Monday, September 26, 2016

AMPEX Records: She Comes In Colors

Our second post from AMPEX Records features Fever Tree from Houston, Texas. The group began in 1966 as a folk band, but by 1967 they had adopted psychedelic music as a genre. Fever Tree first recorded several singles with Mainstream Records – the first label for the Amboy Dukes and Big Brother and Holding Company. By 1967, they had moved to UNI Records where they had their greatest success with the single “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native). This 1968 release only charted at #91.

After two albums on UNI, the band moved to AMPEX in 1970 and recorded several singles and the album “For Sale.” Today’s selection is the first of two singles for AMPEX – a cover of Arthur Lee and Love’s “She Comes in Colors.” Lee wrote this song about a girl he knew that always dressed in flowing colored outfits. It is thought that “She Comes in Colors” inspired the Rolling Stones “She’s a Rainbow.”

Although I like the original better, I think Dennis Keller’s vocals on Fever Tree are superior to Arthur Lee’s on Love’s version. You decide.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

AMPEX Records: I Ain't Searchin'

In the late 1960s, the AMPEX corporation known for its production of high quality magnetic tape decks (in a number of configurations) and commercial blank tapes entered the world of recorded music producing prerecorded reel-to-reel, 8-track, and cassette tapes for existing labels – often these were branded as being on the AMPEX label. Anyone who has collected recorded music for any length of time will have a few copies of AMPEX prerecorded tapes.

In 1970, AMPEX decided to venture into the vinyl record business. Working in conjunction with Albert Grossman and Todd Rundgren’s Bearsville Studio in Upstate New York, AMPEX set out to be the next label. AMPEX also distributed Bearsville Records (later under the Warner Brothers umbrella) and Big Tree Records, which later was distributed by Bell Records and then Atlantic Records. AMPEX Records folded in 1973 with the catalog going to Bearsville Records.

The very first AMPEX vinyl album and single was by the Philadelphia area band, The American Dream. It is often cited that this album was Todd Rundgren’s first attempt of producing. The single was popular in the Philadelphia region receiving airplay in nearby markets, but it was not a national hit. Three years ago, I featured the cover by David Uosikkinen's In The Pocket.

The American Dream included Nicky Indeliato on lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Nick Jameson on guitar, keyboards, and vocals; Don Lee Van Winkle on guitar; Mickey Brook on drums and percussion (notably on cowbell on this cut); and Don Ferris on bass and backing vocals. “I Ain’t Searchin’” was written by Jameson, who covered it in 1977.

The tune is indicative of the sound of local bands in the US of this era. You can hear Rundgren’s fingerprints on this cut, and it shows that he was a fairly mature producer with his first attempt. Unfortunately, the vocals on this classic Philly tune could have been a bit stronger – which probably doomed it to being only a regional hit.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sir Lord Baltimore: Kingdom Come

While the term “heavy metal” had been around for a while, the first documented evidence of its usage as a term for a type of music was in May 1971 when Creem Magazine reviewed Sir Lord Baltimore’s debut album. Released in 1970 and charting only at #198 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart, “Kingdom Come” was ahead of its time.

Today, I feature the title cut, which led side two of the album. I’ve actually have had this cut in the cue to feature on some Saturday – and here we are with our bubbling under song. I received this album from my brother when he was thinning out his album collection in 1972. A year later, he asked for it back, but traded me a copy Grand Funk’s “Phoenix” as a replacement.

Released on Mercury, the band at the time of its release was a power trio and later that year added guitarist Joey Dambra to be a second guitarist to his older brother Louis Dambra; this arrangement lasted only two years. As for the other two original members, John Garner was the vocalist and drummer, while Gary Justin played bass. Sir Lord Baltimore, who were from New York, were active from 1968 to 1976. New songs were written for a third LP, but these were shelved until the band reunited in 2006 sans Gary Justin.

