Monday, April 13, 2015

The Last Song: Roy Rutanen and his short-lived band




If you haven't seen the most recent tdats comp from last week, the heavy 'Bosstown sound', get it here.

Right....getting on for two years ago now I included a song in the second New Zealand special (link) by a guy called Roy Rutanen. At that time I had fallen for what I now know was an incorrect rumour, believing him to have been a mysterious and enigmatic figure from New Zealand.

The album in question may be described by some as loner-folk, with pastoral sounds and mild psychedelia. It's a whimsical and humorous record with some darker fuzz-filled cuts, especially "Sinful Man" and "The Trip Song". It would fit right into the late '60s San Francisco sound. I find his voice is sometimes reminiscent of Jim Morrison, and sometimes Cat Stevens.

About a year and a half ago I was contacted out of the blue by a guy in Australia called Chris Hobrough. He told me that he took the picture on the front of Roy's Album, that Roy was most definitely American, and had never to his knowledge set foot in New Zealand. With Chris's much apreciated help, I have been able to contact Roy and some of his band members. Firstly I'd like to say a huge thanks to Chris Hobrough, Mick Norris, Ian Robins and Roy himself for being such great sports and making this possible. Learning the truth has been a great feeling, so to set the record straight, here it is!


The Beginning

Roy grew up in Southbridge, MA, the oldest of four; one brother and two sisters. His mother was a 'truly good' pianist and his father was a gifted auotobody mechanic, but unfortunately a desperate alcoholic. In Roy's own words: "I had kind of a bad childhood in many ways, but normal in others". He and a friend started playing guitar as teenagers. They became a trio and played in different cities around the area. All that was to end when he was drafted in 1966 by the US army, at which time he was working in a service station.

After a stint in Germany he was sent to Vietnam. Asked for his recollections of the war, he told me "I was in rocket attacks but didn't see much more action. I saw a lot of drug use and very little support from locals. I'll bet that the people there are living the same way today as they did back in the '60s".

During his time in Vietnam, he chose to use two R&R periods to visit Australia. He liked it there so much that he decided to fly straight back on discharge from the army. His early recollections of Australia were of having good times making many good friends: "I smoked a lot of pot and indulged in other highs. I lived right on Manly Beach in Sydney and went to sleep at night with the sound of surf coming in through the open balcony doors".


Making the band

Dee Why beach
Roy started putting his name about in the scene and playing his own songs at some local venues: "I began playing at a theater called P.A.C.T. and played at other places as well". The PACT (Producers, Authors, Composers and Talent) arts company still stands to this day (link). Roy befriended Michael 'Mick' Norris, who played in accoustic band 'Marastique' and a bluesrock band called Amageddon. Then Roy moved into a flat with friends in Pittwater Road, Dee Why, a suburb of northern Sydney which also has a beach. In Mick's words: "We used to meet at this flat, have a jam and smoke pot, supplied mostly by a local bloke who lived only about two hundred metres away in Harbord Road".

Mick would take along his band-mates Ray McKeown, Ian Robins and Graham Hilzinger. Ray played drums, Ian played electric guitar and Graham played flute and sax. Mick himself was playing bass at the time.

Mick recalls that at those sessions, they would set-up and Roy would play through all his songs, almost non-stop, as if doing a mini concert. Then they would all fall into it with him, making-up their own parts as Roy continued playing without stopping to correct anyone. "Occasionally we would all stop for a puff of pot, then get back to it". The guys got together a couple of nights a week, playing for few hours at a time. Roy adds: "They were all great guys and we worked well together. It was a wonderful experience".

Roy at a wedding
I asked Ian Robins to describe his memories of Roy: "Roy was a real pistol!  Very loud and ebullient. He had a great sense of humour and I remember he loved junk food. We all got a little substance crazy in those days. Roy had a favourite expression - 'Has anyone seen my mind - don't step on it!'. He was a very good acoustic picker and song writer, fun to work with too, very focused".

Eventually they all got to know Roy’s songs by ear, Ian remembers that Roy was vey open to the ideas of the other guys and they all developed their own individual parts.

The flat on Pittwater Road
- at mid-level
When they weren't playing, the Dee Why flat was a place for fun and hi-jinks. Mick recalls one party in particular: "There was one occasion at the flat when some friends of Roy’s had arrived from overseas, after back-packing I think. They brought some 8mm film they had shot of their adventures, and they also had some LSD micro-dots which they had gotten from the USA (very clean, pure and precise in dose level). We all had a trip together, as the LSD took effect, the film was played and projected onto a wall of the flat and it was also played back-wards to the great amusement of us all.

As the party progressed, most of us set-out in groups in different cars to go driving around the northern beaches, all in different directions. We had an amazing time laughing and hoo-harring all over the place. At one particular time, a few of the cars arrived at the same intersection all at the same time, all coming from different directions. Not having been in contact since the magical mystery tour had started, that was an amazing coincidence. We all just sat there at the intersection looking at each other, cracking up with laughter".

Before Roy's get-togethers with the nucleus of what was to become his recording band, he had been very enterprising. While recording a demo on his own, a local studio put him in touch with Jack Argent, MD of Leeds Music publishers. Jack liked what he heard and organised a deal for an album with MCA.


Making the album

The album was recorded at United Sounds studio in Sydney (link). Roy played classical acoustic guitar. From the Dee Why jams was Mick Norris on bass, Ian Robins on electric guitar, Graham Hilzinger on flute and Ray McKeown on drums. Some more players were added; John Hayles played second classical guitar, and on tracks "Plastic World", "The Old Man" and "Hitchin" steel guitar player Kenny Kitching can be heard. Kenny has since become one of he most renowned steel and Hawian guitar players in Australia. On this subject Roy said: "Kenny was brought in, I'd never met him before. I didn't know he'd done so well, since. He was very interested in the track(s) he played on and I appreciated his interest!"

Ian Robins had this to say about the recording: "I played all the electric guitar. I had a Gibson ES335 back then, a guitar I always regret parting with. It must be worth a fortune now. One song I recall, 'Plastic Jesus', was about the commercialization of religion".

At the time Roy told Mick that MCA were winding-down their activity in Australia, and so a meagre budget had been allocated for the sound recording and production. MCA was pushing to get it's contracts fulfilled quickly. As most of the players were by now well-practiced and knew their parts well, the album sessions went smoothly. Roy points out that most of the tracks were put down together as a band instead of over dubbing. A few things, like the flute, had to be put down later.

Label, Side 1
The record was released in the latter half of 1971, catalogue number MCA MAP/S 5100. The full track listing is:

A1 Searchin'
A2 Plastic World
A3 The Trip Song
A4 Anti-stink Song
A5 The Old Man
B1 The Country Song
B2 Hitchin'
B3 Sinful Man
B4 The Last Song

Things had moved on by this time, Roy had moved again and was working in a record shop on Pittwater Rd. He had also met his wife-to-be, Margaret Gray, from Narrabeen, NSW. The album cover shows Roy sitting under a tree strumming his guitar, with an attentive blonde-haired girl in audience. This girl is Margaret. The picture was taken by Chris Hobrough, a photographer friend of Roy's. Chris had this to say: "The pictures were taken in the garden of his place at Newport, Sydney. I remember positioning myself right on top of an ant nest to take some of those shots - they didn't appreciate it. 40 years and I still remember that".

The credited engineer is Spenser Lee, who quite amazingly was engineer on the first three Buffalo albums slightly later. The album was produced by Alan A. Freeman, ex-head of A&R at Pye records in England and CEO of MCA Australasia. Older readers may be interested to know Alan was a regular panelist on ATV's Saturday night talent programme, New Faces.

