A few months ago, my colleague and I profiled some of the most “unique” albums in our catalogue. Since then, we have acquired a fair number of other albums that would have fit the bill, but perhaps no artist comes with as unusual a backstory as Yahowha 13, and their various other permutations, Father Yod and the Spirit of ’76, Yodship, and Fire Water Air.
These revolving groups were, in essence, the house band for The Source Family, an L.A.- and later Hawaii-based commune / cult whose strange story is the subject of a new critically acclaimed documentary: The Source Family.
Their leader, a man born Jim Baker, was a decorated WWII veteran and former Judo champion who later became a health food pioneer, a Verdantic monk, a devout student of the Yogi Bhajan, and finally, at least in his own mind, God. Now calling himself Father Yod, he began recruiting acolytes based around a relatively benign philosophy centered around yoga, health food, kindness to animals, cotton clothes, “the sacred herb,” nudism, fairly hedonistic tantric sex, and a panoply of other hippie / Aquarian notions. Yod and his followers ran a series of highly successful health food restaurants, the most famous of which, The Source, lured celebrity patrons like John Lennon, Steve McQueen and Earth Wind & Fire. (It’s where Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer orders his plate of “mashed yeast” in Annie Hall). The Source also served as a key recruitment center.
Like most cult stories, the story of The Source Family has its share of troubling aspects — Father Yod had 14 “spiritual wives” and not all of them were of legal age — but what separates them from many of the contemporaries is their musical legacy. Father Yod and his followers released nine albums between 1973 and 1975, and evidently recorded enough material for over fifty others thanks to a practice of recording just about everything with no rehearsals and no second takes. Released in miniscule quantities and largely sold at The Source, these records are now among the ne plus ultra for rare psych collectors, and original copies fetch thousands of dollars when they can be found at all. Thankfully they’ve since been reissued by The Source Foundation, a group run by several of the original members. These recordings run the gamut from scuzzed-out stoner skronk, to schmaltzy hippie folk hymns, to some of the greatest and most mindbending outsider psych of the era.
Father Yod, who later changed his name to Yahowha, (hence the band name Yahowha 13), died in a 1975 hang gliding accident not long after the group decamped to Hawaii due to legal troubles in the mainland. At least initially, this tragedy did little to curb the band’s creative output. Members of the group, which at one time included the late Sky Saxon, former lead singer of The Seeds, have continued on his name. In the late ’90s, there was a renewed interest in the group, helped in part by a lavish (if somewhat insane) 13-CD box set issued by a Japanese label, and surviving members have, in recent years, issued new music and performed with likeminded weirdos like Acid Mothers Temple and No-Neck Blues Band.
With the release of this new documentary, I expect that Yahowha will gain a few more followers interested in exploring his sonic legacy. Check it out now.