She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968.
Label: Ace Records.
Over the last few years, Ace Records have released many lovingly curated volumes of their Beat Girl, Girl Group Sounds and Where The Girls Are compilations. Recently, Mick Patrick who is responsible for so many of these compilations, compiled She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968, which has just been released by Ace Records on vinyl. It’s the perfect way to enjoy some sixtes soul, surf and pop.
For She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968 Mick Patrick picked sixteen tracks from groups like The Rev-Lons, The Belles, The Elites, The Sweethearts, The Surf Bunnies, The Lovettes and The Mirettes. They’re joined by singer that include Beverly Williams, Mary Saxton, Othello Robertson, Pat Hunt and Little Eva Harris. They’re among the sixteen artists and groups on She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968.
Opening the compilation is Whirlwind by The Rev-Lons. It was written by William Powell and produced by Gary Paxton in 1965. However, the Garpax label never released the song and it made its debut on the Ace Records’ compilation Boy Trouble-Garpax Girls. This hook-laden musical Whirlwind was their swansong and it returns for an encore on She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968.
Beverly Williams’ Too Bad He’s Bad is another track that was recorded by Gary Paxton for his Garpax label in 1965. Sadly, it lay unreleased until 2009, when it featured on Where The Girls Are Volume 7. It’s a kitchen sink drama where rueful Beverly Williams delivers a hurt-filled vocal as tells how she fell in love with the wrong type of guy. Meanwhile, Gary Paxton’s arrangement provides the perfect backdrop for the vocal on this oft-overlooked hidden gem.
From the opening bars of Mary Saxton’s Is It Better To Live Or To Die the listener is spellbound as she delivers a heartfelt vocal full emotion and sadness. Sadly, when this Gary Paxton production as released as a single on Pace in 1967 it wasn’t a commercial success. For Mary Saxton, it was the one that got away. However, it’s a welcome addition to this loving curated compilation.
So is Summertime Is Surfin’ Time by The Surf Bunnies. It’s another William Powell composition that was produced by Gary Paxton. It featured on the 1963 album Beach Party, and is guaranteed to perfect for any party.
Opening side two is First Love Baby by Lena Calhoun and The Emotions. It was released on the Flip label in 1961, and is a fine example of West Coast doo wop.
So In Luv was written by Dell Randle who co-produced Othello Robertson’s version with Eddie Foster. It was released on Era in 1967, and shares the same melody as It May Be Winter Outside which was released just a couple of weeks earlier. It’s an upbeat, joyous and melodic love song with a strong hook that has stood the test of time and is without doubt, the best song on the compilation.
LA-based Pat Hunt released the Marc Gordon produced You Are My First Love on Kent in 1962. This was a quicker version of the single that was released on the Exodus label in 1961. It’s a slicker sounding version and finds Pat Hunt delivering an impassioned vocal on what is the definitive version of this song.
When Felice Taylor released I Feel Love Comin’ On in Britain in 1967, many people commented that the twenty-three year old from Richmond, California sounded like Diana Ross. There were even accusations that she set out to copy the Supreme. This was something that Felice Taylor disputed and said: “it is pure coincidence that we sound so alike”. Felice Taylor was a talented singer and in 1968, recorded Sing Me A Love Song for Kent. However, this Maxwell Davis production lay unreleased in the Kent vaults until 2015. That was when it featured on Los Angeles Soul-Kent-Modern’s Black Music Legacy. Five years later this string-drenched soulful dancer makes a welcome return, and is a reminder of Felice Taylor who sadly passed away in 2017.
Before becoming The Mirettes, Robbie Montgomery, Venetta Fields and Jessie Smith were The Ikettes. When Ike Turner hired three other singers to go out on the road with the Ike and Tina Turner Review they quit in 1965 and formed The Mirettes. In 1966, they recorded He’s All Right With Me which was produced Bobby Relf and Fred Smith and released on Mirwood. It’s another soulful dancer where the hooks haven’t been spared and is the perfect way to close She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968.
For anyone who has enjoyed the Beat Girl and Where The Girls Are compilations, and previous instalments in the Girl Group Sounds series, then She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968 is one to add to their collection. Ace Records have released the album on vinyl, which is the perfect way to enjoy the sixteen songs released between 1961 and 1968. They’re an eclectic selection of songs.
There’s pop, soul and surf from girl group and solo artists. They’re responsible for singles, album tracks and deep cuts. This includes heart-wrenching ballads and hook-laden dance tracks. Sadly, some of the tracks weren’t released when they were recorded and dreams were cruelly dashed. These tracks were only released over forty years later when they appeared on Kent Soul and Ace Records compilations. This quartet of oft-overlooked tracks return for a well deserved encore on She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968 and play their part in the success of this loving curated compilation which has just been released by Ace Records.
She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968 is the musical equivalent of time travel, and is guaranteed to take the listener back to the sixties. Just don’t play the album on a Dansette as you’ll ruin it.
She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968.
Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978.
Label: Kent Soul.
In the late-sixties and seventies Thom Bell was one of the architects of Philly Soul, and worked with everyone from The Delfonics, The Stylistics and The Spinners to M.F.S.B., The O’Jays, Three Degrees and New York City. Artists came from far and wide to work with the prodigiously talented arranger, producer, songwriter and musician including Dusty Springfield and Elton John.
Sometimes, artists whose career had stalled travelled to Philly to work with Thom Bell in the hope that he could reinvent them or transform their ailing fortunes. That was the case with Johnny Mathis and The Spinners who were one of Thom Bell’s biggest success stories. He produced seven albums in eight years for The Spinners during the seventies, and five of these were certified gold. Thom Bell was the man with Midas touch.
He wrote, arranged and produced some of the finest and most memorable examples of Philly Soul. These are timeless tracks which showcase his trademark sound which includes a French horn, lush strings. Other times he would deploy what were unusual instruments for a soul song including a harpsichord or sitar. However, Thom Bell was an innovator who imagination knew no bounds.
Proof of that is a new compilation that has just been released by Kent Soul, Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978. It’s the latest instalment in their Producer Series and sees the seventy-seven rubbing shoulders with great and good of music. This is fitting as Thom Bell has dedicated his life to music.
Thom Bell was born in Jamaica on January the ’26th’ 1943, and his family moved to Philadelphia when he was a child. He grew up in a middle class household, and unlike many of his friends there was no radio he could listen to R&B on. There was no time for that.
Just like his siblings, Thom Bell was classically trained musician. By the time he was nine, he could play piano, drums and flugelhorn. He remembers: “From when I was five ’til I was 17, I studied two or three hours a day.” This would eventually pay off and he would enjoy a successful musical career.
Before that, Thom Bell heard one of the songs that would influence him: “First thing I heard on the radio was Little Anthony & the Imperials’ ‘Tears On My Pillow’. I thought, What kind of music is this? This is nice music!”
Thom Bell became the singer in a new duo. His partner was none other than Kenny Gamble. He would later form a successful partnership with Leon Huff. That was all in the future, and
A year later the duo expanded to a five-piece, Kenny Gamble and The Romeos, and started to pick up work as session musicians at Philadelphia’s hot Cameo and Parkway labels. This allowed Thom Bell to hone his skills that he would put to good use in the not so distant future.
When Thom Bell left Kenny Gamble and The Romeos, he was replaced by Leon Huff, the third member of The Mighty Three. However, he continued to work at Cameo-Parkway and just like Gamble and Huff, was given the freedom when he recorded singles for Eddie Holman, The Orlons, Dee Dee Sharp and The Delfonics. However, Thom Bell’s time at Cameo-Parkway came to an end in 1967 when the label folded. It was the end of an era.
Of all the artists and groups signed to Cameo-Parkway, Thom Bell saw potential in The Delfonics who he took to Philly Groove Records. He worked on the four albums the group released on the label. The Delfonics also feature on Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978.
It documents Thom Bell’s work with The Delfonics, The Stylistics and The Spinners, and some of the artists he worked with at Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. This included M.F.S.B., The O’Jays and Teddy Pendergrass. By then, Thom Bell had formed The Mighty Three publishing company with Gamble and Huff, and the trio were the architects of the Philly Soul.
Opening Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978 is Here I Go Again by Archie Bell and The Drells. It’s taken from their album There’s Gonna Be A Showdown, which was released on Atlantic, in 1969. It was written and produced by Gamble and Huff, with Bobby Martin and Thom Bell arranging the track. It benefits form one of Thom Bell’s trademark lush arrangements, and became a favourite of dancers on the UK Northern Soul scene. This resulted in the song being released as a single and reaching number twelve in the UK.
In 1967, The Delfonics released You’ve Been Untrue as a single on Philly Groove Records. It was written by William Hart and Thom Bell who arranged and the produced a single. His arrangement was way ahead of its time and featured strings, a harpsichord, timpani and Fender Rhodes. This came courtesy of the musicians who later became M.F.S.B. They prove the perfect backdrop to William Hart’s hurt-filled and soul-baring vocal.
The Mighty Three worked on two Lesley Gore singles, including Take Good Care (Of My Heart). It was released on Mercury in 1968. On the B-Side was Look The Other Way, which was written be Mikki Farrow and Thom Bell who arranged the track. Gamble and Huff took charge of production on this hidden gem which features an impassioned and emotive vocal from Lesley Gore.
On October the ’22nd’ 1968, The Delfonics released Ready Or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love) as a single. It’s another song written by William Hart and Thom Bell composition. Thom Bell also arranged, conducted and co-produced the single which reached thirty-five in the US Billboard 100 and fourteen on the US R&B charts. This heartfelt and joyous paean featured on The Delfonics’ sophomore album Sound Of Sexy Soul in 1969, and is the highlights of the album. That’s in part down to Thom Bell’s sophisticated arrangement and production skills.
When Kenneth Gamble was working with Dusty Springfield he needed a song for a single that was to be released before the album A Brand New Me. Thom Bell had just started working with Linda Creed and they penned I Wanna Be A Free Girl with Gamble and Huff. It was released on Atlantic Records in 1970 and featured one of Thom Bell’s trademark arrangements. This was the perfect backdrop for Dusty Springfield melancholy vocal as she hopes and longs to be free.
Thom Bell and Linda Creed had already written three hit singles for The Stylistics when they wrote People Make The World Go Round. It was arranged, conducted and produced by Thom Bell and released as a single on Avco in 1971. Three hits became four when it reached twenty-five in the US Billboard 200 and six in the US R&B charts. Forty-nine years later it’s a Philly Soul classic and one of The Stylistics’ finest singles.
During the seventies, The O’Jays were one of Philadelphia International Records’ most successful groups. They signed to the label in 1972, and by then, were a trio. Later that year, The O’Jays released the album Backstabbers which was certified gold. So was the title-track when it was released as a single. It was arranged by Thom Bell and features a stunning string chart that plays an important part in the sound and success of this Philly Soul classic.
In 1973, New York released their debut album I’m Doin’ Fine. The title-track was which was written by Sherman Marshall and Thom Bell who produced the track. It reached seventeen on the US Billboard 100 and fourteen on the US R&B charts. This should’ve been a reason to celebrate. However, many people though it was a Spinners’ single which annoyed the group. So did people saying that: “It’s the Thom Bell sound.” That’s definitely the case on what’s one a vastly underrated song that could only have been arranged and produced by one man Thom Bell.
When M.F.S.B. released their eponymous debut album in 1973, it featured Something For Nothing. When TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) was released as a single, Something For Nothing featured on the B-Side. It was billed as MFSB featuring Thom Bell. He was one of the bands keyboardists and he also arranged this lushly orchestrated hidden gem.
When Could It Be I’m Falling In Love was released by The Spinners on Atlantic in 1972. The song was written by Melvin and Mervin Steals, who were credited as Mystro and Lyric on the single. It reached number four in the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts. This Philly Soul classic was arranged, conducted and produced by Thom Bell and featured on the group’s third album Spinners. It was the first of seven album Thom Bell would produced for The Spinners in eight years.
You Make Me Feel Brand New originally featured on The Stylistics’ 1973 album Rockin’ Roll Baby. This was a longer version than the single version and was arranged, conducted and produced by Thom Bell who wrote the song with Linda Creed. The album was certified silver in the UK, and You Make Me Feel Brand New a beautiful ballad and a reminder of The Stylistics at the peak of their powers.
Teddy Pendergrass released Close The Door as a single on Philadelphia International Records in 1978. It was taken from his sophomore album Life Is A Song Worth Singing. Thom Bell arranged the single, and this bedroom ballad reached number twenty-five in the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts.
Closing Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978 is Track Of The Cat by Dionne Warwick It was the title-track to her 1975 Warner Bros album and was arranged, conducted and produced by Thom Bell who wrote the song with Linda Creed. Sadly, the album stalled at 137 in the US Billboard 200 but reached fifteen in the US R&B charts. Track Of The Cat is one of hidden gems in Dionne Warwick’s back-catalogue.
Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978 which is the latest instalment in Kent Soul’s Producer Series features twenty-three songs from familiar faces, old friends and new names. There’s Philly Soul classics, album tracks and B-Sides on the compilation which is a reminder of Thom Bell’s skills as an arranger, conductor, musician, producer and songwriter.
Many of the songs he wrote with his songwriting partner Linda Creed. They wrote countless Philly Soul classics that have stood the test of time, and sound as good as the day they were released.
That is the case with the twenty-three tracks on Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978. They’ve got a timeless sound and showcase the considerable talents of one of the architects of Philly Soul, who for far too long has lived in the shadow of Gamble and Huff. It’s time for Thom Bell to emerge from their shadows and take a bow, having arranged, produced and written some of the finest Philly Soul ever released.
Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978.
Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-Just Coolin’.
Label: Blue Note Records.
Although Philly-born tenor saxophonist Benny Golson’s tenure with The Jazz Messengers was short-lived, he still played an important part in the development and history of the group. He joined in 1958, and during the summer, helped Art Blakey recruit three new Messengers.
They were all from Philly, and included bassist Jymie Merritt, pianist Bobby Timmons and trumpeter Lee Morgan who joined Benny Golson in the front line. This latest lineup of The Messengers made their recording debut on what would become a classic album, Moanin’.
On the ‘30th’ of October 1958, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers journeyed to the original Van Gelder Studio, at 25 Prospect Avenue in Hackensack, New Jersey. By then, Benny Golson was The Jazz Messengers’ musical director and chief composer. He wrote Are You Real, Along Came Betty, The Drum Thunder Suite and Blues March. These compositions plus Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’ and a cover of Come Rain or Come Shine were recorded with producer Alfred Lion and eventually, became Moanin’.
After the recording of Moanin, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers embarked upon a European tour. During November and December 1958, they wowed and won over audiences across Europe with a series of spellbinding performances. However, all wasn’t well behind the scenes and there were personality classes during the tour. When Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers retuned home, Benny Golson left the group.
Although he had only been a Messenger for a few months, he had played on a future jazz classic and ensured the band stayed relevant in spite of the growing popularity of the soul-jazz movement. However, Benny Golson wanted to be part of a more structured band, and in 1959 formed The Jazztet with Art Farmer. By then, Moanin’ had been released and a Messenger had returned.
Moanin’ was released to widespread critical acclaim in January 1959. Critics said the album featured some of his finest music, played by what they considered to be the greatest lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. Nowadays, Moanin’ is considered a jazz classic and one of the greatest hard bop albums ever released. Sadly, by the time the album was released, the Messengers’ lineup had changed.
Hank Mobley who had already served one tour of duty with The Messengers between 1954 and 1956. He returned in 1959 to fill the void left by by the departure of Benny Golson.
Hank Mobley joined up with the latest lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers on the ‘8th’ of March 1959 when they traveled to Van Gelder Studio, in New Jersey. The lineup featured drummer Art Blakey, bassist Jymie Merrit, pianist Bobby Timmons, trumpeter Lee Morgan and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley.They were scheduled to record a new album with recordist Rudy Van Gelder and producer Alfred Lion. That album would eventually became Just Coolin’.
Although Hank Mobley had just returned to the Messengers’ fold, he wrote three of the six tracks on Coolin’. This included Hipsippy Blues, M&M and Just Coolin’. They were joined by Jimerick, Bernice Petkere’s Close Your Eyes and the Bobby Timmons’ composition Quick Trick. These six tracks were recorded by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers during a one day session.
By then, the material on Just Coolin’ was still relatively new to Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. They weren’t as tight as they had hoped to be when they entered the studio. However, what they lacked in tightness and precision they made up for with passion. Just Coolin’ featured a series of impassioned performances and showcased the band’s trademark hard bop sound.
On the album opener Hipsippy Blues, Art Blakey plays a shuffle as the horns unite and play their part in the languid, swinging theme. Then it’s time for Hank Mobley’s lengthy solo and he’s at his most soulful as he’s accompanied by pianist Bobby Timmons and a crisp backbeat. Later, Lee Morgan’s solo is ruminative and impassioned before the baton passes to Bobby Timmons. He picks up where he left off on Moanin’ with a flawless solo where his fingers dance across the keyboards. Then the band join forces one last time on this laidback and swinging blues.
As the horns combines with the piano on Close Your Eyes there’s an understated, wistful sound, as Lee Morgan’s expressive trumpet takes centrestage before the tempo increases and the arrangement unfolds. He plays with power and passion as Art Blakey’s thunderous drums punctuate the arrangement. Meanwhile, Bobby Timmons adds a steadying influence before Hank Mobley takes inspiration from the cool school as he combines with Art Blakey who later switches to brushes. Before that, Bobby Timmons’ solo is understated, spartan and flawless, and is followed by a trio section. However, the highlights of this captivating track are the solos of Bobby Timmons and the frontline of Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley who play starring roles.
Jimerick bursts into life with Bobby Timmons’ fingers flying across the keyboard. He’s joined by the horns, with Lee Morgan matching the piano and rhythm section every step of the way. Art Blakey plays the percussion with a ferocity and powers the arrangement along. Meanwhile, Bobby Timmons’ caresses the keyboard, while Hank Mobley plays with power and purity at bebop speed. Not to be outdone, Art Blakey unleashes one of his best solos pounding, thumping and almost slashing at his kit on one of the album’s highlights.
Quick Trick swings from the get-go. Subtle horns pepper and punctuate the arrangement and combine with Bobby Timmons understated piano. Lee Morgan steps forward and unleashes bursts of high kicking trumpet. Hank Mobley’s braying, rasping solo is shorter, coherent and considered. He never puts a foot wrong, and when he’s reunited with Lee Morgan the front line play a starring role ensuring the track swings and then some.
The tempo rises on M & M with horns and piano to the fore as the rhythm section propel the arrangement. First to breakout is Bobby Timmons’ slinky piano before Hank Mobley unleashes a breathtaking and expressive solo at breakneck speed. Art Blakey adds thunderous drum rolls before Lee Morgan steps forward and plays with speed, power, passion and is always in control as he unleashes sheets of sound. When the baton passes to Bobby Timmons his fingers dart across the keyboard. By then, everyone is in the groove and feeding off each other. Everyone raises their game and there’s even some showboating on what’s the highlight of Just Coolin’.
Closing Just Coolin’ is the title-track where the band enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs on what’s a more complex and upbeat composition. The band play as one before Hank Mobley steps forward and plays a lengthy solo, and his playing is impassioned, inventive and fluid. Lee Morgan takes over and plays with speed and power his trumpet soaring above the arrangement. Later, Bobby Timmons fingers dance across the keyboards as he plays a sparkling solo. He passes the baton to Jymie Merrit who plays a flawless solo that is one of his finest solos on the album. Then bandleader Art Blakey powers his way round the kit one last time during a showboating solo where he plays a variety of different rhythms. The band then head for the finishing line on this irresistible and joyous track that closes this album of hard bop on a high.
After the session was over, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers must have thought that Just Coolin’ would be released as the followup to Moanin’. However, it didn’t turn out that way.
Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers were booked to play at a Canadian jazz festival and Hank Mobley failed to turn up. Art Blakey called Wayne Shorter who was part of Maynard Ferguson’s big band and asked him to stand in for his missing tenor saxophonist. Wayne Shorter agreed and was meant to become a Messenger for a one-off performance.
When Art Blakey heard Wayne Shorter play at the Canadian jazz festival he liked the way the twenty-five year old played. Despite Hank Mobley having recently played a starring role in the sound of Just Coolin’, Art Blakey decided to replace him with Wayne Shorter who later, became The Messengers’ musical director. Sadly, Hank Mobley’s return to The Messengers’ fold was short-lived, although he remained on good terms with Art Blakey.
When The Big Beat was recorded at Van Gelder Studio, on March the ‘6th’ 1960, Wayne Shorter had been installed as the tenor saxophonist in The Messengers. The album was released to plaudits and praise later in 1960.
By then, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had played at Birdland on the ’15th’ of April 1950 where the tapes were rolling and enough material for two live albums was recorded. This included four tracks of the tracks that they recorded during the Just Coolin’ session. Since then, they had regularly played Hipsippy Blues, Close Your Eyes, Just Coolin’ and M & M live and smoothed out some of the rough edges which featured on the album. That was the case that night at Birdland.
When Alfred Lion listened to the recording of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers at Birdland he felt they were superior to the recordings on Just Coolin’. He demanded and expected exactitude which was missing on the album. This resulted in Alfred Lion deciding to postpone the release of Just Coolin’ and instead, he released At The Jazz Corner Of The World Volumes 1 and 2.
Later in 1959, At The Jazz Corner Of The World Volumes 1 and 2 were released by Blue Note Records. When critics heard the two album they were hailed as among the best live jazz albums ever released, and essential listening for jazz fans. Alfred Lion’s decision had been vindicated.
Since then, Just Coolin’ has languished in the Blue Note Records’ vaults until recently, when it was belatedly released on 180 gram vinyl. At last, jazz fans young and old are able to hear this short-lived lineup of The Messengers on what was their only album, Just Coolin’. It’s an album that has lain unreleased for forty-one years because of Alfred Lion’s high standards.
When the album was recorded, The Messengers hadn’t enough time to familiarise themselves with the new material. Then Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had only one day to the six tracks that became Just Coolin’. That was the Blue Note Records’ way. However, if Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had the chance to rerecord some of the tracks they may have been able to smooth away the few rough edges on the album and it would’ve met Alfred Lion’s high standards. Sadly, the exactitude he demanded and expected was missing from Just Coolin’ and this was enough for him to shelf the project.
The sad thing is that neither Art Blakey nor any of The Messengers lived to see the release of Just Coolin’. Jymie Merritt passed away on the ‘10th’ of April 2020, aged eighty-four knowing that Just Coolin’ would be released later in the year. Sadly, he never lived to see this hard bop hidden gem released which Alfred Lion felt lacked the exactitude he expected, but since its belated release has been embraced by jazz fans, and is a welcome reminder of this short-lived but multitalented and versatile lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers on a spring day in 1959.
Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-Just Coolin’.
Label: All Saints Records.
On the album cover to his new album Sun Piano, which was released by All Saints Records, Laraaji describes playing the piano as: “my music therapy.” This is something the seventy-seven year has been doing since 1953, when he was just ten and living in New Jersey.
Back then, he was still called Edward Larry Gordon and music was a big part of his life. He studied violin, piano, trombone and took singing lessons. Then at high school, the future Laraaji played in the school band and orchestra. Music was big part of his life.
His family attended the local Baptist church, where Laraaji heard choral and gospel music, as well as negro spirituals. At home though, he heard very different music.
Laraaji sat and absorbed everything from jazz to R&B and rock ’n’ roll. However, it was the great piano players that inspired him 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, Laraaji headed to one of the most prestigious universities in America, Howard University, in Washington DC. During the next few years, he immersed himself in music, and also discovered marijuana for the first time.
Then during his second year, Laraaji discovered psychedelic drugs which played an important part in opening his consciousness during his spiritual awakening. However, he would later use marijuana as an aide to the creative process. Before that, his friends and family were sure that Laraaji was destined to pursue a career in music. However, that wasn’t the case.
After graduating from Howard University, he decided not to pursue a career in music, which was a huge surprise to his friends, including this he had studied alongside. Instead, Laraaji decided to pursue a career as a standup comic. His love of comedy began in college, and when he left University, he and his comedy partner decided to head to New York to audition at the Bitter End, who regularly held talent shows.
The Bitter End seemed the perfect place to launch their new career. However, the night Laraaji and his comedy partner were meant to make their debut, his partner never turned up. After being left in the lurch, he had no 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.
Through his exploits as a comedian, Laraaji came to the attention of Ernestine McClendon, who was a respected theatrical agent. She took him under her wing and guided his nascent career. Soon, she was sending Laraaji to auditions, and before long, he found himself appearing on television commercials, theatre and even films.
