POWDER-KA POW! AN EXPLOSIVE COLLECTION 1967-1968.

POWDER-KA POW! AN EXPLOSIVE COLLECTION 1967-1968.

Usually, American music influences the rest of the world. That’s definitely been the case with British music. Where American music headed, British music tended to follow. In 1964, however, American music was influenced by British music.

The British Invasion of 1964, had a huge affect on American music. By 1964, somewhat belatedly, America “got” The Beatles and Rolling Stones. They were the first of the British groups who would influence American music. For the rest of the sixties, The Who, Cream, The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin became flavour of the month in America. Many American musicians became Anglophiles. They listened to, and modelled their sound on British music. This included Rich and Tom Martin.

The Martin brothers started of listening to groups like The Beatles and Rolling Stones. Gradually, though, they started to dig deeper. They discovered the music of The Who, The Small Faces and The Zombies. This music influenced the music of their bands Powder and The Art Collection. Their music is celebrated on Powder-Ka Pow! An Explosive Collection 1967-1968, which was recently released by Big Beat Records, an imprint of Ace Records. Rich and Tom Martin’s story began in Ohio.

Tom Martin was born in Ohio, in 1945. Three years later, Rich Martin was born. Growing up, the Martin family moved to San Francisco. That’s where Rich discovered the music of Duanne Eddy. Soon, he was learning to play the guitar. By the time Rich was in Hillsdale High School, he was playing with The Impressions, a R&B group. Not long after this, Tom joined on rhythm guitar. The Impressions became The New Impressions, a surf band.  This was the Martin brothers’ first involvement in music.

Soon, music would become the most important thing in Rich and Tom Martin’s life. They practised hard, honing their sound. This paid off, when The New Impressions gained their first residency at Big Al’s Gas House. However, by then, The New Impressions’ sound was evolving. It had been influenced by the British Invasion. Soon, The New Impressions became the Newcastle Five. 

As the Newcastle Five were born, drummer Bill Schoppe, who was previously a member of The Bedouins, joined. Despite the new sound, the Newcastle Five kept their residency at Big Al’s Gas House. They combined a British Invasion sound with surf and R&B. Around this time, Lydia Pense joined as lead vocalist.

Lydia featured on the Newcastle Five’s audition for Fantasy Records. This took place in November 1965. By early 1966, Lydia had left the Newcastle Five. After that, the group’s lineup changed a number of times. So did their sound. 

The Newcastle Five took to covering obscure British Invasion songs. They also took to wearing Carnaby Street clothes. It seemed that the Newcastle Five were dedicated followers of fashion. However, they  didn’t seem to be taking the band seriously. Then in the autumn of 1966, Ray Columbus, a New Zealander, entered the Newcastle Five’s world.

Ray Columbus had enjoyed a successful career in Australasia. He’d enjoyed international hits with She’s A Mod and ‘Till We Kissed. However, Ray wanted to embark upon a solo career. His American wife thought that San Francisco would be a good place for his solo career to begin. The only problem was, Ray needed a backing band. That’s where the Newcastle Five came in.

Ray Arbulich arranged for the Newcastle Five to meet Ray Columbus. After discussions with Ray, and his manager Ken Roed, the Newcastle Five became Ray’s backing band. He named his new backing band The Art Collection.

The Art Collection, Ray decided, would open for him, then become his backing band. However, Ray thought it was a good idea for The Art Collection to dress up like Henry VIII. This didn’t go down well with The Art Collection. Neither did Ray’s suggestion that The Art Collection take snuff onstage. Despite these teething troubles, Ray proved to be the consummate professional, with The Art Collection learning a lot from him. This included about recording.

It was 7th January 1967, that Ray Columbus and The Art Collection entered the recording studio to record She’s A Mod and Kick Me. Of the two tracks, Kick Me was chosen as the single. Not long after the recording session, Steve Chriest left The Art Collection. 

Steve was replaced by Steve Murdoch, who previously, had been a member of the Lord Jim Quintet. He made his debut at The Art Collection’s latest residency at the Donavon Reef club. The residency began on 13th January 1967, and lasted right through to early March, when Ray Columbus and The Art Collection backed The Turtles on the 3rd and 4th March 1967. However, during the residency further recording sessions took place.

It was during these sessions, that Ray Columbus and The Art Collection recorded Snap, Crackle and Pop and Kick Me (I Think I’m Dreaming), which both feature on Powder-Ka Pow! An Explosive Collection 1967-1968. These are just a couple of the tracks recorded at the session. The band had high hopes for Snap, Crackle and Pop. They felt it had a commercial sound, and had the potential to give Ray Columbus and The Art Collection their breakthrough single. During these sessions, The Art Collection took the opportunity to record some tracks.

The Art Collection had a new vocalist. Scott Arbulich, who played a part in introducing Ray Columbus and The Art Collection, made his debut at these sessions. Among the tracks recorded, were Morning, She’s My Girl, I’m a Boy and You’re a Girl and Oh So Sad About Us. These four tracks are among the seven tracks from The Art Collection on Powder-Ka Pow! An Explosive Collection 1967-1968. After the recording sessions and opening for The Turtles, The Art Collection opened for another British Invasion band.

Eric Burdon and The Animals played in the San Francisco Civic Centre on 21st March 1967. The Art Collection were booked as opening act. Midway through their set, they were told Eric Burdon and The Animals wanted to start their set. This meant The Art Collection’s set was curtailed. So was Ray Columbus and The Art Collection time together.

