Author Archive

Roger Morris “First Album”

Roger Morris’ First Album, released by Emi/Regal Zonophone in 1972, stakes a claim as one of the most American sounding British-folk albums of the seventies. Along with the painfully obscure solo album by Ernie Graham, First Album is one of a handful of rustic singer-songwriter lps of the era that landed unjustly under the radar. Owing much to the back-to-the-roots sound and vibe of The Band, Bobby Charles, and Hungry Chuck, and falling somewhere in between the British folk of the late 60s, the British country-rock of the early 70s, and the pub rock renaissance that would follow several years later, this album features contributions from a host of talented British musicians, including: the popular De Lisle Harper; Glen Campbell of Juicy Lucy and The Misunderstood; Family’s John Weider; Rod Coombes of Strawbs and later, Stealer’s Wheel; Chris Mercer; Terry Stannard of Kokomo; and Bruce Rowlands of the Greaseband. Obviously, the playing on this album is top notch. Furthermore, Morris comes across as a surprisingly accomplished songwriter.

On album opener “Taken for Granted” Morris mourns the loss of past loves to the tune of a folky country-rock number that calls to mind the early work of Help Yourself, as well as Ian Matthews. “Golightly’s Almanac” has a funky Bearsville ragtime feel, complete with a Tuba holding down the low end and a catchy horn part, sounding very similar to The Band’s “Rag Mama Rag” or Hungry Chuck’s “Hats Off America.” Morris’ vocals, which can sometimes be hit or miss, really excel on “Showdown”, one of the standout tracks of the set.  “Northern Star” features some tasty pedal steel and fiddle riffing courtesy of talented multi-instrumentalist John Weider, while “Livin’ On Memories” sounds similar to “Orange Juice Blues” off of The Basement Tapes, with Morris taking a cue from Richard Manuel’s vocal phrasing.

Morris’ account of one man’s experience in the years after the Civil War ,“All My Riches,” is his equivalent to The Band’s epic “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Morris’ tune, while not a total failure, never comes close to reaching the heights of The Band’s legendary song. If there’s any complaint to be made about First Album, it would be that Morris’ influences are worn right on his sleeves. However, this was in fact his first album, so you’ve gotta give the guy a break for letting his influences show a little bit.

Needless to say, First Album is essential listening for fans of the rustic Americana The Band perfected on their first three records, as well as fans of Silver Pistol era Brinsley Schwarz, early McGuiness Flint and Help Yourself, and Matthews Southern Comfort. Simply one of the best obscure British folk/Americana flavored singer-songwriter lps of the era, this one is worth tracking down. Although this, his first lp, was virtually ignored upon its initial release, Roger would later find his audience when he went on to achieve international recognition as the guitarist in The Psychedelic Furs. In 2009 Bella Terra Presents released a tastefully remastered limited edition cd reissue featuring four previously unreleased bonus tracks that were recorded just a year after First Album, as well the original album artwork and a lyric sheet insert. That same year Lilith Records released a version pressed on 180 gram vinyl. Take your pick!

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“Showdown”

:) Original | 1972 | Regal Zonophone | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2009 | Riverman | get it here ]

Judee Sill “Judee Sill”

Judee Sill’s self-titled debut hit the shelves in 1971, the first release on David Geffen’s Asylum Records. Unjustly lost amongst the sands of time, and out of print for many years until it’s reissue a few years ago, Judee Sill is one-of-a-kind, an essential album, a defining example of West Coast canyon country, a hauntingly beautiful record by an extremely delicate soul and one of the 70’s most talented singer-songwriters.

Sill had been playing musical instruments of various kinds since her troubled childhood on the West Coast, which she spent dreaming of being a singer, a songwriter, and a star. An even more troubled young adulthood spent dabbling in hard drugs, armed robbery, and prostitution had landed her stints in reform schools and jail cells. After a near fatal overdose and a brush with the law that left her kicking heroin in a county jail cell, as well as the death of her brother and mother, Sill–who was increasingly drawn to metaphysical topics and occult, religious imagery–began taking her songwriting seriously. Her first big break came after landing a gig writing songs for Blimp Productions in Los Angeles when The Turtles decided to record a version of her song “Lady-O.” It was immediately clear to those around her that Sill had developed a lyrical style as distinctive as her achingly beautiful crystal-clear-as-a-mountain-stream singing voice. The time was ripe for Sill to make her “country-cult-baroque” vision a reality.

Opening with Judee’s fingerpicked guitar and a lone French horn, “Crayon Angels” is a beautifully evocative song, an honest prayer for heavenly hands matched with a gently breezy pastoral vibe perfectly suited to Judee’s delicate voice. Next up, “The Phantom Cowboy” lets Judee’s dirt road roots show through a little more while introducing the archetype of a traveling mystic ridge rider that appears frequently throughout Judee’s body of work. “The Archetypal Man” has even more of a laid-back Topanga-folk vibe with weeping pedal steel combined with baroque orchestral flourishes. “The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown” is an absolutely beautiful tune that kicks off with just Judee’s softly reassuring voice and lilting guitar, perfectly expressing Judee’s belief in the possibility of goodness in the world. The lushly orchestrated “Lady-O” goes miles beyond The Turtles recording of the song, showing just how unassumingly evocative Judee’s vocal delivery can be. Similarly, Judee’s performance of “Jesus Was A Cross Maker” is the definitive version of the song, which is perfectly suited to her crystalline vocalizations and the gospel piano inflections that she learned while leading the church choir as a teenager in reform school. Produced by Graham Nash, the song was a last minute addition to the album, obviously in high hopes of a hit.

