PATHS INTERSECT, A BAND IS BORN
“History is biography,” goes the saying, and the birth of our band started with a friendship between two groups of young musicians who “happened upon” each other. Notary Sojac’s history did not start in 1969, when the musicians formed the band and played our first gig. It actually began in 1966, when Portland, Oregon’s fledgling folk-rock group, THE WARLOKS, met the Boise, Idaho band, THE QUIRKS. Two Warloks and three Quirks would, three years later, form the basis of NOTARY SOJAC, in Portland.
The Warloks and Quirks, while each having their own distinctive sounds, intersected at a musical crossroads that included music of the British wave (Beatles, Kinks, Yardbirds, Zombies and others) and USA’s folk-rock movement (Byrds, Beau Brummels, etc.) Mutual admiration between the groups developed and we stayed in touch for several years. Of course, in the interim (1967-69), these musicians played in several other groups in Oregon, Idaho and California.
Inevitably (it seems now), five musicians from the Quirks and the Warloks happened to muse upon the notion of forming a band together. This union would combine the songwriting skills of five members and an arsenal of instruments to supply a powerful and varied group sound. Other Notary Sojac founding members (Will Herold and Jim Lowry) had just been in FAITH, an intervening group with two of the former Quirks (Tom McMeekan and Mike Marks.) They joined with Bob and Steve Koski of the Warloks, and Justin Bonner (another former Quirk), The resulting instrumentation was a good, solid mix. From a diverse musical background, Notary Sojac’s sound gradually fused into a unique blend of styles.
For me, (Steve Koski) this group became the turning point for what music could really mean in my life. I’m sure that others in the band feel a similar impact in their lives. We all learned from each other, taught each other, challenged ourselves individually and as a group. We never, that I recall, set a goal to create a “group” sound. It was a bubbling spring of words, sounds and instrumental interplay that would form into songs and jams, evolve and sometimes reappear in an altered form. We often reinvented a song by modifying the time signature (such as 4/4 to 6/8), instrumentation, style, form, lyrics or tempo. Before Notary Sojac, I hadn’t written a song with 3-part vocal harmony; or composed a country/western song; or a jazz-influenced tune. I hadn’t sung solo on a song, or played more than one instrument. This group expected itself to broaden the range of how music can be used as an expressive language. The playfulness of “Zoidal” music, which creeps in occasionally in our regular songs (hear the flute solo on “Point of View”), is a product of that effort. The “Return of Zoid”, a continuous free-Zoid jam that developed and was recorded at one of our gigs, embodies the essence of that spontaneous group-synergy-creation.
As with most groups, interpersonal relationships in Notary Sojac were mostly cohesive, but fluctuated at times. Sometimes personalities and lifestyles didn’t mesh well, and at other times the vision or direction of our group was in dispute. But the band was tenacious and dedicated to a musical cause and found ways to rise above the problems. I think we all accepted the notion that “good” or “healthy” artistic expression thrives amid occasional turbulence, and that, in fact, that tension and friction can help bring about a necessary shift in the band’s direction or attitude, and propel it forward into a new phase. (These opinions are my own, upon reflection and observation, and do not necessarily represent views of others in the band.)
Listening now to the music we created and performed in that period, 1972-1974, I feel a renewed admiration for our efforts. Obviously some of the sounds and lyrics of our music seem a bit “dated”, but at its best, I think the inspiration and energy, the humor and dynamic interplay of the musicians give NOTARY SOJAC’s music a timeless appeal.
THE INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS
The first five Notary Sojac players of the ‘72-’74 period, listed here, were founding members from 1969:
Bob Koski (guitar, flute, percussion, vocals and songwriting)
Steve Koski (guitar, vocals and songwriting)
Tom McMeekan (guitar, vocals and songwriting)
Will Herold (Hammond organ, electric piano / vocals and songwriting)
Jim Lowry (bass)
Doug Ness (drums) ---joined in 1972
I would like to describe my impressions of each member of Notary Sojac. I will be speaking in the present tense---not because we’re still performing together, but because we are still basically the same personalities as we were, The music we played and recorded seems to me, as I listen again to it,“current”.
TOM Mc MEEKAN, a prolific and inventive guitarist/songwriter, has an amazing presence in his vocals and guitar solos. For the more powerful, electric aspectof his music, his effect upon me is at times like a bolt of lightning, or a sneaky, loopy line of guitar notes that grabs me by the solar plexus and pulls me into the song (hear “Production Line Blues”, “Oh Gee” or “Situation”. He is a storyteller in his development of a guitar solo, in which he takes his time, leading you along, surprising you at turns and bringing it to closure with a decisive riff. He can do it all, with cool rhythmic accents in strumming; fingerpicking the more lyrical stuff; quickly learn a harmony or counterpoint for an arrangement (check out the guitar dual solo on “Willy Nilly”). As we played more and more and tried out many styles of music, Tom’s solid rock and blues (his own way) gradually became more infused with the subtleties of jazz riffs (“Oh Gee”) and runs, and catchy polyrhythmic loops (“We Can Be One Again”) that would tease the rhythm along. Vocally, his output has been powerful and expressive, and playful with a phrase. I never could “hear an influence” in Tom’s vocals (such as, “he must listen to Dylan a lot”)....not at all. He is unique for my ears. One of the most expressive songs I’ve heard him sing is “Joe’s Birds”. Tom is a valuable band member in the songwriting category---he has always had an inspired personal output, and yet co-composed equally well with other members on songs.
