The Blues Are The Roots (Soul February 26th 1972)

This week’s selections from the Cash Box R&B Top 60 of 50 years ago are from the higher numbers. For the past 10 years the prevailing trends of Rock & Soul, despite it’s influence on both, the Blues had been moved to the sidelines, given a comfy chair & told to take it easy grandpa. In the late-60s young white musicians often checked for the Blues greats who had inspired & influenced them & there was greater interest in & revival of these artists. Anyway, a good record is just that however it is labelled & Blues acts still broke into the lower half of the R&B chart they just weren’t selling in the Motown millions. Here are three from the 26th of February 1972 listing.

B.B. King, the Beale Street Blues Boy, was at first a trailblazer then pretty soon a legend of modern electric Blues. His fluid, string-bending guitar style & strong vocals brought R&B hits throughout the 1950s & 60s leading a busy life on the road, 342 shows in 1956, for himself, his guitar Lucille & his band. In the late 1960s a young producer, Bill Szymczyk, compensated for a lack of vowels in his surname with enthusiasm & creativity. In the studios of London, Los Angeles & New York young musicians who had been inspired & influenced by B.B. were invited to join the sessions. The “Completely Well” album (1969) contained “The Thrill Is Gone”, his only Top 20 Pop hit & awarded the 1970 Grammy Award for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, “Live In Cook County Jail” (1971) has an intensity & command to rival B.B.’s landmark 1965 live recording at Chicago’s Regal Theatre.

By 1972 Szymczyk had moved on to eventual fame & fortune with the James Gang, J. Geils band, the Eagles & er, Wishbone Ash. B.B’s current LP “L.A. Midnight” was sometimes uneven, always interesting. Joe Walsh & Jesse Ed Davis are happy to join such an iconic player, Taj Mahal’s guitar & harmonica can be heard & Red Callender, from ace sessioneers the Wrecking Crew, adds a distinctive tuba to three tracks. It’s a more experienced unit playing on the record’s standout track which placed at #50 on the chart this week. “Sweet Sixteen” was a hit for B.B. in 1959, a mainstay of his live set there are several versions on his records & this updated version (“I just got back from Vietnam baby & I’m a long way from New Orleans”) sounds to me like the best of a good lot. Starting calmly with B.B.’s strong vocal & precise picking the entry of a propulsive horn section stirs the King of the Blues to a powerful, wailing crescendo. The chart 45 was just less than four minutes long, the full seven minutes of the album track has been included here, I know that the screen is black but it’s there. There were many more years of great music from B.B. King & many accolades to come his way, all of them becoming of a true legend.

In 1971 Albert Collins was working in construction because playing his guitar wasn’t paying too well. Born in 1932 in Leona, Texas Albert made the Blues scene in Houston where the guitar solo was the thing. His 1965 debut, “The Cool Sound of…” consolidated the nickname “Iceman” & in 1968 with the encouragement & connections of Canned Heat he signed to their label Imperial & moved to Los Angeles. A couple of albums later & Albert was again looking for a day job just as he had back in Texas. Things were looking up when he was signed to the new Tumbleweed label, a start-up by B.B. King’s erstwhile producer, that man again, busy Bill Szymczyk.

“There’s Gotta Be A Change” employs a similar modus operandi that was a success for Bill with Mr King. Jesse Ed Davis & drummer Jim Keltner show out as does a full horn section & the versatile, always interesting, Dr John on piano. Albert Collins, “The Master of the Telecaster”, was no shrinking violet, his voice & his guitar are always out front. With a capo low on the neck Albert’s fiery, vibrant tone stung like a bee, seven of the nine tracks, including “Get Your Business Straight (#41 on the chart), are written by his wife Gwendolyn. They had their act together, “There’s Gotta …” is a great example of early 1970s Blues, but Tumbleweed folded the following year & it was five years before renewed interest & Gwendolyn’s encouragement brought him back to the studio. This time around there was more recognition for an individual Blues stylist who could put on quite a show, his 100 foot long lead taking him into the audience & sometimes out of the club to order a pizza! Albert got to play at Live Aid with George Thorogood, with Gary Moore & Robert Cray, both strongly influenced by him & on “Underground”, David Bowie’s theme for “Labyrinth” (“a savage, rough, aggressive sound” – D.B.) . In 1993, the year of his passing, he joined B.B. King onstage at the “Blues Summit” to duet on “Call It Stormy Monday”, the classic by T Bone Walker, a player who influenced both great guitarists. Someone had brought along a camera that night so here it is.