MCA did put out a single from the album, choosing 'Plastic World' with a flip-side of 'The Old Man'. I have just discovered another single that MCA released, which Mick confirms was not recorded during the album sessions. That single was "Your Day Is Comin" (youtube) with flip-side "Hey You" (youtube). Thanks to Bill Stevens for uploading those two. Bill also got some info out of Roy: "The single 'Your Day Is Comin' was written on Manly Beach in Sydney and reflects my disillusion with the Vietnam War and war in general. 'Hey You' is another single but more of a love song".


Disapointment

Tragically, it would seem that the public had very little chance to even hear the finished album. Chris Hobrough offers his opinion: "The album wasn't a commercial success, mainly because the record company put zero effort into promoting it. It was basically all left up to Roy. That was quite a tall order, back then, for a young musician just starting out. Perhaps it would have been easier now with the Internet. Anyway, it wasn't enough support for Roy to develop his art, and I think that was a big disappointment for him".

Mick Norris has similarly negative things to say about the album's promotion: "As was a usual practice, MCA, or one of their agents, managed to have a review of the album published in the appropriate 'what’s going on' music page of one of Sydney’s main newspapers, giving the album 'record of the week', but it was not as if MCA showed any high hopes for Roy’s success. It seemed that they just wanted to get their contract obligations met at the cheapest possible cost, and I don’t recall how many copies of the album were pressed".

Ian Robins in
recent times
Ian Robins has equally melon collie memories of the time: "It would have been nice if the album had gone somewhere. Who knows how it may have changed one's life, eh? I feel bad for Roy though. He put a lot of energy and effort into the album."

Roy himself says that he made no money at all from the record, aside from the band's basic pay during the recording sessions. This immediate disapointment hit Roy hard. Soon after he was married and had a young daughter on the way, so he made plans to cut his losses and return to the US where he would be in a better position to support his new family. He does not remember any promotional efforts from MCA what so ever: "We should have gone on the road to promote it, but by that time, I was headed back to the states. I never saw it in a store".

Just after the release of the album, Mick Norris went on with Ray, Ian and Graham to form a new incarnation of the band, while Roy was drifting away from the original gang: "The rest of us carried on as a band in the Narrabeen/Mona Vale area, and we recorded a soundtrack for an Australian surfing film producer Bob Evans, the name of his film was 'Family Free'" (link).

Around the same time the band was approached to hurriedly come-up with a soundtrack for another locally-proposed surf film; of which Bruce Usher and Russell Shepherd, from Mona vale Beach, were the producers. Due to the urgency of needing original music finished within this film's strict time frame, Mick made contact with Roy with the hope that he might have some material, or be able to come-up with some fresh material. Roy did come to meet the producers at Mona Vale, and things started to move, with Roy showing keen and coming up with ideas. "Some how the wheels fell off the whole thing, and I don’t recall seeing Roy again, I think that was about the time that he and Margaret got married. It's hard to recall now, but I think that delays with the film’s production didn't help".


Back in the USA

So that was the end of Roy's personal and musical life in Australia: "In total, I lived in Aussie for just over two years. After I got married and had a daughter, I wanted my family in the US to meet them, so we left for Massachusetts in the early '70s. All in all, it was a wonderful experience, and in retrospect, I never should have left".

Back in the US, music just wasn't cutting it any more. With a daughter and wife to support, he decided to go back to school in Boston to study broadcasting. He worked for a while in radio and TV advertising, then: "From Connecticut, where I was living at the time, I got a job in Hyde Park, New York, at a small AM station working for a fat guy who was a little unstable. From there I became a program director for an FM station that was country when I got the job. With me it became a rock station, and a big hit in the Poughkeepsie, NY area".

Roy in 2010
Roy moved to Texas where he got into TV news: "My time in San Antonio working for KENS-TV was a highlight of my career.  From there it was back to radio in San Diego, California before returning to New England. I won several awards along the way and got to see a lot of the country. I went back to Australia in the mid 80's while working as a TV journalist and revisited Sydney - I'd like to go back there again some day. Back in New England I did something I'd always wanted to do and that was driving big rig trucks. I did that for three years and enjoyed seeing the country, but the business was tough. Now I'm retired".

After the impossibility of the public getting the chance to hear Roy and the gang's great album when it should have done, we can thank the power of the internet for allowing many to hear it easily now. Thanks to Roy and his efforts over 40 years ago for bringing us this great music!

© Richard Sheppard / www.aftersabbath.com

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Monday, April 6, 2015

The Day After The Sabbath 117: Boston Tea Party (The Bosstown Sound)

Download from:  [mf] or [mg]



This volume of TDATS is inspired by one of the enduring stories in the history of American rock; the "Bosstown Sound". It has been regarded from wildly varying viewpoints as a name made up for a scene that never existed, an unjustified hype, an authentic late ‘60s sound, a cynical industries’ marketing ploy that ended in a debacle, or a tragic end to something that could have blossomed and inspired a lot more great music. Probably the saddest part is that some Boston bands were unfairly tainted by the negative opinions, with their careers being hindered or even finished in the process.

TRACKS
01. Quill - Thumbnail Screwdriver (1970)
       from album ‘Quill’
02. Brother Fox and the Tar Baby - Steel Dog Man (1969)
       from album ‘Brother Fox and the Tar Baby’
03. The Far Cry - Hellhound (1968)
       from album ‘The Far Cry’
04. Fort Mudge Memorial Dump - The Seventh Is Death (1969)
       from album ‘Fort Mudge Memorial Dump’
05. Apple Pie Motherhood Band - Grandmother Hooker (1969)
       from album ‘Apple Pie’
06. Beacon Street Union - Sadie Said No (1968)
       from album ‘The Eyes Of The Beacon Street Union’
07. Ultimate Spinach - Mind Flowers (1968)
       from album ‘Behold & See’
08. Eden's Children - Toasted (1968)
       from album ‘Sure Looks Real’
09. Jolliver Arkansaw - Lisa My Love (1969)
       from album ‘Home’
10. The Lost - No Reason Why (1966)
       from album ‘Lost Tapes 1965-'66’
11. Saint Steven - Bastich I & II (1969)
       from album ‘Over The Hills’
12. Front Page Review - Prism Fawn (1968)
       from album ‘Mystic Soldiers’
13. Peter Ivers Band With Yolande Bavan - Showroom Model (1969)
       from album ‘Knight Of The Blue Communion’
14. Willie Alexander & The Boom Boom Band - Hitchhiking (1978)
       from album ‘Meanwhile...Back In The States’
15. Nervous Eaters - Just Head (1979)
       single
16. Listening - See You Again (1968)
       from album ‘Listening’

Alan Lorber
Alan Lorber
It began with Alan Lorber, who has been a successful New York-based arranger, producer, musician and composer since the early ‘60s. One of his first successes in pop was creating The Mugwumps, a band which later split into The Lovin' Spoonful and The Mamas & the Papas. In 1968 Lorber devised a plan to use Boston as a geographical base from which to promote a number of his signings. He claims to have chosen Boston because of its convenient proximity to New York, where his Bosstown bands were recorded. A convienient fan-base existed in the 250,000 Boston college students and he claims there was a large number of clubs where artists could develop before touring nationally. There were also many college and commercial radio stations to promte at the grass-roots level. Just after announcing his plan to the trade press like Billboard and Variety, Newsweek carried the story, and coined the term "Boss-town Sound", adapted from “Motown”.

