Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Happy Halloween, fellow mortals. The current edition of The Stranger features my second stab at the "Turn You On" column (dig Black Gladiator, circa April), a consideration of the seasonally-appropriate 1969 LP Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls by Coven. This Chicago-based rock act formed in the late 1960s and toured the hippie underground with a wild stage show that incorporated authentic Satanic rituals and a mix of brooding folk and raw psychedelia. Remarkably, they attracted major label attention and eventually earned themselves a hit record.

Do you dare to actually sample these forbidden sounds, harvested via YouTube? Make peace with your god, turn on your speakers and explore this opening track from Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, an extremely moody number that describes its subject in vivid detail:

"Black Sabbath" from Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls
(images from the 1922 film Häxan)

As the legend goes, Mercury Records withdrew Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls from stores after Esquire illustrated an "expose" on countercultural Satanism with a shot of Charles Manson holding Coven's debut LP. Apparently there is such a thing as bad publicity (and anyone with a copy of said storied photo, please speak up).

So Coven pulled up stakes, leaving Chicago for the godless city of Los Angeles to start over. They caught a break when filmmaker Tom Laughlin asked them to cover a song first performed by Canadian pop band the Original Caste. "One Tin Soldier" served as the theme for Laughlin's delirious cult hit Billy Jack, Warner Brothers released the single and the rest is history.

The song charted multiple times and became an enduring favorite of campfire singalongs, AM oldies radio and karaoke bars worldwide. This whimsical animated music video proves what a strange state of affairs this was -- the band that celebrated drinking the blood of children on its first LP eventually found itself marketed directly to America's underagers:

"One Tin Soldier" from Coven

"One Tin Soldier" was also included on Coven's second LP, a self-titled collection of songs for MGM that lightened up considerably on the Satanism. The band switched labels again for their third long player, Blood on the Snow, this time going with Buddha Records, home of artists as diverse as the 1910 Fruitgum Company and Captain Beefheart. While certainly no return to the bluntness of Witchcraft, Blood on the Snow's cover art of a fiddle-sawing Satan proves Coven's collective heart was still in the same place. Check out this suitably disturbing music video for the riff-heavy title track:

"Blood on the Snow" from Blood on the Snow

Blood on the Snow didn't hit the commercial heights of "One Tin Soldier," and Coven retired its hooves shortly thereafter. Lead singer Jinx Dawson remained active in film and music for many years, appearing in Heaven Can Help and entertaining in Hollywood clubs into the 1980s. She recently revived her career by rescuing the impossibly rare Coven LPs from the clutches of bootleggers and eBay speculators, re-releasing them on CD via her independent label Nevoc Music.

Ready to make friends? You can find Jinx Dawson and all the information you need about Coven at one of her three MySpace pages or her CafePress store (which sells Coven discs as well as Satanic t-shirts, wall clocks and tote bags).

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