record collection. I bought it for $50, I believe. Great deal! Awesome albums! Jonesy and Kayak were among some of the more obscure bands, and you can actually buy the CDs of those now, but Kayak is pricey… 😉

    Brent always had a tremendous charisma about him and whatever project he was involved in. Definitely an inspiring go-getter. Love the theatrics. We used to use masks in Underwater Traffic, as well (but not until the later years in the 90’s).

    If you want to check out Underwater Traffic, just copy that and paste it into Google, and the old site is on AOL. It’ll be updated eventually. But there’s a lot of info there, old reviews.

    I now have so much respect for people who have actually dedicated their lives to music. How many people do you know in their 40s, 50s, or 60s who are still devoted to making better music in the world?

  5. In continuing search of Manakin « Ned Raggett Ponders It All Says:

    […] Comments James Musser on In search of ManakinNed Raggett on A letter to a writer about Pal…James Musser on In search […]

  6. brad wellstone Says:

    Hey, Brent is cool! He’s an even better singer nowdays ;D

  7. Ned Raggett Says:

    Heheh, nice. 🙂 From the comments I’d seen at his church site, he plays a mean guitar too!

  8. Al Bowman Says:

    Wow! this really brings back some memories. I sure would love to see Brent again and guys like Jim Musser. We were “the scene” back in the mid to late 70’s. I am proud to see my name mentioned in these postings.

    AL Bowman
    Founder: LA Music Awards

  9. Ned Raggett Says:

    Great to see you here, Al! I really haven’t followed up this whole story as I should but I need to look into it again — Brent can be found on Facebook, if you’re there.

  10. Ghengis Jung | i’ll just tear my clothes and punch myself in the eye and crawl into the room one leg dragging Says:

    […] James at Endless Automata alerted me to Ned Ragget’s blog, which provides some background on […]

  11. M. Bouffant Says:

    Just to note: The video is not the Jerry Lewis telethon. I think it was for the Variety Club, a charitable organization of show-biz types, possibly a co-operative effort by the performing guilds (SAG , AFTRA, & whatever union represents Vegas performers).

  12. Robyn Says:

    I was there at the taping, actually part of the road crew for the band from 1979-1981 or so. We drove down to Palm Springs at o-dark hundred and the band did two songs, if my hazy memory serves correctly. They were an amazing bunch of guys, good friends. My then-husband and I created the lighting and special effects that later became a big part of the show. This was an early incarnation of the band, with John Harvey on drums and Ron Hoggarty on keys, Andre LeChambre on bass. Bob Walker , guitar and Brent on vocals. John was replaced by Guy Eckstein, Ron by Chas Carlson. The band became more and more theatrical as time went by. They had massive creative differences, which lead to the breakup of the band and it was sad, since they had so much potential. I can probably rumage around my brain, if you have any questions.

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