The Magic Mushrooms


Magic Mushrooms publicity photo taken by Ted Cahill in Philadelphia, Fall, 1966
Five students at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia formed the Magic Mushrooms. Original members were Stu Freeman vocals and guitar, Ted Cahill lead guitar and autoharp, Dick Richardson keyboards, Charles Ingersol on bass and Joe LaCavera on drums.Allen Ginsberg gave them the Magic Mushrooms name after a campus lecture in late 1965. In early 1966, Josh Rice joined the band on vocals, flute and harmonica.

Sonny Casella heard the band playing at Drexel University and became their manager. Contrary to previous reports, he did not sing or play in the band, but he was responsible for mixing, arranging and producing their records.

They recorded their first 45 in New York, “It’s A-Happening”, an original credited to Casella and Rice, but perhaps really written by Stu Freeman and Josh Rice. A bizarre psychedelic montage, it was released on A&M in September, 1966 and reached as high as #93 on the Billboard charts in November, backed with another original, “Never More”.

A close comparison could be made to the Electric Prunes, but unfortunately we’ll never know how far a record this strange could go – when Herb Alpert of A&M realized the drug reference in the band’s name, he pulled the record from the shops and ended their relationship with the label.


Item in Billboard, August 19, 1967.

Despite this setback the band hooked up with Philips for their second record, “Look in My Face”, which didn’t chart. However, it was backed with the intense “Never Let Go”, an original by Stu Freeman and Josh Rice and my favorite track by the band.

Their final release is the corny “Municipal Water Maintenance Man” on the East Coast label, hiding a very fine hippie-ish track on the b-side, “Let the Rain Be Me”, another Freeman/Rice song.


Magic Mushrooms on stage, from left: Chris Barbieri, Stu Freeman, Joe LaCavera and Josh Rice. Out of frame: Bob Grady and Ted Cahill.
Lead guitarist Ted Cahill and vocalist and guitarist Stu Freeman have filled in some details on the band:Ted Cahill:

I was the lead guitar playing for The Magic Mushrooms. I am still in touch with Stu Freeman. and Joe Lacavera, the drummer.

The original bass and keyboard players were replaced, I think, in the Spring of 1966. Those guys were replaced by Chris Barbieri (bass) and Bon Grady (keyboards). They had both been in a band with Stu in Westchester County, NY before Stu came to Penn.

That summer we played the Jersey shore at a place called Tony Mart’s in Somers Point. We had a dispute with the owner later in the summer and quit. One of our lead singers had been sick and the guy docked us some money. Little did we know it was a mafia bar; our days of playing that part of the Jersey Shore was over. If you have ever seen the movie Eddie and the Cruisers, Tony Mart’s is the club where a lot of the action in the movie happens.

We played a lot around Philly, the Hy Lit show on tv, some bars around the city and lots of frat parties at Penn. We also were supposedly in a movie the Andy Warhol shot at Penn’s Mask and Wig Theater in Center City Philly, whether that really happened I don’t know, but we were asked to play the party there and there was filming going on.

We saw no reward for the Nuggets appearance, all the money we made was from the gigs we played.

Stu Freeman:

I grew up in New Rochelle and presently live in White Plains. The band I had in high school was called the “Foremost” and later the “Fiendish Thingies”. The other members were Barbieri, Grady and a guitar player named Lloyd McCool. All from Pelham Manor.

Barbieri and Grady replaced Charlie Ingersol and Dick Richardson in the Mushrooms after about a year. After about another year, Cahill, Josh Rice and drummer Joe LaCavera were out and the Mushrooms was composed of myself, a guitar player named Steve Rundle, bassist Pete Gries (both from Penn) and a couple of different drummers from around Philly.

“It’s a Happening” was recorded in Sigma Sound studios on Broad Street in Philly, NOT in New York. Engineer was Joe Tarsia, who worked with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff on all those great “Philly sound” records (Harold Melvin, MFSB, Ojays, Archie Bell, Jerry Butler, Soul Survivors, etc.). Tarsia expanded and opened up a studio in NY after the huge success of the Philly studios.

