They worked with Hendrix and influenced Stereolab and Portishead. John Lennon was a fan. So why did the kings of the hippy oscillator disappear, in 1969, on the brink of stardom?
At the start of 1969, Silver Apples had the world at their feet. The New York duo of Simeon Coxe and Danny Taylor had released a pioneering debut album, collaborated with Jimi Hendrix and played Central Park to tens of thousands of people. Their second LP was due imminently. Yet weeks later, the album was pulled, they were banned from performing and found themselves ousted and ostracised from the music industry.
“It ruined us,” recalls Coxe, now 80, from his Alabama home. “It was heartbreaking.”
To understand just what happened involves taking a trip right back to the beginning. Before Silver Apples, Coxe and Taylor had both been members of another rock group, the Overland Stage Electric Band, but when Coxe incorporated the sounds of an oscillator into what they were playing, it didn’t go down well with bandmates. “They hated it,” says Coxe. “When the venue manager said we should play more oscillator it pissed them all off so much they quit. Except Danny.”
Their manager Barry Bryant loaned them his loft space and they locked themselves away for months, fiddling with bits of semi-broken electrical equipment. They combined the unpredictable bleeps produced with Taylor’s deeply hypnotic, looping drumbeats and Coxe’s fragile vocals. The result was an innovative blend of psychedelic-tinged electronic rock.
Without realising, Coxe had built his own eccentric synthesiser. This idiosyncratic set-up soon mutated into a machine nicknamed “the Simeon”, which grew to consist of nine audio oscillators with 86 manual controls – including telegraph keys – to control lead, rhythm and bass pulses with the user’s hands, feet and elbows. It also included radio parts, lab gear and a variety of secondhand electrical items. “I had heard the word synthesiser, but I had no idea what it was,” Coxe says. “We were dirt poor and used what we had, which was often discarded world war two gear.” Coxe’s creation was so outlandish that Moog creator Robert Moog came to the studio one day to investigate.