STONEGROUND-STONEGROUND AND STONEGROUND 3.

Stoneground-Stoneground and Stoneground 3.

The Stoneground story began in San Francisco in 1968. That was when Tim Barnes and Luther Billed and Mike Mau founded Stoneground. By late 1970, they had released their eponymous debut album, Stoneground. It’s joined by Stoneground 3 on  BGO Records’ recently reissued two CD set. These two albums document the early years of the Stoneground story.

When Stoneground were formed in 1968, the band was originally a trio. Its lineup featured guitarists Tim Barnes and Luther Billed and drummer Mike Mau. At first, Stoneground were happy playing as a trio. However, before long, Stoneground’s lineup began to expand.

This came about when Tom Donahue, a DJ and promoter who  Stoneground’s manger, introduced the band to the two remaining members of The Beau Brummels. They had been one of the pioneers the country rock sound. However, in 1968, The Beau Brummels, who had once been signed to Tom Donahue’s Autumn Records, were reduced to a duo. Since then, the band failed to reach the same heady heights they  once had. Maybe it was time for a new challenge?

So when Tom Donahue introduced Stoneground to The Beau Brummels’ vocalist Sal Valentino and guitarist and bassist John Blakely, the five musicians hit it off. They agreed to join forces as an expanded lineup of Stoneground. Soon though, five became nine.

Despite now being a five piece, Stoneground’s lineup was still not complete. Stoneground decided to add four female vocalists to the lineup. Annie Sampson, Lynne Hughes, Lydia Phillips, and Deirdre LaPorte were added to the lineup of Stoneground. 

This newly expanded lineup of Stoneground began to hone their sound. At first, they played in San Francisco and in the Bay Area. Their popularity grew, and soon, Stoneground being booked to play further afield. 

This resulted in Stoneground being booked to tour America and Europe. It was during that tour that Stoneground found the final piece of the musical jigsaw. This was keyboardist and bassist Pete Sears, who later, would join Jefferson Starship and Hot Tuna. He became the tenth and final member of Stoneground.

Having returned home from what had been the longest tour of their career, Stoneground returned to playing in San Francisco. That was where they were spotted by an A&R executive from Warner Bros. They signed Stoneground, and early in 1970, entered the studio to record what became their eponymous debut album.

Stoneground.

Now signed to Warner Bros, Stoneground began work on their eponymous debut album in London, at Trident Studios during a UK tour. However, when Warner Bros heard the tracks they weren’t happy with them. This resulted in Stoneground having to rerecord their debut album.

This time,  Sal Valentino assumed the role of songwriter-in -chief.  The former Bueau Brummel penned Looking for You, Added Attraction (Come and See Me), Dreaming Man, Stroke Stand and Colonel Chicken Fry. John Blakely and Tom Donauhue wrote Brand New Start. The rest of Stoneground was made up of cover versions.

One of them was Reverend Gary Davis’ Great Change Since I’ve Been Born. It was joined by Ray Davies’ Rainy Day in June and John D. Loudermilk’s Bad News. The other cover version was John Mayall and Sonny Thompson’s Don’t Waste My Time. These tracks would become Stoneground.

Recording of Stoneground took place at Sunwest Studios, Los Angeles during early 1971. By then, Stoneground were an eleven piece band. Keyboardist and percussionist Ron Nagle had been added to Stoneground. This expanded lineup began work on Stoneground.

The rhythm section included drummer Mike Mau, bassist and rhythm guitarist John Blakeley and bassist and keyboardist Pete Sears.  Sal Valentino played electric and acoustic guitar while Luther Bildt played guitar and Tim Barnes added lead and bottleneck guitar. Keyboardist and percussionist Ron Nagle was joined by vocalists Annie Sampson, Lynne Hughes, Lydia Phillips, and Deirdre LaPorte. Taking charge of some of the lead vocals were Luther Bildt, Tim Barnes and Sal Valentino. He also co-produced Stoneground with the band’s manager Tom Donahue. Eventually, the album was complete and delivered to Warner Bros.

They had great hopes for Stoneground, and embarked upon an extensive promotional campaign.  This made sense. By then, Stoneground were already a  popular band with a loyal following. That is despite not releasing an album. However, Stoneground had spent much of their time playing live, and their lives shows were extremely popular. No wonder. Stoneground were a talented and versatile band who seamlessly switched between and combined genres.  They continued to do this on their eponymous debut album.

