CULT CLASSIC: MACARTHUR-MACARTHUR.

Cult Classic: MacArthur-MacArthur.

Having completed a tour of duty with the United States Marine Corps, Ben MacArthur returned home to Sagina, Michigan in 1977. By then, jobs were few and far between, and it looked as if a recession was about to hit the rustbelt. It was hardly the welcome home he had envisaged. The future looked bleak. Then he met Bill Heffelfinger, a seventeen year old musical prodigy.

Since Ben MacArthur had been away, Bill Heffelfinger had started dating his younger sister. When the two men met, Ben discovered that Bill was not just a talented musician, but a gifted arranger. One day, it became apparent that Bill wasn’t just a virtuoso guitarist, but was equally comfortable on keyboards.

Ben only realised this when he heard Bill playing the piano in his parent’s house. He was stopped in his tracks as Bill played Neil Young’s The Last Trip To Tulsa. What made this remarkable, was Bill didn’t even know the song. However, Bill could read music so was able to play The Last Trip To Tulsa. What’s more, Bill made it look so easy. Maybe Bill was just the person Ben MacArthur was looking for?

For some time, Ben had been writing poetry. This began when Ben was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. In his spare time, he retired to his bunk and wrote poetry. Ben was unburdening himself emotionally via poetry. This was maybe a cathartic process, and helped Ben survive his tour of duty. However, when he returned home safely, Ben didn’t stop writing.

After watching Bill play The Last Trip To Tulsa, Ben began talking to his sister’s boyfriend. Soon, they were talking music. Ben told Bill about Neil Young, and then began to tell him about the poetry he had written. Not long after this, Ben went to watch Bill playing with the band Labyrinth.

They were playing at a local fair. When Labyrinth took to the stage, Ben noticed that Bill was playing guitar. Soon, it became apparent that he was an even better guitarist than keyboardist. With Bill giving a virtuoso performance on guitar, he had the band eating out of his hand. Especially, when Labyrinth covered Rush’s 2112. By then, Ben had made his mind up, that he would be in a band with Bill. That was in the future.

Soon, the two men began to write songs together.They were an unlikely partnership. Ben was the senior partner, who had already written a few songs. He was fresh out of the U.S. Marine Corp, and had seen a bit of the world. Bill was just seventeen, but already was regarded as a musical whizz kid. Both men however, had time on their hands.

With jobs scarce, the pair needed something to fill their days. So they grabbed a couple of guitars and began to write songs. For Ben, writing songs wasn’t much different to writing poetry. Both men unburdened themselves through music, and quickly they realised that the songs they were writing had potential.  Bill took them away to arrange them.

Despite being just seventeen, Bill was able to arrange the songs so that they took on a classic sound. By then, Ben MacArthur knew that Bill Heffelfinger was no ordinary seventeen year old. The word prodigy had been invented for him. With Bill’s arrangements in place, the two friends began to think about putting together a band. This band would become MacArthur, who released their eponymous debut album in 1979, which was an ambitious concept album.

What they needed was a rhythm section. Ben MacArthur found his bassist in the unlikeliest of places…on a building site. By then, Ben was working as a roofer, when he met guitarist Scott Stockford. As the two men became friends, they began to write songs together. Eventually, Ben asked Scott if he would interested in joining the nascent band. However, there was a rub, Ben wanted John to play bass. Straight away, he agreed.

That day, Scott Stockford went out and bought a brand new bass. When he arrived at the first band rehearsal, Scott brought along drummer Jeff Bauer. It seemed all Ben’s problems were solved in one fell swoop.

And so it proved. Not only did Jeff Bauer prove to be a talented drummer, but Scott Stockford soon mastered the bass. He was a natural and formed a potent partnership with drummer Jeff Bauer in the rhythm section. The final pieces in the jigsaw that was MacArthur had fallen into place. 

By 1978, MacArthur began playing together regularly. They were soon honing their songs and sound. It didn’t take long for them to realise that the songs that MacArthur were playing had potential. So MacArthur decided to record an album in 1979.

Despite deciding to record an album in 1979, MacArthur didn’t play live often. There weren’t many venues who were putting on live bands. The late-seventies was the disco era, and many live venues had been converted into discos. When MacArthur played live, they combined their owns songs with covers of songs by Led Zeppelin, Yes, Pink Floyd and Neil Young. However, concerts were few and far between. Maybe after recording and releasing their debut album, doors would open for MacArthur?

In 1979, the four members of MacArthur began working on their eponymous debut album. Ben MacArthur wrote all the lyrics, while members of MacArthur wrote the music. Everyone had played their part in the album. The music to Laughing Like A Lark, Generations-First Contact and Of Only Then waspenned by the four members of MacArthur. Light Up and Push Up were credited to MacArthur and Bill Heffelfinger. He also penned the music to The Black Forest, Prelude No.1 In C Major and The Shock Of The New. These eight tracks were recorded by MacArthur using what was the latest piece of musical equipment for hobbyist musicians, the four-track recorder.

Using a four-track recorder to record MacArthur wasn’t going to be easy. Ideally, MacArthur could’ve used many more tracks than four. Luckily, Bill Heffelfinger proved to be a talented engineer, and managed to record what was an ambitious album. Partly that was because of how many instruments MacArthur used to record their eponymous debut album.

With their four-track recorder, MacArthur headed to the studio. This was familiar territory for them. With very few live venues where they could play, MacArthur spent most of their time in the studio. This time, though, MacArthur were about to record their eponymous debut album. So when the band began to setup, their must have been a degree of trepidation. The rhythm section of drummer and percussionist Jeff Bauer and bassist Scott Stockford would provide the album’s heartbeat. Lead vocalist Ben MacArthur played acoustic and electric guitar. Bill Heffelfinger played organ, piano, synths and acoustic, classical and electric guitar. He also produced MacArthur, bringing the album together over many a long night. Eventually, MacArthur was completed and now all that was left was to release MacArthur.

That was easier said than done. There was no record company riding to the rescue of MacArthur and offering to released their eponymous debut album. Instead, MacArthur had to find a record company that would press a small amount of albums. However, most labels required an order of 500 or 1,000 album. That was way beyond MacArthur’s budget. It also meant they could be left with piles of unsold albums. Eventually, Bill Heffelfinger’s father found a solution.

Eugene Heffelfinger was a teacher at the local high school, and had a contact at RPC Records, in Camden, New Jersey. Regularly, Euegen Heffelfinger put business RPC Records’ way. So they agreed to press 200 albums for $2,000. There was a problem though..money.

Eventually, Scott Stockford took out a loan for $2,000 and 200 copies of MacArthur were pressed. This left MacArthur to sell the copies.

Once the copies of the album arrived, the members of MacArthur spent time sticking labels on the front of plain white album covers, and then glueing credits on the back. With the money spent on pressing the 200 albums, and it was a case of needs must. After that, MacArthur concentrated on selling the albums.

The members of MacArthur spent their time travelling between Saginaw, Midland and Bay City. They sold copes of MacArthur to record shops, record dealers and at record fairs. MacArthur even managed to secure an appearance on the WKYO radio station, where they promoted the album. All their efforts paid off, and the majority of the MacArthur albums were sold by 1980.

By then, MacArthur had been well received locally. Reviews and radio stations forecast a great future for MacArthur. However, with most of the albums sold, and the members of the MacArthur were drifting apart. The band spent less time playing together, and more time completing college degrees. Gradually, MacArthur drifted apart, and eventually the band went their separate ways.

Their legacy was MacArthur, a progressive, psychedelic  concept album that looks at the human condition. Everything from new beginnings to difficulties and discoveries are considered by MacArthur, on their eponymous debut album.

Light Up, a three minute instrumental opens MacArthur. Crystalline, chiming guitars play while galloping drums join with a piano. Soon, a scorching guitar solo cuts through the arrangement. It’s panned right to left, as gradually, the arrangement builds. Already, it’s hard to believe the album was recorded using just four tracks  Engineer and producer Bill Heffelfinger worked miracles. Instruments are spread across the stereo spectrum. The guitar that’s been panned hard right steals the show. This blistering solo is played with speed and accuracy, as the rest of MacArthur jam on what’s a hopeful sounding track. It allows MacArthur to showcase their considerable skills.

Just a quiet, wistful acoustic guitar opens Laughing Like A Lark. Soon, Ben’s impassioned vocal enters. Briefly, he sounds like Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. Then, the volume increases and his vocal grows in power as instruments enter. The rhythm section, synths and a droning organ combine. They accompany Ben whose vocal is a mixture of emotion, frustration and drama. When his vocal drops out, MacArthur jam, before the guitar takes centre-stage. As it drops out, rolls of drums are panned right to left, as an acoustic guitar is strummed. Each member of MacArthur gets the chance to shine. Especially Bill as another stunning, bristling guitar solo unfolds. Later, the tempo changes, and the urgency is gone. Replacing it isa much more laid back progressive sound. Gradually, the arrangement stirs as  Ben’s vocal returns and he breathes meaning into the lyrics while washes of organ accompany him. Just like the previous track, MacArthur’s playing is almost flawless as they combine elements of classic and progressive rock with fusion.

As Generations-First Contact unfolds, just a guitar laden with effects plays. It’s joined by a wash of synths before Ben’s vocal enters. His vocal is full of emotion, as he sings of an over populated world and a solution to this. Meanwhile, the arrangement is slow, deliberate and moody. A strummed guitar, drums and searing electric guitar enter, and another solo unfolds. Again, it’s flawless as Bill delivers a virtuoso performance. Then at 4.39 the tempo changes, and the arrangement slows, and meanders alone before Ben’s vocal returns. He continues to consider the problem of an over populated world. Then when his vocal drops out, MacArthur enjoy the opportunity to jam, and reserve one of their best performances for a genre-melting track they cowrote.

Just a picked classical acoustic guitar opens Push On. It’s multi-tracked, and panned left and right. Soon, electric guitars replace their acoustic cousins, as the rhythm section enter. as MacArthur soon are combining classic and progressive rock with folk rock. By then, Ben’s singing about fear can haunt people if they fail to deal with it.So much so, that sometimes, they have to briefly escape from it. “In the woods out in the country, there’s a secret place you go, to walk out from reality, but never let it show.” Behind him, guitars, the rhythm section and an organ combine to create a mid-tempo arrangement. When the vocal drops out, the rest of MacArthur stretch their legs. A blistering guitar solo is at the heart of the arrangement. Meanwhile mesmeric guitars are panned right and left, and join with the rhythm section in creating what’s one of the best tracks on MacArthur. Especially given the quality of Ben MacArthur’s thought provoking lyrics. 

A distant keyboard opens Of Only Then, and grows nearer.As it does, it’s joined by the rhythm section and guitar. They take care not to overpower Ben’s emotive vocal. Adding to the emotion is the keyboard, as an anthem begins to unfold. Meanwhile, Ben sings of loneliness, love, hopes, dreams and sadness. The most poignant lines are; “I won’t forget your loving stare…and now the time has come to go my weary way.” As the song unfolds, and heads into anthem territory, it’s reminiscent of REO Speedwagon, Styx and even early Chicago. Then at 3.22 the vocal drops out, and MacArthur the song becomes an instrumental. Again, this allows MacArthur to showcase their considerable musical skills. They seem to relish the opportunity to jam. Just like previous tracks, the guitar is at the heart of the song. So is the piano, which adds a beautiful, melancholy hue.

The Black Forest is a six part instrumental suite, lasting six minutes. From an understated introduction, MacArthur take the listener on a musical adventure. Just acoustic guitars play, before an effects laden guitar signals all change. The arrangement becomes rocky, as it explodes into life. Just the guitar and rhythm section kick loose, before the arrangement chugs along. Then when a bristling guitar is unleashed, and unites with the drums there’s an element of drama and urgency. It’s the scorching guitar that’s stealing the show. Briefly, it’s panned, before the drums take centre-stage as the track moves from progressive to futuristic. Later, as if spent, the arrangement takes on an understated sound with just subtle guitars meandering alone, and leaving just a pleasing and pleasant memory of a musical adventure.

Prelude No.1 In C Major is very different to previous tracks. Just a lone acoustic guitar is played in a classical style. It’s played slowly and gently, with space left in the arrangement. Then at 1.39 the track dissipates, and there’s near silence. That’s until a rumbling piano is played with power and passion. It continues the classical theme, as it’s played deliberately and dramatically. Towards the end, the arrangement slows, before reaching a crescendo. By then, this reinforces that MacArthur, a truly versatile band, were no ordinary group.

The Shock Of The New, a piano lead track closes MacArthur. Deliberate, mesmeric stabs and flourishes of piano are replaced by a buzzing synth. Music’s past is replaced by music’s future, as synths dominate the arrangement. A buzzing bass synth and whirling vortexes of synths are joined by an organ. It’s a reminder of music’s past. So are dark chords played on the piano. They’re allowed to take centre-stage, as MacArthur draws to a close. A flamboyant flourish brings to an end what surely the four members of MacArthur thought was only the start of the story.

Sadly, MacArthur was the only album that the band released. By 1980, the band had run its course. The members of the band were concentrating on careers and college degree. MacArthur just drifted apart.

Of the 200 albums that they had pressed, at most 180 had been sold. MacArthur was one of music’s best kept secrets. With its mixture of classic rock. folk rock,fusion, jazz, psychedelia and progressive rock, MacArthur was a truly timeless album. Sadly, it didn’t find the audience it deserved upon its release.

Nowadays, record collectors speak almost reverentially in hushed tones about MacArthur. Original copies were almost impossible to find, and if one became available, the price was prohibitive to most record collectors. So the reissue of MacArthur, a cerebral, timeless concept album will be welcomed.

MacArthur were a band who could’ve and should’ve reached greater heights. They oozed talent. In Ben MacArthur, they had a talented lyricists, vocalist and guitarist. Bill Heffelfinger was a virtuoso guitarist, who was also a gifted keyboardist and producer. Along with a rhythm section of bassist Scott Stockford and drummer Jeff Bauer, MacArthur were a band who were technically flawless. Part of the problem was, MacArthur had to release their eponymous debut album themselves.

They had to find $2,000 to press 200 albums, and then sell them. It must have been a soul-destroying experience, hauling albums from shop to shop, and city to city. Even then, MacArthur didn’t sell the 200 album. Ten albums were impounded by the police, when a record shop that was selling them was raided. Still, MacArthur persisted, and continued the round of record shop, record dealers, record fairs and radio stations. Eventually, the majority of the copies of MacArthur were sold. By then, MacArthur must have wondered how different things might have been if they had been signed to a record label? 

If MacArthur had been signed to a record label, one can only wonder what producer Bill Heffelfinger would’ve been able to do with a forty-eight track recording studio at his disposal? He had worked wonder with the four-track recorder on MacArthur, and created an album is a truly timeless, genre-melting cult classic.

Cult Classic: MacArthur-MacArthur.

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DR JOHN-DR JOHN’S GUMBO.

Dr John-Dr John’s Gumbo.

Label: Music On Vinyl.

Release Date: ‘29th’ May 2020.

Success didn’t come overnight for the late, great Dr John. His first three albums failed to chart and his fourth album The Sun, Moon and Herbs stalled at 184 in the US Billboard 200 in August 1971. This was progress for one of music’s great survivors. He was on his way and returned in April 1972 with his breakthrough album Dr John’s Gumbo which will be reissued by Music On Vinyl on the ‘29th’ May 2020. By then, Dr John was thirty-one and was into his third decade as a musician.

The future Dr John was born Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack Jr, on November the ‘20th’ 1940, in New Orleans, Louisiana.  He grew up in the Third Ward of New Orleans, and music was always around him. 

His father Malcolm John Rebennack ran an appliance shop in the East End of New Orleans, where he repaired radio and televisions and sold records. He introduced his son to the music of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. However, one of the people who inspired Mac Rebennack was his grandfather who he heard singing minstrel songs. So did hearing his aunts, uncles, cousins and sister playing the piano. Despite this, Mac Rebennack wasn’t inspired to take music lessons. 

This only came later when he was a teenager. He also joined a choir, but was soon asked to leave. However, over the next few years Mac Rebennack learnt to play the guitar and later piano, and through his father’s contacts in the local music scene was soon playing alongside some well known names including Guitar Slim  and Little Richard. This was just the start for Mac Rebennack.

When he was thirteen, he met Professor Longhair and he was instantly impressed by the flamboyant showman. Mac Rebennack was soon playing alongside his new hero, and  this was the start of his professional career.

Around 1955 or 1956, Mac Rebennack made his debut in the recording studio when he was signed as a singer and  songwriter by Eddie Mesner at Aladdin Records. The future Dr John’s career was underway and towards the end of 1957  with the help of Danny Kessler, he joined the musician’s union. That was when he considered himself to be a professional musician.

By the time he was sixteen, Mac Rebennack had been hired by Johnny Vincent at Ace Records as a producer. This led to him working with Earl King, James Booker and Jimmy Clayton. This was all good experience for the young, up-and-coming musician 

Despite his new career, Mac Rebennack was still a student at Jesuit High School. This didn’t stop him playing in night clubs and forming his first band The Dominoes.  The Jesuit fathers weren’t happy with Mac Rebennack’s lifestyle and issued him with an ultimatum. He was to either stop playing in nightclubs or leave the school. Not long after this, he was expelled from the school. It turned out to be the best thing that happened to him as he was able to concentrate on music full time.

By the late-fifties, Mac Rebennack was playing with various bands in and around New Orleans. This included his own band Mac Rebennack and The Skyliners. However, the young bandleader had also embarked upon a career as a songwriter.

In 1957 Mac Rebennack cowrote his first ever rock ’n’ roll song Lights Out. It was recorded by New Orleans based singer Jerry Byrne, and released on Specialty Records later in 1957 and give him a regional hit. 

Two years later, in 1959, Mac Rebennack also enjoyed a regional hit single when he released Storm Warning, a Bo Diddley insprired instrumental, on Rex Records. This was the first hit he enjoyed in a long, illustrious and eventful career.

After Storm Warning, Mac Rebennack and Charlie Miller joined forces and recorded singles for various local labels. This included Ace, Ron, and Ric. They continued to release singles until Charlie Miller decided to move to New York to study music. Mac Rebennack stayed in the Big Easy and continued his career.

Around 1960, Mac Rebennack was playing a gig in Jacksonville, Florida, when his career was changed forevermore. That night, his ring finger on his left hand was injured by a gun shot during an incident. This was a disaster for a right handed guitarist and when he recovered he made the switch to bass guitar. However, after a while Mac Rebennack switched to the instrument he made his name playing, the piano.

Soon, Mac Rebennack had developed a style that was influenced by Professor Longhair who he had met when he was thirteen. It looked as if this was a new chapter in Mac Rebennack’s musical career.

That wasn’t the case and Mac Rebennack ended up getting involved in the dark underbelly of The Big Easy. He was using and selling illegal drugs and at one point, running a brothel. It was almost inevitable that Mac Rebennack was going to have a brush with the law. 

He did. In 1963, when Mac Rebennack was arrested on drug charges and sentenced to two years in the Federal Correctional Institution, in Fort Worth, Dallas. By the time his sentence ended and he was released in 1965, New Orleans was a different place.

There had been a campaign to rid the city of its clubs, which meant that musicians like Mac Rebennack found it hard to find work. That was why he decided to move to LA where he knew he could find work as a session musician.

It turned out to be a good decision, and it wasn’t long before Mac Rebennack was one of the first call session musicians in LA. That was the case for the rest of sixties and the seventies. He was also a member of the legendary Wrecking Crew and worked with some of the biggest names in music. This was the new start Mac Rebennack had been looking for when he left New Orleans.

Growing up Mac Rebennack had developed an interest in New Orleans voodoo. This was something he revisited during his early years in LA when he began to develop the concept of Dr John, which initially he thought could be a persona for his friend Ronnie Barron. The concept was based on the life of Dr John, a Senegalese prince, a witch doctor, herbalist and spiritual healer who travelled to New Orleans from Haiti. He was a free man of colour who lived on Bayou Road, and claimed to have fifteen wives and over fifty children. It was believed Dr John also kept a variety of lizards, snakes, embalmed scorpions as well as animal and human skulls, and sold gris-gris, voodoo amulets which were meant to protect the wearer from harm. This Mac Rebennack incorporated into the project he was working on for Ronnie Barron.

Soon, Mac Rebennack had decided to write, produce and play on an album and stage show based on his concept with Dr John emblematic of New Orleans’ heritage. It was meant to feature Ronnie Barron. However, when he dropped out of the project Man Rebennack took over the role and adopted the identity of Dr John. This was a turning point in the life and career of the man born Mac Rebennack.

Dr John became the name that he found fame as and won five Grammy Awards. However, that was still to come.

Having adopted the moniker Dr John,The Night Tripper he was signed by Atco Records and recorded his debut album Gris Gris. It was his his own “voodoo medicine” and marked the start of what’s now regarded as a golden era for Dr John.

Gris Gris.

When a copy of Dr John’s debut album Gris Gris, which was sent to Atlantic Records’ founder Ahmet Ertegun he disliked the album so much, that he was reluctant to even release the album and said: “how can we market this boogaloo crap?” This wasn’t the response that Dr John had been hoping when he recorded Gris Gris which was a combination of psychedelia, blues, free jazz, R&B, soul, funk, jazz. Add to this psychedelic stew the authentic music of the melting pot that is New Orleans and the voodoo image that Dr John had carefully cultivated  and Gris Gris was like no other album that Atlantic Records had released. That presented the label with a huge problem. 

Atlantic Records’ PR department had idea to promote an album like Gris Gris, as they had no cultural reference points, nothing to compare the album to. Despite the best efforts of Atlantic Records PR department, when Gris Gris was released on January the ’22nd’ 1968 and introduced the world to Dr John The Night Tripper, it failed to trouble the charts and neither critics nor record buyers understood Dr John’s groundbreaking debut album. However, like so many albums that fail to find an album on their release, Gris Gris was later reappraised and belatedly, was recognised as a seminal album that was the start of a rich vein of form from Dr John.

Gris Gris was the start of a six-year period when Dr John could no wrong, and released seven innovative albums that are among the his finest work.

Babylon.

This included his sophomore album Babylon on January the ’17th’ 1969. It was a powerful, cerebral and innovative genre-melting album which socially had much in common with Dr John’s debut album Gris Gris. 

Sadly, critics didn’t ‘get’ Babylon and the album which failed commercially. However, just like Gris Gris, Babylon was later reappraised by critics and nowadays is regarded as one of his finest albums and a minor classic.

Remedies.

Following the commercial failure of Babylon, things went from bad to worse for Dr John, before he could begin work on his third album Remedies. This started when a deal went south, and he was arrested by the police and ended up in jail. It was a worrying time for Dr John who was parole, and if he ended up with a parole violation, he knew he might end up in the infamous Angola jail. That didn’t bare thinking about, and already Dr John was desperate to get out of the local jail. However, he needed someone to post bail, so contacted his managers who he remembers: “were very bad people.” This proved to be an understatement. 

Not long after this, Dr John’s managers had him committed to  a psychiatric ward, where he spent some time. By then, it was obvious to Dr John that his managers were no longer playing by the rules. All he wanted to do was make music, and everything that had happened recently were nothing to do with music. Instead, it was all connected to Dr John’s increasingly chaotic lifestyle, which made it all the more frustrating for those that realised just how talented the Gris Gris Man was.

Eventually, having managed to put his problems behind him, Dr John wrote the six tracks that became Remedies using his real name Mac Rebennack. Among the tracks Dr John had written was What Goes Around Comes Around which later became a favourite during his live shows and Mardi Gras Day which paints pictures of New Orleans when it comes out to play. Very different was Angola Anthem which was inspired by a friend of Dr John’s who had just been released from Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary after forty years. Dr John paid tribute to his friend with an eighteen minute epic that took up all of side two of Remedies. It was produced by one of the most successful producers of the day.

Although Harold Battiste had produced Gris Gris and Babylon, he was replaced by Tom Dowd and Charles Greene who were tasked with transforming Dr John’s career. However, although Tom Dowd was enjoying the most successful period of his career, he had never worked with anyone like Dr John. 

When Remedies which was released in the spring of 1970, just like his two previous albums, critics didn’t seem to understand Remedies, which was credited to Dr John The Night Tripper. Remedies was another ambitious album of genre-melting, voodoo-influenced album where Dr John The Night Tripper through everything from psychedelia, blues, R&B, soul, funk and jazz into the musical melting pot and gave it a stir to create an album where the music was mysterious, otherworldly and haunting. 

By the time Remedies was released on April ‘9th’ 1970, some FM radio stations had picked up on the album, and were playing it on their late shows. Despite the radio play Remedies had received, the album never troubled the charts, and it was only much later that record buyers realised that they had missed out on another important and innovative album from Dr John. 

The Sun, Moon and Herbs.

Despite Dr John’s first three albums failing to find an audience, many of his fellow musicians were fans of his music, and were only too happy to feature on his fourth album The Sun, Moon and Herbs. This included Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Bobby Whitlock, Graham Bond, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Doris Troy. They were joined by The Memphis Horns as Dr John and Charles Greene took charge of production. 

They were responsible for a dark and swampy sounding album that is rich in imagery and paints of New Orleans on a hot, sticky night as thunder crackles and rumbles in the distance like the drums on The Sun, Moon and Herbs. When it was released on August the ’31st’ 1971, still critics struggled to understand Dr John’s music, but this time, The Sun, Moon and Herbs which featured an all-star cast, spent five weeks in US Billboard 200 and peaked at 184. At last, Dr John’s music was starting to find a wider audience.

Dr John’s Gumbo.

Buoyed by the success of The Sun, Moon and Herbs, Dr John decided to record an album of cover versions for  his fifth album. These weren’t just any cover versions. Instead , they were billed as an album of covers of New Orleans’ classics. These tracks became Dr John’s Gumbo which was produced by Harold Battiste and Jerry Wexler and ironically, was recorded in Los Angeles.

For his fifth album, Mac Rebennack aka Dr John wrote Somebody Changed The Lock which joined eleven other New Orleans classics. This included the traditional song Stack-A-Lee; Professor Longhair’s Tipitina; James “Sugar Boy” Crawford’s Iko Iko; Earl Gaines’ Big Chief; Bob Shad’s Junko Partner; Ahmet Ertegun’s Mess Around; Huey “Piano” Smith and Izzy Cougarden’s Blow Wind Blow and Earl King wrote Let the Good Times Roll and cowrote Those Lonely Lonely Nights with Johnny Vincent. He cowrote Little Liza Jane with Huey Piano Smith and the medley of High Blood Pressure, Don’t You Just Know It and Well I’ll Be John Brown. These tracks became were recorded in LA and became Dr John’s Gumbo.

The recording took place at Sound City Studios, in LA with Dr John playing guitar, piano, cornet and taking charge of the vocals. He was joined by drummer and percussionist Fred Staehle, bassist Jimmy Calhoun and guitarist Ken Klimak. They were joined by percussionist Richard Washington, a horn section plus backing vocalists Shirley Goodman, Tammy Lann, Robbie Montgomery and Jessica Smith. Producing Dr John’s Gumbo were Harold Battiste and Jerry Wexler. 

They produced what was Dr John’s tribute to the music of the city of his birth. It was a very different album to his four previous releases. Dr John’s Gumbo marked a move away from what his persona Dr John The Night Tripper. Some critics didn’t understand Dr John’s musical alter ego and certainly didn’t “get” the voodoo references. Despite that, he had a cult following. That was about to change.

When Dr John’s Gumbo was released critics called it one of Dr John’s finest albums. They preferred and understood the music on the album which was much more straightforward, accessible and steeped in New Orleans’ R&B traditions. Especially, tracks like Iko Iko,  Somebody Changed The Lock, Mess Around, Let The Good Times Roll, Junko Partner, Those Lonely Lonely Nights and the Huey Smith Medley. These songs were part of what was akin to a homage to the Big Easy that showcased Dr John’s considerable talents.  It was  also Dr John’s most accessible album.

Dr John’s Gumbo was released on April the ‘20th’ 1972, it spent and spent seven weeks in the US Billboard 200. On June the ‘24th’ 1972 it reached 112 in the US Billboard 200 and became Dr John’s most successful album. 

Dr John’s Gumbo was the fifth of seven albums that Dr John released for Atco Records between 1968 and 1974. While these albums weren’t always appreciated or understood by critics, they’re now regarded as part of what was a golden era for Dr John. 

He was at his creative zenith during his Atco Records years and was often misunderstood even by the supposed experts who ran the label. It was only much later that critics reappraised the albums that  Dr John released for Atco Records and realised that he was recording and releasing ambitious, imaginative and innovative albums of genre-melting  music. Ironically when he returned to what was a much more traditional R&B sound on Dr John’s Gumbo he enjoyed the most successful album of his career. It’s also one of the finest albums of not just Dr John’s Atco Records’ years but a career that spanned six decades.

During what was a long and illustrious career, Dr John had released thirty studio albums and nine live albums. He won six Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. However, it wasn’t always been smooth sailing for Dr John who battled heroin addiction but eventually he conquered his demons and continued to released albums and tour.  

Sadly, Dr John  passed away on June the ‘6th’ 2019 aged just seventy-seven. Dr John a truly talented and maverick musician  left behind a rich musical legacy which includes the seven albums he recorded during his Atco Records years  including one of his finest and most accessible, Dr John’s Gumbo, which is ranked at number 404 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and is the perfect introduction to a musical legend.

Dr John-Dr John’s Gumbo.

 

 

 

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PETE LA ROCA-BASRA. 

Pete La Roca-Basra.

Label: Blue Note Records.

Sadly, Pete La Roca’s career is another case of what might have been. The New York born jazz drummer only released a triumvirate of solo albums during an eventful career that promised much. 

During the early years of his career he worked with Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, Tony Scott, Bill Evans, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard and Sonny Rollins. By 1965, Pete La Roca had signed to Blue Note Records and released his debut album Basra. Critics called the album a classic and forecast a bright future for the twenty-seven year old.

Three years later, Pete La Roca stopped working as a sideman and at one time, ended up driving a cab in the Big Apple. Later, he attended law school at New York University and it wasn’t until 1979 that Pete La Roca returned to jazz. It was the latest chapter in the story of Pete La Roca which began in 1938.

The future Pete La Roca was born Peter Sims, on the ‘7th’ of April 1938, in Harlem, New York. That was where he was brought up by his mother who was a pianist and his stepfather who played trumpet. However, it was Peter Sims’ uncle Kenneth Bright, a major shareholder in Circle Records and the manager of the rehearsal spaces above the Lafayette Theatre, in Harlem, who introduced him to music.

Peter Sims started to play percussion in public school, and then at the High School of Music and Art and later at the City College of New York. By then, he was playing timpani in the CCNY Orchestra. However, soon Peter Sims became Pete La Roca.

By then, he was still in the early stages of his career and he was playing timbales for various Latin bands. This he continued to do for six years. Then he was spotted by one of the giants of jazz, Max Roach.

In 1957, Max Roach happened to be in Birdland and saw Pete La Roca jamming. He watched the nineteen year old for a while and that was when he remembered that his friend Sonny Rollins was looking for a drummer. Max Roach recommended Pete La Roca to Sonny Rollins who his Trio.

Pete La Roca joined the Sonny Rollins Trio for the afternoon set at the Village Vanguard in 1957. However, only A Night In Tunisia found its way onto A Night At The Village Vanguard when it was released by Blue Note Records in 1958. This was the start of Pete La Roca’s career as a sideman. 

