Before he was the hippie antichrist, Manson was just another music industry hanger-on in L.A., friend of the Beach Boys, Neil Young and others. After his infamy, he continued to write and record his songs in prison, including these tapes in 1983, which are now coming to light.
Neil Young called him “The Wizard” for his ability to produce music and words “off the cuff,” without writing anything down. “The Wizard,” however seldom got the opportunity to exhibit those skills in a proper studio setting because he was both difficult to work with and he got sidetracked by infamy.
“The Wizard” was, of course, Charles Milles “Charlie” Manson.
Before he became the Establishment’s hippie-whipping-boy, Manson was just another Los Angeles character looking for a break in the music industry. Thus, his association with people like Neil Young, the Beach Boys, Bobby BeauSoleil and others. Indeed, in 1968, Carl and Brian Wilson co-produced a batch of songs by Manson that he recorded at the Beach Boys’ studio. An altered version of his song “Cease to Exist” ended up on the Beach Boys’ 20/20 album (1969), as “Never Learn Not to Love” (credited to Dennis Wilson). Some of his recordings made before he became infamous were released on an album called LIE: The Love and Terror Cult, in 1970. The cover of the album was a retrofitted version of the cover image on Life magazine’s Dec. 19, 1969 issue, which purported to reveal “the dark edge of hippie life.” G.G. Allin, the Lemonheads, Rob Zombie, Crispin Glover, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Marilyn Manson and Devendra Banhart have all recorded covers of songs off the LIE album.
But a second batch of recordings were made after Manson entered California’s penal system. They were thought to be lost for years and, consequently, took on the stuff of legend among Manson followers. These tapes were recorded in 1983 during his stay at the Vacaville Prison Medical Facility, with the assistance of another musically-inclined inmate, Eddie Richard “Rags” Ragsdale. Bits and pieces of these tapes surfaced here and there over the ensuing decades but a full, properly produced, recording only became available in 2012, released on vinyl, with a thick, photo-packed booklet, by Underworld Productions.
According to the liner notes to The Lost Vacaville Tapes, “What you are about to listen to is a miracle. A miracle that was lost in time for over 27 years…Together the Wizard & Rags recorded over ten cassette tapes full of new, unheard & unreleased music. Music that was rumored ‘the best and only of its kind’. The only recorded of Charles Manson with any other musician in history.” [Ed. note: This is not entirely true; listed as backing musicians/vocalists on LIE were Manson family members Bobby BeauSoleil, Clem Grogan, Paul Watkins, Catherine Share, Mary Brunner, Sandra Good and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme].
Manson sent some of the tapes to friends, but most of the tapes disappeared and became known as the “Lost Vacaville Tapes.”
For those who found the songs on LIE compelling and accessible, the 13 songs on The Lost Vacaville Tapes is another curiosity item for all the Manson cats. It’s digitally remastered to eliminate any background prison noise, so it’s as state of the arts as Manson is ever likely to get. The album is accompanied by a 20-page insert, with glossy photos of Manson, letters, ephemera and glimpses of life behind bars.