While this certainly wasn’t the most popular record to come from the Classic ISKCON era, it was the first and was the reason for all of the other records.
Neither the devotees nor Srila Prabhupada sought out a record deal or seemed to give much thought to recording. But around Christmas time in 1966, a record producer, Alan Kallman, read an article in the East Village Other about the devotees.
Kallman isn’t someone who I can trace. He owned Ribbon Records in the late 50′s and early 60′s. They didn’t really have any hits. By the mid 60′s, according to a letter from Srila Prabhupada to a “Mr. Fulton,” Alan Kallman owned Pixi Records.
He decided to drop by 26 2nd Ave in New York City (the first Hare Krishna temple) to see for himself.
Back to Godhead Magazine did a great write up on the recording of this in a 1981 issue. It was later used in the Lila-mrta. Here are some clips of that.
Alan phoned Prabhupada to propose that he make a record of the chanting. But it was Brahmananda who answered the phone, and he gave Alan an appointment with the Swami that evening. So again Alan and his wife went down to the East Village, which to them was the neighborhood where things were happening. If you wanted to have some excitement, you went down to the East Village.
When they entered the Swami’s room, he was seated at his typewriter, working. As soon as Alan mentioned his idea about making a record, Prabhupäda was interested. “Yes,” he said, “we must record. If it will help us distribute the chanting of Hare Krsna, then it is our duty.” They scheduled the recording for two weeks later, in December, at the Adelphi Recording Studio near Times Square. Alan’s wife was impressed by how enthusiastically the Swami had gotten to the point of making the record: “He had so much energy and ambition in his plans.”
From Hare Krishna Explosion by Hayagriva das:
The night before the recording session, a guest appears at Matchless Gifts with a wooden drum resembling a mridanga—a two-headed Bengali clay drum used in Vaishnava kirtans and reportedly designed by Lord Chaitanya Himself. Swamiji spots it from the dais. Quickly the drum is in his lap, and he is playing it expertly. Everyone looks up, surprised. For us, the sounds seem to come from faraway Bengal, or, perhaps, from other planets, so strange are the rhythms and sweet the echoes.
“We must have this drum for tomorrow’s recording,” Swamiji says, and Brahmananda convinces the owner to lend us the drum for the recording session.
Brahmananda: Swamiji began to play, and his hands were just dancing on the drum. Everyone was stunned that Swamiji knew how to do this. All we had seen was the bongo drum, so I thought it was the proper Indian drum. But when this two-headed drum came out of nowhere and Swamiji started playing it like a master musician, it created an ecstasy a hundred times more than the bongo drum had. (From SPL)
It was a cold December night. The Swami, dressed in his usual saffron dhoti, a tweed overcoat, and a pair of gray shoes (which had long since replaced his original white, pointy rubber ones), got into Rupanuga’s VW van with about fifteen of his followers and their instruments and started for the recording studio.
They recorded at Adelphi Recording Studio in Times Square. Hayagriva’s book gives a short paragraph about the recording. Satsvarupa’s book gives us a bit more detail. There were about fifteen devotees with various instruments including a harmonium loaned to them by Allen Ginsberg.
Prabhupada sat on a mat in the center of the studio, while the engineers arranged the microphones and assigned each devotee a place to sit according to his particular instrument. They asked for only two pairs of karatalas and they approved of the pairs of rhythm sticks, but they wanted several devotees clapping their hands. Rupanuga’s usual instrument was a pair of brass Indian bells with the tongues removed, and when the engineer saw them, he came over and said, “Let me hear that.” Rupanuga played them, and they passed. Since Ravindra Svarupa would be playing the drone on the harmonium, he sat apart with his own microphone, and Kirtanananda also had a microphone for the tamboura. (From SPL)
Srila Prabhupada and the devotees seem to have performed live in the studio for this one. On subsequent records, they seem to have recorded in tracks. There’s a video of some devotees explaining to Srila Prabhupada (almost treating him like he’s a child – which never really sat well with me) that they can do multi-track recording. The idea was new to him – the only other time he recorded was live in the studio.
The first take didn’t go so well because Brahmananda was clapping too loudly. But on the second take, it all came together.
