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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Roberta Flack--The First Tiime Ever I Saw Your Face (1972)

     Roberta Flack had spent the entirety of the sixties as a music teacher in the Washington DC area.She had graduated from Howard University in late 50's as one of the youngest to ever graduate from that establishment (she was 19 at the time) and had planned to continue on to graduate studies in classical piano and voice. However, the death of her father put her in a position to help with the family finances, so she went into teaching in Farmville, North Carolina then to Washington.
     During the 60's she began to shape her career as a singer by performing in clubs on weekends in the area. At first she accompanied other singers, while she would sing on her own during intermissions, then as a performer on her own. In one of those clubs, she was heard by jazz pianist Les McCann, who arranged an audition for her with Atlantic Records. She recorded her first album, "First Take" in late 1968 and was released the next year. At first, not many heard the album, but one person who did was Clint Eastwood.
     The actor was in the process of making plans for his directorial debut on a film called, "Play Misty For Me" and was taken by one of the songs off of Flack's first album. "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" was written by folk singer Ewan MacColl back in 1957 and had been covered dozens of times. Flack had taken the song and slowed it down considerably for her recording, and Eastwood thought it would be a perfect fit in his new movie.
      During 1971, she had begun to make some headway on the charts, mostly on the strength of two duets with Donny Hathaway, but when the movie and the song became hits, it propelled her to stardom. The song was nominated for a Grammy and was the first of four top five hits for Roberta during the 70's.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Fixx--One Thing Leads To Another (1983)

     The Fix began life as The Portraits in 1979. Founded by vocalist Cy Curnin and drummer Adam Woods, the brought in Rupert Greenall (keys), Tony McGrail (guitar) and Charlie Barret (bass) to round out the lineup. The band released a couple of singles that went nowhere at which point McGrail left and Jamie West-Oram in mid-1980. About that time they changed the name of the group to The Fix, and a few of their recordings were picked up by the BBC. This higher profile led to a major label contract with MCA who were concerned about the drug connotations of the band's name and an extra "X" was added on to the name.
     The band's first success here in the states came with the 1982 release, "Stand or Fall" off of the album, "Shuttered Room". However, the big hit came in 1983 with the song, "Saved By Zero", then "One Thing Leads To Another" later that year. It was the only song they released that reached the top 10 anywhere (#4 here, #1 in Canada). North America was where they found their biggest success reaching the top 20 as late as 1986 ("Secret Seperation").
     They still tour regularly here in the states and have recently released an album with their classic lineup. You can read more about the album an the group here:

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Five Stairsteps--Ooh Child (1970)

     Several years before The Jackson Five took the soul/pop world by storm, another family of siblings were making an impact on the charts. Five of the nine Burke children out of Chicago (Alohe Jean, Clarence Jr., James, Dennis, and Keni) were discovered after winning a talent contest at the Regal Theater. They were offered several recording contracts, but a close family friend was Fred Cash of The Impressions who introduced them to Curtis Mayfield who signed them to his Windy City label.
     Beginning in 1966 they had a streak of songs which would do well on the r&b top 20, but never was able to make a dent on the top 40. In fact for all of the songs they placed on the charts, "Ooh Child" was not only the only song to make it to the Top 10, but it was the only song that made it to the Top 40 (pop charts).After disbanding in the mid-70's, Clarence Jr. and Keni continued in writing, producing, and studio work.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

The PC's LTD--Fast Man (Booty Man) (1969)

Lovers of obscure 45s will certainly want to listen to Fast Man by The PC's LTD at least once- that is if they can find it of course. It's a pretty underground release; Fran Records in Virginia originally published the record, though it seems that Fran also had some operations in Kentucky as well. The company was a division of Viv, and they had the same ear for funk that their parent company did.

Since it was recorded far from the glitter lights provided by the Stax Records company towers in Memphis, Fast Man certainly sounds unpolished. However, Norfolk isn't exactly known as a hotbed for recording studios, and true fans will appreciate the homemade sound. Even if it was a local release, the group stayed away from minimalism and experimentation. This was pure funk.

Trying to find information on The PC's LTD. is pretty difficult and even the exact date when the record was recorded is pretty elusive. It was probably cut sometime around 1969. Even if it's early, though, the track is hard hitting. Lovers of funk will appreciate the back beat syncopation and the remarkably smooth groves. It's easy to imagine that many top disc jockeys jumped at the chance to lay down this rare piece of wax when funk was at its height in the 1970s. It's a shame that The PC's LTD. don't seem to have cut any more records.