When of Stoneground were sent out to critics by Warner Bros, the band had become the travelling house band for the Medicine Ball Caravan. This was seen by some as Warner Bros trying to jump on the success of the concert film genre. However, Stoneground could walk the walk. Their eponymous debut album was proof of that.

As critics played Stoneground, they heard a captivating  fusion of blues, folk, pop, psychedelia, rock and soul. Seamlessly, Stoneground switch between and fuse musical genres and influences. To do this they deploy seven separate vocalists on what’s a genre-melting album where Stoneground showcase their considerable skills. 

That is apparent from the album opener Looking For You. It’s a thoughtful blues rock song penned by Sal Valentino. It sets the bar high, and whets the listener’s appetite for the rest of Stoneground.  Lynn Hughes delivers an impassioned vocal on  Great Changes Since I’ve Been Born with gospel-tinged harmonies for company.  Sal Valentino delivers a worldweary vocal on Ray Davies’ Rainy Day In June, as Stoneground reinvent a song that first featured on The Kinks’ 1966 album Face To Face. Stoneground’s version shows a very different side to the song, and is one of the best covers on the album.

Apart from covers, there’s  five songs penned by Sal Valentino on Stoneground. Three are back-to-back smack bang in the middle of Stoneground. This includes the mid-tempo paean Added Attraction (Come and See Me). It gives way to the beautiful, soul-baring ballad  Dreaming Man. It’s one of the album’s highlights. There’s a stylistic change on Stroke Stand. It’s a jaunty fusion of blues-rock, country and gospel-tinged harmonies. They’re fused to create another memorable track that showcases Stoneground’s versatility  

Lydia Phillips takes charge of the vocal on Bad News. She sounds as if she’s lived the lyrics as she combines emotion, power and passion. In doing so, she breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. Soon, though, it’s all change. Stoneground fuse blues rock and gospel-tinged on Don’t Waste My Time and Colonel Chicken Fry. Both tracks are truly irresistible and feature Stoneground at their best. Closing Stoneground, is Brand New Start, an emotive, hopeful ballad where Annie Sampson wears her heart on her sleeve. It’s a beautiful song, and another reminder of a truly talented band who looked as if they were on the verge of making a commercial breakthrough.

After all, Stoneground was a tight, talented band who played with a fluidity that would be the envy of many bands. Stoneground’s potential shawn though on what was an accomplished and eclectic album. It was living up to Warner Bros heavy marketing campaign.

Despite the time and money spent on Stoneground, the album failed commercially. Although Stoneground were a popular live band, the album failed to trouble the US Billboard 200. For Stoneground and Warner Bros this was a huge disappointment. Soon, everyone’s thoughts turned to Stoneground’s sophomore album.

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Family Album.

After the release of Stoneground,  the band continued in their role as the travelling house band for the Medicine Ball Caravan. They would feature in the the Medicine Ball Caravan film. It documents a hippie caravan on an 8,000 mile road trip.  A total of 154 buses, truck and groups like Stoneground made the journey. When the soundtrack was released that accompanied the film, it featured three songs by Stoneground. This introduced their music to a wider audience.

So they hoped would their sophomore album. However, by the time work began on what became Family Album, there had been several changes in Stoneground’s lineup. 

Keyboardist and basset Pete Sears left to play on Rod Stewart’s album Every Picture Tells A Story. His replacement was keyboardist Cory Lerios. Two other departure were guitarist Luther Bildt and drummer Mike Mau. He was replaced by Stephen Price. This meant that Stoneground had been reduced to a ten piece band.  The new lineup would make their recording debut with Stoneground on the 8th of August 1971.

This recording session wouldn’t take place in the one of San Francisco’s recording studios. Instead,  it would take place in KSAN, a radio station in San Francisco, had booked Stoneground to play in what was a series of live broadcasts. Stoneground would take to the air on  KSAN in San Francisco on Sunday the 8th of August 1971.

For Stoneground, this was a huge booking. Potentially, they were about to be heard by their largest audience. So before they took to the air, Stoneground began to hone a potential setlist. 

When Stoneground arrived at KSAN in San Francisco on Sunday the 8th of August 1971, this was the first time the band had recorded as a ten piece. The rhythm section included drummer Stephen Price, bassist Brian Godual and John Blakeley on bass and rhythm guitarist  Sal Valentino played electric guitar, acoustic guitar and percussion. Meanwhile Tim Barnes added lead guitar and Cory Lerios keyboards. This left just the vocalists. Annie Sampson, Lynne Hughes, Lydia Phillips, and Deirdre LaPorte were joined by vocalists Tim Barnes and Sal Valentino. Once the band was setup, they began to work their way through what was a truly eclectic set in front of a specially invited audience of 200 people.

