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Elvin Jones: Gunslinger


In 1971, the film Zachariah was released. I had never heard of it until last night, but it seems to be a weirdo western starring Don Johnson, Dick Van Patten, Country Joe and the Fish, Joe Walsh, Patricia Quinn, Doug Kershaw, and the great drummer Elvin Jones. In this scene, Elvin Jones wears a groovy vest, kills a man in a gunfight, and then plays a long drum solo.

After seeing this, I went straight to my Netflix queue. Good? No it certainly doesn’t seem so. 1971 weirdness? Oh yes.

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  • Leeds man

    And all these years I thought A Boy and His Dog was Johnson’s first film.

    • I just looked up A Boy and His Dog. I see it was directed by L.Q. Jones. That’s kind of mind-blowing in itself.

  • Elvin’s brother Thad played the famous pop-goes-the-weasel solo on April in Paris.



    • You reminded me that the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra was one of my dad’s favorite acts. I’m not sure how he got into Jazz growing up in Ireland in the 1940s, but he did.

      • The Dark Avenger

        The popularity of jazz in Britain might’ve had something to do with it:

        British jazz is a form of music derived from American jazz. It reached Britain through recordings and performers who visited the country while it was a relatively new genre, soon after the end of World War I. Jazz began to be played by British musicians from the 1930s and on a widespread basis in the 1940s, often within dance bands. From the late 1940s British “modern jazz”, highly influenced by American Bebop, began to emerge and was led by figures such as John Dankworth and Ronnie Scott, while Ken Colyer, George Webb and Humphrey Lyttelton emphasised New Orleans, Trad jazz. From the 1960s British jazz began to develop more individual characteristics and absorb a variety of influences, including British blues, as well as European and World music influences. A number of British musicians have gained international reputations, although this form of music has remained a minority interest within the UK itself.

        As for his interest in Thad Jones, the Wiki offers a possible explanation:

        He served in U.S. Army bands during World War II (1943–46).

        He might’ve come upon a V-Disc recording of his:

        V-Disc (“V” for Victory) was a morale-boosting initiative involving the production of several series of recordings during the World War II era by special arrangement between the United States government and various private U.S. record companies. The records were produced for the use of United States military personnel overseas. Many popular singers, big bands and orchestras of the era recorded special V-Disc records. These 12-inch, vinyl 78 rpm gramophone recordings were created for the Army between October 1943 and May 1949. Navy discs were released between July 1944 and September 1945. Twelve inch discs were used because, when 136 grooves per inch were used, they could hold up to six and a half minutes of music.

        The V-Disc project actually began in June 1941, six months before the United States’ involvement in World War II, when Captain Howard Bronson was assigned to the Army’s Recreation and Welfare Section as a musical advisor. Bronson suggested the troops might appreciate a series of records featuring military band music, inspirational records that could motivate soldiers and improve morale. By 1942, the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) sent 16-inch, 33 rpm vinyl transcription discs to the troops from eight sources: special recording sessions, concerts, recitals, radio broadcasts, film sound tracks and commercial records.

        Meanwhile, the American Federation of Musicians, under the leadership of James Caesar Petrillo, were involved in a major recording strike against the four major record companies. This continued until the intervention of recording pioneer George Robert Vincent, who was at that point a lieutenant. On October 27, 1943, Vincent convinced Petrillo to allow his union musicians to record sides for the military, as long as the records were not offered for purchase in the United States. From that moment on, artists who wanted to record now had an outlet for their productivity — as well as a guaranteed, receptive, enthusiastic worldwide audience of soldiers, sailors and airmen.

        The V-Discs were an instant hit overseas. Soldiers who were tired of hearing the same old recordings were treated to new and special releases from the top bands of the day. And such a varied selection – big band hits, some swing music, classical performances from the top symphonies, a little jazz here and there, even some marching music to keep Major Bronson happy. Radio networks sent airchecks and live feeds to V-Disc headquarters in New York. Some movie studios sent rehearsal feeds from the latest Hollywood motion pictures to V-Disc. Artists gathered at several V-Disc recording sessions in theaters around New York and Los Angeles, including CBS Playhouse No. 3 (currently the Ed Sullivan Theater), NBC Studio 8H (the current home of Saturday Night Live), and CBS Playhouse No. 4 (reborn in the 1970s as Studio 54). V-Discs were pressed by major civilian record companies like RCA Victor and Columbia Records.

    • Loud Liberal

      Thad Jones is best known for his collaboration with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. Here’s a sample:


      Hank Jones, Elvin Jones’ other brother, is a legendary jazz pianist who played with virtually every jazz great there is. Here’s a sample of Hank Jones music:


  • Uncle Ebeneezer

    Damn, Elvin was pretty buff for a guy who must’ve been getting up there in age! Elvin is probably #1 on my list of jazz drummers that I really gotta check out more.