JIM LOWRY is a solid, creative bass player in this group. His musical sense is always surefooted and wise, but tempered with the jazzman’s spontaneity and recognition of the bass as a solo voice in the ensemble as well as its all-important timekeeping role with drums. Besides the electric bass heard on the currently archived Notary Sojac songs, he used string bass in performance and in recording as well. (Jim currently plays guitar in his own studies, an outgrowth of his rich musical vocabulary and understanding of harmony.) He was always like a scholar in his approach to our music...he studied the possibilities of how the bass could enrich the group sound, beyond just defining the root in the course of the chord progression, or merely holding the bottom line. He has an uncanny sense of what the equilibrium of a song is (“how much”, and “when”) and he brilliantly navigated through what I now think of as “rhythm section Vulcan mind-melds” with six vastly different Notary Sojac drummers (from 1969-1974) and sounded secure throughout. When the guitars, flute and organ take off in exploratory directions, Jim knows the landscape and supports and enhances the musical result with his bass. He is an equal collaborator on our song arrangements, as well as in our collective improvisations (listen to “Point of View” solos, and “Crazy Now”).
DOUG NESS had already been an avid fan of our band for a couple of years when he joined us as a young aspiring drummer in 1972. (Interesting fact.....he had auditioned for us in 1970 when we needed a drummer, and we really liked him a lot, but---too young, I guess---we hired another drummer.) By this time he had learned to play some guitar and listened to jazz, blues, rock, classical, folk music and beyond. He was already hip to irregular time signatures and rhythmic variations. So he was a natural for our group. He and Jim are a fabulous rhythm section for Notary Sojac’s varied music and they always communicate well. Doug is an amazing rhythm machine both when supporting the songs and improv sections and when he occasionally gets to solo or play breaks. He rarely plays a “predictable” fill, but seeks out something interesting to surprise the ear or build tension in the musical mix. I love Doug’s drum solos on “Crazy Now”, “Bumpy Road” and “Point of View”, and the band and audience alike seem to get swept up in the exuberant energy he brings to the group’s performances.
BOB KOSKI is a guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and flute player. The sound of his flute in Notary Sojac’s instrumental texture is a real highlight, sometimes blending with guitars and organ in harmony, and at other times flying high and wild in a playful line of notes. Bob’s soulful, jazz-inspired flute doesn’t follow any single influence I ever heard, but seems to be an extension of his scat-singing...or at least from the same “source”: sonic shapes, bubbly, loopy and syncopated, always developing the mood and/or accenting the musical context. An example can be heard in “Point of View” where, after an inspired solo flute-flight, Bob trades improvised phrases with bass and drums in a 3-way “conversation”. After Doug’s drum breaks, Bob answers back the same rhythmic phrases, melodically. You can tell how much he listens to his collaborators, and gives momentum to the flow of ideas. For a purely jazzy spin on flute, hear “Summit Soul”. Bob uses “signature” (uniquely identifiable) melodic riffs in his solos on certain tunes (“Point of View”, “Summit Soul”, “What Are You Gonna Do”) but always develops new ideas around them. His guitar styles are varied from song to song, but I find his most distinct soloing to be soulful, slithery and spontaneous...even quirky at times. But he gets some of that same “sonic shape” sound on guitar as he does on flute solos. Bob’s songwriting and vocals form an important facet of our group sound, from soulful rock to swing/scat outings.
WILL HEROLD , on keyboards (Hammond organ, electric piano... even accordion!?) , vocals and songwriting, builds up our ensemble sound beautifully with his tasty harmony work, a whole palette of organ tones and effects. Then there are his inventive improvisations that both carry the spirit of the music and leave us scratching our heads....”How does he DO that?” Rhythmically, Will is an awesome musician, and whether doing subtle keyboard punctuations or launching into one of his total roller-coaster rides during a solo (hear “Feel It In Your Heart” and “Carolina”) , he adds a delightful sauce to a guitar-heavy texture in Notary Sojac. I also love his vocals on several of my songs (“She Walked Out the Back Door” and “No Groceries Blues”) and admire his ability to pick up an accordion to add the perfect “Roger Ramjet”/”All Skate!” touch on “Along the Way”.
STEVE KOSKI is the other guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and sometimes pedal steel guitarist....I’ll try to describe myself with an honest eye and ear. I’m not a confident vocalist, so I don’t sing solo much. I’m good at harmonizing, so usually I can be heard as a support singer. My strengths in this group are probably as a good collaborator on musical ideas and arrangements, as a complimentary guitar-fill geek (connecting song sections with riffs and runs) and as an improvisor. My solos tend to be more built up out of jazz-flavored patterns; I study a lot of jazz theory and harmony, so it shows up in my soloing “vocabulary” on guitar. But I’m also inspired by Bob’s “sonic shapes” playfulness and some of that comes in. I often try to develop my solos out of links of ideas that are clever/unexpected, or build tension with rhythmic insistence. All of us in the group do that at times, truthfully, but I’m very preoccupied with that approach. My best playing probably occurs when I’m not trying so hard, and I just let the lines flow out.
One important aspect of our music, that I believe sets us apart from our contemporaries in the early 1970’s is the “conversational” interplay that happens among the guitars, flute and organ, and even the bass and drums. That’s the spirit of this group, and certainly the substance of those musical episodes we call “Zoid”. The group hopes to someday release an album of our archived Zoidal music.