The Boston Tea Party 53 Berkeley St.
53 Berkeley St.
As a backdrop, Gary Burns recounts in his thesis “The Bosstown Sound” that Boston did have a genuine underground, kick-started in the early sixties by a healthy folk scene. A club called “The Boston Tea Party” (53 Berkeley St.) quickly became the main outlet for alternative rock after it opened in the winter of 1966. The Hallucinations playing with The Ill Wind, along with The Lost, were some of the first Tea Party shows to be announced in the underground Boston newspaper, Avatar. Some other important pre-'Bosstown' mid-sixties bands from the area were The (Rockin') Ramrods, The Remains and The Barbarians. The venue was also favoured by big-name visitors like The Velvet Underground, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy and Canned Heat.

The Boston Tea Party opening night poster
The Boston Tea Party opening night poster
Alan Lorber chose the MGM record label for his signed Boston bands Orpheus, Ultimate Spinach and Beacon Street Union for no other reason than the convenience of having used them for similar acts of his already. Almost immediately after the term “Bosstown” was coined, two things happened which would curse it for ever more and bring it to an abrupt end. Firstly, influential rock press like Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy took an immediate negative stance, claiming that the Bosstown sound was a cynical ploy constructed by MGM, to be played against the huge west-coast “San Francisco Sound”.

The spiel in the initial press advert read ”Where the new thing is making everything else seem yesterday. Where a new definition of love is helping to write the words and music for 1968. Three incredible groups, Three incredible albums. The best of The Boston Sound on MGM records.” It then showed the debut LPs of Beacon Street Union and Ultimate Spinach. Also the second LP from Orpheus, showing that the folk/pop sounds of Orpheus were already well-established before being connected to the campaign.

Billboard magazine - 20th January 1968
The first ad in the Boston Sound campaign
Beacon Street Union, Orpheus and Ultimate Spinach
Now it was hip to bash the Bosstown sound, even Boston musicians joined in the vitriol. Russell “Rusty” Marcus, late-joining bassist with Eden's Children was quoted as saying: "Boston could never support a music scene. You can't enjoy yourself if your body's sick, and Boston's sick, physically, psychologically sick. We're glad we're not just lumped together with the rest of the Boston Sound. [At that time, Eden's Children was one of the only "Bosstown" bands signed to a label other than MGM] I mean, MGM's trying to buy its way onto the charts.

Curb (center) with members of the Mike Curb Congregation and Davy Jones on a television special in 1972
Mike Curb (center) & members of
the 'Mike Curb Congregation'.
Davy Jones television special, 1972
Secondly, in 1969 the newly appointed MGM president Mike Curb (who later became a Reaganite politician and 42nd Lieutenant Governor of California) decided to wage a war on “drug bands”, with Rolling Stone reporting his derogatory comments about bands on his own label! In doing so he dropped many bands from the label, relegating them as "just a bunch of junk". Since then it has been speculated that this was a publicity stunt, and these were merely under-selling bands that were nearing end of contract anyway. The hip and trendy opinion-leaders like Rolling Stone made it acceptable to put down Boston bands. In Lorber’s words, “Nevertheless, the reaction triggered a national controversy which continued for more than a year. It became more trendy to talk 'Boston Sound' than to hear it. A snowball became an avalanche, with the artists buried under the outpouring that overshadowed the music, and eventually destroyed whatever future they might have had."

Countering this to some degree, Alan also wrote: "Strangely though, Boston Sound marketing was successful for Boston itself. Record outlets prospered. Revenues of rock 'n' roll radio multiplied. Circulation of local music papers doubled. Boston clubs experienced overflow attendance. For the groups, Orpheus' single Can't Find The Time was #1 in most US markets. The first Ultimate Spinach album sold 110,000 copies its first week out. All the Boston artists flourished creatively in a wonderful diversity of things political, things poetic, things classical and jazz, things of the time."

From the eighties onward, many people have studied what happened and why, including music executives trying to avoid another such marketing mess. Others have tried to defend the bands that they think were all unfairly tarred with the same brush, and recoup some respect. To make this volume I have used some great online resources that champions of the Bosstown Sound have put together. Respect goes to Paul ‘Blowfish’ Lovell for his “Rock in Boston 1967-69”. To Gary Burns for his Paper “The Bosstown Sound”, and Alan Lorber himself for writing about it all in the nineties, some of which you can read at Orpheus Reborn. Thanks also to Desdinova's “Re-evaluating The Bosstown Sound”.

Chevy Chase in Chamaeleon Church
Chevy Chase (2nd from rt)
in Chamaeleon Church
So, this volume is a collection of acts that were part of, or connected to, “The Bosstown Sound”. In TDATS tradition, I have chosen cuts from bands which played heavy at least some of the time. Narrowly missing the grade were Bear (youtube), The Freeborne (youtube) and Teddy & The Pandas (youtube).  Some important Bosstown names like Orpheus, Earth Opera, The Chamaeleon Church, Ill Wind, The Bagatelle and Flat Earth Society may have been good at what they did but do not have songs included here due to the styles they played. I used a band called Fat back in volume 10 (link) but that track ('Country Girl') is in my opinion the best one on their album and I couldn't decide on another. Towards the end of this volume there's a couple punky late-'70s acts. Although obviously not in the Bosstown Sound, I included them as their members were, and it gives some perspective on what influence the old Boston names did had on future sounds.


bands in this volume

Quill
Quill
The opening track, "Thumbnail Screwdriver", is a catchy song with a rolling groove and charismatic group vocals, a great opener indeed. Quill's real names follow, but on the record they went by the psudonyms of Da-ank Khol, Ju-unk Khol, Phil Stan D' There, Red Rocket Rogers, R. Willy North. These pseudonyms are rumoured to have been an attempt at distancing themselves from their Boston roots, as by 1970 the "Bosstown Sound" was well and truly knackered.

The band enjoyed a brief flash of national exposure by playing at the Woodstock festival in August of 1969. The quintet was co-founded in 1967 by brothers John Cole (bass, guitar, vocals) and Dan Cole (vocals, guitar, trombone), who were the main song-writers. The rest of their lineup was Roger North on drums, Norm Rogers on guitar, and Phil Thayer on keyboards, sax, and flute. Most of the songwriting was handled by John and Dan Cole.

Quill LP (1970)
Quill LP (1970)
They were successful enough to get support spots for artists such as Jeff Beck, Deep Purple, Buddy Guy, and Janis Joplin, and their appearance at Steve Paul's Scene in New York City earned them a booking at Woodstock. Unfortunately they never made the cut for the movie, owing to a technical flaw in their footage. They did get signed to Cotillion Records, but the resulting debut album failed, maybe it would have fared better with the help of exposure from the Woodstock movie? John Cole left and the remaining members had their second album rejected by Cotillion. Quill had broken up by 1971 but they received exposure 38 years later when the "Woodstock 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur's Farm" CD contained two of the four songs they played there.

North drum kit
North drum kit
Roger North is probably the most well-recognized ex-member, with a continuing career and a stint with the Holy Modal Rounders. He also gained renown in percussionist circles as the inventor of North Drums, a kit with curved drum bodies that projected their sound outwards towards the audience, which he played from the late '60s onward. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon and plays in the Freak Mountain Ramblers.