One of these films that Laraaji 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 he had appeared in before, as much of the film was improvised. This which was new to him, 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 Laraaji, because when Putney Swope was released it inspired him to look at the role of the mass media. Looking for answers, he read books and learnt to meditate.
To help him, he turned to teachers who taught him how to meditate properly He soon was practising meditation and calisthenics. He 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, he realised the possibilities were endless. However, meditation was key to this. Soon, Laraaji 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 his spiritual awakening. Before long, the next part of his spiritual awakening took place.
Around 1974 or 1975, Laraaji 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. He 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 Laraaji refers to as: “a trigger for a cosmic memory.” It was as if he 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, Laraaji 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, Laraaji 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, Laraaji found himself in a pawn shop where he was ready to pawn his guitar when suddenly, out of nowhere, a voice told him 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, he 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 Laraaji 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, he 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 Laraaji 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 Laraaji to the Boston Globe Music Fest where he met another innovator.
At the Boston Globe Music Fest, he 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 Laraaji’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. He 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, he 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.
Laraaji 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 Laraaji 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 the busker 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).
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 musician. The album was a groundbreaking fusion of ambient, avant-garde, dub, electronica, experimental, folk, New Age and world music, and was well released to critical acclaim. Sadly, the album wasn’t a commercial success, although nowadays it’s regarded a cult classic and one of Laraaji’s finest albums.
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.
During that period, Laraaji would release over thirty solo albums. He was a prolific and innovative artist who pushed musical boundaries on his genre-melting albums. Some of these albums were released by record companies. This includes the British independent label All Saints Records who released his 1992 solo album Flow Goes The Universe.
Since then, Laraaji has released a number of other solo albums on All Saints Records, including Sun Gong, Bring On The Sun and Sun Transformations. His new album is Sun Piano, which is very different from his previous albums.
Instead of his usual effects laden cosmic zither jams, Laraaji returned to his first musical love on Sun Piano. It features twelve of Laraaji’s spiritual keyboard improvisations. They were recorded in the First Unitarian Church, Brooklyn, on the ‘10th’ and ‘11th’ December 2109 by Jeff Zeigler. It was quite different to other Laraaji sessions.
Unlike other artists, Laraaji didn’t want the church to close while he recorded Sun Piano. Instead, he wanted it to be just another day in the lives of those who use and attend the First Unitarian Church. It’s situated in a busy part of Brooklyn and members of the community use the church each and every day of the year. This could cause problems when recording the album.
Laraaji decided that the sound of the people of Brooklyn going about their business outside of the church would be part of the recording. So would the various community groups used the First Unitarian Church’s facilities. That is why everyday city sounds can be heard throughout the album. This ranges from the sound of schoolchildren playing, to police car sirens, chairs scraping, a door slamming and Laraaji breathing can all be heard during the twelve improvised pieces that became Sun Piano. There was no overdubbing, and instead, the spontaneous recordings were recorded vérité style.
This meant that only the smallest amount of artificial techniques was used to clean up what was captured by the microphones. As a result, both the full dynamic range and true spirit of the session are captured on Sun Piano. However, some of the longer pieces on Sun Piano were edited by Christian Havins of Dallas Acid, who have collaborated with Laraaji. These shorter pieces are part of what’s a captivating and enchanting album where Laraaji at last fulfils his dream of releasing an album of piano improvisations.
The beautiful, melodic Embracing Me opens Piano Love and is a tantalising taste of what’s to come. This includes the hopeful sounding Hold On To The Vision which is full of emotion and beauty. Flow Joy combines emotion, drama and a joyousness which flows from Laraaji’s fingers through as he play the grand piano with confidence and power.
There’s a wistful sound to Shenandoah as Laraaji stabs at the keyboard as if making a point. The arrangement becomes jaunty, jazz-tinged and cinematic and later, there’s a sense of hope as he finishes with a flourish.
Initially, there’s a hesitancy as This Too Shall Pass unfolds. Space is left in the arrangement which probes and meanders, changing course as Laraaji showcases his confident playing style. It becomes grand and dramatic as he pounds the keyboard, but later bright and melodic as waves of majestic music wash over the listener.
Sunny Day Horse has a cinematic quality and finds Laraaji painting pictures with the piano. Later, the music becomes mesmeric and it’s easy to imagine riding through the countryside on a sunny day. Especially as the track takes on a pastoral quality that seems far from Brooklyn on a mid-December day.
Elevation is an enchanting track that ebbs and flow, carrying the listener along in its wake. The music meanders and is variously uplifting, joyous and later meditative although beauty is omnipresent on one of this Sun Piano’s highlights. So is Temple Of New Light with its languid, meandering, meditative sound.
Very different is Moods and Emotions where Laraaji almost pounds at the piano during what is akin to an emotional roller coaster. Laraaji’s piano chimes and ripples on the mesmeric and spellbinding Lifting Me. Resonance is a ruminative sounding track that invites reflection, but like many of the improvised pieces on Sun Piano beauty is omnipresent. It’s a similar case on the album closer Embracing Timeless, which has a spacious, hopeful and pastoral sound. Laraaji has kept one of the best until last.
Forty-two years after Laraaji released his debut album, the seventy-seven year old releases his first ever album of spiritual keyboard improvisations, Sun Piano. These twelve pieces were recorded in the First Unitarian Church, in Brooklyn over two days in December 2019. During these two days, the church was open and being used by the local community. The sound of the community, and the people of Brooklyn going about their business can be heard throughout Sun Piano. This plays its part on what’s an enchanting and captivating album where Laraaji returns to the piano which was his first musical love.
The music on Sun Piano is variously cinematic, dramatic, emotive, languid, meditative, meandering, melodic, mesmeric, ruminative and spacious. It’s also a beautiful and timeless album that shows another side to Laraaji one of music’s best kept secrets who has spent a lifetime creating groundbreaking music, and has just released one of his finest albums Sun Piano which will brighten up even the darkest day.
Cult Classic: Johnny Rivers-No Through Street.
As 1983 dawned, Louisiana born singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer Johnny Rivers had just turned forty, and had been a professional musicians since 1956. Back then, he was still known Johnny Ramistella when he formed his own band The Spades, who later that year, released their debut single.
Less than two years later, and fifteen year old Johnny Ramistella from Baton Rouge, embarked upon a solo career when he released his debut single Little Girl in February 1958. Later in 1958, DJ Alan Freed who advised Johnny Ramistella to change his name to Johnny Rivers after Mississippi River that flows through Baton Rouge. Little did, Alan Freed realise that the name Johnny Rivers would go on to feature on thirty-million records.
Twenty-five years later, and Johnny Rivers was a successful recording artist who had twenty-nine hits to his name and had released twenty-one studio albums and five live albums between 1964 and 1980. This included his last album Borrowed Time, which was released by RSO Records in 1980, but failed to trouble the charts. After the commercial failure of Borrowed Time, Johnny Rivers left RSO Records, and was without a recording contract. For Johnny Rivers who had enjoyed such a long and successful career, this came as a huge blow.
Nearly three years passed before Johnny Rivers returned in 1983 with a new album, which was released on Priority Records, which was one of the many specialist imprint owned by CBS Records. However, this particular imprint, Priority Records, specialised in gospel music, and was Johnny Rivers one and only gospel album. No Through Street was a new chapter in his career and surprised many people.
Some within the music industry were surprised that Johnny Rivers had signed to Priority Records, and was about to start work on a modern gospel album. However, Johnny Rivers was now a man of faith, who had occasionally included devotional songs on his albums. He decided to take things further on No Through Street, which saw Johnny Rivers reinvent himself yet again on a gospel album with a twist.
For his first ever gospel album, No Through Street, Johnny Rivers penned Nowhere Else To Go and arranged the traditional song The Uncloudy Day. These songs were joined by covers of familiar and soulful songs including Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come; Ben E King, Leiber and Stoller’s Stand By Me; Holland, Dozier Holland’s Reach Out, I’ll Be There and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) and Carl Hampton, Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson’s Shelter In Time Of Storm. They were joined by Leo Graham’s Turning Point; David Miner and Larry Knechtel’s Believe In Me; Jim and Ginger’s Hendrick’s New Meaning; Bob Cotton and Hadley Hockensmith’s Live It From Day To Day and Bill Tuohy Dion DiMucci’s Golden Sun, Silver Moon. These twelve songs became No Through Street, which Johnny Rivers recorded in Hollywood, LA,
Johnny Rivers headed to Weddington Studios, in Los Angeles which was home to the best session musicians on the West Coast. He knew many of these musicians, and some had played on his previous albums. As a result, it was a mixture of familiar faces and new names that joined Johnny Rivers who took charge of production on No Through Street.
Joining vocalist and rhythm Johnny Rivers in the rhythm section were drummers Jim Keltner, Ron Tutt, Bill Maxwell and percussionist Alex Acuña and bassists Darrel Cook, Jerry Scheff, Larry Prentiss and Hadley Hockensmith who laid down some of the lead guitar parts on No Through Street. The rest of the lead guitar parts were recorded Dean Parks. They were augmented by keyboardist and pianist Larry Knechtel, keyboardist and organist Harlan Rogers, saxophonist Jim Horn and trumpeter Chuck Findley. Adding the final piece of the jigsaw were backing vocalists were The Walters Family, Julia, Maxine, Luther and Dren who added a soulfulness and spiritual sound to No Through Street, which was scheduled for release later in 1983.
No Through Street was the album that was hoped would transform Johnny Rivers’ fortunes. He had released nine albums in the last ten years, and only two had charted. Even then, 1975s New Lovers and Old Friends reached just 147 in the US Billboard 200, while 1978s Outside Help fared slightly better when it reached 142. That was as good as it got for Johnny Rivers since 1973. He desperately needed a successful album to kickstart his ailing career. However, the big question was what would the critics make of Johnny Rivers’ first gospel album No Through Street?
Throughout his long career, Johnny Rivers’ albums had always been well received by critics, including many who were fans of music. Some were surprised by Johnny Rivers’ decision to release a gospel album, but those that reviewed No Through Street were won over by an album that brought new life to many familiar songs.
Opening No Through Street lis the Johnny Rivers’ composition Nowhere Else To Go opens the album where he paints pictures with the lyrics and a vocal that is full disappointment and despair, as the character in the song reflects on the direction his life has taken and the friends and lover he’s lost. Realising there’s Nowhere Else To Go, and nobody left to turn to, he turns to God, and undergoes a spiritual awakening. Johnny Rivers then delivers a rueful, languid, but powerful cover of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come, before the tempo rises on a joyous version of Turing Point. The Waters Family then add soulful and gospel-tinged backing vocals as Johnny Rivers breathes new life and meaning into this uplifting and spiritual rewrite of Reach Out (I’ll Be There). It’s a similar case on the oft-covered Stand By Me, before The Waters Family add soulful vocals during Johnny Rivers’ heartfelt, impassioned and beautiful cover of the ballad Believe In Me. This is one of the highlights of the album, and was the perfect way to close side one of the album in 1983.
Shelter In Time Of Storm is a reminder of eighties soulful, pop rock, before Johnny Rivers heads in the direction of gospel on An Uncloudy Day. Johnny Rivers then gives thanks on a bluesy, soulful reinvention of How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), where The Waters Family’s backing vocals ensure the song swings. Johnny Rivers then shares the details of his spiritual awakening on New Meaning, and follows this one of the album’s hidden gems Live It From Day To Day. It’s a catchy and memorable song that sounds as if it’s been influenced by the West Coast sound. A freewheeling country rock cover of Golden Sun, Silver Moon closes No Through Road and is reinvented by Johnny Rivers and close the album on a high.
Buoyed by the reviews of No Through Road, was released by Priority Records in 1983, but just like Borrowed Time in 1980, failed to find an audience. Johnny Rivers’ decision to release a gospel album had backfired, and he never released another album for Priority Records.
Thirty-seven years later, and Johnny Rivers is seventy-seven and has sold in excess of thirty-million records. One of the oft-overlooked albums from Johnny Rivers’ back-catalogue is No Through Road. It was his one and only gospel album, and released after he enjoyed a spiritual awakening. Like many people who had experienced he wanted to share the ‘news.’ The only problem was, the majority of Johnny Rivers fans weren’t interested in an album of gospel from their hero.
When an emboldened Johnny Rivers released No Through Road in 1983, neither he nor his advisers seemed to have thought of this. A gospel album seemed the wrong album for Johnny Rivers to release in 1983, when his career was at a crossroads.
It didn’t matter that No Through Road was a polished album that featured elements of AOR, blues, country, gospel, pop, rock and soul where Johnny Rivers breathed new life and meaning into a number of familiar songs. The lyrics to some of these songs were tweaked to reflect Johnny Rivers’ recent spiritual awakening. However, very few people heard No Through Road, which was a very personal album from Johnny Rivers.
After No Through Road, it was another eight years before Johnny Rivers released The Memphis Sun Recordings in 1991. Just like No Through Road, The Memphis Sun Recordings failed to trouble the charts, and neither have any of Johnny Rivers’ subsequent albums. He still continued to release the occasional album right up until 2009, but never released another gospel album. No Through Road was a one-off, from Johnny Rivers who with the help of a crack band and The Waters Family, breathes new life and meaning into covers of familiar songs that are thoughtful, uplifting and joyous on this oft-overlooked hidden gem of an album.
Cult Classic: Johnny Rivers-No Through Street.
Cult Classic: Harmonia-Deluxe.
In June 1975, the three members of Harmonia returned to their studio in Forst for the recording of their sophomore album, Deluxe. It would become the followup to Musik Von Harmania, which had been released in January 1974. Sadly, this groundbreaking album had failed to find an audience. It was a bitter blow for Harmonia.
Following Brain Records’ release of Musik Von Harmania in January 1974, Harmonia headed out on a promotional tour. In these pre-internet days, this was the only way a band had of promoting their album. Harmonia could’ve picked a better time for a tour.
The tour took place was the middle of a long, cold German winter. Early 1974 was especially cold and Harmonia travelled wrapped in layers of clothes. Their gruelling schedule saw them crisscross Germany, and some nights, they played towns, other nights, some of West Germany’s biggest cities. Among the audience were fans of Neu! and Cluster, and they were joined by the few people who had bought Musik Von Harmonia. Those that made their way to each venue, heard this nascent supergroup at their inventive best. This included on the 23rd March 1974, at Penny Station in Griessem, Germany.
That night, Harmonia’s concert at Penny Station in Griessem was to be recorded, and would be released as a live album. Buoyed by the thought of recording their debut live album, Harmonia gave one of their finest performances of their winter tour. From the moment Harmonia took to the stage, they were at their innovative, genre-melting best. Those that heard Harmonia that night, thought that the resultant live album would be the perfect showcase for the nascent supergroup.
It should’ve been. Sadly, the resultant live album, Live 1974 would only be released on 18th September 2007. By then, the Harmonia story had taken several few twists and turns.
Once Harmonia’s tour was over, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius began work on the next Cluster album. Meanwhile, Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger owed Brain Records an album. Then Neu! would have fulfilled their contractual obligations.
For the recording of what became Neu!! ’75, Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger reunited in December 1974 at Conny Plank’s studio. By then, Conny’s Studio was the go-to recording studio for German groups. They all wanted “the genius” to sprinkle his magic on their albums. This would be the case for Neu! ’75.
The two members of Neu! had changed. Klaus was heavily into rock music, while Michael’s interest in ambient music was growing. As Michael explains: “After two years apart, we were different people. To complicate matters, Klaus wanted to move from behind the drum kit. He felt he was hidden away. I can understand this. But it was what Klaus did so well. However, he wanted to become an entertainer, playing the guitar and singing. He wanted to bring in two new musicians to replace him.” This included Klaus’ brother Thomas and Conny Plank’s former engineer Hans Lampe. These new musicians would allow Neu! to make a very different album.
Michael realised this was problematic. “By then Klaus could be difficult to work with. I realised we had compromise, so ended making an album with two very different sides. Side one was old Neu! and side two was new Neu!” On side two Klaus come out from behind his drum kit and play guitar and sing. He became the entertainer on what proved to be an album of two sides. It was completed in January 1975, and released later that year.
When critics were sent copies of Neu! ’75, they were struck by side one’s subtle, ambient, melodic sound. Michael remembers: “we used keyboards and phasing a lot on both sides. While Michael Rother’s name was written large all over side one; side two was very different, and quite unconventional. Reviews were mixed, partly because of side two. Some critics felt that if Neu! ’75 had the same sound throughout, it would’ve been hailed a classic. However, later Neu! ’75 and Neu!’s earlier albums would be reevaluated. Before that Neu! ’75 was released.
Just like Neu! 2, Neu! ’75 didn’t sell well. The problem was, many people didn’t understand what was essentially parts of two disparate albums joined together. The proto-punk of side two was so different from the ambient sound of side one. Records buyers were confused, and didn’t understand what Neu! stood for? It seemed that Neu! were just the latest groundbreaking group whose music was misunderstood and overlooked.
Michael looking back at Neu! ’75 reflects: “It was a time time. Klaus wasn’t the easiest person to work with. He was involved with different people, and being pulled in different ways. We were also very different musically. Then there were the new drummers on side two. They weren’t particularly good. Certainly neither were as good as Klaus,” a rueful Michael remembers. “It was a difficult project. By then Klaus was different to the man I’d met a few years earlier.” Michael wouldn’t work with Klaus for another decade. By then, Michael would’ve embarked upon a solo career. That was still to come. Before that, Michael would record what became Harmonia’s sophomore album, Deluxe.
With Neu! having fulfilled their contractual obligations, Michael Rother was free to record Harmonia’s sophomore album, Deluxe. Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius took time out from Cluster and began work on the followup to Musik Von Harmonia, Deluxe.
Joining the three members of Harmonia, was a new face, Conny Plank, who was co-producing Deluxe. Conny Plank and Michael were good friends, and had worked together on three projects. This included Kraftwerk’s aborted album and Neu!’s two album. The addition of the man who Michael Rother calls: “the genius,” just happened to coincide with Harmonia changing direction musically.
Deluxe saw a move towards Kominische musik. Partly, this was down to the addition of Guru-Guru drummer Mani Neumeier. He played on some tracks, and added a Kominische influence. Another change was that Michael Rother’s guitar played a more prominent role. That wasn’t Michael’s only influence.
The music on Deluxe was more song oriented. This was Michael Rother’s influence. He had taught the two members of Cluster the importance of structure. However, still Harmonia were experimenting, pushing musical boundaries. This was Cluster’s influence. Other parts of Deluxe had been influenced by Michael Rother. Hans-Joachim Roedelius agrees. “Michael Rother’s influence can be heard on Deluxe, more so than on Musik von Harmonia.” What was also noticeable, was that Deluxe had a more commercial sound.
“This wasn’t a conscious decision. The music morphed and evolved, and the result was Deluxe,” Hans-Joachim Roedelius reflects. Michael Rother agrees. “Every album I’ve made I set out for it to be commercial. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work out that way.” Sadly, that proved to be the case.
When Deluxe was released in 1975, it was to the same critical acclaim as Musik von Harmonia. The noticeable shift to what was a more commercial sound, surely would lead to a change in Harmonia’s fortunes?
That wasn’t to be. Deluxe was released on 20th August 1975, and sales of the album were slow. They never picked up, and history it seemed, was repeating itself. Michael reflects: “Still our music was being ignored. It was a difficult time for us. So much so, that Michael decided to record his debut solo album. However, he left and the other members of Harmonia left behind a classic album, Deluxe.
Straight away, Harmonia’s showcase their finely sculpted, and much more structured sound on Deluxe. Michael Rother had encouraged the other members of Harmonia to incorporate traditional song structures on the album. This he told them, would be easier to replicate live. However, two other changes played an important part in Deluxe’s sound and eventually, success.
The two other changes Michael Rother made, were to bring onboard Conny Plank to co-produce Deluxe; and Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeie to play on some tracks. Deluxe was going to be a very different album, and the new Harmonia make their presence felt from the get-go.
A futuristic synth signals the arrival of the synths and keyboards on album opener Deluxe (Immer Weiter). Washes and stabs of meandering, lazy synths join dreamy keyboards. Sometimes the synths have a futuristic, otherworldly sound. Other times, they just shimmer, and melt blissfully into the ether. Meanwhile, understated drums underpin the arrangement. Later, melodic, ruminative vocals are shrouded in effects. This results in a noticeable Kraftwerk influence. One wonders if this is down to Michael, a former alumni of Kraftwerk? For his part, Michael unleashes bursts of jagged, rocky guitar. Occasionally, his guitar produces an elegiac wash of lysergic, melodic and mysterious music. Soon, the arrangement veers between ethereal, cinematic, mesmeric, occasionally dramatic and sometimes, futuristic and otherworldly. This is down to the sci-fi synths and carefully hewn keyboards. That’s not forgetting the slow, pulsating heartbeat. It adds an element of drama, to the genre-melting arrangement. At its heart, are elements of ambient, avant-garde, Kominische and rock. They’re combined by Harmonia and Conny Plank, who create what’s Harmonia’s neu, groundbreaking sound.
Synths sweep and beep on Gollum, before Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeie almost caresses his drums. He eschews the power he unleashed on previous Guru Guru albums. Meanwhile, sci-fi synths shimmer and glisten. They range from Blade Runner-esque, to ethereal and elegiac. Sometimes, it’s as if Harmonia are providing the soundtrack to a sci-fi film. However, it’s left to the listener to provide the soundtrack as the arrangement glides effortlessly along. Gradually, the tension builds to this cinematic track. Mani’s drums rumble, while hypnotic keyboards add tension and drama. All the time, the otherworld synths flit in and out, as this timeless, cinematic track heads towards its dramatic crescendo.
Kekse is reminiscent of both of library music being produced in Britain and Europe in the early seventies, and Eastern European experimental music. The arrangement is like a mesmeric merry-go-round with sound effects interjecting. What sounds like animals and birds, gives way to lumbering seventies synths. Meanwhile, the mainstay of the arrangement has an obvious Kominische influence. Other parts of the arrangement, have been influenced by avant garde, classical and experimental music. Later, dreamy synths meander as the sound effects become more prominent. It’s like a journey into the Forst countryside, complete with the soundtrack of animals, birds and the tranquil sound of a river. Adding the final touch is a pastoral piano solo from Hans-Joachim Roedelius. Gradually though, its ethereal beauty dissipates, leaving a memory of Harmonia at their most ambitious and innovative.
As Monza (Rauf Und Runter) unfolds, synths meander, flutter and stutter. Meanwhile, Michael Rother unleashes washes of his guitar. It reverberates into the distance. Deep down in the arrangement, sound effects bubble, and an guitar chirps. All this plays a part in what’s a dark, dramatic arrangement. Then it’s all change, when Mani is let off the leash. He powers the arrangement along, and Michael discovers his inner guitar hero. By then, a joyous, freewheeling fusion of Kominische, rock and proto-punk has unfolded. It’s Mani’s drums that underpin the arrangement, while searing, blistering guitars are unleashed. They’re augmented by bursts of vocals and keyboards. Mostly though, it’s Mani and Michael who drive the arrangement along. Rocky guitars, crashing cymbals and pounding drums join sci-fi synths as Harmonia are a group transformed, on what’s one of the highlights of Deluxe.
Banks of progressive rock keyboards open Notre Dame. The keyboards almost sound as if they belong in a church. They’ve a big, bold and impressive sound. Some would say grandiose. That’s no bad thing. Soon, though, a drum machine provides a subtle, sonic heartbeat. Then after 1.22 it’s all change, as otherworldly synths become elegiac. A futuristic sound gradually emerges from the slow, pedestrian arrangement. Synths and keyboards play a leading role. Panning is used effectively, giving the arrangement a lysergic sound. Later, the progressive rock keyboards return for an encore, and race across the arrangement. The hypnotic drumbeats make no attempt to keep up, and provide a contrast to this captivating musical adventure.
Walky Talky closes Deluxe, Harmonia’s 1975 sophomore album. A bass is joined by plink plonk keyboards, before what resembles a braying horn interjects. This however, comes courtesy of Harmonia’s trusty synths, and adds an element of drama. Mani, Guru Guru’s legendary drummer returns for the finale. So do the futuristic, sci-fi synths and washes of Michael’s guitar. It chirps, shimmers and glistens, producing an elegiacal sound. By then, a myriad of disparate sounds are flitting in and out of the arrangement. They range from subtle and ethereal, to bold and dramatic, right through to futuristic, haunting, mesmeric and even otherworldly. It’s fitting finale to Deluxe, and finds Harmonia at their very best. Sadly, in 1975, very few people heard this future Kominische classic.
