Nobody really knew what to make of the Secret Alphabets when they burst on the scene in Anaheim in 1968. Their unique sound included an eclectic mix of free jazz, blues riffs and R&B grooves, all accompanied by the howls and grunts of mustachioed front-man poet Jerry Middleton. The band’s live shows—during which their decidedly modern music was contrasted with their “old-timey” attire—became ever more intense, with some jams lasting for 45 minutes before Middleton ran out of breath (or lyrics) and collapsed on the stage. (On occasion, he would not get up until the next day.) The band reached its zenith in 1970 with its seminal album O.C. Lady, featuring the hit single “Shamans.”
Middleton disappeared one day in 1971 shortly after the band’s headlining appearance at the PLUS Fest in San Bartolomeo. Efforts to locate the unpredictable singer proved fruitless, and the rest of the band soldiered on for 17 years as an instrumental unit. (Sales were minimal; the ‘80s were particularly unforgiving.)
The mystery of Middleton’s whereabouts was resolved in 1998, when a French tourist stumbled on a funerary shrine at a rural temple outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand. No one knows what circuitous route took Middleton there, but locals still tell the story of a mustachioed, middle-aged Caucasian man with very long hair and no shirt floating up and down the Mekong, spreading peace, love and STDs.