Higher up the chart “Standing In For Jody”, the 11th consecutive R&B Top 20 for Johnnie Taylor was sliding down slowly to #21 while Little Johnny Taylor, a different guy, had a new entry at #58 with “It’s My Fault Darlin'”. Little Johnny got his name when he was the smallest member of the Gospel group the Mighty Clouds of Joy, still a teenager when singers like Little Willie John & Bobby Bland attracted him to secular music.In a move to Galaxy Records he became thir biggest selling act when, in 1963, the slow Blues burn “Part Time Love” became a #1 R&B hit. His following records were not as successful & 1968’s “Soul Full Of Blues, Little Johnny Taylor’s Greatest Hits” though a fine collection was perhaps an exaggeration.

Ronn r#Records released a lot of now obscure R&B singles- (Little Duck & the Quackers – anyone?) & it was with them that “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing Pt.1”, the title track of a subsequent LP, returned Little Johnny to the R&B Top 10. A cut from this record “It’s My Fault Darling” just made it at #58 this week. There’s a large helping of Soul served with LJT’s Blues but it was the slower songs of yearning with a dry humour in the lyrics (wieners for lunch, a Joe Louis punch in “It’s My Fault…”, intimate knowledge of bunions & bedsheets as signs of infidelity in another hit “Open House At My House”) that makes him distinct. Listening to these three artists it’s clear that a horn section was now a feature of Blues records. Little Johnny recorded two good albums at Ronn then another with his namesake & label mate Ted Taylor There were less releases though he still performed & in 2016 no less than the Rolling Stones revived “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing”.

One Step Ahead (19th February 1972)

Of the Top 10 in the Cash Box album chart 50 years ago this week six were by British artists & “The Concert For Bangla Desh” (#2) had been the idea of former Beatle George Harrison. The Prog supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer were on the cover of the magazine, their live recording “Pictures of an Exhibition” standing at #6. It’s an interpretation of the music of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky but don’t ask me what it sounds like because I’ve never knowingly heard a full album by ELP & it’s too late to start now.

After U.S. Air Force service & a musical apprenticeship as a guitarist in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s bars & ballrooms John Weldon ( J.J.) Cale joined a group of fellow Tulsans in Los Angeles orbiting Leon Russell whose West Coast success offered them opportunities to find work. J J had too good a good time in California & in late 1967, his 29th birthday approaching, he had to sell his guitar & return home broke leaving behind three unsuccessful 45s he had recorded for Liberty. In 1969 two of his old friends, Leon & bassist Carl Radle were working with Eric Clapton on his debut solo album & they put “Slowhand” on to a b-side J J had released in 1966. Clapton’s version of “After Midnight” made the U.S. Top 20, put money in the writer’s pocket & produced enough interest for producer Audie Ashworth to suggest that making an album may be an idea. Initial recording was just J.J., Radle & a drum machine before they were joined by a bunch of Nashville cats to add a little polish. We had better grab “Naturally”, released in October 1971, because it’s a new entry at #109 with a bullet this week & sure to go higher.

