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Second Coming: The Story of David Bixby - Part 1

The first installment in a 3-part series exploring the strange legacy of Grand Rapids folk music legend Dave Bixby, who is playing in town this weekend for the first time in over 40 years.
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To catch Bixby in Grand Rapids...


Second Coming:  The Story of David Bixby


Poster for Dave Bixby's performance at The DAAC this Friday

Poster for Dave Bixby's performance at The DAAC this Friday /The DAAC

Bixby in the late '60s, taken from the liner notes of the original release of <em>Ode to Quetzalcoatl</em>

Bixby in the late '60s, taken from the liner notes of the original release of Ode to Quetzalcoatl

Promotional photo for the 2009 Guerssen reissue of <em>Ode to Quetzalcoatl</em>

Promotional photo for the 2009 Guerssen reissue of Ode to Quetzalcoatl


This is part one in a three-part series re-introducing folk musician Dave Bixby to the city that he left 40 years ago. He is performing this Friday at The Division Avenue Arts Collective (115 S. Division) in downtown Grand Rapids.

A few years ago I was up far too late listening to old garage rock and R&B 45s in my friend Tom Shannon’s basement when he reached for a curious album and started the worn vinyl disc spinning. This record immediately grabbed my attention, it had all the hallmarks of being private press: Its cover was simply laid out and printed in black and white, and there was no record company name on the label. Private press records are put out in small quantities and sold over a small geographic area making them difficult to find. Scarcely do music collectors find records with songs as fresh and raw as the ones on this album. When they do, they have just about the most exciting record a collector can stumble upon. This record was mesmerizing.

“I found it at a garage sale on the West Side,” Tom told me as I sat dumbfounded by the first track: a stripped-down melancholy folk song with echoing vocals, lamenting a life of drugs and emptiness. He handed me the jacket to peruse. Ode to Quetzalcoatl by Dave Bixby. I flipped the cover over and read the back. The song we were listening to was aptly titled “Drug Song.” There was a note signed by Bixby attesting to his being saved from his demons by the power of God.

“I destroyed my life with drugs and removed myself from reality-never to return. In my darkest, loneliest [sic] moment I cried unto God for my sanity.”

Tom recalled that the woman who had sold it to him mentioned she bought it from a religious group back in the ‘70s. “She said they were from here in Grand Rapids,” Tom told me. I had to know more.

A simple search online revealed that people far from Grand Rapids knew about this album too and were just as fascinated by it. MP3s of Ode to Quetzalcoatl were available on numerous blogs. Seventies psychedelic rock record sites praised it. Someone set up a MySpace page for the record, streaming select tracks. It was changing hands for up to $2,000 on eBay. The information available was sparse and vague, and the same words were used ad infinitum to describe the record: loner, “Xian” (Ebay seller’s code for Christian), moody, psych, folk, religious cult. “Cult” can mean many things, but these pages seemed to suggest that the “religious group” that had sold the record to the woman on the West Side was possibly more sinister. I had even more questions and some of them remain unanswered to this day.

It’s now three years later. In that time, Bixby has been tracked down by the community that gushed over his long-lost record on Internet forums and in record-collecting books. Ode to Quetzalcoatl and another even more rare record called Second Coming by the band Harbinger (basically Bixby backed by a few others) have been re-pressed by the record label Guerssen from Spain. Big Pink Music from Korea is looking to repress both albums for Bixby fans in Japan and Korea. “Drug Song” is on a compilation from the French label Wool Records.

Bixby has been asked to perform in Australia, England, Spain and France, and this Friday, he is set to perform in Grand Rapids for the first time in 40 years. It is a homecoming of sorts, filled with regret as well as hope and a sense of wonder at how this long forgotten music has gained a new life completely independent of the man who created it in the first place.

“I’ve just been in disbelief about this since the beginning. It’s amazing to me because there is nothing I did other than I planted some seeds at one point and walked away. I even left bitter,” Bixby told me in a recent interview. “And it’s coming back around and it’s full of blessings. You know, I just have to acknowledge that. I have to see that there is something a little bit bigger here that’s a little bit exciting. I have to follow it.”

It’s a strange story of young people wanting enlightenment and a sense of belonging. It’s a story of lies and manipulation and loss. It’s a story that has brought Dave Bixby a fame he never sought and it has brought him back to where the story started. It’s brought him back to Grand Rapids.

Click here to read "False Prophets," Part II of "Second Coming: The Story of David Bixby"

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There's something captivating about this song. Really eerie, too, when it ends. The silence just becomes an extension of the music.