Stoneground opened their set with Get Rhythm which gave to Passion Flower. It was followed by a reworking of the traditional song Corrina and Johnny Cash’s Big River. They would later find their way onto side one of Family Album. 

Side two would later feature Won’t Be Long before Super Clown, was followed by  Mississippi John Hurt’s  Richland Woman,  Queen Sweet Dreams and the spiritual sounding Precious Lord. Nine tracks into a set that combined elements of from Americana to blues rock, country, folk, gospel rock and rock ’n’ roll Stoneground had the audience captivated. The audience watched on as Stoneground showcased their versatility and fluidity. 

They opened what became the third slide of Family Album with a cover of Bob Dylan’s It Takes A Lot To Laugh (It Takes A Train To Cry). It gave way to Hank Williams I Can’t Help It, and then No Doreen. However, with just three songs to go, Stoneground  up the ante on It’s Not Easy and If You Got To Go. Stoneground unleash a riotous reworking of Jerry Williams’ Total Destruction To Your Mind. After what was a  truly eclectic, fifteen song set, Stoneground take their leave. 

Later a decision was made to release the set that Stoneground had recorded at KSAN as part of a double album. It would take up the first three sides. The fourth side  featured five tracks Stoneground recorded at the Record Plant in Los Angeles.

This included Ron Nagle’s You Must Be One Of Us; Cory Lerios’ All My Life and Lynne Hughes’ Where Will I Find Love. It was followed  by a cover of the joyous sounding Gonna Have A Good Time.  Closing side four and Family Album was Jam It. It’s a near six minute jam penned by Stoneground where the ten piece band to showcase their considerable skills. 

With Family Album completed, Warner Bros began promoting Stoneground’s sophomore album. Copies of Family Album were sent out to critics. They hailed what was a truly eclectic album as a captivating album. It found Stoneground switching between genres and playing with freedom, fluidity and spontaneity.  Some critics called the album Stoneground’s finest hour. Later, Family Album was regarded by some critics as the band’s best recording. It showed very different sides to truly talented band.

On Family Album, Stoneground worked their way through a mixture of original songs and cover versions on an album that featured live tracks and songs recorded at the Record Plant.  Family Album showed the two sides of Stoneground. They were a talented band who many felt came into their own in the live setting. However, in the studio, Stoneground were capable of crafting memorable music like All My Life, Where Will I Find Love, Gonna Have A Good Time and Jam It. Given Family Album showed the two different sides to Stoneground, Warner Bros had high hopes for the album.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. When Family Album was released late in 1971, the album followed in the footsteps of Stoneground and failed to chart. It was another disappointment for Stoneground. However, their career continued at Warner Bros.

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Stoneground 3.

The commercial failure of Stoneground’s sophomore album Family Album meant they were under pressure to come up with a successful third album. Stoneground had signed a three album deal with Warner Bros. This meant that they only ‘owed’ Warner Bros one more album. Should Stoneground’s third album fail commercially, then Warner Bros might take the opportunity to part company with the band. Stoneground were aware of this as they began writing their third album, which later, became Stoneground 3.

For Stoneground 3, Stoneground’s songwriter-in-chief, Sal Valentino contributed six carefully crafted songs. This included Dancin’,  Down To The Bottom, From A Sad Man Into A Deep Blue Sea, From Me, Lovin’ Fallin’and Heads Up. Other members of Stoneground contributed songs to Stoneground 3. Lynn Hughes wrote On My Own; Tim Barnes penned You Better Come Through; Deirdre La Porte’ contributed Ajax and Annie Sampson Gettin’ Over You. Cory Lerios wrote Butterfly and cowrote Everybody’s Happy with David Jenkins. These twelve tracks became Stoneground 3.

Recording of Stoneground 3 took place at Wally Helder’s in San Francisco. It was one of the city’s top studios, and was perfectly equipped to record the most important album of Stoneground’s career. Just like previous albums, Sal Valentino took charge of production. By then, Stoneground’s ‘sound’ had changed. Gone was the eclecticism of their two previous albums. This was replaced by a much more radio friendly, pop rock sound. The result was a much more focused album, Stoneground 3.

This Stoneground hoped would find favour with music critics and record buyers. Executives at Warner Bros must have been hopeful when they heard Stoneground 3. Here was an album that they could pitch to radio programmers. The only problem was that maybe the change of sound would alienate Stoneground’s existing fan-base? It was a risk that Stoneground and Warner Bros decided to take.