J.J. had a lifetime of songs at hand for “Naturally” but more impressively his mature synthesis of Boogie, Blues & Country had an innate, organic, relaxed rhythm & logic. It sounded simple, too nonchalant for some, it wasn’t, the precise nuance & layering of the instrumentation matched to J.J.’s husky whisper & considered, expert picking caught a perfect mood for those of us who liked to cool down the pace &, like Mr Cale, found a tee shirt & jeans to be an acceptable fashion choice. “Don’t Go To Strangers” makes the cut, just ahead of the delightful “Magnolia”, “Crazy Mama”, hit the US Top 40, “Call Me The Breeze” was covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd, more royalties that allowed J.J. to turn down lip-synching TV appearances , things that felt too much like work & to concentrate on his music. After this significant debut there were seven more albums before 1983, more great songs, exquisitely recorded, which retained the insouciance & added sophistication. I am by no means a frustrated musician but if I could choose I would spend my evenings picking & grinning on the porch with J.J. & his friends, passing around a sipping jug & other refreshments, enjoying the company & the music.

In the late 1960s Leo Kottke came to the attention of John Fahey, another steel-string guitarist whose enchanting album “The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death” (1965), a modern interpretation of American music from throughout the 20th century, continues to attract interest to the present day. Musicologist Fahey had his own label, Takoma, & Leo’s debut “6- & 12-String Guitar” (1969) was released by him. The all-instrumental record introduced a singular talent. His impressive technique was not displayed at the expense of emotion whether soothing or joyous. Four of the tracks employ a bottleneck but this was not Blues neither was it Bluegrass, Jazz or Folk, less mercurial than his mentor, Leo was establishing his own attractive, individual style. Despite a self-disparaging remark about his voice Leo sang on “Mudlark” (1971), his third album, his first for the Capitol label. The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” was a surprising, imaginative, youthful choice, a dexterous show-stopper performed in a low baritone that brings to mind Bill Callahan.

“Greenhouse”, #143 this week, forgoes the extra instrumentation of “Mudlark”, just Leo, four vocals & seven instrumentals. It’s a statement of the obvious to say that Kottke’s playing has a rare delicacy & precision, there’s vivacity on the two John Fahey tunes, whimsy on “The Spanish Entomologist” medley & let’s go for the Country ballad “Louise” because here he is in living colour. There’s a calm beauty about the whole record, true of all Leo’s work, perhaps his following live album “My Feet Are Smiling” (1973) is the best entry point for newcomers, an appreciative audience, fine fine music interspersed with his sardonic humour – “one of my favourite techniques…take a simple melody & drive it into the ground”. While never a big commercial success Leo made new devotees with every concert, his records continue to delight listeners & inspire guitar players. Here in the UK we had John Renbourn & Bert Jansch, in the US it was Kottke, Fahey & Robbie Basho, all masters of the acoustic guitar, all bringing a vibrancy & modernity to traditional music.

It’s all too beautiful this week, two artists following their own paths with little regard for current musical trends so let’s finish with a group who also had their own thing going on. I guess that acapella – vocalisation without musical accompaniment – has been around since forever, certainly since before the Italians gave it a name. In the US black vocal groups had gathered to harmonise in public spaces in the 1800s. Necessity being the mother of invention there was a revival during the musicians’ strike of 1942-44 then again in the 50s when young black people with little access to instruments or amplification developed a very popular, rich vocal harmony Doo-Wop style. That was then, this is 1972, the vocal group tradition was still strong but the only brothers doing it for themselves were the Persuasions. Their LP “Street Corner Symphony” was a new entry on the chart at #125 & what a delight it is.

Speaking of the Mothers of Invention it was Frank Zappa, a Doo-Wop aficionado, who flew the Persuasions, their harmonies honed on Brooklyn’s stoops & hallways to Los Angeles to record their debut LP. The driving force of the five man group was producer, arranger, lead singer Jerry Lawson but every member contributed to their impeccable unity, the bass of Jimmy Hayes particularly distinctive. Always versatile & diverse the Persuasions later recorded a Christmas album, one for children & interpretations of Zappa, the Grateful Dead & the Beatles. In 2009 their project was J.J. Cale but I can’t find any of those tracks (I’ve tried). On “Street Corner Symphony” the material spanned Gospel (the Dixie Hummingbirds), Soul (Sam Cooke & two Temptations tracks) & more contemporary Pop (Carole King). My choice is Bob Dylan’s “The Man In Me”, one of my favourite songs of the Nobel laureate’s & a great soulful version but then I stumbled upon this fantastic live clip of the group performing “Buffalo Soldier” the record’s opening track, a 1970 R&B hit for the Flamingos & too good not to share.

