Paul ‘Ollie‘ Halsall, as previously noted, was one of the rare rock musicians to utilize the vibraphone – an instrument that is often confined to jazz and 1960s pop and northern soul, sadly. The vibes, when placed in the right context, can add such gorgeous tonal color to a song, as demonstrated on Jimi Hendrix’s dreamy ballad, “Drifting” (as played by Buzzy Linhart, who had been given exactly one hour to learn and execute his complex part) – or on the mysterious and foreboding intro to “Monkey Man” by The Rolling Stones (as deftly played by bassist Bill Wyman) just to name two prominent examples. Perhaps the vibraphone is ripe for rediscovery by the next generation of popsters?
A number of years back, my life had been inadvertently saved when I hastily tried to sell back a bootleg compilation of psychedelic 45s burned to compact disc. Fortunately, Baltimore’s Sound Garden music store refused to take The Psychedelic Experience Volume 1, thus forcing me to re-evaluate the contents of this collection. Somehow I had overlooked the second track on the disk — “Space Walk” by The Astros:
The Astros (1965)
This arresting instrumental immediately grabs the listener with an intoxicating sound that is achieved in no small part by the unlikely use of the vibraphone. How on Earth did this tune escape my attention the first time around?
Even though Billboard predicted that this single to reach the Hot 100, “Space Walk” ultimately appears not to have charted at all. Most interestingly, this forward-looking piece of pop was released in June 1965 (just three months after cosmonaut, Alexey Leonov, became the first human to walk in outer space), thus anticipating to some degree the psychedelic sound that would follow one to two years later. Could this be among the first “psychedelic” recordings? Tantalizingly little appears to be known about this recording otherwise.
Many thanks to Office Naps for singing the praises of label owner, Leo de gar Kulka, the unacknowledged star of the song and whose engineering prowess at Golden State — one of Northern California’s largest studios at the time — would help pioneer “the San Francisco sound” of such artists as Sly & the Family Stone, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Charlatans, Sons of Champlin, The (pre-Dead) Warlocks, and many others.
LINK to Vibraphone Instrumentals on Zero to 180