The funk always floats to the surface. Hours after the summer solstice of 1969, it caught fire in the Cuyahoga River. Cleveland, Ohio, was swimming in the electric sludge of wars far and near, and the burning ooze on its crooked river was a smoldering reminder of the chaos that was engulfing the world. Less than a year later, the Ohio Army National Guard was shooting into a crowd of students protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia at Kent State University. In between, both physically and temporally, Purple Image birthed their sole, psychedelicized LP in the 105th and Superior area of Cleveland.
While sly stones cast funkadelic ripples in their muddy waters, these sons and daughter of Hendrix exhibit the distinct rock-and-hard-place sound of their hometown. There is an obvious digger’s delight on first encounter with the intriguing front-cover graphics, which lead to a deeper understanding of the band’s mission statement. A burning ’fro ignites a confrontational African queen standing in the place of Kali—not only the goddess of death and destruction, but also time and change—as the redeemer of the universe holds up multiple Earths in balance.
The sound is ripe with fuzzy, buzzing guitars and clobberin’ time drums. The harmonies are not beautiful; they are fresh with insistence. Even in their softer moments, they lack the enjoyment of getting lost in Motown-style pop fluff. Below the flame, there is a sorrow that can’t be drowned in a brown bag of fermented freedom. It’s no real surprise that they never got it together for a sophomore outing when half the band can barely stand to look at the camera as they bask under the ghettoized decrepitude of the Liberty Theater on the back-cover photo. The band’s parting shot is their magnum opus, “Marching to a Different Drummer,” a fifteen-minute assault on liberty that ends with a wailing saxophone and harmonica. As they sputter into a punch-drunk dance, it seems that freedom, unlike funk, needed to be blown out of the water. The only question is—was it saved from the fire?