An Old Record Will Never Let You Down (February 12th 1972)

Looking through Cash Box magazine for February 12th 1972 (Vol XXXIII #34), the one with Joe Simon on the cover, I wonder if full page ads for Brits Colin Blunstone & Tony Christie caught the attention of American record buyers. Asylum Records go full colour for Jo Jo Gunne’s debut (three former members of Spirit, I was listening) while Reprise are on a sure thing with the double whammy of “Heart Of Gold” & “Harvest”. The Neil Young ad is opposite the Top 100 Album Chart & it includes some favourites of mine that have somehow not previously been featured on the blog. There’s a 100 records here, I’m sure I can find three.

In 1971 the Grateful Dead were not yet a Great American institution but they were on their way & it was not just due to their longevity as one of the original Summer of Love San Francisco bands. “Workingman’s Dead” & “American Beauty”, both released in 1970, both, believe me, timeless classics of American Rock, had moved away from lysergic jams towards a Blues & Country influenced, more contemporary song-based style. The Dead’s contract with Warner Brothers was coming to an end & they were broke after financial chicanery (theft) by drummer Mickey Hart’s father who was their manager. W. B., disposed to prolong their relationship with the band in the face of increased commerciality & interest from Columbia, offered individual solo deals & guitarist Jerry Garcia, needing the money to buy a house for his family, was the first to take that up.

How do I choose just one track from “Garcia”, recorded in July 1971, released in January 1972 ? The six songs written by Jerry & the Dead’s lyricist Robert Hunter all became part of the group’s stage repertoire, are all favourites & any one of them could be up there. Bill Kreutzmann plays the drums & Jerry handles all other instruments, the recording of the guitars is as clean as country water, wild as mountain dew. He always could play just like a-ringing a bell. After a perfectly melodic side one the electronics, “Late For Supper”/ “Spidergawd”/ “Eep Hour” brings an avant-garde edge to the listening experience, “To Lay Me Down” & “The Wheel” mellow out the buzz. There were no studio recorded Grateful Dead record between 1971-73, “Garcia”, #61 on the Top 100 album chart this week, then Bob Weir’s “Ace” & Mickey’s “Rolling Thunder”, which came around later in the year are great additions to the discography of a legendary band.

Laura Nyro Inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame. Finally. - Ms. Magazine

Laura Nyro’s debut LP, “More Than A New Discovery” (1967), recorded & released when she was still a teenager, revealed an individual, substantial talent. Her New York influences encompassed Broadway, Brill Building Pop, urban R&B & coffee house Folk, her idiosyncratic shifts in melody matched to passionate, intimate lyrics produced a very modern kind of singer-songwriter. With a little structural simplification & added sweetness for radio-friendliness four of these songs became Pop hits for other artists, “Wedding Bell Blues”, a #1 for the 5th Dimension, just one place lower for Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “And When I Die” while Barbra Streisand returned to the Top 10 with “Stoney End”. There were more successful covers from her following records Laura Nyro was something like a phenomenon, her albums displaying a maturity, ambition & emotion that her fans still cherish & remaining significant far beyond their commercial success.