Brother Fox & The Tar Baby
Track 2, "Steel Dog Man", starts as it means to go on with a stomping hard rock riff and tight playing, punctuated by glorious psych breaks, backed-up by earthy vocals that cut straight to the bone. Brother Fox and the Tar Baby featured the talents of former Profits guitarist Richie Bartlett, bassist Tom Belliveau, guitarist Dave Christiansen, drummer Bill Garr, singer Steve High and keyboardist Joe Santangelo. Dave Christiansen, Joseph Santangelo, Tom Belliveau and Richard Bartlett were previously in Front Page Review, also appearing in this volume. Belliveau  was also in Pugsley Munion (see vol59), and Bartlett was later in '80s new-wavers The Fools. They were signed by the small Oracle label, which released 1969's Bruce Patch-produced self-titled album. Christiansen was credited as writing all eleven tracks.

Brother Fox & The Tar Baby LP
This has a commercial edge and is a polished product, but it's done right and there's more than enough heaviness here too, over half the album is hard cuts with quite a unique take on combining late-'60s heavy psych with the chunky riffs and hammond organ of the freshly-emerging hard rock sounds of the times. This is what the first Boomerang album should have been like! (see Vol9)

The countrified feel, and high production quality with orchestration, shows that this was a serious stab at a successful album. The mellow tracks and ballads are all good, so make for a nicely diverse listen. The song-writing is consistently good, and the excellent vocals deserve a mention, sounding somewhat like Robert Plant in the heavier tracks. Highly recommended!

The Far Cry LP (1968)
The Far Cry LP (1968)
The Far Cry were a jazzy 7-piece with sax and hammond who made even less impact than most of the bands here. Of all the members, guitarist Paul Lenart reappeared some years later, on Beacon Street Union member Peter Ivers' second solo album. He also played on Keith Moon's "Two Sides Of The Moon" (1975). They play a groovy and flowing form of progressive jazz rock, which is a very unusual thing to have come from the US at this time. User "mekkipuur" at RYM says that they are "the American equivalent to the british heavy progressive groups like Catapilla, Van der Graaf Generator, Gnidrolog or Raw Material" which is a good comparison. Vocalist/Harmonica player Jere Whiting sings with wild abandon, making for one of the most distinctive elements of the record, being compared by some to Capt. Beefheart. I have used the track Hellhound, which has a nice shuffle going on and lots of great extended solos from the band.

The Fort Mudge Memorial Dump's 1969 self-titled album is something to get excited about. A great combination the heaviest Boston sound psych you'll find, with Caroline Stratton's vocals resembling Grace Slick and some killer guitar workouts from Dean Keady, which in places resemble Hendrix at his sludgy-wah'd best. The track I used here, "The Seventh Is Death", is one of the most ominous and longest from the album. It features an unusual, troubled male vocal performance which I presume is from one of the other listed members: James Deptula, Dave Amaral or Richard Clerici.

Fort Mudge Memorial Dump LP 1969
LP cover, 1969
For such a well formed, great-sounding record there is little information to go by but here's what is stated about them: "They were from Walpole, Massachusetts, that started playing by 1969, gathering a good number of fans. Although they were from Walpole, they got filed into the “Boston Sound”, among the Ultimate Spinach, the Beacon Street Union, Orpheus, Tangerine Zoo, ect." A few years ago I found this comment on a Fort Mudge blog post, but as yet I have been unable to verify any of it: "Uncle Rick said...Hi, I worked with Danny (name not Dean!) and Caroline in a band called "Lovelace" in the '70s and we played to packed houses throughout New England. In between was a band called "MadeinUSA" which also cut an album. Lovelace also included locals Chickie Depula on bass and Mick Bendenelli on drums. Caroline, Cindy Daily & Hope Moon on vocals and they kicked butt!"

Apple Pie Motherhood Band - Apple Pie LP 1969
Apple Pie Motherhood Band
'Apple Pie' LP 1969
Track 5 presents a whimsical song with funny, eccentric lyrics. "Grandmother Hooker" easily raises a smile. Psychedelic blues unit the Apple Pie Motherhood Band evolved out of garage outfit C.C. & the Chasers (link).  In 1965 they relocated from Boston to New York City, briefly adopting the name Sacred Mushroom (used on Vol108) and becoming house band at the Bitter End Café, backing acts ranging from Joni Mitchell to Neil Diamond to Kenny Rogers & the First Edition. The Sacred Mushroom moniker was deemed too drug-oriented for a deal with Atlantic, so a sarcastic comment from guitarist Ted Demos resulted in the name Apple Pie Motherhood Band, and their self-titled debut LP followed in 1968. The group relocated to Vermont to record the follow-up "Apple Pie", adding lead vocalist Bruce Paine, guitarist Michael Sofraine, and harmonica player Adam Myers to original members Dick Barnaby (bass, flute), Jack Bruno (drums), Ted Demos (guitar) and Jef Labes (keyboards).

'Apple Pie' LP rear
They were great musicians and their output was all over the board in terms of style and influence, using a lot of covers. This resulted in many great tracks and some mediocre ones, the second album is the heavier and more consistent. What they lack in originality and identity they make up for in exuberant and fun performances. They opened dates for the Jefferson Airplane, the Butterfield Blues Band, and the Chambers Brothers, but in 1970 they split. Demos, Soriphine and Bruno joined Shakey Legs (link) for one album, Labes later backed Van Morrison and Bonnie Raitt, and Bruno spent close to two decades as Tina Turner's touring drummer, then Elton John's. Paine briefly led Steamhammer in the UK, but was better known for acting work.

Eyes of the Beacon Street Union LP 1968
Eyes of the Beacon Street Union LP
1968
For the next track we have a real dancefloor-filler from one of the original MGM-signed Bosstown bands, Beacon Street Union. Having listened to their two albums, I was not bowled-over by their somewhat unfocused sounds, but I did dig "Sadie Says No". Formed in Boston in late 1966, they comprised of John Wright (vocals), Paul Tartachny (guitar, vocals), Robert Rhodes (keyboards), Wayne Ulaky (bass, vocals), and Richard Weisburg (drums). On his site, Paul Lovell writes: "The Union had a few stage tricks. Sometimes they would throw bags of flour around resulting in a low budget fog show. They always fooled me with this next trick no matter how many times I saw them. They would come on stage and we would all clap and yell. They would start plugging in and tuning up. It seemed to take a long time. Eventually your attention would drift and you would just talk to your friends. At some signal the whole band would slam into the opening chord to My Love Is (youtube) at full volume and SCARE THE BEJEEBERS OUT OF YOU."

Eagle (1970)
'Come Under Nancy's Tent' LP rear
The band members were in their early twenties when both albums were recorded and the press hostility against the Bosstown sound took its toll. They split after only two years together. Shepherded by Alan Lorber (along with the groups Ultimate Spinach and Orpheus), the group met with little success, although their first album The Eyes Of The Beacon Street Union charted at #75 on May 4, 1968. The band relocated to New York, where, after a second album, The Clown Died in Marvin Gardens, Wright, Ulaky, Weisberg, and Rhodes recorded a further album as Eagle. This was a far-less psychedelic, countrified rock affair. Later in the 1970s, Wright went on to write and sing country music as leader of the Sour Mash Boys.  He died on December 4, 2011.

One of Alan Lorber's bands, Ultimate Spinach was one of the most well-known, and perhaps the most notorious, of the groups to be hyped as part of the "Bosstown Sound" in 1968. The name itself guaranteed attention, as one of the most ridiculous  "far out" names of the psychedelic era, even outdoing "The Peanut Butter Conspiracy". They were competent musicians with imagination, but their albums were derivative the West Coast psychedelic groups that were obvious inspirations.

