Comments on
"Bryan Thomas - Biography of Mel Lyman"

Bryan Thomas - Biography of Mel Lyman (All Music Guide, ca. 2002) is incredibly full of inaccuracies. I thought history took centuries to muddle and blur the facts but this story only took 25 years. There is almost not a true sentence in the whole piece. It's refreshing, in a strange way, to see that Mel Lyman's life not bound by mere facts.

Here are some examples:

Mel Lyman was a folk musician, filmmaker, and cult leader in the '60s and '70s. Born in Northern California, he drifted across the country in the early '60s before ending up in the hills of North Carolina, where he discovered country blues.
***The music that Obray Ramsey played is not called the blues.
By the time he had drifted into the folk music communities of Greenwich Village and Cambridge, MA, Lyman had developed his own style on the blues harp (holding a series of long, lingering, vibrato-heavy notes in the upper register) and he was proficient on "rhythm banjo."
*** Actually he played harp almost exclusively in the lower register. He was a proficient banjo player. Rhythm banjo was just the dumbed-down style he played in the Jug Band.
In 1963, Lyman joined the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and was a featured player on a handful of the group's earliest recordings for Vanguard.
*** The first Jug Band album (1963) did not have Mel on it.
Shortly after the group appeared on the nationally-televised Steve Allen Show -- on March 4, 1964 -- Lyman left the group (he was replaced by banjoist Bill Keith, who had just left Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys). Lyman focused, for a time, on his filmmaking and writing interests, authoring a rambling, incoherent book called - The Autobiography of a World Savior.
*** (check these dates...)
At age 27, Lyman made an impromptu appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, where he performed an unaccompanied ten-minute version of "Rock of Ages" for the audience (most of whom had already angrily left for their cars after Bob Dylan's famous electric set). After Newport, Lyman's Wednesday-night sessions at a Boston coffeehouse called The Orleans soon found him taking on the role of leading a commune-like cult who apparently hung on his every word. Lyman -- some say he was an "East Coast Charles Manson" -- and his "family" of 30 or 40 artists lived in three Victorian houses in the Fort Hill section of South Roxbury, in Boston's mostly black ghetto community.
*** There were more than 40 people, the houses weren't especially Victorian, there were more than three houses, and there's no such place as South Roxbury. A muddling of South End and adjacent Roxbury.
Rock scribe Paul Williams, of Crawdaddy magazine, lived with them for a time. In his writings for the Avatar (a controversial underground bi-weekly newspaper distributed on the streets by Boston's hippie youth), Lyman claimed that folk music was a gift from God that had to be preserved and nurtured. Lyman eventually cut out the middleman and claimed that he himself was God.
*** Didn't claim that folk music in particular is from God, just music.
In 1969, Kweskin and Lyman came together in San Francisco to record American Avatar (full title: Richard D. Herbruck Presents Jim Kweskin's American Avatar Featuring the Lyman Family With Lisa Kindred). When it was released on Reprise in January 1970, Lyman had used the name Richard Herbruck for his producer's credit. American Avatar reportedly only sold 1,764 copies (1,000 of which were reportedly bought by Kweskin).
*** This is a muddling of two completely different record albums, "American Avatar" and "Jim Kweskin's America." Lisa Kindred was on the first, R. Herbruck was on the second. Incidentally, All Music Guide calls the first album American Aviator.
Lyman apparently never recorded as a solo artist, but one of his musical highlights is his excruciatingly slow version of "Old Black Joe," featuring cello accompaniment, which appears on 1971's Jim Kweskin's America (Featuring Mel Lyman). Lyman lived in California for the remainder of his life, and even disappeared for awhile.
*** Didn't live just in California. Had houses all over the place. He didn't disappear for awhile. A lot of people always knew where he was.
In 1978, it was reported that Lyman had passed away at age 40, though his followers claim that he is, in fact, still "orbiting the earth."
*** Somebody might have told a reporter something like that 20 years ago.

My conclusion is that this biography was written by someone in the Lyman family as a joke. This type of humor was popular in the sixties and was called a "put on."

August 19, 2003

Mel Lyman