He also recorded with Sonny Clark in 1957, and in 1958 which was a busy one for Pete La Roca. The twenty year old drummer recorded with Tony Scott, Sonny Rollins, Slide Hampton and Jackie McLean on his New Soil album. It was released to critical acclaim by Blue Note Records in August 1959.

As the sixties dawned, Pete La Roca was in demand as a sideman. His big break came early in 1960 when John Coltrane was forming his first quartet after leaving Miles Davis’ band but couldn’t get the musicians he wanted. Miles Davis recommended Pete La Roca who spent ten weeks playing at the Jazz Gallery in New York. This was good experience for Pete La Roca. 

During the rest of 1960 he played on albums by Slide Hampton, JR Monterose and the Steve Kuhn Trio. Reliable, talented and versatile Pete La Roca was regarded as one of jazz’s rising stars.

Still only twenty-three in 1961, Pete La Roca played alongside Bill Barron, Rocky Boyd, Ted Curson, Scott LaFaro, Slide Hampton, Booker Little and the Paul Serrano Quintet. Still Pete La Roca found time to play on Jackie McLean’s Bluesnik album which was released to critical acclaim in February 1962. 

During 1962 Pete La Roca worked with George Russell, Jaki Byard and the Don Friedman Trio. All the time, his reputation was growing as he divided his time between playing live and working in the studio. 

He continued to do this in 1963, working with the Steve Kuhn Trio, Paul Bley and three albums released on Blue Note Records. This includes the first two albums by Joe Henderson. Page One was his debut and was released in October 1963 and nowadays, is regarded as a hard bop classic. It was followed by Our Thing in May 1964 which was proof that Joe Henderson had the potential to become one of the great tenor saxophonists of his generation. Two months later and Johnny Coles’ Little Johnny C was released in July 1964 and finds Pete La Roca playing on the second side of this ambitious album. This was the latest Blue Note Records release to feature Pete La Roca who had also formed his own band.

The twenty-six year old drummer was now dividing his time between his own band and session work. During 1964 Pete La Roca played on albums by Anamari and Art Farmer. In 1965, Pete La Roca would record his debut album. However, before that, he worked on three other albums as sideman.

This included the first two sessions for Freddie Hubbard’s Blue Note Records’ swansong Blue Spirits during February 1965. The album was eventually released in 1967. Pete La Roca then spent March the 8th on a session recording tracks for Charles Lloyd’s album Of Course, Of Course which was released in November 1965. Then on the ‘9th’ and ‘10th’ of April 1965 Pete La Roca recorded another Freddie Hubbard album The Night Of The Cookers which was released later that year. So was his debut album Basra

Pete La Roca had been signed by Blue Note Records and on May the ‘19th’ 1965 he journeyed to the Van Gelder Studio, at at 445 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. He was about to lead the quartet who would record Basra which was produced by Alfred Lion.

Joining drummer Pete La Roca were bassist Steve Swallow, pianist Steve Kuhn and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. They recorded six compositions that day.

This included the Pete La Roca compositions Candu, Tears Come From Heaven and Basra, while Steve Swallow wrote Eiderdown. The other tracks were Ernesto Lecuona’s Malagueña and John La Touche and Jerome Moross’ Lazy Afternoon. These six tracks would become Basra, which was released in October 1965.

When Pete La Roca’s debut album Basra was released it was to widespread critical acclaim. The album is now regarded as a classic and is a reminder of a truly talented bandleader, composer and drummer.

Side A.

Basra was the first of three Pete La Roca solo album. It opens with Malagueña which was written by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona who escaped from Fidel Castro’s clutches in 1960 and settled in Florida. The quartet vamp their way through the track Pete La Roca’s cymbals powering and propelling this impassioned and inspirational cover of a Latin classic. 

It gives way to the bluesy and ruminative sounding Candu, and then what’s without doubt the most complicated track on the album Tears Come From Heaven. When the solos come round tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson sets the bar high. Next up is pianist Steve Kuhn who gives a peerless performance that not even Pete La Roca at the peak of his power can quite match. It’s a close run thing.

Side B.

The third of the three consecutive Pete La Roca compositions is the ten minute title-track Basra. It’s a captivating composition despite never deviating from the same chord. Very different is Lazy Afternoon a beautiful, haunting and heart wrenching ballad that is the highlight of Basra. 

Closing the album is Eiderdown where Joe Henderson’s tenor saxophone takes the lead and is matched every step of the way pianist Steve Kuhn as the tempo rises. Meanwhile the saxophone soars above the arrangement before Steve Kuhn takes centrestage and his fingers fly across the keyboard before bassist Steve Swallow enjoys his moment in the sun. Then Joe Henderson returns and plays with control and subtlety his saxophone quivering as he takes lead and the arrangement swings. Sadly, all too soon the track and Basra is over but the memory remains of this magical album.

There aren’t many jazz musicians who release their debut album and it’s regarded as a classic. That was the case with Pete La Roca’s Basra which was recently reissued by Blue Note Records to celebrate the label’s eightieth anniversary. 

Basra features Pete La Roca at the peak of his powers. He was joined by Steve Kuhn, Steve Swallow and Joe Henderson who all play their part in the sound and success of this classic album. It Pete La Roca’s finest hour and he only released two further solo albums.

Neither 1967s Turkish Women At The Bath nor 1997s Swingtime came close to matching Pete La Roca’s classic album Basra. He had set the bar high with his debut album. This maybe frustrated Pete La Roca who knew he could never reach these heights again? That might explain why he turned his back on jazz, and ended up driving a cab in New York.

Although he made a comeback in 1979, Pete La Roca’s career is a case of what might have been, and Basra is a tantalising taste of what he was capable of at the peak of his powers, during a career that promised so much.

 Pete La Roca-Basra.

SEAHAWKS-ISLAND VISIONS.

Seahawks-Island Visions.

Label: Be With Records.

Ten years ago in 2010, Jon Tye and Pete Fowler embarked upon a new chapter in their career when they released Ocean Trippin’, which was their debut album as Seahawks. Since then, the intrepid musical explorers have released at least one, sometimes two or even three albums a year. These albums find the prolific and versatile duo exploring a variety different styles. This resulted in Seahawks receiving an invite to work on a prestigious project.

Given their versatility and their ability to make paint pictures with music it was no surprise when Seahawks were asked by the legendary library music label KPM to contribute to their catalogue. The result was the cinematic sounding Island Visions, which was added to their digital catalogue on the ‘20th’ of November 2019. That was just part of the story.

Six months later, and Be With Records released Seahawks’ album Island Visions on vinyl. It finds Jon Tye and Pete Fowler exploring sound for vision where Seahawks have constructed “audio micro-worlds to explore and inhabit.” The thirteen tracks on Island Visions are akin to a journey from the poolside in the evening to the sunrising  as a new day dawns. 

Most of Island Visions was recorded at The Centre Of Sound in Cornwall, with the rest of the sessions taking place in Studio 34 in London. Joining Jon Tye and Pete Fowler was the master of boogie Sven Atterton on fretless bass and keyboards, percussionist Nick Mackrory plus two familiar faces, Dan Hillman and Alik Peters-Deacon, who are part of Seahawks live sound. This was the band that recorded Island Grooves which is a captivating album of genre-melting music.

Island Grooves is an album that has been influenced by the music of the past and present. This includes library music and especially two names form KPM’s illustrious past. This includes guitarist, saxophonist, composer and orchestra leader Mike Vickers who is responsible for the  classic library music album A Moog For All Reasons as well as A Moog For More Reasons and Brass Plus Moog. The influence of Brian Bennett who cowrote and recorded the library music classic Synthesis with Alan Hawkshaw. 

Then there’s the influence of Delia Derbyshire and David Vorhaus from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and the lush sounding soundtracks of the late composer Les Baxter. They’re joined by ambient, Balearic, funk, jazz and new age music on the cinematic sounding  Island Visions. 

Just like so many of KPM suites released over the years, Island Visions is an album with two very different sides. Both tell a story.

Side A 

As the sun rises on an exotic island as the tired and weary listener heads poolside to revitalise their jaded self. Over the speakers at the poolside they’re greeted by the spacious and atmospheric sounding Hot Sand Shuffle with features some of Seahawks’ trademark “deck shoegaze.” It gives way to the slow, smooth and cinematic Sky Blue Sky which encourages the listener to lie back, relax and unwind. This they do, before feeling revitalised they head to the Mystic Beach where waves break on the beach as its inhabitants soak up the sun’s rays. 

Next stop is the Crystal Forest which a river runs through as birds sing, bells ring. There’s ambient, new age and Eastern influences before a squelchy synth and drums  drive the arrangement along and add a degree of urgency as the intrepid explorers cross the island and head to the Distant Shore. They relax as an ethereal and elegiac soundtrack plays. Then Seahawks throw a curveball and pounding 4/4 drums are added signalling it’s time to embark upon a River Run. 

Initially River Run is slow as it meanders along revealing  its atmospheric and cinematic sound. Birdsong greets the listener as a hang drum, electric gamelan, flute and loon play creating music that soothes and relaxes during this captivating musical journey. 

Side B.

It continues during Side B and finds the revellers enjoying a variety of cocktails by the pool, before some dance the night away at a beachside bar. Other sit in the local chill out bar content to watch the sunset and bask in the beauty of their island idyll. 

Catch A Wave bursts into life as bubbling synths, crisp drums and a synthetic guitar combine to create an uptempo track that could well be the soundtrack to an afternoon playing and lazing by the beach in some exotic location. There’s a retro sound as crispy beats and a phat buzzing bass synth open Paradise Bird Bath. It almost swaggers and struts into being before birdsong and a marimba add a contrast. A myriad of sounds flit and shimmer in and out of the atmospheric and cinematic arrangement which is proof that travel to this island broadens the mind.

Dark, dramatic, dubby, lysergic and cinematic describes Smooth Running perfect poolside listening and one of the highlights of Island Visions. So is Spirits Have Flown where a glistening, shimmering synth and dreamy saxophone are joined by a marimba and chilled beats. They provide the perfect backdrop for the revellers who sit on the beach waiting for the sun to set on another day on their island paradise. As they do, waves from the Rolling Deep blue ocean break on the beach. Behind them, music plays and they listen as shimmering, glistening rhythms combine with the sensual sounding saxophone and the unmistakable sound of a  seductive rhythms, fretless bass. It’s a sound they’ll remember once they return home.

With their adventure nearly over, the revellers left on the beach have the Island Blues and this melancholy soundscape articulates how they feel. Tonight they will give one final Sun Salute, and as the DJ at the chill out bar plays this beautiful, atmospheric soundscape they leave the beach for the final time knowing the drudgery of the nine-to-five grind awaits them on Monday. 

When Seahawks were asked by the legendary library music label KPM to contribute to their catalogue this must have been a huge honour for Jon Tye and Pete Fowler. They would know that they were following in the footsteps of luminaries like Alan Hawkshaw, Alan Parker, Brian Bennett, John Cameron, Johnny Pearson, Keith Mansfield and Mike Vickers who had recorded landmark albums of library music for KPM. Spurred on by this knowledge, Seahawks rose to the challenge and recorded a modern album of library music Island Visions.

During Island Visions, Seahawks paint pictures with their unique brand of cinematic music. They take the listener on a journey to an exotic island idyll where the sea is blue and alluring and the beaches golden with beachside bars serving cocktails to the weary and jaded travellers. These are the pictures that Seahawks paint on Island Visions which sounds like the soundtrack to a film that has yet to be made, and deserves to be made so that a wider audience can hear Seahawks finest album and a welcome addition the KPM Music library.

Seahawks-Island Visions.

CULT CLASSIC: LARAAJI: VISION SONGS VOLUME 1.

Cult Classic: Laraaji: Vision Songs Volume 1.

During a career that has spanned five decades, American multi-instrumentalist Laraaji has released around thirty albums and countless collaborations. Many of these albums were self released by Laraaji on cassettes, and feature his unique and inimitable genre-melting sound. This best described as a fusion of ambient, avant-garde, experimental and psychedelia which is hypnotic, mesmeric and meditative which features the zither, Mbira and piano. However, Laraaji is best known as a zither player, and as the man who transformed and reinvented this traditional instrument.

Having bought a zither in a local pawn shop in the early seventies, Laraaji set about converting it into an electronic instrument. This he succeeded in doing, to the bemusement of traditionalists who saw the zither as an acoustic instrument. Soon, that was no longer the case, as Laraaji began experimenting and playing his newly adapted zither like a piano. Nobody had ever seen this before, not even Brian Eno.

He and Bill Laswell were walking through Washington Square Park, when they came across Laraaji sitting cross-legged on top of a blanket with his eyes closed, played his zither using the open tunings he favoured. Brian Eno watched for a while and realising he was watching a talented musician wrote a message, which he left for Laraaji. 

The next day, Brian Eno and Laraaji met and discussed ambient music and electronics. Three weeks later, Laraaji, recorded Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) at Apple Studios, in Green Street, New York. Once the album was recorded,  Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) was released later in 1980. This album it was hoped would launch Laraaji’s career, and transform the busker’s fortunes.

While Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) was released to critical acclaim, and is nowadays, considered a cult classic, it didn’t change Laraaji’s life. Three years after Brian Eno ‘discovered’ Laraaji, the zither player back self-releasing albums, including Vision Songs Volume 1, which was just the latest chapter in the Laraaji story, which began in 1943.

Laraaji was born Edward Larry Gordon in Philadelphia in 1943, and at early age, moved with his family to New Jersey. That was where the future Laraaji studied violin, piano, trombone and took singing lessons. At high school, he played in the school band and orchestra. Music was part of his life, and he was exposed to an eclectic range of music.  

His family attended the local Baptist church, where Larry heard choral and gospel music, as well as negro spirituals. At home though, he heard very different music.

Larry sat and absorbed everything from jazz to R&B and rock ’n’ roll. However, it was the great piano players that especially inspired Edward Larry Gordon, including Oscar Peterson, Fats Domino and Ahmad Jamal. Over the next months and years, Laraaji spent much of his time listening to music. Still, though, he continued to play the violin, piano, trombone and sang. Music was his passion and it was no surprise that having graduated from high school this talented multi-instrumentalist decided to study music.

Having won a scholarship to study piano and composition, Larry headed to one of the most prestigious universities in America, Howard University, in Washington DC. During the next few years, Larry totally immersed in music, and where he first discovered marijuana in his second year and also psychedelic drugs. They would play a part in opening Larry’s consciousness during his spiritual awakening, while he would later use marijuana as an aide to the creative process. Before that, his friend and family were sure that Larry was destined to pursue a career in music. However, that wasn’t the case.

After graduating from Howard University, Larry decided not to pursue a career in music, which was a huge surprise to his friends, including this he had studied alongside. Instead, Larry decided to pursue a career as a standup comic. His love of comedy began in college, and when he left University, Larry and his comedy partner decided to head to New York to audition at the Bitter End, who regularly held talent shows. 

This was where Bill Cosby’s comedy career began. For an aspiring comedian, the Bitter End seemed the perfect place to launch their new career. However, the night Larry and his comedy partner were meant to make their debut, his partner never turned up. After being left in the lurch, Larry had not option to make his debut as a solo artist. He was well received, and this was the start of his new comedy career. Soon he became a regular on New York’s thriving  comedy circuit. However, comedy wasn’t the only career Larry had.

Through his exploits as a comedian, Larry came to the attention of Ernestine McClendon, who was a respected theatrical agent. She took Larry under her wing and guided his nascent career. Soon, she was sending Larry to auditions, and before long, he found himself appearing on television commercials, theatre and even films. 

One of these films that Larry appeared in was Putney Swope, which was a comedy directed by Robert Downey which examined the of role race and advertising in America. Putney Swope was very different to anything Larry appeared in before, as much of the film was improvised. This which was new to Larry, but something he coped with admirably in the film. 

In Putney Swope,  the chairman of an advertising company dies, and the firm’s executive board must elect someone to fill the vacant position. However, each member, is unable to vote for himself, and Swope who was the token African-American on the board is unexpectedly elected chairman. He decides to do things his way, and fires all the staff, apart from a lone white employee. Swope then renames the company Truth and Soul, Inc. and decides that he will no longer accept represents companies selling tobacco, alcohol and war toys. The film must have made a big impression on Larry, because when Putney Swope was released it inspired him to look at the role of the mass media. Looking for answers, Larry read books and learnt to meditate.

To help him, he turned to teachers who taught Larry how to meditate properly He soon was practising meditation and calisthenics. Larry was also using piano exercises as an outlet which was  how he discovered spontaneous music. Everything was improvised, off-the-cuff and experimental. Straight away, Larry realised the possibilities were endless. However, meditation was key to this. Soon, Larry was starting to realise just what he could do with music and art now that he had discovered meditation. Discovering meditation was akin to the first part of Larry’s spiritual awakening. Before long, the next part of Larry’s Meditation spiritual awakening took place.

Around 1974 or 1975, Larry found himself was living not far from JFK airport, and decided to go out for a walk in the evening. On his return home, he started hearing what he describes as: “the music of the spheres.” This was akin to a cosmic symphony where the music was joyous and celebratory. Larry became part of the music and was at one with the music. The whole experience had a lasting effect and was his spiritual and cosmic awakening. 

Suddenly, he understood things that had previously puzzled him. Things now started to make sense after what Larry refers to as: “a trigger for a cosmic memory.” It was as if Larry had been enlightened. However, he wanted to know more about what had happened, and decided to embarked on a course of study. 

To further understand what had happened to him, Larry embarked upon a study of Vedic teachings. Part of the Vedic teachings is that the yogis hear music in layers. When Larry heard this, he realised this what he had experienced and was why he was able to describe the music so vividly. His teachers told him that he had reached such a high level of consciousness that he was now able to see things differently from most people. It seemed his spiritual and cosmic awakening was almost complete. Now he decided that he wanted to recreate the music that he heard that night near JFK Airport.

At last, Larry was able to put his musical education to good use. He had always played music, even when he was working as a comedian and actor. Latterly, he’d been playing the Fender Rhodes, but was fed up having to transport such a heavy instrument. One night as he was preparing to go onstage, he told his “cosmic ear” that he would: “like a lighter instrument to share his musical consciousness with the world.” 

A few days later, Larry found himself in a pawn shop where he was ready to pawn his guitar when suddenly, out of nowhere, a voice told Larry to swap his guitar for a stringed instrument in the shop window. This he realised was an autoharp, which he was unable to play. However, Larry decided to swap his guitar for the autoharp, and he after that, he headed home, where he was determined to master this new instrument.

When Larry took the instrument home, he tuned it to his favourite piano chords and open guitar tunings. The effect this had, was to return it to what was essentially a zither, whose roots can be traced back the ancient, traditional instrument the kithara. Gradually, through a process of experimentation, Larry discovered what the autoharp was capable of. Then when he added an electric pickup, this was a game-changer, and he discovered that the possibilities were endless. He was able to begin creating the music that he had heard that fateful night, albeit with a little help from a friend. 

Not long after Larry begin playing the autoharp, he was strumming and plucking it like a guitar which  seemed to him the way to play the autoharp. That was until he  met Dorothy Carter who was a hammered dulcimer artist and encouraged Larry to play his autoharp with hammers. The other thing Dorothy did, was invite Larry to the Boston Globe Music Fest where he met another innovator.

At the Boston Globe Music Fest, Larry met Steven Halpern who is one of the pioneers of New Age music. Meeting Steven exposed him to music that he never knew existed, and changed Larry’s way of thinking. He realised that music didn’t need to follow the structures that he had been taught as a child and at university. Music didn’t need to have a beginning, end or even a melody. Instead, it could be a freeform stream of consciousness. Larry also learnt that there was always room for experimentation and improvisation within music. For Larry this changed his approach to music. Inspired and confident in his ability to play the autoharp, Larry was ready to make his debut. 

The old saying that the world is a stage proved to be the case for Larry, who made his debut as a busker on the streets of New York in 1978. He had released his first album Celestial Vibration in 1978, which he hoped would introduce his music to a wider audience. 

A year later, Larry was still busking and had self-released his sophomore album Lotus-Collage in 1979. However, he was busking abet in a different location. This proved fortuitous, while other said it was fate.

Larry was now busking in Washington Square Park and on that fateful day, he sat on top of a blanket, cross-legged and with his eyes closed, played his zither using the open tunings he favoured. As a result, he never saw Brian Eno standing watching him play. The man who many called The Godfather of ambient music was transfixed as he watched Larry play. Little did Brian Eno realise when he walked through the park with Bill Laswell that he would come  across a fellow innovator. Recognising the potential that Larry had, Brian Eno wrote a message on a piece of paper which Laraaji as he was now calling himself found later.

The next day Brian Eno met with Laraaji and the two men spoke about ambient music and electronics. Straight away, they got on and three weeks Laraaji, was heading to Apple Studios, in Green Street, New York where he recorded Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance).

When Laraaji arrived at Apple Studios, he brought with him his zither  and dulcimer, and five tracks that he had composed. With Brian Eno taking charge of production the five tracks that became Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) were recorded, which was the latest instalment in this groundbreaking series.

Later in 1980, Laraaji was preparing to release Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance), which it was hoped would launch his career and transform him from an underground artist to a successful experimental musicians. The only worry was in the post punk days, the snarling angry young gunslingers in the music press weren’t exactly accommodating to music that didn’t fit their particular agenda. However, some critics gave Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) a chance, and realised that this was a groundbreaking album where elements of ambient, avant-garde, dub, electronica, experimental, folk, New Age and world music were combined by Laraaji on this future cult classic.

Despite the critically acclaimed reviews of Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance), the album wasn’t a huge success and didn’t transform Laraaji’s career. It was disappointing for Laraaji who over the next few years, continued to record new music, often late at night in his flat not far from Columbus University which was where a young man called Barrack Obama was studying.

In 1981 Laraaji returned with his new album, I Am Ocean which was released on the Celestial Vibration label, and was the much-anticipated followup to Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance). However, it failed to make much of an impression upon its release. Later in 1981, Laraaji was back to self-releasing his next album Unicorns in Paradise. This was something he would do regularly throughout his five decade career. 

A year later, when Laraaji released Rhythm N’ Bliss in 1982, it was on the Third Ear label. This was the start of a period when Laraaji was a prolific artist, who often self-released his own music on cassettes which are now sought after. 

1984 was one of the most prolific years of Laraaji’s career. He released a triumvirate of albums including Om Namah Shivaya on the Celestial Vibration label and self-released Sun Zither. However, one of the most important albums he released at this period was his epic album Vision Songs Volume 1.

Unlike previous albums, which featured freeform songs where Laraaji enjoyed the opportunity to improvise, Vision Songs Volume 1 featured eighteen gospel inspired songs where he wrote and sang the vocals. This was a stylistic departure from Laraaji, who had released his debut album Celestial Vibration six years previously in 1978. By 1984, Laraaji who was a talented and versatile multi-instrumentalist who wasn’t afraid to innovate.

Laraaji who already had an array of instruments including a zither, dulcimer and Mbira, was keen to try out the new musical technology including a Casio MT-70 synth which was meant to replicate the sound of a Hammond organ. It also came with equipped with a drum machine which Laraaji knew he could put to good use Vision Songs Volume 1.

Just like previous albums, Laraaji played all of the instruments on Vision Songs Volume 1, and was recordist and producer. Although it was just five years since he had recorded Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) with Brian Eno. By then he was used to recording on his own, and often transformed his flat into a makeshift studio. That was where he setup his zither, dulcimer, Mbira and the latest addition to his musical arsenal the Casio MT-70 synth. These instruments he recorded onto a multitrack recorder. When it came time to record the vocals, Laraaji laid them down without using a vocal booth that were a feature of all the studios in New York. Eventually, the eighteen tracks on Vision Songs Volume 1 were complete.

Now Laraaji set about having cassette tapes of Vision Songs Volume 1 produced, which came complete with the track listing. Laraaji had even included details of how to contact him at PO Box 227 Cathedral Station New York, NY 10025. The forty-one year old musician was also trying to promote his career and what was later hailed as his Magnus Opus, Vision Songs Volume 1.

Laraaji had surpassed himself with Vision Songs Volume 1, which what was an album of otherworldly devotional synth pop that had been recorded spontaneously. Just like previous albums, everything was off-the-cuff and Laraaji did’t record countless takes in a search for sonic perfection. That wasn’t his way as he sought inspiration during endless late-night recording sessions that sometimes lasted into the following morning. 

During these sessions, Laraaji deployed his zither which were use to create the melodies. Other times, he used drum machine on Casio MT-70 synth, which click, clips and cracks. However, there was a limit to the drums patterns available within the Casio MT-70 synth, so when Laraaji found the right one, he decided to stick to it. The drums are part of an arrangement which feature Laraaji’s zither, hammered dulcimer and the Casio MT-70 synth which was meant to replicate a Hammond organ. It comes close on the beautiful, cerebral and spiritual sounding I Can Only Bliss Out (F’Days) which showcased Laraaji’s skills as a lyricist.

That is the case from the mystical mantra Hare Jaya Jaya Rama I which opens Vision Songs Volume 1 where Laraaji sings about awareness and enlightenment on what was his first ever gospel inspired lyrical album. That Laraaji decided to record such an album was no surprise after spiritual awakening a few years earlier. Unlike many musicians, he wasn’t about to hide his spiritual side, and it features throughout the album.

Vision Songs Volume 1 was the first Laraaji album that didn’t feature lengthy instrumentals, and it turned out that Laraaji was a talented lyricist who was capable of writing cerebral, spiritual and thought-provoking lyrics. These songs were properly structured which was to be expected from someone who had graduated with a degree in music. The lyrics were delivered by Laraaji’s secret weapon…his voice.

It was a surprise to many people that Laraaji was also a talented vocalist, as they hadn’t heard him sing until Vision Songs Volume 1. He had the ability to breath life, meaning, emotion and a spiritual quality to the songs on Vision Songs Volume 1, as his vocals veered between emotive, heartfelt, hopeful, impassioned and soulful. There was a spiritual quality to songs like Hare Jaya Jaya Rama II, We Shall Be Lifted, Allah. It’s a similar case with Om Namah Shivaya which is uplifting and rousing, while the addition of the Casio MT-70 synth on Today Is This Magic Quality manages to replicate the sound of a church organ on another spiritual sounding song. Often, Laraaji’s vocals were spirited, impassioned and sung with a clarity and lucidity that would’ve been the envy of many more experienced vocalists. So were some of the catchy songs on Vision Songs Volume 1 which weren’t short of a hook. Laraaji seemed to be a natural when it came to songwriting.

He was also a natural singer and storyteller whose performances were captivating. Sometimes, there’s a tender to his vocals, while other times there’s a warmth and hope in his voice on All Of A Sudden, which is an eight-minute epic about the birth of what he Laraaji believed to be a new era of awareness. However, Laraaji the future laughter meditation guru reveals not just a playfulness, but his sense of humour earlier in his career he used to great effect. This humour is apparent on Cosmic Joe, and later, on the final part of a trilogy Is This Clear? III which closes Vision Songs Volume 1.

Having released Vision Songs Volume 1, Laraaji in 1984, Laraaji was back selling cassettes of the album wherever he played live. Those who bought Vision Songs Volume 1 had no idea of the importance of this groundbreaking gospel inspired lyrical album. Vision Songs Volume 1 marked the debut of Laraaji as a lyricist and vocalist, and showed a new side to this talented and versatile multi-instrumentalist.

On Vision Songs Volume 1, Laraaji combines avant-garde, gospel, synth pop and new age plus elements of ambient, experimental and even occasional hints of dub, psychedelia and rock. Laraaji had eschewed lengthy freeform instrumentals for a much more focused album which featured traditional songs, albeit songs that featured a degree of spontaneity. This was one of Laraaji’s trademarks during the early years of his long career which seemed to have stalled.

Sadly, due to Laraaji’s decision to self-release Vision Songs Volume 1, it was another album that slipped under the musical radar. The majority of record buyers never got the opportunity to discover an album that was variously beautiful, cerebral, dreamy, ethereal, hypnotic, meditative, melancholy, mesmeric, mystical, soulful, spiritual, thought-provoking and uplifting. However, only a lucky few who bought Laraaji’s tapes of Vision Songs Volume 1 when he self-released the album in 1983. It was a case of what might have been.

Thirty-seven years later, and sadly, Laraaji is still one of music’s best kept secrets. However, over the last few years, Laraaji’s music has started to find a wider audience. This includes Vision Songs Volume 1, which is regarded by many as Laraaji’s Magnus Opus, and an album that will make music fans wonder why he’s still one of music’s best kept secrets?

Cult Classic: Laraaji: Vision Songs Volume 1.

 

LOST ALBUM FOUND: TAPIMAN-HARD DRIVE.

Lost Album Found: Tapiman-Hard Drive.

During the seventies, the hard rocking Spanish power trio Tapiman, released a trio of albums between 1972 and 1979. This includes Tapiman, which is a cult classic, that nowadays, changes hands for over £800. It was, without doubt Tapiman’s finest hour. Sadly, these three albums amount to everything that Tapiman recorded during their seventies heyday. Recently, it became apparent that that wasn’t strictly true.

The three albums released by Tapiman during the seventies, were recorded by what was the second lineup of the band. However, the original lineup of Tapiman recorded ten tracks in 1971. Very few people were aware of these homemade recordings, which include a cover of Black Sabbath’s Planet Caravan. This lost album was found and belated released in 2017.

 It features Tapiman at their hard rocking best, as they switch between, and combine, hard rock, proto-metal and even a hint of psychedelia and the Canterbury Scene. These eleven tracks on Hard Drive are reminder of the original lineup of Tapiman in 1971, as their career began,

Tapiman were formed in Barcelona, Spain in early 1971 by drummer Joseph María Vilaseca “Tapioles” and guitar virtuoso Miguel Angel Núñez. The pair struggled for a while to find the right bassist. They auditioned a few different bassists, but the chemistry just wasn’t right. Things changed when Pepe Fernández auditioned. Suddenly, the nascent band had found its bassist. Now the power trio had an enviable lineup of experienced musicians.

By then, Joseph María Vilaseca “Tapioles” was regarded as one of the best drummers at the time. He had previously been a member of Máquina, and played on their legendary 1970 debut album Why? Máquina looked as if they were destined to become one of the biggest rock groups in Spain. That was until lead singer Jordi Batiste left Máquina.

This was essentially the end of the road for Máquina. While different line-ups of the band were tried out, it was never the same band. The end came for Joseph María Vilaseca “Tapioles” when three other members of the Máquina formed a new band. This Joseph decided the time for him to found his own band.

Not long after this, Joseph María Vilaseca “Tapioles” met Miguel Angel Núñez. The pair soon formed a friendship, and realising that they worked well together, decided to form a new band. This was the basis for a successful band, as they were both experienced and talented musicians.

Previously, Miguel Angel Núñez had been already been a member of several different bands. At first he was the singer, but gradually, he began to play guitar in the some of the bands. Soon, Miguel Angel Núñez was well on his way to becoming one of Spain’s most exciting and flamboyant guitarists. He found the perfect home for his talents in the new group.

This new group didn’t as yet, have a name. Soon, the two friends hit on an idea that would provide the name for their band. They decided to take the first letters of their names and combine them. Joseph María Vilaseca “Tapioles” took the first four letters from surname (Tapi), while Miguel Angel Núñez took the initials from each name (man) and Tapiman was born. All that remained was finding a bassist.

