Only in LA, it seems, could a former US Marine, World War II hero and alleged bankrobber, transform himself into a natural foods restaurateur, polygamous leader of a hippie cult and vocalist for an experimental rock band, Ya Ho Wha 13
Father Yod was a 1970s cult leader who fronted the experimental psych rock band, Ya Ho Wha 13 and owned The Source, a raw vegetarian eatery on the Sunset Strip. The Source was a hit with Hollywood A-listers and staffed with members of Father Yod’s spiritual family of 140 who lived communally with Father Yod and his 14 wives in a rented three-bedroom house in the Hollywood Hills. Ya Ho Wha 13’s lengthy avant-garde jams and Father Yod’s ad-libs, however, bewildered major label executives but gained a posthumous following among vinyl junkies with an insatiable appetite for the mysterious proto-Krautrock band’s rare and exquisite DIY LPs.
Father Yod was born James E. Baker, Jr. on July 4, 1922 in Cincinnati and raised alone by his mother, Cora Baker. As a Depression-Era kid, Jim grew up fast and made a name for himself through his athletic ability and passion for nutrition with help from his mentor and father figure, Paul Bragg. By age 17, Jim had graduated Chicago’s Swedish School of Massage, got a job at the Wright plant, married the boss’ daughter, and lied about his age to join the Marines and fight in World War II.
Jim came home from the war with a Silver Star for his role in the Battle of Rennell Island and opened Baker’s Gym but soon left Cincinnati (along with his first wife, Margaret and daughter, Peggy) for Hollywood to audition for the role of Tarzan in an open casting call. Jim did the screen test but didn’t get the part. Instead, he opened a sandal shop on Fairfax, hung out with the Nature Boys, and met his second wife, Elaine, with whom he studied the Vedas and Manly P. Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages (Father Yod’s unofficial Source Family teacher’s manual).
Three alleged bank jobs, three successful restaurants (the Aware Inn and Old World in Hollywood, and the Discovery Inn in Topanga) and three sons later, Jim was bored with his money and marriage. He began drinking heavily and cheated on Elaine until his affair with TV actress Jean Ingram, in 1963, ended with Jim’s killing of Ingram’s jealous husband with two chops to the neck and a bullet in the head. Jim was freed after three months once it was determined that he had acted in self-defense. Oddly, Jim had killed another man in self-defense, two years prior to killing Ingram’s husband, in an unrelated altercation with an angry neighbor over a pit bull.
Jim’s brief marriage to his third wife, a 19-year old French hippie named Dora, led him through his dark night of the soul, one acid trip at a time. Hopped up on a steady diet of black beauties and booze, Jim emptied money from the register at the Old World and bought a purple Rolls Royce. His erratic behavior prompted his investors to cut him out of his own restaurant and Dora to beat a hasty retreat. On April 1, 1969, Jim opened The Source and became a devotee of shifty customs agent turned Kundalini yoga teacher, Yogi Bhajan, in an effort to sober up and turn his life around.
At this time, Jim began pursuing another 19-year old, named Robin, who danced at the Whisky a Go-Go and partied with self-proclaimed son of Aleister Crowley, Graham Bond and his girlfriend, Diane Stewart. One night, Jim spotted Robin hitchhiking to her friend Sharon Tate’s house and invited her once more to come with him to one of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini yoga classes at his 3HO ashram. She reluctantly accepted his invitation and the two stayed up all night talking about spirit and getting to know each other. The next morning, Robin learned the shocking news of Sharon Tate’s grisly murder and took that as a sign to follow a new path with Jim Baker. The two were wed after three months of Kabbalah study at the B.O.T.A. school in a ceremony performed by Ann Davies.
In March 1971, Jim Baker decided that it was his destiny to become a spiritual leader. This came to him in the wake of a disastrous 90-day trip to India with 83 of his fellow 3HO yoga students and Yogi Bhajan, whose convoluted personal quest to acquire a yogi lineage (from a guru who never practiced yoga!) devolved into a series of dodgy schemes involving his students as unwitting accomplices and cast a shadow on Jim’s one-time spiritual father.