The A-Side: Fast Man (Booty Man)

While the track really is pretty funky, it's hard to figure out just what direction the combine wanted to take. It starts off with some raucous cheers that pick up again and again throughout the piece. After a minute or so, some smooth lyrics take over and mix with an accompaniment provided by a brass section that would have done Miles Davis proud. It's almost as if the band were a group of college students messing around with instruments. Then again, that's what makes the record so cool. It's still has its underground touch after all these years.

The B-Side: Stick Man

The B-side track is actually a bit more polished. Soulful vocals abound on Stick Man, though purists will probably say that the song starts off a bit clumsy. Once it reaches the first sorrowful guitar solo, though, fans are sure to fall in love with the track. Some might question whether or not this group actually started out playing the blues, since the guitar riffs seem to be pulled straight out of a twelve-bar lament. Then again, people can speculate whatever they want since so little information is available on the group.
Jason Kane is an avid vinyl collector with a passion for older music. Jason writes about every vinyl, from LPs and Singles to equipment like speakers and Music Hall Turntables


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Five Man Electrical Band--Signs (1971)

     The Five Man Electrical Band began their existence as The Staccatos in 1963. The Ottawa, Canada-based band began charting in their home country by 1965. They were frequently in the Canadian top 20 over the next few years except for 1967's, "Half Past Midnight" which crept into the top 10. There was never a hit followup, and by the end of 1968 the group was seeking a new direction musically. With that change to a more rock sound, came a new name. the Five Man Electrical Band.
     Even with a new name, the band continued their struggles and in early 1970 they left Capitol records and signed with MGM. Nothing much of not initially happened there either until the release of the single, "Hello Melinda, Goodbye". The A side did nothing, however, some DJ's in Canada and the US began to play the B side, "Signs". It immediately caught fire and before long became the #2 hit in the US. It's follow up, "Absolutely Right" cracked the top 40 here and did even better than "Signs" in their home country.
     There some minor chart action here in the states, but their success continued until running out of steam in 1975....


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Five Americans--Western Union (1967)

     The Five Americans were a band out of Oklahoma and was signed by a small label out of Dallas called Abnak/Jetstar and produced several regional hits in the mid-60's. A couple of those songs, "I See the Light" (1966) and "Evol-Not Love" (1966) made it to the charts. It was a riff by guitarist Mike Raybon however, that provided the foundation for their biggest hit. "Western Union" had a instrumental hook (the sound of the guitar aping a telegraph), and a vocal one (the dit-dit-dits that one hears throughout the song).
     The song reached number 5 in the spring/summer of 1967 and it's followup, "Sound Of Love" also reached the top 40, but subsequent songs never got close to the top 40 again and the group disbanded in 1969. Guitarist Mike Raybon had another song in the top 100 with the Tyler, Texas band, Gladstone, then returned to college and is working in education. The keyboard player, John Durrill, was the only one to become a music lifer writing and performing. He is probably best known for writing, "Dark Lady" for Cher in 1974.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The First Class--Beach Baby (1974)

   Only the mish mash of styles that defined the top 40 charts during the early/middle 70's could have given us one of the best summertime hits about the beach from London. Not only that, but they evoked the sound of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson better than Wilson himself could at the time.
      The First Class was a studio group which consisted of songwriter/producer John Carter, studio singer Tony Burrows, and Chas Mills, primarily to promote the music of Carter and his songwriter wife, Jill Shakespeare.
     We have had done a blog on Burrows before and this would be the last of an incredible run as a lead singer in a band. "Beach Baby" itself was written and recorded in the summer of 1974. After it's release in subsequent success in the US, there was a clamoring for a tour. None of the participants were interested in this, so a band was put together which consisted of, Del John (lead singer), Spencer James (guitar), Robin Shaw (bass), Clive Barrett (keys), and Eddie Richards (drums). If you actually own the copy of their one and only album, you will see this group with the trio who actually recorded it.
     The version here on the blog is the album version of the song which is longer, but much superior to the single.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Firefall--You Are The Woman (1976)

