The music Coven played was not far removed from the music of bands of the era like Jefferson Airplane, a connection made even more evident with the lead female vocals in both bands. But instead of the peace & love ideals of the turn on, tune in, drop out generation, which other late 60s bands were embracing, Coven's lyrics dealt with Satanism, witchcraft, curses and evil. Aside from the celebrated legend of Robert Johnson, and the occasional song like "That Old Black Magic" by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Satanism and the occult had never been dealt with by popular musicians. The Stones are usually cited as a Satanic band (at least in the later 60s), but their Satanic Majesties Request was a gimmick with no "evil" songs and, despite it's threatening title, "Sympathy For the Devil" had less to do with Satanism and more to do with Mikhail Bulgakov's classic novel about Satan and religion, "The Master and the Margarita". The song's infamous reputation from Altamont (probably) came after Coven's album was released. Black Widow did have music out under the name of Pesky Gee! but it was not Satanic. Coven performed locally in the Chicago area until they attracted the attention of Mercury Records in the fall of 1969. Before the Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls LP, Coven had a 7" single out, the A-side being a cover of Dylan's "We Shall Be Released" and the b-side, "I've Come." Their press release from Mercury Records mentioned a previous album they recorded for another label that was shelved and never released.
When singing their recording contract with Mercury, the band reportedly signed in blood (a common motif of soul-selling stories, a la Faust, Theophilus, etc.) but this was just a hint of the theatrics to come. After securing the deal, Jinx, Oz and Steve, along with a handful of session musicians, recorded what is probably the first album of purely Satanic songs ever recorded, LaVey's Satanic Mass notwithstanding. The LP was entitled Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls. While the occult and Satanism were in the public eye, with LaVey's founding of the Church of Satan in 1966 and a slew of occult books (including The Satanic Bible) an open promotion of the subject had not been attempted, The Stones coming the closest, but even they backed off before they seriously offended people.
About the session musicians: In 1967 a band called Aorta released a self-titled album that is now regarded as a psychedelic classic. A man named Jim Donlinger was the leader of Aorta and Coven chose him to mix their Witchcraft LP. He not only arranged the album, he wrote or co-wrote the majority of songs on it as well, played guitar and also sang background vocals. Another member of Aorta, Jim Nyeholt, played piano and keyboards. Adding to the Aorta family was Bill Traut, who produced not only Witchcraft but Aorta and Shadows of Knight. Donlinger and Nyeholt were members of a Christian band called The Exceptions who recorded an EP in 1966. Apparently, Donlinger went on to perform more Christian music (!) under the name of James Vincent. What he was doing with Coven is anyone's guess and on his webpage, he does not mention Coven or Witchcraft in his "resume." In any case, Mercury took off with the band's Satanic theme. Among the promotional advertisements for the album was "Coven. They just made one hell of an album. They'll destroy your mind and reap your soul."
The songs themselves were good, but standard acid-rock songs. In fact, unlike later bands such as Black Sabbath, Coven's music was just not particuarly atmospheric. Granted, speaking from a 2002 perspective, where we've seen the rise of Black Sabbath, Slayer, the whole black metal genre - I'm sure Witchcraft raised quite a few eyebrows at the time. It is speculated that the musical theatrics were kept to a minimum in order to emphasize Jinx's voice, which is of course possible. What was striking about the album was the overall theme. The album art was as sinister and Satanic as the lyrics to the songs; the front cover featured Jinx, Steve and Oz against a black background, all three wearing inverted crosses, crowded around a skull. The inside gatefold, however, featured a naked young woman on an altar, a chalice strategically covering her sex. It was bizarre enough, but not illegal - even Playboy was not allowed to show pubic hair in the magazine because it was considered obscene at the time. Incidentally, the woman is not, as popuarly assumed, Jinx. Jinx refused to do it because, according to Donlinger/Vincent, she felt she was too overweight. Women... Also stated is that the album was filled with what appeared to be "authentic" images from the 16th century.
The first side of the record was comprised of Satanic acid-rock songs, while the second side was even more bold, featuring one 15-minute track entitled "Satanic Mass." The band claimed it was an actual recording of a Satanic Mass. Although the liner notes claim that it is the first such recording the band was aware of, Anton LaVey had released an LP (which has since made it to CD) a year earlier entitled Satanic Mass. The inside jacket of Witchcraft cautioned listeners to the potential dangers. "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first Black Mass to be recorded, either in written words or in audio. It is as authentic as hundreds of hours of research in every known source can make it. We do not recommend its use by anyone who has not thoroughly studied Black Magic and is aware of the risks and dangers involved." It also says, "For further information and source material, write: Coven, in care of Dunwich Productions, 25 East Chestnut, Chicago, Illionois 60611."
The album become an underground hit and while it never made any headway on the mainsteam rock n' roll charts, the band received plenty of notoriety for their image. In Chicago, the police forbade the band to say anything in between their songs, although other venues were much more lenient, giving Coven ample room for an elaborate stage show. Quoted in "The Lords of Chaos" by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind, Oz Osbourne recounts Coven's outrageous stage show. "We did a lot of our album and other things as our stage show, intermixing the Black Mass, or Satanic Mass, as kind of a segueway between the songs. Behind the stage we had an altar and on top of the altar we had what we called a Christian cross and we had one of our road people hanging on the Christian cross as Jesus, and he kind of just stayed there doing the whole show. Our stage was lit with obviously a lot of reds, and we had candles and that kind of thing. Then we would do our whole album and other materials that all dealt with interesting stories of witchcraft. Of course we were costumed ... right at the end of our set we did a Procol Harum song that was just appropriate, called "Walpurgis." And right in the middle of it we break into the "Ave Maria." At that point Jinx would do the benediction of the Black Mass and she'd recite the Latin bits and she would go, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law," which is Crowley ... She'd say the Crowley bit then would hail Satan and would turn around and scream, "Hail Satan!" at the cross and altar, at which point the guy (Jesus) would pull his arms off the cross, get down, invert the cross into the Satanic symbol and would go dancing off the stage while the music was still playing." As Coven became more notorious, they attracted the attention of Anton LaVey. They became a sort of in-house band in the Church of Satan in California, and LaVey planned to form a "Satanic Woodstock" in Detriot on Halloween, wherein Coven would play before LaVey addressed the crowd. It was, unfortunately, cancelled due to controversy.(Occult Rock Library)
COVEN - COVEN - 1972
WITCHCRAFT - DESTROYS MINDS AND REAPS SOULS - 1969
My new rip from vinyl and mastering (256@) (full artwork included)
COVEN - COVEN - 1972
COVEN - BLOOD IN THE SNOW - 1974