Review of California '99
by Mitch Myers, NewCity Chicago
Now where was I? Oh yes, I remember now. I was examining some albums made in the past that were written about the future, which is now.
Today's history lesson is about a little album on the ABC Records label (long since gone -- of course) by Jimmie Haskell called "California '99"
that was prepared during 1971. Haskell was quite a notable arranger in Los Angeles during the sixties but this is the only album that I ever saw
under his own name. A concept album (or rock opera if you prefer), "California '99" told a story (written by Tom Gamache) that was supposed to
begin in 1975 following the fourth wage and price freeze in as many years. After disenfranchising the judicial branch of the government,
financial and political woes force the president to abdicate. In 1980 the "United States declares bankruptcy; all laws are voided and the entire
U.S. is renamed California with higher hopes. All states become countries and all cities become districts." By 1985, insects become the main food
staple of the population and the middle of the country is designated the "Marijuana and Insect Corridor" since all the insects thrive on Cannabis
plants for some reason.
Gamache came close to being prophetic at times but never got things quite right. Within his story line, he predicted that voting at home would
become a reality in 1980 via the visual phone and vote turnout was doubled. Also, the "House Of Non-Representatives" is created by
California's government with the purpose not to legislate, but intimidate. If this all sounds a little convoluted, it is. You have to remember there
was some pretty powerful weed going around in California in 1971 and my bet is that Haskell and Gamache were high as kites when they made
this record. There is plenty of Big Brother innuendo and numerous cheapo pix of faux-future interactions. The whole album package unfolds into
a huge, full-color map of the "reconstituted" United States. It's wild, but let's not forget about the music inside this unusual package.
"California '99" featured lots of guest singers including blues great Jimmy Weatherspoon, Joe Walsh (fresh from the James Gang and later of The
Eagles), Denny Doherty of Mamas and the Papas fame, a group called Big Wanda and the Wombats and supersoul singers of the day, Merry
Clayton and Clydie King. The record was produced by Bill Syzmczyk worked with talented folks like B.B. King, Pharoah Sanders, The Eagles,
John Lee Hooker, J. Geils Band, The Who, Santana, Elvin Bishop and Bob Seeger.
While Mr. Haskell was an undeniably brilliant arranger-conductor, he was not quite the songwriter that this album required. Instead of
contributing an entire album's worth of sub-par material, Haskell mixed his own compositions with Robbie Robertson's "The Night They Drove
Old Dixie Down," which was performed passionately by Jimmy Witherspoon. What this song has to do with the future shock of
America/California is beyond me, but there's certainly some kind of social-political message involved so let's just leave it at that. Joe Walsh's
cameos on songs like "Jessica Stone" and "California Fairy Tale" are only moderately inspired but make the musical aspect of this package a bit
more interesting. In terms of the rock opera syndrome, Haskell also borrows Pete Townsend's "Underture" from 'Tommy' to close out this unusual
All in all, "California '99" is a product of its time and place. Somebody had an idea; someone else had the money, a few people agreed to
contribute and presto! An expensive looking album came out and was promptly forgotten. Hold on a minute, this could have happened in today's
market just as easily. Hmm, I wonder how much I could sell this puppy for on the Internet.