Yezda Urfa

Yezda Urfa was an American symphonic|art-rock band that self-pressed 300 copies of their 1975 demo album, Boris. In 1976, they recorded a proper album and shopped it to multiple labels. It finally appeared as an archival disc, Sacred Baboon, in 1989 on Syn-Phonic.

Members: Brad Christoff (drums, tubular bells, metallophone, percussion), Phil Kimbrough (keyboards, accordion, mandolin, flute, recorder, vocals), Marc Miller (bass, cello, marimba, vibraphone, vocals), Rick Rodenbaugh (vocals), Mark Tippins (guitar, vocals)


Background

Yezda Urfa stemmed from a folk band formed by four Portage, Indiana, high school students: guitarist Mark Tippins, bassist–cellist Marc Miller, keyboardist Phil Kimbrough, and drummer Brad Christoff. Miller and Tippins (both born circa 1955) were Chicago-born youths who moved to Indiana with their families.

Tippin’s parents were both music teachers and pianists. As a child, he sang in the local church choir. At age eight, he acquired a Gibson LGO guitar. During his teens, he played sock hops in multiple bands (Othello, Time, KGT, Underground Railroad), including a Hendrix tribute with a Jimi-lookalike lead guitarist.

Miller taught himself guitar by ear in junior high school. He also learned to site-read bass clef notation for his other instrument, the cello. In his freshmen year, he played guitar in a short-lived band with classmates Christoff and Kimbrough, a transplant from Alamogordo, New Mexico. As a sophomore, Miller joined another band while Brad and Phil linked with Tippin. After graduation, they sought a new bassist and remembered that Miller understood the instrument as a classically trained cellist.

In November 1973, the lineup of Christoff, Kimbrough, Miller, and Tippin coalesced under a new name: Yezda Urfa, a portmanteau of locations (Yazd, Iran, and Urfa, Turkey) pulled at random from an atlas. Their acoustic folk-psych style soon gave way to intricate pieces influenced by UK–European symphonic rock (Yes, ELP, PFM) and modern avant-garde (Zappa, Gentle Giant, King Crimson). They expanded to five with singer Rick Rodenbaugh (b. 1953), a Park Forest native.

Yezda Urfa made their live debut at a self-organized, multi-act music festival dubbed “A Night of Original Music.” They also performed at the Valparaiso Armory and Luigi’s bar on Halsted in Chicago Heights. After an incident at the Arie Crown, where management cut their set after one number (“Raicy Racine”), they focused on band rehearsals and demo sessions. For their first home recordings, they joint-purchased a Teac 80-8 reel-to-reel recorder and mixing console.


Boris

Yezda Urfa pressed their first collection, Boris, in 1975 as a no-label demo album. They made 300 copies for distribution among friends, radio, and record companies.

Boris features three songs in the ten-minute range by guitarist–banjoist Mark Tippins, who co-wrote another (“3, Almost 4,6 Yea”) with keyboardist Phil Kimbrough, who also plays mandolin and woodwinds. Brad Christoff plays marimba and tubular bells on select passages.

A1. “Boris and His 3 Verses. Including Flow Guides Aren’t My Bag” (10:51) Boris is a character of undetermined origin. Brad overheard the phrase “Flow guides aren’t my bag” on his job as a millwright.
A2. “Texas Armadillo” (1:51)
A3. “3, Almost 4, 6 Yea” (8:49) The title refers to the band’s use of multiple meters, later described by Miller as “time-signature gymnastics.”
B1. “Tuta In the Moya” (10:56) Brad got the title from his toddler niece, who attempted to say “two in the morning.”
B2. “Three Tons of Fresh Thyroid Glands” (10:21) originated in the band’s early acoustic set.

Sessions took place at Universal Recording Studio at 46 E. Walton St. in Chicago, where Yezda Urfa self-produced Boris with Phil Tarr, whose brother Don Tarr designed the cover: a red-scale illustration of a Quasimodo-like character on a white background. Due to budget constraints, they recorded the basic tracks in single takes (no corrections) with multiple overdubs across three days.

Boris was engineered by veteran URS staffer Jerry DeClercq, whose earlier credits include Sixties titles by the American Breed and the Shadows of Knight.

In 2004, Syn-Phonic remastered Boris for CD with a bonus sixth track, recorded in 1976 on 4-track.

6. “The Basis of Dubenglazy While Dirk Does the Dance” (9:51)

Due to the studio’s limited arsenal (16-track recorder) and principle function as a TV and radio-recording facility, Boris had a roughness that belied Yezda Urfa’s musical sophistication. However, they started another round of URS sessions just before Phil located a private 24-track studio in Greater Chicago. In a ruse to get their unfinished studio-owned tapes from URS, Phil told staff that Brad died and they needed the tapes for posterity.


Sacred Baboon

Yezda Urfa recorded their second collection, Sacred Baboon, in 1976 at Hedden West Recorders, a newly opened studio in Schaumburg village in northwest Chicago. Unlike Boris, they intended this as a proper album for general release on a major label.

Sacred Baboon features three enhanced Boris numbers — “To-Ta In the Moya,” “3, Almost 4, 6, Yea,” and “Boris and His Three Verses” (abbreviated) — and four new pieces by guitarist Mark Tippin.

Marc Miller plays cello and Rickenbacker bass and shares pitch percussion (vibraphone, marimba) with drummer Brad Christoff, who plays assorted mallets, metals, and bells. Phil Kimbrough plays Hammond B-3 organ, flute, recorder, and assorted synthesizers (Mini Moog, Elka String Machine), electric pianos (Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes), and vintage keyboards (celesta, harpsichord). Singer Rick Rodenbaugh doubled on “air guitar.”

A1. “Give ‘Em Some Rawhide Chewies” (3:50)
A2. “Cancer of the Band” (6:48)
A3. “To-Ta In the Moya” (10:14)
B1. “Boris and His Three Verses” (2:50)
B2. “Flow Guides Aren’t My Bag” (4:45)
B3. “(My Doc Told Me I Had) Doggie Head” (3:02)
B4. “3, Almost 4, 6, Yea” (8:39)

Kimbrough produced Sacred Baboon in the summer of 1976 at Hedden West, where (in contrast to the rushed Boris sessions) Yezda Urfa polished each song with several months of takes and overdubs.

Yezda Urfa had a tentative deal with Dharma Records, a Libertyville label connected to the Dog Ear Records retail chain. Despite their three-year roster of talent (Atlantis Philharmonic, Gabriel Bondage, Ken Little, Streetdancer), Dharma asked the band to foot the manufacturing costs. After multiple rejections from major labels concerned with the music’s commercial potential, Sacred Baboon wound up in the band’s personal vaults.


Later Activity

Yezda Urfa continued for several more years and home-recorded material for a third album. They fell apart as members tended personal matters and moved to different states.

Mark Tippins and Phil Kimbrough retained their partnership in a new band, Crafty Hands, named after the 1978 album by Happy the Man. They released a self-titled album in 1982 with vocals by Rick Rodenbaugh.

In the late 1980s, a rare copy of Boris came to the attention of Greg Walker, a symphonic-rock archivist who sought out the band members. He eventually reached Kimbrough, who informed Walker of the still-unreleased 1976 album. In 1989, Sacred Baboon made its long-awaited first appearance on Walker’s Syn-Phonic label.

Along with contemporary recordings by Babylon, Cathedral, Ethos, and Fireballet, Sacred Baboon became a cult classic. With the album’s newfound popularity, three-fifths of Yezda Urfa reunited for a live set at the 2004 NEARfest Festival.


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