MYSTIC MERLIN-FULL MOON.
MYSTIC MERLIN-FULL MOON.
When Mystic Merlin started their musical adventure, here was a group of talented musicians looking to fill their considerable potential. They were the latest in a line of New York funk bands looking to hit the big time. Parliament, Funkadelic, Brass Construction, B.T. Express were funk royalty, but Mystic Merlin were looking to steal the King’s crown. Over the next few years, Mystic Merlin embark on a Magical Mystery Tour, whose script could’ve been written by a Hollywood scriptwriter. Their journey started when Mystic Merlin signed to Capitol Records and released their debut album Mystic Merlin in April 1980. Produced by Charles Kipps, neither the lead single Burned To Learn nor Mystic Merlin charted. Worse was to come, when the album was dropped by Capitol Records. The only small crumb of comfort was the Mystic Merlin enjoyed minor chart success in the UK, when Just Can’t Give You Up and Got To Make the Best (Of A Bad Situation), which seemed to describe Mystic Merlin’s situation reached number twenty in the singles charts. A new producer Alan V. Abrahams was hired. Alan seemed the perfect fit for Mystic Merlin, so they flew to Los Angeles and recorded their second album Sixty Thrills A Minute. Although history repeated itself when Sixty Thrills A Minute failed to chart, the two singles released from the album Got To Make It Better and Sixty Thrills A Minute gave the group minor hit singles in the US R&B Charts. This showed that Mystic Merlin were getting somewhere. Maybe when they released their third album Full Moon, which was recently released by BBR Records, Mystic Merlin would make their commercial breakthrough. However, would that be the case? Would Full Moon see Mystic Merlin realize their potential with Full Moon?
Things weren’t going well for Mystic Merlin by the time they came to record Full Moon. After Sixty Thrills A Minute was released, Keith Gonzales announced going through a spiritual awakening, and decided music was no longer part of his life. He left the group, leaving the group without their lead singer. Then briefly, Mystic Merlin’s luck changed.
Out of nowhere, Capitol decided they’d spend some money on Mystic Merlin. Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, famous for Fred Flintsone and Scooby Doo decided they’d make a cartoon about Mystic Merlin. The show would be called The Mystic Merlin Hour, and a track from Sixty Thrills A Minute was chosen as the theme tune. Each week, on a live show, Mystic Merlin would be joined by guest artists. All that was left was for Hanna-Barbera’s headquarters to sign the deal. Then a writers strike took place in Hollywood. It lasted a year, and when it was over things had changed, and there would be no Mystic Merlin Hour. However, then Mystic Merlin got the chance to open for one of the biggest artists ever…Michael Jackson.
It tuned out Michael Jackson and Mystic Merlin shared the same lawyers and accountants. This is how the potential deal came about. Now after years of struggling, Mystic Merlin a band with talent and potential had the opportunity to open for Michael Jackson. He was basking in the success of Off the Wall, and months away from releasing Thriller. So, you’d think Mystic Merlin would jump at this opportunity? Quite the opposite. One condition of the deal was that Mystic Merlin wouldn’t perform magic, which was part of their live act. Bassist Clyde Bullard didn’t react well to this condition, nor did Barry Strut the saxophone and keyboard virtuoso. Clyde spent years learning to become a talented magician. Magic was part of Mystic Merlin’s show and concept, it was what made them standout from other bands, made them unique. So, with no magic allowed, Mystic Merlin decided not to open for Michael Jackson on The Off the Wall tour. Now they’d no lead singer, no Mystic Merlin Hour and weren’t supporting MIchael Jackson. Could things get any worse?
Then as if someone had waved a magic wand, Mystic Merlin’s luck changed. Enter Bronx born singer Freddie Jackson. He was hungry and a hugely talented singer, who’d started singing gospel. As he came highly recommended, having sang backing vocals for Melba Moore and Lillo Thomas, this could be the man Mystic Merlin were looking for? Stephanie Mills backing singer Diane Wilson heard of the Mystic Merlin’s need for a lead singer and recommended Freddie. After auditioning,
Mystic Merlin had their new lead singer. Only one problem remained, telling Capitol and producer Alan V. Abraham that Keith Gonzales had left the Mystic Merlin and Freddie Jackson was his replacement. The members of Mystic Merlin feared their contract would be cancelled, as the group had been signed, and as lead singer, Keith Gonzales was a key member. A four song demo was recorded and Capitol liked what they heard. Now Mystic Merlin were ready to record their third album, Full Moon.