On the first two of their three albums, Ultimate Spinach was completely under the control of leader Ian Bruce-Douglas, who wrote all of the material, sang most of the vocals, and played a wide variety of instruments, most frequently electric keyboards. Their self-titled 1967 debut was a serious attempt at psychedelia, but suffered at times from the overly-obvious trappings of the style and could sound like parody. Guitarist Barbara Hudson's great contributions in the vocal department did go some way in combating these problems, and in the end the album sold quite successfully.

1968's "Behold and See" LP was an all-round better, more consistent album and that is where I took the track I used here, "Mind Flowers". Although it's still quite derivative, this track has a couragously long running time and is supremely atmospheric, one of the trippiest songs I have ever heard. Bruce-Douglas quit after the second LP, but Lorber assembled a new lineup for their final album, with only Barbara Hudson remaining from that of the debut. Ted Myers (ex-The Lost and Chamaeleon Church) and guitarist Jeff Baxter (later to play with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers) were introduced for the imaginatively-titled "Ultimate Spinach III" (1970). It was not quite as good as Behold and See, maybe mirroring the changing times it dropped most of the psychedelia completely. A straight-forward country/blues rock sound was adopted which made for a smoother, pedestrian experience, and a less distinctive album.

Eden's Children - Sure Look Real LP inside
Eden's Children
'Sure Looks Real' LP
I found the two albums of Eden's Children quite hard to like on the whole, but they have a few good songs, lots of endearing parts, and a fair amount of good heavy fuzz riffing. It would seem that they seriously lacked in the quality control dept. The production job done by Bob Thiele, who appears to have been quite an accomplished jazz producer since the '40s, is severely inconsistent and lacking in places, making a few of their songs sound embarrassingly amateurish. Being on the ABC label and coming around just after the first wave of the "Bosstown" bands, they are frequently mentioned in the same articles but have always been considered less connected to it. The band was a trio, comprising Richard "Sham" Schamach (vocals, guitar), Larry Kiley (bass) and Jimmy Sturman (drums), at times you'd think they were trying to emulate Cream, but not always unsuccessfully-so. Shortly after the second album, from which I have used the track "Toasted" (voted the best heavy riffer on the album in the TDATS fb group), Kiely left the band and was replaced by Russell “Rusty” Marcus, but they broke up later in 1969. As yet I have found no evidence of further musical efforts from the members.

Jolliver Arkansaw - 'Home' LP
Jolliver Arkansaw
'Home' LP (1969)
Track 9, "Lisa My Love", coasts in on a bouncy bass line with stabs of fuzz guitar. Jolliver Arkansaw were a development from Bo Grumpus, a band who's only album, "Before The War" (1968), was produced by one Felix Pappalardi (pr. Cream & The Youngbloods). "Produced" is probably an insufficient word to use as he also wrote, arranged and played Keyboards, Trumpet, Bass, Guitar, Percussion and Ocarina, so more or less a fifth member of the band. With him were N.D. Smart (drums) and Jim Colegrove (bass), who traveled from Ohio to team up with guitarists Eddie Mottau and Joe Hutchinson. That was a light psych-pop affair of little interest here, but in 1969 the band renamed to Jolliver Arkansaw and made an album called Home. Felix was back in the producer's seat for this one and for one song, Gray Afternoon (youtube), an additional lead guitarist was invited, none other than Leslie West. Apparently it was this early 1969 session that convinced Felix that Leslie was worth working with more closely, which led to the West solo album Mountain and the formation of the group of the same name, initially as a trio with the ubiquitous N.D. Smart. There is more information at thecoolgroove.com (link).

Track 10 finds its mark from the outset as a raving freak-beat monster, "No Reason Why". Along with The Remains, The Barbarians and The Rockin' Ramrods, The Lost were one of the more celebrated Boston bands of the '60s. Unlike those other groups, who were more prolific, The Lost only released a few singles during their short existence. They were pre-Bosstown Sound, but I have included them as their members crop up again in later bands.

The Lost
The Lost
They formed at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont in 1964. Originally the band, with Hugh Magbie as lead guitarist and singer, were among few interracial rock bands of the time. Changes ensued when they moved to Boston in late 1964 and Magbie quit to return to college. The Lost developed a lot of original material, from the imaginations of guitarist Ted Myers and keyboardist Willie Alexander (both mentioned elsewhere in this volume), recording a demo produced by Barry Tashian of The Remains that got them signed to Capitol. Their first single,"Maybe More Than You," was Dylanesque folk-rock, and got some sales and airplay in Massachusetts and New York.

A second single didn't appear for almost a year, although the band managed to open for numerous shows like the Beach Boys' 1966 Eastern tour. Capitol dropped them and in 1967 they split.

The Lost Tapes - Arf! Arf!
The Lost Tapes
Arf! Arf! Records
Main songwriter Ted Myers ventured into psychedelic music with the Chameleon Church (which had future star comedian Chevy Chase on drums), and was a member of the Ultimate Spinach in the band's final days. Keyboardist Willie Alexander and bassist Walter Powers were members of the name-only, Lou Reed-less Velvet Underground of the early '70s, Powers also playing in Listening, coming up. Willie has become a bit of a Boston legend, playing with an endless succession of local bands over time. The Lost did a lot of recording, at Capitol and elsewhere, in addition to their three singles in the mid-'60s, which eventually became available on Arf! Arf!'s Early Recordings and Lost Tapes CD in the '90s. Read some more here.

Saint Steven - Over The Hills LP 1969
Saint Steven
Over The Hills LP (1969)
Saint Steven was Steve Cataldo. He was previously a member of Front Page Review, who appear here next, a late-joiner to Ultimate Spinach and founding member of the post-punk/power pop Nervous Eaters. In 1969 he made a solo record called Over The Hills. This was an unusual experimental record with lots of things thrown in - psych, folk, hard rock, pop and sound effects in a psuedo-proggresive package. The record is split into two suites, Over the Hills (side A) and The Bastich (side B). It's all pleasant stuff, with a few fuzzy cuts like Ay-Aye Poe Day and Sun In The Flame. The Bastich pts 1 & 2 gives a good cross-section of what he was attempting, with it's pretentious choral intro and groovy psych guitar lead-out. It's not clear whether Steve played all the instruments himself, as nobody else is credited, but it was produced by John Turner who appears to have made some albums of his own. A highly collectible record due to it's rarity, it's worth a listen for Steve's great vocals, proto-prog concept and considered songs.

Front Page Review - Mystic Soldiers LP
Front Page Review
Mystic Soldiers LP
Track 12, "Prism Fawn", has a nice urgency to it, with atmospheric keyboards. Front Page Review rubbed shoulders with bands like Eden's Children, Beacon Street Union and Strawberry Alarm Clock. With Alan Lorber behind the controls, they recorded an album for MGM which was not released at the time. "Mystic Soldiers" is a prime example of late '60s US psych, featuring a young Steve Cataldo (as just mentioned, of Saint Steven & Nervous Eaters) on songwriting / vocals. All the right ingredients are there: wah-fuzz guitars, organ, phasing & effects. Steve wrote all of the material for the group, which played minor-keyed brooding stuff. After they broke up, he made the "Saint Steven" solo album mentioned previously, and later hitched onto the new wave by forming the Nervous Eaters (coming up here soon), who made a couple of LPs. Front Page Review's album was finally unearthed for CD release in 1997 by Big Beat.

