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Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls

Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps SoulsIn the late 1960s, the supernatural was the In Thing. I’m sure the decade’s tumultuous social change and death of hope had something to do with it—JFK’s gleaming Camelot quickly gave way to Charles Manson’s brutal murders—and when people feel they’ve lost control, they search for answers anywhere. But enough of this mass psychology drivel. What I’m getting at is in the Age of Aquarius, the occult was everywhere: Anton Szandor LaVey (aka Howard Levey) and his Church of Satan attracted every manner of celebrity; pop parapsychologist Hans Holzer and pop witch Sybil Leek were best-selling authors; even “real” writers got into the game with novels such as The Mephisto Waltz and Rosemary’s Baby, both of which spawned excellent movies. And don’t think that popular music was left out. While several rock groups with supernatural/horror themes formed at the time, the most prominent being Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper, today I want to talk about Coven, a little-remembered band from that mystical, confused period.

Coven formed in Chicago in the late ‘60s, led by Jinx Dawson, a throaty wailer with a hearty interest in the occult. Though Coven finally hit the charts in 1971 with “One Tin Soldier,” the theme to Billy Jack, their most interesting release was the 1969 album Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls.

When I was a kid, I used to troll the record department at Kmart for albums with interesting covers. One day, I was browsing through “C” and there it was. Peering out at me from the bin was a foxy blond chick dressed in black and holding a skull. She was surrounded by guys in robes and above her head were the words Witchcraft and Coven, surrounded by cheesy flames. I ask you, what’s a 10-year-old boy with his own hearty interest in the occult to do? He immediately begs $3.99 from his mom; that’s what he does.

Can we destroy your mind?When I got the record home, I unwrapped it excitedly. “Ooh, cool,” I thought. “It has a fold-out cover.” (I loved those.) I opened it up and—oh my god, there was the blond singer, lying naked on an altar with a skull resting atop her pubic area, surrounded by crazed Satanists! The album also included a poster of this picture, with the lyrics printed on the back of it. Man, this was already an amazing album and I hadn’t even listened to it yet! Then I put the record on. All I can say is, musically, it was average psychedelic acid-tinged rock dressed up with occult themes (think: Cream meets the Jefferson Airplane singing about demons and witches). Although Jinx Dawson could sing fairly well, she was overly dramatic and very earnest about the whole witchcraft angle. Every song on the album is occult-related and several border on cornball. Titles include “Dignitaries of Hell,” “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,” “White Witch of Rose Hall” and “Pact with Lucifer” (“Pact” was misspelled as “Pack” on the album cover, giving the song a whole new interpretation in my mind: “Me and the Devil are going on vacation!”). But I must admit, there’s some good guitar playing on it and a few catchy tunes that I still like. Many years later, I learned that most of the songs were written to order by a songwriter at the request of the band’s producer, who was most likely hoping that witchcraft would destroy minds and reap dollars.

The album is capped off by the last track, “Satanic Mass,” a 13-minute “recording of a Black Mass performed by Coven.” And that’s exactly what it is: a textbook Black Mass, led by someone that sounds like a hammy radio announcer. The whole thing was somewhat scary for a 10-year-old kid, but today comes off sounding like a bad Disney Halloween haunted house record.

What if we just destroy your soul?The album is out there on the internet for anyone that cares enough to look for it. It’s worth hearing if you’re interested in witchcraft and/or the history of rock music, or even if you just want a conversation starter for your next Halloween party. To me, Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls is both a relic from a different time and a link to my childhood. But, mainly, it’ll always be that far-out Satan record with the poster of the naked foxy blond chick.

~Theron Neel

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2 Comments

  • Steve Murray
    Posted April 10, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    I’ve got bad news for Theron Neel – you are still 10 years old! I’ve never read a more infantile review of a classic recording in my life. If Jinx’ singing is overdramatic then I guess Pat Benatar should buy back all her albums from her fans in shame, followed by Ann Wilson, Patty Smyth, Aretha, ad infinitum. Here’s a hint, moron: if you don’t like the songs on an album – don’t review it. It colors your perception and renders you unable to determine what you’re hearing. Those tunes were creative and well-written and played. They stuck to the theme without wavering and each one told an occult story. Throughout, Jinx amazing voice took us on a ride I’ve never forgotten. That’s the appeal that has kept this album a topic of interest for 40 years (Sorry, Theron, for you it was the “cool blonde chick”; for everybody else it was the talent). You weren’t sufficiently motivated to find anything out about the ‘unnamed’ songwriter so I’ll fill you in. The guitarist and writer was Jim Donlinger, and the keyboardist and orchestrator was Jim Nyeholt – both of Aorta and incredible musicians in their own right. Stick to your day job, pal.

  • admin
    Posted April 10, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    This album meant a lot to me at the time. I followed the journey and really got in to it. But when I heard it again after 30 years, it had lost its magic—for me anyway. There’s good playing on it, especially considering the time period. But a lot of the arrangements haven’t aged well. And, yes, I knew it was Jim Donlinger. His playing is quite good on the LP. Actually, I wasn’t really reviewing this album. I was just relating a story from my childhood. Sorry we don’t see eye to eye, but thanks for reading!

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