After playing together through part of 1967, Ray Columbus and The Art Collection went their own way. Eventually, Ray returned to New Zealand, enjoying a long and successful career.  Meanwhile, The Art Collection continued as a quartet.

After a failed audition for Charlie Green, one of Sonny and Cher’s managers, Sonny Bono heard The Art Collection. He asked them to accompany them on a tour. The Art Collection  agreed and looked forward to playing with such experienced musicians. However, after two shows, there was a problem.

After playing their first two shows opening for Sonny and Cher, Steve Murdoch and Steve Arbulich left The Art Collection. One of the problems was Scott Murdoch’s singing style. Danny Phay, formerly of the Chocolate Watchband became vocalist. Tom Martin moved to bass and Bill Schoppe returned as drummer. This wasn’t the end of the changes. The Art Collection became Powder.

The newly named Powder found the tour a learning experience. By the time the tour hit the East Coast, Powder were flourishing. Playing with such experienced musicians, and working with arranger Harold Baptiste inspired Powder.  They’d grown and evolved as a band. So much so, that Powder were asked to audition for Mercury Records. However, instead Powder signed to Sonny and Cher’s management team. This proved not to be Powder’s best decision.

Having signed to Sonny and Cher’s management team, Harvey Gresky of the William Morris Agency, was given the job of looking after Powder. He decided they should enter the recording studios.

So Powder entered Gold Star studios on 6th October 1968. The venture was funded by Sonny, Joe and Harvey for Progress Productions. Dennis Pregnolato acted as producer, when Powder cut what’s best described as British Invasion influenced power-pop. 

Thirteen of these tracks feature on Powder-Ka Pow! An Explosive Collection 1967-1968. Among the sessions highlights were Magical Jack, Grimbley Leitch, What the People Said and I Try. Flowers, Hate To See Her Go and the wistful Too Many Miles are a reminder of Powder’s potential. However, when the sessions were finished, Sonny Bono pitched the potential album to the wrong man.

Sonny choose to take Powder’s recording to Atlantic Records’ Ahmet Erteugen. However, he was better known for jazz, R&B and soul. Only later, would Atlantic Records become a rock label. Powder, however, were more a power-pop group. So, it’s no wonder Ahmet Erteugen didn’t show any interest in Powder. That however, wasn’t the only reason though.

Partly, Rich Martin believes, that’s because of the quality of sound. Powder were unfamiliar with the studio and its equipment. As a result, the recordings Powder believe, came out sounding like a demo. However, the thirteen tracks on Powder-Ka Pow! An Explosive Collection 1967-1968, are hook heavy, melodic power pop. Powder certainly weren’t lacking potential. Who knows what might have happened had Powder signed to Mercury Records, rather than Progress Productions. Maybe then, Powder’s progress might not have stalled.

Following the disappointment of the recording sessions, Sonny and Cher’s management team decided to concentrate on Chastity, a film starring Cher. Powder were meant to contribute some of the music. However, in early 1969, drummer Bill Schoppe quit Powder. He had decided to wander down the spiritual path that was proving popular in San Francisco. That proved to the beginning of the end for Powder.

Rich and Tom Martin decided to follow the sun. They headed for California, where they contemplated their future. On their return, the Martin brothers changed tack. When they returned, their music was much more thoughtful and understated. Eventually, they signed to Imperial Records and released She’s Got Love in 1969. She’s Got Love became a pop-psych classic, reaching number sixty-nine in the US Billboard 100. However, Rich and Tom’s new direction proved the end of Powder. 

It had been a roller coaster ride of missed opportunities and what ifs? This had been the case since the days of The Art Collection, right through to the latter days of Powder. What if the partnership of Ray Columbus and The Art Collection had recorded more material? Would they have enjoyed that elusive hit single? Similarly, if after Ray went his own way, The Art Collection had taken a less laid back approach to their career, they might have made that long awaited breakthrough. They certainly weren’t lacking in talent. That’s apparent from the nine tracks from The Art Collection on Powder-Ka Pow! An Explosive Collection 1967-1968. These tracks show a band on the verge of a breakthrough. Sadly, it never came. That proved to be the case with Powder.

Just like The Art Collection, Powder didn’t lack talent. Far from it. Anyone who listens to the thirteen tracks from Powder on Powder-Ka Pow! An Explosive Collection 1967-1968, which was recently released by Big Beat, an imprint of Ace Records, will realise that. What hindered the potential rise and rise of Powder, was poor decision making. 

Powder’s biggest mistake was turning down Mercury Records to sign for Sonny and Cher’s management team. That must have seemed like an opportunity of a lifetime. It proved not to be the case. The Progress Productions sessions are proof of this. Powder were sent into the studio without an experienced producer. Instead, Sonny and Cher’s road manager took charge. The sessions would’ve benefited from a producer. They could’ve transformed the sessions. After all, the Progress Productions’ sessions showcases a talented band. All that was needed was someone to guide them through the maze that is a debut album. Having said that, the tracks from Powder and The Art Collection on Powder on Powder-Ka Pow! An Explosive Collection 1967-1968, show that they could’ve and should’ve been contenders.

Both groups Powder and The Art Collection were capable of creating melodic, hook heavy, power pop. Lead by the Martin Brother, Powder and The Art Collection were inspired by the British Invasion. Groups like The Small Faces, The Who and The Zombies influenced Powder and The Art Collection. That’s apparent on Powder-Ka Pow! An Explosive Collection 1967-1968, which is a reminder of Powder and The Art Collective, two musical contenders who should’ve enjoyed more commercial success than they did.

POWDER-KA POW! AN EXPLOSIVE COLLECTION 1967-1968.

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