Jim wrote Liberation and together with Robin, created their own Ten Commandments for Aquarian Age cherry-picking the teachings of Yogi Bhajan, Baron Eugene Fersen and Jiddu Krishnamurti. Jim began calling himself Father Yod and led Sunday meditation classes in the back of The Source, using the naam of Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru he learned at 3HO and even adopted a little of Yogi Bhajan’s accent into his own speaking voice.
Father Yod’s Sunday meditations caught on with his young hippie patrons and within a year, he rented the 24-bedroom Chandler mansion and invited to them all to live and participate in his “Spiritual Bootcamp” regime of Yogi Bhajan’s 3 a.m. cold showers and Kundalini yoga, Baron Eugene Fersen’s Star Exercise, and a toke of the sacred herb. Before long, Father Yod traded in Jim’s white kaftans for handmade wizard’s garb and taught the ancient mysteries like a New Age version of Richard Mulligan’s Herbert Gower character from the movie, Teachers. Jim’s transformation into Father Yod was complete and the torch was passed.
Upon moving into the Chandler mansion, aka the Mother House, Father Yod adopted the tried and true methods of any megalomaniacal cult leader: He instructed the family members to hand over all personal belongings and to cut ties with any “flesh family” who would not be joining them. This, of course, did not sit well with many parents of young Source Family members who sent police over on numerous occasions to follow up on statutory rape allegations.
Father Yod responded to the charges by ordering the underage girls to marry if they wanted to stay on at the Mother House and then he decided he’d marry a few himself. Father Yod’s decision to take more wives was deeply upsetting to Source members in existing committed relationships and especially devastating to his own wife, Robin (aka Ahom), who suddenly found herself sidelined by his 13 new willing and mostly underaged “spiritual wives”.
The Mother House was sold one year into the family’s stay as a response to increasing pressure from the Source Family’s neighbors who were uncomfortable living next door to a cult in the wake of the Manson Family murders, two years previous. The Source Family quickly relocated to their next home in Nichols Canyon. The three-bedroom, three-bath Father House was a considerably tighter squeeze with the family adding two rows of 3 x 6-foot “cubbyholes” to each bedroom.
Shortly after the move, Father Yod gave drummer Octavius, a budget of $30,000 for instruments and recording gear to set up a studio/rehearsal space in the family garage. Together with bassist Sunflower, who had previously played in the heavy psych rock band Fields, and guitarist Djin, the trio rounded out Father Yod’s core rhythm section, performing spontaneous Aquarian Age music as Father Yod and The Spirit of ‘76. Each morning, after meditation, Father Yod and the boys jammed and recorded for hours before heading off to tackle their own work duties within The Source family. Octavius even wired additional speakers into the family’s gathering room for those who wanted to catch a bit of the band’s live sessions before heading off to work at The Source.
Father Yod, with more spiritual fervor than musicality, eschewed conventional songwriting and plunged his young bandmates headfirst into one musical quandary after the next with his off-time kettle drum beats and his channeled vocalizations. The band’s debut LP, Kahoutek, is steeped in the avant-garde funk and jazz of Malcolm Mooney-era Can with additional vocals from family member Anastasia and two of Father Yod’s 14 wives, Ahom and Aquariana.
Part 1 – Father Yod And The Spirit of ‘76 – Kohoutek – 1973 (Drag City Records):
By 1974, Father Yod had declared himself God, changed his name to Yahowha, and the Spirit of ’76 was rechristened Ya Ho Wha 13. The band’s self-titled LP kicks things off with a mix of Stonesy rock ‘n’ roll jams, Gram Parsons-style ditties and a decidedly more personal tone from Father Yod.
Ya Ho Wha 13 – Self-titled – 1974 (Higher Key):
Ya Ho Wha 13’s atmospheric, primordial cadences are a darker return to form on Penetration: An Aquarian Symphony and savagely evoke the emerging Krautrock sounds of Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh. This album also features some chilling violin from Lovely Previn, daughter of André Previn, who shares her own account of her time as one of Father Yod’s wives in the 2016 Raymond Strait book, Star Babies: The Shocking Lives of Hollywood Children.