Also, Allen Ginsberg did indeed provide the name “Magic Mushrooms” (he was speaking at a Penn function and Josh caught up with him and asked him for a suggestion). And, there was never any “David Rice” on guitar. BTW, Josh Rice is nephew of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Elmer Rice.

Q. Did you ever see much in the way of royalties from It’s a Happening?

We all received some royalties from the original sales (eons ago), but interesting you should ask that, because one of my erstwhile Penn roommates and current good friend asked me a while ago, after noting the success of the “Nuggets” albums, if any royalties had been received from them. I told him no and he suggested that I investigate, but I never did. I have no idea where Josh Rice is so I never contacted him about it either. Casella owned much of the original publishing so he may have received something from “Nuggets” but it’s also possible the publishing had expired and he got nada.

I got involved with “Stars On 45″ in 1981 with my current partner Ed Garr and we still play regularly (everything from weddings to CBS News holiday parties to Vegas conventions).

Sonny Casella also helped produce the first record by The Snaps (later known as the Underground Balloon Corps) “You Don’t Want Me”/ “You’re All Mine”.

These Magic Mushrooms shouldn’t be confused with the California group the Magic Mushroom (singular) who recorded “I’m Gone” / “Cry Baby” on Warner Bros.

Photos from the collection of Ted Cahill.


Manager Sonny Cassella, Ted Cahill, Stu Freeman, Chris Barbieri and Josh Rice taking a break from recording

Chris Barbieri and Bob Grady

Stu Freeman

Chris Barbieri and Ted Cahill, with Stu Freeman in background

21 thoughts on “The Magic Mushrooms”

  1. Hey Chas!

    Love the site. Have never come across one that actually has Mushrooom song samples in their entirety (probably with good reason!). The bio is fairly accurate. Contact me if you’d like any updates or addtional info about the members.

    FYI, I’ve been with the band Stars On 45 for over 25 years now. (www.starson45.com)

    Stu Freeman
    Formerly of the Magic Mushrooms

  2. Stu, Roger Maglio, President of Gear Fab Records here. We reissue alot of bands from the 60’s such as the Magic Mushrooms. Visit our site. Rumor has it you guys recorded a full length LP that was never released. True or false?

  3. Hey Roger! Sorry I’m so late responding but the answer is yes and no– we recorded enough tunes to release an album, but the deal fell through when Herb Alpert of A&M Records decided “Magic Mushrooms” was not the proper image for his label. At the time, all of A&M’s roster was clean-cut pop artists, e.g., Chris Montez, Baja Marimba Band, Tijuana Brass, etc.

  4. Are there any photos of the Magic Mushrooms? Would love to see some pictures. I have always dug these 45’s the most like.

  5. I’ve heard ‘let the rain be me’ on youtube and absolutely love it. Is it available on any compilations? Or is anyone prepared to sell it?

  6. It’s been comp’d on a volume of Tony The Tyger’s series, Fuzz Flakes and Shakes. I forget which one, you can check the garage comps database section of the Ugly Things website.

    The 45 was found in quantity over 20 years ago. I’m not sure how many, probably 50 copies, all unplayed. It’s scarce now but should not cost more than, say $75 tops

  7. when it’s a-happening first came out i was 16 years old.i was a junior in a south jersey high school..i had went freshman and sophmore year in up state new york and came home more interested in garage music than the delaware valley scene e.g. the gerry blavit thing…i’ll never forget the first time i heard it’s a happening on wibg radio… it knocked me out….it was so original…it was brilliant…till this day i think it is one of the 5 greatest psychedelic songs of all times…i had just started playing bass and went out and purchased a 45 (which I still have today). I played it over and over. It’s still one of my favorite songs of all times and I was thought the musicianship was way ahead of its times. I only wish I could have heard you guys live at the time. Today, I spoke to Richie Ingui who is one of the original Soul Survivors who is still gigging with his brother Charlie Ingui. It would be nice if you guys got back together. That would be a great thing for my bucket list. I recently got tickets for the a Blues Magoos concert which will be at the Keswick Theatre on October 20th. This was also an answer to my prayers after all these years. Thanks for the great memories and still looking to find your other three 45’s for my collection. May the blessings of psychedelia be with you always.