Gonna Take a Miracle: Amazon.co.uk: CDs & Vinyl

“Gonna Take A Miracle”, at #54, was Laura’s “Pin Ups” two years before David Bowie’s. 10 well-selected tracks that were heard on the radio & in the streets of the Bronx where she grew up. There are girl groups, the title track from the Royalettes, the Shirelles “I Met Him On Sunday”, Doo Wop, R&B & Motown all astutely arranged for Laura’s soulful voice & the backing vocals of Patti Labelle, Sarah Dash & Nona Hendryx, at the time relaunching themselves as Labelle. “Gonna Take…” really is a labour of love, it rocks, the “Monkey Time/Dancing In The Street” medley, it’s ethereal, “The Wind”, it’s joyous, the fondness shown & care taken in its making always apparent. Producers Gamble & Huff were making a name for themselves with their orchestral Philadelphia Soul. In this case they kept it simple, leaving it to Laura who had maybe not written the book on Stoned Soul but had written the song & been to the picnic. Ms Nyro was never comfortable with the star making machinery & when business got complicated she retired for five years, returning to recording & performing on her terms when she had more songs, always welcome until her passing from ovarian cancer in 1997 at the age of 49.

Faces w/Rod Stewart Cactus Buffalo NY 1971 Concert Poster - Listing # 9241

In May 1971 Rod Stewart released “Every Picture Tells A Story”, his third LP, the apotheosis of a Rock, Folk & Blues blending that had gained increasing acclaim & attention for his previous records. By the end of the Summer it & the double A-side 45 “Reason To Believe”/”Maggie May” were #1 in the whole wide world & things had changed. Rod the Mod had kept busy after leaving the Jeff Beck Group, a unit more appreciated in the US than at home. His first debut solo LP hit UK shops in February 1970 (November 69 in the US) then “First Step”, from his other job as singer with Faces followed just a month later. Rod & Ronnie Wood, his mate from the Beck group, had joined the three remaining members of Small Faces in need of a little help after Steve Marriott left to form Humble Pie. “First Step” shows a band unsure of its identity, some great playing if a little restrained. Ronnie Lane’s song “Stone” & the closing “Three Button Hand Me Down” show Faces’ potential. The album was released in the US as being by Small Faces, an old name which appeared alongside Rod’s on posters for their 1971 US tour. Ronnie, Mac & Kenney had been in a successful group (7 UK Top 10, “Itchycoo Park” US Top 20) & were on to something new, they were nobody’s backing band.

Rare Shots From New Faces Book | Rod stewart, Rod stewart faces, Faces band

“Long Player” (1971), as successful in the US as in the UK, was much more like it, Faces were a powerhouse Rock & Roll band & the third album “A Nod Is As Good As A Wink…To A Blind Horse” stood at #8 in the US Album Chart of 50 years ago this week “Every Picture…”, after Jah knows how long, was still there at #31). “A Nod…” captured the group’s essence, great players & songwriters, an outstanding singer/frontman, experience, energy, range & who didn’t take themselves too seriously, “That’s All You Need”. This is a great Rock album that will always raise the spirits. The blistering “Stay With Me” began a short run of four brilliant 45s, it would be remiss of me not to provide a link to the glorious “Debris”. Later in 1972 “Never A Dull Moment” & “You Wear It Well” put Rod back at the top of the world’s charts. There was another Faces LP to come & “Ooh La La” is fine enough. Rod was less complimentary about it, the international superstar was looking towards Los Angeles, there was a Ron Wood-sized vacancy in the Rolling Stones, while a fed up Ronnie Lane made plans to tour the UK in his caravan. Faces were an all star band with too many talents & too much going on for it to last too long. Longevity is overrated, in the early 1970s when it came to British Rock, they were up there with the Stones, the Who & Led Zep.

Pass The Peace (Soul February 12th 1972)

There was not much movement in the Top 10 Cash Box R&B Top 60 this week 50 years ago. Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” remained at #1 followed by Bobby Womack & Wilson Pickett who had both moved up one place. One of the two new entries was “Talking Loud & Saying Nothing”, the latest in a long run of non-stop success for James Brown. “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business”, “The Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk”, had a new big label deal with Polydor & his own People imprint for releases by the singers & musicians in his circle. This week his backing band stood at #24 on the chart.

