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Mort Garson 1924 - 2008

Posted by Whitmore, January 14, 2008 06:58pm | Post a Comment

Every once in while you realize certain names are always appearing in the credits of old albums, and it’s a constant surprise. I was always astounded by how often I’d find Mort Garson's name, and on some of the most unlikely records. From Doris Day to Mel Torme to Glen Campbell, and all those albums of nice soft-pop vocals from the likes of The Letterman or the Sandpipers or the Glenn Yarborough record of Rod McKuen covers. And you would usually find Mort Garson conducting or arranging those safe but somewhat innocuous collections of ‘pop hits of the day’ by the Hollyridge Strings or the Sunset Strings. And if you’re lucky enough to find it, you’d see Mort Garson provided background music to Laurence Harvey reading poetry on Atlantic. And why do I think it’s so odd? Because whenever I think of Mort Garson I think of the legendary pioneer in electronic music, and not the multi-faceted, in demand arranger and conductor.

Mort Garson, who also co-wrote the classic "Our Day Will Come," died this past January 4th of renal failure in San Francisco. He was 83. Born July 20, 1924, in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, Garson attended the Juilliard School of Music. He was a pianist and arranger with dance orchestras before serving in Special Services during World War II and before moving onto Los Angeles and the pop music world. But it was his work as a composer using the then novel Moog synthesizer on a series of albums in the late 1960s and '70s that is his lasting claim to fame, especially to record collectors and electronica enthusiasts. These albums, especially the 1967 exotica classic, and influential, The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds,  established his cult following. The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds is one of the first electronic and psychedelic albums put out by Elektra Records.

Drenched in sitars, unusual percussion, twisted and tweaked guitar sounds, weird electronics and augmented by a narrator coolly reading each Astrological sign’s characteristics, the album comes with instructions written on the back in large purple letters: "Must be played in the dark". The first track is perhaps the best: “Aries - The Fire Fighter”, just too groovy, too dramatic! Garson’s following album, Electronic Hair Pieces, was based on the music from the hit Broadway musical and counter-cultural phenomenon Hair, the album featured liner notes written, by of all people, Tom Smothers of the Smothers Brothers. Other heavily collected and much sought after albums include the musical soundtrack, meant to accompany and enhance the reading of the book,The Sensuous Woman, by Z, and perhaps his oddest and most esoteric release, the 1976 album Plantasia, is a collection of music to help plants grow! In 1969 he recorded a 12-volume set for A&M Records Signs of the Zodiac, featuring one album for each astrological sign. He wrote the brilliant electronic album Black Mass under the pseudonym Lucifer, featuring once again the Moog synthesizer. Garson followed Black Mass with Ataraxia- The unexplained, electronic musical impressions of the occult, a collection intended to accompany meditations to a mantra of the listener's choice.

In addition to "Our Day Will Come", co-written with Bob Hilliard, which was performed by Ruby & the Romantics  and rose to No. 1 on national charts, (more recently covered by K.D. Lang), Garson also worked on film scores, such as Beware! The Blob and on theme songs for game shows including Gambit, The Magnificent Marble Machine and Baffle. In 1975 Garson composed the music for Mel Brooks' and Carl Reiner's animated television special The 2000 Year Old Man, and later on The Untamed World documentary series, plus he provide incidental music for many of the National Geographic Specials. Mort Garson's is survived by his life partner, Florence; a daughter and a grandson.

Relevant Tags

Drugs (23), Moog Synthesizer (2), Psychedelia (12), Obits (63), Exotica (9), Astrology (2), Electronic Music (47), 1970's (33), 1960's (84), Mort Garson (1), Pop Vocals (19)