The storied San Francisco Bay Area music scene of the late ‘60s produced mountains of enduring albums by the likes of the Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Grateful Dead, and on and on. But of course, in any scene, there are fine bands that for whatever reason slip through the cracks and never find an audience, leaving their name on posters as their only legacy.
Marvin Gardens was just such a band in hippie-era San Francisco. The parallels between them and Big Brother and the Holding company are hard to ignore, but the big one was that both bands sported a distinctive and compelling female vocalist. Carol Duke was no Janis Joplin, but she was in that zone. The band assumed its final form in 1967 when they added Duke on vocals and guitar, and cribbed their name from a Monopoly board. Duke also gave the band direction, transitioning them from a repertoire of top-40 covers to a more traditionalist milieu—Duke hailed from Bakersfield, CA, where a honky-tonk insurgency against slick Nashville country and western had sprung up in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.
The band built a following with a residency gig in a Sausalito club called the Lion’s Den, which in turn led to a demo recorded for Reprise Records in 1968. No deal came of those demos, nor did anything come of the expressed interest of Epic Records, and the band quietly fractured in 1969, victim to the frisson between Duke’s more traditionalist electric-folk tendencies and rest of the band’s desire to rock out. They released only a four-song 7” of which so few copies were pressed that to call it “rare” is a gross understatement.
Seeking information about the band has been complicated by Jimmy Buffet’s use of “Marvin Gardens” as a songwriting pseudonym, and the existence of a ‘90s Belgian acid house group also of that name. But now, the band is finally being committed to 12” wax. The archivist label High Moon Records is releasing 1968, which collects the Reprise demos, the 7”, and live recordings from the Matrix Club, from whence also came the legendary Velvet Underground Matrix Tapes. The CD version contains five additional live tracks not on the vinyl, and the release is generously liner-noted by Ugly Things’ Mike Stax, supplemented with a generous section of personal remembrances of Carol Duke, who passed away in 2014. It’s Dangerous Minds’ pleasure today to debut the songs “Duncan and Brady” and “I Know You Rider,” followed by a video assembled from archival footage for their version of Dylan’s “Down the Line.”
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Fanny: The Great Lost Female Rock Group of the 1970s
Janis Joplin talks about rejection four days before she died in 1970