Peter Ivers - Knight of the Blue Communion LP 1969
Peter Ivers' 1969 LP
'Knight of the Blue Communion'
Track 13, "Showroom Model", is an intriguing morsel of arty jazz rock that's indicative of the experimental boom of the late '60s. It's compelling and surreal, with off-kilter changes, but anchored by Peter Ivers' bluesy Harmonica. Peter Ivers was born in Boston in 1946. While studying at Harvard University, he played harmonica in The Beacon Street Union. After they split he surfaced as a member of The Street Choir before he signed to Epic in 1969 and issued "Knight of the Blue Communion", an unusual major-label releases for its time: A surreal parade of jazz, psychedelic, pop, classical and vaudeville vignettes with wildly eclectic arrangements and feverish rhythms. Featuring opera singer Yolande Bevan and electronic “modulations”, it evokes Frank Zappa’s most eccentric moments and the United States Of America at their most juvenile. Ivers recorded a follow-up, "Take It Out on Me" (Epic, 1971), but the label never released it, except for the single "Ain’t That Peculiar/ Clarence O’Day". Take It Out on Me has since been issued by Wounded Bird Records (link).

He signed to Warner Bros in 1974. Ivers and his co-producer, free jazz bassist Buell Neidlinger, delivered "Terminal Love", which at times sounded like Beefheart/Zappa. Indeed, Magic Band & Zappa collaborator Eliot Ingber appears on several tracks. A self-titled album for Warner followed in 1976. A year later, Ivers earned arguably his most enduring fame, writing and recording "In Heaven (The Lady in the Radiator Song)" for David Lynch's noir horror classic Eraserhead (youtube). (The song was later covered by Boston's The Pixies.) A 1980 single, "Love Theme from Filmex," was his last official musical release. In the early '80s, Ivers hosted New Wave Theatre, broadcast on the fledgling USA cable network as part of their Friday evening Night Flight anthology. The series provided early national TV exposure for Los Angeles area bands like The Blasters and Dead Kennedys. With his outrageous wardrobe, philosophical interview questions, and rapid-fire social commentaries, Ivers was a most unconventional host, and many of the artists featured on the show made their distaste for him painfully clear. Peter is reported to have played in an avant-garde jazz outfit called Girlz of Zaetar, which had a rehearsal tape issued in 2007 (youtube).


Ivers was bludgeoned to death in his L.A. apartment in 1983. Many suspected the murderer was a member of the local punk scene. Ivers' killer was never found, but in his memory, Harvard University initiated the Peter Ivers Visiting Artist Program. The retrospective "Nirvana Peter" appeared on Warner in 1985. Josh Frank and Charlie Buckholtz have written a book about Ivers' life, art and mysterious death, In Heaven Everything Is Fine: The Unsolved Life of Peter Ivers and the Lost History of New Wave Theatre (2008). On the basis of new information unearthed during the creation of this book, the Los Angeles Police Department has reopened their investigation into Ivers' death. Thanks to Jason Ankeny at Allmusic.com, eggcityradio.com and Wikipedia for all this info.

Willie "Loco" Alexander (born January 13, 1943) sang and played keyboards with The Lost, The Bagatelle and The Grass Menagerie. He became a member of The Velvet Underground in late 1971, joining fellow Grass Menagerie alumni Doug Yule and Walter Powers and replacing Sterling Morrison. With the Velvet Underground, Alexander toured Europe in support of the album Loaded. Reshuffles brought on by manager Steve Sesnick then ended Alexander's time with the band.

Willie Alexander
Willie Alexander in recent times
After leaving The Velvet Underground, he enjoyed a checkered career. He recorded three solo singles beginning in 1975, and formed the punk-oriented Boom Boom Band the following year. The group recorded two albums for MCA, but broke up in 1978. He released Solo Loco in 1982, and then formed The Confessions, who also recorded two albums, A Girl Like You and Autre Chose. Alexander continued in his solo status throughout the '80s, and formed the Persistence of Memory Orchestra in 1991. In addition to his storied music career, in 1994, Willie narrated a local film entitled Middle Street made by fellow Gloucester native, independent filmmaker Henry Ferrini. Willie has also contributed many songs to the soundtracks for Henry's other films. You can check out Willie's current activities etc at his site (link).

Nervous Eaters c. 1977
Nervous Eaters c. 1977
Track 15, "Just Head", is a chunk of killer Stonesy punk with cheeky lyrics and unstoppable momentum. The Nervous Eaters was one of the bands that kick-started the Boston punk scene at the end of the 70‘s and the birth of a local scene that would foster dozens of influential and successful American artists in the 80’s and beyond. That needs to be said because the "Eaters", as the group was affectionately referred to locally, never achieved much attention outside of Boston or New York City. Featuring singer, guitarist and songwriter Steve Cataldo, previously of Front Page Review and Saint Steven, the Nervous Eaters was considered the house band at Kenmore Square’s Rathskeller (aka "Rat") club by virtue of its many appearances there and a pair of 7” singles released on the club’s Rat Records. Before taking that name, they had dubbed themselves The Rhythm Assholes, while they backed Willie Alexander on his 1977 solo single "Kerouac", and in concert. One of those songs, “Loretta,” became and remains one of the city’s enduring rock and roll anthems powered by a scorching four-piece attack and Cataldo’s husky and fervent vocals.

Nervous Eaters, Steve Cataldo 2nd from left
Nervous Eaters, Steve Cataldo 2nd from left
Ric Ocasek of the Cars became a fan and he produced a ten-song demo for the band that enabled a deal with Elektra Records, also the home of his platinum-selling group. Unfortunately, some blaming the producer, their eponymous 1980 album completely lacked the heaviness and attitude of the band’s live shows and original singles. The album failed and the band stepped into the shadows. A 1986 reunion album "Hot Steel and Acid", for the French-based New Rose label, was subsequently issued by Boston's Ace of Hearts Records. It belatedly redressed the balance with the frantic scuzz of the early singles, but the chance of national fame was already well-passed. New incarnations of the band, still including Steve Cataldo, play sporadically up to this day and you can follow them on facebook (link).

Listening LP front 1968
Listening LP cover (1968)
Rounding this volume off nicely we have a slice of Hendrix-heavy 1968 psych called "See You Again". Vocalist/keyboardist Michael Tschudin led the band Listening, and the later-Velvet Underground bassist Walter Powers (previously of The Lost) and guitarist Peter Malick (aged only sixteen when joining) helped to make this album historic. Walter performed over the years with keyboardist Willie Alexander as members of The Lost, the aforementioned Velvets, and on Autre Chose, a live album from Willie. Peter Malick later became Otis Spann's guitarist and a member of the James Montgomery Band on Capricorn. The album runs the gamut from psych, pop, blues to jazz. Eight of the 11 tracks are written by Michael Tschudin, with three titles attributed to the group. A couple of tracks are top-tear stuff, "Stoned Is", being another of them, while the rest make for a consistently enjoyable listen front to back. Michael Tschudin appeared soon after in Cynara (link), who look pretty mean on the cover of their s/t 1970 album, which is disappointingly loungy commercial piano-based jazz/soul that never works up a sweat. Peter Malick became an acomplished blues player and since becoming a producer/engineer in the 2000s he has had a hand in starting Nora Jones' career (website).  Drummer Ernie Kamanis played guitar for Andy Pratt and Boz Scaggs and later had a solo career. Paul Lovell recounts some memories of Listening here.

See you again!
Cheers, Rich

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Day After The Sabbath 116: Prince of Darkness [Conny Plank tribute]

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This volume is inspired by work of the producer, engineer and studio owner, Konrad "Conny" Plank. Known as a hugely influential figure in Krautrock, and instrumental in the careers of bands like Kraftwerk, Can and Neu!, his name is not synonymous with the obscure heavy fuzz / heavy rock / early metal sounds that TDATS usually covers. However, during his legendary career he worked on hundreds of records, and along the way his skills have enhanced a large number of obscure heavy albums.