After trying a few bassists, Tapiman discovered Pepe Fernández, who was the final piece in the jigsaw. Not only did his playing style suit the new band’s, but he well known with Barcelona’s progressive rock scene. Pepe had also previously been a member of the psychedelic blues band Vértice who recorded the single Take Me Away in 1970. Given his experience and track record, Pepe was the perfect addition to the nascent power trio. Sadly, Tapiman would only be together less than a year.

Despite only being together such a short time, Tapiman certainly made their mark on Spanish music. The rise and rise of Tapiman was certainly rapid. After Tapiman had honed their sound, Barcelona’s newest power trio started playing on live. Soon, Tapiman were a familiar face on the local music scene. Unlike most new bands, Tapiman soon became a popular draw. However, it wasn’t just music lovers that arrived at their gigs. 

Three months after Tapiman were formed, an A&R representative from a local record label, Edigsa arrived at one of their concerts. They wanted to sign Tapiman, and for the group to record and release their debut single on Edigsa. 

This wasn’t going to be just any single though. No, Claudi Marti who owned Edgisa, had very specific ideas about the single. It had to last a certain time, and have a “unique” sound so that record stations would play the single. 

Having signed a contract with Edgisa, the three members of Tapiman got to work, and penned Hey You, where Miguel Angel Núñez’s vocal and Pepe Fernández’s play lead roles in the sound and success of the song. For the B-Side, Miguel Angel Núñez penned Sugar Stone. These two songs became Tapiman’s debut single, when it was released in 1971. For Tapiman, this was the next part of a musical adventure.

Not long after the release of their debut Hey You, Tapiman entered the First Trocadero Music Festival. While Tapiman were one of the favourites, the competition was fierce. Two Barcelona based prog-psych bands, Máquina! and Pan and Regaliz were regarded as the favourites. Both were experienced campaigners. Despite their experience, it was Tapiman that triumphed. They proved to be the favourites of what was an enthusiastic audience. 

This was just one of many enthusiastic audiences Tapiman played in front of. Others included their morning shows at the Iris and at the Barbarella club in Mallorca. This was just one of the many top clubs that Tapiman played at during what was one of the busiest periods of their short career. However, one of the highlights came when they played at the Granollers First Festival of Progressive Rock. 

Tapiman who were one of the newest groups on the bill at the First Festival of Progressive Rock. Despite this, they stole the show with their acid rock sound. Suddenly, the Spanish music press were heaping praise on Tapiman. They were hailed as one of the rising stars of Spanish underground rock, who had a bright future in front of them.

It certainly looked that way. Suddenly, Tapiman were receiving offers from far and wide. This included from Jim Inman, who managed American bands. He wanted to take Tapiman to America, where they would spend a month touring San Francisco and the West Coast of America with major bands like Jefferson Airplane. This Jim Inman hoped, would Tapiman to the lucrative American market. That never happened though.

Instead, Tapiman were meant to start recording their debut album. It was hoped that the album would capture Tapiman’s live sound. Tapiman live shows were raw and energetic. To capture this sound, a decision was made to record the album live. After Tapiman encountered technical difficulties, they had to rethink their approach to recording the album.

Eventually, Tapiman decided to record the album at Gema Studios, in Barcelona. Rather than a closed session, Tapiman decided to record the album with members of the public present.  This method had been used in America, but never before in Spain. The lucky members of the public that arrived at the studio got to hear Tapiman in full flight, on what was a musical first in Spain. Once again, Tapiman were breaking new ground. Things were looking good for Tapiman.

They were regarded as one of the rising stars of Spanish underground rock. Tapiman were a popular live draw, who were starting to play further afield. This included a concert in Andorra, that took place not long after Tapiman had recorded their debut album. For Tapiman, this should’ve been a time to celebrate, as soon, their debut album would be completed and ready for release. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

By the time of the concert in Andorra, there had been was some arguments between members of the band. This isn’t unusual in bands. Especially one like Tapiman, which featured three talented and creative people, who over the last few months had spent much of their time together. It was only natural that there will be the occasional disagreement. What nobody was prepared for, was Miguel Angel Núñez’s announcement that he was leaving Tapiman. For the other two members of the band this was a huge body blow.

Tapiman had just recorded their debut album. All that remained was to do some overdubbing, and then the album would be ready for release. That wouldn’t be possible without Miguel Angel Núñez, whose guitar playing was a crucial part of the album. Without him, the album wouldn’t be finished. It was imperative that Miguel Angel Núñez changed his mind, and the album was completed. After all, this album was what Tapiman had spent the last few months working towards. Now it looked like it would all be for nothing.

Despite the best efforts of Joseph María Vilaseca “Tapioles” and Pepe Fernández, Miguel Angel Núñez wasn’t willing to change his mind. Even Claudi Marti who owned the Edgisa label, couldn’t convince  Miguel Angel Núñez to change his mind about leaving Tapiman. It was the end of an era.

The ten tracks that were recently released as Hard Drive were never released, and since 1971, have lain in the Tapiman vaults. That was a great shame, as they showcase they combined and considerable talents of the original lineup of Tapiman.

Opening Hard Drive is the title-track, which is one of the songs recorded at Tapiman’s rehearsal space. Drum rolls and Miguel’s searing guitar riffs give way to Pepe’s bounding bass and soon, Tapiman are in full flight. As the drums provide the heartbeat, the bass and searing, scorching guitar play leading roles in this hard rocking track. They’re soon joined by Miguel’s urgent rocky vocal, which sounds as if it’s been inspirited by Black Sabbath, Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin. When the vocal drops out, Tapiman unleash a raw, rocky jam. Their playing is tight, inventive and briefly, pays homage to The Who, before reaching a glorious rocky crescendo.

No Control was meant to feature on the B-Side of Tapiman’s sophomore album No Control, which was never unreleased. As is often the case, B-Sides prove to be hidden gems. A searing, psychedelic guitar sets the scene for a vocal powerhouse. Meanwhile, Tapiman’s rhythm section lock down a groove as Miguel struts and swaggers his way through the lyrics. Behind him, drums pound, the bass bounds and cymbals crash. Miguel unleashes a fleet fingered, bristling guitar solo, before spraying machine gun riffs across the arrangement as hard rock meets psychedelia. If ever a song deserved to fare better than a B-Side, it’s No Control, which is a tantalising reminder of what the ordinal lineup of Tapiman were capable of.

Eight is the third of five tracks Tapiman recorded in their rehearsal rooms. This instrumental is like hearing the original lineup of Tapiman live. As the rhythm section lay down a groove, the bass bounds and snakes around the drumbeats. Soon, Miguel steps up, and delivers an effects laden solo. Behind him, Joseph continues to works his way round the kit, sometimes relying upon the ride, before pounding the drums enthusiastically. It’s a much more restrained performance, which results in much more mellow and melodic track. Latterly, the arrangement is stripped bare, when a drum roll, gives way to wailing feedback. Miguel’s searing guitar ensures the psychedelic rock of Eight reaches an impressive crescendo.

Time On Space is another instrumental, and is a showcase for a guitar masterclass from Miguel. He unleashes a blistering solo,  while the bass cuts through the arrangement and drums power the arrangement along. Although Tapiman are a talented power trio, it’s Miguel that steals the show with another scorching, fleet fingered solo from a musical wizard. 

Joseph’s drums take centre-stage on No Title as he powers his way round the kit. Soon, Pepe’s bass and Miguel’s Hendrix inspired guitar join and the tempo rises. The rhythm section power the arrangement along, with the bass matching the guitar every step of the way. Meanwhile, Miguel’s playing is fast, fluid and flamboyant, as the bass provides the heartbeat. Soon, the drums enjoy their moment in the sun, with flamboyant flourishes of guitar adding the final touch as Tapiman reach new heights. As astounded studio audience gasp in disbelief, before a walking bass and effects laden guitar power the arrangement along as No Title reaches a dramatic ending. It’s one of the highlights of Hard Drive.

Having counted the band in a tack piano plays on Before Last Minute. Soon, it’s joined by quivering effects laden guitar as the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Meanwhile, the music of two decades melts into one. Elements of sixties psychedelia and seventies rock melt combine to create a punchy, driving dramatic instrumental 

Straight away, lysergic and dreamy describes Miguel’s vocal on Long Sea Journey. Again, there’s a sixties psychedelic sound to the understated and spacious arrangement. Here, less is more as guitars and swirling, droning  organ are deployed. Along with the vocal, they play leading roles in this cinematic psychedelic song.

Just a lone acoustic guitar accompanies a wistful vocal as Tapiman cover Black Sabbath’s Planet Caravan. Soon, rhythm section enter, and Tapiman march to the beat of Joseph’s drum. Meanwhile, a prowling bass works its way across the arrangement, before a scorching, psychedelic guitar soars high above the arrangement. When it drops out, a military beat, prowling bass and acoustic guitar accompany the emotive, wistful  vocal on this poignant cover of Black Sabbath’s Planet Caravan.

Closing Hard Drive is an acoustic demo version of Eight, which features the shimmering, glistening guitars that intertwine. They’re at the heart of this short instrumental, that lasts just over a minute. That is enough to hear how the track evolved, and became the version that featured earlier on Hard Drive. However, it’s the demo of Eight that closes this chapter in the Tapiman story.

The chapter in the Tapiman story that Hard Drive covers, is one that very few people were aware of. Some people were aware that it was the second lineup of Tapiman that recorded three albums between 1972 and 1979, Tapiman, Rock ’n’ Roll Music and En Ruta. However, very few knew that the original lineup of Tapiman began work on an album before they split-up. They certainly weren’t aware that the album wasn’t almost complete. Sadly, it was never completed.

Instead,  Max Sunyer joined the band and they embarked upon a new chapter in their career. This was the most successful period in their career. However, if Miguel Angel Núñez hadn’t decided to leave the band in 1971, there’s every chance that the original lineup of Tapiman would’ve gone on to reach even greater heights.

The ten tracks on Hard Drive are a tantalising reminder of what the original lineup of Tapiman sounded like. How would the songs have sounded if they had been completed, and album released? Maybe that would’ve been the first step in a musical journey that saw Tapiman become not just one of the biggest Spanish bands of the seventies, but a giant of European music. Tapiman certainly had the talent. Sadly, their differences got in the way of a successful career.

Maybe if they a manager who could’ve helped the three members of Tapiman resolve their differences, then things would’ve been very different? Certainly Tapiman’s debut album wouldn’t have lain unreleased for forty-six years. Sadly, that was what happened and it’s a great shame.

Hard Drive features Tapiman at their hard rocking best, as they switch between and combine hard rock, proto-metal and even a hint of psychedelia. There’s even a nod to the Canterbury Scene, on Hard Drive. It features the hard rocking sound of Tapiman in full flight on Hard Drive, which is a tantalising reminder of what the original lineup of Tapiman were capable of, and the heights they could’ve and should’ve achieved.

Lost Album Found: Tapiman-Hard Drive.

 

 

 

 

CULT CLASSIC: MICHAEL CHAPMAN-WINDOW.

Cult Classic: Michael Chapman-Window.

Michael Chapman never set out to be a make a living as a musician and originally, he was a teacher. By day, Michael Chapman taught art and photography and music was something he did in his spare time. However, there was a sense of inevitability that one day soon, Michael Chapman would leave the classroom behind.

Although Michael Chapman was a part time musician, he travelled the length and breadth of England. He was a regular on the folk circuit and  often, traveled from his home county of Yorkshire, as far afield as London and Cornwall. Maybe in the back of his mind, Michael Chapman was hoping to make a living from music? If that was the case, eventually, his persistence paid off in 1967. 

For Michael, 1967 was the year zero. That was the year that Michael Chapman was “discovered.” By then, hel was already twenty-six. However, it was another two years before Michael Chapman released his debut album Rainmaker on Harvest.

Rainmaker.

Harvest Records, a subsidiary of Capitol Records, was home to Pink Floyd, Kevin Ayers, Third Ear Band and Deep Purple. Michael Chapman found himself in illustrious company. Here were some of the most progressive musicians of the late-sixties. Michael was well thought of. Executives at Harvest thought Michael had a big future. They brought in Gus Dudgeon to produce Rainmaker, Michael’s 1969 album. 

On its release, Rainmaker was released to critical acclaim. A cut above mainstream British folk, Rainmaker showcased Michael Chapman’s skill as a songwriter, musician and singer. Sadly, the fusion of folk, blues and rock that was Rainmaker, wasn’t a commercial success. Harvest persisted with Michael Chapman, believing success wasn’t far away. So, a year later, in early 1970, Michael released his sophomore album, Fully Qualified Survivor.

Fully Qualified Survivor.

Fully Qualified Survivor,  Michael Chapman’s  sophomore album. Released in early 1970, Fully Qualified Survivor saw Michael focusing on strengthening his songwriting skills. He seemed to be a perfectionist when it came to songwriting.  This paid off. 

For Fully Qualified Survivor, which like his debut album, was produced by Gus Dudgeon, Michael Chapmanbrought a new lead guitarist onboard. This was Mick Ronson, who’d later, make his name as David Bowie’s guitarist. A combination of some of Michae Chapmanl’s best songs, Gus’ production work and a guitar masterclass resulted in critics hailing Fully Qualified Survivor as a mini-masterpiece. It struck a nerve with music fans, reaching number forty-five in the UK.

After the commercial success and critical acclaim Fully Qualified Survivor enjoyed, it looked like Michael Chapman was about to become one of the most successful artists of the early seventies. However, that wasn’t to be. Window, Michael Chapman’s third album, which was the most controversial album of his short career.

Window.

Over the last few years, Michael Chapman had been constantly touring. Taking time off to record an album was almost an inconvenience. Michael Chapman was a realist and knew that if he wasn’t touring, he wasn’t making money. That meant Michael Chapman couldn’t pay the three meters of  his band, and obviously they weren’t going to be happy. After all, “man cannot live by bread alone.” Michael Chapman had realised this the hard way, and  was faced  with a problem.

Harvest Records wanting him to record his third album which would  become Window. Michael Chapman was reluctant to do so, and eventually he decided to record the album quickly as possible. It would get his label off his back.

For some time, Harvest Records had been wanting Michael Chapman to record the followup to Fully Qualified Survivor. He wasn’t keen, and had managed to stall them. However, eventually, their patience ran out and faced with no alternative, Michael Chapman was told to record his third album.

Michael Chapmanhad already written the nine songs that became Window and all he needed was a studio. Harvest Records told him to book a studio. Michael Chapman chose Trident Studios, in London, which in 1971, was one of the most expensive studios in Britain. However, it was one of the best sounding rooms in London and full of the latest equipment. That’s why it was home to some of the top musicians, including Michael Chapman.

When recording began at Trident Studios, Michael Chapman’s usual band accompanied him. This included drummer and tambourinist Richie Dharma and bassist Rick Kemp who also played maracas. They were joined by a number of guest artists including lead guitarist Phil Greenberg. He adopted the alias P. Harold Fatt, so as not to attract the attention of the British immigration department. He was joined by violinist Johnny Van Derek and pianist Alex Atterson. Producing Window, was Gus Dudgeon, who was now, making a name for himself with Elton John. 

When work began on Window, Gus Dudgeon decided to take a different approach with Michael Chapman. Gus Dudgeon seemed to allow him more freedom. After all, Window was Michael’s third album and he knew how things worked by now. The result was a much more eclectic album than Rainmaker or Fully Qualified Surveyor, Window.

As soon as Window was completed, Michael Chapman and his band got back on the road. He was keen to make some money as the time he ad spent in the studio meant no money was coming in. Deep down, Michael Chapmanhad his doubts about Window. Forever the realist he realised Window wasn’t going to make him rich and  headed back out on tour, which didn’t please Michael’s wife. However, the rest of the band liked life on the road which was a form of escapism from the drudgery of daily life.

With Michael Chapman on tour, he wasn’t around to handle the fallout from the release of Window. When critics heard Window, Michael Chapman’s third album divided opinion. Compared to Rainmaker and Fully Qualified Survivor, Window critics didn’t perceive as Window as progression and some critics felt Michael Chapman’s music seemed to have stood still. Maybe Gus Dudgeon’s decision to give Michael more freedom had backfired? Either that, or his decision to record Window as quickly as possible had backfired on him? That seemed to be the case.

When Window was released in 1970, it failed to chart on its release in 1970. Record buyers turned their back on Window. So did Michael Chapman.

Following the release of Window, Michael Chapman disowned Window allegeding it comprised a series of unfinished demos, which Harvest released whilst he was on tour. Ironically, Window, the album Michael Chapmandisowned, has been have reevaluated by critics and it’s now seen as Michael’s most underrated album.

Opening Window is Lady On The Rocks/Song For September. A firmly strummed guitar is soon joined by the rhythm section. It’s propelled along by Rick Kemp’s pounding bass and dramatic rolls of drums. They set the scene for Michael’s despairing, hurt-filled vocal. He’s hurt at what he sees as his partner’s betrayal. Later, when the vocal drops out, the band showcase their combined talents. Especially, Phil Greenberg’s bristling, searing guitar licks and Rick’s strident bass. When Michael returns, he’s made his mind up that this is the end of the affair. There’s no going back and with harmonies for company, a despairing Michael shares his frustration and hurt. Then as the track reaches its crescendo, Michael throws another curveball as congas help drive the arrangement along to its dramatic ending.

Last Lady Song is another relationship song. This time, however, they’re ships that pass in the night. Michael’s guitar is panned right, and drives the arrangement along. Then when his band enter, things get funky. This shows another side to Michael Chapman. Against this backdrop, Michael delivers a hopeful, needy vocal, asking: “will you stay another day?” He knows that’s unlikely. They’re ships that pass in the night. As he realises this, Paul Greenberg delivers a show stealing solo. Aided and abetted by Michael’s tight, talented band they seamlessly combine elements of folk, folk, funk and rock, showing another side of Michael’s music.

The slow, melancholy and thoughtful Among The Trees, sees Michael return to his folk roots. As Michael delivers a lived-in vocal, he strums his trusty acoustic guitar. Along with Rick Kemp’s bass, they play leading roles in framing Michael’s reflective vocal. It’s accompanied by harmonies, as Michael remembers times gone by. They were it seems better times, and maybe, “the best of times.”

Urgently Michael’s fingers flit up and down the fretboard as An Old Man Remembers unfolds. Soon, he’s joined by the rhythm section. This signals the entrance of Michael’s vocal. Again he’s reflecting, this times on an old relationship. With harmonies for company, a melancholy Michael remembers days gone by, when he was young, carefree and in love.

A hesitant, crystalline acoustic guitar opens In The Valley and is a scene setter for Michael’s Dylan-esque vocal. Against this understated arrangement, his vocal enters. Again, there’s a sense of melancholy in the vocal. That’s apparent when he sings: “days pass so slowly In The Valley of my mind,” and how far is it down, why must a fall?” Accompanying his vocal, are chiming, crystalline guitars and washes of percussion that add to an almost ominous sounding arrangement. This reflects the darkness and despair in Michael’s vocal.

First Lady Song is less than a minute long. Michael’s worldweary vocal is accompanied by just his acoustic guitar, as he remembers a femme fatale from his past. However, before long, First Lady Song is over. With a flourish of guitar, Michael bids farewell, on what’s a tantalising taste of what might have been.

Just like many of the tracks on Window, Michael’s acoustic guitar opens Landships. It sets the scene for Michael’s Bowie-esque vocal. He’s accompanied by harmonies, as he accentuates, and highlights, words and phrases. Meanwhile, rolls of drums, acoustic guitars and percussion accompany Michael. They all add to the drama, as we hear another side to Michael Chapman. It’s very different to what’s gone before. No wonder, with elements of country, folk, pop and rock shining through.

Having previously been inspired by Bob Dylan and David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and inspire Michael on A Scholarly Man. That only becomes apparent later. As the song opens, it’s Michael’s guitar that sets the scene. Soon, Michael delivers a tormented vocal, while frantically strumming his guitar. It’s akin to a cry for help, from a man on the edge. Later, there’s an Eastern influence as the arrangement glistens and shimmers. Sometimes, his guitar playing is reminiscent of Jimmy Page. However, Michael’s vocal is unique and unmistakable, as he delivers a despairing vocal, as the lyrics come to life.

Closing She Came In Like The “6.15” And Made A Hole In The Wall. From the get-go, it has a looser sound. That’s not surprising. It’s just Michael and some of his musician friends enjoying a singalong. It sounds like a good night has been had by all one and all on what’s a unusual choice of track to close Window

Fifty years have passed since Michael Chapman released Window. Back in 1970, it was an album that divided the opinion of critics. Window was Marmite music, you either loved or loathed it. Michael Chapman fell into the latter category and disliked Window so much, that after its release, he disowned his third album. This was hugely controversial.

Record buyers were hardly inclined to buy an album the artist has disowned. However, that’s what Michael Chapman did which didn’t please executives at Harvest Records. The album failed commercially and it was a frustrating time for Michael Chapman and Harvest Records.

Looking back at Window, the album finds Michael Chapman flitting  between musical genres. Country, folk, folk rock, funk, pop and rock can be heard on Window which was, without doubt, the most eclectic album of his three album career. That’s not surprising. 

Producer Gus Dudgeon gave Michael much more freedom on Window. Michael repaid him with Window, an eclectic album, where we hear various sides of Michael Chapman. Sadly, neither the critics, nor his fans, who were won over by Window. However, forty-five years later, and critics have reappraised Window.

Nowadays, Window,  is seen as one of the most underrated albums in Michael Chapman’s discography. It features Michael Chapman at his cerebral and reflective best, as he paints pictures of love, love lost and times gone by. That’s why Window is certainly one of Michael Chapman’s most eclectic albums, and showcases a talented singer, songwriter and storyteller on the most underrated album of his career, Window.

Cult Classic: Michael Chapman-Window.

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CULT CLASSIC: DAVID KAUFFMAN AND ERIC CABOOR-GREETINGS FROM SUICIDE BRIDGE.

Cult Classic: David Kauffman and Eric Caboor-Greetings From Suicide Bridge.

Often when recording an album, an artist thinks about an album cover only once they’ve finished recording. Not David Kauffman and Eric Caboor. They put the cart before the horse, in the spring of 1983, and came up with an album cover before they had even recorded their debut album.  

The photo shoot for the album cover took place in  the spring of 1982. David Kauffman remembered the perfect place for the photo shoot, Colorado Street Bridge, which connects Pasadena to the northeast tip of Los Angeles. It wasn’t the spectacular architecture that made David Kauffman  remember Colorado Street Bridge. Far from it.

Instead, it was that every time he crossed the Colorado Street Bridge as an eight year old, it sent shivers down his spine. That’s not surprising, given its history.

Fast forward to the spring of 1983, and the Colorado Street Bridge still had a bad reputation. That had been the case since it opened in 1913. For the last seventy years, over one hundred people had killed themselves by jumping off Colorado Street Bridge. Unsurprisingly, locals took to referring to Colorado Street Bridge as Suicide Bridge. That’s where David and Eric decided to shoot the photo for their debut album.

Early one spring morning in 1983, David and Eric made their way to Suicide Bridge. Accompanying them was a photographer. They found Suicide Bridge eerily deserted. There was not a car in sight.  At first, they thought the bridge was abandoned. This set their imagination running. So, they decided not to hang about. They would have their photos taken, and beat a hasty retreat. Various photos of David and Eric walking across Suicide Bridge clutching their guitar cases were taken. After that, they headed home. Only at a later date did they discover Suicide Bridge was closed for repairs.

By then, Eric Caboor had hit on a title for the album they still to record. He phoned David Kauffman with the suggestion that their debut album be called Greetings From Suicide Bridge. Nervously, they laughed at the irony of the title.

When David Kauffman and Eric Caboor released their debut album on their own label, Donkey Soul Music, in 1984, the title of the album was indeed, Greetings From Suicide Bridge. On its release, it was as if the curse of Suicide Bridge had struck again and the album sunk without trace. So did three years of hopes and dreams.

It was the autumn of 1981, that David Kauffman and Eric Caboor first met. David arrived at The Basement club, which was situated in the basement of the Echo Park United Methodist  Church. It was one of the last folk venues in Los Angeles. Singers on their way up, those on the way down and those hoping for a break made their way to The Basement. They played in front of folk fans and those sheltering from the realities of life. While it wasn’t a glamorous venue, it was full of likeminded music lovers. This included Eric Caboor.

Occasionally Eric accompanied his friend on guitar. That suited him fine as he didn’t have the confidence to take centrestage and  was happy to stay in the background. That wasn’t the case with another singer he met one night, David Kauffman.

Just like Eric, David was also an aspiring singer-songwriter. Aspiring was the word. Try as he may, he couldn’t get a break. So, David was waiting tables. He didn’t enjoy this, but the money was good and he only had to work twenty-five hours. The rest of the time, he could spend writing songs and chasing the dream. This included turning up at The Basement one night.

With so many people wanting to play at The Basement, time was limited. Singers were only allowed three songs. Then their time was up. So when David’s time came, he didn’t bother with the banter other singers indulged in. Instead, he launched into his three songs. Literally, David poured out his soul during the three songs. The audience were captivated. Especially, Eric Caboor.

When David had packed up his guitar, he was all set to head home. Eric decided to introduce himself. Having complimented David on his performance, Eric said he would like to hear more of his music. This was the start of a firm friendship.

Straight away, David and Eric began to spend a lot of time together. The two aspiring singer-songwriters had a lot in common. They both wanted to make a career out of music. 

That was why David moved to L.A. David’s dream hadn’t turned out the way he had hoped, and he was waiting tables. Eric’s luck was out too. He was still living in his parent’s home. Deep down, he wanted to make a living out of music. Eric however, was reluctant to follow his dreams. As they sympathised with each other’s plight David and Eric hatched a plan to record an album together.

That’s how, in the spring of 1983, David and Eric found themselves on Suicide Bridge. With their album cover shot, all they needed was to write and record their debut album. It didn’t even have a title. That was until David suggested the title Greetings From Suicide Bridge. Not only did they have a title, but inspiration as to what the music

After their visit Suicide Bridge the photographs that had been shot were received by David and Eric. As they looked at the shots, they gave them an idea as to how Greetings From Suicide Bridge should sound.

For Greetings From Suicide Bridge, David and Eric originally had written and recorded thirteen songs. What they had forgotten, was the time restrictions of an LP. So, Greetings From Suicide Bridge went from a thirteen song album, to one featuring just ten. They were penned by David and Eric.

Of the ten songs that made it only Greetings From Suicide Bridge, David contributed Kiss Another Day Goodbye, Life Without Love, Life and Times On The Beach, Where’s The Misunderstanding? and Tinsel Town. David also penned the lyrics to Midnight Willie, while Eric wrote the music. Eric’s other contributions were Neighbourhood Blues, Angel Of Mercy, Backwoods and One More Day (You’ll Fly Again). These ten tracks, which became Greetings From Suicide Bridge, were recorded between June and October of 1983.

As recording of Greetings From Suicide Bridge began, it wasn’t in one of L.A.’s recording studios. Instead, David and Eric recorded their debut album after they had finished work. Eric played acoustic, electric, slide and steel guitars, plus dulcimer, mandolin and vocals. David played bass, piano, acoustic  and electric guitar. This complicated matters.

For their recording sessions, David and Eric only had a four-track portastudio. Eric had bought it in a music store in Van Nuys. It used just blank cassettes. However, given the wide variety of instruments the pair were using, they didn’t have enough channels.

This wasn’t going to stop David and Eric. Necessity was indeed, the mother of invention. The pair were forced to improvise, so that they could layer instruments. It was a complicated and time consuming process, but one that seemed to have worked. However, there was a problem.

When David and Eric took their cassettes to be professionally transferred onto reel-to-reel tapes, Norm Stepanski of Hillside Recordings, Encino thought that the tapes were so badly damaged that Greetings From Suicide Bridge would have to be rerecorded. David and Eric’s hearts sank. However, Norm promised to work out a way to save the project. 

As David and Eric left Hillside Recordings, it was with a heavy heart. Four months’ work was at stake. It could all be for nothing. If they had to start again, they might never replicate the same sound. Especially, the way they layer had been done. They needed Norm to save the day.

And save the day he did. Somehow, Norm worked out a way to save the tapes. The thirteen tracks were transferred across. Norm had saved the day. David and Eric enjoyed the journey to Hillside Recordings, where Norm told them that if they “doing this again, ring me first.” That was the future, now David and Eric had a record to release.

It was then that they realised that the thirteen songs they had originally recorded wouldn’t fit on Greetings From Suicide Bridge. So, thirteen songs became ten. Even then, David and Eric were pushing their luck. They managed to utilise ninety-nine percent of the vinyl. With the ten songs chosen, now came the process of sequencing Greetings From Suicide Bridge. With that done, David and Eric played their forthcoming album for the first time.

The person chosen to appraise Greetings From Suicide Bridge was David’s girlfriend. Her reaction was that the album was that they had taken “their most depressing songs, and put them on one record…isn’t that a bit much?” This made David and Eric think. So, they switched the closing track. One More Day (You’ll Fly Again) closes Greetings From Suicide Bridge which was recorded in January 1984, and is the perfect counterpoint to the album opener Kiss Another Day Goodbye. With this new track listing, the record was ready to be pressed.

To press Greetings From Suicide Bridge Quiex, a company who specialised in short runs of vinyl were chosen. Partly, this was because of the sound quality they promised. There would be no erroneous clicks or crackles during Greetings From Suicide Bridge’s quiet parts. This was perfect for an album like Greetings From Suicide Bridge, which has a number of quiet parts. If the sound quality complimented the music, so did Greetings From Suicide Bridge’s album cover.

On the front cover of Greetings From Suicide Bridge, David and Eric decided that the picture should be underexposed. The back cover however, was overexposed. This results in an atmospheric, poignant, and in the case of back cover, eerie scene. It was bound to catch the eye of record buyers.

David and Eric only had enough money to print 500 copies of Greetings From Suicide Bridge. This they hoped would be the first of many pressings. With the 500 copies, David and Eric took turns at writing the album  title. This took time, but the end was in sight. All that was left was to send out promos and sell the rest of the copies of Greetings From Suicide Bridge.

A total of 150 promo copies of Greetings From Suicide Bridge were sent out to college and independent radio stations. David and Eric were hoping this would garner some radio play. This wasn’t the case. The 150 promo copies of Greetings From Suicide Bridge failed to illicit any interest. Record sales weren’t doing any better.

A few copies were sold at local record shops. Then when David and Eric played at The Basement, they managed to sell some copies of Greetings From Suicide Bridge. There were even a few copies sold via mail order. Apart from these few sales, Greetings From Suicide Bridge passed most people buy. That was apart from a couple of DJs in the unlikeliest of locations.

Neither David nor Eric thought to send  copies of Greetings From Suicide Bridge to DJs in Halifax, Novia Scotia, or Sitka, Alaska. However, somehow, these two DJs heard about Greetings From Suicide Bridge and requested promo copies. It seemed that an album written and recorded in L.A. had struck a nerve much further afield. That’s still the case today.

Recently, there has been a resurgence in interest in David Kauffman and Eric Caboor’s debut album Greetings From Suicide Bridge is a cult classic. No wonder given the quality of songs on the album.