Funk Classic 1: Soul Power – James Brown, Jabo Starks, drums — Jim Payne
James & Jabo

Mr Brown was a tough boss, people got along with him as long as they let him be right. In 1970 his band, tired of the fines & low pay, left him & James hired a bunch of young guns from Cincinnati. This new group, including guitarist Phelps “Catfish” Collins, his teenage brother, bassist William “Bootsy” Collins & holdover drummer Jabo Starks – the J.B.’s – brought new energy, new new Super Heavy Funk, to the music & it was this unit who is heard on “Talking Loud…”. The arrangement was short-lived, by the end of 1971 the Collins Brothers headed off to Funkadelic & trombonist Fred Wesley, who had already returned, became musical director of the new J.B.’s. “Gimme Some More”, featuring this new line-up, was their latest 45 rising nine places this week.

THE JB'S / GIMME SOME MORE / PASS THE PEAS (7") - HIP TANK RECORDS

With an augmented brass section, from three to five, this band were a little less gutbucket than its’ predecessor. Jabo & bassist Frank Thomas, who would stay for 30 years, hold down an awesome groove & I don’t know if it’s Frank’s friend “Cheese” Martin or Robert Coleman on rhythm guitar but it’s a great, state of the art job. The six 45s released by the J.B.’s, both groups, were assembled on “Food For Thought” later in 1972. The album shows that with only a shout & the skeleton of a riff from producer/keyboard player James (enough to get a composing credit) this powerhouse band could conjure up the most joyous, unrelenting Funk. Mr Brown demanded that you had to be the best to share the stage with “Soul Brother #1” & the J.B.’s were up to the job.

Curtis Mayfield – We Got To Have Peace (1971, Vinyl) - Discogs

Curtis Mayfield’s solo career was going well – very well. After a decade with his group the Impressions, moving from his Gospel roots, creating the sweetest, most harmonious Chicago Soul which matured into commentary on & affirmations for the Civil Rights Movement. Curtis had laid the ground carefully for his big move & “(Don’t Worry) If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go”, the opening track on his 1970 debut was a manifesto for a new lyrical militancy & a wider musical ambition. The new breed of harder Funk, even psychedelia, was embraced but Chicago Soul was about melody, enhanced & energised by brass & strings, Curtis & his veteran arranger Riley Hampton took these flourishes to a new level of ingenuity. An artistic & commercial success it remains a 50 year old mystery that “Move On Up”, a classic song & a Top 20 UK hit, failed to make the US chart.

Curtis - Curtis Mayfield - T-Shirt | TeePublic UK

In 1971 “Curtis/Live!” stretched new songs, ones from his debut & from the Impressions songbook across a double album before “Roots”, another collection of original material was released. The record perhaps lacks the shock of the new of his debut but all seven songs are confidently & beautifully realised whether songs of affirmation (Keep On Keeping On”) or the gliding Soul of sweet romance (Love To Keep You In My Mind”). “We Got To Have Peace”, a new entry at #49 this week, an idealistic, pacifist plea from a time when the number of casualties on both sides of the Vietnam War was becoming more unacceptable to the US public is a perfect example of just how Curtis did things. Simple, direct lyrics (And the soldiers who are dead and gone, if only we could bring back one” – ah man!), a complex arrangement propelled by the percussion of “Master” Henry Gibson. In July 1972 Curtis’ soundtrack for “Superfly” came around, the perfect enhancement to the Blaxploitation hit. the record hit #1 in the Pop & R&B charts, “Freddie’s Dead” & the title track were hit 45s. Curtis was already a legend for his work with the Impressions & others, his solo work only consolidated his reputation as a great American artist. You need a more considered view? Don’t ask me, I have the T shirt!.

mp3] Denise LaSalle all the albums and all the songs listen free online,  download an album or song in mp3

