To fully appreciate Apache/Inca, you’ll need to know a little bit of history on Craig Smith (aka Maitreya Kali), though his story is best told by Mike Stax’ biography, Swim Through The Darkness. Smith was your stereotypical California kid in the mid-’60s. His clean cut image and good looks helped him land a role as a regular cast member on The Andy Williams show, he was a shortlisted candidate for The Monkees, and was a promising songwriter, penning tunes for Williams and The Monkees, among others. Mike Nesmith even produced an album of material recorded by Smith and friend Chris Ducey, with Nesmith dubbing the group The Penny Arkade. Smith’s star seemed to be rapidly rising, but then things went south very quickly. Despite Nesmith’s efforts, and label interest, for some reason a record deal never materialized, and by 1968 the Penny Arkade splintered. Smith, like many young people at that time, started going on LSD-fuelled journey’s of self discovery, and decided to use his entertainment industry earnings to travel what’s known as “the Hippie Trail”, an above-ground trek from Europe into Asia. On that trip, Smith was viciously robbed, beaten, and raped in Afghanistan, and when he return to Los Angeles in 1969 it was clear that he was not the same guy his friend had known. Smith began suffering from intense delusions and would refer to himself as Maitreya Kali. Worse, he became increasingly unpredictable and violent, and would spend the next few years mixing spiritual journeys, court-ordered mental institution stays, and scaring off his old friends. He still wrote music though, and in 1972, Smith, now with a spider tattoo in the middle of his forehead, went to Custom Fidelity Inc. with a handful of tapes (including the unreleased Penny Arkade sessions) to put together two albums, Apache and Inca. He filled the LPs’ packaging with unfocused writings on religion, music, drugs, and himself, giving some insight into his fractured state mind at the time of recording. Printed in small amounts, Smith distributed the records among friends and acquaintances.
Chronologically, the music begins with seven Penny Arkade songs from 1967. These tracks leave you wondering why they found a record deal so hard to come. The band was a solid L.A. folk-rock outfit, with some psychedelic leanings that surely could have found an audience in 1967. You could drop a harmony-laden song like “Color Fantasy” in the middle of a set with The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Turtles, and The Monkees, and nobody would bat an eyelash. As good as those songs are, Smith’s solo recordings as Maitreya Kali are far more interesting. Along with a new name, Smith also adapted a more sophisticated folk approach and a sweeter, more innocent vocal style, sounding at times like Art Garfunkel or Colin Blunstone. Given Smith’s history of mental illness you might expect these songs to be off-kilter documents of his deterioration, like Syd Barrett or Skip Spence, but the demons Smith was facing left his talents thankfully intact. Smith included some weird snippets of conversation, and a strange recording of him and Mike Love from The Beach Boys listening to a playback of Smith’s version of “Salesmen,” which he wrote for The Monkees, but these moments are mostly outliers among a strong set of songs. The album peaks on delicately rendered psych-folk tunes like “Black Swan” and “Music Box Sound,” which sound like they were both cut at the same session and answer the question, “what would it sound like if Arthur Lee recorded Harvest instead of Neil Young?” “Revelation” also stands out, a heavily psychedelicized piece of self-mythologizing with Smith feeding his voice through a Leslie speaker and covering a variety of spiritual/religious topics while simultaneously warning, “Someone’s out to get you/I think it’s gonna be me.” That warning takes on added meaning when you learn that the year after he released these albums, Smith went to jail for three years for beating up his mother. He would then spend his post-jail years drifting around Los Angeles in various states of homelessness until his death in 2012.
This reissue features the best sound you’re likely to get from these albums, since the original tapes were likely destroyed a long time ago. There’s also informative liner notes by Smith biographer Mike Stax (of Ugly Things Magazine) who put this album out as well. Definitely seek this one out.