For Full Moon, a total of nine tracks were written. Jerry Anderson wrote one tracks and cowrote five of the other tracks. Freddie Jackson would get his first writing credits, co-writing four tracks. Producer Alan V. Abrahams cowrote Full Moon (Prelude) with William Michael Lewis and cowrote three other tracks, while Barry Strutt was one of the most productive members of Mystic Merlin co-writing five tracks. WIth the material written, Producer Alan Abrahams took Mystic Merlin to The Lighthouse, Studio City, California.
At The Lighthouse, a number of guest artists joined Mystic Merlin. This included percussionist Paulinho Da Costa, and bassist Nathan East who played on two tracks. Michael Lewis played synths, Greg Mathieson keyboards and Charles Fearing guitar. They were joined by Gene Page who arranged strings, and backing vocalists that included Jim Gilstrap, John Lehman and Augie Johnson. Together, these guest artists and Mystic Merlin, complete with new lead singer Freddie Jackson, recorded the nine tracks that became Full Moon? Would Full Moon see Mystic Merlin make their commercial breakthrough after a turbulent year?
Sadly, Mystic Merlin’s third album neither Full Moon, nor the only single released from the album Mr. Magician, charted. This was hugely disappointing after all that had happened to Mystic Merlin. They were a group with talent and potential, but had released a funk album, Full Moon as funk became less popular. Full Moon was the wrong album released at the wrong time. However, thirty years later, what does Full Moon sound like and has it stood the test of time?
Opening Full Moon is Mr. Magician, the only single released from the album. It’s just a pounding rhythm section, stabs of keyboards and blazing horns that combine before Freddie Jackson makes his Mystic Merlin debut. His vocal is impassioned and emotive, accompanied by the lushest swings. Freddie’s vocal combines beautifully with arrangement, especially the swathes of strings. While drummer Sly Randolph and Clyde Bullard bubbling bass provide the track’s funky heartbeat, Barry Strutt’s dazzling saxophone playing is key to the track’s sound and success. It’s no wonder Billboard magazine selected the single as of one their recommendations. It’s funk and soulful, and thirty years later, like a fine wine has matured with age.
As Perfect opens, the arrangement has a spacious sound, with the track reluctant to reveal all its secrets straight away. Mystic Merlin’s rhythm section gradually build the track up, before Barry Strutt’s saxophone punctuates the track. Freddie Jackson seems to be settling into his role as lead singer, his vocal soaring powerfully. Melodic keyboards and sweeping strings are added to the funky rhythm section. As the track progresses, Freddie grows in confidence. He vamps his way through the track, his vocal sassy and sensual against Alan Abraham’s slick, polished arrangement.
When Rock The World opens, there’s a quite different sound to the previous tracks. Light, melodic keyboards and crispy drums combine, before synths are added. There’s a much more electronic sound to the track. Freddie’s vocal is delivered dramatically, mixing bursts of power and passion. Joyous backing vocals and bursts of horns punctuate the arrangement, as it takes on an early eighties sound. Here, Mystic Merlin and producer Alan Abrahams combine eighties electronic music and R&B, demonstrating another side to their music.
It doesn’t take more than a few bars to realize that Your Love is one of the highlights of Full Moon. Key to this slower, dramatic track is Freddie’s vocal. You can hear here, the Freddie that can be heard on Rock Me Tonight. His vocal veers from a heartfelt, impassioned style to a punchy, dramatic deliver. The rest of Mystic Merlin provide the perfect backdrop for Freddie’s vocal. Their playing, the rhythm section especially, is a mixture of understated and drama, matching the vocal. Strings work well, as does the synth dramatic drumming that punctuates the arrangement. The result is one of the best tracks on Full Moon, where Freddie Jackson announces his arrival.
Full Moon Rising (Prelude) opens with a dramatic space age sound when it opens. Synths provide a foreboding, haunting backdrop and grab your attention, Full Moon unfolds. With the synths having gotten your attention, the funky rhythm section of Mystic Merlin take centre-stage. Freddie’s vocal sits well as swathes of lush, cascading strings caress you. Waves of pounding rhythms unfold, while Paulinho Da Costa sprinkles percussion amongst the rhythms. It’s a deeply satisfying, quite mesmerizing combination, that makes you wonder why Capitol didn’t release it as a single. After all, this song has Mystic Merlin’s name written all over it?
