Friday, June 9, 2017

A Song A Day: The Music Emporium, "Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo"

JUNE 9, 2017




Four California kids form a group in 1968 to play hard rock. Pretty typical stuff, right? Not quite.

These kids, from conservative Orange County, not far from Los Angeles, were pretty unlikely rockers. They were about as far from counter-cultural as could be: polite, upper-middle-class disciplined college students, clean as a whistle and classically trained.

The group’s leader, main singer, keyboardist, and primary composer was Bill “Casey” Cosby, a prize-winning accordionist who fell headlong in love with west coast rock in 1967. Two young ladies attending Long Beach State, drummer Dora Wahl and bassist/singer Carolyn Lee, soon signed on, and Cosby and Lee eventually became romantically involved.

Wahl and Lee had known and sung with Richard and Karen Carpenter in the LBS a capella choir, but used their talents in the heavier direction Cosby suggested. After some searching, a fourth member, guitarist Dave Padwin, came aboard, and the quartet began honing its outsider version of acid rock—i.e, with no acid.

At first, the band was called The Cage; Cosby meant the name to reference man’s need to control things, keep them tamed. Years later he spoke of the release he found in the underground rock culture of the day. The band went to see Love, Iron Butterfly, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and many others, soaking up the genre. From there, The Cage played teen clubs all around the Los Angeles area, with songs Cosby wrote with friends and former musical collaborators.

As is the story for many bands, things changed for The Cage once they got into “the business.” Sentinel Records, a small start-up founded by a former executive at Liberty, paid for studio time to do a demo, contingent on the band changing its name to the somewhat sunnier Music Emporium.

This demo—with instruments recorded in one overnight session and the vocals in another session shortly after—became the group’s album. Cosby had objections to this; he felt that despite the foursome’s technical ability, and a solid bunch of songs, that the LP was somewhat false in that the band had no true “rock” vocalist.

Perhaps he was right. The harmonies on one song on the LP are out of tune, and neither Cosby nor Lee could belt out material like the heavier singers of the day. But perhaps that’s why people like the album so much; it’s a moment in time, a sincere attempt at doing one thing and a result that reaches something else entirely. The rockers are tight, well played, and creative; the ballads are wistful and beautifully sung. The album also sounds good, but Cosby insisted that the band was much better live than on record.

The Music Emporium was issued in late 1968 with a gorgeous die-cut cover that used up most of the album’s budget. It is said that only 300 copies were printed, and they are rare as proverbial hen’s teeth today. With little to no promotion, and only half-hearted support of the band itself, the album disappeared.

Sentinel also released a single of “Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo,” a rocking incantation (very) loosely based on a Nichiren Buddhist chant. Despite its quality, it was rarely, if ever, played on the radio.

In early 1970, Cosby—like Wahl and Lee still a full-time student—was about to be drafted, and having lost friends to the Vietnam War, decided instead to take an offer at West Point to teach and lead cadet bands and choirs. Soon he and Lee married and moved, and the band was done.

Wahl stayed out west; Lee eventually moved to Virginia. Padwin became a photographer and lives in Wisconsin. Cosby remained in music, composing symphonies and choral material and remaining involved with the West Point Glee Club.

Last summer Cosby passed away from pancreatic cancer, but the band’s creation continues to shine. Sundazed Records reissued it, in its original cover design, several years back.


  1. A very cool psychedelic band from THE era. Didn't know of them... Thanx! Any releases issued on CD?

  2. You can get their album on CD from Sundazed. It's a damn good reissue, sonically and visually.

    Thanks for writing!

  3. "Melting murky darkness, Great wall of Skin"? Is that right? HA HA - that's great! Did our friend Paul write this?