Sep 27, 2023, 06:28AM

Souled Out

Singles by Sodom & Gomorrah and The Souls of Britton.

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"Flower Children" b/w “Twenty Miles” by Sodom & Gomorrah (1966): When it comes to jangly teen folk rockers, there aren’t many other records that match the power and beauty of this Bel-Air, MD duo’s ode to hippy adventure. Rick Rudacille and Debbie Caulson were the two North Harford High School students who hid behind the alter ego Sodom & Gomorrah. On the A-side Rick and Debbie create sunny cathartic harmonies while their uncredited back-up combo heads into rougher territory. Bob Brown’s production gives the 12-string guitar hooks and bashing drums of “Flower Children” a garage folk intensity comparable to the pre-LP Byrds demos.

The B-side’s a cover of the Mann/Lowe song “Twenty Miles,” most likely modeled after Brain Poole & The Tremeloes’ jaunty 1963 version. Though Sodom & Gomorrah never recorded again, Rudacille popped up on another Maryland-made C.E.I. release. Rudacille’s tune “Since I Met You, Baby (I've Been Singin' The Blues)” was recorded by Rob Selmer who released it on a rootsy C.E.I. single that came out two years after “Flower Child.”

"I'll Be On My Way" b/w "Make A New Light" by Souls Of Britton (1968): Before unleashing their swan song on C.E.I., Aberdeen, MD band The Souls Of Britton commanded a loyal local following mainly in Cecil County, and Harford County where they were a close second to The Piece Kor as the region’s prime high school rock gods. The Souls Of Britton were lead vocalist Michael Heiberger, lead guitarist Jeff Bumgarner, rhythm guitarist Jim Holwager, drummer Bob Gebhart, bassist Bob Bartlett, and Rising Sun-based keyboardist Larry Buck.

The band was well-known for action-packed live shows, including a performance of the steamy album version of Them’s “Gloria.” When the Souls played this dynamic tune at a packed teen center gig in Aberdeen Michael Heiberger got kicked off the stage by the event’s prudish organizers. Heiberger’s choice to sing the song’s uncensored lyrics was completely impromptu. The rest of the band assumed he’d perform the “clean” radio hit version but Heiberger wanted no part of that puritan junk. This spontaneous move was a rude awakening for the predominantly conservative adults in charge of booking all-ages shows in HarCo. The incident led Souls Of Britton to axe their vocalist soon afterward. Other 1960s teen artists tell similar stories about such reactions to “Gloria,” a Van Morrison composition that was a staple in countless garage band repertoires.

Regardless of HarCo’s stuck-up squares, the sextet’s wild rep didn’t scare away the talent scouts from Wilmington, Delaware’s Ken-Del Studios. They got the band to sign a one-single deal with their in-house label in 1967. Souls Of Britton then cut the stunning haunter “J-J (Come Back To Me),” complete with spooky organ, tremolo guitar, and lead melodies that paraphrase the James Bond theme.

Ken-Del released some of the mid-Atlantic’s greatest records including the brutal punker “Something Else” by Seaford, Delaware’s Nobles and The Ides’ schizoid opus “Psychedelic Ride.” Even with its subtle moody approach, the intensity of “J-J (Come Back To Me)” was a perfect fit for the Ken-Del roster. The record’s been reissued on several cult fave collections of vintage indie singles.

Like most of C.E.I.'s best Maryland recordings, the second and final Souls Of Britton 7” came out in 1968. By that point they’d replaced Heiberger with two vocalists, Frank Jackson and Eugene “Doctor Soul” Johnson. The new line-up developed an amp-shredding strain of frenetic distorto-rock. Chunky Hammond B-3 organ, savage fuzz, and Stax-damaged snarl are the core elements of “Make A New Light.” Augmented by a dissonant horn section and fast gospel-tinged drum bursts, the A-side “I’ll Be On My Way” (written by C.E.I.’s main producer Bob Brown) sounds like what would happen if The Music Explosion and The Buckinghams tried to out-blast each other after a caffeine binge.

In 1969 Vietnam, high school graduation, college, and “the real world” put an end to The Souls’ rock glory. Soon after the break-up Michael Heiberger and Larry Buck reunited when they briefly joined a latter line-up of DC psych legends The Cherry People.

It’s ironic that The Souls Of Britton generated so much scandal in Harford County. After his Cherry People stint, Heiberger would go on to a career in education that found him working as principal of Hickory Elementary School just outside of Bel Air. The big question: what if any Hickory kids ever discovered their principal was once an intense teen rocker notorious for screaming lust-drenched prose?


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