Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber obviously loved American folk music as much as any of the kids who had their head turned around by Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music in the 1950s, but unlike the many musicians who paid tribute to America’s musical past by trying to re-create it as closely as possible, as The Holy Modal Rounders Stampfel and Weber opted to drag the music into the present, shrieking and giggling all the way. Even by the standards of The Holy Modal Rounders’ first two albums, 1967’s Indian War Whoop is a thoroughly bizarre listening experience; loosely structured around the between-song adventures of two seedy vagabonds named Jimmy and Crash, side one veers back and forth between neo-psychedelic fiddle-and-guitar freakouts and free-form (and often radically altered) interpretations of traditional folk tunes such as “Soldier’s Joy” and “Sweet Apple Cider,” while side two is devoted to like minded originals (including a couple songs from their friend Michael Hurley, who would later join the group). Most certainly a product of its time, Indian War Whoop sounds rather dated today, but its buoyant good humor and chemically-altered enthusiasm remains effective, even when the Rounders’ reckless pursuit of inner space sounds like it was more fun to create than to observe on record.
In the mid- to late ’60s you couldn’t get much further underground in the ever-expanding world of rock music than the Fugs — unless of course you were one of the Holy Modal Rounders, i.e. folk musicians Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber. The Rounders started out in the same early-’60s New York folk and jug scene as Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, and had crossed paths numerous times. Stampfel and Weber will be eternally remembered for “Bird Song,” which was prominently featured in both the movie Easy Rider and its soundtrack. It’s also the opening cut on The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders, an album way beyond anything else considered to be “far out” at the time. Released in 1968 on Elektra, the 13 tracks are highlighted by such otherworldly compositions as “Werewolf,” “My Mind Capsized,” “The STP Song,” and “Half a Mind.” Unabashed in its own eccentricity, this set is similar to their 1967 ESP release Indian War Whoop in that it combines acoustic traditional American folk, blues, and hillbilly music regurgitated by crazed folkie acidheads experimenting with electric instruments. Following the disc’s release, Stampfel said this album reflected producer Frazier Mohawk’s musical taste more so than the band’s. The Modal duo are assisted, in this case, by playwright Sam Shepard on tambourine, Richard Tyler on piano, and John Wesley Annis on bass and drums. As good luck would have it, the Water label unleashed this CD on the public for the first time in 2002 with two previously unreleased bonus tracks. Absolutely essential.
-Mark Deming, Al Campbell, allmusic.com