Mason Proffit

Mason Proffit, 1969

Mason Proffit, 1969

In the late sixties, Terry Talbot and his younger brother John began playing music in Chicago.  A friend and local record producer suggested they do what they were best at, an amplified country rock sound, as influenced by The Byrds.  The brothers formed a band, Mason Proffit, and released their first album in 1969.  Terry was 21 and John, who had dropped out of school to play music, was 15.

Over the next four years, Mason Proffit played as many as 300 shows a year and released five albums.  Once, while they jammed with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Earl Scruggs called John Talbot “the best banjo player I’ve ever heard.”  The Eagles credited Mason Proffit with some of the inspiration for “Hotel California.”

After the band split up, Warner Brothers re-released Mason Proffit’s first two albums as a compilation, “Come and Gone,” in 1974.  I was in Arizona and a pretty big fan of country music when I heard it.  Nearly 40 years later, I still enjoy the sound and the eclectic mix of styles.  There’s hip country music, like The Byrds.  There’s mainline country, though with tongue planted firmly in cheek:

“If you wanna be an all night truckin’ man
can’t expect to have an all night wife.”

There is Christian rock, the musical direction the Talbots took after the band broke up, and there are topical songs, like “Two Hangmen,” which was banned by the FCC.  The lyrics seem tame to us now – “He was guilty then of thinking, a crime much worse than all,” – but in 1974, the Nixon administration was fanatically paranoid.

If you are still reading this post, you may be wondering why I would write about a band that broke up 40 years ago and that few have ever heard of.  It’s because lately, one of their best songs, “Flying Arrow,” has been playing in my head.

Several cuts on “Come and Gone” focus on the plight of Native Americans.  On that level alone, the song is outstanding. “Flying Arrow” tells a heartbreaking truth that is all too apparent in towns likeFlagstaff and Gallup.

“My name is Flying Arrow
And I live in Arizona
Part of what was once a mighty nation

My tribe is called the Cucupa
And we build our homes of cardboard
A desert floor
Nine by Twelve of sorrow.”

Mason Proffit lyrics are seldom one dimensional, and this song is far more subversive than the one that was banned.  As it builds to its climax, “Flying Arrow” holds up a mirror that was all too familiar then and is all to familiar now, in light of the current events, right now, right here, this month, this week, in this nation.

“My name is Flying Arrow
And I live in Arizona
Part of what is now a dying nation

And sometimes we feel like you’re already dead.”

The kind of morale that turns football games and nations around, was in play when the song was released.  We understood the song, got the poetics, the gist, but didn’t truly believe we were dying as a nation.  Not then.  Call it the optimism or arrogance of youth, but enough people believed and acted on those beliefs that things turned around.  For a time.

What’s the temperature now, what’s the morale like?  How is the optimism level?  What do people believe?  This song remains a living thing for me, because now, 40 years later, sometimes I truly feel that as a nation we’re already dead.

***

Terry Talbot still plays with “The Mason Profit Band.”  You can visit their website here: www.masonproffit.com. A half dozen free downloads of recent songs are available.

John Michael Talbot sings gospel music, has formed a Catholic monastic community, and has recently published a book on the Jesus Prayer. His website is here: johnmichaeltalbot.com.

Mason Proffit’s original music, including “Come and Gone,” is available on iTunes.

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8 Responses to Mason Proffit

  1. You and Mason Proffit say it well. Thank you for this profound post. What will it take to awaken us? I wonder….

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    • I have a few ideas, from things I’ve read. The greatest danger now, I think, is people opting out of the political process out of disgust, in which case, the oligarchs will have won. At the same time, I do not believe significant change can come from Washington – the system is too dysfunctional to correct itself. But for sure we need:

      1) A constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United. There is no hope as long as elections go to the highest bidders. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont, has been trying to coordinate such an effort in each of the 50 states. A link to his website is in my blogroll.

      2) We need something or someone to catalyze the growing rage in the country, that now gets channeled into peripheral issues (Obamacare, immigration, Syria, etc) that miss the heart of the problem. The anger explodes every 6 mo. or so in a mass shooting, and plays out every day in such antics as playing chicken for parking spots at the mall. Some charismatic leader to start a populist 3d party? Someone like Elizabeth Warren? Third parties may not win elections but they can ask important questions and shift the national dialog.

      Ideas are floating around – there are many more. I guess the main thing is for concerned people not to give up!

      Thanks for your comment.

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    • I just spotted a good article from a link on billmoyers.com called, “Ten Ways to Democratize our Broken Economy.” http://billmoyers.com/2013/09/26/ten-ways-to-democratize-our-broken-economy/.

      Ideas are in the air…

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  2. ptero9 says:

    Wow! I had no idea that John Michael Talbott was part of this band. Thanks for this Morgan.

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  3. Michael says:

    I first heard Terry Talbot’s Potters Clay when I was 14 yrs old – on a cassette player in Yugoslavia. Didn’t know of Mason Proffit then. Now I’ve got the old vinyl records of them.

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