Once upon a time there was a band named after a magical, mythical creature: Unicorn. It disappeared into the mists of time and waited to be found again by those who love the strange and beautiful….
A folk musician gone electric, Stoney Young came west from Detroit at the age of 19 to the golden music mecca of Los Angeles in late 1965 (shortly after the Watts riot) to follow in the footsteps of Dylan, the Beach Boys and the Beatles, to put it all together and realize his vision of a group whose sum was more than that of its individual parts.
He connected with his 16 year old drummer cousin, Lucky Parker of Bell Gardens, Calif., someone influenced by wildly different styles of music, surf and jazz. They met countrified guitarist Richard T. Wyatt, 21 (of Laredo, Tex.), in a drunken stupor at the Whiskey a-Go-Go during a Byrds show. They met up again by chance at a Holiday party and proceeded to jam with Efrem “Stretch” Goldman, 22 (from New York), a fabulous pop and jazz guitarist, and lyrical bassist Tyrone Wilson, 20, son of a Watts deacon, who brought with him an extra shot of the blues, rhythm and blues, jazz and Gospel. Later, in the studio, they picked up classically-oriented pianist and arranger Merlin Stein, 21, a U.C.L.A. student.
Together they developed a repertoire of some 40 songs. They played out their brief year-and-a-half together against the backdrop of events that would shape them, their music and their generation: the “acid tests” of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, the Sunset Strip psychedelic club scene, the Sunset Strip riots of November, 1966 (which radicalized a new generation in the music industry), the San Francisco Bay art rock scene, and the Monterey Pop Festival in June, 1967 which introduced a pantheon of new rock stars and music styles to the world stage. They were also profoundly influenced by the Vietnam War, the Protest Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Space Program, flying saucers, and so much more. They had no way of knowing that these events and issues were to shape them and American culture in the years to come.
Stoney dreamed of recording the ultimate album, one with a overarching metaphor that would synthesize a new world view, a cohesive and artistic work that would tap the collective generational mood of the times and establish Unicorn as the central force in rock. The result was that brilliant Swiss army knife of an album, The Cosmic Storyteller. It takes the listener on a journey through every style of popular song of 1967, experiencing many moods and a succession of ideas that epitomized the epoch and remain relevant today. Despite their genius and magic together, Unicorn imploded from personal differences, exteme behavior and drugs, and record company troubles.
The CD was never released and the master tapes disappeared until recently. After digital remixing and mastering, the album is found more than 30 years later to be chock full of great songs. And that my friends, is a legacy worth noting. Little surprise that a book is being written and a reunion tour is planned. How’s that for cosmic?