Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mason Proffit: Two Hangmen

I can’t tell you when I first heard of the Midwestern country-rock ensemble Mason Proffit, but I am sure that it was after they disbanded in 1973. In 1975, I became aware of their two principal members – The Talbot Bros. (Terry and John Michael) with the acquisition of their first album after Mason Proffit. This album was recorded to fulfill the band's contract with Warners.

The duo’s LP was one of my favorites and I became familiar with their work; however, I could never find their first album “Wanted . . . Mason Proffit” that was released on Happy Tiger Records. The Happy Tiger imprint was wholly owned by the Flying Tiger Freight Line and was in business from 1969 to 1971. Mason Proffit recorded two LPs for Happy Tiger, one for Ampex Records, and two new albums for Warner Brothers. Warners later re-released the first two Happy Tiger releases in 1974 as “Come and Gone.”

On a trip to Salem, Virginia where my band was booked for the weekend in 1986, I finally found a copy of “Wanted . . . Mason Proffit.” Early Saturday morning, I headed out to nearby downtown Roanoke and found a vintage records store.

That day I walked away with two other collectibles: Dave Mason’s “Alone Together” in vomit-tone colored vinyl on Blue Thumb and John and Yoko’s “Unfinished Music No. 2 – Life with the Lions” on Zapple Records. By the way, the best cut on the Lennon/Ono LP was titled “Two Minutes of Silence” – which, as you may guess, was two minutes of silence.

Mason Proffit gained notoriety throughout the US by touring with “up-and-coming” acts like John Denver, the Doobie Brothers, Mac Davis, and Steely Dan. Their first album produced the regional hit “Two Hangmen.”



Terry Talbot claims that the song was banned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); however, having studied broadcasting law, I have never encountered a reference to the FCC banning any single record release. Although in the Pacifica case, the FCC cited and fined WBAI New York after airing a George Carlin record in the middle of the afternoon.

I am guessing that individual programmers self-censored this tune during the political charged arena of 1969. One other reason it didn’t become a national hit was because Happy Tiger wasn’t a major player in the music promotional world.



Lyrics

As I rode into Tombstone on my horse,
    his name was Mack

I saw what I’ll relate to you,
    going on behind my back

It seems the folks were up-in-arms,
    a man now had to die

For believing things that didn’t fit,
    the laws they'd set aside

The man’s name was “I’m a Freak”;
    the best that could see

He was the executioner,
    a hangman just like me

I guess he’d seen loopholes
    from working with his rope

He’d hung the wrong man many times,
    so now he turned to hope

He talked to all the people
    from his scaffold in the square

He told them of the things he found,
    but they didn’t seem to care

He said the laws were obsolete,
    a change they should demand

But the people only walked away,
    he couldn't understand

The marshal’s name was “Uncle Sam,”
    he said he’d right this wrong

He’d make the hangman shut his mouth,
    if it took him all day long

He finally arrested Freak,
    and then he sent for me

To hang a fellow hangman,
    from a fellow hangman’s tree

It didn’t take them long to try him
    in their court of law

He was guilty then of “thinking,”
    a crime much worse than all

They sentenced him to die,
    so his seed of thought can’t spread

And infect the little children,
    that’s what the law had said

So the hangin’ day came ‘round,
    and he walked up to the noose

I pulled the lever,
    but before he fell I cut him lose

They called it a conspiracy,
    and that I had to die

So to close our mouths and kill our minds,
    they hung us side-by-side


And now we’re two hangmen, hangin’ from a tree
That don’t bother me, at all
Two hangmen, hangin’ from a tree
That don’t bother me, at all


3 comments:

  1. Mr. Owston,

    Thank you for writing this article. I am a 23 year old man, and Two Hangmen is my de facto favorite song. It is relatable in so many different ways both for and to me. Even if you and I are the only people that ever read this page, I am glad to see Mason Profit written about, and gladder still to see the joy, or at least interest, of another in the band's work. Please continue your musings, I enjoy them!

    Regards,
    Eren Frond

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  2. I grew up in that era in Pennsylvania. I don't recall ever hearing the song until last week when I heard it on the radio (really!). That got me to research it. Great song.

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  3. Heard this song and many more from them as they were at my college in Pella, Iowa back in 1969. I have both their origional albums and all the songs were great! If you have never heard them you should listen to them on youtube. Another group from back then that you probably have never heard of is Wilderness Road. Try them out, especially Bounty Man.

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