Kiss Another Day Goodbye opens Greetings From Suicide Bridge. Just an understated acoustic guitar plays in the distance. Gradually, it moves to the front of the mix, and in the process, usher’s the vocal in. It’s despairing, and full of sadness at the breakup of his relationship. This heartache is apparent when he sings: “and I don’t know, how much longer I can feel the way I feel, and never cry.” Washes of guitar shimmer, complimenting the soul-baring vocal, on what’s a heartachingly beautiful song.

Neighbourhood Blues is quite different from the opening track. Elements of blues and folk combine during the track. That’s the case lyrically. Eric  seems to draw inspiration from both vintage blues and the Laurel Canyon sound. As he picks his guitar, he delivers a reflective vocal. He can’t relate to his family, and his friend has  moved to the suburbs. However, he needs to tell someone how he feels. His only option is to write to a stranger: “some lonesome loser, who’ll hear what I’ve got to say.”

Straight away, Life Without Love sounds as of it belongs on an early Sting solo album. Again, an underrated arrangement accompanies a reflective vocal. Guitars combine with a subtle bass. They frame the vocal. Again, it’s full of despair. Then midway, through the track, a curveball is thrown. A dramatic flourish sees the guitar played with a degree of urgency, while the vocal grows in power. It veers between a scat to a despairing vocal. The cause of this despair, is the thought of Life Without Love.

Just acoustic guitars open Angel of Mercy. They set the scene for the vocal. From the opening line, “oh I should have seen it coming,” the vocal is rueful and reflective. Folk rock and country are combined on this cinematic track. It’s a song about someone whose lost their way; and spends their time drinking and making the same mistakes. Then when the vocal drops out, some of the best guitar playing can be heard. It’s neither flashy, nor overcomplicated. It is the perfect replacement for the rueful vocal. Once the vocal returns, the scene is set for the finale, and the poignant closing lines: “and I’ve never learned to pray, until today.”

Stabs of piano open Life and Times on the Beach. It sounds as if it’s a homage to Neil Young, who in 1975, recorded his On The Beach album. However, again, the vocal sounds like Sting. It’s delivered against the piano and occasional, but subtle bursts of guitar. They provide the backdrop to a vocal that’s remembering a life that’s drawing to a close. The sands of time are slowly slipping away. Then after 2.22 a mandolin proves a game changer as it injects a sense of urgency.  It’s as if the realisation that time is quickly  running out. As the vocal drops out, there’s a brief Celtic influence. With just over a minute to go, the arrangement becomes slow, understated and thoughtful. There’s also a beauty to this soul searching song.

Backwoods is an eight minute epic where David and Eric combine folk and country. Just like previous tracks, the folk-tinged arrangement has an understated sound. Just a guitar accompanies the vocal, before David and Eric harmonise. Then when the vocal drops out, the guitars add an element of drama. This isn’t new. It’s been used before on Greetings From Suicide Bridge, and has proved effective. That’s the case here, on this tale of a guy who came from the country seeking riches. These riches have eluded him, but still the city: “won’t let me go.” It’s a poignant and cinematic song, that many people will be able to relate to.

From the opening bars, Midnight Willie has a wistful sound. David’s lived-in vocal is perfect for the lyrics, and brings them to life. With guitars for company, the pictures of a drifter and musician,  jumping trains and moving from  town to town. One wonders if it was based on Mark Phillips, who organised The Basement club, where David and Eric met? He too, was a one time drifter who had dreams of making it as a musician. Who knows, maybe this is David and Eric’s homage to him? If it is, they’ve done him proud, given Midnight Willie is one of Greetings From Suicide Bridge’s best tracks.

Folk, blues and country combine on Where’s the Understanding? It’s a two minute track with a slightly experimental sounding arrangement. A blistering guitar cuts through the arrangement. Meanwhile, an urgent acoustic guitar and vocal combine. It’s as if David is tormented by the “pain that has filled me…and has drilled me.” This makes Where’s The Understanding? a powerful track.

Tinsel Town is a song about L.A. at Christmas. It’s not a song with a happy ending. Instead, it’s about broken promises and broken dreams. 3,000 miles from whatever went before and going down. Christmas in the Southland, lonely to the bone.” Desperation is omnipresent. “I’ve tried to do my best, and tried to live with nothing less, all it’s getting me is deeper in this mess.” With just washes of quivering guitar, a soul-baring Neil Young inspired vocal oozes despair.

One More Day (You’ll Fly Again) was recorded in January 1984, and replaced one of the original tracks on Greetings From Suicide Bridge. A twenty-seven second meandering acoustic guitar sets the scene for the vocal. It’s reminiscent of James Taylor, as David sings of a musician going from town to town, always hoping that the good times will return. This ensures that  Greetings From Suicide Bridge ends on a positive sounding high.

Thirty-six years ago, David Kauffman and Eric Caboor released Greetings From Suicide Bridge and only a few of the 500 copies sold. They sent more promo copies out than they sold. Some of the promos found their way into record shop bargain bins. That’s where the lucky ones found this cult classic.

Greetings From Suicide Bridge was neither a success nor appreciated upon its release. That isn’t unusual as all too often, good music fails to find an audience first time around. It’s only at  later date that their music finds the audience it deserves. That was the case with Greetings From Suicide Bridge.

The album  find David and Eric creating music that is understated, rueful, wistful, melancholy, despairing, poignant, hopeful and beautiful. Other times, the music on Greetings From Suicide Bridge is also stark and personal. Sometimes, the music is cathartic, when David or Eric unleash their hurt and heartbreak. When this is the case, Greetings From Suicide Bridge becomes like a confessional. Always though, the music on Greetings From Suicide Bridge is captivating. Not once does the listener one think about missing a track. Far from it. On every track the listener is drawn in, just in case David and Eric throw one of their curveballs.

They do that several times on Greetings From Suicide Bridge. When this happens, the song changes totally. Often it’s totally unexpected. This is another reason why Greetings From Suicide Bridge is such a compelling album. It’s also an album where David and Eric flit between and fuse musical genres combining elements of blues, folk rock, country and rock. Their playing is mostly subtle, and proves the perfect foil for the vocals on Greetings From Suicide Bridge.

It’s an album that deserved to find a wider audience but like so many private presses, failed to find the audience it deserves and the story of Greetings From Suicide Bridge is a case of what might have been? This long-lost cult classic found  David Kauffman and Eric Caboor’s laying bare their souls and unleashing their hurt and heartbreak during Greetings From Suicide Bridge which is a powerful and poignant cathartic confessional.

Cult Classic: David Kauffman and Eric Caboor-Greetings From Suicide Bridge.

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ANDREAS ROYSUM ENSEMBLE-ANDREAS ROYSUM ENSEMBLE.

Andreas Røysum Ensemble-Andreas Røysum Ensemble.

Label: Motvind Records.

Over the last decade, the Norwegian jazz scene  has been thriving, and today is one of the most vibrant in Europe as a new generation of up-and-coming musicians follow their dreams to make a living playing jazz. They hope to follow in the footsteps of Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Nils Petter Molvaer and Ketil Bjørnstad who were amongst the first generation of Norwegian jazz musicians, and musical pioneers who influenced and inspired several generations of musicians. 

This includes the latest generation of Norwegian jazz musicians who spend their time collaborating and others forming new bands that go on to release albums of ambitious, imaginative and innovative music. The latest to do so is the Andreas Røysum Ensemble who recently released their eponymous debut album on Motvind Records. It’s the latest chapter in the story of bandleader, composer and clarinetist Andreas Røysum, who is another of the rising stars of Norwegian jazz.

He’s also articulate, engaging and has some interesting things to say about life and music:  “Most of the time that I am not playing or listening to others play, I hear beautiful music in my own head. Melodies, harmonies, rhythms and sounds single-handedly turn out, as gifts that I luckily have the opportunity to receive and further develop. This is the way the music on this record originated. This far I have a fairly similar experience with composition, playing music and life in general; submission of too many rigid concepts will eventually burn out the light that is constantly giving. By basing my music on these gifts I feel like a medium in a precise point in history. It enables me to be an artist.”

And Andreas Røysum has been an artist for several years now. During that period, he’s been involved in number of different projects. He was part of the musician’s collective Nakama, the Marthe Lea Band and has collaborated with German trumpeter Axel Dörner and Danish drummer Kresten Osgood. Still he found time to work with Anders Brørby on his 2018 album Traumas.  That is only part of the Andreas Røysum story.

The same year 2018, Andreas Røysum was part of Miman when they released their critically acclaimed debut album Ulme on Motvind Records. Just a year later in 2019, Miman returned with the highly anticipated followup Stora Mängder Rymdgru. It was an innovative album of improv that was released to plaudits and praise. Andreas Røysum had played his part in the sound and success of the album, but in August of 2019 he had embarked upon a new project.

He had founded the Andreas Røysum Ensemble. Joining him in the new Ensemble were nine of best friends from Oslo thriving jazz scene. These talented and like-minded musicians were about to join record an album, and on the ‘20th’ of August 2019 headed to Flerbruket to work with recordist and producer Magnus Nergaard. 

Joining bandleader, composer and clarinetist Andreas Røysum were drummer Ivar Myrset Asheim; double bassists John Andrew Wilhite-Hannisdal and Christian Meaas Svendsen; alto saxophonist Signe Emmeluth; tenor saxophonist Marthe Lea; flautist Henriette Eilertsen; violinist Hans Kjorstad; cellist Joel Ring and Sanskriti Shresta played tablas. They recorded six tracks during two sessions which Andreas Røysum  Ensemble’s eponymous debut album.

Each session became a side of the album, which showcases the combined and individual talents of the ten young jazz musicians. They’ve all been in a number of groups and have a wealth of experience. This they put to good use whether playing as one or embarking on a solo on an album where disparate genres melt into one.

There’s elements of everything from African and Indian music  as well as avant-garde, chamber music, experimental, folk, free jazz, gospel, improv and Nordic jazz on Andreas Røysum Ensemble. There’s also the influence of Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Pharaoh Saunders and Sun Ra on an album where the music is new, exciting and innovative.

That’s the case as the album opener Novas Dans unfolds, and the Andreas Røysum  Ensemble is like a big band the music initially playful and melodic as it swings. Then when the horns take centrestage they’re played blaze, bray and rasp before becoming smooth and sinuous. They’re joined by the flute as cymbals ring and crash and drums are pounded and the clarinet swings. Together they play their in a beautiful, joyous and uplifting track that has been influenced by Don Cherry, Albert Ayler and Sun Ra.

Kvartett Fra Tidens Begynnelse #1 (Quartet From The Beginning Of Time» #1) was written by French composer Olivier Messiaen whilst he was a prisoner of war. Scratchy, plink plonk strings and a myriad of otherworldly noise flit in and out of the arrangement. There’s screeching, howling, sci-fi and metallic sounds as well as bangs,  crashes, scraping, scratching and wheezy sounds from this alternative orchestra. The music is edgy, eerie, cinematic and dramatic. Adding to the drama is a bass that is plucked firmly, droning horns, crashing cymbals and the wind quartet that quiver, shiver and flutter painting pictures durum what’s now a haunting, melancholy and thought-provoking epic. 

Tablas open Indialuring and is joined by strings before the tempo increases. The tablas propel the sensuous, rhythmic  and energetic arrangement along. It sways seductively as it casts a  spell and leaves a lasting impression.

Initially, På Tur has a relatively simple arrangement, and at its heart is the interplay of the rhythm section of Sanskriti Shresta’s and drummer Ivar Myrset Asheim. They’re joined by ruminative horns and scratchy, droning and almost discordant strings. Later, they become thoughtful, questioning and probing as the drums and tablas propel the arrangement along. Together they create an enigmatic, joyous and jubilant track that captivates.   

Kvartett Fra Tidens Begynnelse #2 is the shortest composition on the album. It’s just over two minutes long, but it’s unforgettable. The wind quartet is responsible for what’s akin to a musical skirmish, and Andreas Røysum is it the heart of this dramatic confrontation 

Quite different is Til Albert which closes Andreas Røysum Ensemble. The six majestic minutes veer between hard blowing free jazz and a more melodic sounding track that is beautiful, uplifting, elegant and engaging. Playing a starring role is  bandleader and clarinetist Andreas Røysum. He’s saved one of the best until last.

When Andreas Røysum was putting together his Ensemble he was lucky to have so many talented friends to call upon. They play their part in the sound and success of Andreas Røysum Ensemble. It finds them flitting between and fusing disparate genres including African and Indian music  as well as avant-garde, chamber music, experimental, folk, free jazz, gospel, improv, jazz and Nordic jazz  and draw inspiration from Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Pharaoh Saunders and Sun Ra. These are the ingredients for an album of ambitious, imaginative, innovative and often powerful and thought-provoking music from the truly talented ten strong Andreas Røysum Ensemble.

Andreas Røysum Ensemble-Andreas Røysum Ensemble.

LOST CLASSIC FOUND: HEAT EXCHANGE-REMINISCENCE.

Lost Classic Found: Heat Exchange-Reminiscence.

Heat Exchange’s root’s can be traced to a Toronto high school, in the late-sixties. That was when four school friends decided to form a blues band, which they named Cloud. Just a couple of years later, and Cloud were one of the top bands in Toronto. 

Several record labels were chasing Cloud’s signature. Major and independent labels vied for Heat Exchange’s signature. At one point, RCA looked like securing the signature of Cloud. Then at the last minute,  Yorkville Records trumped RCA’s offer with what saxophonist Craig Carmody called: “a phenomenal offer.” It was too good to turn down, so Cloud signed on the dotted line. That was when Yorkville Records discovered another band called The Clouds. So to avoid any confusion, the record company suggested that Cloud should change their name.

After drawing up a shortlist, Yorkville Records’ favoured the name  Heat Exchange. This they felt was the perfect name for the label’s newest latest signing. However, as recording began, the band hadn’t settled on a new name. Eventually, the band adopted the name Heat Exchange.  It was meant to feature on their debut album Reminiscence. This should’ve been the start of the rise and rise of Heat Exchange. However, Reminiscence was never released and was just another chapter in the story of Heat Exchange, which began in the late sixtes.

Cloud were formed in a Toronto high school in the late sixties, when four school decided to form a blues band, Cloud. Its initial lineup featured a rhythm section of drummer and vocalist Marty Morin, bassist Ralph Smith and guitarist Neil Chapman. They were joined by keyboardist and harmonica player Gord McKinnon. The nascent band made one of its first performances in the high school cafeteria. Watching Cloud play was a future member of the band.

The new addition was saxophonist and flutist Craig Carmody. He was invited to join Cloud, and although he was a couple of year older than the rest of the band accepted the invitation. Now Cloud began working out how to incorporate the saxophone to their existing song. Soon, Cloud had successfully incorporated the  saxophone into their sound. Soon, though, five became six as Cloud expanded their lineup again.

This time, Cloud decided to add a new lead vocalist to the band. Up until then, drummer Marty Morin had been the lead vocalist. It wasn’t easy for him combining the two roles. Eventually, the members of Cloud decided that it would be best if the added a lead vocalist and allowed Marty Morin to concentrate on his duties as drummer. So Cloud began the search for a new vocalist.

Eventually, they had settled on a shortlist of potential vocalists. The next step was auditioning them. However, when Mike Langford began to sing, the rest of Cloud new they had their new vocalist. Cloud were now a sextet.

With Mike Langford now Cloud’s new vocalist, the new lineup of the band began looking for somewhere to rehearse. Finding a rehearsal space wasn’t going to be easy. Fortunately, Cloud met Blaine Pritchett, a familiar face in the Toronto music scene. He owned a local music shop, and allowed Cloud to rehearse in the basement.

In the music shop’s basement, Cloud began to hone their sound and write their own songs. This took time, practice and dedication. Gradually, though, Cloud became a tight band and new sound began to take shape. Now Cloud were ready to make tentative steps onto the Toronto’s live scene.

Cloud were determined to things properly. They wanted to be taken seriously, so registered with the local branch of the Musician’s Union. Next stop, was a booking agency, who Cloud hoped would get them some bookings.

The booking agent came up trumps, and soon, Cloud had several bookings. This included a booking at the three day Rock Hill music festival. 

Despite being relatively new on the live scene, Cloud lucked out and found themselves playing on the main stage at the Rock Hill music festival. That day Cloud gave what was a career defining performance.

A couple of days after Cloud returned home from the Rock Hill music festival, Craig Carmody received a phone call from Blaine Pritchett. He had taken on the roll of Cloud’s road manager and sound man since the band made their live debut. Blaine Pritchett explained that he had received a phone call from Roland Paquin, who managed many of the Toronto’s top bands. Roland Paquin had heard Cloud at the Rock Hill music festival and like what he heard. So much so, that he wanted to become Cloud’s manager. Things were looking up for Cloud.

A couple of days later and a meeting was scheduled between  Cloud Roland Paquin. After listening to what Roland Paquin had to say, Cloud agreed that he would become their new manager. With an agreement in place Roland Paquin went in search for a record company to sign Cloud.

Over the next weeks and months, Roland Paquin brought record companies to hear Cloud. They would play a selection of songs that Cloud and Roland Paquin had picked earlier. These songs showcased then band’s considerable talents. One of the labels that came to hear Cloud were RCA. Having heard Cloud, were keen to sign the band. 

Despite this, Roland Paquin the Canadian label Arc Sound to hear Cloud play. By then, Cloud were leaning towards signing to RCA. Still Cloud agreed to play for Bill Gilliland and Richard Gael and from Arc Sound. After Cloud band had finished playing, Roland Paquin headed out to wine and dine the record company executives. Later that night, Roland Paquin came baring news Craig Carmody.

Roland Paquin told Craig Carmody that Arc Sound’s record company Yorkville Records were interested in signing Cloud. They had spotted Cloud’s potential and really wanted to sign the band.  Yorkville Records’ offer was an indication of how keen they were to sign the band. However, the offer came with conditions.

Yorkville Records wanted the band to concentrate all their efforts of recording album. This meant stopping playing live until the album was recorded. In return, the members of Cloud would receive a salary that would allow them to live while they practised and then recorded the album. Then once the album was released. If Cloud agreed, they could use the label’s  recording studios and would be assigned a full-time producer. It was an incredible offer and was thought to be the biggest recording contract offered to any Canadian band up until then. So it was no surprise that Cloud were keen to sign. So Cloud put pen to paper, and signed on the rotten line. However, it soon became apparent there was a problem with the band’s name.

It turned out that another band had released an album as The Clouds. This could lead to record buyers confusing the two bands. So  a decision was made to rename the band. The members of Cloud drew up a list of names, but when it came to choosing the name, it was Yorkville Records that was calling the shots. They eventually settled on the name Heat Exchange.

By then, Heat Exchange began work on their debut album Reminiscence. Bill Gilliland was named the executive producer while Richard Gael took charge of production. The two executives played a hands on roll, helping choose the material for the album. Eventually, ten tracks for the album were chosen and Heat Exchange were ready to begin work on what became Reminiscence.

Each day, Heat Exchange arrived at the studio, at 10am and rehearsed until 6pm. Some nights, the band used their key to let themselves into the studio, where they continued to work late into the night. Then at the end of the week, Heat Exchange received their salary which didn’t amount to much. However, for six young men still living at home, they were living the dream.

Especially as Heat Exchange moved to Manta Sound, which was then Toronto’s top recording studio. That was where the band met David Green who owned Manta Sound. He was also the in-house engineer David Green, and would by Heat Exchange’s side as began recording ten tracks written by the band. This was just as well, as Heat Exchange were working without a producer.  Despite this,  the band recorded  a rough mix of Reminiscence.

This rough mix of Reminiscence David Green told Heat Exchange had been played to executives at major labels in America. They liked the album, but wanted to know more about the band. Two questions that kept coming up were had Heat Exchange had a hit single and what were they like live? By then, Heat Exchange hadn’t played live for over a year, and hadn’t released a single. So Heat Exchange decided to release a single. This should generate interest in the album when it was released.

Heat Exchange decided to choose the most commercial song on the album in the hope of it beaming a FM hit. Can You Tell Me fitted the bill, and was released with Inferno on the B-Side. It proved popular in some Canadian cities, and is thought to have reached the top ten in at least one city. However, it failed to reach the Canadian charts.  The problem was that Yorkville Records didn’t seem willing to promote the single properly. That was worrying.

Having failed to write a FM hit, Heat Exchange were encouraged to write an AM hit. The song they came up was Scorpio Lady, which showcased a more poppy sound. On the B-Side Heat Exchange added Reminiscence. This Heat Exchange hoped would provide them with that elusive single. Especially since  Yorkville Records seemed to be reigning in their expenditure.

Originally, the label had been so keen to sign Heat Exchange that they outbid RCA. Now though, everything had changed for Heat Exchange. They were no longer receiving their salary from Yorkville Records and had to return to playing live to make ends meet. Heat Exchange travelled far and wide playing live. Meanwhile, the label wanted the band to come up with a hit single. That was despite commercial success eluding their two previous singles.  Despite this, Heat Exchange decided to write and record one more single.

They were hoping it would be third time lucky when She Made Me All Alone was released as a single. On the flip-side was Philosophy. When the single was released, it failed to make any impression on the Canadian charts. For two members of Heat Exchange that was the final straw.

For two members of the band, Heat Exchange’s dream of becoming a successful band was almost over. Saxophonist and flautist Craig Carmody decided to leave Heat Exchange. So did bassist Ralph Smith. This proved to be the beginning of the end for Heat Exchange.

The other four members  of Heat Exchange started to get involved with another group Truck. They began to tour with Truck. For Heat Exchange, the dream was over. Their debut album Reminiscence was never released by Yorkville Records. Record buyers never got the opportunity to hear Heat Exchange at their creative zenith on Reminiscence. 

For Those Who Listen opens Reminiscence. Machine gun riffs are unleashed as the rhythm section and keyboards drive the arrangement along. Straight away, Heat Exchange are rocking hard, and it’s apparent that something special is about to unfold. Heat Exchange don’t disappoint, After Mike Langford’s vocal enters, Heat Exchange soon sound like Jethro Tull in their progressive rock pomp. Meanwhile, Craig Carmody drizzles his braying saxophone above the  arrangement where which combines elements of folk rock and psychedelia. Later during the breakdown, a harpsichord, flute and walking bass combine. They’re soon joined by pounding drums, Neil Chapman’s searing guitar and the braying saxophone as hard rocking Heat Exchange set the bar high on this fusion of progressive rock, folk rock and psychedelia.

From the opening bars of Inferno, guitarist Neil Chapman’s fingers fly up and down the fretboard as he unleashes a myriad of effects.  Meanwhile, Heat Exchange rhythm section have locked into a groove. Seamlessly they switching  between tempo and time signature and between progressive and hard rock. Mike’s vocal soars above the arrangement, as Heat Exchange sound like Cream. Later, Craig adds rasping saxophone, and during the lengthy breakdown delivers a blistering solo. Not to be outdone, Neil’s steps up, and unleashes a blistering, scorching, rocky solo that wah-wahs. Drummer Marty Morin gets in on the act, adding a mesmeric solo. Once the solos are complete, Heat Exchange play as one and continue to combine hard rock and progressive rock. However, Neil Chapman’s blistering guitar solo steals the show, as Inferno reaches a hard rocking crescendo.

It’s Neil Chapman’s blazing guitar that’s at the heart of the action on  Reminiscence. It sits above the arrangement, before chugging along and becoming funky as Mike’s vocal enters. His vocal is heartfelt, as Craig plays the flute. Meanwhile, hard rock meets progressive rock. This changes when the vocal drops out. Heat Exchange stretch their legs, and seamlessly switch between progressive rock, fusion and funk. When Mike’s vocal returns, the arrangement meanders melodically along. Briefly Heat Exchange eschew their hard rocking sound for a much mellow, laid back sound that shows another side to a truly talented band.

Can You Tell Me was one of the three singles that Heat Exchange released. It sounds as if it’s been written with radio in mind. The introduction is understated, which would be perfect for radio DJs to introduce the song. After that, Heat Exchange’s rhythm section  kick loose  and Mike delivers a hurt-filled vocal . As the rhythm section lock down the groove as stabs of piano and a searing guitar solo are added. Later,  progressive rock keyboards and a blazing  saxophone accompany Mike, as everything falls into place.  Heat Exchange showcase a freewheeling, radio friendly and melodic slice of rock that could’ve transformed their career.

Just a piano plays on Stopwatch as a cymbal rinses. Eventually, Mike’s emotive vocal enters as the arrangement begins to unfold. The rhythm section make their presence felt, playing with power, while  flourishes of piano are added. Soon, a dreamy jazz tinged saxophone solo is added as the arrangement becomes understated. The saxophone gives way to harmonies.  Suddenly, Heat Exchange are marching to the beat of a drum. Just the drum and stabs of piano combine as the drama builds. Then all of a sudden, Heat Exchange throw a curveball, and the arrangement becomes understated, as drama gives way to beauty. However, Heat Exchange have one more track up their sleeve, before the track reaches a rocky and dramatic crescendo. 

Straight away, Heat Exchange are playing as one on She Made Me All Alone. It’s a fusion of blues, funk, jazz and rock. The rhythm section underpin the arrangement with the bass playing a leading role. Meanwhile, a  scorching saxophone joins with a guitar that’s veers between bluesy to rocky and funky. Mike unleashes a vocal powerhouse, as Heat Exchange unleash a genre-melting jam. Horns and a blistering, searching guitar play leading roles as Mike struts his way though the lyrics to one of the highlights of Reminiscence.

Philosophy literally explodes into life as a hard rocking Heat Exchange kick loose. The rhythm section, organ and searing guitar provide a backdrop for Mike as he unleashes another vampish, vocal powerhouse. Then when his vocal drops out, the rest of the band enjoy their moment in the sun. A braying saxophone, chugging rhythm section and scorching guitar combine, and rock hard. This continues even when  Mike’s vocal returns. Heat Exchange enjoy the opportunity to cut loose on this hard rocking anthem-in-waiting.

Scorpio Lady was another of the three singles Heat Exchange released. They had hoped it would give them an AM. Sadly, through no fault of their own, it wasn’t to be.  It was a good attempt though. As the song unfolds, the rhythm section lay down a hypnotic beat and Craig’s braying saxophone. They provide a backdrop for Mike’s vocal, as the rocky arrangement unfolds. Heat Exchange add tight harmonies, a jangling piano, searing guitar and a scorching saxophone. Everything fall into place as Heat Exchange don’t spare the hooks on this this catchy, memorable, and melodic radio single.

A fleet fingered bass and hissing hi-hats accompany Mike’s vocal on the jazzy Scat. Soon, Heat Exchange have kicked loose and are combining musical genres. The rhythm section power the arrangement along, as a braying saxophone is joined by a scorching guitar. Then after fifty-four seconds guitarist Neil Chapman unleashes a thirty second guitar solo. It’s a virtuoso performance. He then passes the baton to Craig’s saxophone and then Gord McKinnon on keyboards. By then, Heat Exchange have combined elements of fusion, hard rock, jazz and progressive rock. However, when Mike returns, it’s jazz all the way as he scats. Bassist Ralph Smith gets in on the act as Heat Exchange showcase their versatility.

Closing Reminiscence is Four To Open The Door, a near ten minute epic.  It bursts into life, with the rhythm section driving the arrangement along. A braying saxophone and washes of Hammond organ join with a blistering guitar as Heat Exchange kick loose. The music is rocky and dramatic before it’s all change. Suddenly, the tempo drops as the Hammond organ and flute create a sinister, cinematic backdrop. Adding to the eerie backdrop is Mike’s dark vocal, pounding driving drums and searing guitars.  Eventually, the Hammond organ signals all change and a freewheeling Heat Exchange combine folk rock, fusion and progressive rock. That’s until it’s time for the solos. Drummer Marty Morin unleashes lengthy solo and never misses a beat. After that, the band play together before the rest of the band enjoy their moment in the sun. The Hammond organ, bass and piano all get the opportunity to shine. Especially pianist Gord McKinnon, who has the last word on this Magnus Opus. 

It’s almost fitting that Reminiscence closed with such an epic track as Four To Open The Door. Heat Exchange never returned to the recording studio together, and Reminiscence was the only album the band recorded. That was a great shame, as Heat Exchange were a hugely talented band who had the potential to go on to become one of the most successful Canadian bands of the early seventies. They might have fulfilled their potential if they had signed to RCA.

Instead, Heat Exchange signed to Yorkville Records and spent the best part of a year recording album. During that period, the band weren’t playing live, and instead, were receiving a salary from  Yorkville Records. However, after Heat Exchange  failed to delver a hit single, Yorkville Records began to lose interest in the band. Their singles weren’t prompted properly, and eventually, they stopped receiving their weekly salary. This resulted in Heat Exchange heading back out on the road.

As Heat Exchange toured the length and breadth Canada trying to eke out a living, Yorkville Records were still wanting the band to deliver a hit single. By then, Craig Carmody the elder statesmen of the band was looking to future. He was about to get married, and needed a steady income. Craig decided to leave Heat Exchange. So did Ralph Smith. Suddenly, six became four and the writing was on the wall for Heat Exchange.

Meanwhile, the other four members  of Heat Exchange started to get involved with another group Truck. They began to tour with Truck. For Heat Exchange, it was the end of the line. Heat Exchange’s debut album Reminiscence was never released by Yorkville Records. 

Sadly, Reminiscence lay unreleased for forty-five years. Nobody got to hear Heat Exchange’s genre-melting album. Heat Exchange took as their starting point hard rock, and added to the musical melting pot folk rock, funk, fusion, jazz and progressive rock. Heat Exchange switched between and fused these disparate genres over the tracks on Reminiscence. It showcases truly talented band who were who had recorded an almost flawless album of hard rocking, catchy, complex, melodic and memorable music. That album was Reminiscence, which was only released recently.

Forty-five years after Heat Exchange completed Reminiscence long lost classic eventually saw the light of day in 2017, and is a reminder of one of Canada’s great lost groups in the early seventies, looked destined for greatness.

Lost Classic Found: Heat Exchange-Reminiscence.

OSR060 HEAT EXCHANGE LP 2

 

ROB LUFT-LIFE IS THE DANCER.

Rob Luft-Life Is The Dancer.

Label: Edition Records.

When Rob Luft released his debut album Riser in July 2017, it was to widespread critical acclaim, with some critics drawing comparisons to such jazz luminaries as Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny. This was high praise indeed for the twenty-three year old bandleader, composer, producer and guitarist from London. He had come a long way since graduating from the Royal Academy of Music, and winning the prestigious Kenny Wheeler Music Prize. Many critics wondered how what was next from Rob Luft, and how he would followup Riser? 

Just under three years later, Rob Luft returned with his much-anticipated sophomore album Life Is The Dancer. Just like his debut album Riser, it was released by Edition Records and showcases the considerable talents of one of the rising stars of jazz who has a bright future ahead of him.

Rob Luft was born on the ‘27th’ of November 1993, in Sidcup, in south-east London. Growing up, he attended The Judd School, in Tonbridge, Kent, and while a pupil, joined the National Youth Jazz Orchestra in 2010 and was a member until 2015. During his time with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra Rob Luft made his recording debut on their 2012 album The Change and Fifty released in 2015. It was one of five albums he played on during that year.

During 2015, Rob Luft also played on Patrick Hayes’ Back To The Grove; Enzo Zirilli’s ZiroBop; Liane Carroll’s and Seaside. He was also one of the co-leaders of the Deco Ensemble when they self-released their Encuentro album. This was all good experience for one of British’s jazz’s rising stars.

