Robb Kunkel

Leaving his Michigan City, Indiana, home after graduation, Robb Kunkel hitched through the lower 48 with only the clothes on his back. He fell in love with California and Colorado before returning to the shores of Lake Michigan to dodge the draft at Chicago’s Columbia College. Buffeted by the Windy City for just a semester, he limped back penniless to Colorado, taking work with ABC-Dunhill as their regional promotions director, leaving plenty of time to write and record with his fledgling band. Then came his shot with Tumbleweed Records.

“Tumbleweed was the brainchild of Larry Ray and producer Bill Szymczyk,” Kunkel said. “Ray was head of promotion for ABC-Dunhill, while Bill had produced the James Gang, B. B. King, and others at ABC. In 1970, Larry and Bill flew to Denver and pitched the idea of Tumbleweed Records....These guys were terrified of the earthquake situation in LA and wanted to do the label in Denver. The Tumbleweed house in the winter had fires going in every room, as there were only steam radiators for heat; they went through cords of wood. Drugs were a daily obsession, starting with acid, mescaline, hash, weed, eventually going to cocaine [and] opium and a drug called Astral Flash.”

After signing numerous artists for Szymczyk, Kunkel caught a break. Rather than lay down songs from his ample backlog, he created Abyss fresh, his sole effort as a singer-songwriter. Kunkel recalls, “It was a blast to be 21 at the Village Recorder, high as a kite, doing it in Quadraphonic.” The resulting record put Kunkel somewhere in the vicinity of Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle: simple songwriting bolstered by epic production...all to no avail. Few copies of the LP were pressed, most destined for cut-out bins. Discouraged, Kunkel resettled in California, focusing his attention on making unusual jazz for the remainder of the decade.

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