Henry Flynt and Nova’Billy

Henry Flynt and Nova’Billy
Locust CD
From 1974-75, New York based fiddler, philosopher and conceptual artist Henry Flynt had a full working rock band called Nova’Billy that cranked out a remarkable blend of country, soul, rock and blues jams mutated and abstracted in various ways through Flynt’s compositional techniques and ferocious improvisation. The band folded after a year due to lack of interest in the few gigs they played at downtown art venues like The Kitchen – and, according to Flynt, various members deciding to jump onto the punk bandwagon that was setting up shop at places like CBGB at that time.
Several songs here first appeared on the excellent Flynt collection Graduation, but this stands as the fullest record of the existence of Nova’Billy, and for those new to Flynt’s music and inexplicably averse to 40 minute Coltrane-like free-fiddle and drone explorations, probably the most accessible and enjoyable disk yet issued of this American master. Quite simply, the disk rocks from beginning to end, and, despite Flynt’s aversion to punk, resonates with other marvels of 1975 such as the New York Dolls and early Pere Ubu, though frankly it also sounds at times like vintage Grateful Dead or Allman Brothers. And that is not a bad thing at all.
Having said that, the strange, abstract compositional structures which Flynt uses, while working within recognizable country or soul idioms produce a ferociously complex, ecstatic groove that sounds like absolutely nothing else. The band, which includes Peter Gordon, who was later involved in the Love of Life Orchestra, and Don Christensen, who became drummer for James Chance’s Contortions, are terrific, as is Flynt’s scorching fiddle sound. If there’s a weakness, it’s Flynt’s voice, which sounds weak when he tries to hold a tune, but amazing when he begins to holler and howl, as on the stunning “Sky Turned Red”. It’s unfortunate that there were few or no takers when Nova’Billy were around, back in 1975. Flynt’s vision of what is valuable in music, set out in his 1980 essay “The Meaning of My Avant Garde Hillbilly and Blues Music” is increasingly vindicated by the turn of younger improvisers to “free folk” and other mutant idiomatic musics. Still, Nova’Billy set out a blazing trail which few so far have been able to follow.

Originally published in Signal to Noise, 2007.

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