In 2016, Rob Luft entered the guitar competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which was judged by legendary jazz guitarist John McLaughlin. When the results were announced twenty-two year old Rob Luft had come a very credible second. This introduced the young guitarist to a wider audience, and they would be hearing a lot more of him in the next year.

Rob Luft continued to work as sideman, and in 2016 played on Luna Cohen’s album November Sky. However, 2017 was the busiest year of his short career.

During 2017, Rob Luft was one of the co-leaders of Big Bad Wolf when they released their album Pond Life. He was also in demand as a sideman and played on Misha Mullov-Abbado’s Unquiet Quiet; Tom Ridout’s No Excuses and Joy Ellis’ Life on Land. However, the most important album of 2017 was his debut album Riser.

When Riser was released by Edition Records on the ‘28th’ of July 2017, it was to widespread critical acclaim. There were no dissenting voices amongst the critics, with some critics drawing comparisons to jazz luminaries like Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny. This was high praise indeed, but was putting pressure on the twenty-three year old bandleader, composer and guitarist. However, this didn’t faze Rob Luft whose star was in the ascendancy.

Having released his debut album in 2017, 2018 saw Rob Luft back to working as sideman. He played on three albums during 2018, Karen Lane’s Passarim; the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s Sweet Sister Suite and Enzo Zirilli’s Ten To Late! This was all good experience for Rob Luft who in 2019 would record his much-anticipated sophomore album.

Before that, Rob Luft was part of Laura Jurd’s band when she recorded Stepping Back, Jumping In at The Sage Gateshead, on the ‘4th’ and ‘5th’ of March 2019. He also played on Alice Zawadzki’s album Within You Is A World Of Spring. However, the main event was the recording of his sophomore album Life Is The Dancer.

Recording of Life Is The Dancer took place at Eastcote Studios, London, on the ‘18th’ and ‘19th’ of June 2019. The Rob Luft who played guitar and took charge of production were his band. The lineup included drummer Corrie Dick, bassist Tom McCredie, tenor saxophonist Joe Wright and pianist Joe Webb who also plays Hammond organ. They were joined by guest artists Byron Wallen and Luna Cohen as they recorded ten tracks.

Eight of the tracks were composed and arranged by Rob Luft. He also joined forces with Enzo Zirilli to write  Synesthesis. The only cover version on Life Is The Dancer was the album opener Anders Christensen’s Berlin. It took just two days to record Life Is The Dancer which was scheduled for release in the spring of 2020.

Before that, Byron Wallen, who makes a guest appearance on Life Is The Dancer, released his new album Portrait in March 2020. It featured Rob Luft on guitar.

Less than a month later, on the ‘17th’ of April 2020 Life Is The Dancer was released to critical acclaim. Rob Luft was back with an album that surpassed his debut Riser, and cemented his reputation as one British jazz’s best guitarists.

The album’s title is Life Is The Dancer is part of a quote from the German-Canadian spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. That is fitting given the opening track is Berlin, which was composed by Danish bassist Anders Christensen . It’s a truly captivating track where drums pound and prove unrelenting. They’re saying we’re here to stay, and that’s the case even as Rob Luft unleashes his effect’s laden guitar and later, as Joe Webb’s shimmering piano plays. Together, they provide the amuse bouche until the main event begins at 2:20. What follows is a spellbinding guitar solo which is reminiscent in parts to Pat Metheny. Effects are deployed by the musical wizard as weaves his magic during this breathtaking call to dance. It whets the listener’s appetite for the rest of the album.

Washes of guitar open Life Is A Dancer before drums and horns combine. They’re joined by Luna Cohen whose wispy, scatted vocal adds a dreamy, pastoral sound. Later, Byron Wallen’s trumpet is played with speed, power and passion before the band kick loose and jam. Horns are to the fore before the drums and a swirling Hammond organ enjoy their moment in the sun. So do Byron Wallen’s muted trumpet and Joe Wright’s tenor saxophone. By then, the band led by Rob Luft who is an inventive guitarist, are stretching their legs before the track reaches a crescendo.

All Ways Moving is a slow, understated and pensive sounding track. Tanpura and Other Wise are both shorter tracks,  and like Bad Stars have a thoughtful and ruminative sound that invites reflection. These tracks show a different side to Rob Luft and his band.

Cinematic initially describes One Day In Romentino which starts slowly with a sultry horn playing. Soon, the band move through the gears and Rob Luft is unleashing another spellbinding solo as he plays with speed, accuracy and an inventiveness. Then he lets tenor saxophonist Joe Wright take centrestage and he plays a starring role on this beautiful, uptempo track.

Another uptempo track is Synesthesia where a shimmering, weeping guitar sits below the punchy horns which are played with speed and result in quick fire changes in tempo. Not to be outdone, Joe Webb’s finger fly across the piano. Then after a couple of minutes, Rob Luft takes centrestage. He plays with speed his guitar chiming, chirping and searing, before deploying effects and producing shimmering, glistening, and echoey sounds before this memorable track dissipates after five magical minutes.

Snow Country starts off slowly meandering along before gradually the tempo builds. The tenor saxophone combines with Rob Luft’s weeping, shimmering guitar before the horn drifts high above the arrangement. It rasps before the crystalline guitar is briefly transformed by effects. This is very different to what’s gone before or what follows.All too soon after this the band are taking their on what’s one of the album’s highlights.

Closing Life Is The Dancer is Expect The Unexpected which marks the return of trumpeter Byron Wallen and vocalist . He plays slowly and vocalist Luna Cohen. The two guests artist plays their part in what’s a beautiful seven minute track that like other on the album invites contemplation and reflection.

Nearly three years after the release of his debut album Riser, Rob Luft returns with his much-anticipated and critically acclaimed sophomore album Life Is The Dancer. It features a mixture of uptempo workouts full of energy and invention tracks as slower, thoughtful sounding tracks. This talented band cope admirably with both types of tracks and are the perfect foil for Rob Luft.

He’s an inventive and innovative and guitarist who enjoys improvising and does so during Life Is The Dancer. He’s  obviously been influenced by Pat Metheny and sometimes, when he deploys his away of effects, is reminiscent of the late, great John Martyn. Rob Luft puts them to good use during the album, but doesn’t overuse them. He realises that less is more and uses effects sparingly on this genre-melting album.

Rob Luft and his band combine everything from jazz, fusion and rock to new age, psychedelia and soul-jazz during the ten tracks on Life Is The Dancer. Sometimes it’s a case of Expect The Unexpected from Rob Luft on Life Is The Dancer, where uptempo workouts rub shoulders with ruminative sounding tracks that invite the listener to reflect and contemplate against a backdrop of breathtakingly beautiful music.

Rob Luft-Life Is The Dancer.

DR JOHN-IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD.

Dr John-In A Sentimental Mood.

Label: Music On CD.

There aren’t many musicians who enjoy the longevity that the late, great Dr John enjoyed. His career lasted the best part of sixty years and he released thirty studio albums and nine live albums. Dr John also won six Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. By then, his music which influenced thousands of musicians was enjoying a resurgence in popularity. 

It hadn’t always been smooth sailing for Dr John who had battled heroin addiction and eventually conquered his demons. Sometimes, his music fell out of favour and Dr John went back to working as a session musician. That was how he spent much of the eighties, when he only released three albums including In A Sentimental Mood, which was recently reissued by Music On CD. It’s an album that shows a different side to Dr John and marked a return to form from one of music’s great survivors.

The future Dr John was born Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack Jr, on November the ‘20th’ 1940, in New Orleans, Louisiana.  He grew up in the Third Ward of New Orleans, and music was always around him. 

His father Malcolm John Rebennack ran an appliance shop in the East End of New Orleans, where he repaired radio and televisions and sold records. He introduced his son to the music of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. However, one of the people who inspired Mac Rebennack was his grandfather who he heard singing minstrel songs. So did hearing his aunts, uncles, cousins and sister playing the piano. Despite this, Mac Rebennack wasn’t inspired to take music lessons. 

This only came later when he was a teenager. He also joined a choir, but was soon asked to leave. However, over the next few years Mac Rebennack learnt to play the guitar and later piano, and through his father’s contacts in the local music scene was soon playing alongside some well known names including Guitar Slim  and Little Richard. This was just the start for Mac Rebennack.

When he was thirteen, he met Professor Longhair and he was instantly impressed by the flamboyant showman. Mac Rebennack was soon playing alongside his new hero, and  this was the start of his professional career.

Around 1955 or 1956, Mac Rebennack made his debut in the recording studio when he was signed as a singer and  songwriter by Eddie Mesner at Aladdin Records. The future Dr John’s career was underway and towards the end of 1957  with the help of Danny Kessler, he joined the musician’s union. That was when he considered himself to be a professional musician.

By the time he was sixteen, Mac Rebennack had been hired by Johnny Vincent at Ace Records as a producer. This led to him working with Earl King, James Booker and Jimmy Clayton. This was all good experience for the young, up-and-coming musician 

Despite his new career, Mac Rebennack was still a student at Jesuit High School. This didn’t stop him playing in night clubs and forming his first band The Dominoes.  The Jesuit fathers weren’t happy with Mac Rebennack’s lifestyle and issued him with an ultimatum. He was to either stop playing in nightclubs or leave the school. Not long after this, he was expelled from the school. It turned out to be the best thing that happened to him as he was able to concentrate on music full time.

By the late-fifties, Mac Rebennack was playing with various bands in and around New Orleans. This included his own band Mac Rebennack and The Skyliners. However, the young bandleader had also embarked upon a career as a songwriter.

In 1957 Mac Rebennack cowrote his first ever rock ’n’ roll song Lights Out. It was recorded by New Orleans based singer Jerry Byrne, and released on Specialty Records later in 1957 and give him a regional hit. 

Two years later, in 1959, Mac Rebennack also enjoyed a regional hit single when he released Storm Warning, a Bo Diddley insprired instrumental, on Rex Records. This was the first hit he enjoyed in a long, illustrious and eventful career.

After Storm Warning, Mac Rebennack and Charlie Miller joined forces and recorded singles for various local labels. This included Ace, Ron, and Ric. They continued to release singles until Charlie Miller decided to move to New York to study music. Mac Rebennack stayed in the Big Easy and continued his career.

Around 1960, Mac Rebennack was playing a gig in Jacksonville, Florida, when his career was changed forevermore. That night, his ring finger on his left hand was injured by a gun shot during an incident. This was a disaster for a right handed guitarist and when he recovered he made the switch to bass guitar. However, after a while Mac Rebennack switched to the instrument he made his name playing, the piano.

Soon, Mac Rebennack had developed a style that was influenced by Professor Longhair who he had met when he was thirteen. It looked as if this was a new chapter in Mac Rebennack’s musical career.

That wasn’t the case and Mac Rebennack ended up getting involved in the dark underbelly of The Big Easy. He was using and selling illegal drugs and at one point, running a brothel. It was almost inevitable that Mac Rebennack was going to have a brush with the law. 

He did. In 1963, when Mac Rebennack was arrested on drug charges and sentenced to two years in the Federal Correctional Institution, in Fort Worth, Dallas. By the time his sentence ended and he was released in 1965, New Orleans was a different place.

There had been a campaign to rid the city of its clubs, which meant that musicians like Mac Rebennack found it hard to find work. That was why he decided to move to LA where he knew he could find work as a session musician.

It turned out to be a good decision, and it wasn’t long before Mac Rebennack was one of the first call session musicians in LA. That was the case for the rest of sixties and the seventies. He was also a member of the legendary Wrecking Crew and worked with some of the biggest names in music. This was the new start Mac Rebennack had been looking for when he left New Orleans.

Growing up Mac Rebennack had developed an interest in New Orleans voodoo. This was something he revisited during his early years in LA when he began to develop the concept of Dr John, which initially he thought could be a persona for his friend Ronnie Barron. The concept was based on the life of Dr John, a Senegalese prince, a witch doctor, herbalist and spiritual healer who travelled to New Orleans from Haiti. He was a free man of colour who lived on Bayou Road, and claimed to have fifteen wives and over fifty children. It was believed Dr John also kept a variety of lizards, snakes, embalmed scorpions as well as animal and human skulls, and sold gris-gris, voodoo amulets which were meant to protect the wearer from harm. This Mac Rebennack incorporated into the project he was working on for Ronnie Barron.

Soon, Mac Rebennack had decided to write, produce and play on an album and stage show based on his concept with Dr John emblematic of New Orleans’ heritage. It was meant to feature Ronnie Barron. However, when he dropped out of the project Man Rebennack took over the role and adopted the identity of Dr John. This was a turning point in the life and career of the man born Mac Rebennack.

Dr John became the name that he found fame as and won five Grammy Awards. However, that was still to come.

Having adopted the moniker Dr John,The Night Tripper he was signed by Atco Records and recorded his debut album Gris Gris. It was his his own “voodoo medicine” and marked the start of what’s now regarded as a golden era for Dr John.

Gris Gris.

When a copy of Dr John’s debut album Gris Gris, which was sent to Atlantic Records’ founder Ahmet Ertegun he disliked the album so much, that he was reluctant to even release the album and said: “how can we market this boogaloo crap?” This wasn’t the response that Dr John had been hoping when he recorded Gris Gris which was a combination of psychedelia, blues, free jazz, R&B, soul, funk, jazz. Add to this psychedelic stew the authentic music of the melting pot that is New Orleans and the voodoo image that Dr John had carefully cultivated  and Gris Gris was like no other album that Atlantic Records had released. That presented the label with a huge problem. 

Atlantic Records’ PR department had idea to promote an album like Gris Gris, as they had no cultural reference points, nothing to compare the album to. Despite the best efforts of Atlantic Records PR department, when Gris Gris was released on January the ’22nd’ 1968 and introduced the world to Dr John The Night Tripper, it failed to trouble the charts and neither critics nor record buyers understood Dr John’s groundbreaking debut album. However, like so many albums that fail to find an album on their release, Gris Gris was later reappraised and belatedly, was recognised as a seminal album that was the start of a rich vein of form from Dr John.

Gris Gris was the start of a six-year period when Dr John could no wrong, and released seven innovative albums that are among the his finest work.

Babylon

This included his sophomore album Babylon on January the ’17th’ 1969. It was a powerful, cerebral and innovative genre-melting album which socially had much in common with Dr John’s debut album Gris Gris. 

Sadly, critics didn’t ‘get’ Babylon and the album which failed commercially. However, just like Gris Gris, Babylon was later reappraised by critics and nowadays is regarded as one of his finest albums and a minor classic.

Remedies.

Following the commercial failure of Babylon, things went from bad to worse for Dr John, before he could begin work on his third album Remedies. This started when a deal went south, and he was arrested by the police and ended up in jail. It was a worrying time for Dr John who was parole, and if he ended up with a parole violation, he knew he might end up in the infamous Angola jail. That didn’t bare thinking about, and already Dr John was desperate to get out of the local jail. However, he needed someone to post bail, so contacted his managers who he remembers: “were very bad people.” This proved to be an understatement. 

Not long after this, Dr John’s managers had him committed to  a psychiatric ward, where he spent some time. By then, it was obvious to Dr John that his managers were no longer playing by the rules. All he wanted to do was make music, and everything that had happened recently were nothing to do with music. Instead, it was all connected to Dr John’s increasingly chaotic lifestyle, which made it all the more frustrating for those that realised just how talented the Gris Gris Man was.

Eventually, having managed to put his problems behind him, Dr John wrote the six tracks that became Remedies using his real name Mac Rebennack. Among the tracks Dr John had written was What Goes Around Comes Around which later became a favourite during his live shows and Mardi Gras Day which paints pictures of New Orleans when it comes out to play. Very different was Angola Anthem which was inspired by a friend of Dr John’s who had just been released from Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary after forty years. Dr John paid tribute to his friend with an eighteen minute epic that took up all of side two of Remedies. It was produced by one of the most successful producers of the day.

Although Harold Battiste had produced Gris Gris and Babylon, he was replaced by Tom Dowd and Charles Greene who were tasked with transforming Dr John’s career. However, although Tom Dowd was enjoying the most successful period of his career, he had never worked with anyone like Dr John. 

When Remedies which was released in the spring of 1970, just like his two previous albums, critics didn’t seem to understand Remedies, which was credited to Dr John The Night Tripper. Remedies was another ambitious album of genre-melting, voodoo-influenced album where Dr John The Night Tripper through everything from psychedelia, blues, R&B, soul, funk and jazz into the musical melting pot and gave it a stir to create an album where the music was mysterious, otherworldly and haunting. 

By the time Remedies was released on April ‘9th’ 1970, some FM radio stations had picked up on the album, and were playing it on their late shows. Despite the radio play Remedies had received, the album never troubled the charts, and it was only much later that record buyers realised that they had missed out on another important and innovative album from Dr John. 

The Sun, Moon and Herbs.

Despite Dr John’s first three albums failing to find an audience, many of his fellow musicians were fans of his music, and were only too happy to feature on his fourth album The Sun, Moon and Herbs. This included Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Bobby Whitlock, Graham Bond, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Doris Troy. They were joined by The Memphis Horns as Dr John and Charles Greene took charge of production. 

They were responsible for a dark and swampy sounding album that is rich in imagery and paints of New Orleans on a hot, sticky night as thunder crackles and rumbles in the distance like the drums on The Sun, Moon and Herbs. When it was released on August the ’31st’ 1971, still critics struggled to understand Dr John’s music, but this time, The Sun, Moon and Herbs which featured an all-star cast, spent five weeks in US Billboard 200 and peaked at 184. At last, Dr John’s music was starting to find a wider audience.

Dr John’s Gumbo.

Buoyed by the success of The Sun, Moon and Herbs, Dr John decided to record an album of cover versions of New Orleans’ classics for his fifth album Dr John’s Gumbo. It was produced by Harold Battiste and Jerry Wexler and ironically given Dr John’s Gumbo featured tracks by legends some of the New Orleans’ musical legends including Professor Longhair,  Huey “Piano” Smith, James “Sugar Boy” Crawford and Dr John the album was recorded in LA. However, Dr John’s Gumbo was  The Night Tripper’s most successful album.

Unlike previous albums, Dr John’s Gumbo was a much more straightforward album of R&B, and it found favour with critics. After Dr John’s Gumbo was released to critical acclaim, it reached entered the US Billboard 200 where it spent eleven weeks, peaking at 112. Dr John was on his way. 

In The Right Place.

Following the success of Dr John’s Gumbo, Dr John headed to Criteria Studios, in Miami, where he recorded In The Right Place with songwriter, musician, arranger and producer Allen Toussaint. He was one of the most influential figures in the New Orleans’ music scene, and was able to bring out the best in Dr John as he laid down songs of the quality of Right Place, Wrong Time, Same Old Same Old, Peace Brother Peace and Such A Night. Once In The Right Place was completed, the two men returned to the Big Easy and watched as Dr John’s popularity soared.

Critics on hearing In The Right Place which was a fusion of funk, blues and New Orleans R&B hailed the album was one of his finest. Record buyers agreed when In The Right Place was released on February the ’25th’ 1973 thirty-three weeks in the US Billboard 200 and peaked at twenty-four. What Ahmet Ertegun had foolishly described as: “boogaloo crap” just a few years earlier, was now proving profitable for his company. Dr John was having the last laugh.

Desitively Bonnaroo.

The success of In The Right Place was a game-changer for Dr John, whose popularity soared. After six albums, he was enjoying the commercial success and critical acclaim his music deserved. However, Dr John knew that he would have to think about his seventh album, and began writing what became Desitively Bonnaroo.

When critics heard Desitively Bonnaroo they were once again won over by another carefully crafted album of funk and New Orleans R&B from Dr John. It was released on April the ‘8th’ 1974, spending eight weeks on the US Billboard 200 stalling at 105. Despite the quality of Desitively Bonnaroo it had failed to replicate the commercial success of In The Right Place, which must have been a huge disappointment for Dr John.

Sadly, Desitively Bonnaroo was the last album that Dr John released on the Atlantic Records imprint Atco, and was the end of a golden period for Dr John.

Hollywood Be Thy Name.

In 1975, Dr John’s manager Richard Flanzer, hired producer Bob Ezrin to produce a live album which became Hollywood Be Thy Name. It  was recorded live at Cherokee Studios, in Los Angeles, which for one night only, was transformed into a New Orleans nightclub. The album was released later in 1975.

Hollywood Be Thy Name was released on October the ‘6th’ 1975. Critics weren’t won over by an album which was a mixture of original material and cover versions. To make matters worse for Dr John, the album wasn’t the commercial success his last three albums had been. Was this just a temporary blip?

City Lights.

Dr John didn’t return to the studio until 1978. By then, he had signed to Horizon, an imprint of A&M and recorded City Lights. It featured three of his own compositions and five he cowrote with various songwriting partners. These songs were recorded with a crack band of musicians and was a return to form from Dr John.

City Lights was released in February 1979, and was well received by critics. However, the album which featured everything from cool jazz, fusion, R&B and  soul-jazz failed to find an audience. For Dr John this was another disappointment.

Tango Palace.

By the time Dr John released Tango Palace later in 1979 he was spending more of his time working as a session musician and had played keyboards on Rickie Lee Jones eponymous debut album. Now he was about to release his with studio album and tenth album overall.  

When Tango Palace was released it wasn’t well received by critics who believed it was the weakest album of his career. This came as a blow to Dr John.

Dr John Plays Mac Rebennack.

The eighties began with the release of Dr John Plays Mac Rebennack in 1981. It featured many of his own boogie woogie compositions and showcased the Dr John’s piano playing. The rest of the eighties was a fallow period for Dr John until he released In A Sentimental Moon in 1989.

 In A Sentimental Mood

After over a decade recording for smaller labels In A Sentimental Mood saw Dr  John recording for a major label, Warner Bros. The sessions for the album took place in two prestigious recording studios, The Power Station in New York, and Los Angeles’ Ocean Way Studio. With a full string and horn section, and a tight band in tow, Dr John recorded some classic songs from yesteryear, including Makin’ Whoopee, Accentuate the Positive and Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying. These songs, and other classics, which feature on On In A Sentimental Mood, are reinterpreted by Dr John as he gives them his own unique twist. 

In A Sentimental Mood opens with Makin’ Whoopee. It’s given the big band treatment by Dr John, slowed right down, and given a jazzy twist. Rickie Lee Jones sings the female part, as Dr John gives this old classic a new twist. With horns a blazing and drums pounding slowly, the song opens, giving way to Dr John’s tinkling piano. It’s only then that his raspy vocal enters, and you can almost imagine him singing the mildly suggestive lyrics with a big smile on his face. When Rickie Lee enters, her voice is sweet and coy, a real contrast to the Dr’s raspy, more powerful voice. Behind them, the strings sweep and horns rasp and blaze, the tempo slow, the arrangement swings and band play with power on what’s a welcome return to form for Dr John, one that hints at later albums, where he would cover classic by Duke Ellington and Johnny Mercer.

When you hear Dr John’s version of Candy there’s only one man that springs to mind, Ray Charles. Indeed, in the sleeve notes to the album, Dr John gives credit to Ray Charles and Charles Brown for their inspiration. This smoky sounding cover is a fitting testament and tribute to one of the giants of music. The tempo is slow, rasping horns and lush strings sweep and swirl as Dr John gives a beautiful and heartfelt rendition of the lyrics. His piano playing is sparse and jazz tinged, and when he and the piano drop out, the strings take his place. Here, the horns play second fiddle to the strings, with the strings playing a starring role. Of course, the other key ingredient is Dr John’s rasping vocal. Later a saxophone solo drifts above the arrangement, the rest of the horns playing with a subtly. Marty Paich’s arrangement of the strings and horns plays an important part in making this such a great song.

Johnny Mercer becomes the latest of the great songwriters Dr John pays tribute to on Accentuate The Positive. With high kicking horns almost marching through the track, accompanying Dr John’s gruff, rough and rocking vocal. He really gets the song swinging, after a slow and somewhat thoughtful introduction, where a meandering piano solo gives way to his earthy vocal. It’s only after that, that the song unfolds, transforming into a swinging, rocking number with the piano at the forefront and those high kicking horns rasping and adding drama. The combination is a potent and swinging one, that gets even better when a saxophone solo blows gloriously, as the song heads towards a dramatic crescendo.

One of the most beautiful songs on the album is My Buddy, co-written by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson. This song has a lovely, understated lush arrangement, with strings playing a major roll, while horns play a supporting roll. It’s just Dr John with his trusty piano that opens the track, with cymbals hissing gently in the background. When the strings enter, they’ve the lushest sound, a perfect accompaniment for Dr John’s thoughtful vocal and piano playing. Behind him a bass meanders, with the strings and later, gently rasping horns entering. Together, they produce a poignant and quite melancholy sound, one that

In A Sentimental Mood  benefits from an understated arrangement, with the piano and lovely, lush strings combining as the track meanders along. It’s a song from a different age, gentle and beautiful, as it slowly reveals itself. A few jazzy flourishes from the piano accompany the swathes of strings that float above. During the song, Dr John’s piano playing is among the best on the album, as is Marty Paich’s string arrangement. Together with producer Tommy Lipuma, they combine to produce a beautiful, piano led track, that features swathes of lush strings.

Black Night finds Dr John upping the tempo, on a song written by Jessie Mae Robinson. Dramatic flourishes of piano and braying horns combine as the song opens, with Dr John demonstrating his talent and versatility as a pianist. When his vocal enters, it’s a downbeat and despondent Dr John we hear, as horns rasp and a bass makes its presence felt. The arrangement is full, and drama laden, horns swirling grandly, while the rhythm more than section play their part in the song’s success. By now, Dr John’s raspy voice is powerful, regret and sadness his only friends. As the arrangement reverberates, a combination of jazz players new and modern, including drummer Harvey Mason and bassist Abe Laboriel play their part in helping Dr John give an old song a new magical new twist.

One of the saddest songs on the album is a version of Joe Greene’s Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying. As strings swirl in, flourishes of dramatic piano, give way to a wistful vocal from the Dr John. With chiming guitars, strings and piano combining, the song meanders along, flourishes of piano escaping, while a butter and rueful Dr John delivers the lyrics. The arrangement taps into perfectly into the sadness of the lyrics, which have a melancholy, and almost bittersweet quality. Again the arrangement has a somewhat understated sound, relying on the strings, instead of horns. This works well, getting across perfectly the sadness and emotion in the lyrics, especially when delivered by Dr John.

When you talk about the greatest American songwriters of the first half of the twentieth century, then you can’t not mention Cole Porter. Similarly, Dr John couldn’t record an album featuring some of the greats of American songwriting and not cover a Cole Porter song. The one he chose was Love For Sale, choosing to transform the track, with some of his best piano playing on the album. Here he veers between some rollicking jazzy piano playing with flourishes of drama included, while strings sweep and swirl grandly, their sound vaguely reminding me of a movie soundtrack, while horns rasp and blaze, reverberating and the rhythm section provide a light sprinkling of funk. It’s a track that absolutely swings, and has an irresistible sound. Towards the end, Dr John almost raps over the arrangement, a brilliant track, just getting even better.

In A Sentimental Mood ends with More Than You Know, which opens with the wistful strings which have a real retro sound, in keeping with music. They give way to a thoughtful vocal from Dr John while his piano meanders along. He delivers the lyrics perfectly, with a tenderness and thoughtfulness. Above him, sits the strings, which float in and out of the arrangement, with Harvey Mason playing the drums with subtlety, forsaking sticks for brushes. Similarly, the bass meanders, the playing sparse, leaving flourishes of Dr John’s piano playing and his thoughtful vocal to take centre-stage, on what was a tender, beautiful and heartfelt delivery of the lyrics. This  thoughtful and somewhat poignant and melancholy song seems the perfect way to end the album.

For anyone who has only experienced the music of Dr John’s vintage Atco Records years, the music on In A Sentimental Mood will come as something of a surprise when they hear it. It features a different side to Dr John’s music. He was a a musical chameleon who seamlessly could flit between musical genres Proof of that is In A Sentimental Mood which was very different to his previous albums.

In A Sentimental Mood is an album that was perfect for late night listening as Dr John revisits a different musical era with an all-star cast for company.  Effortlessly Dr John transports the listener to another time and place during the album with his lived-in, worldweary vocal and peerless piano playing during In A Sentimental Mood.

During In A Sentimental Mood Dr John with a string and horn section in tow, transform nine standards, breathing new life and energy into them, as gives them his own unique twist. After In A Sentimental Mood his music continued to evolve, with aalbums rediscovering the music of Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer and the wonderful music of New Orleans. That is no surprise.

Throughout his career, the late great Dr John was always an innovator, never afraid to try something new, sometimes, even becoming a contrarian. However, he always provided his many fans with some majestic and memorable music, which they’ll always cherish, and return to. This includes In A Sentimental Mood which marks a return to form from Dr John, and is a reminder of this flawed genius who is much missed.

Dr John-In A Sentimental Mood.

CULT CLASSIC: AUDIENCE-FRIEND’S, FRIEND’S, FRIEND.

Cult Classic: Audience- Friend’s, Friend’s, Friend.

In October 1969, Audience were offered the opportunity to support Led Zeppelin at the Lyceum in London. For Audience, this was the opportunity of a lifetime as Led Zeppelin had just released their eponymous debut album on 12th of January 1969. It was well on its way to selling over ten million copies. With Led Zeppelin riding the wave of commercial success and critical acclaim, it was almost guaranteed that the great and good of music would be in the audience. This, the four members of Audience thought, could be the break they were looking for. 

By October 1969, Audience had already come a long way in a short space of time. The story began earlier in 1969, when Lloyd Alexander Real Estate split up. 

They were a semi-professional soul band who played the London club and pub circuit. They even released Gonna Live Again as a single on the President label in 1967. Although it wasn’t a hit, it became a favourite among mods. However, there was no followup, and in early 1969, Lloyd Alexander Real Estate split-up. Like a phoenix from the ashes of Lloyd Alexander Real Estate, rose Audience.

Three of the former members of Lloyd Alexander Real Estate decided to form a new band. Howard Werth, Keith Gemmell and Trevor Williams formed a new band, which they called Audience. There was a problem though. The nascent Audience needed a drummer. 

Luckily, the other three members of the band new just the man. Tony Connor had auditioned for Lloyd Alexander Real Estate. However, he didn’t get the gig. This time round, he was in luck, and Tony Connor became the final member of Audience.  

With the lineup complete, Audience started rehearsing. Soon, they had a manager. Quickly, everything fell into place. They had a publishing contract, a residency at the still prestigious Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club and signed a recording contract with Polydor. Everything, it seemed, was going well for Audience. 

Audience.

For their eponymous debut album, Audience had penned twelve tracks. Nine were written by Howard Werth and Trevor Williams. They also cowrote Maidens Cry with the other two members of Audience. Howard Werth wasn’t finished. He cowrote Pleasant Convalescence and Man On Box with Keith Gemmell. These twelve tracks were recorded at Morgan Studios, London.

When recording of Audience began at Morgan Studios Howard Werth played acoustic and electric guitar. He also took charge of the vocals. The rhythm section bassist Trevor Williams and drummer Tony Connor who also played vibes. Keith Gemmell played tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute. Producing Audience’s eponymous debut album was Chris Brough. Audience was recorded quickly, and released later in 1969.

On its release, Audience passed record buyers and critics by. Very quickly, Polydor deleted the album, and it wasn’t until much later that people began to appreciate Audience. With its fusion of art rock and prog rock, it’s regarded as an album that was way ahead of its time. Unfortunately after the commercial failure of Audience, a problem emerged.