Love Is What You Need is one of catchiest tracks on the album, and sounds as if it belongs on a late seventies Jacksons’ album. Stabs of keyboards join a driving rhythm section and punchy horns, while soaring backing vocalists augment Freddie’s lead vocal. Echo is added to the vocals, leaving them hanging in midair. Then up steps Barry Strutt. Whereas, you’ve heard of a guitar hero, Barry becomes saxophone hero, unleashing a scintillating saxophone solo. Everything is in place, as a joyous, hook-laden and uplifting track unfolds. Again you’re left wondering, why rather than a Full Moon, the album’s lack of success was more like a crescent moon?
As Back To Zero starts to share its secrets, the sound of howling gale blowing is followed by banks of keyboards and synths. They’re joined by rocky guitars and a driving rhythm section, as a dramatic, moody track unfolds. Freddie’s vocal is full of hurt and pain, as guitars dance across the arrangement, augmented by synths and melodic keyboards. Then the synths and guitars take centre-stage, before Barry Strutt unleashes another peerless saxophone solo. As his solo drops out, punchy backing vocals accompany Freddie as he sings about “starting over.” Sadly, after Full Moon, both Freddie and Mystic Merlin would be “starting over.”
Closing Full Moon is Mindreader, where Mystic Merlin demonstrate how good they were at writing a hooky, memorable track. Sizzling, chiming guitars, Mystic Merlin’s funky rhythm section and keyboards are joined by bursts of Barry Strutt’s rasping saxophone. Joyous backing vocals, handclaps and percussion augment Freddie’s soaring lead vocal. Then one last time, Mystic Merlin unleash waves of funky music. The heavy synths sound weaves its way through the track, playing an important part in the track’s sometimes bold, dramatic sound. Mystic Merlin close Full Moon with another catchy track, fusing elements of seventies disco with eighties boogie, along with soul and funk.
Sadly, Full Moon proved to be Mystic Merlin’s final album. Although Full Moon was an album that saw Mystic Merlin maturing and growing as a group. By the time Full Moon was released, Mystic Merlin had honed their sound. Freddie Jackson was settling in to the role of lead singer, but would’ve taken longer than one album to fill Keith Gonzales’ shoes. Producer Alan V. Abrahams was key to their sound, helping shape their sound and ensure it stood out from other group’s music. However, when Full Moon was released, the problem was funk was no longer as popular. Maybe if Full Moon had been released a year earlier, things might have been different, maybe it would’ve proved a bigger commercial success. With disco no longer popular and funk heading down the same road, then records companies starting downsizing. Mystic Merlin were released by Capitol Records and the band would broke up. In some ways, Mystic Merlin were the victim of circumstances.
Losing lead singer Keith Gonzales after his “spiritual awakening,” was one problem, but Freddie Jackson’s tried hard to fill his shows. Then when Hanna-Barbera’s Magic Merlin Show fell through after the writer’s strike, this must have been a huge disappointment. After all, this could’ve transformed the band making them huge stars. So could opening for Michael Jackson on his Off the Wall tour. Deciding not open for Michael Jackson, when they said that Clyde Bullard couldn’t perform his magic tricks seems a strange, and maybe, even, foolhardy decision. I’m sure Mystic Merlin’s management and everyone at Capitol Records must have despaired. This was the break they’d been waiting for. Just about every other band would’ve jumped at the chance. I wonder whether thirty years later, the members of Mystic Merlin every sit at home and say what if? How would their lives and career been different? Would Full Moon, which was recently rereleased by BBR Records, have been a commercial success? Maybe Mystic Merlin would’ve fulfilled their potential and their considerable talent would’ve been heard by many more people. Instead, Mystic Merlin’s third and final album was more crescent moon than Full Moon. Mind you, imagine being able to tell your children and grandchildren that very nearly, the group you were in Mystic Merlin nearly had a cartoon made about them and refused the chance to open for Michael Jackson on a world tour. I’m sure they’ll say three words “why didn’t you?” Standout Tracks: Mr. Magician, Perfect, Full Moon and Love Is What You Need.
MYSTIC MERLIN-FULL MOON.