Hindu Love Gods at 30
Looking back at the time Warren Zevon and R.E.M. got together to cover Prince and the blues, only to be released as a Hindu Love Gods album three years later
As Warren Zevon entered the 1990s, he was a man without a label and a recent stint in rehab.
Having just left Virgin Records following two guest-stacked classic albums in 1987’s Sentimental Hygiene and 1989’s Transverse City, Zevon was in search of a label and his new manager Andrew Slater had Giant Records, a Reprise-distributed imprint launched by Zevon’s old manager Irving Azoff, in his sights. Turned out Slater was an old college pal of R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, whom along with Mike Mills and Bill Berry had been part of a loose music collective with Zevon called Hindu Love Gods. The band’s early lineup also featured Bryan Cook, a fellow native of Athens, GA, on keyboards and vocals. They cut a 7-inch single featuring a cover of the Easybeats’ “Gonna Have A Good Time Tonight” in 1984, but wouldn’t come out for another two years.
AUDIO: Hindu Love Gods “Gonna Have A Good Time Tonight”
However, when it came time for Zevon to cut his Virgin debut Sentimental Hygiene, he recruited the R.E.M. guys to be his core studio band. And it was during these sessions emerged the one and only full-length LP attributed to Hindu Love Gods, released 30 years ago on October 16, 1990.
Following the precedent they set on their debut 7-inch and recorded after Berry, Buck and Mills finished tracking their parts for Sentimental Hygiene, the album is some of the most freewheeling music the members of R.E.M. had been involved with at the time.
“We had an extra day,” Zevon told Goldmine in a 1995 interview. “We finished ahead of schedule. We had a month of studio time to do the album and we finished ahead of time, so we did the Hindu jam session deal. We did it in one day.”
The tracklist consists almost entirely of blues covers, including Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues,” Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw,” Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle” and the Muddy Waters standard “Mannish Boy” among others. But they also threw in a couple of cool modern curveballs in there as well, including the Georgia Satellites’ “Battleship Chains” and Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” which drew the most attention to the album’s existence.
“Warren said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s do a bunch of old blues covers and we’ll call it Monkey Wash, Donkey Rinse.,” Mills said in the book It Crawled From The South by Marcus Gray .’ “Don’t ask me why! We said, ‘Fine,’ and we all got drunk (except reformed alcoholic Warren) and cut this bunch of blues covers and ‘Raspberry Beret.'”
However, neither Slater nor Zevon informed Berry, Buck or Mills the Hindu Love Gods album was being released as part of Warren’s new deal with Giant. So when it appeared on store shelves in October, it was certainly news to the men of R.E.M. as it stands.
“He kind of borrowed the name Hindu Love Gods, took it for what he could – and I don’t blame him,” Berry said in Q. “He’s a great guy, good luck to him. I’m not as fond of his management, though. It got a bit ridiculous: They were making demands on us. They wanted us to do videos and stuff, and we we were saying, ‘Come on, this was done as a drunken thing!’ Sentimental Hygiene came out four years ago – now they’re saying we’re sabotaging his career by not cooperating at this point!”
Zevon has admitted a bit of remorse over the way the Hindu Love Gods thing went down, as he mentioned in his 1995 Goldmine interview.
“We ultimately would have preferred it not come out at all, I think. It sold for like a dollar,” Zevon said. “I didn’t have anything to do with the packaging or anything. They [R.E.M] think I’m exploiting them, and I think they resented [that], but it has nothing to do with any of us. I told my manager, ‘This is all yours. I don’t want to see it; I don’t want to argue about it; I don’t want to hear about it. Whatever you want, whatever you’re gonna do, it’s up to you.'”
Looking back 30 years later, however, fans of both R.E.M. and Warren Zevon remain grateful that Hindu Love Gods exists despite its dubious liberation onto the retail market. Speaking personally, I wouldn’t have gotten into the genius of Warren Zevon as early as I did beyond “Werewolves of London” if not for the R.E.M. connection. Especially back in the fall of 1990, just as news was starting to appear about a new album in 1991 (which, of course, was the chart-topping, Grammy-winning breakthrough LP Out of Time). Anticipation was at an all-time high, and Hindu Love Gods was a fast, fun and loose stopgap that also doubled up as a bit of street education on the blues to boot.
Despite the shady means by which it appeared on the racks of my local Strawberries, we should ultimately thank Andrew Slater for getting these raw, resplendent recordings out there in the world.
A reissue is long overdue.
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