Just like so many Kominische groups, including Amon Düül II, Can, Cluster, Faust and Neu!, Harmonia’s music passed most German record buyer by in the seventies. For Harmonia, these were tough times. Neither Musik Von Harmonia, nor Deluxe sold well and Live ’74 wasn’t even released until 2007. By then, things would be very different,
Gradually, though, Kominische muzik began to grow in popularity. By the nineties, and the internet age a new generation of record buyers had discovered Kominische muzik. Harmonia were regarded as one of the Kings of Kominische muzik.
It it was fortunate that the long lost master tapes for Tracks and Traces were discovered and belatedly released in 1997. Over the next ten years, interest in Harmonia was at an all-time high.
Just like so many Kominische groups, including Amon Düül II, Can, Cluster, Faust and Neu!, Harmonia’s music passed most German record buyer by in the seventies. For Harmonia, these were tough times. Neither Musik Von Harmonia, nor Deluxe sold well. Live ’74 wasn’t even released until 2007. By then, things would be very different and interest in Harmonia increased.
By 2007, Harmonia’s Live ’74 album was reissued. To promote the album, the three members of Harmonia reunited for what turned out to be their final concert. Never again would the three members of Harmonia take to the stage together.
Dieter Moebius, Harmonia’s synth player died on 20th July 2015. He left behind a rich musical legacy, including what many critics regard as Harmonia’s finest hour, Deluxe.
On Deluxe, Harmonia changed direction musically. Michael Rother encouraged the other members of Harmonia to incorporate traditional song structures on the album. This he told them, would be easier to replicate live. The result was a finely sculpted and structure album, where Harmonia combine disparate genres.
Elements of ambient, avant garde, experimental and progressive rock can be heard on Deluxe. So can psychedelia and classic rock. However, Deluxe has a much more prominent Kominische influence than Musik Von Harmonia. Partly, this comes courtesy of Guru Guru’s legendary drummer Mani Neumeier. He played on three tracks on Deluxe, and his drums add a Kominische influence. Another change was that Michael Rother’s guitar played a more prominent role. It steps out of the shadows of the keyboards and synths, and helps transforms Harmonia’s sound. The other change from Musik Von Harmonia, was the addition of Conny Plank, who co-produced Deluxe.
By then, Conny Plank was a vastly experienced producer. He had worked with Michael Rother on Kraftwerk’s aborted album, and then on Neu!’s first three albums. The two men had established a good working relationship, and Conny Plank was the perfect man to help sculpt and structure Harmonia’s new sound on Deluxe. It was a remarkable transformation. One can’t help but wonder what Harmonia’s next album would’ve sounded like?
Although Harmonia went on to collaborate with Brian Eno on Tracks and Traces, Deluxe was their swan-song. Harmonia as a band was quietly dissolved, and what become one of the most innovative, inventive and influential Kominische bands were no more.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius continued to work together as Cluster. Michael Rother embarked upon a career as a solo artist.
It was only much later that Harmonia’s two studio albums Musik Von Harmonia and Deluxe, enjoyed the critical acclaim and started to find the wider audience their music so richly deserved. For Harmonia, it was a case of better late than never. Now somewhat belatedly, Harmonia are regarded as Kominische royalty, and Musik Von Harmonia and their timeless Kominische classic Deluxe are part of a huge treasure trove of Kominische muzik awaiting discovery.
Cult Classic: Harmonia-Deluxe.
Label: Last Night From Glasgow.
Just over four years after Starless released their critically acclaimed eponymous debut album, the Scottish supergroup make a welcome return with their long-awaited and much-anticipated sophomore album Earthbound, which was recently released on the Last Night From Glasgow label. It’s the latest chapter in the Starless story, and is an album that was nearly two years in the making.
After the success of the group’s eponymous debut album, work began on the followup. By then, Paul McGeechan who “conceived, produced and realised” the Starless’ concept, was a veteran of the Scottish music scene.
His career began in 1982, when he cofounded Friends Again, which also included future Bathers’ lead singer Chris Thompson and James Grant, later of Love and Money. The group only released one album, the cult classic Trapped and Unwrapped in 1984. However, when the group split-up in 1984 a new group was born.
This was Love and Money which included three former members of Friends Again, Chris Kerr, James Grant and keyboardist Paul McGeechan. They released four albums to plaudits and praise between 1986 and 1993, including Strange Kind Of Love, and became one of the most successful Scotland’s most successful musical exports during this period. Sadly, the group split-up in 1994 and it was a case of starting over for Paul McGeechan.
Later in 1994, he joined a new band, Cowboy Mouth which featured Douglas MacIntyre, Gordon Wilson, Grahame Skinner and Michael Slaven. The new group released two albums 1994s Life As A Dog and Love Is Dead in 1995. Sadly, commercial success eluded both albums and Cowboy Mouth proved to be a short-lived venture.
By then, Douglas MacIntyre, Gordon Wilson and Paul McGeechan had already formed a new group, Sugartown who released their debut album Swimming In The Horsepool in 1995. Although it was well received by critics, the album failed to find the audience it deserved. This was another disappointment for Paul McGeechan, and not long after this he decided to move in a different direction.
He decided to concentrate on production which made sense as he had worked with some of the best in the business, including Tom Dowd and Gary Katz during his time with Love and Money.
Over the next few years, he worked with the great and good of Scottish music not just as producer, but also as a mixer recordist, remixer, and sideman. It seemed that artists across Scotland had Paul McGeechan’s number on speed-dial and he worked with Ricky Ross, Isobel Campbell, The Pearlfishers, James Grant, Justin Currie, the BMX Bandits, Emily Smith and Kris Drever. Paul McGeechan’s decision to reinvent himself had paid off. Then came a phone call out of the blue in 2011.
It was totally unexpected and was the phone call he never expected to receive. Love and Money had decided to reform to for what was billed as “one night only.” Love and Money were going to play at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of Celtic Connections 2011. Soon, the show sold out, and when Love and Money made their comeback in their hometown, they received a rapturous reception as they worked their way through two entire albums, Strange Kind Of Love and Dogs In The Traffic. When Love and Money left the stage that night, a seed had been planted.
In December 2011, Love and Money’s comeback continued. This time, they played another hometown show, but chose the Clyde Auditorium. So successful was the show, that Love and Money decided to record their fifth solo album, and first since 1993.
This was The Devil’s Debt, which was released in October 2012 and received positive reviews from critics. It was the first Love and Money album in nineteen years and was welcomed by fans old and new. However, not long after this, Paul McGeechan’s thoughts turned to a project he had been contemplating for several years, Starless.
The new group was the brainchild of Paul McGeechan, and a project he first contemplated a couple of years before the Love and Money reunion. It was only after the reunion, that he decided to return to songwriting and his new songs found their way onto what became Starless eponymous debut album.
For his new project, Paul McGeechan had a wish-list of well known names from Scottish music. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy to persuade everyone to take part in the project.
Apart from former Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser, everyone agreed to take part and Paul McGeechan was joined in the studio by some of the great and good of Scottish music for the recording of Starless. This included The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, The Bathers’ Chris Thomson, former Capercaillie vocalist Karen Matheson and folk singer Julie Fowlis. They were joined by Lau’s Kris Drever and Ewan Vernal who was by Paul McGeechan’s during much of the recording of Starless. Eventually, the album was completed and his dream had become reality.
When Starless was released in May 2016, it was to critical acclaim. Critics heaped praise on an album where the Scottish supergroup incorporated elements of Scottish-Gaelic traditional music, pop, rock, an element of theatre and were joined by The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. It was an album full of ethereal beauty where troubled troubadours with worldweary vocals join lush strings in producing what was an almost flawless album. The big question was would there be a followup?
There was, and just like its predecessor Starless, the much-anticipated followup Earthbound was a star-studded affair that took the best part of two years to record. Joining Paul McGeechan this time around were some old friends from his musical past, including some of the cast from Starless.
This included his old friend from Friends Again, and Bathers frontman Chris Thompson and folk singer Julie Fowlis, who made a welcome return on Earthbound. They were joined by Hipsway’s Grahame Skinner, former Big Dish frontman Steven Lindsay, onetime Delgado Emma Pollock and Jerry Burns. There’s also contributions from Marie Clare, Karliene, Silvia Ramón Gérard and The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra who played such an important part in the sound of Starless.
Recording of Earthbound took place in three studios in Scotland, Waterside Productions, Chem 19 and UWS. Then producer Paul McGeechan travelled to Smecky Studios in the Czech capital where he recorded the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s contribution. By then, he knew he had almost completed the project that was conceived nearly two years earlier. After nearly two years of hard work, Earthbound, the much-anticipated followup to Starless was complete.
Eventually, in late-May 2020, Starless received their long-awaited sophomore album Earthbound. The band’s eponymous debut album had set the bar high, and it wasn’t going to be easy to match never mind surpass the quality of Starless. However, if anyone could do it, it was Paul McGeechan and his all-star band Starless on Earthbound.
Opening Earthbound is Long Bhriseadh (Shipwreck). It’s an emotive instrumental full of drama that paints pictures as strings sweep and the piano plays. Later, the sound of waves break on the deserted shore and in the distance a piper plays, adding to the heartbreak and drama on this cinematic sounding track.
The traditional Gaelic lament Ailein Duinn features a heartfelt and impassioned vocal from Karliene. Meanwhile, strings sweep, the piano plays and drums provide the heartbeat. Then later, the sound of waves lapping on the beach is added and is the finishing touch to what’s a truly beautiful track.
Paper is a piano lead track that features a tender, thoughtful vocal from former Delgado Emma Pollock. As the understated arrangement unfolds and evolves there’s a nod to trip hop pioneers Portishead. Later, strings sweep, swirl and dance as the Castle Douglas-born singer delivers a tender, soul-baring vocal on one of Earthbound’s highlights.
Breakdown marks the Starless debut of former Big Dish frontman Steven Lindsay. He delivers an impassioned and bittersweet vocal that’s akin to a confessional. Meanwhile, drums, crack, strings cascade and along with the piano set the scene and add an element of drama to this four minute mini-drama.
Making a welcome return on Spellbound is Chris Thompson of The Bathers. A distant piano and strings set the scene on this understated and spacious. Just a lone piano accompanies the troubled troubadour as he enters and takes centrestage. Soon, he’s painting pictures with his lived-in, worldweary vocal and breathing life and meaning into the lyrics. Meanwhile, drums provide the heartbeat and strings sweep and later quiver and shiver. They frame the wistful vocal during a spellbinding performance from one of Scotland’s finest vocalists.
There’s a sense of melancholy from the opening bars of Glittering Light as a piano plays and the arrangement gradually reveals its secrets. This includes cinematic strings and a tender, heartfelt vocal from one of Scottish music’s best kept secrets Jerry Burns. She’s accompanied by an arrangement that shimmers and glistens as strings sweep and later with a voice full of emotion, asks: “where are you now?”
The sound of Morse code opens Settling Mist before a lone piano plays and is joined by strings. They sweep majestically and later are joined by pipes in creating a cinematic track that latterly, has a quintessentially Scottish sound.
The ethereal sounding Marie Clare Lee featured on Starless’ eponymous debut album. She makes a welcome return on Chase The Devil, where she lays bare her soul on a widescreen symphonic epic.
Very different is Cridhe Aingeal, an eerie, atmospheric and filmic interlude that lasts just twenty-five seconds.
Seesaw and sweeping strings add a melancholy hue on Somewhere In The Night as they accompany Steven Lindsay’s impassioned vocal. It’s joined by drums and synths as the drama builds on an arrangement that in parts, harks back to the eighties. Meanwhile, the vocal is mixture of power and passion as he sings: “so pray for me and shield me from the light, and wait for me.” Framing his needy pleas is a stirring, string drenched arrangement that proves to be the perfect accompaniment.
Another of the highlights of Earthbound is Sea Shanty No.2 (Wish You Were Here) Hipsway frontman Grahame Skinner delivers a vocal full loneliness, longing and hurt. He sounds as if he’s lived the lyrics as the strings sweep and swirl and a backing vocalist adds to the sense of longing.
Chris Thompson returns Calvary which initially has an understated arrangement. Soon, its beating heart is joined by a guitar and strings that add a degree of urgency. Meanwhile his vocal takes on a confessional quality as the genre-melting arrangement builds and becomes dramatic. This is perfect backdrop for a vocal that’s akin to a cathartic unburdening from The Bathers’ frontman.
Closing Earthbound is the lament Ailein Duinn (1957) which was written in Gaelic for sea captain for Alan Morrison by his fiancée Annie Campbell. They set sail to Lewis in 1788, and sailed into a storm and the vessel sank with only Annie Campbell surviving. She was broken hearted and wrote this lament for her lost love. Sadly, she died a few months later having wasted away because of the grief and heartbreak and her lasting legacy is this lament.
Starless reinvent Annie Campbell’s lament and give it a ‘21st’ Century makeover. It opens with the sound of waves breaking on the shore and claps of thunder as Julie Fowlis’ vocal enters. It’s replaced by melancholy strings before she returns and continues to deliver a tender, heartfelt and emotive vocal. Then when it drops out the sound of waves crashing and gently breaking on the beach can be heard. They’re accompanied by a harpsichord and later, replaced by what’s meant to be a ship using Morse Code to tell of the shipwreck that they’ve discovered after the storm. It’s a sobering and heart-wrenching way to close the album with such a tragic story that is guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings.
Nearly four years after the release of their eponymous debut album, Starless make a welcome return with the long-awaited and much-anticipated sophomore album Earthbound. Just like its predecessor, Starless founder Paul McGeechan was joined by an impressive all-star lineup. However, this time around, he’s shuffled the pack and some new names join the cast. This includes Emma Pollock, Grahame Skinner and Steven Lindsay. They joined Chris Thompson, Julie Fowlis and Marie Claire Lee who featured on Starless, and play their part in the sound and success of the followup Earthbound. So do the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra whose contribution to the album can’t be underestimated.
They play their part in sweeping, widescreen arrangements that provide the perfect backdrop to songs that are variously atmospheric, beautiful, cinematic, dramatic. elegiac and ethereal. Other songs are haunting or full of hurt, loneliness, longing and melancholia and are brought to life by some of Scotland’s finest vocalists who breath life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. They play their part in a near flawless opus that marks the welcome return of Paul McGeechan’s all-star band Starless, on their near flawless sophomore album Earthbound.
Boillat Thérace Quintet-Boillat Thérace Quintet +3.
Label: We Release Jazz.
Release Date: ’10th’ July 2020.
By 1974, the Swiss jazz scene was thriving, and the Montreux Jazz Festival which had been launched in 1967, was in its eight year. The organisers had surpassed themselves with what was an all-star lineup
Between the ‘2nd’ and ‘7th’ July 1974, the great and good of jazz arrived at what was now one of Europe’s premiere jazz festivals. Legends of jazz including Cecil Taylor, Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Billy Cobham, Sonny Rollins, Mahavishnu Orchestra and The Gil Evans Orchestra were due to arrive and entertain Swiss jazz fans. They also inspired the local jazz musicians.
That had been the case since the early days of the Montreux Jazz Festival, and suddenly, new bands being formed and creating ambitious, inventive and innovative music. This was the case in towns and cities across Switzerland.
Another jazz hotspot was the region that surrounds Lake Geneva. It was home to jazz activist and one of Switzerland’s top pianists Jean-François Boillat, and Raymond Thérace. He was known for his versatility and ability to play a variety of wind instruments including the flute and tenor saxophone. This talented duo decided to form a their own band and the Boillat Thérace Quintet was born.
They recorded two albums between 1974 and 1975. Their debut album was Boillat Thérace Quintet which was recorded between the ‘17th’ and ‘19th’ January 1974. By then, the lineup featured drummer Eric Wespi, bassist Frédéric Pecoud and percussionist Rogelio Garcia. They were joined by Jean-François Boillat on piano and Fender Rhodes, while Raymond Thérace switched between flute and tenor saxophone during the sessions.
Boillat Thérace Quintet recorded six tracks that made it onto the album. This included 1224, Rahsaan Rahsaan and Cenovis which were written by Jean-François Boillat and Raymond Thérace. They were joined by covers of Roland Kirk’s Sweet Fire, Keith Jarrett’s In Your Quiet Place and Freddie Hubbard’s Straight Life. However, three other cover versions were recorded but never made it onto the album. This included Herbie Hancock’s Dolphin Dance, Wayne Shorter’s Adam’s Apple and Claude Engel’s ‘5th’ Of July, Dulong Street. They’re why We Release Jazz’s CD version of the album is now billed as Boillat Thérace Quintet +3. They’re a welcome addition to the reissue of what’s now an incredibly rare European jazz album.
With the album complete, there was no sign of a indie or major label signing the Boillat Thérace Quintet.They decided like a lot of artists and bands in the early to mid seventies to self-release their album. Boillat Thérace Quintet was scheduled to be released by PMP Pierre Maire Productions later in 1974.
While self-releasing their album gave the Quintet control over every aspect of the release, and potentially was more profitable, it wasn’t without a number of pitfalls. The band’s money was at risk and they were paying for everything directly. This included recording and manufacturing the album. Often by the time they paid for this there was very little money left.
Very few artists and bands had the marketing budget and expertise that a record company had. They also had a contract with a distributor who could get the album into record shops. Bands self-releasing an album couldn’t, and often, resorted to taking boxes of albums around local record shops in the hope that they would take some on sale or return.The other option was to sell their album after concerts. It was hard work, but bands were able to release an album and for many, this was something that they had dreamt of.
Later in 1974, Boillat Thérace Quintet was released in Switzerland by PMP Pierre Maire Productions. Just like many other private presses, only a small number of copies Boillat Thérace Quintet were pressed. Despite the quality of music on this album of soul-jazz and modal jazz it was a low-profile release that slipped under the musical radar. Very few people outside of the local jazz scene were aware of the release of Boillat Thérace Quintet. It was another private press that failed to find the audience it deserved.
Opening the album is 1224, which is dedicated to Geneva’s public transport line Tram 12. It finds the Boillat Thérace Quintet grabbing the listener’s attention from ye get-go. What follows is a memorable and sometimes funky, dramatic and cinematic slice of soul-jazz that takes the listen on a musical journey.
The tempo drops on the cover of Roland Kirk’s Sweet Fire. It’s beautiful, dreamy and sensual cover and shows another side to the Boillat Thérace Quintet.
They change things around on Rahsaan Rahsaan where the rhythm section propel the arrangement along, and Jean-François Boillat’s piano and Raymond Thérace flute plays leading rolls. Drum fills punctuate the arrangement to a track that sounds as if it belongs on the soundtrack to a French or Swiss film.
For those unfamiliar with Cenovis it’s the Swiss equivalent of Marmite. Here, Jean-François Boillat switches to Fender Rhodes and combines with the rest of the rhythm section and percussionist Rogelio Garcia to provide the perfect backdrop for Raymond Thérace’s tenor saxophone. He gives one of his finest performances playing with speed, control and accuracy as his sultry saxophone breezes across the arrangement playing its part in the feelgood summery sounding track where jazz, funk, fusion and Latin are combined seamlessly by the Quintet.
Very different but quite beautiful is the wistful piano lead ballad In Your Quiet Place. It encourages reflection and is one of the album’s highlights.
Boillat Thérace Quintet close their eponymous debut album on a high with Straight Life. Funky fusion and soul-jazz are combined on a track where Raymond Thérace unleashes a peerless performance on tenor saxophone. He’s combines power and speed but is always in control. Meanwhile, Jean-François Boillat fingers dance across the keyboard to his Fender Rhodes on this irresistible track that would still fill a dancefloor. It’s akin to a call to dance and resistance is impossible.
Although there’s only six tracks on Boillat Thérace Quintet they’re all of the highest quality. There’s everything from funk and fusion to Latin, modal jazz and soul-jazz and sometimes, several genres are fused within the space of a track. This the Boillat Thérace Quintet do effortlessly and seamlessly.
While each member of the band are obviously talented and versatile musicians, cofounders pianist Jean-François Boillat and tenor saxophonist and flautist Raymond Thérace play starring roles. They’re playing is flawless and veers between beautiful, dreamy melancholy, sensual, understated and wistful on the ballads. Other times, the music is cinematic, dancefloor friendly or fiery, funky, sultry and irresistible. Not once will the listener be tempted to reach for their remote control.
Not even on the bonus tracks, which on many albums can be hit or miss affairs. That isn’t the case here and they’re welcome additions and offer further insight into Boillat Thérace Quintet who only released two albums during their career. This includes their eponymous debut album which nowadays, is a much-prized rarity among collectors of European jazz that changes hands for around €250. However, the reissue of Boillat Thérace Quintet means that a jazz fans old and new, will be belatedly be able to discover the delights of this long-lost hidden gem of an album that is one of the jewels in the crown of Swiss jazz.
Boillat Thérace Quintet-Boillat Thérace Quintet +3.
Greg Foat-Symphonie Pacifique.
Release Date: ‘3rd’ July 2020.
Prolific and versatile are words that describe London-based Greg Foat, who nowadays, is regarded as one of Britain’s top jazz pianists and composers. His career began back in the noughties, and in 2009, he founded The Greg Foat Group who went on to release five albums between 2011 and 2016. That is just part of the story.
Greg Foat who has previously been described as a “born collaborator,” has also recorded albums with Warren Hampshire as well as James Thorpe and Nick Moore aka Linkwood. These albums featured everything from library music, pastoral acid folk, soul-jazz and haunting, cinematic compositions. They were released to plaudits and praise and were a commercial success. Despite such a hectic schedule,
Despite collaborating on six albums since 2017, Greg Foat still finds time to record solo albums.
His latest solo album is the much-anticipated Symphonie Pacifique, which is the first album that Greg Foat has released for Strut, who he signed to earlier in 2020. It’s a new start for the London-based bandleader, composer and pianist, and is the ninth album that Greg Foat has released in the last four years. Symphonie Pacifique is best described as an expansive and widescreen album that features some of the lushest soundscapes Greg Foat has recorded.
For the recording of Symphonie Pacifique, Greg Foat built these lush soundscapes using choral textures, and uses a harp and tubular bells on the album. He explains: “It has been a hallmark of my previous albums to use choral voices and tubular bells to sound more like chordal instruments… “I used pedal steel for the first time on these tracks.” The pedal steel was put to good use on the album.
It opens with the ruminative Prelude, which lasts just twenty-eight seconds. Very different is Symphonie Pacifique, where the rhythm section set the scene and stabs of piano tease the listener. They know something special is about to unfold, and it does. Greg Foat’s fingers dance across the rippling keyboard as strings sweep and a choral influence can be heard. Together they paint pictures of blues skies, golden beaches and better times. Later, he pounds the piano as if in frustration, but celestial voices reassure and strings sweep as if saying the good times will return.
Undulation is another short wistful soundscape that invites reflection. It gives way to Anticipation, a sensuous sounding, groove-based soundscape that initially, its dubby and dreamy with a Balearic influence. There’s even a nod to Underworld’s Born Slippy as synths, sweeping, swirling strings and scatted vocals combine. Later, it’s all change as duelling braying horns are unleashed and cascade as they’re played with power and speed. By now, the influence of Donald Byrd and the Mizell Brothers can be heard on this captivating, ethereal and cinematic soundscape.
Mu is another ruminative interlude where dark strings dominate. It’s followed by Yonaguni where disparate genres melt into one. This includes everything from slinky jazz-funk, house, funk and acid jazz. However, it’s Greg Foat’s piano that plays a leading role, while seesaw strings, sci-fi sounds and ethereal vocals play supporting roles in this uplifting and memorable song with a summery vibe. So has the languorous, and leisurely sounding Island Life which is one of the highlights of the album.
Greg Foat explains about Nikinakinu. “This was one for my stepson Nicky. I worked up this idea with him and my Zimbabwean drummer friend Sam Chagumachinyi so it has a slightly African feel to it and uses pentatonic scales”. The tempo rises on this genre-melting workout. Funk and fusion combine with the African influence on this feelgood track where Greg Foat channels the spirit of Herbie Hancock and blasts of horns provide the perfect accompaniment.
Man Vs Machine sounds as it’s been insprired by a classic Kraftwerk track. Percussion combines with an analog drum duet on what’s best described as ‘21st’ Century robo-funk.
Very different is the beautiful, haunting and ruminative Before The Storm. It sounds as if it should belong on a film soundtrack. So does the atmospheric and cinematic After The Storm. The experimental sounding Meditation On A Pedal Steel sounds as if it should belong on a Wim Wenders soundtrack. It’s one of the finest tracks on Symphonie Pacifique.
One of the most poignant tracks on the album is Lament For Lamont. It’s a tribute to KPM library music legend Duncan Lamont who also worked with Frank Sinatra, and recorded Best Of The Bossa Novas one of the biggest selling British jazz albums. He featured on Greg Foat’s album The Mage and was meant to play on Symphonie Pacifique. Sadly, he passed away a couple of months before the sessions, and this is Greg Foat’s beautiful, poignant tribute to one of the unsung heroes of British jazz, and a hero to many afficianados of library music.
