Sunday, September 2, 2007

the Prophet Omega

one of the most enigmatic fringe figures in Nashville’s musical history has to be the prophet omega. he was a radio evangelist who broadcast from his own apartment, “Apt. Q258 at 488 Lamont Drive,” a place he called the “Peaceway Temple”. I first found out about him through my friend Al Kooper* who gave me 45 minutes worth of the Prophet's sermons and ad-lib commercials for the Shipp Moving Company and J&B Boutique.
I loved every word of it. the sound of his voice!
no one knows for certain when the broadcasts were made, most people estimate the 70's. if I could travel back in time, I would be in the front row of apartment Q258.
as the mr. music head tour of 1989 began I brought the Prophet tape with me. each morning when Rick Fox, Mike Hodges and I would start up our rent-a-van for the next city, we would put on the Prophet. eventually I knew every word and could do a pretty good imitation.
little did we know the same was happening in tour buses all around the U.S. supposedly the Rolling Stones were fans, as well as Bob Dylan, and Melissa Etheridge. in fact the Prophet Omega tape was the smash hit of the rock band tour bus circuit!

In their 2000 documentary Friends Seen and Unseen, Demetria Kalodimos and Kathy Conkwright unmasked the Prophet as the late Omega Townsend, a former carny who became a fixture on the “prophet circuit” offering advice, readings and lucky numbers to the spiritually curious. by the end of their film he has fittingly become an ice cream vendor, spreading joy through the neighborhood from the window of an ice cream truck. the most poignant moment of the film for me was when demetria and kathy played my song I am what I am for his 20-something son and daughter. they cried at hearing his voice again. happy tears I think.

I have used snippets of the Prophet's voice in 3 songs now: I am what I am from young lions, I know what I know and that is all I know and I know it from coming attractions, and troubles from side three.
the trick has been the timing of each phrase, which needs to fall rhythmically just as a singer's phrases would. it's never been a problem though since the Prophet is very close in delivery to a bluesman or even a James Brown-type soul singer. of the many singers I've worked with, no one's voice intrigues and beguiles me quite like the Prophet Omega's.

amen, ain't that right about it!

*any self-proclaimed music lover should know Al's contributions to the music of Bob Dylan, (organ on like a rolling stone) the Stones (french horn on you can't always get what you want), the bands he started Blues Project and Blood Sweat, and Tears, his studio work with Hendrix, Cream, The Who, B.B. King, Ray Charles, George Harrison, etc. his discovery and production of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and so many other historic musical moments. Al is a dear friend, a gifted musician, ranconteur, musicologist, and one funny guy. this year he was given the Les Paul Award.

14 comments:

  1. I'd love to know how Al Kooper found/got himself in all of those sitations with all of those artists. With all he's done, I won't even hold against him, his discovery and furthering of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
    Was Al a fellow Nashvillian?
    What really made I Am What I Am more than a guitar wanking song was the arrangement. The bass sounding almost jazzish/fretless and the drums offering a third worldly sounding rhythym. This offers a great counter-point to the wall o' guitar sound and makes it all work. Then, Prophet Omega's phrases paint wonderfully tumultous(sp?) pictures delivered in a matter of factly manner. To me, this is what makes Prophet Omega so unique. He's able to simply state an idea that creates a fully formed picture and makes his point directly. It all works!

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  2. Welcome back, your blogness!

    It IS wonderful to have you back on the blogwaves.....missed you terribly :-(

    Regarding the incredible Prophet Omega - do you know of any other artists who have used the Prophet's voice as you have done, so beautifully? And do you have any idea when he passed away?
    You have certainly given his family a lovely keepsake by immortalizing the Prophet Omega's voice for eternity.....

    Oh, and any word on a possible release date for Side 4?
    What do we want?
    SIDE 4 LIVE! SIDE 4 LIVE! SIDE 4 LIVE! SIDE 4 LIVE! SIDE 4 LIVE!
    When do we want it?
    NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW!
    - please Mr. Belew, we've been very good...... ;-)
    Wendy
    ooXXoo

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  3. "Some of you in such bad a luck, now, if you was to sit down by, amen, by a pond, somethin' would come up and stick ya."

    Even at their greatest heights, the Beatles/Dylan/etc. had nothing on that.

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  4. hair breakin' out, bald headed...
    it's the same thing...
    you are what you believe you are...

    ... oh, yes ...

    stretch out!...

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  5. Just out of curiosity, did you ever make arrangements to pay for the use of his voice? I think I remember reading an interview from around the time that Young Lions came out where you said you didn't know the whereabouts of the Prophet and you owed him some royalties. Sounds like his children are still alive and kicking...just curious how that all worked out.

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  6. great post---also----another great-
    guitarist-MIKE BLOOMFIELD-for those in search of "old music"-to listen to----kooper/bloomfield double album--and the SUPER SESSION
    album--with steven stills-check out the drum sound//swirly-leslie
    inagaddadavita thingy on last song
    on super session--ade--eric flipped the first time he heard it-
    but al's story of gettin on dylan album-is great--he was at the seesion-was supposed to help BLOOMFIELD--as a second guitar--bob-wanted a different sound--asked al--can you play that organ?-
    al faked it asked where they were goin--key wise--and was actually-a step behind the rest of band-but bob loved it--next thing--al was in the band/bloomfield also--playin that E-LECTRIC-STUFF--and the rest--well--like you've stated
    great stuff--i don't know this omega guy from anything else--but your recordings---sidefour--sidefour i know i'm a pain--love----gary --sorry i gotta leave work-

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  7. Love the Omega Man.
    also love Al Kooper. He produced one of my all time fave albums- The Tubes. Big sound, thoughtful, worldly, and funny. Kinda like you adrian!

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  8. "Friends seen and unseen, I greet you with the holy word Peace..."

    I've also heard the Prophet on some Critter's Buggin song. Sorry I can't remember the title right now.

    I love "I am What I am" and so does Popeye!

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  9. Boy, things sure are quiet here.
    Sometimes the crickets are nice.
    A late summer field, of sorts.

    Picked up the Young Lions lp and have to say how cool it is that it was printed on recycled paper, in 1990?
    You're/were way ahead of 'tings.
    The color is awesome.
    Not white, nor pink, I duno.

    ... stretch out.

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  10. the prophet omega is on the critters buggin song shag.

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  11. big fan. digging through the stacks and re-discovering young lions. prophet omega is amazing and inspirational. i'll be sourcing out more in the near future. thanks adrian.

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  12. You can also hear snippets of Omega on Kaiser-Mansfield Blues CD from the 90's
    "Slow Burn" and "Trimmed and Burnin' Cd's"
    http://www.grrrrecords.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&Product_ID=14

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  13. Brilliant track, inspired!

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