After a few rounds of the mantra, the devotees began to feel relaxed, as though they were back in the temple, and they were able to forget about making mistakes on the record. They just chanted, and the beat steadied into a slightly faster pace. The word hare would come sometimes with a little shout in it, but there were no emotional theatrics in the chorus, just the straight response to the Swami’s melody. Ten minutes went by. The chanting went faster, louder and faster-Swamiji doing more fancy things on the drum, until suddenly… everything stopped, with the droning note of the harmonium lingering.
Alan came out of the studio: “It was great, Swami. Great. Would you like to just go right ahead and read the address now? Or are you too tired?” With polite concern, pale, befreckled Alan Kallman peered through his thick glasses at the Swami. Swamiji appeared tired, but he replied, “No, I am not tired.” Then the devotees sat back in the studio to watch and listen as Prabhupada read his prepared statement. (From SPL)
After reading it, the producer tells Srila Prabhupada that they have about ten more minutes on side two to fill. He asks Srila Prabhupada if he is tired. Prabhupada says that he isn’t and they start to chant again. This time he sang what was titled on the album as “Chant to the Mercy of the Spiritual Master.” We know it as “The Samsara Prayers.”
After the song, which was done in one take, Srila Prabhupada said, “Now we are tired.” The night was over. However, as the studio engineer replayed the take, Srila Prabhupada stood up and started to dance to the song the devotees and he had just recorded.
“Now you have made your best record,” Swamiji told Mr. Kallman as he left the studio for the freezing Manhattan evening. Swamiji got into the front seat of the Volkswagen bus while “The Hare Krsna Chanters” climbed into the back with their instruments, and Rupanuga drove them back home, back to the Lower East Side. (From SPL)
I’m not sure when the record was formally released. I’m also not sure why it was released on Happening Records (maybe Alan owned them for a time?).
After its release, the record somehow found its way into the hands of George Harrison and John Lennon.
By the time the Hare Krsna movement first came to England in 1969, John and I had already gotten ahold of Prabhupada’s first album, Krsna Consciousness. We had played it a lot and liked it. That was the first time I’d ever heard the chanting of the maha-mantra. – George Harrison
It was because of this album that Harrison produced the Radha Krsna Temple album. And it was because of that album that all of the other records were made. So had it not been for Alan Kallman approaching Srila Prabhupada in 1966, things would have been very different.
Its release was obviously a huge benediction for the newly established Krishna consciousness movement. But it wasn’t until nearly ten years later (March of 1976 in New Dehli, India) that Srila Prabhupada saw any direct royalties from it.
An unexpected visitor turned up in the afternoon: Mr. Alan Kallman from New York. He produced Prabhupada’s first Hare Krsna record in 1966. He arrived with a lady friend, and at long last gave Prabhupada his royalties from the record’s sales. They amounted to about 170,000 rupees, to which he added a personal donation of $2,000. Although not a devotee, it was obvious that he has great admiration and respect for Srila Prabhupada.
And Srila Prabhupada, in turn, was very happy to see him, greeting him as an old friend. He had his guests sit while we fed them sumptuous prasadam. As they ate, Prabhupada chatted very amicably with them and would not let them go until they had eaten everything. He smiled brightly all the while, clearly delighting his guests. He is expert at entertaining and encouraging people to increase their devotional service to the Supreme Lord. (From Hari Sari’s Diary)
At that time (and maybe even now), Kallman still owned the rights to this album. I’m not sure why that mattered, the devotees have bootlegged the George Harrison produced album like crazy. But maybe at this time (1975ish), the devotees had not yet taken to that (though that’s doubtful).
It was because of Kallman owning the rights to this record that Golden Avatar Studios was founded and the devotees started to record themselves.
He [Krsna Kanti dasa, founder of Golden Avatar] also offered to record Srila Prabhupada when he visits Los Angeles this summer. He especially wants to make a recording of Prabhupada chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, since the only other record of him doing this is still owned by Alan Kallman. (from HS)
A few months later Kallman, now back in New York, visited Srila Prabhupada again and gave him a $3000 donation.
This record wasn’t the easiest to track town. I don’t know much about how many copies were made or how widely it was distributed, but here it is, in my hands.
Please download it and enjoy.