     The beginnings of Firefall came about through the meeting of singer Rick Roberts and guitarist Jock Barkley. Barkley was playing in Gram Parsons backing band "The Fallen Angels", and met the singer when they were playing the same venue. Rick was impressed by the guitarist's style and after jamming a bit inquired about the possibility of forming a new group. They contacted bassist Mark Andes who had played with Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne, and Larry Burnett and shortly afterward took on the name "Firefall" in 1974. Roberts, who had previously been a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, called on another former member, Michael Clarke about taking over as drummer. During late 74 and early 75, the group played in and around Boulder and Aspen Colorado. It was also during this period they cut a few demos produced by Chris Hillman.
     The demos initially went nowhere, but Hillman was impressed enough to ask Andes, Bartley, and Roberts to join his band. It was at one of these gigs in New York City in June of 1975 that Hillman took ill, and was sick enough that he was unable to finish the tour. Burnett and Clarke were flown to finish the commitments. There were a&r men from Atlantic Records (who had heard those demos) at the NYC concert, and were impressed enough from what they heard to sign them to a multi-album deal. Just before the recording of their first album in late 1975, multi-instrumentalist David Muse was brought in.
     The first single off the album, "Livin' Ain't Livin" stalled just short of the top 40, but it was the second song, "You Are The Woman" which cracked the top 10 in 1976 and set the group up for success for the rest of the decade.
     Roberts left the group in 1981, and you can find his website here: Barkley is still with the group and their site is here:


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fleetwood Mac--Tusk (1979)

     Tracing the history of Fleetwood Mac, one might be surprised at the musical twists and turns they've taken. Starting out as a straight blues band, they slowly morphed into a blues/rock/pop sound then dropping all pretensions of the blues as Bob Welch and Christine McVie directed them into California rock. As Welch left the band to be joined by Lindsay Buckingham and his girl friend Stephanie (Stevie) Nicks, the freshness brought to be band was felt and heard immediately on the album "Fleetwood Mac" (1975). That album and it's massive follow-up "Rumors" (1977) defined the late 70's California sound, and also set the template for a generation of musicians in pop, rock and country (any question about the latter...check out any CD by Little Big Town).
     The huge success of Rumors allowed the group to go into the studio with a blank check on creating the follow-up. Buckingham, who had provided not only songwriting and production skills, also brought an energy to the group that spread to all of it's members. However, by 1978, all in the group were physically and emotionally spent. Most who are fans of the Mac are well aware of all of the relationship disasters and drugs that went into the making of the most successful album of it's era. So when it came time to go back into the studio, no one was particularly interested. It's with this back story that frames the album that was to become "Tusk". Buckingham had inspired the group before, at this point, at least for this album, he takes over.
     The result was a double album that was nothing like anything done by the group before or after. The guitarist, who was admittedly a disciple of Brian Wilson's adventuresome nature in the studio, created an album that was brilliant in it's fractured nature as "Rumors" was in it's cohesiveness. That album was a picture of a group that was cracking, "Tusk" was a snapshot of a group that was broken. It's centerpiece was the title track. The major theme of the song was based on a riff that was used during sound checks before a show, and Mick Fleetwood suggested that a song be built around it. Buckingham took it and added lyrics, and an overall sound that perfectly mirrored the cocaine fueled paranoia that still pervaded the band.
     The sound, provided by the USC Band added a quirkiness that became a hallmark of a lot of Buckingham's solo work in the 80's. The album sold close to 4 million copies, but compared to it's predecessor it was considered a failure. Three decades on, it is considered as brilliant in it's own way as "Rumors". By the way...on the'll notice that John McVie was represented by a cardboard cut out carried around by Fleetwood. Turns out that the bassist was pissed at Buckingham over something and refused to take part....

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sunday Morning Vault: Darla Hood--My Quiet Village (1959)

     Those of a certain age remember "The Little Rascals". When I was a kid of the late 60's and early 70's they were a staple of my Saturday morning television along with "The Three Stooges". Back when they were made from 1922 to 1942, it was known as the "Our Gang" series. Most casual fans of the show are mostly familiar with the cast from the shows dated 1936-39 with Alfalfa, Spanky, Porky, Buckwheat and Darla Hood.
     Darla Jean Hood was born in Leedey, Oklahoma in 1931. Her mother, a music teacher taught her dancing and singing at an early age. In fact, at the age of 3 the family traveled to New York City for a screen test with Joe Rivkin who was a scout for Hal Roach Studios. She did well and the family moved to Culver City, California to appear in the "Our Gang" series, where she made her debut at the age of four in 1935. She was to stay with the group until 1941. Most of the time I remember her as the love interest of Alfalfa. Here is an early clip....

         After she left the group, other than an occasional movie role, she was your normal teenager at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. After her graduation she made a number of television appearances and began a long and successful career as a night club singer in LA (at the Coconut Grove), in New York (at the Copacabana) and in Las Vegas (at the Sahara). During the late 50's and early 60's she attempted to translated this into record sales.
     The song your going to hear today is from 1959 and was done first by Martin Denny the pianist who popularized the "exotica" style of music in the late 50's. She has a great voice (she also did a number of sides for Acama Records as well), but this one was truly a record of it's time. Darla performed and did a great number of "Our Gang" reunions up to her death from diabetes at the age of 47 in 1979.

