Craig Smith / Maitreya Kali / Apache/Inca / Song Sample: Ice and Snow
“I’d die for this album, so bless it”.
Some music just takes a long, long time to reach us. Call it an artistic vision well ahead of the curve. The music waits in obscurity and ripens until the impact will be felt for those few it was meant for. The songs of Craig Smith or Maitreya Kali, as Smith would have preferred, certainly faced a long journey. His music was never intended for the consumer world. The strange and beautiful songs on these records were written with, perhaps, a higher calling.
Craig Smith seemed just another spoiled hippie-kid from California. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy who wanted to be rock-star. Enamored with music, drugs and mysticism, Smith pursued a career in the mainstream music business after high school for what seemed to be all the right reasons. Ambitious certainly, but always searching beyond a good career, social status and money. Most importantly, Craig Smith’s was talented and wanted a deeper undersyanding of the world.
Hanging out in the southern California‘s folk scene in 1963, Smith was eventually recruited by talent agents to join the Good Time Singers(I Care Babe). A folk music group that did back-up performances on the Andy Williams television show. At the time, a huge hit on American Television. It was a remarkable opportunity for an eighteen year old. And it was an opportunity that Smith didn’t let get away. Good Time Singer released several albums and serving as backup for many musicians in the burgeoning folk-rock scene. Best of all, the band practice, songwriting and exposure gave Smith the chance he needed to mature and blossom. He even wrote a song featured on Andy Williams 1965 holiday album, Merry Christmas.
Throughout this period, Smith remained dedicated to his art. He worked hard with focus and discipline. He seemed to have it all the right ingredients for the success before him. Even auditioning for new television series, The Happeners in 1966. A Monkees-style show about folk-musicians living together in New York. Had it been successful, the Happeners would have put Craig Smith’s good-looks and talent front and center before a huge weekly television audience. Unfortunately, the Happeners didn’t happen and ABC passed on the series after the first show was finished.
A bitter defeat perhaps, but Smith was determined to move forward. Leaving Andy Williams and forming group with the Happeners co-star, Chris Ducey. The duo devoting all their time and efforts on their biggest assets; writing songs and making contact in the music business. Eventually forming a business partnership with the Monkees’ Micheal Nesmith and becoming the opening act for the Frank Zappa’s Mother’s of Invention in late 1967 as the Penny Arkade (Color Fantasy). You can’t underestimate the value of the partnership between Nesmith and Smith in the music business. Nesmith opened many doors for the new band. Smith’s own songwriting ability seemed to be exploding during this period with his songs being recorded by the Monkees (Salesman), Heather McRae(Hands of the Clock) and Glenn Campbell (Country Girl). The Penny Arkade recorded two full albums and several single between 1968-1969. All the material with an amazing commercial sound that recalls a more experimental Buffalo Springfield. But despite some interest by radio, the Penny Arkade just didn’t seem to be happening quickly enough for Smith.
Smith seemed to focus increasingly on the world of drugs and mysticism. Jumping deeper into the underground psychedelic world that was all around him. Even forging a short affiliation with members of the Mason Family. It seemed that the toil of endless practices and auditions wasn’t the reward Smith had hoped. Often more business than actual music, Smith became convinced that there was more useful actives for him outside the band. (The Penny Arkade continued with him until 1970).
The “hippie trail” is a notorious pathway through Europe and Asia that became a counter culture tourist destination for many young Americans and Europeans. The path through India, Pakistan and Afghanistan was a lengthy vacation filled with eastern religion and inexpensive drugs. The local villages filled with cafes and hotels that catered to these wealthy hippies seeking enlightenment without discomfort. Many visitors could spend months walking through the pathway in this region.
After forgoing his music career, Smith set his sights on the spiritual revelation of the hippie trail with every indication that he was sincere in his pursuit of enlightenment. Having just thrown away a (semi) successful career in music, Smith wanted to discover an innermost peace and satisfaction that had eluded him. And a relief from the growing uneasiness that was about manifesting itself. In 1968, Craig packed his bags and arrived in Greece. Telling friends that he simply wanted a vacation.
If nothing else, Craig Smith was a sincere and talented young man. It is not exactly clear what happened to him when set along the hippie trail. There are stories of genuinely traumatic events. Initially, he began the journey with a group of friends. Only to separate himself and continue his journey alone. What is certain, is that he took a an enormous amount of psychedelic drugs. There were rumors that Smith went “crazy” in a small Indian village and was sent jailed or spent time in an asylum. Whatever happened or didn’t happen, by the time he arrived back in California in 1969, Smith had become a very different man. His frequent use of LSD trigger behavior that made him increasingly hostile and anti-social. He also insisted that friends and family refer to him as Maitreya Kali. Whatever name he went by, the the young man with eyes full of hope in 1963 was gone. The heavy drug use robbing him of his grip on reality. Smith often claimed to have magical or even divine powers. Eventually, he had a black widow spider tattooed on his forehead as a magical third eye. And it is clear that Smith’s mental issues were not the result of a trip to Asia. Signs of his struggle with mental illness had manifest before he left California. And the copious amounts of LSD certainly didn’t help.
Which isn’t to say that Smith or Maitreya Kali didn’t still have a true artistic vision and true talent. Apache and Inca were released independently in 1972 under his new identity, Maitreya Kali. The records pulling together newly recorded tracks after returning to California and older songs going back to his time with Andy Williams and the Penny Arkade. There is a far range of sound quality on the albums. Printed at Custom Fidelity without a record contract or help from any outside sources, Smith had two albums pressed from the homemade recordings that he saved. The records tell the tale of a handsome, talented man pulled apart by illness, drugs and his own struggle to make his voice heard. There is a strange darkness that settles across these songs. Even at their most beautiful and optimistic, the songs of Apache and Inca take you down a lonely road. These are very special recordings. At times, filled with a playful innocence and warmth from a troubled soul. They providing a rare glimpse of the artist Maitreya Kali had struggled to become.