Black Sun Rising
Every town of any size that aspires to be a repository of great contributions to the canon of rock and roll has its share of legends-in-the-making that are neglected by local audiences but adored by cognoscenti the world over. It's sort of the "Big in Japan" syndrome writ small. Of course, Tucson is no exception. There exists quite an array of criminally neglected talent, from Howe Gelb (who is perhaps a bit on the ubiquitous side on occasion and thereby fails to command the audience he would in, say, San Francisco) to expatriate Tucson rocker Al Perry, who split the confines of the dusty desert for San Francisco last year. But the blindness of provincialism is perhaps best exemplified by the story of the Black Sun Ensemble and the troubled genius with the ever-changing moniker, Jesus Acedo (aka Psycho Master El, Prince Master Blaster, Dadagaga, etc.). The Ensemble is well known to psychedelic music fans the world over. England's Reckless Records put out early albums such as Lambent Flame (1989), the band currently resides on Australia's psych-clearinghouse label Camera Obscura (via Tucson-based San Jacinto Records), and no less an authority on all musical idioms (and American indie psychedelia in particular) than Forced Exposure magazine guru Byron Coley was moved enough by the music of Black Sun to write the liner notes for February's quasi-re-release of BSE's first self-titled album. So there's no doubt as to the overall cultural import of the Ensemble, but the conundrum remains: Acedo's following in his hometown leaves a good deal to be desired. A significant part of the problem is Acedo's well-known history of mental health difficulties and the concomitant strain they put on his recording career. This was epitomized when Acedo, convinced that the devil had been behind the recording of the album that was originally titled Psycho Master El (San Jacinto, 1993, as Black Sun Legion), burned all his copies of the newly released CD and anything associated with it. He likened himself to a remote-control dune buggy that was fueled by Satan (and, despite the somewhat appealing sound of that metaphor, this was not a good thing). If in doubt about his mental state at the time, one had to look no further than the acknowledgements in that album's liner notes, which now seem more comical than they in fact were: Kino Hospital Mental Ward, Pima County Jail Pod G, Santa Rosa Housing Projects, Our Lady of Fatima, heavy-duty meds benzotropine and klonopin, '80s porn mavens such as Seka and Angela Baron, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger and family (although there remains some doubt as to the extent of the Terminator's fandom). The sad truth was that Dadagaga was in meltdown and the future of his music was in serious jeopardy. Thus a six-year lull in Acedo's output ensued. After sundry treatments that made him somewhat more stable, he caught a break when San Jacinto Records honcho Rich Hopkins completely revamped the flawed Psycho Master El sessions, removing some vocal tracks recorded by former BSE collaborator Odin Helginson, eliminating some of the murk that plagued the overall sound of that release, and adding some newer recordings (the brilliant album-opening epic "Sky Pilot Suite" and rarity single "Staying Power"). He thereby turned the abortive Psycho Master El album into something quite different and considerably better, licensing it to Camera Obscura under the San Jacinto imprint as Sky Pilot. The result more aptly showcases Acedo's largely self-taught guitar work, and you can more easily hear the brilliance of his playing and the influence of his personal guitar heroes--Hendrix and Page, of course, but also John McLauglin and Opal. Since then, Acedo has played the occasional show around town (touring being somewhat out of the question), performing with backing by fellow psychedelia purveyors Sun Zoom Spark, among others. This February saw the aforementioned re-release of the self-titled debut on Camera Obscura with Coley's liner notes. As the esteemed writer/collector put it, the album is a timeless gem: "Impossible to place either spatially or temporally (I defy anyone to name this album's regional origin or year of recording in a blindfold test), the music here still sounds as gorgeous to me as it did when I first stumbled across it. The magnificent weight of Jesus' guitar work is always a surprise." The re-release differs from the original (rumored to fetch over $100 on Ebay) in a significant respect: Two songs on the masters had been damaged beyond repair and were not included, but when Hopkins went back through the tapes from the 1985 Black Sun Ensemble, he found two forgotten gems ("Emerald Eye 2" and "Bleeding Heart") to replace the damaged originals. So why should you, Jane or Joe Music Fan, give the proverbial ass of the rat? For one, Jesus Acedo's virtuosity as a guitar player is worth checking out no matter what your feelings on the aesthetic value of the music itself. If you're a fan of drug-damaged psychedelia (like Ahhnold apparently is), BSE is quite clearly the real deal. And although this may smack of the let's-go-see-the-trainwreck sensibility, there is little doubt that Acedo's somewhat, shall we say, warped sensibilities make for an interesting show, to say the least, whether or not he shows up with the blow-up doll he used to tote around town. So if the foregoing is not enough to entice you, my supposition is that you're a stick in the mud, a bump on a log, or some kind of dullard. Remedy this immediately! Expand your horizons. Appreciate something rough-hewn and beautiful while you have the chance, for you'll never know if it was your last before it's too late and it's gone.