Underground legend Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010) was always the oldest man in rock and roll, co-founding the Fugs in the winter of 1964-1965 when he was already in his early 40s. Being twice the age of Dylan, Reed, Jagger, et. al, never stopped Tuli from consistently being more outrageous. Latter-day bohemian torch-bearer Jeffrey Lewis befriended Tuli in the early 2000s, and has personally organized “Tuli-day” memorial tribute concerts every year since Tuli’s passing. This album documents some of the finer fruits of Jeffrey’s tribute arrangements, drawing from a four-decade range of Tuli’s various creative voices, from poignant 60s classics (“Morning Morning”) to never-recorded lyrics (“Listen to the Mockingbird”), poems set to music (“The And Song”), works that Tuli called parasongs (“I Wanna Hold Your Foot”) and later-period Fugs gems (“Try to Be Joyful”). Across the board Jeffrey Lewis directs a co-ed band of wild and wooly cohorts, including original Fugs member Peter Stampfel, to bring the same surprising interpretive life to these covers as he brought to his critically-acclaimed “12 Crass Songs” album. Whether or not you’re a Fugs fan or a Jeffrey Lewis fan, “Works by Tuli Kupferberg” is a rollicking, laughing, tear-jerking, psychedelic ride through a hidden history of New York City folk-punk sub-genius. Recorded in the free-wheeling spirit of the original 1965 Fugs recordings, this is an album fifty years in the making.
Released April 13, 2018, on Don Giovanni Records
Jeffrey Lewis = guitar, vocal, keyboard, melodica, and producing
Brian Speaker = electric lead guitar, and engineering/recording
Steve Espinola = piano, electric tennis racket, vocal
Peter Stampfel = fiddle, vocal
Mem Pahl = bass, vocal
Brent Cole = drums, vocal
Heather Wagner = drums, vocal
Spencer Chakedis = mandolin, vocal
Rebecca Tilles = bass, vocal
Rachel Swaner = melodica, vocal
Julie LaMendola = vocal
Leslie Graves = vocal
“Anti-folk vet Jeffrey Lewis delivers wild and passionate renditions of songs from one of New York’s most underappreciated musical figures.” ******* – The Needle Drop (full spoken review footage here)
“Lewis, who grew up in New York’s lower east side, has had a long fascination with The Beats and New York’s underground scenes. A skilled comic book artist he wrote and drew a biography of Kupferberg and has collaborated on several occasions with Peter Stampfel, ex-Holy Modal Rounder and occasional member of the Fugs. The Deposit Returners meanwhile are Lewis and pianist Steve Espinola’s Kupferberg covers band who have been playing occasionally since Tuli’s death in 2010 with a revolving cast of characters participating, and who, at last, have committed some of their covers to disc with the added bonus of having Stampfel, who played on some of the originals 50 years ago, on board. Their selection includes early Fugs songs, some from their later band reformations in the eighties and some of Kupferberg’s poems and readings set to music by Lewis and Espinola. As befits their subject there is much chanting, some swearing, some flights of fancy and some sweet and mystical poetry. It’s loose and slightly shambolic at times while there are also some moments of tender and fractured beauty especially on Life Is Strange which the band here reclaim from the efforts of Reprise, The Fugs’ then-record label’s attempt to turn them into a straightforward rock band.
The proto-punk folk sound of mid 60s Fugs is captured on the opening What Are You Going To Do After The Orgy despite the fact that no recording exists of the original (besides a home-demo tape was sent to Lewis on which Kupferberg sings this song a capella). I Want To Hold Your Foot, culled from Kupferberg’s 1973 Listen to the Mockingbird songbook, is set to The Beatles’ I Want To Hold Your Hand melody (with a truly inspired joke regarding the bridge included) while the late period Try To Be Joyful owes much to Jimmy Cliff’s you Can Get It If You Really Want as performed by The Velvet Underground. Meanwhile there’s much musical mayhem on the frenzied This Is A Hit Song (“This is a hit song gonna make me rich, why don’t you buy it you son of a bitch”) with Stampfel’s singular voice used to good effect and Kupferberg’s preference for fuggin’ rather than fightin’ along with his use of Jewish chanting is expressed excellently on Not Enough Loving.
Despite their reputation for musical anarchy Kupferberg and The Fugs were capable of delivering tender, melodic and moving songs and several are featured here with the band playing in a psychedelic folk style reminiscent of Pearls Before Swine. Morning Morning is the best known here but The And Song, sung here excellently by Lewis and the backing singers (who are excellent throughout), is a moving testament to Kupferberg with the following I Was Much Mistaken showing that he had a masterful way with words as he looks back on younger days. With 15 selections here, all of them with merit, it’s Carpe Diem (from the first Fugs album in 1965) which stands out as Lewis & The Deposit Returners turn in a masterful version with fantastic female harmonies and Stampfel wailing away across their voices as the band lay down a mystical frug.
he absence of Nothing (a personal favourite) is no hindrance to the sheer pleasure this album should offer to those who cherish Tuli Kupferberg (they mention a possible second volume in the notes so maybe then). It’s a grand salute to a man who, with The Fugs, exorcised The Pentagon in 1968 (and caused it to levitate – true story).” – Folk Radio UK