Pointe Vénus is meanders along encoring the listener to reflect and ruminate. Greg Foat’s piano is accompanied by an understated and ethereal arrangement that floats along. Later, horns adds a jazzy hue and accompanies the rippling piano adding a degree of drama and to the beauty that is omnipresent. Beauty is also omnipresent throughout Mother’s Love, where a distant saxophone is part of an ethereal and dubby soundscape.
Closing Symphonie Pacifique is Epilogue-Three Tenors. Greg Foat heads to the control room and lets the three tenors take centrestage. They create an undulating, shimmering and dubby soundscape that is subtle, understated and again encourages reflection. It’s the perfect way to close the album.
Symphonie Pacifique is without doubt, the finest solo album of Greg Foat’s career. It’s an emotional roller coaster with a cinematic quality where the music veers between ruminative and inviting reflection to beautiful, languorous and joyous on what’s an almost flawless album.
It finds Greg Foat flitting seamlessly between and combining disparate genres and influences. There’s everything from African music to ambient, Balearic, dub, electronica, funk, house and jazz to jazz-funk, fusion, library music, soul-jazz and soundtracks. Then there’s the influence of everyone from David Axelrod, Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock, Kraftwerk, the Mizell Brothers, Underworld and Wim Wenders. Add to all these disparate genres and influences lush strings and choral influences and Symphonie Pacifique is a captivating that doesn’t disappoint.
Bandleader, composer, pianist and producer Greg Foat comes of age musically on Symphonie Pacifique, which is his Magnus Opus, and a timeless album that sets the bar high for the future. However, if anyone can top Symphonie Pacifique it’s Greg Foat who is one of the leading lights of British jazz and an inventive and innovative musician never lets his standards drop despite his prolificacy.
Greg Foat-Symphonie Pacifique.
Label: UMC/Virgin EMI.
Release Date: ‘10th’ of July 2020.
When Ian Gillan and Roger Glover left Deep Purple in 1973, this left a huge void for one of the unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal. They were regarded as almost irreplaceable, and had played a huge part in Deep Purple’s rise to titans of rock. For Deep Purple and their legion of loyal fans, it was the end of an era.
Deep Purple had come a long way since they changed their name from Roundabout in 1968. However, success didn’t come overnight and it was their fourth studio album Deep Purple In Rock, released in June 1970 that transformed their fortunes. It was certified gold in Britain, America, Italy and France. This was just the start for Deep Purple.
For the next three years, commercial success and critical acclaim would be constant companions of the original lineup of Deep Purple. During that period, they were one of the hardest rocking groups of the seventies. They also established a reputation as one of the hardest living bands.
Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were crowned the: “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal.” The three groups seemed proud of their infamy, and wore it like a badge.
The “unholy trinity’s” penchant for the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle was legendary. Excess and extravagance was an everyday occurrence. Similarly, chaos and carnage was omnipresent as the “unholy trinity” toured the world. Each group seemed to determined to outdo the other. Hotel rooms were wrecked, televisions thrown out of windows and copious amounts of drink and drugs consumed during lengthy tours.
By 1973, all wasn’t well within Deep Purple and the group needed a break. Their management pushed them to finish Who Do We Think We Are despite bad feeling and tension within the band. This led to Ian Gillan quitting the group following the second Japanese tour in the summer of 1973. Then Roger Glover was dismissed at the insistence of Richie Blackmore. It was a huge loss, and many critics thought this could be a fatal blow for Deep Purple.
They brought onboard Glenn Hughes who had been the bassist in Trapeze, and unknown vocalist David Coverdale. The new lineup of Deep Purple began work on their eighth studio album Burn in November 1973. However, the Deep Purple story began six year years earlier.
Although Deep Purple were formed in 1968 in Hertford, the story begins in 1967. That was when ex-Searchers drummer, Chris Curtis, contacted London based businessman, Tony Edwards, with a business proposition. He wanted to create a supergroup which he would name Roundabout. The idea behind the name was that the lineup was fluid. Members would come and go, on what was akin to a musical roundabout. Tony Edwards liked the idea and brought onboard Jon Coletta and Ron Hire. They named their new venture Hire-Edwards-Coletta (HEC) Enterprises. Now with financial backing, Chris Curtis started putting together Roundabout.
The first member of Roundabout was Jon Lord, a classically trained organist. He’d previously played with The Artwoods. Guitarist Richie Blackmore, who recently, had been working as a session musician is Hamburg auditioned. He also joined Roundabout, and so did bassist Nick Simper, whose most recent band was The Flower Pot Men. He was a friend of Richie Blackmore.
The two other members of Roundabout were also friends. Rod Evans was recruited as the lead vocalists. Previously, he was a member The Maze, and their drummer was Ian Paice. He became the final piece in the jigsaw. However, he wasn’t the first choice drummer.
Originally, Bobby Woodman was meant to be Roundabout’s drummer. He was drummer when Rod Evans auditioned as vocalist. However, Richie Blackmore had seen Nick Paice playing before, and although he just eighteen, knew he was a good drummer. So when Bobby Woodman headed out to buy cigarettes, Ian Paice was auctioned. Instantly, everyone realised he was a better drummer. When Bobby returned with his cigarettes he was no longer Roundabout’s drummer. However, at least Roundabout’s lineup was settled. Or so people thought.
Roundabout were kitted out with the finest equipment and lived at Deeves House in South Mimms, Hertfordshire. This was their home during March 1968. That was, until they headed out on a short tour of Denmark and Sweden. It was during this tour that Roundabout became Deep Purple.
It was Richie Blackmore that came up with the name Deep Purple. This was the name of his grandmother’s favourite song. That was the name he wrote on the blackboard, when everyone was asked to choose a new name for the nascent band. Deep Purple wasn’t the favourite though. That was Concrete God. However, the members of Roundabout decided against it. They felt the name was too harsh. So Roundabout became Deep Purple and began recording their debut album in May 1968.
Shades Of Deep Purple.
When Deep Purple entered Pye Studios, in Marble Arch, London Deep Purple in May 1968, they’d chosen ten songs for their debut album Shades Of Deep Purple. Seven songs were written by members of Deep Purple. The other three songs were cover versions. This included Joe South’s Hush, Lennon and McCartney’s Help! and Joe Roberts’ Hey Joe which is synonymous with Jimi Hendrix. These ten songs were recorded by the original version of Deep Purple. This included vocalist Rod Evans, drummer Ian Paice, bassists Nick Simper, organist Jon Lord and guitarist Richie Blackmore. Producing Shades Of Deep Purple was a friend of Richie’s, Derek Lawrence. Once Shades Of Deep Purple was recorded, it was released later in 1969
When critics heard Shades Of Deep Purple they weren’t impressed. Reviews were mostly negative. Since then, critics have rewritten history and most reviews of Shades Of Deep Purple are positive. Back in 1968, things were very different. Shades Of Deep Purple was perceived as unfocused. It was a mix of psychedelia, progressive rock, pop rock and thanks to Richie Blackmore’s hard rock guitar riffs. That was why many critics disliked Shades Of Deep Purple. Record buyers had different ideas about Shades Of Deep Purple,
Shades Of Deep Purple was released in July 1968 in America. It reached number twenty-four in the US Billboard 200 charts. This was no doubt helped by Hush reaching number four in the US Billboard 100 charts. Two months later, Shades Of Deep Purple reached number fourteen in Britain. For Deep Purple their debut album had been a commercial success and their lives transformed.
After the commercial success of the single Hush and Shades Of Deep Purple, Deep Purple were booked into a gruelling tour of America. Their American record company, Tetragrammaton, decided that Deep Purple should record another album. They headed into the recording studio in September 1968 to record what became The Book of Taliesyn.
The Book of Taliesyn.
Time was against Deep Purple as there wasn’t long before their American tour was due to begin. They only had five new songs written and had to rely upon cover versions to complete The Book of Taliesyn. Neil Diamond’s Kentucky Woman, Lennon and McCartney’s We Can Work It Out and River Deep, Mountain High completed The Book of Taliesyn. It was released in America in December 1968,
Just like Shades Of Deep Purple, The Book of Taliesyn was a mixture of psychedelia and progressive rock. The only difference was it had a harder edge. Deep Purple’s trademark sound was evolving and critics seemed to prefer The Book of Taliesyn. It received a much more favourable reception from critics. This was also the case upon the release of The Book of Taliesyn.
Released in December 1968, The Book of Taliesyn reached number fifty-four in the US Billboard 200. Two singles were released in America. Kentucky Woman reached number thirty eight in the US Billboard 100 charts. Then River Deep, Mountain High stalled at number fifty-three in the US Billboard 100 charts. The Book of Taliesyn charted in Canada and Japan. It seemed word was spreading about Deep Purple. However, in Britain, The Book of Taliesyn failed to chart. That wasn’t the only problem Deep Purple would have.
By 1969, Deep Purple were becoming a tight, talented band. Onstage and in the studio, they were growing and evolving. This included as songwriters. Although they’d only been together just over a year, they were a much better band. They’d released two albums and toured constantly. There was a problem though. Which direction should their music take?
Some members of Deep Purple wanted their music to take on a rawer, harder sound. This didn’t please everyone. Lead vocalist Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper were in the minority. Organist Jon Lord, guitarist Richie Blackmore and drummer Nick Paice wanted the band to change direction. With the band split, this wasn’t the best way to prepare for the recording of their third album Deep Purple.
For Deep Purple, the band were keen to turn their back on cover versions. Deep Purple only featured one cover version, Donavon’s Lalena. The eight tracks were all written by members of Deep Purple. Just like their first two albums, Deep Purple would be produced by Derek Lawrence.
Recording of Deep Purple took place during a two-month tour. Deep Purple had ensured they had some free days where they could record their third album during January and March 1969. Recording took place at the De Lane Lea Studio, London. They were familiar with the De Lane Lea Studio. Previously, Deep Purple had rerecorded The Bird Has Flown there. So, they were familiar with the room. This allowed Deep Purple to work quickly. With their reputation in America growing, Deep Purple wanted their eponymous album released as soon as possible.
As soon as Deep Purple was recorded, Deep Purple jumped on a plane and headed back to America. They rejoined the tour of the country that had claimed them as their own. There was a problem though. Tetragrammaton, Deep Purple’s American label hadn’t pressed the album. Worse than that, the label had financial problems. Within a year, they would be insolvent and filing for bankruptcy. Already, this was affecting Deep Purple. Their manager John Colleta headed home. He decided that this would save on a hotel room. Things it seemed, couldn’t get any worse for Deep Purple.
On the release of Deep Purple in June 1969, the album had a harder sound. Elements of blues, progressive rock and heavy metal combined on seven tracks. The exception was The Bird Has Flown. It veered off in the direction of classical music. Mostly, though, Deep Purple’s trademark sound was evolving. How would critics and fans respond to Deep Purple?
Given the problems with Tetragrammaton, it’s no surprise that Deep Purple wasn’t a commercial success. Tetragrammaton couldn’t afford to promote Deep Purple properly. Despite generally positive reviews from critics, Deep Purple stalled at 162 in the US Billboard 200 charts. It failed to chart in the UK on its release in November 1969. At least Deep Purple charted in Japan. Things looked up when Deep Purple was certified gold in Germany. That was the only good news Deep Purple enjoyed.
The tension that was within Deep Purple bubbled over after the release of their third album. This lead to vocalist Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper being replaced. In came vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover. Little did anyone realise that this would later be perceived as the classic lineup of Deep Purple. It was also the lineup that recorded the album that saw Deep Purple make a commercial breakthrough in Britain, with Deep Purple In Rock.
Deep Purple In Rock.
With their new lineup, Deep Purple Mk II entered the studio for the second time. They made their recording debut on Concerto for Group and Orchestra which was a collaboration between Deep Purple and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. However, Deep Purple In Rock was the start of a new era in Deep Purple’s history.
Recording of Deep Purple In Rock took place at IBC, De Lane Lea and Abbey Road Studios. A total of seven songs were recorded. They were written by Deep Purple. These seven songs showcased the new Deep Purple. The music was heavier and more like what would be seen as their classic sound. This was essentially hard rock or heavy metal. It was after the success of Deep Purple In Rock that lead to Deep Purple being referred to as the third member of the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal.”
Deep Purple released Deep Purple In Rock on 3rd June 1970. This was Deep Purple’s first album to be released to widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. It was the first Deep Purple album to reach the top ten in Britain. Deep Purple In Rock reached number four in Britain. In America, Deep Purple In Rock only reached number 143 in the US Billboard 200 charts. Elsewhere, Deep Purple In Rock was a huge commercial success worldwide.
From Europe to Argentina, America and Japan, Deep Purple In Rock was a huge success. This resulted in gold discs for Deep Purple in America, Argentina, Britain, France and Holland. For Deep Purple, Deep Purple In Rock was a game-changer. Their decision to change direction musically was vindicated. Now, Deep Purple were one of the biggest bands in rock music. Little did Deep Purple realise that they were entering the most successful period of their career.
Fireball was the first of three number one albums Deep Purple would have in Britain. Belatedly, Britain had “got” Deep Purple. They were their own, and were proud of that. The hard rocking quintet’s unique brand of hard rock was winning friends and influencing people. Having toured extensively, at last Deep Purple were now part of British rock royalty. This continued with Fireball.
Given Deep Purple extensive touring schedule, albums were recorded whenever the band had downtime. Fireball was recorded during various sessions that took place between September 1970 and June 1971. Recording took place at De Lane Lea Studios and Olympic Studios, London. Other sessions took place at The Hermitage, Welcombe, North Devon. During these sessions, seven tracks were recorded. Each of the tracks were credited to the five members of Deep Purple. Unlike other bands, everyone in Deep Purple played their part in the songwriting process. That had been the case since the first album Deep Purple Mk. II had recorded, Deep Purple In Rock. Just like Deep Purple In Rock, Fireball would be a commercial success.
Most critics gave Fireball favourable reviews. There were very few dissenting voices. Apart from later, members of Deep Purple. They felt Fireball wasn’t their best album. Record buyers disagreed.
Across the world, Fireball was a huge commercial success. Fireball was released in Britain in July 1971. Record buyers in America and Europe had to wait until September 1971. By then, Fireball had reached number one in Britain and was certified gold. Two singles were released in Britain. Strange Kind of Woman reached number eight and Fireball number fifteen. This was just the start of Fireball’s success.
When Fireball was released in America it reached number thirty-two in the US Billboard 200 charts and was certified gold. In Canada Fireball reached number twenty-four. Fireball proved one of Deep Purple’s most successful albums in Japan, reaching number sixty-six. Australians were won over by Fireball, when it reached number four. Deep Purple proved popular in Israel, where they enjoyed a top ten album. However, it was in Europe that Fireball burnt brightest.
On Fireball’s release in September 1971, it reached number one in Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Sweden. Fireball reached the top ten in Finland, France, Holland, Italy Norway. Despite the widespread commercial success and critical acclaim Fireball enjoyed in Europe, the only gold disc awarded was in Holland. However, Deep Purple would make up for this with their sixth album, Machine Head.
By 1972, Deep Purple had established themselves as one of the hardest working bands in music. They seemed to be constantly touring. When they weren’t touring, they were recording. As a result, Deep Purple were about release their sixth album in less than four years, Machine Head.
Unlike their five previous albums, Deep Purple didn’t head into the recording studio. Instead, they brought the recording studio to them. They were booked to stay at the Grand Hotel, in Montreux Casino, Switzerland. So that’s where they brought the Rolling Stone’s sixteen track mobile recording studio to. Between the 6th and 21st December 1971, Deep Purple were meant to record their sixth album, Machine Head. However, there was a problem.
Lead vocalist Ian Gillan had contracted hepatitis and his doctors advised him to rest. For Deep Purple, this was a disaster. The hotel rooms and mobile recording studio was booked. They’d already had to cancel their forthcoming American tour. Cancelling the recording of their sixth album would be an utter disaster. No doubt realising the gravity of the situation, and buoyed by the excitement of starting recording a new album, Deep Purple decided to head to Switzerland.
Deep Purple landed in Switzerland on 3rd December 1971. Only one further concert had to take place at Montreux Casino. That was Frank Zappa’s now infamous concert. It took place on the 4th December 1971. During Frank Zappa’s set, an over enthusiastic member of the audience fired a flare. It hit the roof, causing the Montreux Casino to go on fire. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Unfortunately, the Montreux Casino was in no fit state to double as a makeshift studio. Luckily, the Montreux Casino’s owner Claude Nobs new a theatre nearby that could be transformed into a makeshift studio. Deep Purple headed to the Pavilion where they recorded a song based on the somewhat surreal experience at the Montreux Casino. This song would become a classic, Smoke On The Water.
For what became Machine Head, Deep Purple had six songs completed. They were all credited to the five members of Deep Purple. So would the unfinished song with was provisionally titled “Title No. 1.” However, as the five members of Deep Purple spoke about the events at the Montreux Casino, bass player Roger Glover uttered the immortal words “Smoke On The Water.” A classic had been born.
During a sixteen day period between the 6th and 21st December 1971, Deep Purple recorded their sixth album, Machine Head. The conditions weren’t ideal. The mobile recording studio was parked outside and cables run through the Pavilion. They ran along corridors and under doors. It was far from the ideal conditions to record an album. Coupled with Ian Gillan’s medical condition, it’s a wonder Deep Purple were able to even record an album, never mind a career defining album.
Machine Head was released on 25th March 1972. Reviews varied between favourable to glowing. Although reviews mattered, what counted was sales. There was no problem there. On its release, Machine Head reached number one in eight countries. This included Argentina, Australia, Austria, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France and Yugoslavia. In Holland, Italy, Japan, Norway andSweden, Machine Head reached the top ten. Across the Atlantic, Machine Head became Deep Purple’s most successful album, when it reached number seven in the US Billboard 200 charts. Given the commercial success of Machine Head, it received a plethora of gold and platinum discs.
Having reached number one in their home country, Machine Head was certified gold in Britain. Across the English Channel, Machine Head was certified gold twice. In Argentina, Machine Head was certified platinum. However, Machine Head was most successful in America, where it was certified double-platinum. However, this wasn’t the end of the commercial success. Machine Head featured two singles.
Never Before was chosen as the lead single in Britain. Although it reached number twelve, this seemed a strange choice. After all, Smoke In The Water was a classic in waiting. It reached number four in the US Billboard 100 charts. It wasn’t until 1977 that belatedly, Smoke In The Water was released as a single, where it reached number twenty-one. How it wasn’t released as a single in 1972, remains a musical mystery. However, having released a career defining album, Machine Head, Deep Purple headed out on their Machine Head World Tour.
Made In Japan.
The Machine Head World Tour would be one of the most gruelling tours Deep Purple had embarked upon. It was scheduled to last the rest of 1972 and into 1973. Deep Purple were a hugely successful band. That’s why music lovers in the four corners of the globe wanted to see and hear Deep Purple. That included in Japan.
By August 1972 Deep Purple had arrived in Japan. They’d been popular in Japan for most of their career. However, Machine Head transformed Deep Purple’s fortunes. This included in Japan. On the 15th and 16th of August 1972, Deep Purple took to the stage in Osaka. Then on 17th August 1972, Deep Purple landed in Tokyo. These three concerts were recorded and became Made In Japan, which was akin to a a heavy rock masterclass from Deep Purple.
For anyone who couldn’t make the Machine Head World Tour, Made In Japan was the perfect reminder of a legendary tour. Especially the Japanese leg. Between the 15th and 17th August 1972, Deep Purple were at their hard rocking best.
This continued wherever they went. However, there were a lot of people who wanted a reminder of this legendary tour. For others, who for whatever reason, couldn’t get to see Deep Purple, a double album entitled Made In Japan was almost as good. It was released in Britain in December 1972 and in America in April 1973.
When critics heard Made In Japan, even the most cynical and hardbitten rock critic had to compliment Deep Purple. They were no one of the three best heavy rock bands in the word. Led Zeppelin were the best and Deep Purple and Black Sabbath fought it out for second place. So well received was Made In Japan, that it was heralded as one of the finest live albums ever. Made In Japan further reinforced Deep Purple’s reputation as one of the greatest heavy metal bands.
On its release in December 1972, Made In Japan reached number fifteen in Britain and was certified gold. Made In Japan reached number one in Austria, Germany and Canada. In Norway, Made In Japan reached number seven. Then in April 1973, Made In Japan reached number six in the US Billboard 200. For Deep Purple, this resulted in even more gold and platinum discs.
Across the word, Made In Japan was a commercial success. After being certified gold in Britain, it was then certified gold in France and platinum in America, Austria, Germany and Italy. In Argentina, Made In Japan was certified double platinum. Just four years after they first formed, Deep Purple were one of the most successful rock bands in the world. Their 1972 legendary live album, Made In Japan, is a reminder of Deep Purple at their very best.
Following Made In Japan, commercial success and critical acclaim continued for Deep Purple. There would also be changes in lineup, breakups and reunions. However, the classic lineup of Deep Purple features on Made In Japan. The classic line up of Deep Purple bid a farewell on 1973s Who Do We Think We Are.
When Who Do We Think We Are.
Following the critical acclaim and commercial success of Made In Japan, Deep Purple were keen to build on the momentum created by their live opus. Fortunately, Deep Purple had already recorded a new studio album. It had been recorded in Europe, during summer and autumn 1972.
The five members of Deep Purple had penned seven new songs, and they were recorded during using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. It made its war to Rome, Italy in July and part of When Who Do We Think We Are was recorded there. Then in October 1972, When Who Do We Think We Are was completed in Frankfurt in Germany. With their new studio album completed, this should’ve been a time for celebration. It wasn’t though.
Far from it. The group was slowly being ripped apart by disagreements within Deep Purple. Tensions had been high when When Who Do We Think We Are was being recorded. Things got so bad, that members of the Deep Purple weren’t speaking to each other. This resulted in a schedule having to be drawn up, so that warring band members could record their parts separately. Somehow, though, the five members managed to record the followup to Made In Japan. The big question was, would the internal strife affect quality of music on When Who Do We Think We Are?
When critics heard When Who Do We Think We Are, there was no consensus. Critics felt the quality of music was inconsistent. That was why reviews ranged from mixed to negative. Some critics accused Deep Purple of merely “going through the motions of making an album.” This was a far cry from previous albums.
When Who Do We Think We Are was released in January 1973, it reached number four in Britain. Across the Atlantic, the album proved successful, selling 500,000 copies within the first three months. This helped When Who Do We Think We Are reach number fifteen in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in gold discs in America and France. Compared with Deep Purple’s recent success this was seemed slightly disappointing. To make matters worse, vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover left the band after Who Do We Think We Are. Deep Purple’s career looked like it was at a crossroads.
With Ian Gillan and Roger Glover having left Deep Purple, this left a huge void. marked the end of an era for Deep Purple. Ian Gillan and Roger Glover were almost irreplaceable. They had played a huge part in Deep Purple’s rise to titans of rock.
From Deep Purple In Rock, right through to Made In Japan, Deep Purple enjoyed critical acclaim and commercial success. Deep Purple, and its classic lineup of Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Jon Lord, Ian Paice and Roger Glover were one of the biggest bands in the free world. However, the departure of Ian Gillan and Roger Glover looked as if this spelt the end of Deep Purple. Maybe it would be best if Deep Purple called it a day, while they were at the top. The last thing they wanted to do was besmirch their illustrious musical legacy. However, the three remaining members of Deep Purple weren’t ready to call it a day.
Instead, the two departing members of Deep Purple were soon replaced. A then unknown David Coverdale became Deep Purple’s vocalist, while Glen Hughes of Trapeze took over as bassist. They had big shoes to fill. However, with the help of the remaining members of Deep Purple, managed to do so during 1974. It was one of the busiest years of Deep Purple’s career, and saw them release Burn which has just been released by UMC/Virgin EMI on the ‘10th’ of July 2020.
With the two new members of Deep Purple onboard, work began on the first album of Deep Purple Mk. III’s career. When work began on what became Burn the five members of the band were involved. There was a problem though as Glenn Hughes had unexpired contractual obligations. This meant he couldn’t be credited on the album. Despite this, Glenn Hughes and the rest of Deep Purple cowrote five songs. The exceptions were Sail Away and Mistreated, which Richie Blackmore and David Coverdale cowrote. A200 which closed Burn, was written by Richie Blackmore, Jon Lord and Ian Paice. These songs were recorded in Montreux, in Switzerland.
