The tale of acid sage Dr. Timothy Leary’s prison escape and subsequent exile is among the most amusing stories in the annals of drug culture lore—though sentenced to an absurd twenty years for utterly petty offenses including possession of a couple of roaches, Leary was able to game the prison system: as a reputable Harvard psychologist, it happened that he himself had designed the psychological examinations he was given by prison administrators to determine his security and work situations. He got himself assigned to a cushy gardening job in a minimum security facility, from which he handily escaped, issuing an outlandish revolutionary screed to taunt authorities shortly after he fled. Via a series of sneaks involving the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, an arms dealer, and a socialite whom he eventually married (how has this not been a TV mini-series yet? Get on this, Netflix…) Leary ended up in Switzerland, where he met with the German Kosmiche band Ash Ra Tempel, with whom he recorded the album Seven Up.
Formed by musicians from Eruption and Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel mostly shunned structured songs in favor of lengthy and often downright fierce improvisations. Their albums typically featured two side-length compositions, a feral freakout on side one, and a more ambient, electronics-driven suite on the flip, presumably to help sand the edges off from side one. From Peter Buckley’s Rough Guide Rock:
Manuel Göttsching (guitar) and Hartmut Enke (bass) had played together in various psychedelic blues and pop combos for a few years before they formed Ash Ra Tempel in August 1970 with drummer/keyboardist Klaus Schultz, who had just left Tangerine Dream. The most cosmic of the Krautrock bands, Ash Ra Tempel became legendary for their wild improvisational free-form live jams, influenced by Pink Floyd but eschewing songs to take the concept of space-rock much further, enhanced by both Schultz’s and Gottsching’s interest in experimental electronic music.
Schultz soon left for a solo career but several other musicians passed through the group’s revolving door, and with some of them Göttsching and Enke recorded the amazing Schwingungen (1972). With the idea of recording the ultimate psychedelic trip, Ohr label-head Rolf Kaiser next took Ash Ra Tempel to Switzerland to party endlessly and to record the album Seven Up with LSD guru Timothy Leary, who was living there in exile. The results were a more song-orientated first section, with Leary singing, followed by several conventional rock songs melded into a single track divided by spacey electronic segues.
More after the jump…