Blue-Eyed Soul By The California Poppy Pickers

If you’re lucky, and you haunt your local dollar bins long enough, you’ll still find albums on the Alshire label. But the best ones are getting harder and harder to find. You’ll still come across the odd 101 Strings album, provided it doesn’t have hot models in skimpy sixties getups on the cover — most of those were snapped up and shipped overseas long ago. But you’ll almost never find records by the Animated Egg, Doctor Marigold’s Prescription or John Bunyan’s Progressive Pilgrims. You also won’t find too many albums by the subject of this week’s featured fetish, the California Poppy Pickers.

One of several fake studio groups commissioned by Alshire boss Al Sherman and masterminded by producer Gary S. Paxton, the California Poppy Pickers seems to be intended to take advantage of the then-embryonic “country-rock” trend. Employing a bare bones production approach - no psychedelic touches, elaborate orchestrations or any other astro sounds — a faceless group of paid-by-the-hour musicians crank out by-numbers version of the hits of the day. But the album never descends to the dreadful level of similar projects on such labels as Crown, Custom or Design. For one thing, the mastering and pressing aren’t nearly as terrible. And though there are undistinguished filler original compositions, they are actually performed by the band and not by some guy playing solo calliope or something.

There is plenty of talent spread around on this album as well. Gary S.Paxton’s career highlights includes “Alley Oop” and “The Monster Mash,” as well as distinguished work with both Tommy Roe and The Association. His assembled stable of musicians includes both guitarist Clarence White, future Burrito Gram Parsons, and Elvis’ bass player Jerry Scheff (any of whom — or none of which — might be on this album). CPP’s leader Dennis Payne also went on to enjoy a successful career in the country & western field. Even better, since Paxton went on to became somewhat unhinged, this album rises to the level of bona-fide oddball classic.

While certain collectors will charge top dollar for the three California Poppy Pickers albums, I seek out instead the bins in back of shops asking top dollar for vinyl copies of “Thick As A Brick.” Since this album has no mod chicks in go-go dresses on the cover, I easily scored it for a dollar. As for the rest, all I can say is thank heaven for the blogosphere.

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