As you listen to “Kingdom Come,” you’ll notice that much of Louis Dambra’s guitar work was overdubbed, as there is only so much a guitarist can do at one time. A number of the leads and guitar accents are double and triple tracked to add depth. Garner who sang lead on all three albums died last year of liver failure.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Pink Floyd: Fearless

Did someone say it’s Friday, well I better pick a flipside. Pink Floyd’s sixth album “Meddle,” which I have on reel-to-reel tape (remember this?), was considered by many their finest album prior 1973’s release of “Dark Side of the Moon.” The album was released on EMI’s Harvest Records in October 1971. As I’ve said in the past, my favorite early Floyd album was their third LP “More.” But I digress.

Not known for single releases, Pink Floyd’s labels in the early years often released the obligatory 45 rpm record in conjunction with album releases. These were more prominent with their first LP, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” which differed in the choice of songs from the British release. For “Meddle,” only one single was issued in North America: “One of these Days” backed with “Fearless.”

As the album was issued on Harvest (through Capitol), it was unusual that the single was issued on Capitol. This was probably done because Capitol was the better known, parent label. This was probably done because radio programmers were very superficial. Our selection is the album version of “Fearless,” as the single edit is not available on YouTube.

Written by Roger Waters and David Gilmour, the song also features a chant of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” several places in the song, but it is prominent at the end. This was supplied from a recording of fans of the Liverpool Football Club. “You’ll Never Walk Alone’’ became the official theme song of the club because of the hit recording by fellow Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers. Rodgers and Hammerstein received credit on both album and single.

David Gilmour sings lead. His guitar is tuned in Spanish tuning; this open “G” tuning was taught to him by his former mentor and Floyd predecessor Syd Barrett. You occasionally will hear “Fearless” on album radio, as it was one of the favorite selections from “Meddle.”

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Commotion

It’s Thirty Something Thursday and we head back to 1969 with one of the lesser known hits from Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Commotion.” Charting at #30, “Commotion” was one of several social commentaries that appeared on vinyl in the late sixties and early seventies, but has been largely forgotten. The song’s chart performance is mostly due to the fact it was competing with the corresponding A-side of the single: “Green River,” which charted at #2.

From their third LP, “Green River,” “Commotion” features John Fogerty on harmonica in addition to his duties as lead guitarist and lead vocalist. This is one you never hear on the oldies or AOR stations today – too bad.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mac McAnally: Zanzibar

I got to know the music of Mac McAnally back in the late 1970s with his first album and its single release “It’s a Crazy World,” which received a modicum of airplay, but unfortunately it just scratched the Top 40 surface. His songs spoke to me, and as I rediscovered his music on YouTube, I learned how good a guitarist he is.

I’m not sure how I found today’s song, but I landed on it about two months ago. McAnally says he doesn’t know what inspired “Zanzibar,” as it is nothing like any of his songs. Maybe he was channeling Django Reinhardt – I don’t know.

The tune was recorded at “Hear and Now Live at Blackbird Studio” in Nashville. I am not sure when this occurred or who the other three players are, but the video was uploaded to YouTube a year ago. I wish I knew more, but the quality of the writing of and playing on “Zanzibar” says it all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rory Block: Since You Been Gone

How do you learn to do something? You seek out the masters and study with the best. That’s what Rory Block did at the age of 15 – she left home in search of those who perfected the Delta blues and graduated with honors. After completing her home grown studies and working in various clubs, she returned to New York City to ply her talents in the studio. Her first recording was with mentor Stefan Grossman on the tutorial album, “How to Play Blues Guitar.” On this 1967 Elektra release, Block appeared under the pseudonym “Sunshine Kate.” Shortly after the recording was released, Block took a temporary sabbatical from the business.

When she returned to recording in 1975, Block bounced from label to label having recorded one album each for RCA and Blue Goose and two for Chrysalis. Unfortunately, these four albums departed from her blues roots and took her into a more contemporary vein. Although her performance was excellent, these albums were commercial failures. In 1981, Block was prompted to return to her element – the blues, with a contract offer from Rounder Records. The result was “High Heeled Blues” – the first of 14 albums for the label.

The album was produced by Lovin’ Spoonful veteran John Sebastian and includes 12-cuts, with two being original compositions. For today’s Bluesday Tuesday selection, I’ve chosen “Since You Been Gone,” which was penned by Block. “Since You Been Gone” is a testament that Rory Block can do the country-blues with the very best.