Audience’s contract with Polydor wasn’t a multi-album deal. Nor did it last for a specified period. It was a one album deal. This meant Audience were back where they started, earlier in 1969, looking for a recording contract. 

Fortunately for Audience, their luck started to change. Led Zeppelin had been booked to play at the Lyceum in London in October 1969. They needed a band to open for them. Although Led Zeppelin could’ve had their pick of bands to open for them, Audience got the gig. Their luck was starting to change.

When Audience arrived at the Lyceum, they were knew that the venue would be packed with the great and good of music. There was the possibility that watching, would be someone interested in signing them. So the four members of Audience agreed, tonight, they had to give it their best shot. There could be no regrets after their set.

As Audience took to the stage, they looked out at a sea of bodies. For many of them, Audience were just another unsigned band. By the time they left the Lyceum’s stage, that was about to change.

Unknown to Audience Tony Stratton-Smith was watching. He had just formed a new label, Charisma, and was impressed by Audience. He managed to make his way backstage, where he found the four members of Audience. Tony Stratton-Smith started telling the  band how impressed he was by them, and how he wanted to sign them to his new label, Charisma Records. Realising that here was someone who was interested in their music, and believed in them, Audience agreed. 

Now signed to Charisma, Audience found themselves signed to the same label as Van Der Graaf Generator and Lindisfarne. Quickly, Audience settled into life at Charisma, as Tony Stratton-Smith made plans for Audience’s sophomore, Friend’s, Friend’s, Friend.

Friend’s Friend’s Friend.

Given that Audience were new to the Charisma label, Tony Stratton-Smith wanted to bring onboard high profile producer to produce their label debut. American producer Shel Talmy was the chosen one. 

Previously, Shel Talmy worked with The Kinks, producing All Day and All of the Night, Tired of Waiting for You, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Sunny Afternoon and Waterloo Sunset. The producer had also worked with The Who, producing their 1965 debut album My Generation, and with Roy Harper and Davy Jones who later, would become David Bowie. With such an impressive track record, Shel Talmy looked the perfect producer to transform Audience’s fortunes. They had been working on new material.

For Friend’s Friend’s Friend, the members of Audience had worked on eight songs. Six came from the pen of Howard Werth and Trevor Williams. Ebony Variations was credited to the four members of Audience. Tony Connor and Keith Gemmell cowrote Priestess. Having written eight songs new songs, Audience made their way to Olympic Studios.

At Olympic Studios, the four members of Audience showed producer Shel Talmy their eight new songs. Shel Talmy looked at the new material. Shel Talmy wasn’t impressed. Apart from Belladonna Moonshine, Shel Talmy didn’t like Audience’s new material. He then decided he didn’t want to produce what became Friend’s Friend’s Friend.

Many bands would’ve viewed this as a huge problem. Not Audience. There and then, they made the decision to produce their sophomore album, Friend’s Friend’s Friend. Not at Olympic Studios though.

Instead, the four members of Audience decamped to the familiar surroundings of Morgan Studios. With engineer Mike Bobak in tow, Audience got work. They weren’t complete novices when it came to production. Each of the members of Audience had been members of bands before. This included Lloyd Alexander Real Estate, who had released a single. Members of Audience had also been around studios with other bands, so it wasn’t a new experience. Guided by an experienced engineer like Mike Bobak, Audience felt capable of producing Friend’s Friend’s Friend got to work.

Lead singer Howard Werth, guitar played acoustic guitar and banjo. The rhythm section featured bassist Trevor Williams and drummer Tony Connor. He also played piano, percussion. Keith Gemmell played saxophone and woodwind. Despite never having produced an album before, Audience, guided by Mike Bobak soon had Friend’s Friend’s Friend recorded. All that was left was for Friend’s Friend’s Friend to released.

Audience were hoping to avoid a repeat of their eponymous debut album, when Friend’s Friend’s Friend was released in May 1970. If two consecutive albums flopped, that could prove catastrophic. The worst case scenario was that Audience’s career could be at a crossroads. For a band that had only been together just over a year, that would a disaster. However, Audience had covered all the bases.

Critics discovered that Friend’s Friend’s Friend was a truly eclectic album. There were elements of art rock, country, pop, progressive rock and rock. The mood veered between joyous and witty, to introspective and dark on Friend’s Friend’s Friend. There was something for all musical tastes on Audience’s sophomore album  Friend’s Friend’s Friend.

Nothing You Do opened Friend’s Friend’s Friend, and is best described as a fusion of prog rock, folk and classic rock. There’s more than a nod to the Rolling Stones on Nothing You Do. Partly, that’s down to Howard’s mid-Atlantic drawl. He loses this on Belladonna Moonshine, which was released as a single. It has a much more joyous, good time sound. This struck a nerve with record buyers, and resulted in Audience making an appearance on British television show Top Of The Pops. Very different was It Brings A Tear. Wistful and melancholy describes this maudlin mixture of folk, pop, prog rock and rock. Why it wasn’t released as a single, seems strange? One of the highlights of Friend’s Friend’s Friend was The Raid. Not only does it feature Audience in full flight, but features barnstorming perfoemacen from saxophonist Keith Gemmell. It’s a fitting finale to side one of Friends, Friends, Friend.

Side two picks up where side one left off, with Keith’s saxophone driving Right On Their Side along. As Howard delivers lyrics inspired by Enland’s historical past, and tinged with triumph and tragedy, Keith switches between saxophone and flute. He plays a leading role in the song’s success. Ebony Variations was originally inspired by Mozart’s clarinet concerto. It’s very different from the rest of Friends, Friends, Friend. Everything from classical, folk, pop and rock combine, creating a captivating track. The final two tracks on Friends, Friends, Friend were inspired by controversial subjects, mysticism and the occult.

Back in the early seventies, this wasn’t unusual. Many musicians were taking an interest in these matters. Audience were no different. They were reading The Dawn Of Magic, which was written by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier. This book influenced the dark, dramatic and otherworldly sound of Priestess and Friends, Friends, Friend which closes Audience’s sophomore album Friends, Friends, Friend.

Although Friends, Friends, Friend wasn’t a hugely successful album, it was a bigger success than their 1970 eponymous debut album. Partly, this was down to Audience’s appearance  on Top Of The Pops, where they sung Belladonna Moonshine. Suddenly, a new audience were introduced to Audience’s music. Despite their appearance on what was the biggest music show on British television, it was the live circuit where Audience were most popular.

When Audience headed out on tour to promote Friends, Friends, Friend, they played in front of sell out crowds. It must have been frustrating. If everyone who watched Audience live had bought Friends, Friends, Friend, the album would’ve found its way onto the British charts. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. However, success wasn’t far away for Audience.

Audience released their third album House On The Hill in 1971. It was produced by Gus Dudgeon. Indian Summer was chosen as a single, and reached number seventy-four on the US Billboard 100 charts. Just like so many British bands before them, American audiences discovered Audience first. 

The following year, 1972, Audience released their fourth and final album, Lunch. By then, Audience had spent the last three years touring. The band were almost burnt out. After touring with The Faces and Cactus, tensions were running high. Keith Gemmell left Audience, resulting in the band needing a new saxophonist. 

Lunch was completed with the help of Bobby Keys and Jim Price, the Rolling Stones brass section. When the Gus Dudgeon produced Lunch was released, it reached number 175 in the US Billboard 200 charts. Lunch became the most successful album of Audience’s career. Sadly, it was also their swan-song.

After four albums and a handful of singles, art rock pioneers, Audience called time on their career. The remaining three members of Audience went their separate ways.

That was the last that anyone heard of Audience until they reformed in 2004. Howard Werth, Keith Gemmell and Trevor Williams played a series of concerts in Germany, Italy, Britain and Canada. By then, somewhat belatedly, Audience’s music was being appreciated and had found a wider audience. For Audience, it was a case of better late than never. Forty years after releasing four albums of eclectic and innovative music between 1969 and 1972, including their cult classic Friends, Friends, Friend their music has found the Audience it deserves.

Cult Classic: Audience- Friend’s, Friend’s, Friend.

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CULT CLASSIC: JADE WARRIOR-FLOATING WORLD.

Cult Classic: Jade Warrior-Floating World.

All too often, musical innovators don’t get the credit they deserve. That was the case with Jade Warrior. Their fourth studio album, Floating World was released in 1974, and pioneered both ambient and world music. Floating World was the most ambitious album of Jade Warrior’s career and almost wasn’t released. 

After releasing their third album Last Autumn’s Dream, in 1972, Jade Warrior headed off on a tour of America. When they returned home Jade Warrior were called to a meeting with Vertigo, who cancelled the band’s contract. Not long after this, the group was dissolved and it looked like the Jade Warrior story was over.

This was ironic for the band. Since signing to Vertigo in 1970, Jade Warrior had released a trio of groundbreaking album  They released their eponymous debut album in 1971.  

Jade Warrior.

When Jade Warrior began work on what became their eponymous debut album, they were a trio. The initial lineup featured guitarist Tony Duhig, flautist and percussionist Jon Field and bassist and vocalist Glyn Havard. They penned the ten tracks that became Jade Warrior. Little did they know the effect their debut album would have.

Jade Warrior was the album that pioneered the psychedelic-progressive sound. It combined elements of what would later, become known as world music. This came courtesy of the myriad of ethnic percussive sounds. They made up for the lack of drums, as at this point, Jade Warrior didn’t have a drummer. Adding another layer to Jade Warrior’s music were distorted, twisted guitars and ghostly, otherworldly sounds. The other ingredient was sudden changes in tempo. All this made Jade Warrior a groundbreaking album.

Critics realised this, and Jade Warrior received positive reviews. Despite this, Jade Warrior didn’t sell in vast quantities. However, Vertigo took the view that this was just Jade Warrior’s debut album. Maybe their fortune would change with their sophomore album Released?

Released.

When recording of Jade Warrior’s sophomore album Released began at Nova Sound in London, Jade Warrior were no longer a trio. Drummer Allan Price had joined Jade Warrior. Three had become four. With the addition of their latest recruit Jade Warrior began work on what’s on often called the difficult second album.

Thar wasn’t the case for Jade Warrior. At Nova Sound in London, Jade Warrior began recording the eight tracks the group had written. The nascent quartet were joined by Dave Conners. He added tenor and alto saxophone. One of his finest moments comes on the fifteen minute epic jam, Barazinbar. Dave Conners unleashes sheets of searing, soaring saxophone. His contribution is part of what was a stylistic departure for Jade Warrior. It was released in late 1971.

Gone was the world music influence of their eponymous debut album. Replacing it, was a much more progressive sound. Just like Jade Warrior, Released was well received by critics. They welcomed an album that was perceived as an album of contrasting songs. Ballads rubbed shoulders with jazz-tinged instrumentals and the much more progressive sounding tracks. Jade Warrior’s music, it seemed, was continuing to evolve. 

Despite the continued evolution of Jade Warrior’s music, this didn’t translate into album sales. They were still to some extent, an underground band. Jade Warrior weren’t a prog rock Goliath. However, gradually, their reputation was growing. So they began work on their third album Last Autumn’s Dream.

Last Autumn’s Dream.

Having released two albums during 1971, Jade Warrior returned to the studio in early 1972 to record ten tracks. Nine of these tracks were penned by the  four members of Jade Warrior, The other track, The Demon Trucker was penned by Tony Duhig and his brother David. He made two guest appearances on Last Autumn’s Dream. 

When Jade Warrior made their way to the studio, they weer joined by David Duhig. He plays electric guitar on The Demon Trucker and lays down a solo on Snake. This wasn’t the first time had Jade Warrior had augmented their numbers with a guest musician, Nor would it be the last time.

Once Last Autumn’s Dream was recorded, Vertigo scheduled the release its release for the spring of 1972. After the release of Last Autumn’s Dream Jade Warrior were about to head off on a tour of America. 

They embarked upon their American tour after some of the best reviews any of their three albums had enjoyed. Just like Released, Last Autumn’s Dream was an album of contrasts. Pensive instrumentals like Dark River, Obedience, Borne On The Solar Wind seemed reticent about sharing their secrets. Eventually, they did, and contrasted with the melodic nature of A Winter’s Tale and May Queen. Then on a trio of tracks, Jade Warrior found their inner rocker, and kicked loose on Snake, The Demon Trucker and Joanne. Critics were won over by the diversity of songs on Last Autumn’s Dream, and Jade Warrior’s versatility. Seamlessly, Jade Warrior flitted between musical genres, resulting in what critics called their finest moment. As Jade Warrior embarked upon their American tour, they felt like giants. After three albums they had arrived.

When Jade Warrior returned from their American tour, a new audience had been introduced to their music. However, back in Britain, Jade Warrior were still awaiting the big breakthrough. Last Autumn’s Dream wasn’t a commercial success. Three albums into their career, and still, none of Jade Warrior’s albums had proved a commercial success. It was a similar story with the two singles from Last Autumn’s Dream. Neither A Winter’s Tale nor The Demon Trucker charted. For Jade Warrior and Vertigo, this was a huge disappointment. However, Jade Warrior didn’t realise how disappointed Vertigo were.

Vertigo had had enough. They had supported Jade Warrior for three years and three albums. These albums had failed commercially. As a result, Jade Warrior were losing Vertigo money. It was all very well that they released innovative music. That however, didn’t pay the bills. So after the American tour was completed, Jade Warrior were invited into Vertigo’s offices. They were then told that Vertigo were cancelling Jade Warrior’s contract and Jade Warrior were dissolved. That looked like the end of the Jade Warrior story. However, it was only the end of of Vertigo years.

During 1973, Jade Warrior returned to the studio, and recorded enough material for two albums. Some of that music found its way onto various samplers. Despite this, no record label seemed willing to take a chance on Jade Warrior. That was until Steve Winwood of Traffic intervened, However, there was a catch.

Floating World.

By 1974, Steve Winwood of Traffic had spent the last seven years signed to Island Records. During that period, he had got to know Chris Blackwell quite well. Steve also knew Jade Warrior. He liked their music, and felt the group had potential. So had an old friend of Steve Winwood’s, Dave Mason. 

The pair had played alongside each other in Traffic. Then in 1971 Dave embarked upon a solo career. On one of his tours, Dave asked Jade Warrior to open for him. That was a couple of years previously. Since then, Jade Warrior had been released by Vertigo and dissolved. However, there was still the chance that Jade Warrior may rise like a phoenix from the ashes. So, Steve Winwood spoke to Chris Blackwell.

Just like Steve Winwood, Chris Blackwell saw Jade Warrior’s potential. Both men saw Jade Warrior’s future as an instrumental group. So Chris Blackwell decided to offer Jade Warrior a contract. Steve Winwood suggested a four album deal. Chris Blackwell countered with a three album deal. Eventually, they settled on a four album deal. All that was left was to convince Jon Field and Tony Duhig to reform Jade Warrior.

The pair didn’t take a lot of convincing. After nearly two years without a record contract, Jade Warrior were back being paid to do what they enjoyed doing, making music. However,it was a case of absent friends. Glyn Havard hadn’t been included in the contract. Chris Blackwell thought that Jade Warrior’s future lay in making instrumental music. This was hugely popular in 1974, with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells well on its way to selling millions of copies. Could Jade Warrior do the same thing?

While that was highly unlikely, given Jade Warrior’s track record, the Island years was the start of a new chapter in Jade Warrior’s career. For the first album in their four album deal with Island Records, Jade Warrior embraced the Japanese philosophy of Ukiyo.

The philosophy of Ukiyo, which translates as Floating World, is essentially, about being able to accept life and its surroundings. It’s also about living for the moment. Pleasure seeking is important in the Japanese philosophy of Ukiyo, whose roots can be traced back to the Edo period. It began in 1603 and lasted between until 1868. 106 years later, and the newly formed Jade Warrior were being inspired by Ukiyo.

Jade Warrior named their fourth, and comeback album Floating World. It featured ten tracks. Eight were penned by Jon Field and Tony Duhig. They also cowrote Quba with Martha Mdenge. the other track, Monkey Chant was a traditional song which Jade Warrior recorded for Floating World. It would feature Jade Warrior at their most versatile, seamlessly combining multiple musical genres.

From the moment Jade Warrior entered the studio, they were on the clock. Island Records had always a reputation for keeping an eye on costs. They gave artists a budget, and they had to work within it. Similarly, Jade Warrior only had a certain amount of time to record the ten tracks that became Floating World. Given how complex an album Floating World was, this wasn’t going to be easy. It was a challenge, and a challenge that Jade Warrior relished.

As the recording session began at Island Records studio, Tony Duhig began to lay down the bass, glockenspiel, guitars, organ, piano, percussion and vibraphone. Onlookers watched as Tony seamlessly switched between instruments. As a man once said, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Jon Field arrived in the studio with various flutes and a myriad of percussion. This included bells, a bell tree, a cello, congas, flutes, a glockenspiel, gong, a harp, Japanese Flute, organ, piano, talking drum and vibraphone. Just like Tony Duhig, Jon Field was a truly versatile musician. This meant hardly any musicians were drafted in to augment Jade Warrior.

In total, only a six additional musicians featured on Floating World. Drummer Chris Carran played on Clouds and was joined on Mountain Of Fruit And Flowers by Coldridge Goode on string bass. Graham Deakin who was then part of John Entwistle’s touring band Ox, added drums on Red Lotus. David Duhig added lead guitar on Monkey Chant. Skalia Kanga added harp on Memories Of A Distant Sea. Martha Mdenge added vocal on Quba, which she cowrote with Tony Duhig and Jon Field. Along with the Orpington Junior Girl’s Choir who feature on the two versions of Clouds this completed the lineup of musicians who played on Floating World, Producing. Floating World, the first in the Island years quartet were Tony Duhig and Jon Field. Once Floating World was completed, it was released later in 1974.

Floating World was the most ambitious, complex, innovative and eclectic album of Jade Warrior’s career. Elements of ambient, classical, experimental jazz, prog rock, rock and world music combine with what’s now referred to as post rock. Jade Warrior were pushing musical boundaries to their limits on Floating World, their concept album based around the Japanese philosophy of Ukiyo. 

The philosophy of Ukiyo saw like as a journey, and compared it to  “a gourd floating along the river current.” Floating World was a journey, a musical journey through disparate musical genres. However, neither critics nor record buyers recognised Floating World for what it was, a truly groundbreaking album.

Critics were divided over Floating World. Some neither understood nor “got” Floating World, For those used to reviewing three chord pop or the output from the various American soul factories, they struggled and failed to understand a concept album based on an ancient Japanese philosophy. Some of the more erudite and cerebral critics grasped and understood where Jade Warrior were coming from on Floating World. However, while their reviews were positive, other reviews of this aural adventure were mixed. This didn’t bode well for the release of Floating World.

As Jade Warrior’s comeback album Floating World was released, sales were disappointing. History it seemed, was repeating itself all over again. However, Jade Warrior knew they had still three albums to write their way into Island Records history books. Little did they realise that they had already done this. Jade Warrior had released one of the most ambitious and innovative albums of their career, Floating World.

Over ten tracks Jade Warior take the listener on a captivating journey. It’s no ordinary journey. The listener to Floating World becomes the “gourd floating along the river current.” As they float down this musical river, the listener discovers twists and turns aplenty. 

That’s the case on Clouds, which opens Floating World. Washes of ethereal harmonies from are joined by a classical acoustic guitar, Then from nowhere, there’s the first of several thunderous, dramatic interjection. It’s joined by glistening bells and gentle percussion. Contrasts abound. Especially as a searing guitar which cuts through the arrangement. Later, a much more understated, serene ambient sound returns. It meanders along, like the river carrying the gourd showcasing a Japanese influence.   

This meandering musical journey continues on Mountain Of Fruit And Flowers. Again it has an understated sound. Haunting sounding flutes punctuate the arrangement as slowly, it grows in power and tempo. The rhythm section provide the heartbeat, with the bass and a jazz-tinged acoustic guitar plays leading roles. Horns and flutes are added, as the arrangement builds and the tempo rises. Elements of classical, jazz and prog rock are combined seamlessly by Jade Warrior, as this captivating musical journey continues.

Waterfall has a much more understated sound. Bells chime and glisten, before a wistful acoustic guitar plays. It’s joined by a blistering guitar. It plays in the background, its sound being reigned in. Gradually, it grows in power, but doesn’t quite overpower the rest of the arrangement. Each of the component parts are very different. A glockenspiel shimmers and percussion  hurries along. Contrasts are everywhere as the music veers between elegiac and ethereal to dreamy and wistful. Other times, the music becomes  urgent and dramatic. Especially as the percussion powers the arrangement along. All of a sudden, the journey gathers pace, before returning to a much more elegiac, melancholy sound.

An explosion of blistering rocky guitars cuts through the arrangement to Red Lotus. It takes centre-stage. Everything else seems to be playing a supporting role. That includes the percussion and crashing gong. Then the rhythm section kick loose. They seem determined to match the guitar every step of the way. Flutes are added. While they seem like unlikely bedfellows, this works. Opposites attract, as Jade Warrior veer between rock with an Eastern twist and freewheeling fusion. It’s a potent mix, before Jade Warrior throw a curveball. The arrangement almost comes to a halt, before meandering lazily along the river of life.

Clouds makes a reappearance on Floating World. A dramatic, almost discordant wash of sound reaches a crescendo, before being replaced by the ethereal sound of the choir and flutes. Mostly, though it’s the choir that work their ethereal magic.

Rainflower has a similar understated, mellow sound as the second part of Clouds. A wash of distant organ is joined by an electric guitar. At first, it’s in the distance. Gradually, it makes its way to the front of the arrangement, where its joined by an acoustic guitar. From there. instruments flit in and out of the arrangement. A harp, the searing, quivering electric guitar and the much more subtle sound of the acoustic guitar. Washes of organ are added resulting in an innovative and blissful soundscape that was years ahead of its time.

As Rainflower gives way to Easty, percussion plays and a flute shivers and quivers. It then floats above the arrangement, A hypnotic bass is joined by what’s best described as a myriad of percussive delights. Again, contrasting sounds melt into one. This includes a scorching, searing guitar. As it dissipates a much more mellow, jazzy sound unfolds. Jade Warrior jam, combining elements of ambient, jazz, lounge and world music. It’s another fascinating fusion of musical genres as Jade Warrior continue to captivate. 

Monkey Chant is a traditional song, given a makeover by Jade Warrior. A hypnotic chant is augmented by a blistering, rocky guitar solo from David Duhig. It’s a show stealer, before a dramatic interjection punctuates the arrangement. After that, David Duhig continues to win friends and influence people with what’s a stunning solo.

It’s just a melancholy acoustic guitar that opens Memories Of A Distant Sea. Soon, it’s doubled and joined by a flute. A harp plays, and is joined by a cello on what’s a heartachingly beautiful song. Then at 2.36 Jade Warrior add an element of drama. An electric guitar threatens to cut through the arrangement. It never does, as drama and beauty combine to create a song the creates a sense of sadness and yearning. 

Quba closes Floating World, the first in Jade Warrior’s Island years quartet. Just an acoustic guitar and melancholy flute combine. They’re distant, and sound as if they need brought forward in the mix. However, the way the song has been mixed, adds to the sense of melancholia. It evokes a sense of longing, longing for something long lost. When an electric guitar interjects, it adds an element of drama. Later, Martha Mdenge adds a spoken word vocal. This seems to highlight the sense of loss and longing, as the poignant musical journey that’s Floating World reaches its destination.

Floating World was the start of a new chapter in Jade Warrior’s career. No longer were the group a quartet. Instead, they were  reduced to a duo, consisting of Tony Duhig and Jon Field. This multitalented pair could play a multitude of instruments. Their versatility is put to good use on Floating World.

Tony Duhig and Jon Field deploy a myriad of musical instruments, as they take the listener on a musical journey. The listener becomes “a gourd floating along the river current.” There’s plenty of twists and turns along the way on what’s best described as a genre-hopping album, Over Floating World’s ten tracks, Jade Warrior combine elements of African, ambient, avant-garde, classical, experimental, funk, fusion, post rock, progressive rock, rock and world music. Continually, curveballs are thrown and surprises sprung. One minute the music is ethereal, serene and understated, the next it becomes dramatic and urgent. Always, though, the music on Floating World is ambitous, and innovative. Floating World is also captivating. There’s a reason for this.

The listener never knows what direction this music journey is heading? Is it heading for calm or rocky waters? It’s a case of waiting and seeing, as what’s a truly groundbreaking album reveals it secrets. Sadly, when Jade Warrior released Floating World, very few people discovered its delights. The album passed most people by and nowadays is regarded as a cult claassic. 

It was only later, when a new generation of critics and record buyers reappraised Floating World that Jade Warrior’s fourth album found the audience it deserved, Since then, Floating World has been recognised as a groundbreaking album from a group who pioneered ambient and world music. Somewhat belatedly, Jade Warrior are receiving recognition for one of the great lost albums of the seventies, Floating World their cerebral concept album based on an ancient Japanese philosophy is a glorious aural adventure awaiting discovery.

Cult Classic: Jade Warrior-Floating World.

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CULT CLASSIC: MOGWAI-COME ON DIE YOUNG.

Cult Classic: Mogwai-Come On Die Young.

It’s hard to believe that twenty-one  years have passed since Mogwai released their sophomore album, Come On Die Young, in March 1999. Back then, Glasgow-based Mogwai were one of the best up-and-coming bands not just in Scotland, but Britain. Since then, Mogwai have established a reputation as one of Britain’s top bands. They’ve also established a large and loyal fan-base across the globe. Mogwai are one of Scotland’s most successful and hardest working bands.

Since 2003s Happy Songs For Happy People, have released another nine studio albums, two live albums and seven soundtracks. This includes ZeroZeroZero which was released on May the ‘1st’ 2020. It was the latest release from a group who have been around for four decades.

Mogwai’s roots can be traced to Glasgow in April 1991. That’s where guitarist Stuart Braithwaite and Dominic Aitchison first met. Four years later, they met drummer Martin Bulloch and formed Mogwai, which film buffs will remember, is a character from the movie Gremlins. Mogwai was always meant as a temporary name, but it stuck and was on the label of their 1996 debut single Tuner. It was released to critical acclaim and the NME awarded it their single of the week award. Two other singles were released during 1996 Angels v. Aliens and Summer. By then Mogwai were a quartet.

Guitarist John Cummings joined the band in 1995. He’s also something of a maestro when it comes to all things technical and is described as playing “guitar and laptop.” He was part of one of the hottest bands of the late nineties, Mogwai who released two more singles in 1997.

These two singes were New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1 and Club Beatroot. Just like their debut single Tuner, New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1 was won NME’s single of the week award. This was the perfect time for Mogwai to record their debut album, Mogwai Young Team.

Mogwai Young Team.

For Mogwai Young Team, Mogwai brought onboard Brendan O’Hare the Teenage Fanclub’s drummer. Another guest artist was Aidan Moffat of Falkirk based band Arab Strap. He added the vocal to R U Still In 2 It. The rest of Mogwai Young Team consisted of instrumentals. Mogwai Young Team was recorded at Chem 19 studios and produced by ex-Delgado Paul Savage and Andy Miller, one of Scotland’s top producers. Once Mogwai Young Team was completed, it was released on Scotland’s  biggest record label, Chemikal Underground.

On its release in October 1997, critics were one over by Mogwai Young Team. Mogwai were hailed Mogwai as a band with a big future. Mogwai Young Team was a groundbreaking album of post-rock, which sold over 30,000 copies and reached number seventy-five in the UK. The Mogwai Young Team were on their way. However, a few changes were about to take place.

Come On Die Young.

A year later, Mogwai were back in the studio recording their sophomore album Come On Die Young. Much had changed. A new member had joined the band. Barry Buns a flautist and sometimes pianist, had played a few gigs with the band. They then asked him to become the fifth member of Mogwai. Violinist Luke Sutherland joined Mogwai, but not on a full-time basis. This wasn’t the only change.

Recording was split between New York and Glasgow.This time, they’d forsaken Chem 19 in Blantyre and recorded parts of the album in Rarbox Road Studios, New York. Some sessions took place in Glasgow’s Cava Studios. Producing Come On Die Young was Dave Fridman. When the recording of Come On Die Young began, it was a new look Mogwai.

Founding member Stuart Braithwaite played guitar and sang  the vocal to Cody. Joining Stuart in the rhythm section were bassist Dominic Aitchison, drummer and guitarist Martin Bulloch. New members Luke Sutherland played violin and Barry Burns played piano, keyboard, guitar and flute. A few session players were called upon. Richard Formby played lap steel on Cody and Wayne Myers played trombone on Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/Antichrist. Producer Dave Fridmann played on a few tracks. When Come On Die Young was finished, it would be released in March 1999.

On its release, in March 1999, Come On Die Young was released to widespread critical acclaim. Mogwai had overcome “the difficult second album syndrome.” However, as is always the case, there were a few dissenting voices. Some critics felt his production style resulted in a much more orthodox sounding album. However, I’d argue that Come On Die Young was part of Mogwai discovering their “sound” and direction. Come On Die Young is a much more understated, but also ambient, experimental, multi-textured and melodic album. There’s a fusion of ambient, grunge and post rock on Come On Die Young. Given the minor spat between critics, record buyers had the casting vote.

Released in March 1999, Come On Die Young reached number twenty-nine in the UK. Record buyers welcomed the change in direction from Mogwai. Come On Die Young had surpassed the commercial success of their debut album Mogwai Young Team. Mogwai it seemed  were now on their way to finding their sound and fulfilling the potential evident on their debut album on Come On Die Young.

Punk Rock opens Come On Die Young. A lone crystalline guitar meanders along, while a sample of Iggy Pop plays in the background. It’s an excerpt from an interview he gave on CBS on 11th March 1977, where Iggy talks about punk. Mogwai allow Iggy to take centre-stage, while they create an understated backdrop. However, it won’t be long before Mogwai take centre-stage.

Cody, like much of Come On Die Young has an understated, mellow sound. Stuart’s vocal is whispery, while chiming guitar, pensive drums and crashing cymbals combine ambient, indie rock, post rock. Adding the finishing touch is Richard Formby’s lap steel guitar. It shimmers and quivers, during this haunting, hypnotic opus. 

Originally, Helps Both Ways featured John Madden’s commentary from a A.F.N.L. game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately, the sample hadn’t been cleared, so had to be replaced by a sample of another commentary. Just like with the Iggy Pop sample, it provides the backdrop for Mogwai as they create a maudlin, wistful backdrop. Drums crack, guitars chime and bass sits way down in the mix. Adding to the wistful, mesmeric sound is a flute. It floats in and out as this moody soundscape unfolds.

A brief snippet of a sample opens Year 2000. After that, the track is a fusion of musical genres with a futuristic, sci-fi influence. That comes courtesy of the feedback, synths and sound effects. Meanwhile, Mogwai rediscover their indie rock roots, as they drive the slow, broody arrangement along. Searing guitars join the rhythm section. They get into the groove and sometimes, unleash a spray of feedback during this genre-melting track. Seamlessly, Mogwai combine everything from avant garde, electronica, experimental, indie rock, Krautrock, psychedelia and post rock to create an innovative and futuristic soundscape that’s adventurous, bold and dark

Subtle, chirping guitars open Kappa. After that, bursts of thunderous drums interject. So do stabs of keyboards and driving guitars. Waves of music overpowers the rest of the arrangement. That’s no bad thing, because soon, Moqwai will be in full flight. It’s a joy to behold. There’s even a nod to Pink Floyd. Then Mogwai the strip the arrangement bare. Just the drums and chirping guitars combine. Soon, waves of dramatic music return. Bursts of feedback escape from the arrangement as Mogwai combine power, drama and subtle hooks.