When Denise Lasalle (Ora Denise Allen) was just 13 years old she left Mississippi to live with her older brother in Chicago, “All them folks killing all the black folks, I wanted to get out of there, and I made up my mind that I’m leaving Mississippi if it’s the last thing I do…I can’t live in this place, because I would be dead next summer. I’m not taking this stuff. I got out.” From this comfortable British white man’s life it’s sad & shocking that a young girl should have felt so threatened because of her race. Denise’s independence & determination were apparent in her long career as a singer of Gospel, R&B & Blues. In Chicago she was mentored by the great Billy “the Kid” Emerson (“Red Hot”, “Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile”) but felt that local session men, insistent on playing the charts in front of them, were not finding the best in her songs. After hearing an Al Perkins disc on the Hi label she approached producer Willie Mitchell, his guys in Memphis said “you hum it, we’ll play it” & that suited Denise just fine.

Denise LaSalle – Now Run And Tell That / The Deeper I Go (The Better It  Gets) (Vinyl) - Discogs

Ms Lasalle wrote the majority of the songs on the subsequent “Trapped By A Thing Called Love” album (1972) & the title track was an R&B #1 & a crossover hit. The follow up 45, “Now Run & Tell That” is at #24 this week, on its way to the Top 5 & Denise’s performance on “Soul Train” certainly has the afroed audience moving. She & her husband had their own production company & label, Crajon, & signed a deal with Detroit’s Westbound Records. The record is a great example of Mitchell’s smoother,still punchy, take on Memphis Southern Soul, Denise’s personality apparent in her voice & maintaining an input into the work that she continued on have on the later albums that put her in the Blues Hall of Fame. In 1972 Willie Mitchell & his band at Royal Studios were having hits with Al Green, Ann Peebles & Syl Johnson, they were making the In sound. There’s a record coming up soon by Otis Clay that will feature in one of my posts whether it makes the R&B chart or not. We will always have time to come back to Willie Mitchell.

I Remember California (February 5th 1972)

To all of those kind folk who contacted ‘handlebars HQ with words of encouragement about my meanderings through the lower reaches, the higher numbers (101-150), of the US album charts of 50 years ago, a big thank you & a digital hug to both of you. It’s not always going to be the overlooked & the undervalued, the coulda & shoulda been bigger. Two of this week’s selections are from groups who made pivotal, significant contributions to the resurgence of American popular music in the wake of the British Invasion tsunami. Their peak creativity & popularity may have been in the past but when they got it right they could still make a beautiful noise worthy of our time & attention.

Flashback: The Byrds Flip the Opry Script - Rolling Stone

With the departure in late 1967 of both David Crosby & drummer Michael Clarke membership of the Byrds, already a songwriter light when Gene Clark had left, had become somewhat of a revolving door. When Gram Parsons left after just one record & the formerly steadfast Chris Hillman decided that he would rather be a Flying Burrito Brother Roger McGuinn was the last Byrd standing of the original five who had struck jingle-jangle Folk Rock gold in 1965 with “Mr Tambourine Man”. Roger recruited ace guitarist Clarence White who found a drum stool for his friend Gene Parsons then, after a couple of records, they were joined by bassist Skip Battin for the half-live, half studio double album “Untitled” (1970). “Farther Along”, the group’s 11th release, quickly recorded after the disappointing “Byrdmaniax”, stood at #122 on the Cash Box album chart for the 5th of February 1972.

04/28/1972: The Byrds at Allegheny College Meadville, Pennsylvania, United  States | Concert Archives

Any record by the Byrds will inevitably be compared to the astounding, barrier-breaking run of four albums from “Fifth Dimension” (1966) to “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (1968) & that’s a pretty high bar to clear. This later, the final, incarnation of the Byrds showed on “Untitled” & when I saw them play in 1971 that they had the chops to make the old songs more than just revive 45s & that record’s “Chestnut Mare” returned the group to the UK Top 20 after a five year absence. Perhaps a greater democracy within the band & McGuinn’s outside interests contributed to a lack of consistency but recent airings of “Farther Along” brought back good memories & a smile that I remembered all the tunes & most of the lyrics. Two well-chosen covers, “Lazy Waters” sung by Skip & the inimitable “Bugler” by Clarence, who, whether he is rocking or Country picking is immaculate throughout, are the highlights. There’s only the one McGuinn song here, “Lost My Driving Wheel” would have been a bonus but Roger kept it back for a solo album & plans for reunion of the classic five Byrds were coming together, a half-hearted reconcilement for the final album by the group from whom we will always have “Younger Than Yesterday”, “Notorious Byrd Brothers” & “Sweetheart…”.