Recording of Burn took place during November 1973. The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio had been hired, and made its way to Montreux. This was where the new lineup of Deep Purple made its debut. Deep Purple Mk. III featured a rhythm section of drummer Ian Paice, bassist Glenn Hughes and guitarist Richie Blackmore. Augmenting the rhythm section, was keyboardist Jon Lord. They provided the backdrop for new vocalist David Coverdale. He was part of a group that moved Deep Purple’s traditional sound forward. There was more of a boogie influence on Burn, which even featured elements of funk and soul. Once Burn was completed, Deep Purple would shortly showcase their new sound.
With Burn recorded, and the release scheduled for 15th February 1974. Before that, critics had their say on Deep Purple’s eighth studio album. Most of the critics were impressed with Deep Purple Mk. III’s ‘debut’ album. The hard rocking Burn set the bar high, as a hard rocking Deep Purple kicked loose. There was no stopping them, as they incorporated elements of boogie, blues, funk and soul. Burn was an album where Deep Purple’s music began to evolve. However, how would their fans respond?
On the release of Burn on 15th February 1974, it reached number three in Britain and number nine in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in gold discs in America, Argentina, Britain, France, Germany and Sweden. Richie Blackmore, Jon Lord and Ian Paice’s decision to continue with Deep Purple had been vindicated.
Storm had been well received by critics and was a commercial success. While it wasn’t as successful as some of their earlier albums, it was something to build on for Deep Purple Mk. III.
Buoyed by the success of Storm, Deep Purple’s thoughts turned to their next album which became Stormbringer. Deep Purple and Martin Birch coproduced the album, which was recorded at Musicland Studios, in Munich, Germany, between August and September 1974.
When Stormbringer was released in November 1974 there was no consensus amongst critics. Their reviews ranged from favourable to mixed although the album featured future classics like Lady Double Dealer, High Ball Shooter and the wistful ballad Soldier of Fortune. Despite the mixed reviews, the album was certified silver in Britain and gold in America and France. However, the album sales were way down, and to make matters worse David Coverdale didn’t like the funky soulful parts of Stormbringer.
On the ‘21st’ of June 1975, it was announced that after just two albums with Deep Purple, David Coverdale had left the band. He joined forces with Ronnie James Dio of Elf, and formed a new band waging they called Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. The name was shortened to Rainbow after the first album. By then, it was all change with Deep Purple.
After the departure of David Coverdale, the other members of Deep Purple cast their net wide and looked at some of the biggest names in music. Everyone from Rory Gallagher, Mick Ronson, Humble Pie’s Clem Clempson and Zal Cleminson of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Eventually, one of the quintessential British rock groups settled on American Tommy Bolin who had been a member of The James Gang between 1973 and 1974. He made his debut on Come Taste The Band.
Come Taste The Band.
Deep Purple Mk IV began recording what became Come Taste The Band on the ‘3rd’ of August 1975. The sessions finished on the ‘1st’ of September 1975, and after two months, Deep Purple’s tenth album was complete.
Come Taste The Band was released on the ‘10th’ of October 1975, and Deep Purple returned to a much more traditional hard rocking sound on what was a much more commercial sounding. However, Come Taste The Band the consistency and quality of previous albums and was described as a weak album.
Things didn’t improve for Deep Purple when the album stalled at forty-three on the US Billboard 200. The only small crumb of comfort was when Come Taste The Band reached number nineteen in Britain and was certified silver by November 1975. However, the sales of the album worldwide were disappointing. It was hoped that the 1976 tour would help sales.
In 1976, Deep Purple toured Come Taste The Band and things didn’t go to plan. Although Tommy Bolin was a talented guitarist, his problems with hard drugs started to affect his ability to performances. Fans didn’t realise he was in the throes of addiction and booed him because he couldn’t play solos like Ritchie Blackmore. To complicate matters, Glenn Hughes was addicted to cocaine and all this resulted in a number of poor performances. Things got so bad that the future of Deep Purple was in doubt.
Although Deep Purple Mk. IV called time on their career in the spring of 1976 the break up of the band was only announced in July 1976. By then, only Jon Lord and Ian Paice remained from the lineup of Deep Purple that released Shades Of Deep Purple in 1968. They had been with the band since they released their debut album Shades Of Deep Purple in 1968. Ten albums and four lineups later they were the last men standing and had been with the band through good times and bad.
This included a five year period where the classic lineup of Deep Purple were at the peak of their powers as they released four studio albums and the live album Made In Japan. Between 1970s Deep Purple In Rock and 1975s Who Do We Think We Are, the classic line hardly put a foot wrong. Albums like Deep Purple In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head and Made In Japan are now regarded as classic albums and Jon Lord and Ian Paice played their part in the sound and success of these albums, held transform Deep Purple into one of the most successful and hardest rocking British rock bands of the seventies. They were also one of the hardest living British bands.
Vying with Deep Purple for the title of Kings of seventies rock were Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Just like Deep Purple, they were hugely successful and hard rocking bands. They were also the hardest living living rock groups. This lead to them being known as the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal.” The three groups seemed proud of their infamy, and wore it like a badge.
The “unholy trinity’s” penchant for the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle was legendary. Excess and extravagance was an everyday occurrence. Similarly, chaos and carnage was omnipresent as the “unholy trinity” toured the world. Each group seemed to determined to outdo the other. They were living the dream. This continued until the release of Who Do We Think We Are.
By the time Deep Purple began work on Who Do We Think We Are all wasn’t well within the band. Things had gotten so bad, that a schedule was drawn up that allowed band members to record on their own. Somehow, Deep Purple managed to complete Who Do We Think We Are, which was well received by critics and a commercial success. After that, Ian Gillan and Roger Glover left Deep Purple. It was the last album the classic lineup of Deep Purple released.
The departure of Ian Gillan and Roger Glover looked as if this spelt the end of Deep Purple. However, they continued to record and tour but were never quite the same band.
Deep Purple released just three albums after the departure of Ian Gillan and Roger Glover. The first was Burn, which featured elements of boogie, blues, funk and soul, and was by far the best of this trio of albums. It was well received by critics and a bigger commercial success than its predecessor Who Do We Think We Are. Despite that, Burn isn’t regarded as one of Deep Purple’s classic albums. However, it’s much better and stronger album than Stormbringer and Come Taste The Band which are both disappointing albums. Nowadays, Burn is regarded as the last great album that Deep Purple released before splitting up in July 1976.
Just like classic albums like Deep Purple In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head and Made In Japan, Burn features Deep Purple at their hard rocking best. These albums have stood the test of time and so has Burn, which is the best of the rest and an essential album for anyone interested in Deep Purple’s music.
Burn is also a reminder of the golden age of rock, when Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal” ruled the roost, and recorded and released a string of classic albums that are truly timeless and part of Britain’s rich musical legacy.
Release Date: 10th July 2020.
Nowadays, the British rock group Cream are regarded as the world’s first ever supergroup. They were founded in the summer of 1966, and split-up in November 1968, having released four albums that sold over fifteen million copies worldwide. This included their critically acclaimed sophomore album Disraeli Gears, which was released in November 1967 and hailed a classic by critics. By then, Cream had come a long way in a short space of time.
By July 1966, Eric Clapton was in his second spell with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers. He originally joined in April 1965 and was a Bluesbreaker until August 1965. That was when he left the band for the first time.
In November 1965, Eric Clapton returned to the fold and for the next eight months he was back with the Bluesbreakers. During this period, John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers recorded their classic album Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton in April 1966.
Three months later, and Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton was released by Decca on the ‘ 2nd; July 1966. Critical acclaim accompanied what’s regarded as a British blues classic. It reached number six in the UK charts and this should’ve been a reason to celebrate. However, Eric Clapton was neither happy nor feeling fulfilled musically.
Instead, he felt constrained musically. Eric Clapton was unable to stretch his legs within John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers. There was certainly no room for invention and he found this was frustrating. So much so, that he was even considering forming his own band. However, the Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton had just been released and looked like being the band’s most successful album. Despite that, Eric Clapton’s nascent career was at a crossroads.
To take his mind off his problems, Eric Clapton decided to go and see blues guitarist Buddy Guy in concert. That night, Buddy Guy took to the stage with a trio. When Eric Clapton saw the trio live, he was so impressed that he decided to form a new band. They would also be a trio, Cream.
Having made the decision to leave John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton began looking for musicians to join his band. He knew drummer Ginger Baker, who was a member The Graham Bond Organisation. Ginger Baker was tiring of Graham Bond’s drug addiction and bouts of instability. So much so, that he was considering his future.
When Eric Clapton approached Ginger Baker about joining his trio, the answer was yes. However, there was a catch. Eric Clapton had to agree to hire The Graham Bond Organisation’s bassist Jack Bruce.
Eric Clapton already knew Jack Bruce and played alongside him on two occasions. The first came in November 1965 when Jack Bruce sat in with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers during November 1965. More recently, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce were part of Steve Winwood’s band Powerhouse, which also featured Paul Jones. During the two sessions, Eric Clapton had been impressed by Jack Bruce proficiency and prowess as a bassist. Jack Bruce who had previously enjoyed working with Eric Clapton, agreed to join the band. However, he was surprised that Ginger Baker had recommended him to Eric Clapton.
During their time with The Graham Bond Organisation, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce had a volatile relationship. The two members of the rhythm section were known to argue onstage. Sometimes, things got so bad that they traded blows. However, that was the past. Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce agreed to put their differences aside. A musical truce was declared. Suddenly, there was peace in our time. All for the good of the new group.
With the lineup complete, the nascent band set about establishing the ground rules. They envisaged that songs would be collaborations, with each member playing a part in writing the lyrics and music. Next on the agenda was a name for the group. It didn’t take long for them to come up with the name Cream. The music press had been describing the new band as the: “cream of the crop” of British musicians. Cream was essentially the first British supergroup. They were about to make what was their unofficial debut.
This took place on the 29th of July 1966, at the Twisted Wheel nightclub in Manchester. That night, it was hosting the Sixth Annual Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival. Cream was a special guest, and in absence of new material, ran through a set of blues covers. Little did those in the audience realise that they had just witnessed history being made.
Just three months later, in October 1966, Cream took to the stage with another legend of sixties music, Jimi Hendrix. He was a fan of Eric Clapton and was keen to jam with his new band on his arrival of London. Little did anyone realise that by the end of the sixties, both Cream and Jimi Hendrix would’ve become two of the biggest names of the late-sixties music scene.
Later in 1966, Cream was still experimenting musically, and had yet to decide who would be the group’s lead vocalist. Eric Clapton’s shyness meant he was reluctant to take charge of the lead vocals. Instead, Jack Bruce became Cream’s lead vocalist. However, during Cream’s lifetime, Eric Clapton would add harmonies and the lead vocal on a number of tracks.This included a track on Cream’s debut album Fresh Cream.
Almost straight away, work began on Cream’s debut album, which later became Fresh Cream. It featured ten songs. They were a mixture of new songs and cover versions.
The new songs included Jack Bruce’s N.S.U. and Dreaming. He cowrote Sleepy Time Time with his first wife and songwriting partner Janet Godfrey. She cowrote Sweet Wine with Ginger Baker, who wrote the instrumental Toad. Other songs included a cover of song Cat’s Squirrel, which was arranged by Cream and a quartet of blues classics.
This included Willie Dixon’s Spoonful. Cream decided to cover Robert Johnson’s From Four Until Late which Eric Clapton arranged. It was joined by Rollin’ and Tumblin’ which Muddy Waters penned using his real name, McKinley Morganfield. The final blues classic was Skip James’ I’m So Glad. These songs were recorded over a three-month period.
Recording of Fresh Cream took place between July and October 1966 at two separate studios in London. Some sessions took at Rayrik Studios, while others took place at Ryemuse Studios. Drummer Ginger Baker joined bassist Jack Bruce in the rhythm section. He also played harmonica, piano and took charge of seven of the eight lead vocals. Guitarist Eric Clapton added the lead vocal on Four Until Late. Meanwhile, Robert Stigwood ‘produced’ what would later became Fresh Cream. It was completed by October 1966.
The release of Fresh Cream was scheduled for the 9th of December 1966. Before that, Cream released their debut single Wrapping Paper in October 1966 . It was penned by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, but didn’t feature on Fresh Cream. Wrapping Paper showcased a psychedelic pop sound that Cream returned to. This proved popular and reached thirty-four in the UK charts. Things were looking good for Cream.
Nearer the release of Fresh Cream, critics had their say on the nascent supergroup’s debut album. Nearly every critic lavished praise and plaudits on Fresh Cream. They were won over by an album that ranged from blues rock to psychedelia and a much more hard rocking sound. Cream’s debut was an eclectic and accomplished album. Especially the psychedelic sound of N.S.U, the bluesy Sleepy Time and the Jack Bruce penned ballad Dreaming. Four Until Late shakes off his shyness and makes his debut on lead vocal on the cover Robert Johnson’s Four Till Late. However, one of Cream’s finest moments on Fresh Cream was their reinvention of I’m So Glad. It’s transformed into something that Skip James could never have envisaged. Given the critical reaction to Fresh Cream, it seemed that the future looked bright for Cream.
They prepared to release Fresh Cream on the 9th of December 1966 on Robert Stigwood’s new independent record label, Reaction Records. The same day, Cream released their sophomore single, I Feel Free. Just like their debut single, it didn’t feature on Fresh Cream. Despite that, I Feel Free reached number eleven in the UK and fifty-three in Australia. Meanwhile, Fresh Cream reached number six in the UK, ten in Australia and twenty in France. This resulted in Fresh Cream being certified gold in Britain and France. The success continued when Fresh Cream was released in America.
The American version of Fresh Cream was released by Atco. It featured a slightly different track listing. I Feel Free opened the album, with the British version of Fresh Cream following. This proved popular among American record buyers. Fresh Cream eventually reached thirty-nine in the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. For Cream, this meant that their debut album Fresh Cream had been certified gold in three different continents. Critics wondered how they could they followup such a successful album? Cream returned with a classic album, Disraeli Gears.
Following the success of Fresh Cream, Cream headed out on tour. In March they landed in America, to play their first American tour. They were part of a package tour, and were booked to play nine dates at the Brooklyn Fox Theater in New York.
Each day, Cream played three times. However, the early concerts weren’t well received. DJ turned promoter Murray the K wasn’t impressed. He placed Cream at the bottom of the bill. Towards the end of the run, they were reduced to playing just one song during each set. The New York part of their American tour had been a disaster. They wouldn’t forget Murray the K in a hurry.
Having returned home from their American tour, Cream’s thoughts turned to their sophomore album. They had been writing what later became Disraeli Gears for some time.
When Cream was formed, the plan had been for the band to collaborate on songs. Alas, none of the eleven tracks on Disraeli Gears were written by the three members of Cream. They arranged the traditional song, Mother’s Lament. Sometimes, the members of Cream wrote alone. Jack Bruce wrote We’re Going Wrong and Ginger Baker penned We’re Going Wrong. Mostly, the members of Cream wrote alone or formed songwriting partnerships with other musicians and songwriters.
Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton cowrote Sunshine Of Your Love with Pete Brown. It would become one of their known songs. So would Strange Brew, which Eric Clapton wrote with Pete Brown. Meanwhile, Jack Bruce wrote Dance the Night Away, SWLABR and Take It Back with Pete Brown. Eric Clapton and Martin Sharp wrote Tales of Brave Ulysses. These songs were joined by a couple of cover versions.
This included Arthur Reynolds’ Outside Woman Blues which was arranged by Eric Clapton. The other cover versions was World Of Pain, which was penned byFelix Pappalardi and Gail Collins songwriting partnership wrote. Just like the rest of Disraeli Gears, it was recorded in New York, during May 1967.
Recording of Disraeli Gears took place at Atlantic Studios, New York. This time around, Cream was joined by a new producer, with Felix Pappalardi replaced ‘musical impresario’ Robert Stigwood. The twenty-seven year old was a classically trained musician who having turned his back on classical music, became a successful singer, songwriter, bassist and producer. However, Disraeli Gears was one of the biggest projects of his career, and was a much more complex album than Fresh Cream.
Ginger Baker played drums and percussionist and joined his cohort, bassist Jack Bruce in the rhythm section. Jack Bruce also played harmonica, piano and took charge of seven of the eight lead vocals. Eric Clapton switched between lead guitar, rhythm guitar and twelve-string guitar. He also added the lead vocal on Strange Brew, World of Pain and Outside Woman Blues. It seemed that Eric Clapton was well on his way to overcoming his shyness, as Cream changed direction musically.
Critics realised this when they received their promotional copies of Disraeli Gears. It took its name from a malapropism which alluded to the former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Eric Clapton had been taking about buying a racing bike during a car journey. Mick Turner who was driving the car responded that it should have: “Disraeli Gears” when he meant derailleur gears. That malapropism gave birth to tittle of the album critics were holding. When they listened to Disraeli Gears, they soon realised that Cream was moving away from the blues’ roots.
That was apart from on the cover of Blind Boy Reynolds’ Outside Woman Blues and Take it Back. It had been inspired by American students burning their draft cards. These were the only bluesy tracks on Disraeli Gears. Mostly, Cream moved towards psychedelia on Disraeli Gears. Tracks like Strange Brew, Sunshine Of Your Love, Dance The Night Away, Tales Of Brave Ulysses and We’re Going Wrong found Cream embracing psychedelia on an album that stood head and shoulders above the competition. Critic acclaim accompanied the release of Disraeli Gears.
On 2nd November 1967, Cream released their sophomore album Disraeli Gears. In Britain, Disraeli Gears reached number six and was certified platinum. Meanwhile, Disraeli Gears reached number two in France and twenty in Norway. Halfway round the world, Disraeli Gears reached number one in Australia and was certified platinum. However, Disraeli Gears was a huge success across North America. It reached number ten in Canada and number four in America. By then, Disraeli Gears had sold over a million copies. This resulted in Cream receiving their first platinum disc in America. However, that wasn’t the end of the success for Cream.
They released Sunshine Of Your Love as a single in January 1968. It reached seventeen in the UK, eighteen in Australia, three in Canada and five in the US Billboard 100. This resulted in Sunshine Of Your Love being certified gold in Britain, Australia and America. After just two albums, Cream was one of the biggest bands in the world.
Following Disraeli Gears, Cream would rebased just two more albums. This included their third and final studio album Wheels Of Fire, which was released on the ‘9th’ of August 1968 and became world’s first platinum-selling double album. By then, all wasn’t well within the band.
Cream’s manager Robert Stigwood announced they were disbanding in November 1968. They had just completed recording their swansong Goodbye Cream a month earlier in October 1968. It featured three tracks recorded in the studio and another three which were recorded live. When Goodbye Cream was released in February 1969 and topped the British charts and reached number two in America. It was the end of an era for Cream.
They sold over fifteen million copies of Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears and Wheels Of Fire and Goodbye. That is why nowadays, Cream are regarded as rock royalty. Cream were also the first British supergroup. Soon, others followed in Cream’s wake but never came close to replicating the commercial success and critical acclaim that Cream enjoyed. They were in a league of their own.
Each of the albums they released found Cream’s music evolving as they continued to create groundbreaking music. This includes on their sophomore Disraeli Gears where they fuse blues rock, hard rock and psychedelia to createa timeless classic that belongs in every self respecting record collection.
Cult Classic: Dies Irae-First.
For many new bands, their main objective is to release an “album” and they want to do this as quickly as possible. This will be a sign that they’ve “arrived” and have one foot on the musical ladder. Sadly, for some bands, that’s as far as it goes. The album fails to sell and that’s the last that’s heard of them. Sadly, they’re in the majority as musical history is littered with bands that “could’ve been contenders.”
What many people fail to realise, is that the difference between success and failure is often, akin to a toss of coin. Many bands could’ve gone on to have a glittering career, or influence future generations of musicians. That was the case with Dies Irae, one of the earliest bands of the Krautrock era.
Dies Irae could’ve and should’ve reached far greater heights. They were founded in 1968, and by the time they released their debut album First in 1971, the band looked like they were destined for greatness.
By then, Dies Irae were a popular band on the live circuit. Regularly, they shared the bill with bands that would become some of the biggest names in Krautrock history. Night after night, they held their own agains future Krautrock greats and critics embraced Dies Irae’s psychedelic-progressive sound. So did concert goes. It looked as if they had a bright future in front of them when they were about to release their debut album First in 1971.
When First was released in 1971, there was a problem. The lyrical content of First was controversial. So much so, that the majority of West German radio stations promptly banned the album. With little or no radio play, First failed to find the audience it deserved. For the members of Dies Irae, this was a huge disappointment. This hadn’t been part of their hopes and dreams when they founded the band in 1968.
That’s when Rainer Wahlmann, Andreas F. Cornelius, Harald H.G. Thoma and Robert J. Schiff founded Dies Irae. However, Rainer Wahlmann can trace roots of the band can be traced back to the late-fifties and early sixties.
That’s when Rainer Wahlmann first remembers listening to the music of Elvis Pressley, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Bill Haley. This was to all intents and purposes his musical education. However, his music didn’t go well with everyone. His father and other adults in the village were angry that he and his friends were listening to American music. For Rainer Wahlmann this made the music all the more appealing.
“I was honestly impressed. This kind of weird music really disturbed the adult world so much, and was able to make them really angry!” This resulted in Rainer Wahlmann’s father deciding to teach his son a musical lesson. “My father played the guitar and he always tried to teach me the songs he used to sing. I hated those songs and as a result I never really learned to play the guitar.” Despite this he made a career out of music. Before that, his musical tastes began to change.
“Later, about 1963/64, I started to listen to early British beat bands like The Searchers, The Kinks, The Animals and The Who.” By then, British groups were popular in America and Europe. However, his father wasn’t a fan. “My first records were of the Rolling Stones and my record player got thrown out the window by my father.” For Rainer Wahlmann this was the last straw.
“I decided to fight with music for freedom of thought and against intolerance. With some schoolmates we began practicing. I couldn’t play anything, but I thought I had something to say. I pretended to be the singer.” Soon, what started out as a protest and act of defiance, inadvertently launched Rainer’s musical career.
By 1968, a new wave of bands were being formed across West Germany. Many were inspired by psychedelia, which was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. However, Dies Irae would be more like Amon Düül and Guru Guru, with a darker sound.
The four men behind Dies Irae’s darker sound were harmonica player and vocalist Rainer Wahlmann, drummer Andreas F. Cornelius, bassist Robert J. Schiff and guitarist Harald H.G. Thoma. They cofounded Dies Irae in 1968, began working on honing their sound.
Over the next weeks and months, Dies Irae gradually honed and refined their sound. It became much more closely aligned with Amon Düül and Guru Guru. Dies Irae’s music had a similar darkness. However, unlike many bands who were pioneers of the nascent Krautrock scene, Dies Irae didn’t reject American musical influences.
As the Krautrock era began in 1969, many groups turned their back on American music. Especially the influence blues had had on music. That for many Krautrock pioneers was the music of the past. They were determined to reinvent music and many bands, including Amon Düül and Can pioneered improvisation. However, Dies Irae didn’t turn their back on the blues influence and instead, decided to keep their options open.
As the sixties became the seventies, Dies Irae were a favourite of the live scene and they shared concert and festival bills with future Krautrock favourites. Audiences were won over by Dies Irae’s crowd pleasing fusion of psychedelia, progressive rock, blues and rock. Their music seemed to appeal to a wider audience than some bands. This augured well for Dies Irae who were preparing to release their debut album First.
For their debut album, nine tracks were penned. Seven were written by Rainer Wahlmann and the other three members of Dies Irae. Salve Oimel and Run Off were credited to the four members of Dies Irae. These tracks would become First, which was recorded in Hamburg, with a legend of German music.
Recording of what what became First took place at the Star Studio in Hamburg. The engineer was none other than Conny Plank. He had already worked with some of the most innovative groups of the Krautrock era. By the time the Krautrock era drew to a close in 1977, Conny Plank would’ve played a leading role in recording and producing everyone from Kraftwerk and Cluster, to Guru Guru, Neu!, Lava, Kollectiv, Harmonia and Grobschnitt. The man that Michael Rother would later call “the genius,” would’ve more than played his role in the Krautrock era. However, for the recording of First, Conny left the production to Jürgen Schmeisser.
He was an experienced producer, who initially, ran the Pliz label, which was a subsidiary of the BASF corporation. Already, Jürgen Schmeisser had produced Ardo Dombec, Blackwater Park, McChurch Soundroom and Virus for the label. Now he was set to work with Dies Irae.
Dies Irae arrived at Star Studio Hamburg on the 3rd of June 1971. Harmonica player and vocalist Rainer Wahlmann watched as the rhythm section of drummer Andreas F. Cornelius and bassist Robert J. Schiff setup. They were joined by guitarist Harald H.G. Thoma. Once the equipment was setup, the members of Dies Irae realised that now was the moment they had spent three years working towards and the next two days could make or break their career.
