Music News

Ya Ho Wha 13 and Mergence: The Strange Psychedelic Music of the Source Family Cult

In this week's issue, we featured a story about Mergence, a Phoenix band that knows a thing or two about "weird." We knew the group was out there -- just check out singer Adam Bruce's explanation of "Me and My Family Vs. The Robots" -- but when guitarist Yod Paul shared with us that he was born into the infamous Source Family commune/cult (his words, mind you), our minds were blown.

Founded by Father Yod (who was born James Edward Baker in Cincinnati), the Source Family was a California-based commune, united by Yod's strange blend of Western esotericism, beatnik ideals, an organic vegetarian diet, and wild, improvised psychedelic rock.

Father Yod and the members of the commune opened a restaurant on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, The Source Restaurant, where Yod sold privately pressed LPs by Yo Ho Wha 13, the musical arm of his religion.

"I was born at the end of The Source Family. You can Google a lot of crazy shit about it," Yod Paul says. "Some of it is true; some is not."

The tales are wild and varying, but in an excellent L.A. Weekly article, Doug Harvey states that when Father Yod died in a hang-gliding accident in 1975 (having never hang-glided before), he was survived by "his 13 wives and 140 or so sons and daughters."

Yod Paul was one of those sons. He was only a 6-month-old when Father Yod passed, and was adopted and raised by another Source Family member.

These days, former members of the Family are still keeping the teachings of Father Yod alive. As for the records? Original pressings have become highly sought after. Drag City has re-issued a ton of material from the group, making the bizarre, often sublime sounds available. Members of the original Ya Ho Wha 13 group have reunited for more recordings, bolstered by acclaim from Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins and the late Sky Saxon of The Seeds.

Though he was too young to participate in the jam sessions (Father Yod insisted on wholly improvised music on many Ya Ho Wha 13 records), Yod's psychedelic guitar playing bears the mark of his unusual musical heritage. Mergence is a pop and rock band, no doubt, but listening to the guitar-work featured on the group's debut, Those Vibrant Young People are Dead, you can still hear faint echoes of the Source Family's mysticism.

Mergence is scheduled to perform Saturday, August 27, at Foundry on First.

Yo Ho Wha 13:


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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.