Journey Through An Elemental Kingdom – Ya Ho Wha 13 Penetration: An Aquarian Symphony – 1974 (Higher Key)
Despite being unable to secure a record deal, Ya Ho Wha 13 continued releasing albums under their own label, Higher Key, and sold them in the back of The Source. The band also played gigs at area high schools and college campuses in an effort to reach new fans and potential Source Family members.
Part 1 – Ya Ho Wha 13 – I’m Gonna Take You Home – 1974 (Higher Key):
The I’m Gonna Take You Home LP is Ya Ho Wha 13’s most iconic with Father Yod and his “mother angel,” Maukushla, in a tantric sex embrace as The Lovers card with plenty of primal psychedelia and an extra dash of Father Yod’s improvisational weirdness with buzzing insect noises and whistles.
Ya Ho Wha 13 – To The Principles For The Children – (Drag City Records):
To The Principles For The Children, Ya Ho Wha 13’s last album to feature Father Yod as lead singer also features some of the group’s most melodic and most challenging output.
Fire In The Sky – Ya Ho Wha 13 – Savage Sons of Ya Ho Wa:
Father Yod’s conspicuous absence is felt on Ya Ho Wha 13’s Savage Sons of Ya Ho Wha and the Spirit of ’76 album, All Or Nothing At All. Savage Sons of Ya Ho Wha marks the musical debut of Source member, Electron, whose strutting, tripped-out sinister funk number, Fire In The Sky is one of the album’s highlights while All Or Nothing At All offers a swift departure from other Spirit of ’76 albums with a gentler Southern California folk rock sound and tighter compositions from Djin, and Rhythm Aquarian, along with the blissful, devotional singing of Ahom, Aquariana, Anastasia, and Cinderella.
Home – Father Yod & The Spirit of ’76 (Djin Aquarian) – All Or Nothing At All – 1973 (Drag City Records):
By 1975, Father Yod and the rest of the Source Family had fled Hollywood for Hawaii in an effort to slip away from CPS agents concerned with reports of frequent staph infections from local ERs, law enforcement, building inspectors, health inspectors, and anyone else objecting to their way of life. The move to Hawaii marked the end of the road for Father Yod and the Source Family as they were met with fear and threats of gun violence. Father Yod had sold The Source and misspent money on a fishing boat and an airplane for spotting the fish. Stressed out and financially unable to support his 100+ family, he pleaded with Source members to leave. To make matters worse, local businesses shunned male family members seeking work and female members with children were forced to go on welfare. An ill-fated mushroom trip confronted Father Yod with his own mortality, whereby he sheepishly conceded that he was only a man, and decided to go for a hang gliding ride as Source Family members watched helplessly. Splat.
The Source Family continued on with Makushla as spiritual leader before finally dispersing in 1977.
Atlanteans – Fire, Water, Air – Golden Sunrise:
Over the course of two years, Ya Ho Wha 13 recorded an astonishing 65 albums (9 of which were actually pressed) under various names and lineups with appearances from other Source members, most notably, Sky Saxon of The Seeds aka Sunlight, who lends his vocals on Ya Ho Wha 13’s (as Fire, Water, Air) Golden Sunrise LP. Sky Saxon was also the first to bring Ya Ho Wa 13’s music to the mainstream with the release of the 1998God and Hair: Yahowha Collection box set on Japanese label Captain Trip, who had initially tapped him for some of his solo work. In 2007, founding Ya Ho Wha 13 members, Djin, Sunflower, and Octavius Aquarian reunited to play the L.A. release of Isis and Electricity Aquarian’s book, The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13, and The Source Family. The band followed up with several shows on the West Coast and released the albums Sonic Portation in 2008 and 2013 in 2010.
Drag City Records has also reissued several Ya Ho Wha 13 albums along with previously unheard music from other Source members to coincide with its release of the 2012 documentary, The Source Family. And for those who would prefer a curated sampler to a full-fledged album, look no further than Dave Nuss’ (No Neck Blues Band) Magnificence In The Memory from 2009 featuring several previously unreleased Ya Ho Wha 13 tracks from 1973-74.