Waltz For Aidan sees Mogwai dedicate the song to another Scottish musician, Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap. It’s their way of thanking Aidan. He contributed vocals on Mogwai’s debut E.P. and debut album 1997 Mogwai Young Team. A guitar chirps before the pounding rhythm section and crystalline guitar combines. Mogwai keep the tempo slow. The melodic and melancholy music floats along allowing you to hear its ethereal beauty.

May Nothing But Happiness is an epic track, nearly nine minutes long. Just like many tracks on Come On Die Young the introduction is understated. Chiming guitars set the scene. They’re joined by the rhythm section who create a dreamy, lysergic and mesmeric backdrop. Later, washes of keyboards sweep in and out, as Mogwai explore the song’s subtleties. There’s a strong Can influence. Just like Can, Mogwai seem at their best jamming. Things change when a driving guitar enters. It adds an element of drama, as Mogwai threaten to kick loose. Cymbals crash and there’s even a drum roll thrown in for good measure. Before long, normality returns and the track becomes a haunting, ambient soundscape. 

Avant garde. That’s the best way to describe Oh! How The Dogs Stack Up. Mogwai replicate the sound of crackly vinyl. A spoken word sample is combined with deliberate stabs of piano. Bells chime and then a  myriad of sound effects are unleashed by Mogwai. This adds an avant garde, experimental influence to a track that’s truly compelling.

Ex-Cowboy is another lengthy track. It’s nine minutes long. This allows Mogwai to experiment. Just like previous tracks, the introduction is understated. A searing guitar and bass combine before plodding drums enter. So do violins. They sweep back in forth. Cymbals crash as the drama builds and Mogwai head in the direction of grunge and post rock. Machine gun guitars, pounding drums and wailing feedback are combined with discordant strings. Then all of a sudden, it’s as if the storm is over. There’s a return to the understated, mellow sound. From, there, the two sides of Mogwai make reappearances during what’s a musical Magnus Opus.

A rumbling introduction opens Chocky. The drama builds and grows. You wonder if it’s about to explode? It never happens though. Instead, the buzzing, rumbling sound is joined by a lone, wistful piano. They may seem like strange bedfellows, but work well together. So do the rhythm and chirping, chiming guitars. Then there’s a spoken word sample that sits atop the arrangement. It adds a space-age influence. By now, the arrangement is being driven along by the guitars. Slow, melodic and melancholy, there’s a nod to Brian Eno and Pink Floyd, as Mogwai fuse elements of ambient, avant garde, experimental and post rock. In doing so, they create another genre-melting epic. 

A lone crystalline guitars meanders along as Christmas Steps begins to unfold. Understated with an ethereal beauty, the music washes over you cleansing your soul. However, the driving guitars and buzzy bass signals a change in direction. Is it time? Will Mogwai kick out the jams? They threaten to do so. Guitars and bass lock horns. Before long, drums pound and cymbals crash. Eventually, it happens Mogwai rediscover their inner rocker. When they slow things down, the violins make an entrance. After that, the track’s ethereal beauty returns and you’re wallow in its midst for the remainder of the track.

Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/An Chris closes Come On Die Young. It’s just two minutes long. Here, Wayne Myers unleashes washes of his haunting trombone. They sit atop the arrangement’s eerie, sci-fi sound.

Sophomore albums are notoriously difficult. Many bands have realised that. Some bands spend years and fortunes trying to record their sophomore album. A prime example of this were The Stone Roses. It destroyed them. Not Mogwai though.

Far from it. They didn’t struggle with the notorious “second album syndrome.” Instead, they rose to the challenge and created one of the greatest albums of their career. 

Come On Die Young saw Mogwai discover their “sound” and direction. It’s a much more reserved and understated album than their debut album, Mogwai Young Team. The music is also melodic, melancholy, dramatic, dreamy, wistful, lysergic and haunting. It’s the type of album where you need to let the music wash over you and discover its beauty, nuances, subtleties and secrets. With every listen, you hear something new and fresh as with each listen to this cult classic.  That’s the case twenty-one years later.

On Come On Die Young, Mogwai combined musical genres and influences. Listen carefully and you’ll hear Mogwai combine everything from ambient, avant garde, electronica, experimental, grunge, indie rock, Krautrock, post rock and psychedelia. Mogwai have been influenced by a number of bands and artists. There’s a nod to Brian Eno, John Hopkins, Neil Young, Nirvana and Pink Floyd. Closer to home,  the Cocteau Twins ethereal, fuzzy soundscapes influenced Mogwai when they were making Come On Die Young back in 1998 and 1999.

Nowadays, Come On Die Young is regarded as one of the finest albums Mogwai have released, and is also one of the best Scottish albums of the last forty years. It was a stepping stone for Mogwai who in 2020 are one of Scotland’s most successful bands who also strive and succeed to make groundbreaking and stay relevant. Long may that continue to be the case.

Cult Classic: Mogwai-Come On Die Young.

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JACKIE MCLEAN-A FICKLE SONANCE.

Jackie McLean-A Fickle Sonance.

Label: Blue Note Records.

On October the ’26th’ 1961, thirty year old alto-saxophonist Jackie McLean made the now familiar journey to the Van Gelder Studio, at 445 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, to record a new album with his quintet. The album became A Fickle Sonance, which was released in late 1962 and was recently reissued by Blue Note Records. It’s regarded as a landmark album where Jackie McLean’s music starts to evolve as he begins to move from hard bop to free jazz. This was the latest instalment in the Jackie Mclean story.

Alto saxophonist, bandleader and composer Jackie McLean was born into a musical family in New York, on May ‘17th’ 1931. His father was a guitarist in Tiny Bradshaw’s successful swing orchestra, and he taught his young son about music. Tragedy struck in 1939, when Jackie McLean’s father passed away when he was just eight. However, his musical education continued.

Jackie McLean was fortunate to be surrounded by people who were immersed in music. This included his godfather and then his stepfather who owned a record shop. However, by the time he was a teenager, Jackie McLean wanted to learn an instrument and decided to learn the saxophone.

He started out playing the soprano saxophone, but after a while, switched to the alto sax. He was fortunate to receive music lessons from some respected teachers and some of his neighbours. This included Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker who were happy to give Jackie McLean informal lessons. 

Charlie Parker proved to be a huge influence on Jackie McLean. Later in his career, Jackie McLean  was described as one of Charlie Parker’s disciples. The two men also shared much in common apart from music. That was in the future. 

Before that, the informal lessons paid off, and by the time he was in high school Jackie McLean was in a band that featured Kenny Drew, Sonny Rollins and Captain Kirk, the son of Andy Kirk. Three members of the band would go on to record for Blue Note Records, and in 1951 played alongside Miles Davis.

In 1951, Jackie McLean became a professional musician. By then, the twenty year old was  prodigiously talented alto saxophonist who was already writing his own compositions. The young saxophonist and composer came to the attention of Miles Davis later in 1951.

Jackie McLean and his high school friend Sonny Rollins were invited to join Miles Davis’ band for the recording of Dig. It was one of Sonny Rollins earliest recordings, while Dig was Jackie McLean’s first recording session. He had written the title track, and played on four of the five tracks. While playing on Dig helped launch Jackie McLean’s career, there was a negative side to the experience.

Miles Davis and many of his friends were heroin addicts. This wasn’t uncommon in jazz, and it was seen  by some as an occupational hazard. Sadly, Jackie McLean would become addicted to heroin.

In 1955, he recorded his debut album Presenting… Jackie McLean which was released by Ab Lib in 1956. This was the only album Jackie McLean released for Ad Lib.

By 1956, Jackie McLean like so many other jazz musicians was battling heroin addiction. This included his mentor and idol Charlie Parker. He had died in 1955 aged just thirty-four. Just two years earlier the pair had been walking through Greenwich Village looking for a club where they could play. That was when a frustrated Bird stopped and turned to twenty-two year old Jackie McLean and asked him to give him a public kicking. Bird was frustrated, annoyed and angry that he had squandered his prodigious talent and neglected himself. Now it was happening all over again to Jackie Mc:ean who risked losing everything. 

After leaving Ad Lib, Jackie McLean signed to Prestige Records, and in January 1956, recorded Lights Out! It was released June 1956 and showcased Jackie McLean trademark hard bop sound. Right through to August 1957 he continued to record for Prestige, and by the time he left the label had recorded nine albums.

Jackie McLean also spent much of his time working as a sideman and accompanied some of the biggest names in jazz. He had joined Gene Ammons band and played on four albums he released between 1956 and 1957. This including two of his finest albums, Funky and Jammin’ in Hi Fi with Gene Ammons which were both released in 1957. 

In 1956, Jackie McLean was also a member of Charles Mingus’ band when he recorded his Pithecanthropus Erectus album. However, Jackie McLean left after the album was completed. The bandleader had a reputation as being volatile and difficult to deal with this. That was the case during the session when, he alleged that Charles Mingus had punched him. Jackie McLean fearing for his life pulled out a knife and for a split second thought about using it in self defence. He didn’t and instead, left Charles Mingus’ employ.

Jackie McLean was hired by drummer Art Blakey and became a member of the Jazz Messengers. He played on seven albums between 1956 and 1957 before he decided to leave the Jazz Messengers.

During 1957, Jackie McLean found time to record two solo albums for the Jubilee label, and played on albums by Kenny Burrell, Art Farmer, Max Wadron and Ray Draper. However, later in  1957, disaster struck for Jackie McLean when he was arrested on drugs charges.

While he was awaiting trial Jackie McLean played Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’ album which was recorded in early 1958. The next eleven months were spent imprisoned on Rikers Island. Jackie McLean had hit rockbottom.

When he was released from prison, Jackie McLean discovered that like his mentor Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk he had lost his New York cabaret card, and for over seven years couldn’t play live in the Big Apple. He knew that he was going to have to rely heavily on session work for the next few years.

On the ‘21st’ of December 1958, Jackie McLean made his return to the recording studio when he played on Donald Byrd’s Off To The Races. It was his first session in eleven months, but over the next few years, the studio would be like a second home for Jackie McLean.

He signed to Blue Note Records in 1959, which was his musical home until 1967. Blue Note Records paid better than other labels and offered a greater degree of artistic control. This was important to Jackie McLean who was about to begin the most productive and prolific period of his career.

Having lost his New York cabaret card, session work became even more important to Jackie McLean. Over the next eight years he played on albums by Bobby Hutcherson, Dexter Gordon, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Freddie Redd, Lee Morgan, Sonny Clark and Tina Brooks at Blue Note Records. Jackie McLean also played alongside one of the pioneers of free jazz Ornette Coleman who would influence his music. That was later in the Blue Note Records’ years.

New Soil.

This new era began on May the ‘2nd’ 1959 at Van Gelder Studio when Jackie McLean led a quintet that included drummer Pete La Roca, bassist Paul Chambers, pianist Walter Davis Jr and trumpeter Donald Byrd. They recorded two compositions by Jackie McLean and three by Walter Davis Jr which became New Soil.

When New Soil was released in August 1959, it was to critical acclaim. The album found Jackie McLean trying to move beyond the boundaries of hard bop. He had been playing hard bop since he released his debut album in 1956 and was already looking to the future, and eventually free jazz.

Swing, Swang, Swingin’.

Two months after the release of New Soil, Jackie McLean returned to Van Gelder Studio on October the ‘20th’ 1959 to lead a quartet that included drummer Art Taylor, bassist Jimmy Garrison and pianist Walter Davis Jr. They recorded seven compositions during the session. The majority were  standards, apart from the Jackie McLean’s composition 116th and Lenox. These tracks became Swing, Swang, Swingin’.

When Swing, Swang, Swingin’ was released in March 1960 it featured a newly invigorated Jackie McLean. He plays a starring role in each and every track. Having unleashed the melody, Jackie McLean improvises as if his very life depends on it. He plays with freedom and an inventiveness as he leads a tight and talented quartet. They were the perfect foil for Jackie McLean who for the next few years could do no wrong.

Capuchin Swing.

Just a month after the release of his second album for Blue Note Records, Jackie McLean was back in the now familiar surrounding of the Van Gelder Studio. On the ‘17th’ of April 1960, he was leading a quintet that featured drummer Art Taylor, bassist Paul Chambers, pianist Walter Davis Jr and trumpeter Blue Mitchell. They recorded six compositions, including three by Jackie McLean and they became Capuchin Swing.

When Capuchin Swing was released in early December 1960, the album was well received. It was mostly an album of hard bop, albeit with a hint of the freer sound Jackie McLean would later embrace. The tracks were a mixture of blues and mid to fast tempo tracks that swung. They were the perfect showcase for some of the finest purveyors of hard bop. Jackie McLean’s playing was progressive, inventive and sometimes inspirational on an album that is often underrated and overlooked. That wasn’t the case with the followup Jackie’s Bag.

 Jackie’s Bag.

By the time Jackie McLean began work on his fourth album for Blue Note Records, a number of tracks he had previously recorded had yet to be recorded. This included three Jackie McLean compositions recorded at the original Van Gelder Studio on January the ’18th’ 1959. They were recorded by a quintet that included drummer Philly Joe Jones, bassist Paul Chambers, pianist Sonny Clark and trumpeter Donald Byrd. However, the three tracks weren’t  enough for an album so Jackie McLean returned to the studio.

On the ‘1st’ of September 1960, led a sextet that included drummer Art Taylor, bassist Paul Chambers, pianist Kenny Drew, trumpeter Blue Mitchell and tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks. They recorded two Jackie McLean compositions and Tina Brooks’ Isle Of Java. As usual, Alfred Lion took charge of production of the tracks that completed Jackie’s Bag.

Blue Note Records scheduled the release of Jackie’s Bag in June 1961. When critics heard the album they didn’t think it was Jackie McLean’s most innovative album. It was an album of two sides. 

The strongest material came from the second session, and the addition of Tina Brooks was a masterstroke. He proved to be the perfect foil for Jackie McLean, and the interplay between the pair is among the highlights of the album. It was mostly an album of hard bop but sometimes, Jackie McLean showed his more adventurous side. It was as if he was yearning to break free and try something new.

Bluesnik.

Just seven months after the release of Jackie’s Bag, Jackie McLean returned with his next album   Bluesnik in February 1962. It had been recorded on the ‘6th’ of January 1961.

Jackie McLean headed to the Van Gelder Studio to record with his quintet. It featured drummer Pete La Roca, bassist Doug Watkins, pianist Kenny Drew and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. They recorded six compositions that became Bluesnik, including three by Jackie McLean.

Bluesnik was released in February 1962 and was hailed not just as Jackie McLean’s most accessible album for Blue Note Records but his strongest. He blew hard on Bluesnik which was an album that swings thanks to the all-star rhythm section. The band blazes their way through Bluesnik which is mostly an album of hard bop and blues. Sometimes becomes more adventurous as Jackie McLean experiments on Bluesnik. This he continued to do on his next album A Fickle Sonance.

A Fickle Sonance.

Nine months after he recorded Bluesnik, Jackie McLean returned to the Van Gelder Studio on October the ‘26th’ 1961 to record what became a A Fickle Sonance. That day he led a talented and versatile quintet which featured some familiar faces as well as a newcomer. 

Joining Jackie McLean was a new rhythm section of drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Butch Warren. They were joined by pianist Sonny Clark. Another newcomer was trumpeter Tommy Turrentine. The band wrote or cowrote four of the six compositions on A Fickle Sonance.

Jackie McLean had written two new compositions, Subdued and A Fickle Sonance. Sonny Clark penned Sundu, Tommy Turrentine contributed Enitnerrut and Butch Warren wrote Lost which closed the album. However, Sonny Clark arrived at the sessions with an exciting find.

He had been at Thelonious Monk’s house when it’s claimed he discovered the lead sheet to Two Timer. Sonny Clark finished the composition which he renamed Five Will Get You Ten. It was credited to Thelonious Monk and Sonny Clark and would open the album.

Just like his previous albums, Rudy Van Gelder was the engineer and Alfred Lion produced A Fickle Sonance. The session lasted just the one day, and thirteen months later A Fickle Sonance was released by Blue Note Records.

On its release in November 1962, most critics welcomed and were won over by A Fickle Sonance. It was Jackie McLean doing what he did best, playing hard bop. This was something he had been doing since he released his debut album. However, Jackie McLean was determined to take hard bop in a new direction on A Fickle Sonance. 

Just like on Bluesnik, Jackie McLean’s playing had a swinging, bluesy style and he played with speed, and power. However, this time around, Jackie McLean was accompanied by what was essentially a new band. 

They were the perfect foil for him and he seemed to be reinvigorated. His playing was imaginative and inventive as he showcased his unique sound. It was raw, emotive and piercing almost shrill. Although he had honed a bluesy style, sometimes gospel-tinged was the best way to describe Jackie McLean’s style on A Fickle Sonance. However, the best way to describe him is versatile.

Five Will Get You Ten opens A Fickle Sonance. Straight away Jackie McLean’s alto saxophone has that shrill sound as it swings and quivers. He plays with speed and power and the band match him every step of the way. When the solos come around his playing is aggressive and edgy, while Tommy Turrentine and Sonny Clark’s are much more laid back. Meanwhile, Billy Higgins’ drums add energy and are like a musical spark plug that propels the arrangement along. Although everyone plays their part in the sound and success of the track, it’s bandleader Jackie McLean who steals the show.

The tempo drops on the ballad Subdued, where Jackie McLean’s alto saxophone takes centrestage. He plays within himself and shows restraint. His playing is expressive, emotive and takes on a ruminative sound. It allows the listener to reflect and during this beautiful Subdued composition that shows another side to Jackie McLean.

 As Sundu unfolds, the piano answers the horns’ call. Then when it’s time for Jackie McLean’s solo its simple, unfussy and in a bluesy. Sonny Clark’s piano solo is also bluesy and his finger fly across the keyboard as he plays one of his best solos on this memorable blues.

Dissonant describes the introduction to A Fickle Sonance. This is akin to a curveball because soon, it’s all change as the band moves through the gears into a quick swing. They keep things tight, especially during the main melodic statement. Later, the modal changes result in some of the finest solos on the album. Sonny Clark once again plays a starring role and latterly plays with an inventiveness and power that inspires the rest of quintet to greater heights.  

Tommy Turrentine wrote the funky, minor themed Enitnerrut. It features some of the best soloing on  A Fickle Sonance from every member of the band. The rest of this truly talented  quintet enjoy the opportunity to shine and their fifteen minutes of fame. 

Butch Warren’s Lost closes A Fickle Sonance and is similar to Enitnerrut. It veers between a Latin feel to a swaggering swing. At one point, Butch Warren unleashes a solo and showcases his considerable skills on what’s the perfect way to close the album.

By the time Jackie McLean rebased A Fickle Sonance he had spent a decade forging his own unique sound. Critics and jazz fans recognised Jackie McLean’s alto saxophone whether he was bandleader or sideman. He was by 1962, one of the hardest working musicians signed to Blue Note Records.

He became a professional musician eleven years earlier, and was enjoying the most successful period of his career. He had signed to Blue Note Records in 1959, and three years later, A Fickle Sonance was the sixth album that Jackie McLean had released. It was also one of the best and just like his previous album Bluesnik it was one of his most accessible.

By 1962, Jackie McLean was trying to rebuild his life after a number of years when he was addicted to heroin. It looked as if he was about to follow in the footsteps of his mentor Charlie Parker and waste his talent. However, three years after the death of Bird, Jackie McLean received a wake up call.

He was found guilty of narcotics charges and sentenced to an eleven month jail sentence on the infamous Rikers Island. He spent most of 1958 in prison and only played on two albums that year. 

Four years later, he was still making up for lost time and rebuilding a career that promised so much. He was a prolific musician who spent much of his time in the studio working as a sideman and recording six solo albums. This includes A Fickle Sonance it marked the end of a chapter in his career. He was about to embrace avant-garde and free jazz from his next album. This move would divide the opinion of critics who either preferred his old sound, or his modernist music.

Of the first six albums that Jackie McLean recorded for Blue Note Records, Capuchin Swing, Bluesnik and A Fickle Sonance feature the maverick alto saxophonist at his very best as he rebuilt his career. Recently, A Fickle Sonance was reissued by Blue Note Records on vinyl and ths is an opportunity to discover or rediscover the delights of the album that marked the end of an era for Jackie McLean.

Jackie McLean-A Fickle Sonance.

INSTRUMENTAL GEMS VOL. 1: SPANISH FUNK AND GROOVE 1974/1977.

Instrumental Gems Vol. 1: Spanish Funk and Groove 1974/1977.

Label: Adarce Records.

During the seventies, many Spanish musicians found themselves struggling to make ends meet. Times were tough, especially for up-and-coming musicians. Some of them had dreamt of becoming a professional musician since the first started to play the guitar, bass or drums. Eventually, after years of practise, dedication and hard work they some able to fulfil their lifetimes ambition and become a professional musician. It was what they had worked towards and dreamt about for as long as they could remember. 

The young musicians had grown up dreaming of being in a successful pop or rock band, who recorded ambitious and innovative albums. This would lead to them touring the world and finding fame and fortune. Sadly, it hadn’t turned out like that, and they weren’t about to record the Spanish equivalent of Dark Side Of The Moon. 

Some of the musicians ended up joining the many dance bands and orchestras that had sprung up across Spain. While it wasn’t they had hoped for, they were about to make a living doing what they loved, making music.

This they hoped was one step nearer the fame and fortune they had dreamt about. However, as they looked enviously at the new bands who were making a breakthrough in Britain and America, they realised how different things were in Spain.

The music the dance bands and orchestras were playing was very different. When they played live their sets featured Bossa Nova, easy listening, lounge music and soul as well as the light music that was popular at that time. This included rhythm ’n’ blues-pasodoble and Spanish soul. It was a case of playing music that people knew. That was why they covered popular Spanish songs and the current international hit singles. However, not many of the dance bands and orchestras ever entered the recording studio.

When dance bands and orchestras entered the studio some recorded cover versions. It was a case of recording music that was familiar, which they hoped would appeal to record buyers. This they often augmented with their own compositions when they recorded their album.

Sometimes, the orchestra changed their names for the recording sessions. This was often an attempt to sound modern. Other times it was purely for commercial purposes. They weren’t alone.

At the same time, many artists who entered the studio were using nicknames. They also recorded albums that include cover versions and new material, and along with the dance bands and orchestras were part of a new scene that was soon blossoming.

Especially in Aragon and Catalonia where new labels were founded, often to release and promote the albums the artists and orchestras were releasing. However, these small, independent regions labels didn’t release huge amounts of music. Within their back-catalogues are a number of hidden gems which, over forty years later, have become particularly sought after. 

Especially some of the oft-overlooked instrumentals with were released during the mid to late seventies. They’re already firm favourites of a number of DJs and collectors of disco, funk, rare groove and soul. However, they’re sure to appeal to a wider audience which is why Adarce Records have compiled two volumes of instrumentals. The first is  Instrumental Gems Vol. 1: Spanish Funk and Groove 1974/1977 which is a limited edition of 500.

Instrumental Gems Vol. 1: Spanish Funk and Groove 1974/1977 features fourteen tracks from Gregorio García Segura, Los Brandis Con María Nevada, Lin Barto, Blas and His Friends, Jorge Enrique, Roberto Serrano, Rafael Martínez, Orquesta A. Latorre, Orquesta Miramar, Conjunto Nueva Onda, Ramón Gil, Mesie Bató, Red-Key and Unidades. They’re responsible for some of the rarest instrumental tracks that feature the early Spanish funk and groove sounds. These tracks were released by small regional Spanish labels. 

Side A.

Opening side A is Gregorio Garcia Segura’s cinematic funk epic Harlem Pop, which was released by Beverley Records in 1976. 

Los Brandis Con Maria Nevada’s Life’s Song was released by BOA in 1974. It’s a dancefloor friendly slice of Spanish groove which showcases some truly talented musicians. 

Magnetic released Sax Pop in 1976, and finds Lin Barto fusing funk, pop and easy listening on this hidden gem. 

The DMB label released Blas and His Friends’ Supermarket in 1974. It’s a dramatic filmic sounding track that brings to marries the music of the late-sixties and early-seventies to create a track from a lost soundtrack.

Jorge Enrique is responsible for one Go Go a driving slice of filmic funk released by BOA in 1976. It’s one of the compilations highlights.

Although Roberto Serrano’s Retorno was released by the Audio label in 1976, it sounds as if it has been influenced by sixties soul jazz. A churning, swirling Hammond organ plays a starring role in the sound and success of the track.

Moody, atmospheric, cinematic and describes Rafael Martinez’s Funny Comic which was released by BOA in 1975.

Side B. 

Orquesta A Latorre’s genre-melting Hotel Don Felipe was released by BCD in 1975. Elements of groove, soul jazz and funk have been thrown into the musical melting pot and left to simmer. 

Orquesta Miramar’s Pop Song was released by DMB in 1975. Horns are to the fore for much of the track although the rhythm section play a supporting role. It’s a quite beautiful track and a real find that showcases the considerable talents of Orquesta Miramar.

Conjunto Nueva Onda’s A Su Aire was released by the Magnetic label in 1976. It’s another track where horns are to the fore as the track swings and conjures up images of Spain in the seventies.

BOA released Ramon Gil’s Mercurio forty-five years ago in 1975. He fuses elements of rock, funk  and jazz to create a timeless dancefloor friendly track. 

Mesie Bato’s Violeta was released by Audio in 1975, and combines funk and jazz with bursts of drama to create a joyous, dramatic  and memorable sounding track

Another track released by Audio was Red-Key’s Morning. They combine elements of funk, fusion and jazz to create a futuristic and innovative sounding track. It’s one of the compilation’s highlioghts. that’s one of the comp 

In 1976, the Zarton label released Unidades’ Caballo Salvaj. It’s a melodic and memorable hidden gem that is the perfect way to close Instrumental Gems Vol. 1: Spanish Funk and Groove 1974/1977.

The tracks on Instrumental Gems Vol. 1: Spanish Funk and Groove 1974/1977 are already favourites of a number of DJs and record collectors who manage to unearth these fourteen hidden gems. That would be almost impossible to do nowadays as these tracks are rarities. They were released in small quantities by regional record labels and very few copies will have survived since the seventies. 

There is another way and that’s to pickup a copy of Instrumental Gems Vol. 1: Spanish Funk and Groove 1974/1977 which is a lovingly created compilation. Adarce Records have dug deep into the vaults of several  small Spanish labels in search of musical treasure and have struck gold. Proof of that is Instrumental Gems Vol. 1: Spanish Funk and Groove 1974/1977.

Instrumental Gems Vol. 1: Spanish Funk and Groove 1974/1977.

CULT CLASSIC: THE SEEDS-FUTURE.

Cult Classic: The Seeds-Future.

For any band with what might be described as a “generous” recording budget, the temptation to experiment and push musical boundaries must be tantalizing. Especially back in 1967, at the dawn of the psychedelic era. For The Seeds, resisting temptation was impossible. The Seeds can’t be criticised for this.

They had spent the two previous years working tirelessly to build a reputation as an innovative band who pushed musical boundaries and had released albums of eclectic  and esoteric music. This describes A Web Of Sound and The Seeds, which featured Pushin’ Too Hard, the biggest single of their career. After this success, The Seeds decided to push musical boundaries to their limits for their third album Future. 

Future didn’t see The Seeds push musical boundaries to their limits. Instead they blew these limits away. The result was a mind-blowing fusion of psychedelia, garage, rock and pop. Veering towards jazz and soul, eclectic doesn’t even come close to describing Future. This was a long way from The Seeds roots as a garage band. This was very different. Maybe too different. Since 1967, when Future was released, it’s perceived as a cult classic and an album that was ahead of its time.

By 1967, the four members of The Seeds, Sly Saxon, Daryl Hooper, Jon Savage and Rick Andridge were enjoying the fruits of their musical labors. They’d enjoyed two hit singles, Pushin’ Too Hard and Can’t Seem To Make You Mine. This brought commercial, critical acclaim and a much higher profile. It also afforded The Seeds the opportunity to push musical boundaries further. 

No longer were The Seeds a garage band. That was in the past. Music was changing and so were The Seeds. The Beatles’ psychedelic masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band was the way music was heading. It was unique, a musical one-off. No other band could replicate Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. They could be inspired directly or indirectly. After all, it had worked its way into music fan’s subconscious. That would be the case with Future.

Just like the two previous Seeds albums, the eleven tracks were written by the band. The Seeds leader, Sly Saxon, was at the heart of Future, playing his part in each track. He wrote four tracks, Painted Doll, Flower Lady and Her Assistant, Two Fingers Pointing At You and Six Dreams and penned Out Of The Question with Russ Serpent collaborating. Sly and Daryl Hooper proved a potent songwriting partnership. They penned Intro/March Of The Flower Children and Fallin,’ They pair also cowrote Travel With Your Mind, Now A Man and A Thousand Shadows with Jon Savage. With more than enough material, and a more generous budget than previous albums, The Seeds headed into the Future.

Work on what became Future first started on 3rd November 1966. The first track recorded was Travel With Your Mind. Guitarist Sky Saxon was absent for laying down the rhythm tracks. Only three Seeds were present. They were drummer Rick Andridge, guitarist Jon Savage and keyboardist Daryl Hooper. Playing bass Harvey Sharpe. Later, Hammond organ, tremolo guitar and cymbals were overdubbed. Then a reverberating bass, Sky’s vocal and tambourine were overdubbed. At last Travel With Your Mind was recorded. Now The Seeds headed out on tour.

16th January 1967. The first track they recorded was March Of The Flower Children. On what was day one of recording, The Seeds were experimenting. They were joined by trumpeters Ray Caton and Oliver Mitchell. Thinking on their feet, The Seeds experimented. Sixteen takes later, and having incorporated a myriad of studio trickery, on what was essentially basic studio equipment, The Seeds had a take. Now they went on tour. 

After nearly two weeks on tour around Northern California, The Seeds returned to Gold Star Studios. Again, recording was an involved process. Numerous takes and an eclectic selection of instruments were used to record what became The Flower Lady and Her Assistant and Rides Too Long. Two more songs in the bag, that was the only recording session until 3rd February. Slow progress describes the recording of Future.

That proved to be the case. The recording sessions on 3rd February proved to be fruitful. They worked on Rides Too Long, Sad and Alone and Flower Lady. Even better, a new song, Two Fingers Pointing At You was recorded. Demonstrating the experimental and eclectic nature of what became Future, a harpsichord and maracas were brought in. This was the start of a pattern that would emerge.

Recording stretched into March, April and May. Numerous session musicians were brought in to play on Future. This included Beach Boys’ drummer Hal Blaine, a string section, tuba player George Callendar, harpist Gayle Levant and multi-instrumentalist Tjay Cantrelli, who played flute, vibes, clarinet, woodwind and harmonica. Even an unknown tabla player came and went like a ghost. For anyone who happened to be around the studio, watching Future unfold must have been tantalising. Eventually, recording was over. The Seeds had more music than enough music for Future.  Having whittled Future down to eleven tracks, Future was released during the second half of 1967.