After two days recording the nine tracks, First was completed and now, their debut album would be released on the Pliz label. They were about to follow in the footsteps of Ardo Dombec, Blackwater Park, McChurch Soundroom and Virus.
Later in 1971, First was released on the Pliz label. While the album was well received by critics, there was a problem. Rainer Wahlmann’s lyrics were deemed too controversial to be played on West German radio stations. They banned the album which was a huge blow for the members of Dies Irae.
Without radio play, people how were people going to hear about First? To make matters worse, Pliz, a subsidiary of BASF wasn’t like other record labels.
Part of the problem was, by 1971, BASF was a vast conglomerate and the record company was just part of its business portfolio. BASF didn’t seem to have the personnel to run what was a pan European record company. That was only part of the problem.
To make matters worse, they seemed to lack the expertise to promote First. That essentially killed the album. Especially since BASF seemed to lack a proper distribution network that would ensure that the album found its way into shops. That was the last straw.
Just like other albums released by BASF’s record label, First failed commercially. Albums were lucky to sell even a couple of thousand copies if they were really lucky. It seemed Dies Irae had signed to the wrong label. Things could’ve and should’ve been very different. After all, First was album that deserved to reach a much wider audience.
Lucifer literally bursts into life, opening First. There’s a blues-rock sound as Rainer Wahlmann’s harmonica and the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. That’s until he dawns the role of psychedelic preacher. With chiming guitars for company, his languid, lysergic vocal begins to delivers his message. Then the blues rock arrangement explodes, and Dies Irae cut loose and his vocal becomes an impassioned roar, that surely, influenced the punk generation? Meanwhile, the rhythm section provide the pounding heartbeat, and sometimes, produce a proto-punk sound. Harald H.G. Thoma’s blistering, searing guitar plays a starring role. When it’s panned, it adds to the trippy, freakbeat sound. With less than a minute to go, the psychedelic preacher proclaims: “theirs is the dawn of the new era,” on what’s a truly memorable start to First.
Another Room is best described as a spoken word, lysergic sketch lasting just thirty seconds. It sounds as if one of Dies Irae has taken a Trip, as he giggles uncontrollably.
Straight away, classic rock and blues combines on Another Room. There’s a nod to Led Zeppelin as the rhythm section and guitar combine and set the scene for Rainer Wahlmann as he sings: “ I moved away some days ago, away from my home town, into the bright city lights.” Then when the vocal drops out, the rest of the band fuse elements of psychedelia and progressive rock. By then, it’s apparent just how tight and talented a group Dies Irae are as they showcase their considerable skills. Then with a minute to go, the vocal returns and it’s a mixture of power, passion and emotion. Then the baton to the rest of the band, as the song reaches a blistering, rocky crescendo.
As Rainer Wahlmann advises “tune in,” the arrangement to Trip heads in the direction of avant-garde, psychedelia and free jazz. Dies Irae jam for just over a minute, before the arrangement almost dissipates. All that’s left is a whispery vocal, which is accompanied by what’s an eerie, cinematic and lysergic backdrop. A guitar weeps, a bass bounds in the distance and drums are caressed as what’s easily the most psychedelic track on First unfolds. Rainer Wahlmann seems to pickup where the Lizard King left off. As a guitar shimmers across the arrangement, the rhythm section play subtly. Later, avant-garde, psychedelia and free jazz combine on this magical, mesmeric and lysergic Trip.
Harmagedon Dragonlove finds Dies Irae at their hard rocking best. They sound like one of the unholy trinity of rock, as the rhythm section drive the arrangement relentlessly along. Then there’s a brief, dreamy burst of what sounds like mid-seventies Pink Floyd. Then Dies Irae are off and running. Rainer Wahlmann sounds every inch the strutting frontman of a rock ’n’ roll band. Behind him, the rest of Dies Irae are at their hard rocking best. That’s apart from the brief bursts of dreamy, lysergic music, and a diversion via progressive rock. Mostly, though Dies Irae are kicking loose and a blistering, searing guitar and the thunderous rhythm provide the perfect backdrop to the swaggering vocal.
Tired was one of the songs on the album that attracted controversy. Initially the track has an understated introduction as the bass and guitar combine with a bluesy harmonica before the drums drive the arrangement along. Soon, Rainer Wahlmann’s singing: “start living in your dreams, fly a dovetail joint, get on a trip” which was regarded as a controversial lyric in conservative West Germany in 1971. Then in the next verse, he adds to the controversy with an attitude filled vocal and sings: “get rid of those mindfuckers, fuck you too.” Later, it’s just the harmonica that plays, before the rest of Dies Irae return. Rainer Wahlmann and guitarist Harald H.G. Thoma play call and response, while the rhythm section power this bluesy jam along.
Witches’ Meeting is a nine minute epic, has a jazz-tinged introduction. The bass walks the arrangement along while a blistering guitar and drums combine. The vocal has a jazz influence, before it drops out. Then Dies Irae jam, combining jazz with elements of blues, classic rock and progressive rock. At 2.10 the song literally grinds to a halt, before the bass continues to walk the arrangement along. Later, washes of shimmering, effects laden psychedelic guitar join rumbling drums as Dies Irae jam and improvise. Again, this gives them the opportunity to show that they belonged in the musical Bundeslegia. It’s another stunning genre-melting jam.
Red Lebanese is another of the songs that attracted controversy in 1971. With its references to smoking hash, this was just another reason for the authorities to ban the album from being played on radio. The decision of West Germany’s moral guardians meant that a wider audience were denied the opportunity of hearing First on radio stations.
That was a great shame, as Red Lebanese finds Dies Irae at their hard rocking best. That’s the case from the get-go as bursts of blistering guitars join the driving rhythm section. The vocal fills left the gaps by the rest of the band. Then when it drops out, the arrangement takes on a bluesy hue and later, became jazz-tinged before bursts of guitar are panned right and left. Then at 2.38 the arrangement almost grinds to a hal before Dies Irae rebuild and a crystalline acoustic guitar adds a sunshine sound. Later, lysergic guitars give way to a choppy, hard rocking rocking arrangement before the band veer between blues and rock. Seamlessly, they switch between genres, and in the process, showcase their versatility and considerable skills.
Closing First is Run Off which starts offs a jam before Dies rie throw a curveball. The tape speed is increased producing a cartoonish sound. This they must have thought would leave a smile on the listeners’ faces until the next time.
Sadly, there wasn’t a next time for Dies Irae and First was their one and only album. They left the Pliz label shortly after the release of the album. This was disappointing and a case of what might have been for Dies Irae.
Rainer Wahlmann left Dies Irae in 1972, and this was a huge loss for the band. He wasn’t just the frontman and harmonica player, he was Dies Irae’s lyricist. Without him, Dies Irae weren’t the same band. That’s despite Andreas F. Cornelius, Harald H.G. Thoma and Robert J. Schiff being hugely talented musicians. However, without their frontman and lyricist, it was just about the end of the road for Dies Irae.
They continued until 1973, when eventually, they called time on their five year career. It was yet another case of what if?
Dies Irae are another band from the Krautrock era who should’ve enjoyed widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. The band featured four hugely talented musicians, who seamlessly, could switch between genres.
Although referred to as a band who combined psychedelia and progressive rock, there’s much more to Dies Irae’s music than that. They combine elements of avant garde, blues, classic rock, experimental, free jazz and jazz on First. Sometimes, though, when Dies Irae combine blues and rock, they sound not unlike Led Zeppelin. Sadly, Dies Irae didn’t enjoy the same success. .
The problem was, Dies Irae signed to the wrong label. Pliz in 1971, seemed to a be somewhat dysfunctional record company and wasn’t equipped to promote new artists. Despite being part of a multinational company, Pliz wasn’t able to promote and distribute the album properly. Things might have been different if Dies Irae had signed to Ohr or Liberty Records? Maybe they would’ve promoted First more effectively? Sadly, that wasn’t the case. However, Dies Irae weren’t alone.
In the early seventies, countless German bands were in a similar situation to Dies Irae. Many were also releasing groundbreaking albums which also sunk without trace. Often, it was through no fault of the band. Many had signed to the wrong label and often they lacked the knowledge, nous or funds to promote an album. As a result, albums that could’ve played an important part in German musical history were lost for a generation.
It was no surprise that after the failure of First, and the demise of Dies Irae that Rainer Wahlmann was bitter about the failure of First. He had been part of a group that should’ve enjoyed a long and successful career. Instead, they only released one album, which West Germany’s moral guardians banned from the radio. For Rainer Wahlmann and the rest of Dies Irae the dream was over and they weren’t going to rub shoulders with the leading lights of German music.
Given what happened, it’s no surprise that Rainer Wahlmann turned his back on music and returned to the ‘real world.’ With the dream over, he found a steady job and settled down. While it wasn’t the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle he had dreamed of, he enjoyed the security the 9-5 slog brings. However, like many musicians he still loved music and performing. It was in his blood.
It was almost inevitable that Rainer Wahlmann would make a comeback. When he formed his new band Green Wave he decided that this time around, music was going to be a hobby for him. He was making music on his terms and enjoying himself.
Nowadays, First is regarded as a cult classic that somewhat belatedly is starting to find the wider audience it deserved, and Dies Irea the nearly men of German music are receiving the recognition they so richly deserve.
Cult Classic: Dies Irae-First.
Cult Classic: M.F.S.B.-Universal Love.
Unlike Motown, countless books haven’t been written about Philadelphia International Records. That’s a missed opportunity, as there are many stories waiting to be told. Until now, only parts of the Philadelphia International Records’ story has been told. Many of those who played an important part in the rise and rise of Philadelphia International Records, haven’t had the opportunity to tell their story. This is a missed opportunity as Philadelphia International Records is one of the most important labels in the history of soul music.
The history of Philadelphia International Records can be separated into two distinct periods. In 1971, the label was founded by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff within a year they were enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim. This was the start of the label’s first period, a golden era which lasted between 1972 and 1975.
From 1976 onwards was Philadelphia International Records’ second period.The label still released the a number of classic soul albums, and some of their releases enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim. However, by the late-seventies through to the early eighties, there sometimes seemed to be a lack of quality control at the label, and the albums released were a mixed bag. Some of the artists just weren’t good enough to be signed to Philadelphia International Records. It was a very different label to the one that released some of the finest soul music between 1972 and 1975.
During that period, Philadelphia International Records released a string of classic soul albums. Playing their part in the sound and success of these albums was the original and classic lineup up of M.F.S.B. They’re often referred to as Philadelphia International Records’ house-band. That however, is doing them a huge disservice.
M.F.S.B. were much more than a house-band. These musicians were also songwriters, arrangers and producers. Look at the sleeve-notes to any album released on Philadelphia International Records between 1972 and 1975, and members of M.F.S.B. like Vince Montana Jr, Norman Harris and Ron Baker were arrangers, producers and songwriters. This dispels the myth sometimes perpetuated by people who should know better, that M.F.S.B. were “just” Philadelphia International Records’ house band. Instead, they provided the heartbeat to the music of Billy Paul, The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, The Three Degrees and countless others. M.F.S.B. were also one of Philadelphia International Records’ most successful acts.
Love Is The Message was M.F.S.B’s debut album, released in 1973, with M.F.S.B. following later that year. During 1975, which was a pivotal year for both Philadelphia International Records and M.F.S.B, they released two more albums.
The first of these, was Universal Love, which would prove to be M.F.S.B’s penultimate album for Philadelphia International Records. Philadelphia Freedom which proved to be M.F.S.B’s swansong for Philadelphia Freedom was released later in 1975. However, by the time Universal Love was released, M.F.S.B. and musical auteurs Gamble and Huff were locked in what was a bitter dispute.
At the heart of M.F.S.B’s dispute with Gamble and Huff was money. Although people involved aren’t keen to divulge exact details, it has been alleged that musicians were only offered a pay increase of $5, from $25 to $30 per session. Arrangers and producers were only offered an increase of $10, from $50 to $60 per session. This was a risky situation as M.F.S.B. were Philadelphia International Records’ crown jewels and featured on every album.
Replacing the original lineup wouldn’t be possible. Where would you find another Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, Vince Montana Jr, Bobby “Electronic” Eli or Larry Washington? It’s not as if Gamble and Huff would be able to wander down to Manpower and hire an all-star band. Granted Philly had many talented musicians, but not as good as the original lineup of M.F.S.B. This was a high stakes poker game ad onlookers wondered which side was bluffing?
During 1975, while the negotiations continued, there was still music to be made, including albums by M.F.S.B. This included Universal Love.
It featured eight tracks, with Gamble and Huff contributing just three, Sexy, M.F.S.B and My Mood. Leon Huff joined forces with McFadden and Whitehead plus Victor Castarphen to write Let’s Go Disco. One of the best know racks on the album was K-Jee which was written by Charles Heardon and later, was included on the fifteen-million selling Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
The three other tracks that would feature on Universal Love prove that M.F.S.B. were much more than musicians. Ron Baker cowrote Human Machine with Leon Huff, while Norman Harris and Bobby Martin cowrote T.L.C. (Tender, Lovin’ Care). Bruce Hawkes and Cynthia Biggs cowrote Love Has No Time Or Place. Just like previous M.F.S.B. albums, recording of Universal Love took place at Sigma Sound Studios in Philly, which was owned by Joe Tarsia.
By the time the recording sessions began, Norman Harris, Ron Baker and Bruce Hawkes were still all locked in the dispute with Gamble and Huff. The members of M.F.S.B. were professionals and didn’t let the dispute affect their performances during the session. Sadly, the recording sessions for Universal Love proved to be the penultimate appearance of the original and best lineup of M.F.S.B.
Playing on Universal Love were all the M.F.S.B. greats. Providing the album’s heartbeat were the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, along with guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Roland Chambers. Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and Leon Huff played keyboards and were joined by percussionist Larry Washington and vibes virtuoso Vince Montana Jr. Violinist Don Renaldo was part of the string section and alto saxophonist Zach Zachery plays an important part in Universal Love’s sound. Norman Harris, Bobby Harris and Bruce Hawkes all arranged or produced tracks, while Gamble and Huff produced five tracks. Once Universal Love was completed, it was released later in 1975.
On the release of Universal Love in 1975, it reached number forty-four in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts. When T.L.C. (Tender, Lovin’ Care) was released as a single, it reaching number fifty-four in the US R&B Charts and number four in the US Disco Singles Charts. Sexy then reached number forty-two in the US Billboard 200, number two in the US R&B Charts and number one in the US Disco Singles Charts. Surely now Gamble and Huff would realise just how important M.F.S.B. were to Philadelphia International Records? They were responsible for a successful album that had won over critics and has stood the test of time.
Opening Universal Love is the Gamble and Huff penned and produced Sexy, arranged by Bobby Martin. Just Norman Harris’ chiming guitar opens the track, before M.F.S.B. kick loose. Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar and an uber funky Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section join growling horns and lush, dancing strings. Soon, the music veers between funk, disco and jazz. One minute it’s choppy and funky, the next strings ensure it flows smoothly along. Horns blaze, strings swirl and the rhythm section provide a pulsating heartbeat. They’re augmented by vibes, percussion and wah-wah guitars as M.F.S.B. lay down a marker, showing just what they can do. In doing so, the irresistibly fuse funk, jazz and disco seamlessly and peerlessly.
Not many bands have a track named after them, but M.F.S.B. did. It was written by Gamble and Huff and arranged by Bobby Martin, and is a fitting tribute to their considerable talents. Stabs of keyboards, a pounding Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and waves of Hammond organ combine before the horns and strings get to work. Horns growl, strings dance with joy while Vince Montana Jr, subtly sprinkles vibes across the arrangement. Soon, M.F.S.B. have hit their stride and the arrangement is a mass of braying horns and cascading string as the thunderous rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Here, every member of M.F.S.B. play their part, but it’s the horns that tug at your heartstrings. They’re crucial to the sheer beauty, emotion and drama of the arrangement and make this such a potent, powerful and moving track.
Human Machine was penned by Ron Baker with Leon Huff and has a much more experimental sound. Given the title, this isn’t unexpected. There’s a spacious, choppy and thoughtful sound to the arrangement as it unfolds. The unmistakable sound of Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar is at heart of the arrangement. Keyboards, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and grizzled horns provide the mainstay of the arrangement. When strings sweep in, they smoothen out the arrangement, which still, has a jumpy, edgy sound and feel. It’s quite different to the two previous tracks, and is best described as innovative track, something which Philadelphia International Records were famous for.
On Love Has No Time Or Place backing vocalists join M.F.S.B. Strangely, it isn’t the Sweethearts of Sigma who were also such an important part in Philadelphia International Records’ sound and success. The backing vocalist play their part in this grand, lush dance-floor friendly track. Blazing horns, lush, wistful strings and elegant, crystalline harmonies sweep in while Baker, Harris, Young provide a funk, hustle style backdrop. They’re joined by vibes courtesy of Vince Montana Jr, percussion, keyboards and even space-age synths. While this wasn’t the first time synths appeared on a Philadelphia International Records’ album, and they seem out of place in the arrangement. Thankfully this doesn’t spoil the track as it floats along with harmonies, strings and horns key to the track’s sound and success.
T.L.C. (Tender, Lovin’ Care) was written by two legends of Philly Soul, Norman Harris and Bobby Martin. Straight away, a curveball is thrown when the jazzy introduction unfolds and sultry horns take you back to another era. Then it’s all change. Baker, Harris, Young take charge and join forces with a Hammond organ and Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar. Next comes rasping horns and swirling strings before Norman Harris lays down some of his unique jazz-tinged guitar lines. Meanwhile, pensive horns, dancing strings and bursts of Earl Young’s thunderous drums play crucial roles. There’s a real hustle sound to this joyful, uplifting fusion of Philly soul, jazz, funk and disco which quite simply, is one of the best tracks on Universal Love.
Let’s Go Disco is driven along by the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, piano and percussion. Chanted vocals are added before blazing horns and sweeping strings enter. With the vocals and rhythm section combining, this gives the arrangement a real hypnotic, driving sound. It’s catchy, memorable and sheer simplicity. It’s like a mantra, a call to dance, to a soundtrack provided by M.F.S.B.
K-Jee proved to be the most successful track on Universal Love. Charles Heardon who wrote K-Jee, would later, hit the musical equivalent of fifteen consecutive home runs, when the track was included on the fifteen-million selling Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. From the stabs of keyboards, percussion, urgent flourishes of strings and grizzled horns you’re transported back to disco’s heyday. M.F.S.B. seem to raise their game even higher. A myriad of percussion join Baker, Harris, Young, searing guitars and rasping horns. Strings dance, swirl and sweep and Bobby “Electronic” Eli adds wah-wah guitar. Zach Zachary’s growling alto-saxophone and a wash of wailing Hammond organ provide the icing and cherry for this delicious, cake. So good and tasty was the cake, that it sold fifteen-million slices.
Closing Universal Love is My Mood a much more mellow track. Just a subtle sprinkling of Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, percussion and Norman Harris’ sparse jazzy guitar combine before the arrangement grows. Baker, Harris, Young provide the understated heartbeat. Melancholy strings sweep and swirl, horns rasp and growl while keyboards add a warm melodic sound. M.F.S.B. resist the urge to kick loose one more time. Only the horns, drums and strings are given leeway, but don’t overdo things, bringing Universal Love to a mellow, pensive and quite beautiful close.
The standoff between M.F.S.B. and Gamble and Huff certainly never affected the quality of music on Universal Love. Quite the opposite. It’s almost as if M.F.S.B. were determined to show Gamble and Huff what they were risking losing. This was a high stakes poker game, and Universal Love saw the stakes rising.
Baker, Harris, Young, Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Larry Washington and Vince Montana Jr. had raised their game on Universal Love fusing Philly Soul, funk, disco and jazz. M.F.S.B. had upped the ante with another commercially successful and critically acclaimed album. It was another impressive addition to their discography.
After Universal Love, the original lineup of M.F.S.B. recorded one more album for Philadelphia International Records, Philadelphia Freedom. That proved to be a prophetic title. By the time Philadelphia Freedom was released, the original lineup of M.F.S.B. had achieved their own version of Philadelphia Freedom.
Realising their demands weren’t going to met, M.F.S.B. called Gamble and Huff’s bluff. When no agreement could be reached M.F.S.B. headed to New York, taking their considerable talents to Salsoul Records, which had been founded by the Cayre brothers. The members of M.F.S.B. became The Salsoul Orchestra who nowadays, are regarded as the greatest of the disco orchestras. They played their part in the rise and rise of Philadelphia International Records.
This included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section who provided M.F.S.B.’s heartbeat, guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli, vibes virtuoso Vince Montana Jr, violinist Don Renaldo, percussionist Larry Washington and keyboard player Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey. This was a huge loss for Gamble and Huff. They couldn’t replace the irreplaceable.
By the time 1975 was over, The Salsoul Orchestra’s eponymous debut album had sold over one-million copies. The original members of M.F.S.B. had played and won what was a high stakes poker game.
Following the departure of many of the original lineup of M.F.S.B., Philadelphia International Records still released a number of classic soul albums that were commercially successful. However, by the late-seventies and into the early eighties there seemed to be a lack of quality control at Philadelphia International Records. Some of the artists and groups that were signed weren’t good enough, and others were living on past glories. The albums they released were mixed bags at best and destined for the dollar bins after failing to excite critics or record buyers. It was changed days for Gamble and Huff
By the mid-eighties, Philadelphia International Records was no longer as successful as it once was. Gone were the days when albums would sell a million copies, and a roster included legends of Philly Soul like Billy Paul, The O’Jays, The Three Degrees, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes and later, Teddy Pendergrass. Long gone were the original lineup of M.F.S.B. who had played such an important part in the Philadelphia International Records’ story.
There’s no doubt that the loss of the combined talents of the original members of M.F.S.B. affected Philadelphia International Records. They were hugely talented musicians, arrangers, producers and songwriters and played an important part in the success of Philadelphia International Records between 1972 and 1975. M.F.S.B. Mk II couldn’t fill the shoes of their predecessors. That was almost impossible and while they were talented musicians, the music Philadelphia International Records never sound the same. It was the end of an era.
Ironically, many of the musicians that became The Salsoul Orchestra flourished. It was as if their talents were unleashed. Baker, Harris, Young, Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and Vince Montana Jr. all flourished as songwriters, arrangers and producers at Salsoul. Gamble and Huff’s loss was very much Salsoul’s gain.
Anyone who listens to Universal Love will realise that. Not only does Universal Love features M.F.S.B. at the peak of their powers, whilst playing one of highest stakes poker games in musical history. The lesson to be learnt from this saga, is that “the workman is worthy of his hire.” Especially if they’re as talented as the original and classic lineup of M.F.S.B.
Cult Classic: M.F.S.B.-Universal Love.
ATA Records: The Library Archive Volume 1.
Label: ATA Records.
Release Date: ‘10th’ July 2020.
Nowadays, library music is highly collectable, especially the albums released by KPM, De Woife, Amphonic, Conroy and Sonoton from the sixties, seventies and early eighties. That is regarded by many collectors as a golden age for library music. This is ironic, as the albums of library music were never meant to fall into the hands of collectors.
Originally, library music was meant to be used by film studios or television and radio stations, and was never meant to be commercially available. The music was recorded on spec by music libraries who often hired young unknown composers, musicians and producers. This ranged from musicians who were known within publishing circles, to up-and-coming musicians who later, went onto greater things, and look back fondly at their time writing, recording and producing library music. This they now regard as part of their musical apprenticeship.
For the musicians hired to record library music, their remit was to music libraries with a steady stream of new music, which was originality referred to as production music. During some sessions, the musicians’ remit was write and record music to match themes or moods. This wasn’t easy, but after a while they were able to this seamlessly. Soon, the musicians were able to enter the audio and write and record a piece of music that matched a theme or mood for a film or television show.
Once the library music was recorded, record libraries sent out demonstration copies of their music to advertising agencies, film studios, production companies, radio stations and television channels. If they liked what they heard, they would license a track or several tracks from the music libraries. That was how it was meant to work.
Sometimes, copies of these albums fell into the hands of record collectors, who realising the quality of music recorded by these unknown musicians, started collecting library music. That is still the case today, and nowadays, many original albums of library music are highly collectable. Often, though, these albums are beyond the budget of most record buyers. Luckily, many independent record labels are reissuing library music.
Hardly a week goes by without a new library music compilation hitting the shelves of record shops. Then there’s the reissues of classic albums of library music from the golden age. Sometimes, new albums of library music are released by a new generation of musicians. This happened recently.
This includes Neil Innes and Pete Williams who run ATA Records, and decided to try their hand at writing library music. The tracks they wrote and recorded at their studio in a lock up garage in Leeds, in Yorkshire, were one-offs and lay unreleased until recently. By then, they had an album’s worth of material and the eleven tracks have just been released on the compilation ATA Records: The Library Archive Volume 1. It’s sure to appeal to anyone interested in library music.