Friday, February 8, 2013

James Taylor Sings James Taylor (1970)

    I usually don't put long videos on the blog, but a lazy Friday morning seemed a great time to share this.
    In November 1970, the BBC did a special with James Taylor. Most of the time it's just him and his guitar (with a little piano) telling stories and singing. If anyone questions what the big deal was about JT, I direct you to this video where it's plain to see the connection he makes with an audience. There are not just songs sung by a shy dreamer, but one who by the age of 22 seen a lifetime of experience. He had spent 9 months in a psychiatric hospital, taken up and quit heroin (although he would fight that battle for the rest of the decade), had six months in recovery, had vocal chord surgery, and a motorcycle accident which broke both of his hands and his feet. There has been a host of singer/songwriters over the last 40+ years, some good, some not so good...but the genre (at least in the male category) begins here.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Fireballs--Sugar Shack (1963)

     The Fireballs began as an instrumental group out of Raton, New Mexico and recorded out of the same studio (Norman Petty's NorVaJak ) in Clovis that Buddy Holly began his breakout success. The original band consisted of George Tomsco (Lead guitar), Chuck Tharpe (vocals), Stan Lark (Bass), Eric Budd (Drums) and Dan Trammel (Rhythm guitar). Although having a vocalist, they made their early success with instrumentals built around Tomsco's guitar playing. "Torquay" (1959), "Bulldog" (1960), and "Quite A Party" (1961) all made their way to the top 40. There was a break where Tharpe, Trammel, and Budd left the group and was replaced by Doug Roberts (drums) and a singer employed by Petty Studio's named Jimmy Gilmer.
     Gilmer was from Chicago, but grew up in Amarillo Texas where he studied at the Musical Arts Conservatory. He started a rockabilly band called the Jimmy Gilmer Combo who's drummer, Gary Swaffert also played for the Norman Petty Trio, and who first introduced the two of them. Petty encouraged Jimmy to come to Clovis and cut some sides, which he did to little success, but the producer thought a great deal of his voice and when the three musicians left The Fireballs, Gilmer was asked to come along.
     It was Petty's idea to sell the group as Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, and soon after recording "Sugar Shack", the group signed a record deal with Dot Records. The song itself was written by Keith McCormack who at the time was a member of another influential instrumental group, "The Tag-a-Longs" who was working out of Petty's studio. Interestingly enough, when Gilmer left the band at the end of the of the 60's McCormack became the lead singer.
     "Sugar Shack" reached number 1 in the fall of 1963 and had two more top ten hits through the decade. The group continues to tour today and can be found on the net at, Gilmer moved to Nashville to work in production and artist management which he still does today.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Fifth Dimension--Wedding Bell Blues (1969)

     By 1969, the Fifth Dimension was riding high. Having had 8 straight top 40 hits, they had also made a major songwriting star our of Laura Nyro. In making the album, "The Age of Aquarius", they returned to Nyro once more on a song that could have written about their two lead singers....
     The roots of what became The Fifth Dimension started back in 1963, when singers Lamonte McLemore and Marlyn McCoo hooked up with friends Harry Elston and Floyd Butler to form the Hi-Fi's. They sang at local clubs and even opened for Ray Charles on tour in 1964. However, tensions within the group caused a break-up a year later, with Elston and Butler leaving to form the group, the Friends of Distinction who was to have a big hit with "Grazin in the Grass" in 1969.
    McLemore brought in Florence LaRue and an old friend from St. Louis, Ron Townson, who suggested his cousin, Billy Davis Jr. to round out the group sound. Beginning as The Versatiles in 1966, they soon changed their name to The Fifth Dimension and auditioned for Marc Gordon who  was heading up Motown in LA. Although the demo tape was turned down for the Soul label, Gordon was impressed enough to become their manager, and brought them to the attention of Johnny Rivers who was starting up a new label, Soul City Records.
     The groups first hit was a cover of The Mamas and Papas' song, "Go Where You Want to Go" in late 1966 and not too long after, they hit number 1 with the Jimmy Webb song, "Up, Up and Away". This began a string of ten top forty hits which extended to the end of the decade. Perhaps the biggest beneficiary from this was the young songwriter Laura Nyro. Three of those ten hits belonged to her, "Stoned Soul Picnic", "Sweet Blindness", and "Wedding Bell Blues"
    During the making of "The Age of Aquarius" (recorded and released in 69), it was joked that the Nyro song, "Wedding Bell Blues" would fit for Marlyn and Billy. The two were engaged to be married, but it had not taken place yet. Nyro wrote the song from the perspective of a lover who was impatient for her man (Bill) to hurry up and ask her to marry. McCoo and Davis did tie the knot later in 69 and stayed with the group until leaving for a career as a duo in 1975.
     The song became their second number one hit and because of the circumstances became tied to Marlyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., who after 43 years are still married and still singing together....