Born in the town of Hütschenhausen on 3 May 1940, his father was a church organ player. In 1963 he began working in the Köln studio of Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR, West German Broadcasting). Then he became assistant producer and sound engineer at Köln's Rhenus Studio, where he oversaw recordings by a diverse range of artists, including Duke Ellington and Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was around this time that he worked on the two earliest records in this comp, those of Creepy John Thomas and Nosferatu.

Scorpions - Lonesome Crow (1972) Brain 1001
Scorpions
Lonesome Crow (1972)
Brain 1001
Another important album to mention is the first Scorpions album, which Conny produced in 1972. This was eons before their '80s commercial peak and at this point they were a mean and heavy progressive band (youtube). It was the Brain label's first ever release, a label started by two guys that defected from Ohr, another influential experimental label with names like Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. Brain was home to a few of the bands in this comp, as well as some of Conny's most important charges, like Cluster and Neu! It was also responsible for bringing works of great foreign bands into Germany, like Norway's Ruphus (see Vol81).

Conny used devices and equipment of his own design, and modified mixing consoles. He taught himself how to achieve the effects that would later be done easily after the invention of polyphonic samplers, using the faders on his desk in conjunction with complex arrangements of tape loops. Brian Eno worked with him many times and considered him an “inventor” as much as anything else. Michael Rother, who worked with Plank as a solo artist and with Kraftwerk, Neu! and Harmonia said: “He had this immense talent to intuitively grasp our intentions and to create fantastic soundscapes, despite the limitations of recording technology at the time.”

In 1974 Conny designed and built "Conny's Studio", located on a farm in a former pigsty, 35 km south of Köln. Two more albums that appear in this comp were made there, those of Bullfrog and Lokomotive Kreuzberg. At this studio other TDATS-appearing bands Birth Control and Harlis also made albums.

The bio on his site closes with: "Conny Plank died of cancer on 18 December 1987. He did not live to see the day when music producers would be celebrated as if they were superstars. The “hippie, the big bear who delved into his creative manias with unbelievable energy and passion” (Michael Rother) would be a superstar himself today."

So, this comp is an hour of some of the heaviest bands that Conny produced or engineered, or both. Eight of the twelve bands here are brand new to the blog, and all these albums are definitely worth checking out!

TRACKS
01. Night Sun - Got a Bone Of My Own (1972)
       from album 'Mournin'
02. Virus - Old Time Movie (1971)
       from album 'Thoughts'
03. Creepy John Thomas - Lay It On Me (1969)
       from album 'Creepy John Thomas'
04. Sixty-Nine - Red Guitar (1974)
       from album 'Live!'
05. Eloy - Dillus Roady (1971)
       from album 'Eloy'
06. Lokomotive Kreuzberg - Comeback (1975)
       from album 'Fette Jahre'
07. Gomorrha - Dance On A Volcano (1972)
       from album 'I Turned To See Whose Voice It Was'
08. Bullfrog - Live (1977)
       from album 'High In Spirits'
09. Time - Shady Lady (1975)
       from album 'Time'
10. Lava - Tears Are Goin' Home (1973)
       from album 'Tears Are Goin' Home'
11. Nosferatu - Highway (1970)
       from album 'Nosferatu'
12. Lucifer's Friend - Prince Of Darkness (1972)
       from album '....Where The Groupies Killed The Blues'


Germanrock.de | John Thomas | Conny Plank
Prog Archives | Discogs | Rate Your Music
It's Psychedelic Baby! | Allmusic

Night Sun - Mournin' (1972)
Germany was responsible for many of the best and most original heavy albums in the early '70s, and Night Sun stands out as a contender for the heaviest of them all. Conny Plank is credited as engineer on their album, "Mournin'", which was recorded at Windrose Studios in Hamburg. Windrose Studios was the origin of many great albums, from the likes of Birth Control, Excalibur (Vol33), Second Life (Vol33) and Blackwater Park (Vol3).

The UK was the number-one influence on German rock and prog at the time and many classic English bands came to mind when I first heard this LP, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and King Crimson being three of the most obvious. This may be a bold claim, but it’s justifiable to say that Night Sun could have become as renowned as any of them, if they had continued and expanded on the promise shown by Mournin'. Night Sun's roots lie in Mannheim jazz-rock bands “Swinging Sounds" and “Take Five”, and they evolved from BS&T-style horn rock into a jazz-inflected heavy metal band.

"Got A Bone Of My Own" starts with three terrifying minutes of tension-building, gothic atmospherics. The payoff comes with a gargantuan riff that Iommi would surely be proud of, and a palpable sense of nastiness that was rare elsewhere, save for Sabbath’s best work and a handful of the best heavy proggers.

The band dissolved very soon after the LP was released, with little promotion or appreciation. A great loss to the early days of heavy metal indeed!

Virus - Thoughts LP (1971)
Virus shared three members with Hamburg's Weed (see Vol9) at various times; Bernd Hohmann (flute, vocals), Reinhold Spiegelfeld (bass) and Werner Monka (guitar), although I think these guys had left by the time of Virus's Conny-engineered second and final album "Thoughts". Recorded at Star Studio in Hamburg, it was a more direct, hard-rocking album than the psychedelic debut and should be tracked down if you like hammond-assisted riffs. There is an interview with Virus member Werner Vogt at ItsPsychedelicBaby here.


"Creepy John Thomas" LP (1969)
"Creepy John Thomas" LP (1969)
The Sydney-born guitarist John Thomas seems to have had an interesting career. It began properly in Melbourne, having some hits with The Flies. He went to Germany in 1967 with his German girlfriend Doris Honigmann for some time where he made the album "Come With Me" under the name Rust (link) with British musicians in 1969. Then he moved to London and got an album deal with RCA, who commissioned two albums to be recorded back in Germany with Conny Plank producing. For those he became "Creepy John Thomas", his reasoning: "The name came from a Spider John Korner song called Creepy John on the blues album Blues, Rags & Hollers and it seemed a good idea at the time as I wanted to project a less clean cut non-commercial image."

John Thomas
in recent times
"The British blues boom was happening - Artists like Capt.Beefheart, Doctor John, The Night Tripper, Screamin' Lord Sutch, Howling Wolf etc., all had groovy names which at the time, held fascination for a young wannabe like me.” Then he spent a year in San Fransisco before returning to London and joined the Edgar Broughton Band, credited on the albums Bandages & "Live Hits Harder!". Moving back to Germany, he made two albums as "Johnny & the Drivers" in Berlin, only to move back to London again in the '80s to become a producer and a continuing solo artist. In 1977 John took friends Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart to Conny's studio to record some music for an album which wasn't ultimately released. Conny was reportedly very impressed with Annie's vocal abilities and this lead to them making their first album as The Tourists (1977) and their first as Eurythmics (1981) with him at his studio.

I have taken the track "Lay It On Me" from the first Creepy John Thomas album. On that record was drummer Helmut Pohl, who also played on albums from Gomorrha, appearing later in this comp. An interesting fact is that Paul Rodgers of Free fame sang harmony vocals on the track "Ride A Rainbow" (link).

Sixty-Nine - Live! (1974)
With track four we have a heavy drums-organ duo from Bad Kreuznach called Sixty-Nine. Conny was engineer on their live album, much of which was recorded at a cultural events center called Fabrik, in Hamburg.