The music on ATA Records: The Library Archive Volume 1 is atmospheric, cinematic, emotive, evocative funky, haunting, weird and it’s also wonderful. It sounds as if Neil Innes and Pete Williams have been channeling the spirit of KPM, De Woife, Amphonic, Bruton, Conroy and Sonoton as they recorded the eleven tracks on the compilation. This has been the case for other albums released by the label.
This includes The Sorcerers’ haunting soundtracks, the big band brass of The Yorkshire Film and Television Orchestra and those purveyors of the finest soul-jazz. The Lewis Express who many people will remember for the Theme From ‘The Watcher’ on their eponymous debut album. Library music has influenced many of the albums released by ATA Records, and Neil Innes and Pete Williams have both played their part in these releases. They were also recording library music in their spare time over the last few years.
Eventually, there was enough for the first compilation in what they play to a series of releases The Library Archive. The first is ATA Records: The Library Archive Volume 1. It was recorded using the same recording techniques and equipment that was used to create the albums released during the golden age of library music. Even the minimalist cover is a nod to the legendary KPM releases of the sixties and seventies which Neil Innes and Pete Williams have been inspired by.
That is apparent throughout ATA Records: The Library Archive Volume 1. It opens with the Slap, Whack and Blow, which is a horn driven slice of cinematic funk that sounds as if it was inspired by Keith Mansfield’s KPM recordings. This retro recording transports the listener back to the seventies when this was the type of music that could regularly be heard on British television.
Duck Strut is driven along by the bass and combine with drums and percussion to create the groove. They’re joined by stabs of keyboards while the understated horns and flute sound as if they’ve been influenced by Quincy Jones on what’s best described as Brit-funk. Don’t be surprised to hear this track used on film or television in the future.
The Needle Nose is dramatic and cinematic and sounds as if it belongs in an episode of The Sweeney just before the blag goes down. Wiretap is another moody and atmospheric track with a cinematic sound. It would be perfect for a film shot in the seventies during the Cold War.
Wigged Out sounds like a homage to Italian library legends I Marc. Especially the organ which was one of their trademark sounds.
On Nuclear Wind I and II, Neil Innes and Pete Williams deploy a mellotron and Moog which were often used on classic library music albums. Here, their role is to provide the counterpoint to the tender, otherworldly vocals on these atmospheric and thought-provoking tracks.
Kaye Okay is another that sounds as if it was inspired by Keith Mansfield’s KPM recordings. It’s also a track that will be familiar to anyone who grew up in Britain the seventies. Tracks like this have a nostalgic sound as they were often used by television producers for light entertainment shows and will bring back memories for many people of a certain age.
Siren’s Sea is an acoustic track with a haunting and beautiful ethereal vocal. It washes over the listener as they imagine the scenes folding in front of their mind’s eye.
Very different is Midnight Heist, a jazz-funk track which wouldn’t sound out of place on a seventies cop show. Closing the album is the experimental sci-fi sounds of Planet Nine. It shows another side to the library music that Neil Innes and Pete Williams have been making.
Hardly a week goes by without the release of a new library music compilation, the reissue of a classic album or new album that has been inspired by the genre’s golden era. Some of the new albums of library music are often a mixed bag, but ATA Records: The Library Archive Volume 1 is one of the best.
It sounds as if it was recorded during the golden age of library music. This is no surprise as Neil Innes and Pete Williams use the same recording techniques and the same equipment. What is remarkable is that the music on the compilation was recorded in a lockup garage in Leeds. That is something Keith Mansfield, Syd Dale, Alan Hawkshaw and Johnny Hawksworth never did.
These great names and the legendary labels like have also inspired Neil Innes and Pete Williams as they begin their journey with ATA Records: The Library Archive Volume 1, and hopefully they will go “marching on together” and create future instalments in the series.
ATA Records: The Library Archive Volume 1.
Cult Classic: Eric Andersen: Sweet Surprise.
In 1975, thirty-two year old folk singer and songwriter Eric Andersen moved to Greenwich Village, New York, where it had all started for him in the early sixties. Back then, Eric Andersen was part of the folk scene, and as a twenty-one years in 1964, had auditioned for Vanguard Records at Gerdes Folk City, a well known music venue in the East Village. The audition was successful, and Eric Andersen was signed to Vanguard Records.
The following year, 1965, Eric Andersen released his debut album Today Is The Highway on Vanguard Records. It was well received by critics, and launched Eric Andersen’s nascent career.
1966 was one of the most important years of Eric Andersen’s career. He made his debut at the Newport Folk Festival, and released his sophomore album ‘Bout Changes ‘N’ Things. Songs like Violets Of Dawn, Thirsty Boots,I Shall Go Unbounded and Close The Door Lightly When You Go showcased a hugely talented songwriter who many critics believed had a big future ahead of him. Just like his debut album, ‘Bout Changes ‘N’ Things was released to plaudits and praise, and Eric Andersen was seen as one of the rising stars of the vibrant folk movement.
When Eric Andersen released ‘Bout Changes ‘N’ Things 2 in 1967, it had much in common with ‘Bout Changes ‘N’ Things. The same songs featured on the album, but they had been rerecorded and Eric Andersen had used different instruments. The songs were resequenced, and When ‘Bout Changes ‘N’ Things 2 was released, it showed another side to these familiar songs as Eric Andersen’s music evolved and moved towards folk rock.
The reinvention of Eric Andersen’s music continued on his fourth album More Hits From Tin Can Alley, which was released in 1968. It was the most eclectic album of Eric Andersen’s career.
When it came time for Eric Andersen to record his fifth album for Vanguard Records, A Country Dream, he was following in the footsteps of many folk singers who had also made the journey to Nashville. Joining Eric Andersen was a band that featured top session players. They played their part in Eric Andersen’s first album of country rock which featured a cover of Otis Redding’s Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay. It was given a makeover and was one of the talking points of A Country Dream when it was released in 1969. Despite being well received, A Country Dream was Eric Andersen’s swan-song for Vanguard Records. He was about to go up in the musical world.
After releasing five albums for Vanguard Records, Eric Andersen signed to Warner Bros. Records. Later in 1969, Eric Andersen released Avalanche where he flits between country-rock and his now familiar folk rock sound. Some of the songs are cerebral, while others feature a reflective, introspective Eric Andersen as he sings of roller coaster romances. However, on It’s Comin’ and It Won’t Be Long, Eric Andersen sounds like Bob Dylan right down to his phrasing. Other songs are understated and allow Eric Andersen’s emotive vocal to centre-stage as this new chapter to his career began.
This new chapter continued with the release of Eric Andersen in 1970. It was Eric Andersen’s second album for Warner Bros. Records, and saw him continue to mature as a singer and songwriter. He had written then entire album which saw Eric Andersen continue to combine country rock and folk rock and on occasions move towards a pop rock sound. Despite being one of his finest albums of recent years, Eric Andersen failed commercially. For Eric Andersen this was the end of his time at Warner Bros.
Later in 1970, Eric Andersen joined Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and country rockers The Speckled Hen on the Festival Express Tour. It wound its way across Canada and introduced Eric Andersen’s music to a new audience. However, it would be two years before Eric Andersen returned with a new album.
By 1972, Eric Andersen had signed to Columbia and began work on Blue River which was produced Norbert Putnam and features The Jordanaires and Joni Mitchell on backing vocals on the title-track. When Blue River was released later in 1972, it was to overwhelming critical acclaim. Record buyers were also won over by an album the featured elements of AOR, country rock, folk rock, pop and rock, and Blue River reached 169 in the Us Billboard 200. This meant that Blue River was Eric Andersen’s most successful album. It had taken seven years and eight albums, but somewhat belatedly, Eric Andersen had made a commercial breakthrough.
Buoyed by the success of Blue River, Eric Andersen returned to the studio and began work on the followup, which was going to be called Stages. Eric Andersen completed the album, but before it could be released, the master tapes disappeared. This was almost unheard of, and despite searching high and low for the master tapes, there was no sign of it. For Eric Andersen this was a devastating blow, as he had just made a commercial breakthrough.
The loss of the Stages’ master tapes affected Eric Andersen badly, and he decided to take a break from recording. Little did anyone realise that this break would last two long years.
It wasn’t until 1974 that Eric Andersen decided that he was ready to return to the recording studio. This was perfect timing as Clive Davis, who signed Eric Andersen to Columbia, had founded a new label Arista earlier in 1974 and was looking to add artists to the roster. One of the artists he wanted to sign was Eric Andersen, who signed to Arista in 1974, and began work on Be True To You. It’s the first of two albums that Eric Andersen released for Arista as he hit the comeback trail.
Be True To You.
Having signed to Arista, Eric Andersen began writing the ten songs that eventually became Be True To You. This was the much-anticipated followup to the album that was regarded as his masterpiece, Blue River. Be True To You was an album Eric Andersen’s fans had waited patiently for. They had heard about the loss of the master tapes to Stages, and Eric Andersen’s two year absence from the recording studio.
Some of the songs on Be True To You had originally featured on Stages, while others were new songs that Eric Andersen had just written. There was also one cover version Ol 55 on Be True To You. These songs became part of an album that focused on the subject of love and various events that happened during life. However, there was more to Be True To You than that. The album also dealt with how love had affected other people. Be True To You featured two themed sides, with side one entitled I’m Weary Of These Petty Wars while and side two Lovers They Make Promises, But Lovers They Tell Lies.
Recording of Be True To You began at Eric Andersen’s comeback album began at Wally Heider’s in August ’74, when Keep Fallin’ Like the Rain was recorded with producer Tom Sellers who was joined in the control room by John Florez. The pair co-produced the song with Eric Andersen before moving to another of LA’s top studios.
Four months later, in November 1974, Eric Andersen arrived at The Sound Labs, where he once again joined by a band that featured some of city’s top musicians. Some of the musicians were part of the core band, while others were drafted in to play on one or two tracks on Be True To You. The rhythm section alone included drummers Dennis St John, John Guerin, and Russ Kunkell; bassists Emory Gordy, Scott Edwards and Mark Sporer and guitarists Dean Parks and Chris Bond. They were joined by pianist Allen Lindgren, flautist Ernie Watts, cellist Jesse Ehrlich, tenor saxophonist Tom Scott and Richard Bennett who played acoustic guitar and steel guitar. Among the backing vocalists were Maxine and Julia Waters, Jackson Browne, Hern Pedersen and Maria Muldaur. Meanwhile, Tom Sellers took charge of production, except on Ol 55 Tom Sellers which was co-produced by John Florez. By December 1974, Be True To You was completed and ready for release in 1975.
Before the release of Be True To You in 1975, critics had their say on what was the belated followup to Blue River and essentiality, Eric Andersen’s comeback album after three years away. Just like Blue River, critics dissevered that Be True To You was a carefully crafted album where featured folk rock, country rock and pop rock. Critics hailed Be True To You a fitting followup to Blue River, and welcomed the return of Eric Andersen. His partnership with producer Tom Sellers was success.
Tom Sellers was responsible for a slick, polished production with woodwind and strings sweetening the country rock ballad Moonchild Riversong which open the album. It gives way to the beautiful heartfelt ballad Be True To You where again strings sweetens the sound and harmonies add the finishing touch. Very different is Wild Crow Blues where the tempo increases and Eric Andersen showcases a tougher country rock sound. The tempo drops on Ol 55, an anthemic country rock ballad where a weeping steel guitar provides the perfect foil to Eric Andersen’s vocal. Time Run Like A Freight Train features an understated arrangement and a tender, soul-baring vocal from Eric Andersen who sometimes sounds like James Taylor. This beautiful ballad closes side one, which was entitled I’m Weary Of These Petty Wars.
Side two was entitled Lovers They Make Promises, But Lovers They Tell Lies and opened with the hurt-filled folk rock ballad Liza, Light The Candle. It’s followed by Woman, She Was Gentle where backing vocals accompany Eric Andersen’s vocal which is akin to a confessional. Can’t Get You Out Of My Life features another emotive, hurt-filled vocal which is delivered against a jaunty arrangement where harmonies and a sultry saxophone play starring roles. It’s all change on The Blues Keep Fallin’ Like The Rain, where blues and jazz combine as Eric Andersen accompanied by drums played with brushes, subtle harmonies, a Wurlitzer and saxophone delivers a vocal full of sadness and despair. Closing the album is Love Is Just A Game, another beautiful ballad where a piano, lush strings and backing vocals accompany a rueful vocal full of hurt. It closes Be True To You on a high, and is one of many highlights on the album.
Just before the release of Be True To You, Eric Andersen and Arlen Roth played at the opening show of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue. This was a huge coup, and great publicity for his forthcoming album Be True To You.
Sadly, when Eric Andersen released Be True To You in 1975, his Arista debut failed to trouble the charts. This was a huge disappointment for Eric Andersen, who maybe, had been away too long? Three years had passed since Blue River, and many record buyers had short memories and may have forgotten about Eric Andersen. Music was also changing by 1975, and record buyers had moved on to different genres. However, despite the commercial failure of Be True To You, Eric Andersen decided to begin work on the followup Sweet Surprise.
For Sweet Surprise, Eric Andersen wrote eight new songs whist living in one room high in the mountains of Montana. This backdrop provided the inspiration for Eric Andersen to write Sweet Surprise, where he would renew his partnership with producer Tom Sellers.
Just like on Be True To You, Tom Sellers took charge of production on Sweet Surprise. This time, it was a much smaller band who joined Eric Andersen when recording of Sweet Surprise and they used a different selection of instruments to those that featured on Be True To You.
This time around, Eric Andersen’s band included a rhythm section of drummer Chris Parker, bassist Tony Brown and guitarists Sister Joon Millington who also played acoustic guitar and Arlen Roth who played lead acoustic guitar. They were augmented by David Mansfield who played steel guitar and fiddle, percussionist Antonio Ramos, keyboardist Tom Sellers and Richard Bell who keyboards and ARP synth. Additional musicians included Jennifer Condos acoustic guitarist Paul Horan, Happy Traun on concertina and mandolin, cellist Wacky Jacky Robbins, steel guitarist Ben Keith and saxophonist Tom Scott. They provided the backdrop for Eric Andersen on Sweet Surprise which was released in 1976.
Just like Be True To You, Sweet Surprise was a slick, polished album that veered between country rock, folk rock and even pop rock. That was the case on the album opener Lost In A Song, where country rock and pop rock melt into one in this beautiful ballad. How It Goes is country rock all the way as a weeping guitar accompanies Eric Andersen’s vocal which sounds like Bob Dylan. Eric Andersen showcases his “own” vocal on the understated ballad Dreams Of Mexico which gives way to San Diego Serenade. It features saxophonist Tom Scott and a weeping guitar on this jazz-tinged, country rock ballad that closes side one.
Sweet Surprise opens side two and is another country rock ballad where Eric Andersen delivers a heartfelt vocal. The balladry continues on the ballad Down At The Cantina which features a hopeful vocal from Eric Andersen. It’s a similar case on Crazy River which features a country rock arrangement. Closing Sweet Surprise is another beautiful ballad where Eric Andersen delivers a tender vocal against an understated but effective carefully crafted arrangement. This ensures that Sweet Surprise closes on a high.
Sweet Surprise was scheduled for release later in 1976. Before that, the critics sat in judgment, before having their say on the followup to Be True To You. The majority of critics were impressed by Sweet Surprise, which should’ve found an audience within the country music community.
When Sweet Surprise was released in 1976, the album failed to even trouble the charts. This was another disappointment for Eric Andersen, who wound’t release another album for Arista.
Eric Andersen’s Arista years lasted two just two years, and during that period he released Be True To You and Sweet Surprise. It was the end of another chapter in a story that began in 1964 when Eric Andersen auditioned for Vanguard Records at Gerdes Folk City.
Twelve years later, and Eric Andersen’s time at Arista had come to a close after releasing just two albums in two-year. During his short stay at Arista, Eric Andersen released Sweet Surprise, which is best described one of the hidden gems in his back-catalogue. It showcases a talented singer, songwriter and guitarist whose music didn’t find the audience it deserved. Sadly, Sweet Surprise slipped under the musical radar on an album where Eric Andersen embraces country rock on his second set for Arista. After the commercial failure of Sweet Surprise, Eric Andersen didn’t release another album in America for eighteen years.
By the late seventies, Eric Andersen found himself without a record company, and for nearly two decades he fell into obscurity. During that period, Eric Andersen moved to Europe, and released 1980s Midnight Son, 1984s Tight Is The Night and Istanbul in 1985. Things changed in 1988 when Eric Andersen released Ghosts Upon The Road which sold well and caught the attention of critics in Europe. Still though, Eric Andersen was a forgotten man in America, despite producing albums of the quality of Sweet Surprise a carefully crafted hidden gems that is a reminder of his Arista years.
Cult Classic: Eric Andersen: Sweet Surprise.
Label: Reprise Records.
By June 1974, Neil Young was twenty-eight and was preparing to begin work on a new album Homegrown, which would’ve been the sixth album of his career, and the followup to On The Beach which was scheduled for release on the ‘19th’ of July.
It was the much-anticipated followup to his classic album Harvest, which was released to commercial success and critical acclaim on the ‘1st’ of February 1972. Harvest had topped the US Billboard 200 charts for two weeks and was the best selling album of 1972 in America where it eventually sold in excess of over four million copies. On The Beach had a lot to live up to.
While Neil Young’s career was going from strength-to-strength, his longterm relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress was deteriorating. They had met after her award-winning role in the 1970 film Diary Of A Mad Housewife. She was the inspiration for A Man Needs A Maid, which Neil Young wrote about contemplating starting a new romantic relationship. This was the first of a number of new songs he wrote about his relationship with Carrie Snodgress.
The next was Motion Pictures which Neil Young wrote for On The Beach which was recorded between February and April 1974. Two months later, in June 1974, Neil Young began work on Homegrown, which featured a number of songs that were inspired by his relationship with Carrie Snodgress.
The recording of Homegrown began in earnest on the ‘16th’ of June 1974, which was the day before a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young session. They were planning to record a few songs before heading out on a lengthy summer stadium tour. However, with a day free, Neil Young took the opportunity to record a new song he had written.
This was Love Is A Rose, which was essentially a reworking of Dance, Dance, Dance which Crazy Horse had recorded on their 1971 eponymous debut album. Despite being recorded in 1974, Love Is A Rose sounds as if Neil Young was picking up where he left off on Harvest. Linda Ronstadt saw the potential in the song which gave her a country hit in 1975. It would also eventually find its way onto Homegrown.
On The Beach.
Before that, On The Beach was released on the ‘19th’ of July 1974. It was a very different album to Harvest and not what critics and record buyers expected. Some critics were surprised by the underproduced sound and felt that it was an album full of darkness and despair. That wasn’t strictly true.
On The Beach was recorded after Tonight’s The Night which found Neil Young expressing his grief following the deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. By the time On The Beach was recorded, Neil Young was ridding himself of much of the despair he had been feeling when he recorded Tonight’s The Night. While there’s still darkness and despair there’s also pessimism and hope.
Record buyers didn’t seem to “get” On The Beach, which stalled at sixteen in the US Billboard 200 but was still certified gold. Across the Atlantic, the album was certified silver. On The Beach was nowhere near as successful as Harvest, and it would only be much later that the album received the recognition that it deserved.
Nearly three months later, on the ‘12th’ of September 1974, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young stadium tour were about to play a concert at Wembley Stadium, in London, that evening. The opening act was The Band, and with time on their hands before the concert Neil Young and Robbie Robertson made their way to Ramport Studios to record a track together for Homegrown. That day, they recorded the bittersweet acoustic duet White Line. It was time well spent.
After the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young stadium tour was over, the next session for Homegrown began on the ‘11th’ of December and lasted two days. The session included Band drummer Levon Helm and Ben Keith on pedal steel guitar. Both play a crucial part in the sound and success of the album opener Separate Ways, where Neil Young delivers a vocal full of loneliness, hurt and heartbreak. During the same session, he recorded the hopeful sounding Try, which features Emmylou Harris on backing vocals. It’s the polar opposite of Separate Ways which it follows on Homegrown.
The next day, the ‘13th’ of December the band reassembled and recorded two more tracks. This included Homegrown, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to hemp. Neil Young rerecorded the song with Crazy Horse and it featured on the 1977 album American Stars ‘N’ Bars. So was the other song recored that day, the acoustic ballad Star Of Bethlehem which features beautiful harmonies from Emmylou Harris. It’s one of the highlights of Homegrown and the perfect way to close the album.
There was no rest for the band over the festive season, and on New Year’s Eve they were back in the studio. They sound as if they’re in good spirts on the bluesy vamp We Don’t Smoke It No More. It has a looser sound and is reminiscent of the 1975 album Tonight’s The Night. However, the song which was the last Neil Young recorded during 1974 deserves its place on Homegrown.
Four days later, on the ‘4th’ of January 1975 the band were reunited and Neil Young recorded Vacancy. He switches between guitar and harmonica and delivers an impassioned vocal where he probes and questions: “who are you…what’s your name?” on one of the hidden gems on Homegrown.
Just seventeen days later, on the ‘21st’ of January 1975, Neil Young and his band entered the Sound Recorders, in LA, and recorded the four other tracks that feature on Homegrown. The piano lead Mexico and Kansas are solo performances by Neil Young and both are best described as short, lysergic sounding songs.
Florida which was recorded the same day, and is a surreal sounding spoken word dream that is akin to a stream of consciousness.
The other track recorded that day was Little Wing where Neil Young plays harmonica and guitar as he delivers a rueful vocal. It’s the best of the tracks recorded during the final session and was released on the Hawks and Doves album in 1980.
These twelve tracks would eventually make their way onto Homegrown. However, that is only part of the story. Around thirty tracks were recorded over a seven month period. Many of them were solo performances and many were acoustic recordings with just Neil Young his guitar and harmonica. With so many tracks to choose from, there should’ve been no problems choosing the tracks that would make it onto Homegrown. Several track-listings were compiled and they were being considered when word came through that the album had been cancelled by Neil Young.
By then, Homegrown’s album cover had been designed and Reprise were preparing for the release. It was totally unexpected and through their plans into disarray. What had happened?
Neil Young had decided to hold a listening party to let some of his friends hear Homegrown. This included members The Band and Crazy Horse who partied into the early hours. Having heard Homegrown, Neil Young played the other side of the tape which featured Tonight’s The Night. When Rick Danko heard it he said: If you guys don’t release the fuckin’ album, you’re crazy.’” It was enough to make Neil Young change his plans.
This in a way is not surprising, as the songs are very personal, and reveal his feelings about his failing relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress. Later Neil Young said about releasing Homegrown: “It was a little too personal…it scared me.” It was shelved and Tonight’s The Night released instead.
When Tonight’s The Night was released on June the ’20th’ 1975, Neil Young’s expression of grief was well received by the majority of critics. However, it stalled at just twenty-five in the US Billboard 200 and failed to sell as many copies as On The Beach. However, Tonight’s The Night was certified silver in the UK and gold in Australia. This was a small crumb of comfort.
Since Homegrown was shelved in 1975, the album lay unreleased in Neil Young’s vaults, and has taken on an almost mystical quality. His fans hoped that one day, the album would be released. This was due to happen on It Record Store Day 2020 as part of Neil Young’s Archives’ series. When the date of Record Store Day 2020 was changed due to the coronavirus pandemic Reprise decided to release Homegrown on the ‘19th’ of June 2020. This was forty-five years after its intended released date.
Rather belatedly Neil Young’s many fans got to hear Homegrown which is one of his most personal albums. It’s a soul-baring album where he reveals his feelings about his failing relationship with Carrie Snodgress, the mother of his young son Zeke. Sadly, their relationship came to an end in 1974, during the recording of the album. Maybe completing the album proved cathartic for Neil Young, although when it came to release Homegrown he was reluctant to do so.
Homegrown has a confessional quality and with its intimate arrangements and an understated and minimalist production style, it’s a very personal, poignant and powerful album from Neil Young where he lays bare his hurt and heartbreak after the breakup of his relationship with Carrie Snodgress on what’s akin to a diary that he never expected anyone to read.
Kenny Dorham-Trompeta Toccato.
Label: Blue Note Records.
On December the ‘15th’ 1953, twenty-nine year old Texan trumpeter Kenny Dorham had already been a member of Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine and Lionel Hampton big bands and had joined Charlie Parker’s Quintet in December 1948. Less than five years later, and the sideman embarked upon a solo career when he signed the Debut label, which was founded by Charles Mingus and his wife Celia, with drummer Max Roach. This was a new chapter in Kenny Dorham’s career.
