STONEGROUND’S WARNER BROS YEARS.
Stoneground’s Warner Bros Years.
The Stoneground story began in San Francisco in 1968, when guitarists Tim Barnes and Luther Billed joined forces with drummer Mike Mau and founded Stoneground. In the early days, Stoneground were happy playing as a trio but before long, the 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.
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.
This was no surprise as 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, the music didn’t 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 from Stoneground’ Warner Bros Years are regarded as the highlights of their long career and back-catalogue.
Stoneground’s Warner Bros Years.
- Posted in: Blues ♦ Country ♦ Country Rock ♦ Folk ♦ Folk Rock ♦ Pop ♦ Psychedelia ♦ Rock
- Tagged: Family Album, Luther Billed, Mike Mau, Sal Valentino, Stoneground, Stoneground 3, The Beau Brummels