It looked as if it had paid off. Critics hailed Stoneground 3 the band’s most focussed album. Gone was the free wheeling eclecticism of their two previous albums. In its place were shorter, much more radio friendly songs. This ranged from pop-rock to blues rock and country. Ten of the twelve tracks on Stoneground 3 were less than four minutes. This Stoneground thought would be perfect for radio playlists. Especially as many of the songs were melodic and memorable. Hooks hadn’t been spared on an album where ballads and uptempo tracks rubbed shoulders. This critics forecast was a potent and heady brew, that could transform Stoneground’s fortunes.

Dancin’ set the bar hight on Stoneground 3, and showcases a melodic and memorable pop-rock sound. There’s even a hint of country, while soaring harmonies augment the vocal. They return  On My Own, and play a crucial role in this country-tinged confessional. Stoneground kick loose, unleashing horns, searing guitar and stabs of piano, which is a reminder of their free wheeling eclecticism. Very different is Ajax, a beautiful ballad where Deirdre La Porte is accompanied by soulful harmonies, horns and piano. They’re joined by a searing guitar on the bluesy soul-baring confessional Down To The Bottom. Closing side one is From A Sad Man Into A Deep Blue Sea, which was written by Sal Valentino. Again, there’s a confessional quality to the understated blues, which nowadays, is regarded as the highlight of his songwriting career. So it’s no surprise, it’s the highlight of Stoneground 3.

From Me opens side two and showcases a blues rock sound. Lovin’ Fallin’ is a beautiful, understated, soul-baring ballad. It gives way to Butterfly, which marks another stylistic change. Stonehouse seamlessly and successfully fuse blues and country. Then Annie Sampson delivers a defiant, feisty vocal on Gettin’ Over You. She’s accompanied by soulful harmonies and rocky guitars on a song where hooks haven’t been spared. Heads Up marks a return to blues rock. Augmenting the slide guitar and lead vocal are soulful, soaring harmonies. It’s another heady musical brew from Stoneground. They close side two with Everybody’s Happy, which is melodic, memorable and has a radio friendly pop-rock sound. This should’ve played a port in the success of Stoneground 3.

Sadly, when Stoneground 3 was released in late 1972, the album wasn’t a commercial success. That was despite Stoneground changing direction musically. This musical sacrifice had all been for nothing. Still, Stoneground 3 had sold poorly. Things weren’t looking good for Stoneground.

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Not long after the release of Stoneground 3, Warner Bros decided to drop Stoneground. By then, the tension was high within Stoneground. Outsiders thought that Stoneground weren’t long for the world.

And so it proved to be. Stoneground announced that they would play one final concert on January 6th 1973 at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. That proved to be the final time that the ten members of Stoneground took to the stage together.

Just a couple of weeks after Stoneground’s swan-song, Sal Valentino left the band. Stoneground had lost their songwriter-in-chief and producer. Surely things couldn’t get any worse? 

They did. Cory Lerios and Steven Price left Stoneground, and founded Pablo Cruise. Not long after this, four more members of Stoneground left. The only members of the band that reminded were Tim Barnes and Annie Sampson, who later in 1973, put together a new lineup of Stoneground. However, Stoneground’s best days were behind them.

Stoneground’s first three albums were the highlight of their career. This began with Stoneground in 1970. It was followed up by Family Album in 1971 and Stoneground 3 in 1972. These three albums feature Stoneground at the peak of their creative and musical powers. Stoneground and Family Album features Stoneground’s free wheeling, genre-melting sound. The quality continues on Stoneground 3, which is a much more focused album. It mixes pop-rock with blues rock and country. Just like  the free wheeling eclecticism of their first two albums, this proves a heady brew. Sadly, it find the audience it deserved.

It would be much later when Stoneground’s music began to find a wider audience. A new generation of record buyers began to discover the delights of Stoneground’s first three albums. Nowadays, these three albums are regarded are the highlights of Stoneground’s back-catalogue. These albums have been recently reissued. The first reissue was Family Album, which was released as a two CD set by BGO Records released in late 2016. BGO Records recently Stoneground  and Stoneground 3 as a two CD set. This is the perfect opportunity to discover or rediscover the two sides of Stoneground. Both the free wheeling eclecticism of Stoneground and the much more focused sound of Stoneground 3 feature on BGO Records’ digitally remastered two CD set.

Stoneground-Stoneground and Stoneground 3.

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