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ferrante & Teicher--Exdous (1960)

     Much of the time movie soundtracks have been relegated to writing pop songs which can also be used as a marketing tool. This has been a part of the movie going experience almost since the dawn of "talkies". There has however, in my opinion a shift in how an orchestra is used. Orchestrated music is still part of many a movie soundtrack, but very rarely can it be found on the charts. Even in the mid to late 70's, a top arraignment from a film would find it's way to the top 20 (Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Rocky). This brings us to two of music's greats when it came to this kind of thing.
     Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher met while studying at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. Upon graduation, they both became members of the faculty. They began their career as a performing duo in 1947 in some of the night clubs in New York, but it was during the 50's they became known for their classical renditions of popular songs. This style kept them on the album charts all during the 1950's. This spilled over into the early 60's as several of their songs were released as singles and worked their way up the charts. The biggest success in that arena was the theme from Exodus.
      The 1960 movie itself was based on the book of the same name by Leon Uris. Directed by Otto Preminger and loaded with an all-star cast which included Paul Newman and Eva Marie-Saint, When award time came, it was the soundtrack which brought home the hardware, which included an Oscar and a Grammy to composer Ernest Gold
     Ferrante & Teicher reached #2 on the charts that year with their rendition of the movie's theme, and although most of their singles never reached farther than the low rungs of the charts, they did reach the top ten two more times. "Tonight" from "West Side Story" in 1961, and "Midnight Cowboy" in 1969. When it came to album sales and popular instrumental music from the 50's into the 80's, Ferrante & Teicher was the standard that all aspired too.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Jay Ferguson--Thunder Island (1978)

     Jay Ferguson had his first and only hit with this song in 1977, but had been a long respected vocalist/keyboardist in rock circles for quite a long time  before then.
      Born in California, he grew up having taken piano and banjo, and in fact was in a bluegrass duo with his brother Tom (fiddle), called, The Oak Hill Stompers. Along with others however, he was inspired by the Beatles, and along with Randy California, Mark Andes, and Ed Cassidy formed The Red Roosters in 1965, but broke up later that year as Cassidy and California (who was still a young teen at the time). A couple of years later, both men were back on the west coast and ran into Ferguson and invited him to join a new band called, "Spirits Rebellious", later shortened to "Spirit". He became their lead vocalist and percussionist.
     They released a series of albums which, although not very successful commercially, were critically acclaimed and their mix of rock with jazz leanings has held up very well over the years. This failure to make it in a commercial way (and some band in-fighting) led Ferguson to leave the band in 1971 and form Jo Jo Gunne, taking Andes along with him. The group's self titled album in 1972 produced a top 40 hit, "Run Run Run", but spent the next few years spinning their wheels before breaking up in 1975. Andes went on to join Firefall and then Heart in later years.
     Ferguson's debut album, "All Along in the End Zone" had a heavy contribution from Joe Walsh, but showed the singer moving away from the straight ahead rock of Jo Jo Gunne and into a more Southern California pop/rock vein. It was a couple of years later that he hit big with the top 5 single, "Thunder Island". He had a successful follow-up with, "Shakedown Cruse" in 1979, but by the early 80's began to gravitate towards film and television music. His credits can be found in many places over the last 30 years as he continues to work in this field today.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Jose Feliciano--Light My Fire (1968)

     If my memory serves me correct, this was the first version of "Light My Fire" to catch my ears, having come out in the summer of 1968, and the Doors' original coming out more than a year before that. Although the songwriting credits were given to the entire group it was mainly Robbie Krieger's song with Ray Manzarek's providing the iconic organ open. It not only became their first hit, but a number one which set the tone for the band's short but influential career.
     At the same time, Jose Feliciano's light was beginning to shine as well. The blind from birth guitarist had recorded a group of critically acclaimed albums for RCA: "The Voice and Guitar of Jose Feliciano" and "A Bag Full of Soul", and a series of Spanish albums. He had begun to make waves in Europe and Latin America, when he went into the studio to record the album, "Feliciano!". The album broke through in the US in a big way, with the single, "Light My Fire" reaching #3 in the states ad #1 in several countries around the world. The album and single both received a Grammy in 1969.