He journeyed to the Van Gelder Studio, at 25 Prospect Avenue, Hackensack, New Jersey, to record his debut album as leader, Kenny Dorham Quintet. It was well received upon its release in 1954, and this should’ve been the start of a long and illustrious career for the bandleader, composer and trumpeter.
By 1955, Kenny Dorham had signed to Blue Note Records, and in October released one of his finest albums for the label, Afro-Cuban. This was first of start five albums that he released for Blue Note Records over a ten year period.
1956 was an important and sometimes frustrating year for Kenny Dorham. He was one of the charter members of The Jazz Crusaders, although his involvement was relatively short-lived. When drummer and fellow cofounder Art Blakey took over The Jazz Crusaders’ name he decided to found a new band The Jazz Prophets. They played on his second album for Blue Note Records.
This was ‘Round About Midnight At The Cafe Bohemia which was recorded on the ‘31st’ of May 1956. Later that year, the same lineup recorded another album together, and Kenny Dorham And The Jazz Prophets Volume 1 was released on ABC-Paramount. Still, Kenny Dorham found time tow work with two giants of jazz.
He had recorded with Sonny Rollins, and then joined the Max Roach Quintet after the death of Clifford Brown. 1956 was an important year in the career of Kenny Dorham.
As 1957 dawned, ‘Round About Midnight At The Cafe Bohemia on. This sextet recording was released to plaudits and praise in January 1957. However, it would another four years before Kenny Dorham released another album on Blue Note
Over the next four years, he released albums on the Riverside, New Jazz and Time labels. Then on the ‘15th’ of January 1961 Kenny Dorham recorded Whistle Stop for Blue Note Records with an all-star band.
Five months later, Whistle Stop was released and hailed as his finest album Blue Note Records. Kenny Dorham was the comeback king, and “in 1975 five British critics picked Whistle Stop as one of 200 albums that belonged in a basic library of jazz recorded after World War II.”
Buoyed by the response to Whistle Stop, Kenny Dorham released the live album Inta Somethin’ on Pacific Jazz in March 1962. Reviews of the album were mixed, although Matador which was released by United Artists in April 1962 was a return to form from Kenny Dorham.
He returns to Blue Note Records and Una Mas (One More Time) on the ‘1st’ of April 1963. Little did any of the Quintet realise that this would be the penultimate album that Kenny Dorham would record. By then, he was frustrated that he still wasn’t well known within the jazz scene and that his music wasn’t receiving the recognition he deserved.
In an interview for the album’s liner notes he said: “All I can say is that if it’s going to happen, it’ll happen. But it’s going to have to happen within a reasonable time. After all, I’ll soon be into my ‘25th’ year on the trumpet. Anyway, however it goes, I’ll just keep playing. That’s where the basic satisfaction is at”
When Una Mas (One More Time) was released in January 1964, the majority of the reviews were positive. However, just like his previous albums, it wasn’t a particularly successful release. Still his music was being heard by a small group of discerning jazz lovers. For Kenny Dorham it was a disappointing and frustrating time.
On September the ‘14th’ 1964, nearly eleven years after he made his debut as bandleader, Kenny Dorham journeyed to the Van Gelder Studio with his quintet. They were about to record Trompeta Toccato, which was recently reissued on vinyl by Blue Note Records. It turned out that it was the last time he would make the journey as a bandleader.
That day, his band featured drummer Albert Heath, double bassist Richard Davis and pianist Tommy Flanagan. They were joined by tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson who wrote Mamacita, while bandleader Kenny Dorham played trumpet and wrote the other three new compositions. Producing Trompeta Toccato was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder and produced by Alfred Lion. Just like so many Blue Note Records’ sessions, the album was recorded in one day, but wasn’t released until 1965.
By the time Trompeta Toccato was released in July 1965, Kenny Dorham was working as a sideman. It was also his swansong, and he would never record another album of new material. That was a great shame as Trompeta Toccato was one of the finest albums of his career. Sadly, it failed to find the wider audience it so richly deserved.
Trompeta Toccato opens with the title-track which is played in 6/8 time. Just Kenny Dorham’s trumpet and then the piano play slowly leaving space on what seems like a melancholy sounding track. Then it’s all change as the rhythm section, piano and a blazing, braying horns that are like a tag team as they bobs and weave their way across the arrangement which has taken on an Afro-Latin feeling. Later, pianist Tommy Flanagan plays a lengthy ruminative solo that invites refection before passing the baton to Richard Davis’ slow deliberate and thoughtful bass. Latterly the band unite and Joe Henderson’s trumpet soars about the rest of arrangement to this ambitious and complex twelve minute modal epic.
“Night Watch is a bluesy, cinematic track with a strong and memorable hook, where the Quintet are at their tightest and paint vivid pictures. Kenny Dorham described the scene as: ”It’s very late at night, and the mood is what comes when you’re alone at that time”. That describes it perfectly and many people will have experienced that feeling and be able to relate to it. Again the horns are to the fore as the band play as one. Then when the solos come round bandleader and trumpeter Kenny Dorham blows hard but is always in control and his playing melodic as the rhythm section ensure the track swings. Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson then takes charge and plays his solo effortlessly. So does pianist Tommy Flanagan, who adds to the late night sound with one of his finest solos as the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Then the horns take charge and add a sense of melancholia that many people will have experienced when they find themselves along late at night.
Mamacita is a twelve bar Bossa Nova written by Joe Henderson that came to life during the recording at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio. The band knew they were on the right road when they got producer Alfred Lion and photographer Francis Wolff moving to the rhythm. That’s sure to be the case from the opening bars as the piano and drums combine and then the trumpet and tenor saxophone enter. By then, toes are sure to be tapping and hips are swaying. This is just the start as the solos are still to come. First up is tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson whose playing is flawless and he sets the bar high. Kenny Dorham matches him every step of the way and so does pianist Tommy Flanagan. Then when the band reunite, the horns take the lead as the track swings as this Bossa Nova transports the listener to the Copacabana Beach in Rio De Janeiro.
Closing Trompeta Toccato is The Fox which bursts into life and has a 12-8-12 bar structure. It’s driven along by the rhythm section as Kenny Dorham plays with speed, power, urgency and a fluidity putting his twenty-five years of experience to good use. Then he bass the baton to Joe Henderson and his braying, rasping tenor saxophone scampers along as if the hounds are on the heels of The Fox. Tommy Flanagan replicates that urgency on the piano as his fingers flit up and down the keyboard. Later the band become one and the urgency increases before reaching a crescendo and Kenny Dorham takes a bow.
Sadly, Trompeta Toccato was Texan trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s swansong as bandleader. However, he had saved one of his finest albums until last, and combines hard bop, Afro-Latin, modal jazz and Bossa Nova on Trompeta Toccato. That comes as no surprise.
He’s backed by a hugely talented and versatile Quintet, with pianist Tommy Flanagan and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson playing starring roles on the album. Just like Kenny Dorham they showcase their considerable skills when the solos come around their playing is variously tight, inventive, expressive, urgent and fluid as they feed off each other and drive each other to greater heights. They played their part in an album that should’ve been a turning point in Kenny Dorham’s career.
When Trompeta Toccato was released in July 1965 it failed to find the audience it deserved. This was a huge disappointment for Kenny Dorham. By then, he was already disillusioned as even his finest albums, including Trompeta Toccato, weren’t selling well and he he wasn’t receiving the recognition from critics and the jazz establishment that he felt he deserved. That was why Kenny Dorham decided to call time on his solo career after Trompeta Toccato, which was recently reissued by Blue Note Records as part of their ‘80th’ anniversary celebration.
After that, he continued to work as a sideman, but latterly only sporadically. By then Kenny Dorham was writing for Downbeat magazine as he was suffering from kidney disease and was unable to make a living as a musician. Tragically, this truly talented and vastly underrated bandleader, composer and trumpeter passed away on December the ‘5th’ 1972 aged forty-eight in New York. Jazz was in mourning at the loss of Kenny Dorham.
While he may not have been as prolific as other artists or enjoyed such a lengthy career, Kenny Dorham released some vastly underrated albums that somewhat belatedly are starting to find a wider audience. This includes Trompeta Toccato, which was one of his finest albums, and what was sadly his swansong, but along with Whistle Stop is the perfect introduction to the late, great Kenny Dorham.
Kenny Dorham-Trompeta Toccato.
Label: Rune Grammofon.
In May 2018, award-winning Norwegian guitarist, vocalist, bandleader and composer Hedvig Mollestad was thirty-six and one of the leading lights of the vibrant Nordic music scene. Her band the Hedvig Mollestad Trio had already released five albums and had already recorded their sixth album Smells Funny. Despite the commercial success and critical acclaim that that the Trio were enjoying, Hedvig Mollestad was starting to think about writing for a larger group. She wanted to expand her musical horizons, and a letter she received allowed her to do that.
When Hedvig Mollestad opened the letter it as from the organisers of the long-running and prestigious Vossajazz festival which was established in 1973. The organisers wanted to commission a work for 2019 festival. This was the perfect opportunity to do what she had been thinking about, and write for a bigger group. She accepted the invitation and began working on the commission.
Hedvig Mollestad called the completed commission Ekhidna, which is a figure from Greek mythology that is half woman, half snake. She said the commission featured loosely tied themes about “human struggle and being a mother in times when our increasing inability to live in harmony with nature paints a bleak picture.”
With the commission complete, Hedvig Mollestad began putting an expanded band together. This was no ordinary band and featured some top musicians, and it was akin to a nascent supergroup.
Joining bandleader and guitarist Hedvig Mollestad were Elephant9 drummer Torstein Lofthus, and percussionist Ole Mofjell who was the youngest member of the band but had plenty of experience within the European improv scene. They were joined by Marte Eberson who spent five years of her career with Highasakite, and Erlend Slettevoll of The Core and Grand General who both switched between keyboards and synths. The final member of the band was Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva who Hedvig Mollestad played alongside in Mats Gustafsson´s Nu-Ensemble. This was the lineup that would appear at the Vossajazz festival.
Billed as the festival by the lake, Vossajazz took place in April 2019 and three works had been commissioned. However, Hedvig Mollestad was the guest of honour and with her band played her new work Ekhidna, which lasted seventy-five minutes. It was a spellbinding performance of a genre-melting piece that won over critics at Vossajazz.
After the success of the performance at Vossajazz, it was decided to release Ekhidna as an album. To make it suitable for album release, the full festival version was edited, tightened up in places, and then the band recorded Ekhidna earlier in 2020 at Amper Tone studio in Oslo with Hedvig Mollestad taking charge of production. Once the album was complete, it was scheduled for release in the summer of 2020.
Hedvig Mollestad’s much-anticipated solo album Ekhidna was recently released by Rune Grammofon, and marks another chapter in her distinguished career. On Ekhidna she leads a a multitalented and versatile sextet which features six soundscapes that last just forty minutes. This is much shorter than the original work premiered at Ekhidna lasted seventy-five minutes.
Ekhidna opens with No Friends But The Mountains which lasts just under two minutes. It is atmospheric, moody and cinematic with the guitar and trumpet playing starring roles on a track that sounds like it’s part of the score to a Norwegian Western.
Very different is A Stone’s Throw which combines elements of heavy rock, fusion, progressive rock and metal. Again, Hedvig Mollestad’s blistering, riffing guitar plays a leading role as Torstein Lofthus’ drums power and drive the arrangement along. Then from 1.46 to 3.03 it’s all change and it’s as if Dave Gilmour circa Dark Side Of The Moon has made a guest appearance, as the guitar glistens and shimmers during an interlude that is best descried as pastoral fusion. However, normal service is the resumed as the band explode out of the blocks with machine gun riffs sprayed across the driving arrangement. It gathers speed and become urgent and frenzied before a detour via the earlier hard rocking sound and then fusion on this seven minute genre-melting opus.
The searing guitar that opens Antilone is a mere amuse bouche before this pile driver of an arrangement explodes into life. Soon, the band fuse elements of progressive rock, fusion, math rock and draw inspiration from King Crimson, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. This is given a ‘21st’ Century makeover by producer and bandleader Hedvig Mollestad. She unleashes one of her finest solos wielding her guitar like a musical Merlin as she unleashes a blistering, searing and scorching solo where she plays with speed, power and invention before the track reaches a crescendo after ten magical minutes. It’s been a truly breathtaking performance.
Slightly Lighter has a much more understated sound as a shimmering, glistening and rippling guitar glides across the spacious arrangement. It’s very different to much of what’s gone before and is melancholy ruminative and invites reflection.
On Ekhidna Hedvig Mollestad swaggers centrestage and unleashes a Hendrix-inspired guitar solo as the drums add a degree of drama, trumpet brays and the rest of the band join the frae. As Hedvig Mollestad unleashes another virtuoso performance she deploys an array of effects before exiting stage left. Trumpeter Susana Santos Silva then unleashes an improvised solo playing with speed, power and urgency, as the interplay between the two drummers add to the drama and intensity. So does the guitar when it returns, Hedvig Mollestad channels the spirit of Hendrix before this improvised epic reaches a crescendo.
One Leaf Left closes Ekhidna and as it unfolds, it has an understated sound. The guitar takes centrestage before the trumpet and keyboards add to the wistful, melancholy and filmic sound. At 5.20 the searing, scorching guitars cuts through the arrangement and at one point the band seem to draw inspiration from Santana. By now, it’s rocky and dramatic and a very different soundscape thanks to Hedvig Mollestad’s intoxicating and breathtaking guitar riffs. It’s a case of keeping one of the best until last on Ekhidna.
Hedvig Mollestad’s new Ekhidna which was recently released by Rune Grammofon, and is an album with its roots in the past and present. It’s an album that has been influenced by classic and hard rock, fusion, improv, math rock, metal, progressive rock and psychedelia. Then there’s the influence of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention, Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Santana as well as Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra. All these disparate genres and influences play their part in the sound and success of Ekhidna.
It finds Hedvig Mollestad leading her new supergroup from the front and plays a starring role throughout the six soundscapes on Ekhidna. They seamlessly switch between and combine different musical genres, and sometimes, Hedvig Mollestad throws a curveball and the soundscapes on Ekhidna heads in a new direction and it becomes a magical mystery tour. This the cerebral supergroup take in their stride on Ekhidna, which is an intoxicating epic and features Nordic guitar wielding riff-meister Hedvig Mollestad at the peak of her considerable powers as she embarks on a new chapter in her glittering career.
Cult Classic: Maynard Ferguson-M.F. Horn 4 and 5:Live At Jimmy’s.
The first time many jazz fans heard Canadian jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, was when he joined the when the twenty-four year old joined Stan Kenton’s new Innovations Orchestra in 1949. This was home for Maynard Ferguson for the next four years and was where he first came to prominence.
Suddenly, Maynard Ferguson’s star was in the ascendancy and this resulted in him winning the prestigious Down Beat reader’s poll for best trumpeter in 1950, 1951 and 1952. This was quite a feat as he was up against many top trumpeters, including Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong. However, a year after winning his third Down Beat award, Maynard Ferguson left Stan Kenton’s employ and became a session musician at Paramount Pictures.
At Paramount Pictures, Maynard Ferguson soon became their first choice trumpeter and featured on forty-six soundtracks, including The Ten Commandments in 1956. However, his work at Paramount Pictures didn’t take up all of Maynard Ferguson’s time and he was still able to record with other artists. This offered another lucrative source of income for him. However, his contract with Paramount Pictures stated that he wasn’t allowed to play in jazz clubs.
Some nights, Maynard Ferguson circumvented this band by using an alias, and playing in clubs under the moniker Tiger Brown or Foxy Corby. However, by then, he was becoming increasingly unhappy about his lack of live performances and gradually became disillusioned with life at Paramount Pictures. As a result, he left Paramount Pictures in 1956.
Having spent February and March of 1956 recording Havana 3 A.M. with the Pérez Prado Orchestra, Maynard Ferguson was installed by Morris Levy as the bandleader of the Birdland Dream Band. This was a fourteen-piece all-star band that played at Morris Levy’s Birdland jazz club in New York. Alas, the Birdland Dream Band was a short-lived venture and only recorded two albums over the next year. After recording the two albums, Morris Levy’s dream of an all-star jazz band came to an end. However, many members of the Birdland Dream Band joined the new band that Maynard Ferguson formed in 1957.
Having spent much of last few years working at Paramount Pictures, and a sideman, and then with the Pérez Prado Orchestra and the Birdland Dream Band, Maynard Ferguson decided that from now on, he was going to concentrate on his own band. While he made the occasional guest appearances as a sideman, Maynard Ferguson concentrated his efforts on his new band
Over the next three decades, Maynard Ferguson’s band featured some of the top jazz musicians of the day, and also, some the best up-and-coming musicians. When he came across one of jazz’s rising stars, he was more than willing to give them an opportunity to showcase their skills. They had plenty of opportunity to do so, and between 1957 and 1973 Maynard Ferguson’s band had released over twenty albums and once again, the bandleader’s star was in the ascendancy.
By Tuesday the ‘10th’ of July 1973, forty-five year old Canadian bandleader Maynard Ferguson was regarded as one of the top jazz trumpeters, and was able to hold his own with the best in the business. That was despite fierce competition from Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Don Cherry, Donald Byrd, Jack Johnson, Woody Shaw and Art Farmer. However, Maynard Ferguson had been around since the late-forties and had a wealth of experience and planned to put to good use at a very special lunchtime gig on Tuesday the ’10th’ of July 1973.
The concert was part of the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival, which had relocated to New York a year earlier, in 1972. Maynard Ferguson had been booked to play a series of gigs at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club on West ‘52nd’ Street during the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival. Although Maynard Ferguson was always busy recording and playing live, he was able to find time to play at the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival. However, what Maynard Ferguson hadn’t planned on doing was recording a live album at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club on the ’10th’ of July 1973. That wouldn’t have happened if some very special visitors hadn’t come to see him play live.
One of the hottest tickets of the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival was Ella Fitzgerald concert at the Carnegie Hall. Many jazz fans struggled to find a ticket and the scalpers were doing a roaring trade that night. However, many within the music industry were fortunate enough to have a ticket. However, saxophonist, composer and producer Teo Macero was on business, and was at the Carnegie Hall to record the concert. He was joined by music critic Mort Goode and they witnessed a peerless performance from the Queen of Jazz that was one of the highlights of the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival. After the concert, Teo Macero and Mort Goode decided to head to Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club on West ‘52nd’ Street where they wanted to see Maynard Ferguson live.
Maynard Ferguson was now signed to Columbia, and had already recorded and released five albums for the label. That number would soon rise to six. When Teo Macero and Mort Goode arrived at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club they met a handful of Columbia executives, and got talking before Maynard Ferguson and his band took to the stage. They were spellbound during what was a barnstorming performance.
That night, everything just fell into place during an almost flawless performance. Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club had brought out the best in Maynard Ferguson and his band.
After the performance, Teo Macero, Mort Goode and the Columbia executives and went backstage to see Maynard Ferguson, and congratulate him on his performance. Soon, the talk turned to Maynard Ferguson recording a live album at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club during the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival. While that was a good idea, the logistics made this impossible.
Maynard Ferguson explained that he was only playing two more nights at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club, and then, had to move on. He had a busy schedule and couldn’t even stay for an extra day to record a live album. This was a huge disappointment for everyone in the room. When Maynard Ferguson checked his diary, he realised that he could return a couple of days later on Tuesday the ’10th’ of July 1973. Was this any use to Columbia Maynard Ferguson wondered?
Eventually, it was decided to grab the bull by the horns and record a live album at lunchtime at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club on Tuesday the ’10th’ of July 1973. It was the perfect venue for Maynard Ferguson to record a live album. That album became M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s which was released in 1974..
Having made the decision to record the live album that became M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s, the Columbia executives had to work out the logistic of recording the album. They needed the personnel with the knowledge and skills to record a live album. Teo Macero was given the job of producing the concert, and the necessary equipment would be in place for the recording of M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s at lunchtime at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club on Tuesday the ’10th’ of July 1973. There was one more thing that was needed for a live album, an audience.
Selling tickets at short notice was impossible for the executives at Columbia. Ideally, they wanted the same type of audience that had been at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club the first night they saw Maynard Ferguson. They were enthusiastic and excited but respectful of Maynard Ferguson and his band. That would’ve been the perfect backdrop for Maynard Ferguson’s live album M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s. However, after some thought Columbia executives came up with a ready-made alternative audience. The press and record company executives were invited to hear Maynard Ferguson and his band play a special two-hour concert that started at midday.
On Tuesday the ’10th’ of July 1973, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson was joined by the twelve members of his band on the stage of Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club on West ‘52nd’ Street. It was a multitalented band that featured a mixture of top musicians and also a number of up-and-coming players that was drawn from three continents.
Maynard Ferguson’s band featured three British musicians, including drummer Randy Jones, Pete Jackson who played electric piano and saxophonist and flautist Andy MacIntosh. They were joined by flautist and baritone saxophonist Bruce Johnstone from New Zealand, while Ferdinand Povel from the Netherlands was a flautist and tenor saxophonist. The remainder of the twelve strong band were American.
This included Rick Petrone who switched between acoustic and electric bass. In the horn section were Lin Biviano, Danny Cahn, John de Flon and Bob Summers who played trumpet and flugelhorn. They were joined by trombonists Randy Purcell and Graham Ellis, while Andy MacIntosh played alto and soprano saxophone and flute. This all-star band would accompany Maynard Ferguson during his two-hour session which was being recorded by Teo Macero.
As Maynard Ferguson and his big band took to the stage, they opened the show with a six-minute version of Pete Jackson’s Teonova which he had dedicated to Teo Macero who was sitting just off the stage recording the concert. As he watched on, Maynard Ferguson and his big band were soon showcasing their considerable skills during solos, vamps and when they played as one. Already, there’s an energy and intensity, especially when Maynard Ferguson plays with power as he unleashes a blazing and dazzling solos. Other times, his playing is slightly more restrained, but still full of emotion, as he and his big band set the bar high for the rest of the album.
Maynard Ferguson and his big band then cover Jimmy Webb’s MacArthur Park. Initially they stay true to the original, before Maynard Ferguson’s trumpet adds a rueful, emotive sound. However, when the tempo increases, the track is transformed as it heads in the direction of jazz-funk, fusion, funk, Latin and rock. Bandleader Maynard Ferguson allows his band to shine as the track takes a series of twists and turns and enthusiastic audience enjoy this masterful reinvention of a classic track.
Pete Jackson’s genre-melting Left Bank Express bursts into life, and is six minutes of majestic rock-swing that is partly built around a pulsating Bossa Nova vamp. Whether it’s during the solos or when they play as a big band, the all-star ensemble reach new heights. After that, there’s no stopping Maynard Ferguson’s big band. Especially during a cover of the standard I’m Getting Sentimental Over You. It takes on a beautiful, rueful, late-night sound, before giving way to a fast and furious swinging bebop inspired version of Don Menza’s Two for Otis. Following hard on its heels is the Maynard Ferguson composition Stay Loose For Bruce. It’s memorable bluesy, mid-tempo track that certainly swings. So does Nice ‘n Juicy which heads in the direction of jazz-funk and fusion as Maynard Ferguson takes the big band sound in a new direction.
Mike Abene’s The Fox Hun is a breathtaking example of bebop where Maynard Ferguson and his big band play at breakneck speed. It’s followed by the bluesy Got The Spirit, a near ten minute track where Bruce Johnstone on baritone saxophone plays a leading role. There’s also a hint of fusion before the tempo rises and the big band stretch their legs. When they’re in full flight it’s a joy to behold and it’s no surprise that the enthusiastic audience make their appreciation felt. Closing the show was Blue Birdland where the horns swing, and Maynard Ferguson introduces the band before bidding the audience farewell.
The following year, 1974, Maynard Ferguson released his sixth album for Columbia, M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s to critical acclaim. It was a double album that featured ten tracks that lasted sixty-three minutes. M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s was an irresistible reminder of Maynard Ferguson and his all-star big band at the peak of their powers.
The big band was led by composer, trumpeter and bandleader Maynard Ferguson, who in 1973 was one of the top jazz trumpeters. He led a multinational big band that featured familiar faces and new names who were talented and versatile musicians. This is apparent throughout M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s and finds the big band switching seamlessly between and combing musical genres. This included bebop, blues, funk, fusion, jazz, jazz-funk, Latin and rock. However, always, though, Maynard Ferguson returns to the big band sound which he reinvents throughout M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s.
Nowadays, M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s is regarded as one of the finest albums that Maynard Ferguson released during his Columbia years, and this cult classic is the perfect introduction to that period of the jazz superstar’s long and illustrious career
Cult Classic: Maynard Ferguson-M.F. Horn 4 and 5:Live At Jimmy’s.