Sixty-Nine was founded in 1969 by keyboardist Armin Stöwe & drummer Roland Schupp. They became popular as a live act and were often invited to open for big acts, like West, Bruce & Laing, UFO, Birth Control, Amon Düül II, Jud's Gallery and Agitation Free. They recorded one studio album in 1973 called "Circle of the Crayfish", then after the live album they disbanded. Stöwe founded a trio called Air. He also started the "General Electronic Plastic Studio" where he developed innovative and successful electronic music devices like computerised sequencers, synthesizers and speaker systems. Sadly, he committed suicide in 2005.

Eloy - s/t (1971)
On to another band that has appeared in TDATS before, Eloy (Vol19). Well-known as a progressive rock and space rock band, their first album, which was engineered by Conny, has very little of those things. It is a meat and potatoes hard rock album with the familiar guitar/hammond sounds of Deep Purple. It was recorded at Star studios in Hamburg, where many classic albums were made including the debuts of Ash Ra Tempel, Neu! and Scorpions. The only continuous member of Eloy is founder and guitarist Frank Bornemann, who steered the band in a more progressive direction like that of Genesis, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd on subsequent albums. There is an interview with Frank at ItsPsychedelicBaby here. Some names that have been in Eloy and other notable bands are Jürgen Rosenthal (Scorpions), Fritz Randow (Saxon, Epitaph), Jim McGillivray (Epitaph), Manfred Wieczorke (Jane) and Steve Mann (Andy Scott's Sweet).

Lokomotive Kreuzberg Fette Jahre (1972)
Lokomotive Kreuzberg
Fette Jahre (1972)
Track 6 brings something a little different to the party. Lokomotive Kreuzberg was a Berlin polit-rock band that started in 1972. Not speaking German, it's impossible for me to comment on the lyrics, but the music on their 1975 album "Fette Jahre", engineered by Conny, is captivating. They mix many styles, from symphonic prog, to folk, to funk, to hard rock. At all times it is played with extreme talent, these guys sure had the chops to compare with the best. I have chosen the hardest rocking track on the album, which was recorded at Conny's studio, but you can take your pick from it. Others, such as the title track "Fette Jahre" (youtube), are equally good.

I've not had a chance to check out all of their four albums. I certainly will but they may not be the easiest band to get into for non-German speakers, especially as they use a lot of spoken-word skits to get certain points across on their agenda.

After the band dissolved, Herwig Mitteregger (drums), Bernhard Potschka (guitar) and Manfred Praeker (bass) played in the Nina Hagen Band before making a new band called Spliff in 1980.

Gomorrha I Turned To See Whose Voice It Was (1972)
Gomorrha
I Turned To See Whose Voice It Was
(1972)
Conny Plank produced all of Gomorrha's albums, which amounted to three. The first could be described as a Beatles-inspired beat album, and was one of his very first production jobs in 1969. In 1970 Conny and the band re-recorded it from scratch, this time singing in English and playing from a much improved and advanced progressive rock angle. The title track "Trauma" is regarded as their first high-point, and afterwards they were picked up by the formative krautrock label Brain, which Conny had become connected with by this time. The third and final album "I Turned To See Whose Voice It Was" is regarded as their masterpiece, described by some as a cross between Black Sabbath and Procol Harum. From that I have used the track "Dance On A Volcano". Unfortunately, all the band except guitarist Albrecht Claudi (link) apparently left the music business after the demise of Gomorrha.

Bullfrog - High In Spirits (1977)
Bullfrog - High In Spirits (1977)
Conny was involved with two of the three records that Bavaria's Bullfrog made. He recorded, engineered and produced the first self-titled one at his own studio, and engineered/mixed the second, "High in Spirits" (1977). Bullfrog are often compared with the accessible sound of the far more prolific Jane, who Conny worked with on the Brain label. Bullfrog's bio at Prog Archives (link) says that the step-up of High in Spirits earned them a sizeable following both in Germany and in the US. It also gathered quite a huge fan base in Portugal where the album managed to relegate both ABBA and Pink Floyd to second and third place on the local charts. There's a detailed account of the band here in German.

Time - selftitled (1975)
On to track nine, and we come across one of the most obscure entries here, a UK act called Time. Formed by Tristan Margretts (bass, vocals) and Gary Margretts (guitar, keys, vocals), Time was a development of Spontaneous Combustion (link). Joining were guitar/vocalist Alex Johnson (later to hard rockers Nightwing) and drummer Jode Leigh (later to England). They released a single, self-titled album in 1975. There's a couple of mysteries about this record. Firstly, I have seen various online mentions of vocalist Mike Udell, but his name is not listed on the LP cover. The cover states "Produced by Conny Plank at The House Of Sounds for BUK records UK", as yet I have been unable to find out anything about this supposed studio, including where it is. Seeing as bands usually traveled to Conny, I presume it was recorded somewhere in Germany. The album itself is a great find. It is mostly heavy, angular prog, like a much leaner Yes or Gentle Giant.

Lava  Tears Are Goin' Home (1973)
Lava
Tears Are Goin' Home (1973)
Next up is another one-album obscurity, Berlin's Lava. Their 1973 album "Tears Are Goin' Home" was produced and engineered by Plank at Windrose Studios, Hamburg and released by Brain. Conny also plays lead guitar on the track "Would Be Better You Run" (youtube). The album is quite a mellow, melancholic and improvisational affair. The reason it appears here is because of the great opener, "Tears Are Goin' Home", which crashes in like ├┤awkVVind blasting off at full power. Very little seems to be documented about them, they are described as a commune band, that split in 1974 after the suicide of keys player Thomas Karrenbach.


Nosferatu
Nosferatu hailed from Frankfurt. One self-titled album was released in 1970, recorded at Rhenus studio in Köln and Conny engineered it. In their early days they were fronted by guitarist & vocalist Michael Winzkowski (who went on to Orange Peel and Epsilon) and wind player Christian Felke who guested later with Epsilon. Felke also played on the Christian Kolonovits LP "Life Is Just A Carnival" I used on the Austrian Vol107. The album is a strong set of groovy heavy prog. While filled with cool hammond from Reinhard "Tammy" Grohé and ominous guitar from Michael Meixner, there's a wide range of other instrumentation. The whole album works as a continuous piece on a grand scale, it's very impressive. For such an apparently young, short-lived band they sound like they had been playing together a lot longer.

Lucifer's Friend
....Where The Groupies Killed The Blues (1972)
Closing the volume is one of the more familiar names no doubt, Lucifer's Friend. Conny produced their second album, "....Where The Groupies Killed The Blues" at Windrose Studio and Star Studio. By this time the band were already on the slide away from the heaviness of the debut into more commercial prog territories, but this one catches them at an interesting point where they mixed both and ended up making a unique-sounding album.

"Lucifer's Friend" was just one alias that a core of studio musicians was recording under, and there were many! A quick glance finds The Air Mail, The German Bonds, Asterix, Lucifer's Friend, Brother T. And Family, The Children Of Quechua, Electric Food, The Fantastic Pikes, The Pink Mice and Bokaj Retsiem all centering around four names; Dieter Horns (bass), Peter Hecht (keyboards), Peter Hesslein (guitar) and Joachim Rietenbach (drums). In fact, an entertaining sport that any obscure rock addict with an internet connection could enjoy on a rainy day is "Hunt the Lucifer's Friend spin-off". These guys were seemingly involved in a curious mix of bill-paying studio jobs, exploitation records and real bands, they clearly didn't like to keep all their eggs in one basket. What ever the situation, they sure must have been busy individuals around the turn of the decade! The English singer John Lawton was present in two of the heaviest of these acts, Lucifer's Friend and Asterix, and I'm sure most of you know that he was later in Uriah Heep.

Thanks for reading, Rich

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