1966-1974: Rodd Keith - My Pipe Yellow Dream

A lot of fantastic talents were part of the studio musicians’ circles in Los Angeles from the 1950s onward – figures from both the jazz and classical worlds – and as incidental and film music advanced with the complex, psychedelic 1960s, so the introduction of soft psych, pop, and exotic flourishes became part of the environment. I guess one could loosely call composer-arranger Rodd Keith (1937-1974) part of that scene, but his situation was a bit different. A multi-instrumentalist who had a strong desire to compose classical music, Keith became a central figure in the song poem or “song sharking” industry, where amateur songwriters (mostly lyricists) would send in their words and a fee, and record companies would “guarantee” their next hit – pressing up a small quantity of singles with a few sent out as promos to be played on regional radio at some ungodly hour. The curious thing is that Keith – and probably some other song-poem arranger/composers as well – took seriously many of the lyrics and projects that were sent to him. Though the industry was a song mill and second takes were rare, Keith arranged the often goofy, naïve or just plain lame words of would-be “collaborators” into short gems that took shape as psychedelic pop, rockabilly, country or jazz-funk. To be sure, the music was sometimes shaky and rough around the edges, but there’s honesty to the tunes’ presentation and for being “work” for an aspiring composer and his occasional studio mates, it appears as though they were having a lot of fun with the proceedings.

Released in September 2011, Pipe Yellow Dream is the second collection of Keith’s song poems to be issued on the Roaratorio label, following Saucers in the Sky (2005). Tzadik put out the first two full-length Keith projects, I Died Today (1996) and Ecstasy to Frenzy (2004). For this collection, there’s even a 1968 cover of the Box Tops’ “Choo Choo Train” resplendent in blue-eyed soul, twang, and punchy brass. As with most song poems, the balance of this LP is culled from material released on Preview, Cinema, Action, and MSR from 1966 to 1974. Not all of the songs are hokey – there’s no reason that “Tired of Waiting” couldn’t be some undiscovered folk-rock/SSW nugget, for even with its plain lyrics, the dryly crackling shuffle and hazy arrangement give the tune an interesting feel. Even the absurdity of “Surfin’ Along” is rendered with sun-kissed catchiness. The second side begins with a shock in the unintentionally humorous political rant/poem of “America the Not So Beautiful,” covering school busing and pro-worker missives that’s credited to Keith nom-de-plume The Real Pros. Rarely was the music rendered in song poem form political, though there are occasional collisions of anti-drug and pro-trip messages across these collections. The Real Pros also weave a stammering slow funk on “Search out Your Soul, American” that, if not totally convincing, conjures a knowing wince. There’s a dark insistence to “Love Opens the Door” that renders the words’ absolute triteness as something appreciable and powerful. Rodd Keith was an excellent if left-field arranger and composer, sure, but he also imbued strangers’ potential missteps with a range of feelings, and that impulse comes from somewhere equally special.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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