Monday, April 27, 2020

Swim Through the Darkness: My search for Craig Smith & The Mystery of Maitreya Kali by Mike Stax

Mike Stax is editor and publisher of Ugly Magazine, which he started in 1983, Orange County, CA... he had learned of Craig Smith, started researching him, then a long quest on finding him.

From Ugly Magazine:

"Craig Smith was a 1960s golden boy – good looking, charismatic, outgoing; a preternaturally gifted musician and songwriter whose songs were recorded by some of the biggest names in entertainment – Andy Williams, Glen Campbell, the Monkees. Starting out his career on the Andy Williams Show as a member of the Good Time Singers, Smith next teamed up with Chris Ducey in the duo Chris & Craig, then the Penny Arkade, a talented group mentored and produced by Mike Nesmith of the Monkees. Smith’s future success seemed assured, until an unexpected turn of events plunged him into a terrifying darkness. Clean-cut Craig Smith became Maitreya Kali, the self-proclaimed psychedelic Messiah. He laid out his poignant, disturbing schizophrenic vision on a sprawling self-released double-album before disappearing completely. Author Mike Stax spent fifteen years piecing together the mystery of Maitreya Kali, uncovering one of the strangest and most tragic untold stories of the 1960s and ‘70s".

Andy Williams and the Good Time Singers with Craig Smith

Here is a recording done with Heather MacCrae written by Craig Smith.... I absolutely love this haunting song:


On the brink of stardom, with help from Michael Nesmith, Mike Love and Glen Campbell, Craig Smith took a different, far darker path, taking the name Maitreya Kali and ending up on the streets of LA. Now, with help from Mike Stax, editor and publisher of Ugly Things, his music will survive

When Mike Stax first heard about Craig Smith, he thought the talented, but forgotten musician’s story would make a good piece for Ugly Things, the acclaimed magazine dedicated to “wild sounds from past dimensions” that he founded 35 years ago. However, what began a magazine story in the fall of 2013 ended three years later with the publication of his book, Swim Through the Darkness: My Search for Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali, one of the more harrowing of rock ‘n’ roll cautionary tales.
Craig Smith had it all: movie star looks, beautiful singing voice, perfect Pepsodent smile, great songwriting, guitar and people skills. He began his career in 1963 with the squeaky-clean Good Time Singers, the contingent that backed Andy Williams on his popular TV show and toured separately as a folk group, ala the New Christy Minstrels. Smith was the squeaky cleanest of the bunch. (He also wrote songs for Williams, Glen Campbell and The Monkees, and the residuals from those sustained him for years). Talent scouts, and smitten girls, followed him everywhere, eventually opening the door to his own TV show, called The Happeners, a proto-reality show about three folk singers in Greenwich Village that was earmarked for prime time in 1966.

The Happeners TV pilot was shot in late 1965 starring Craig Smith, Chris Ducey and Susannah Jordan. While there's still no way to view it online, musical director Bob Bowers recently posted the entire audio track (in nine parts) and it's well worth a listen. Below are links to 3 of the videos, but all 9 are there. Check it out:

After Penny Arkade failed to land a record contract—even after recording an album’s worth of original music—Smith began to drift. Though he hung out on Sunset Strip and befriended a who’s who of LA’s music scene (Neil Young, Richie Furay, Mike Love, Frank Zappa, etc.), he also turned to hallucinogenic drugs, meditation and a smattering of Eastern religion, voraciously reading books on mysticism and diving headlong into TM, at Mike Love’s prodding. It was as though he was in a struggle to find equilibrium as his mind began to unravel. He began telling friends that God had appeared to him in the clouds above the Mojave Desert and he knew his “mission” was now one of self-discovery more than writing pop songs.  All the while, though, he also continued to play with Penny Arkade.

He took off for Europe in May 1968. Filled with renewed spiritual confidence, he called the Beatles’ office in London. “The Beatles and I could not meet at this point in time,” he grandiosely wrote in his travelogue. “Mainly because they were searching for my Truth and the ultimate piece of the puzzle I hadn’t encountered yet.”

By October, he was in Turkey, taking LSD on a daily basis while heading toward India by way of Afghanistan. In Kandahar, later the breeding ground of the Taliban, he was beaten, raped and robbed by a gang of men who stole his passport, travelers’ checks and the cherished Martin guitar he’d bought from Hoyt Axton years earlier. He ended up in an Afghan mental asylum. Through the American embassy, he was able to get out and eventually get back home. As Stax has written, “the trauma of that experience appears to have triggered acute schizophrenia.”

He returned to Los Angeles a changed person, worse for wear. He told former friends that he was no longer Craig Smith, that he’d ascended to a higher consciousness and henceforth was to be known as “Maitreya”—the next Buddha, the new Messiah. He was able, somehow, to resurrect his music career, even as his intake of LSD and pot fueled his messianic delusions. After the Manson Family murders in August 1969, though, anyone affiliated with the entertainment industry who was walking around L.A. claiming to be a messiah was given wide berth. According to Stax, Smith had met Charles Manson the year before at Dennis Wilson’s house and noticed how the charismatic hanger-on—Manson was then in search of an album deal—used fear and intimidation to keep his followers in line.

Ultimately, Craig Smith had his name legally changed to Maitreya, shaved his head, and wore the robes of a Buddhist monk. The final sign of his leap into oblivion was that he had a spider tattoo drawn on his forehead, the spot of his “glowing Third Eye.” “Like Manson and his followers, who’d carved an X in the same spot,” noted Stax, “he appeared to be X-ing himself out of society completely.”

