Bruce Haack, a True Visionary

Bruce Clinton Haack (1931–1988) … vocoder pioneer man, electronic music guru, musical mastermind, psychedelic pioneer, whatever one may call him (or associate him with), he was an utterly unique talent.  Electronic before Kraftwerk, psychedelic pre-Krautrock, Haack’s early music was ground-breaking space age pop songs written for kids, and his songs evolved into something even more groundbreaking all together.  Haack’s music influenced musicians like Beck, Stereolab, Kraftwerk, and his songs have been sampled by hip hop dj’s like Cut Chemist and J. Dilla.  And to think, it all started in the bizarre, often creepy world of children’s music …

Haack founded Dimension 5 records with Esther Nelson in 1963.  Their goal was to create a sound that mixed electronic music with storytelling and a psychedelic worldview.  The two created 11 children’s records in all that managed to pick up rave reviews from dancing, screaming children and the academic and popular media alike.  Most contemporary listeners express disbelief that these recordings are intended for children in the first place, as they can be quite sophisticated intellectually and musically. Even the storytelling segments, which are probably the closest these records get to traditional children’s fare, are unlike the fairy tale and Disney records most of us are used to, just listen …

Throughout the 60s Haack also did a bunch of commercial work, including scoring commercials for clients like Parker Brothers Games, Goodyear Tires, Kraft Cheese, and Lincoln Life Insurance.  He also continued to promote electronic music on television, demonstrating how synthesizers work on The Mister Rogers Show in 1968.

In 1969 Haack made his major-label debut with his first rock-influenced work, Electric Lucifer. The record is a concept album about the earth being caught in the middle of a war between heaven and hell.  It features a heavy, driving sound complete with Moogs, his friend, collaborator, and business manager Chris Kachulis singing, and Haack’s homegrown electronics including a prototype vocoder and unique lyrics.

As he describes the concept, “A primary function of ‘The Electric Lucifer‘ is to help end war – and hate and pain and fear.  The god I want mankind to walk with hand-in-hand is so full of love and genius that even Lucifer, the eternal underdog, will be forgiven … Lucifer is a love angel.  I supposed he could be made into a saint.  Oh what a painful fall – the cherubs all over said “No – it can’t happen-.”  Banishment of a leader who dared to what? Colonialism and clones duplicating clowns … Maybe the Angel People will all unite.  The key is Powerlove.”

Throughout the 70s, Haack focused primarily on making children’s albums including 1972’s Dance to the Music, 1973’s Captain Entropy, and 1974’s This Old Man, which featured science fiction versions of nursery rhymes and traditional songs, 1976’s Funky Doodle and Ebenezer Electric (an electronic version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol), but by the late 1970s, his prolific output slowed.  That is until he released his swan song, 1982’s “Party Machine,” which totally telescoped toward the future, with Haack collaborating with a young Russell Simmons (yes, that Russell Simmons) to create a funky vocoder jam!

If no description is more overused than “visionary,” I’d say Haack is one of the few artists worthy of the word.


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