Pin on 60's icons

The Mamas & the Papas walked through the door for Los Angeles folkies who wanted to make Pop music opened by the Byrds & their crystal-clear, naturally balanced harmonies made their California dreams come true. John Phillips wrote the hit songs, his wife Michelle was the coolest, most attractive young woman in America, Cass Elliott sang sweet & soulful while Denny Doherty’s voice really tied the room together. Across 1966-67 there were three Top 5 albums, six Top 10 45s & John’s role in the conception & realisation of the Monterey Pop Festival placed the West Coast & his group as a focal point for the counter-culture & the Summer of Love. Such great success brought problems to a quartet whose inter-personal relationships were well, complicated. Mama Michelle was fired in June 66, re-hired in August, a 67 European tour began badly when Cass was arrested as she stepped off the boat then an argument between John & Cass led to cancelled dates. A fourth album was released, “Dream A Little Dream of Me” became a Cass Elliott single & that seemed to be the end of the Mamas & Papas. Or was it?

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS: Trip, stumble and fall  | Elsewhere by Graham Reid

Cass was embraced & loved by a mainstream audience, hit records & TV specials followed. Michelle was looking towards Hollywood while Denny’s debut was missing John’s songs. These were to be found on “John, the Wolf King of L.A.”, a soft Country Rock gem that really coulda, shoulda been bigger but business got in the way of the music. Dunhill Records had been sold by producer-friend to ABC & the M&P’s new corporate bosses discovered that the group still owed them an album, that or a million dollars! For a record made under such awkward duress “People Like Us”, #119 on this week’s chart, bears up well over time. The songs & the singers are not as fresh & innocent as before but then weren’t we all, the harmonies are impeccable & hey, there are not too many albums made by the Mamas & the Papas. “Snow Queen of Texas” takes the breath away, Denny’s sweet & irresistible vocal matches “Blueberries For Breakfast” & my selection is the whisper of a tune “Shooting Star” because it always has been & always will be. We lost Cass in 1974, Denny never found a song to do justice to his pure voice, Michelle chose films & John chose heroin. For a while they shone as bright as anyone.

Malo music, videos, stats, and photos | Last.fm

From the final records by two famous groups from L.A. it’s 400 miles up the California coast to San Francisco & a debut album, something I had never heard until this week. Malo, in 1972, were a 12 piece band, an amalgamation of mainly Latino musicians whose self-titled record is at #144 on the chart. Among the members was guitarist Jorge Santana, brother of the more famous Carlos, but there’s more to Malo than just who they knew, there was a lot of talent. I’m no expert on Boogaloo, the funky Nuyorican Salsa popular in the 1960s but when I hear Joe Bataan, Johnny Colon & others I like what I hear. Malo have a similar big band feel, a brass section & multiple percussionists filling out the sound while there’s a Rock energy about these young guys, with just the six tracks on the album allowing the musicians to stretch out & find the groove. “Suavecito”, a Top 20 hit, may be a little smooth & restrained for some tastes but it’s great to see the band play live & you should try “Cafe” where all the ingredients, brass, percussion, stinging guitar, keyboards & strong vocals, whip up a heady brew.

There was some disruption after this album, keyboard player Richard Kermode & percussionist Coke Escovedo moved over to Santana but there are three more Malo records in the early 1970s before they tiook a six year break so that’s me sorted for the weekend then. Hasta Luego!