Somehow, through this gathering haze, Craig was able to self-finance and self-produce two albums under the name Satya Sai Maitreya Kali, Apache and Inca. On the cover of the albums, which he sold on the street, he included handwritten liner notes that read, among other things, “Craig Smith saved the planet, did you? He died for a righteous cause…Bow to Maitreya…Christ is me and no one else.”

Over the next few years, he spent time in prison, mental institutions but mostly homeless on the streets of Studio City and North Hollywood.

To research and unravel this mystery, Stax pursued every lead, most of which led to dead ends. Though he lives in San Diego, Stax made periodic trips up the coast to LA in hopes of tracking Smith down. He was never able to make face to face contact with Smith, though some of his friends did.

Both Apache and Inca became instant collectibles. Even while Craig Smith was alive and living on the streets of Los Angeles, copies of the Apache/Inca double album were fetching upwards of $10,000 on eBay—unbeknownst to the one person on the planet who desperately needed the cash.

This sort of news only made Smith’s fate seem that much more tragic to Stax. As he wrote in Swim Through the Darkness: “It was music that started me on this long, strange journey to find Craig Smith. That search plunged me into an ocean of darkness and mystery that at times seemed impenetrable. The music was my compass as I swam deeper into the past. It helped me keep my bearings. It gave Craig a voice. It gave him shape and substance. It made him real to me. It gave my search meaning.”

Finally, through a friend in Los Angeles, Stax learned that Craig Smith had been found dead in a North Hollywood park in March 2012—only a few blocks from where he grew up—and that his remains had lain unclaimed at the L.A. County coroner’s office for six months.

If this story can be said to have a happy ending, Stax’s wishes to bring more attention to Smith’s music have now come true. After his acclaimed book was published in 2016, Stax was contacted by Gary Smith, Craig’s older brother. He told Stax that his brother had entrusted him with his possessions before wandering off into oblivion. For more than four decades, Gary held on to these treasures, among which were some tapes of unreleased music. Most of the music was recorded between stays in the psychiatric ward. These songs were, Stax notes, “written, sung and played by a man who, by all accounts, had lost his mind.” Maybe so, but he retained enough grasp on some deep, immutable truths of human existence and, somehow—perhaps even miraculously—got them down on tape.

Stax, with Gary Smith’s help, put together a superb album’s worth of Craig Smith’s unreleased songs, Love Is Our Existence, which has just been released. It is the sort of album that makes one wonder where Smith could have taken his talents had he not been sidetracked by drugs and mental illness.

Most of the songs were recorded in the years 1969-71, after Craig Smith returned from his traumatic Asian sojourn. Some of the songs had been written years before, including “Country Girl,” which Glen Campbell covered on his Try A Little Kindness album after hearing the demo (included here).
The songs that he wrote at this time, though, are what stick out on Love Is Our Existence, particularly the psychedelicized “Rainbow Colors” and the harrowing “Jupiter’s Queen.” Most reveal, upon repeated listenings, the darkness into which he was slipping. The finger-picked guitar playing is superb, the singing is rich and the songs stand the test of time. Love Is Our Existence seems almost a miracle, given the circumstances under which they were created.

According to the book "Swimming Through The Darkness", Craig palled around with Charlie, both at the Topanga Corral Night Club/Bar, Dennis Wilson's house, and Spahn Ranch.  He was good friends with Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson and Frank Zappa, Neal Young, and Bobby Jameson, just to name a few.  Craig's name for the Beach Boys was "Man Sons".....

In the late 60's Craig got involved with LSD, Marijuana, etc...that's where he got involved with Charlie and Company....

When Craig was with the Penny Arkade, Chris Ducey was his partner...

Chris Ducey was supposed to make/release an album titled "Songs of Protests and Anti-Protest, but as he had contracted to ABC, he could not work on the album....the record company hired Bobby Jameson to write and record the entire record.... Bobby Jameson was once a suspect in the Tate Murder but eventually cleared...he has a blog in which he addresses his connections to this and to the Diane Linkletter death....

Soon after, Craig got his passport and wanted to "do" the "Hippie Trail" in Afghanistan, something dreadful happened there, he came back to the US, schizophrenic, and became Maitreya Kali, the next Messiah.

He returned to Los Angeles in the early 1970's.....I'll end it here, no the book, it's worth it....


LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

Thanks Kimchi.

The book looks interesting...

Dilligaf said...

Thanks Kimchi! Quite an interesting read. I find it interesting how many artistic people dabbled with LSD, and other drugs, subsequently suffering from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. I realize that there might not have always been a direct correlation between drugs and mental illness, yet here we are once again. There was definitely little QC in the products, nor was there much data that the young crowd would have believed regarding the effects of drugs at the time. Slouch suffering, so much lost talent....

sunset77 said...

Personally, I'm 100% certain there is a direct connection between mind altering chemicals like LSD, and the bizarre and often violent behavior they cause. In this post there is a noticeable difference from Craig Smith that was on the Andy Williams show, to "Matreya Kaili". I've posted about this before simply because I've ran across so many similar instances.

While this person apparently didn't become extremely paranoid, engage in "bizarre" or "pointless" murders, and commit suicide, many people do. There is a type of "medication" called "anti depressants" that mimic the effects of LSD and often cause the same violent behavior, including every mass shooting I've ever looked up. At some point, it's a 100% guarantee that mind altering chemicals were involved.

SSRI Nightmares