Music Writing by Carson Arnold


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RAINBOW SPLASH (An Interview with Essra Mohawk)


And then there was Essra Mohawk. The warm violet of the sixties tulip and the azure nova of exploding sensation that has been softly spiraling into our hearts since her love-oasis in the exotic eclipse of Primordial Lovers (Reprise). A transparent dream-breath into the fantasia of psychedelia and its sweet-sonic-seduction alive. Before this spell in 1970, Essra was a somewhat young, lucent prodigy; her songs recorded by the pop-flash of the Vanilla Fudge and the Shangri-Las all soon to being eventually discovered by Frank Zappa where she immediately joined his mad abduction with the frontier Mothers Of Invention, unleashing her debut Sandy's Album Is Here At Last (Verve). "I am the breeze, I can go anywhere", she coolly sings off Primordial Lovers, and like the bay of this lyric, Essra is a free songbird of her own blessed wind and independent voice blowing where the dunes of passion may roam. Forever therein, she's released several quintessential albums including the 1976 blush-lagoon Essra (Private Stock Records), and has opened for many limelight acts including Jimi Hendrix and Cream, floating with her fever-lolli piano collaborating with Jerry Garcia and later scoring numbers for Cyndi Lauper and Tina Turner. A seemingly silent icon, her odd, high altering voice is a wild ray among the great plume and opal of most singers of yesterday and today.


(This interview was recorded by email between the early and late hours of the 8th and the 15th of April, 2003).



CA: Is your real name Sandy Hurvitz?


EM: That's the name I grew up with. The full name I was born with was Sandra Elayne Hurvitz. So many girls were called Sandy when I was growing up.  Once while waiting to see the nurse at school, they called for Sandy to come in. About four of us Sandys looked around and figured they meant one of the other three, so no one responded. Then my brother married a girl named Sandy and she became Sandy Hurvitz. I had to go look for another name. In truth, it happened quite naturally. "Essra" grew out of a nick name my roommate called me: "Essie" for the letter "S", my initial, at least 'initially'. Now it's "E", of course.


CA: I got it...You broke out onto the scene pretty quick where the Shangri-Las would be soon playing your songs.


EM: When I was 17, producer Joe Wissert brought me to New York to sign me as a staff writer with a publishing company in the Brill Bldg. Instead I met up with someone who introduced me to Shadow Morton who produced both the Shangri-La's and Vanilla Fudge. He was knocked out by my music and recorded my songs with both artists.


CA: And did you you like the way Vanilla Fudge and the Shangri-Las played your songs?


EM: Yes. They didn't stray very far from how I did it. Especially the Shangri-Las. It took me 31 years, BTW, to get credit for "The Spell That Comes After" recorded by the Vanilla Fudge in '68 on their Renaissance  album. Naturally, I never got paid. The Vanilla Fudge, well actually Mark Stein, their organ player, stole another song of mine called "Where is My Mind" and put it out as their first 'original'[LOL] single without giving me any credit. I only found out about it a few years ago. They kept the beginning the same and changed the rest of the song. If you listen you can tell because it starts out great and then deteriorates after that. Mark should've stolen the whole song!


CA: No way, have you found it hard over the years to receive the proper credit 'cuz of your void of promotion, backing, etc?


EM: I think they're really separate issues. Someone recording my song and not paying me or giving me credit has nothing to do with getting no promotion or distribution from my label. Besides, the VF {Vanilla Fudge} cover occurred before my first album deal. They're just two different strokes of bad luck. Fortunately, my luck has taken a turn for the better since then.


CA: I have noticed. So were your songs then similar to how you sounded on Primordial Lovers, even after you met up with Zappa and the whole lot?


EM: My songs have always been different from each other. I always look for something fresh. That's how I've stayed passionately interested in creating new music all these years. The songs on Primordial Lovers grow very naturally out of the songs (many of which were already written before I met Zappa) on my first album.


CA: And you met Zappa...


EM: I ran into him on Bleeker St. I had just turned 19 and was visiting New York with two girls from L.A. Frank invited us all in to see his show for free. We became friends and it wasn't long before he had an opportunity to hear me play my music. He asked me join the Mothers right on the spot!


CA: Good deal, and The Mothers are quite a gang.


EM: Once we all went to stay at Timothy Leary's farm, Millbrook, for a couple days. The Mothers were a great bunch to hang out and cut up with! I sang backgrounds and some lead with them. We performed one of my songs, "Archgodliness of Purpleful Magic" every night at the Garrick Theatre on Bleeker St in the Village. We recorded the song but we never finished. There are more details to the story in a book that came out recently by Bruce Pollock called Working Musicians. Check it out at: 


CA: And what was your impression of Leary then?


EM: I think very 'highly' of Timothy Leary. He was a brilliant and courageous pioneer who had the misfortune of living in a repressed society (when it comes to mind expansion, that is. There are no restraints when it comes to sex and violence or legal drugs that dull the brain and shorten life such as alcohol and killer nicotine). Things are still bassackwards.