    The movie looks terrible/awesome in the manner of Beyond The Valley of The Dolls.

    • FridayNext

      My personal favorite bad movie from this era is Fearless Frank. Jon Voight’s first movie. He is a superhero of sorts brought back from the dead. 1967.

  • Elvin turned 44 on Sept 9, 1971.

  • Dave Latchaw

    They screwed up the sound recording when they filmed the scene so the drummer you actually hear is the legendary Earl Palmer. He transcribed the solo, learned it, and played it. That’s mind-boggling.

  • The crowd shots during the solo are almost anthropological.

  • sparks

    IIRC, rolling a few spliffs helped this film become marginally entertaining. I don’t think the Firesign Theater guys expected what appeared when they wrote the script.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      i remember hearing it advertised as “the marijuana western” on rochester, mn, radio sometime around 1980

      • Emily

        I saw Zachariah back in college in 1971. I even saw it at the Magic Lantern in Isla Vista, right near UCSB. The only part I remember is Country Joe and the Fish. They try to rob a stage coach and it gets away from them. “Shit, that was a fast stage coach,” they say.

        Also, I think some media wouldn’t run ads calling the movie a “marijuana western” so it was also advertised as an “electric western” but we all knew what that meant.

    • Ah, the Firesign Theatre. That’s why I wanted to see this, but I never did.

      Wonder what 42 yrs. has done to it.

      And here’s director George Englund in 1972.

    • I assume everyone involved with this film was well-versed in pharmaceuticals.

    • Scott Lemieux

      My question: does Firesign Theater stuff hold up at all? The brief snatches I’ve heard definitely give off a “you had to be there” vibe, but I haven’t investigated carefully.

      • Tehanu

        Their stuff is as good as ever and weirdly prescient in many, many respects. Try their 2000 recording, Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death — especially the Princess Goddess bits and Bebop Loco — as well as their great earlier record Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers.

  • Richard

    I saw it when it came out. One of the few movies I’ve ever walked out on. Just terrible.

    And while Elvin Jones (and Earl Palmer) were great drummers, this solo is just the type of jazz drum solo I hate

    • James E. Powell

      My friends and I saw it three or four times on one weekend. One of my friend’s sister was the theater manager. It had the James Gang in it. At the time, the James Gang was a major band for the kids in my high school – we had grown up with them. And Joe Walsh was considered something of a god.

      We didn’t really care about the movie.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Sorry, the jazz drummer comment-thread flamewar is over here.

      • sparks

        Rock drummer also, it must be said.

        UPDATE: Oh dear, someone mentioned Ghana in that thread!

        • The Dark Avenger

          Is it true that if you say “Ghana” three times before a mirror, J. Otto will show up on your blog?

          • sparks

            I admit to chumming the water a little.

    • Alan Tomlinson

      Thanks for sharing.


      Alan Tomlinson

  • wjts

    Looks like the spiritual forerunner of Alex Cox’s Straight to Hell.

  • bad Jim

    I remember seeing it when it came out; sort of a quest story, vaguely reminiscent of Siddartha, I thought, and some of the music was nice. I was probably pretty stoned.

    • Richard

      Being very stoned didnt save it for me

  • Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger.

  • TBP

    @Richard, Agreed. Unbelievably awful. Some friends of mine and I went to see it a midnight movie in Guadalajara ca. 1979. I don’t think we lasted 20 minutes before leaving. Movies were very cheap then and there, so we weren’t out much money, but even so, it was one of the worst entertainment expenditures of my life. It was a great bonding experience, though…for years after all anyone had to do was say “Remember Zachariah?” and we had an instant “Band of Brothers” moment, remembering our shared agony.

    (For the excessively literal-minded: yes, that’s hyperbole; no, I don’t really compare seeing a bad movie with parachuting into Normandy and fighting your way across Europe.)

  • William Berry

    Off topic, but none of the links are working in the “skepchick” post. Maybe it’s just my iPad, but everything else works.

  • I actually kind of liked this – although the Elvin Jones solo was the best part.

    So, the guy who played Zacharias, John Rubenstein, starred in the Broadway Pippin, another “callow youth tries many things before finding happiness in the ordinary” story. So it’s all part of the same thing, man.

  • Hogan

    First rule of this bar is, after the shooting and the drum solo, the house buys a round.

  • jkay

    You must want us all to commit suicide so we shut up in your threads. That’s the only reason I can think of you want us to watch a 70s flick.

    Look, the 70s were a horror on this Earth. I know cause I was there ahd barely survived them myself….

    Seriously, the antiintellectualism and oligarchy were already in.

    • jkay

      Whoops – forgot the smileys in the first two paras.

  • rbcoover

    Thank you very much. My life has been enrichened immeasurably by this clip.

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