    God Bless,

    Anthony Mole Maressa

    P.S. I got the nickmame Mole in 1966 because my soul became psychedelisized

  8. When I quit the Magic Mushrooms in 1968, and stopped playing guitar in 1969, I never dreamed I would ever play again. Well, 36 years later, I started to play Celtic music, and now have a band in New England called Last Night’s Fun. The new band is a serious enterprise, and we play out quite a bit. So now, 45 years after the release of It’s a Happening, I play jigs and reels and love entertaining people. The coolest thing about Celtic music is that it crosses generations, it’s nice to see people dancing from the age of 2 to 70.

  9. Hey Mole!

    Nice to hear the Mushrooms have a fan who is still coherent! I’d love to get the band together for a reunion tour but I’m afraid we’d have trouble finding venues small enough to accommodate all five of our fans. In any event, glad you enjoyed “It’s A Happening” and I’m thrilled there’s someone who thinks were as cool as we thought we were!

  10. Hi, I have a reel to reel tape of two Magic Mushroom tunes: one song is called “I’m All Ears”, it is actually very good. Dave (Distortions Records)

  11. Yo!

    I got connected up with Ted yesterday (thanks Michael) and found this great site. Stu – I have been wondering for years how to find you. This is really fun.

    Josh

  12. Hello, is it possible, to get the lyrics of “Let the rain be me”? That would be fine! ;-)
    I found this great song on youtube and also learn to play the bass-guitar-part.

    greetings and thanks…
    Soeren

  13. hi stu,

    are you the same being listed on that fantastic record as keyboarder? if so, did you sing can’t keep from crying, one of my all-time fave island-songs? (on the back side of the record is only written “”the voices come from barbara, stu and deirdre”). if you were not the singer, who was it? please answer me here and directly to soul@atomic.de

    kind regrads, roland

  14. Wow, I am so glad I was able to get ahold of this site. And if you guys actually were able to get something of a reunion tour going, it would be amazing. I think it’s such a shame that things never really worked out the way you wanted them to with this band, but had you been able to release a full record, it would for sure be one of my favourites of all time. Even with the very limited amount of music I have of yours, you guys are still one of my favourite bands ever. Thanks for the songs and memories. Oh yeah, by the way, You would have many more than one coherant fan at shows. You would have many fans, from many generations. I’m only 19, but I discovered this band about a year ago, and brought the amazing sound to my small town’s attention, and I’m sure I’d gather up some people to go wherever to see you guys. Cheers!

  15. Roland– Sorry I’m so late in responding, but I haven’t been to this site for a while. Yes, I was the male vocalist and played some keyboards on the album. Apparently some of the cuts were very popular in Europe and I’ve recently heard from some European DJs and jazz buffs who loved our arrangement of “I Can’t Keep from Cryin’ Sometimes”.

    Stu Freeman

  16. Dave– How did you happen to come by a reel-to-reel of “I’m All Ears”? Just curious.

    Stu Freeman
    Magic Mushrooms

  17. Hello to all Mushroom fans from Croatia,
    In 1976. Sire records version of The Nuggets opened my eyes completely.
    From that moment I’m garage man, before I was just ordinary rocker.
    Most of the bands from Nuggets I have found on CDs, LPs but not Magic Mushrooms. This site is great, photos are great and hopefully there is a CD somewhere out there with mushroom’s unreleased album and singles?
    Greetings from Dalmatia, Croatia
    Igor Sinovcic

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