CA: Was Ken Kesey around there at that point?


EM: No. But I was in his bus once.


CA: Ever know Wild Man Fischer?


EM: Yes.


CA: Right...It's weird, Primordial Lovers received big reviews, you know, but not a lot of people listened to it. The record was never a commercial success.


EM: It wasn't available in stores. People couldn't buy it if they wanted to. In Philadelphia, WMMR DJ Michael Tearson was receiving so many requests for the album that he had to personally call Reprise and demand that they stock the stores in Philly. It's as though they didn't want me to sell records. I guess I was a tax write-off. The combination of poor distribution, next to no promotion, poor management and no tour...well, you get the picture......The amazing thing is Warners has reissued it on CD via RhinoHandmade! So it's available again at  All my albums since then (or at least many of them) are available at my website:


CA: And you were still able to attract an audience as well.


EM: Yes.


CA: Have people really latched on to you since? In other words, do you feel that you've found a audience?


EM: Yes. One that keeps growing. There's so many ways to find me because I've been involved on so many projects as a songwriter and as a vocalist. Some people find me through Schoolhouse Rock, some because I sang with Jerry Garcia and others found me through Zappa. Then there are those who first heard me on "Primordial Lovers". All of these connections and threads are easier to follow since the advent of the internet and the world wide web. (The same way you found me:-)


CA: Now is it true Primordial Lovers was going to be all in black?


EM: No. I never heard that one myself. Actually it was supposed to be much lighter with only one set of bodies wrapping around the jacket and full color superimposition of the sky and earth with the horizon concurring with the line where the two bodies meet, hence "Primordial Lovers", but the label fell in love with that dark photo and didn't follow through on the rest of the concept, rendering it the "Invisible Album" or as one friend of mine put it, "so subtle it ain't"


CA: I've always wondered whose body that is on the cover.


EM: You mean "bodies". They're mine and Mr. Mohawk's.


CA: Oh, Frazier, of course...What's the story behind Frazier? How did you meet him?


EM: He and Paul Rothchild were friends and staff producers at Elektra. I  met them both at the Tin Angel, a hip restaurant across the street from where I played with the Mothers in the Village. Then a year or two later he and  Paul Rothchild contacted me to ask me to join a superband they were putting together, Rhinoceros, but my manager wouldn't let me join the band. I really wanted to. Nevertheless, Frazier and I stayed in touch and after I  signed with Reprise, he ended up producing Primordial Lovers. In the middle of the album, we fell in love and ran off to get married in Vegas.


CA: Very wild. It would have been amazing if you were in Rhinoceros!...Also, Primordial Lovers seems real golden, you know. Are you pleased with your recordings since?


EM: I can't group them all together like that. Since the mid-80's I've been an independent artist which gives me more control over the production of my music, like I had for Primordial Lovers along with a very artist friendly producer, Frazier Mohawk. I really liked the album on Elektra that followed Primordial Lovers.  It was released in '74. I'm not that fond of the one after that. The arranger never even consulted with me. I like all of the albums I've recorded since that one. I feel as though each one is a little better than the one before it. After all, you learn a little more each time so the albums should get better and better. Also, my singing voice has continued to strengthen and improve over the years, so that's another important factor.


CA: Right. And what have people said about your voice over the years? 


{Essra attaches a page of press blurbs and asks me to pick a few}......L.A. Weekly: "What's truly amazing about her is that voice...the only singer she sounds like is herself." - Michael Simmons (Feb. 2000).....Rolling Stone: "..thrilling vocal sensuality." - David Fricke (Dec.2000)....LAUNCH: "Breathtaking...caressing notes with a silky and sultry agility ...SOARS TO LEVELS THAT HAVE RARELY BEEN REACHED, BEFORE OR AFTER"


CA: Rock on. And the material you're working on now is...


EM: All kinds. From rock'n'roll, r&b, roots and acoustic to new age and hip hop. Even country. We're just finishing up a blues album. And now this is a real scoop: A record deal is being inked in the next week or so. I'll give you the details once ink touches paper!



--Carson Arnold - April 27, 2003

copyright 2003 Carson Arnold

Other Interviews ~



AFTER THE REHEARSAL (A Scott Rosenberg Interview)

MIDNIGHT ANGEL (An Interview With Joshua)

Calling Dudley Laufman (An Interview)

Sunday At One-Thirty ~ An Interview with Peter Siegel

Monday High Noon - An Interview with Dredd Foole


H(ear) Reviews and Essays

H(ear) is an online music column consisting of interviews, articles, and investigations written by Carson Arnold. As a freelance writer for various magazines and liner notes, living in the woods of Vermont with his family, Carson widely encourages one to submit their art, writing or any interesting piece of material that you would like to share. H(ear) is accepting both promos and demos for review or any other valuable music-related subjects. If you wish to make a comment or would like to receive H(ear) weekly by email please contact Carson at [email protected]

Thanks and enjoy!


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