Before the release of Future, A Thousand Shadows was released as a single. It stalled at just number seventy-two in the US Billboard 100. Future didn’t do any better. It stalled at just eighty-seven in the US Billboard 200. While Future hadn’t been a huge commercial success, it proved to be a minor classic. It’s best described as a mind-blowing, genre-sprawling, slice of sunshine-psychedelia. Quite simply, what I’m about to tell you about is a musical tour de force of trippiness. 

Opening The Seeds third album Future is Intro / March Of The Flower Children. Flourishes of harp accompany drawling half-spoken vocal. This understated backdrop gradually fills out. Organ, guitar and a tuba panned hard left are joined by growling horns and piano panned hard right. Whips crack, while the almost surreal, whimsical lyrics aren’t so much sung, but half-spoken. Psychedelia, folk, jazz and pop are rolled into one. Think of excerpts of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit put to song, and you’re getting close.

Searing guitars open Travel With Your Mind which The Seeds dedicated to everyone who was incarcerated in institutions. Quickly, the track combines rock and Eastern music. As two continents music meet head on, Sly’s earnest vocal is enveloped by layers of eclectic, enthralling sounds. Giving the track a particularly trippy sound is the way very different instruments are panned left and right. Mind you, that’s no bad thing. The guitars which are panned right dominate the right half of the mix while tablas, percussion and bongos adds an exotic Eastern influence. Along with what are easily the best lyrics on Future, this is an early contender for the highlight of Future.

Out Of The Question sees is very different from previous track. Here, The Seeds become a hard rocking garage band, while Sly’s vocal is best described as proto-punk. The Seeds haven’t forgotten the psychedelia. There’s still a lysergic influence as towards the end of the track, The Seeds remind me of The Doors. I keep expecting them to launch into: ”break on through to the other side”  from L.A. Woman. Chameleon-like, The Seeds veer almost seamlessly between garage, proto-punk, and rock.

Straight away, you realize Painted Doll is played at the tempo of a waltz. Adding to what’s a compelling nature of the track are sweeping doo-wop harmonies. Meanwhile Sly becomes a fifties crooner. With weeping strings, harpsichord and piano for company, it’s a heartbreaking, melancholy combination. Especially, when Sly delivers a soul-baring vocal. By the end of the track you’re confused and excited at the sheer eclectic nature of the track. I’d describe it as what you’d get if Bing Crosby jumped onboard the Magic Roundabout with Frankie Lymon’s Teenagers. 

Sounding like the soundtrack for a sixties horror film, Flower Lady And Her Assistant unfolds. Soon, it’s all change. It’s psychedelia time. Keyboards, driving rhythm section and tambourine accompany Sly’s strutting, Jagger-esque vocal. As the tempo increases, harmonies sweep in, as the track fuses rock, psychedelia, garage rock and even a twist of folk. Again, there’s more than a hint of The Doors buried in the mix. Having said that, that’s just one of a myriad of influence you encounter.  The lyrics? They’re surreal and lysergic and have a trademark sixties sound. Best described as an eclectic fusion, its charms are hard to resist.

Dramatic. That describes the introduction to Now A Man. Sounding like The Who, a driving rhythm section power The Seeds along. Chiming guitars and chugging bass accompany a preening, boastful, strutting vocal. It comes across as ironic. Whether that was the idea, who knows? If it was, then the lyrics could be seen as a scathing comment on what it takes to become a man. Pop your cherry and suddenly, you become invincible. Even though many critics have criticized the lyrics on Future, this is proof that The Seeds could write a great three-minute pop song.

Haunting, moody and dramatic. That’s what A Thousand Shadows sounds like before it explodes into life. It’s another fusion of musical genres and influences. Everything from folk, psychedelia, rock and jazz are rolled into one. As the rhythm section drive the galloping arrangement along, a chiming guitar replies to Sly’s gnarled, dramatic vocal. Two minutes later, A Thozacateusand Shadow have set. One of Future’s most dramatic and evocative tracks is over all too quickly.

Searing Hendrix guitars, shakers and harpsichord join a broody bass as Two Fingers Pointing On You unfolds. Like so many tracks, it’s a melting pot of influences, instruments and surprises. By now, you’ve realized don’t second guess The Seeds. It’s like climbing onboard a psychedelic roundabout. Tubas, organ, thunderous drums and jangly pianos assault your senses. They’re all in the mix. Sly struts and snarls, while cascading harmonies add to this mind-altering, gene-sprawling opus. 

It’s all change again on Where is the Entrance Way to Play. Sly scats as harmonies accompany him. Soon stabs of keyboards, harpsichord and woodwind join The Seeds rhythm section. Sly’s vocal is languid drawl, while the arrangement is bristling with energy and electricity. Proof of this is the piano, which is pounded. The keys are punished. It’s worth it though, as this fusion of folk, psychedelia and rock reaches a dramatic crescendo.

When rolls of thunder give way to floods and thunderstorms at the start of Six Dreams, I’m fully expecting the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse to arrive at my door. Dramatic, broody and moody describes the arrangement, while Sly dawns a disguise. It fits the bleak backdrop. His vocal is reminiscent of Jethro Tull and a whole host of prog rock bands. Veering between broody, moody, haunting and disturbing, by the end of the track I’m hiding behind the sofa, fearing the arrival of either the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse or the rapture. That’s how evocative a track this is. Indeed, it’s a demonstration of The Seeds versatility and creativity. 

Closing Future, is Fallin,’ a near eight-minute epic. It picks up on the drama of Six Dreams. Flourishes of harpsichord, pizacato strings and the rhythm section join forces. Sly’s vocal is a dramatic, snarl as the frenzied track unfolds at breakneck speed. Again the piano is punished, before theatrical sound-effects sweep in. Later, fuzzy guitars, washes of Hammond organ, rolls and fills of drums join feedback. Briefly, Sly’s vocal is akin to primal scream therapy. Fast and furiously, the track unravels. Curveballs and surprises flit in and out. Brief bursts of harmonica, further flourishes of harpsichord and a cacophony of spirited harmonies and shrieks combine. By now, it’s like a freeform jam session. Everyone does their own thing. Remarkably, it all makes sense. As the track ends, The Seeds are nearly spent, exhausted at the effort expended in this grande finale.

Describing The Seeds’ third album Future as eclectic is an understatement. It draws inspiration from disparate musical genres and influences. Everything from rock, garage rock, psychedelia, folk, jazz, doo-wop, free jazz, proto-punk and even prog rock, before the genre was invented. With every listen, further surprises and subtleties reveal their hidden secrets. Rather than seamlessly flowing from one genre-specific track to another, Future is like a musical chameleon. Every track is like a surprise, with hidden depths. Bravely, The Seeds even change tempo. 4/4 isn’t enough, a 3/4 waltz beat is introduced. Similarly, a diverse selection of instruments are deployed. Joining The Seeds rhythm section and keyboards, are a string section, woodwind, tuba, harp, harmonica, clarinet, percussion, piano and Hammond organ. Then there’s tablas. Indian instruments are used extensively on Future.

Indian music and instruments are used throughout Future. That’s not unusual. What The Beatles did, everyone copied. That’s including their psychedelic masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Future is no Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Granted Future is a fusion of influences, including psychedelia, but it lacks the polish of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Considering The Seeds started life as a garage band, that’s no surprise. It would be easier to say that The Seeds were influenced by Frank Zappa, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, even the nascent Doors, The Who and the British invasion bands. After all, there’s more than a healthy twist of flower power combined with The Seeds psychedelia.  Listen again, and other influences reveal themselves. There’s jazz and doo-wop which less than a decade earlier, was popular musical genre. 

Future is a genre-defying album and defies definition. Magpie-like, The Seeds seem to collect musical genres and influences, put them into their lysergic melting pot and sprinkle some secret ingredients. What comes out of The Seeds melting pot was Future, the aural equivalent of lysergic acid. Under appreciated upon its release, that’s no longer the case as Future is a mind-blowing, boundary breaking and genre-defying cult classic whereThe Seeds tear up the rule book and rewrite it.

Cult Classic: The Seeds-Future.

PACIFIC BREEZE 2: JAPANESE CITY POP AOR AND BOOGIE 1972-1986.

Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986.

Label: Light In The Attic Records.

Release Date: ‘15th’ of May 2020.

In May 2019, Seattle-based Light In The Attic Records released Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR and Boogie 1976-1986 to widespread critical acclaim. This lovingly curated compilation was what many music fans had been waiting for. 

Many of the tracks on the compilation were rarities that were impossible to find outside of Japan. Even many record dealers in America and Europe struggled to lay their hands on the these rarities. To buy the individual tracks on Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR and Boogie 1976-1986 would prove prohibitively expensive and mostly likely impossible to find.

That was unless you knew record dealers who specialised in the type of music Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR and Boogie 1976-1986. Even then you’ll need deep pockets as these are rarities that change hands for large sums of money. It would be an expensive exercise and in reality one that would be impossible to accomplish.

The only people who might be able to find the tracks on the compilation were record buyers who regularly travelled to Japan. They could spend their spare time searching record shops for the rarities on the compilation. They may strike it lucky and find a couple of the tracks on the compilation. It would be a long shot, and most likely prove a fruitless and frustrating search.

The disappointed and frustrated record collector will end up wishing they had saved themselves a lot of heartache and bought a copy of Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR and Boogie 1976-1986. They won’t make that mistake again, and will have preordered their copy of  Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986 which is out on Light In The Attic Records on the ‘15th’ May 2020 on CD and LP. Just like the first instalment in the series it features tracks from familiar faces as well as hidden gems and rarities.

There’s a total of sixteen tracks on Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986. This includes contributions from Bread and Butter, Eiichi Ohtaki, The Mystery Kindaichi Band, Anri, Tomoko Aran, Sadistics, Piper, Eri Ohno, Kyoko Furuya and Yuji Toriyama.

Bread and Butter released their debut album Moonlight  in 1972. Two years later, they released their third album Barbecue which saw the pop duo make a breakthrough. The album featured Pink Shadow, which is an irresistible slice of proto-city pop funk. It’s the perfect way to open Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986, and sets the bar high for the rest of the compilation.

Nowadays, Eiichi Ohtaki, who passed away on the ‘30th’ December 2013 is regarded as one of the most talented singer-songwriters of his generation. When he began recording his 1972 eponymous debut album he was still a member of the Japanese language rock band Happy End. They joined Eiichi Ohtaki in the studio and feature on many of the songs on his album. This includes the sultry, soulful and funky Yubikiri which was one of the album’s highlights. 

In 1970, Kimiko Kasai released her debut album Just Friends on London Records. By then, she was twenty-five and previously, had been the singer in several jazz bands. This she continued to do over the next few years, collaborating with Gil Evans, Cedar Walton and Oliver Nelson in 1974. Three years later, Kimiko Kasai released her album Tokyo Special which featured Vibration (Love Celebration). It’s a sensual sounding track where her band combine jazz and soul on what’s one of the highlights of the compilation. 

The Mystery Kindaichi Band was a studio band who recorded an album that was inspired by the Detective Kindaichi Kosuke book series. It was released in 1977 and featured Kindaichi Kosuke No Theme which combines seventies disco orchestras with funk, a breathy vocal and blistering, searing rocky guitar. This hidden gem is welcome addition to the compilation and a tantalising taste of The Mystery Kindaichi Band’s 1977 album. 

Anri was only seventeen, when she released her debut single So Long, in Los Angeles in 1982. Four years later, Anri released her fourth album Last Summer Whisper on For Life Records. It features the beautiful ballad Last Summer Whisper, which showcases a talented singer-songwriter whose enjoyed a long and successful career

When Tomoko Aran released her third album Fuyü-Kükan in 1983, it featured I’m In Love. It features a tender vocal delivered against an arrangement which combines eighties new wave, city pop and even a hint of funk.

In 1977, the Sadistics released their eponymous debut album on the Invitation label. One of the album’s highlights was the memorable hidden gem Tokyo Taste, which marries elements of fusion, experimental and pop.

After releasing their debut album I’m Not In Love in 1981, Piper returned in 1984 with their long-awaited sophomore album Summer Breeze. It featured Hot Sand, where Piper combine boogie, funk, city pop and rock to create a truly memorable track that has stood the test of time.

Rainy Saturday Coffee Break is track from Junko Ohashi and Minoya Central Station 1977 sophomore album. It’s a slick, soulful and jazz-tinged ballad with a hint of proto-boogie and rock in the carefully crafted genre-melting arrangement.

Closing Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986 is Yuji Toriyama’s Bay/Sky Provincetown 1977. It’s a quite beautiful, atmospheric and mesmeric track from their 1985 album Taste Of Paradise that combines electro and fusion.

Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986 picks up where the first instalment in the series left off and is another lovingly curated compilation  of quality music from Light In The Attic Records. Just like its predecessor, it’s there’s no filler on what’s a truly eclectic compilation. There’s elements of AOR, boogie, city pop, disco, electro, experimental music, jazz, funk, fusion, new wave, pop, rock and synth pop on the sixteen tracks on Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986. 

There’s many rarities and hidden gems on Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986 and after hearing  these tracks, you’ll want to hear more from the artists involved. Hopefully, we’ll hear more from these artists in the future, and Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986 is just the latest instalment in what will be a long-running series.

Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986.

CULT CLASSIC: LITTLE RICHARD-THE SECOND COMING.

Cult Classic: Little Richard-The Second Coming.

Little Richard, who passed away on the ‘9th’ of May 2020 aged eighty-seven, was a flamboyant showman, a strutting, preening peacock and musical pioneer, whose career was transformed when he released Tutti Frutti as a single in October 1955. It reached number two on the US R&B charts, sold two million copies and in the process, launched  Little Richard’s career

Up until then, the twenty-two year old was a journeyman singer who for four years had struggled to make a breakthrough. After spells at RCA Victor and Peacock, Little Richard signed to Speciality where he met Bumps Blackwell who produced Tutti Frutti and played an important part in the rise of Little Richard.

Bumps Blackwell produced Long Tall Sally which was released in March 1956 as the followup to Tutti Frutti. It topped the US R&B charts and outsold Tutti Frutti. After this, the hits kept on coming.

This included Rip It Up, The Girl Can’t Help It, Lucille and Keep-A-Knockin’ which was released in August 1957 and reached number eight in the US Billboard 100 and two in the US R&B charts. Little Richard it seemed could do no wrong.

In October 1957, Little Richard flew to Australia with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran to take part in a package tour. It would prove to be one that changed his career. 

On an internal flight from Melbourne to Sydney, the plane that Little Richard was travelling on started experiencing some technical difficulties. Later, when he wrote his autobiography he told how he saw the plane’s red hot engines and felt that angels were “holding it up.” Little Richard was “deeply shaken” by the incident, and thought this was a “sign from God” to stop performing secular music and leave behind the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle he had been enjoying. Despite his management explaining him he had witnessed the Sputnik satellite returning to Earth, that night, at the end of the concert in Sydney announced he was going to follow a life in the ministry. 

Little Richard travelled home ten days earlier than had been expected, and discovered that that a plane he had been due travel to Australia on had crashed into the Pacific Ocean. This he took as another sign to “do as God wanted.”

Before he embarked upon his ministry, Little Richard made what was his “farewell performance” at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. There was then a “final” recording session with Specialty Records later that month, and then the original wild man of rock ‘ n’ roll enrolled at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, to study theology. His fans were confused at what had happened.

As was often the case with Little Richards, things weren’t always as seemed. Little Richard later admitted that his reasons for leaving Speciality Records were financial. He wasn’t aware that the label had cut the percentage of royalties he was to earn for his recordings. Despite that, he continued to release singles on Speciality Records until 1960.

This included Good Golly Miss Molly which was released in January 1958 and reached number ten in the US Billboard 100 and four in the US R&B charts. Despite turning his back on secular music, Little Richard was still one of the most successful  musicians of his generation. 

That changed in early 1958 he released his sophomore album Little Richard which failed to trouble the charts. This must have come as a shock to one of the most successful men in music.

During the rest of his time signed to Speciality Records success eluded Little Richards. The singles he had recorded during the “final” recording session failed to find an audience. No longer was Little Richard one of the biggest names in rock ’n’ roll.By 1960, Little Richard’s time at Speciality Records was over.

Things didn’t get any better for Little Richard during the sixties. He signed Mercury after leaving Speciality Records and after that, bounced between labels enjoying largely unsuccessful spells at Coral, Atlantic, Little Star, Vee-Jay, Modern, Okeh and Brunswick. It was a tough time for Little Richard who took break from recording in 1967.

After a three years absence, Little Richard hit the comeback trail on the 11th March 1970. That was when he began work on his new album The Rill Thing. This would be the first album the thirty-five year old rock ’n’ roller had released since Little Richard’s Greatest Hits: Recorded Live! in July 1967. 

It was his second and final album for Okeh. Ironically, Little Richard’s Greatest Hits: Recorded Live! was his first album to chart in ten years. The album reached 184 in the US Billboard 200 and twenty-eight in the US R&B charts. However, this was a far cry from Little Richard’s debut album.

Here’s Little Richard was released in March 1957, on Speciality, and reached thirteen on the US Billboard 200. Since then, album after album failed to chart.

By the time Little Richard’s Greatest Hits: Recorded Live! was released in July 1967, music had changed beyond recognition. Despite this, Little Richard hadn’t changed. Some critics thought he was a relic of music’s past, and of little relevance to modern music. Given how important a part Little Richard had played in the birth of rock ’n’ roll, this must have been hard to take. Some saw it as tough love. After all, the psychedelic era was in full swing, and still, Little Richard kept playing the same songs he had played five and ten years previously. Something had to give. 

What nobody expected was for three years to pass without a new Little Richard album. That’s what happened. However, maybe that’s no surprise.

By the mid-sixties, tongues were wagging about Little Richard There were allegations that he was drinking and smoking heavily. This was just the latest indiscretion in a controversial life. 

Little Richard’s had been arrested in 1962 for an act of voyeurism in Long Beach, California. This wasn’t the first time he had been arrested for a similar offence. The first time was when he was in his early twenties. That was before he became a he found fame and fortune as a rock ’n’ roll singer. His latest arrest must have caused untold damage to his reputation. 

Especially in America’s bible belt, where Little Richard would’ve hoped to sell copies of his new gospel album The King Of The Gospel Singers. It was released in March 1962, and was his third gospel album. The King Of The Gospel Singers proved to be Little Richard’s dalliance with gospel for some time. Little Richard returned to singing what had been called the devil’s music, rock ’n’ roll. 

That was the case until 1967. However, Little Richard was out of luck, and after his contract with Okeh expired, didn’t record and release an album for three years. Little Richard’s comeback album was The Rill Thing, which was released on Reprise in August 1970.

The Rill Thing.

Three years after recording Little Richard’s Greatest Hits: Recorded Live!, Little Richard began work on his comeback album. He had signed to Reprise Records, and they decided to send Little Richard to Rick Hall’s Fame Studios, in Muscle Shoals. 

Strangely, Little Richard had decided not hire Rick Hall to produce his comeback album. This seemed a strange move. After all, if anyone could get Little Richard’s career back on track, it was Rick Hall. He had worked with some of the biggest names in music, and had rejuvenated and transformed careers. However, Little Richard was confident in his own abilities, and was going to arrange and produce his comeback album, The Rill Thing. It was an album of cover versions and songs from the pen of Little Richard.

Nine songs had been chosen for what became The Rill Thing. Little Richard had written Somebody Saw You and Rill Thing, using his real name Richard Wayne Penniman. He also wrote Freedom Blues with Esquerita. The pair then penned Dew Drop Inn with Keith Winslow. Spreadin’ Natta, What’s The Matter? was the final song Little Richard cowrote, this time, with Robert “Bumps” Blackwell and Maybelle Jackson. These Little Richard compositions were joined by four cover versions.

This included Hank Williams’ Lovesick Blues and Lennon and McCartney’s I Saw Her Standing There. They joined Larry Lee’s Two-Time Loser and Travis Wammack and Albert Lowe Jr’s Greenwood, Mississippi. These songs, and the rest of the album, would be recorded in Fame Studios.

When recording began at Fame Studios, Little Richard accompanied himself on piano on Freedom Blues, Dew Drop Inn and Rill Thing. Then for the rest of The Rill Thing, the band joined him. They accompanied Little Richard who not only played piano and added vocals, but took charge of arranging and production. After nearly three months of recording, Little Richard and his band completed The Rill Thing on the 2nd of June 1970. Now his comeback could begin in earnest.

With Little Richard having recorded The Rill Thing, Reprise Records scheduled the release of the album for August 1970. This left just two months to promote Little Richard’s comeback album.

By then, Freedom Blues had been released as a single in April 1970. It reached number forty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and twenty-eight in the US R&B charts. This made Freedom Blues  Little Richard’s most successful single for twelve years. Critics and record buyers awaited the release of Little Richard’s comeback album with interest.

The only albums that had been released while Little Richard had been away, were repackaged compilations of songs. What critics, and indeed record buyers wanted, was a new album from Little Richard. Especially if it offered something new. The Rill Thing certainly did.

On The Rill Thing, Little Richard’s music heads in a new direction, swamp rock. With this multitalented band for company, Little Richard set about reinventing himself. To do this, they combine elements of blues, funk, jazz, R&B and rock. The result was a much more contemporary sounding album. This was what he should’ve done years ago. It was a case of better late than never.

Critics and record buyers who had longed for Little Richard to reinvent himself were richly rewarded. The music was full of energy and excitement, and was a reminder why Little Richard was once vied for the title of The King Of Rock ’N’ Roll. With a multitalented band for company, Little Richard had recorded his best album in many a long year. Many critics thought this was a new beginning for Little Richard?

Despite the positive reviews, when The Rill Thing was released in August 1970, it failed to chart. That’s despite selling over 200,00 copies. However, Little Richard enjoyed a minor hit single.

When Greenwood, Mississippi was released, it stalled at just number eighty-five in the US Billboard 100 in 1970. However, with an album that sold over 200,000 copies and two hit singles, The Rill Thing had launched Little Richard’s comeback. Now he had to build upon The Rill Thing. Maybe, The Rill Thing was the Second Coming Of The King Of Rock ’N’ Roll?

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The King Of Rock ’N’ Roll.

After Little Richard’s comeback album, The Rill Thing, the man who once vied for the title The King Of Rock ’N’ Roll, began to think about the followup. Surely, Little Richard would make the return journey to Fame Studios, and hookup with the same band?

He didn’t. Instead, Little Richard hooked up with producer H. B. Barnum, to record what was an eclectic album. Despite selling 200,000 copies of The Rill Thing, Little Richard turned his back on swamp rock. This was a disappointment for his fans who liked the swamp rock sound of The Rill Thing. However, this wasn’t the only change Little Richard made.

Whereas he wrote much of The Rill Thing, Little Richard only wrote In The Name and arranged the traditional song Midnight Special. These songs were joined by nine cover versions.

Among them, were two which producer H. B. Barnum cowrote. He penned King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll with Bradford Craig and Green Power with John Anderson. They were joined by Hoyt Axton’s Joy To The World; Keith Richards and Mick Jagger’s Brown Sugar; Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry; Ed G. Nelson and Fred Rose’s Settin’ The Woods On Fire and John Fogerty’s Born On The Bayou. The other two songs came from the Motown songbook, including Marvin Gaye and William “Mickey” Stevenson’s Dancing In The Street. It was joined by Robert Rodgers and William “Smokey” Robinson’s The Way You Do the Things You Do. This eclectic collection of songs would become the followup to The Rill Thing.

Recording of The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll began at the Record Plant, Los Angeles, on 25th of May 1971. Little Richard played electric piano and added his vocals. Behind him, the band covered songs by Hank Williams, The Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, Three Dog Night and The Rolling Stones. Many of these songs seemed a strange choice for Little Richard. However, he and producer H. B. Barnum reworked the songs, and sometimes, took them in unexpected directions on a truly eclectic album, The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll.

Despite The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’s eclecticism, not all critics were won over by the album. Reviews were mixed. Some critics liked the album, and felt that Little Richard was on the right road. Other critics, including the ever contrarian Rolling Stone magazine weren’t impressed by The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll. They were the biggest critics of the album. Their criticisms included the way the album had been mixed; the album was under produced; the music was too commercial and Little Richard’s decision to eschew his trusty acoustic piano. However, the times they were a changing, and so was Little Richard. He was determined to return to the album charts.

And so he did. When The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll was released in October 1971, the album sneaked into the US Billboard at 193. That was as good as it got. Neither of the singles, Green Power which was released in October 1971, nor Dancing in the Streets, which was released in December 1971 charted. However, at least The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll had charted. This gave Little Richard something to build on. Maybe Little Richard’s luck was changing?

It wasn’t. Around the time Little Richard recorded The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, it’s thought that he began taking cocaine. This would eventually cost Little Richard $1,000 a day. Before that, Little Richard had another album to record, Second Coming.

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The Second Coming.

By the time Little Richard’s thoughts turned to his new album, his profile was higher than it had been for years. He was a familiar face on American television. Little Richard was also collaborating with a new generation of artists.

Over the last couple of years, Little Richard had recorded Miss Ann with Bonnie and Delaney, for their fourth album To Bonnie From Delaney. It was released in September 1970. Joey Covington of The Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna was keen to record with Little Richard, and the pair cut a Bludgeon Of A Bluecoat (The Man). Alas, the song was never released. Little Richard’s duet with Mylon LeFevre on He’s Not Just A Soldier. It found his way onto his 1972 album Over The Influence. The calls kept coming Little Richard’s way.

He was asked to record But I Try with The James Gang. Just like the song Little Richard cut with Joey Covington, the collaboration with The James Gang was never released. Another group that recorded with Little Richard, were Canned Heat. They recorded Rockin’ With The King in late 1971. Little Richard was busier, than ever, and even recorded two songs for a soundtrack. However, as 1972 dawned, Little Richard’s thoughts turned to his new album.

For his third album for Reprise Records, Little Richard was reunited Robert “Bumps” Blackwell. He wrote song for, and produced Little Richard during the time he was signed to Speciality. These were Little Richard’s glory days, and Robert “Bumps” Blackwell had played an important part in the rise and rise of Little Richard. However, could Robert “Bumps” Blackwell do so again, and lead Little Richard into the promised land of commercial success and critical acclaim?

Unlike The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, Little Richard wrote most of the songs on The Second Coming. This was an apt title, given it was The Second Coming of the Robert “Bumps” Blackwell and Little Richard partnership. Little Richard wrote Mockingbird Sally, The Saints, Prophet of Peace and Sanctified, Satisfied Toe-Tapper. He cowrote Second Line with Robert “Bumps” Blackwell; It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way How You Do It with Pete Kleinman; Rockin’ Rockin’ Boogie with Seabrun Hunter and Thomasine with Maybelle Jackson. The only song Little Richard played no part in, was Nuki Suki with Bill Hemmons wrote. He was part of Little Richard’s band when recording of The Second Coming began.

For the recording of Second Coming, Little Richard and Robert “Bumps” Blackwell who co-produced the album, had put together a band featuring some two generations of top session players. Some were from the fifties, while others would make their name during the seventies. They headed to the Record Plant, Los Angeles, where The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll had been recorded.

When recording began on the 27th March 1972, the rhythm section featured drummer Earl Palmer, bassist Chuck Rainey and guitarists Mike Deasey, George Davis, Adolph Jacobs and David T. Walker. They were joined by Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar, baritone saxophonist Bill Horn and tenor saxophonists Lee Allen and Bill Hemmons. Little Richards played piano, added vocals and lead the band. By the 12th of April 1972, Second Coming was complete. The album had been recorded in just sixteen days. Second Coming was scheduled for release in September 1972.

With Little Richard and Robert “Bumps” Blackwell reuniting for Second Coming, it was an exciting prospect for critics and fans alike. Eventually, critics received their advance copy of Second Coming, and at last were able to decide whether the album was the Second Coming of The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll.

Mockingbird Sally explodes into life, and open Second Coming. It’s powered along by the piano and rhythm section while horns augment, a vampish, powerhouse of a vocal. It’s a reminder of Little Richard’s glory days. Second Line finds Little Richard vamping, while his band combine R&B, funk and jazz. There’s no letup on It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way How You Do It. Again, Little Richard combines power and soul, before he and his band showcase their considerable skills. Seamlessly, two generations of musicians unite. 

It’s a similar case on The Saints. Although it’s credited to Little Richard, the song has been inspired by When The Saints Go Marching In. It’s given a makeover, as jazz, funk and R&B are combined by Little Richard and his tight, talented band. Nuki Suki is a similar to The Saints, and features another musical masterclass by the band. Again, they fuse jazz, funk and R&B as Little Richard, ever the showman vamps his way through this Bill Hemmon composition. Then on Rockin’ Rockin’ Boogie, Little Richard unleashes some boogie woogie piano, and a vocal that’s a mixture of raw power and enthusiasm. He’s always in control though, as he pounds his piano, that drives the arrangement along. Soon though, Little Richard rings the changes.

Prophet Of Peace has a much more contemporary sound. Funky describes the introduction, before Little Richard’s band combine blues and rock. Meanwhile eschews power for a soliloquy, on one of Second Coming’s highlights. On Thomasine, Little Richard’s hurt-filled vocal sits atop the rhythm section and horns. They drive the funky arrangement along, while Little Richard lays bare his hurt for all to hear. Sanctified, Satisfied Toe-Tapper closes Second Coming. and is a truly irresistible track where funk and R&B combine with soul jazz and boogie woogie on this epic jam. It seems Little Richard has kept the best until last. Critics agreed.

The Second Coming won the approval of most critics, and it looked as if the renewal of the Little Richard and Robert “Bumps” Blackwell had worked. Critics were won over by Second Coming, which mixed elements of Little Richard’s old sound with a new, funkier, contemporary sound. However, how would record buyers respond when Little Richard released The Second Coming?

Sadly, when The Second Coming was released in September 1972, the album never troubled the charts. By then, Little Richard felt that his three Reprise Records’ albums hadn’t been promoted sufficiently. It was a frustrating time for him. Adding to Little Richard’s frustrations, was the commercial failure of Mockingbird Sally. It was released in November 1972, but failed to chart. For Little Richard, this marked the beginning of the end of his time at Reprise Records.

Although Little Richard recorded one further album for Reprise Records, Southern Child was shelved and never released until 2005. The Second Coming proved to be the last album Little Richard released for Reprise Records. At least Little Richard’s Reprise Records’ swan-song was an album to be proud of. 

The renewal of the Little Richard and Robert “Bumps” Blackwell partnership resulted in an album that found Little Richard at his enthusiastic and energetic best. If more time and money had been spent promoting the album, maybe just maybe, Little Richard would’ve returned to the US Billboard 200 and surpassed the success of The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll? Second Coming was an album that deserved to fare better than it did. Alas, it failed commercially, and to all intents and purposes ended Little Richard’s time at Reprise Records. Sadly, this period of his career is often overlooked.

That’s a great shame, as the trio of albums Little Richard recorded for Reprise Records marked a return to form and after a decade in the doldrums. The man who was once regarded as The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll made a comeback in 1970 and by the time he released The Second Coming in 1972 was making progress. Maybe if the album had been promoted properly things would’ve been different?  Nowadays, it’s regarded as a cult classic that could’ve proved a stepping stone for The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, and marked The Second Coming of the late, great Little Richard a flamboyant showman and strutting, preening peacock of a performer whose likes we’ll never see again.

Cult Classic: Little Richard-The Second Coming.

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