“Ridge Rider” further fleshes out Judee’s vision of a bohemian saint who rides the rough road to salvation despite its perils, complete with tasty pedal steel and the sound of hoof beats carrying along the chorus. “My Man On Love” is an enchanting folk song full of Christian imagery. “Lopin’ Along Through the Cosmos” plods along at a pace just a bit slower than the rest of the album as Judee again pleads for the gift of peace. “Enchanted Sky Machines”, a song about salvation by UFO, quickly picks up the pace, beginning with another groovy gospel piano part that’s soon accompanied by brassy horns and upbeat drums. The beautifully orchestrated “Abracadabra” closes the album on a tender note and a major key.

Despite it all, Judee Sill didn’t sell as well as the troubadour and her friends had hoped. Nevertheless, she soldiered on to record and release 1973’s Heart Food, an equally outstanding album, which made even greater use of both her gospel influenced keyboard playing and her talent for orchestral composition. Sadly, Heart Food sold even fewer copies than the first album and Judee’s life began to gradually deteriorate. After a handful of auto-accidents in the late seventies Judee once again began turning to codeine, cocaine, and heroine in an attempt to numb the pain she suffered from so greatly.  Judee’s life was cut tragically short the day after Thanksgiving 1973 1979, when she died after overdosing on codeine and cocaine. She was 35 years old.

Who knows what heights Judee and her music may have reached had she lived long enough for more people to pick up on her gentle genius? Both Judee Sill and Heart Food rank right up there with the best from giants like Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Sandy Denny, and Carole King, as well as releases by other unsung souls like Collie Ryan, Karen Beth, and Vashti Bunyan. Forty years later there still isn’t anything than can truly compare.

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“Crayon Angels”

:) Original | 1971 | Asylum | search ebay ]
;) MP3 Album | download here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Gallery “Nice to be with You”

In 1972 Sussex Records released the first and only lp by the Detroit based pop group Gallery, fronted by singer/songwriter Jim Gold. Nice to be with You was produced and arranged by none other than legendary Motown axe-slinger extraordinaire and fuzzy funk brother Dennis Coffey (who also served as producer on the cult classic psych/folk/funk lp Cold Fact by Rodriguez) and his partner in crime, sleeper soul and funk producer Mike Theodore. Gallery’s sole lp is an entertaining slice of wax with a mostly soft-rock vibe that runs the gamut from country-rock to pop-psych to doo-wop to funk, and back again to pop–all the while standing side by side with soft-rock contemporaries of the time like Bread as well as soft-psych folk rock luminaries like Jim Sullivan. Thanks in no small part to the killer team of Coffey and Theodore, a handful of nice production touches really add to the tunes and result in album that stands a cut above many of the soft-rock releases of the time.

The boys kick it off with “Island in the Sun”, a sunny pop tune complete with harpsichord, glockenspiel, marimba, and pedal steel riffs with a Southern Pacific vibe. Things really start to get interesting with the next track, “Louisiana Line,” when acoustic guitar and twangy Telecaster give way to a funky country-rock tune with even more tasteful touches on the pedal steel guitar. Sounding like a slightly funkier version of Poco, the song calls to mind several of the more upbeat tunes on Ian and Sylvia’s excellent funky rural lp Great Speckled Bird, as well as “Move Over” from Bread’s self titled 1969 lp. “Louisiana Line” stands out as one the premier cuts on the album with a funky backwoods beat, an extremely catchy chorus with three part harmonies, and tasty Telecaster twangin’. “Ginger Haired Man” mines similar territory as “Louisiana Line,” featuring bluesy harmonica blowing, and yet another irresistibly catchy chorus.

On the other side of the spectrum, “Gee Whiz” is a 50’s throwback flavored with a touch of doo-wop that calls to mind the the pop-country of the Everly Brothers and their classic tune  “All I Have to Do is Dream,” as well as the ubiquitous “Earth Angel.” “I Believe in Music” pairs a tasty tremolo guitar riff and cowbell with a pre-disco/later day Motown sound full of tambourines, slinky Stratocasters doin’ the disco dance, and of course, syrupy strings. Midway through the song a bold synthesizer make a well appreciated yet extremely unexpected appearance. “Big City Miss Ruth Ann,” the third and final single from the album, sounds like a more polished take on the roadhouse rock of fellow Michigan natives Riley.

The million selling (!) title track, “Nice to be WIth You” is disappointingly sappy, suffering from just a touch too much sentimentality and over-production. On the same token, “Lover’s Hideaway” and “He Will Break Your Heart” are throwaway tracks that lack lyrical depth, catchiness, and punch. If there’s one bum note concerning Nice to Be With You’, it would be that Side B lacks overall when compared with Side A. Furthermore, several of the tracks on Side B seem to make fervent use of blatantly recycled tropes from Side A. Still, the album as a whole is such an entertaining listen in the forgotten early 70s soft-rock vein that no slight lack of killer tracks on Side B is gonna keep this gem off your table.

All things considered, Nice to Be With You is an enjoyable listen by a talented young band that incorporates a handful of early 70s sounds. One minute Gallery recalls the classic pop-psych of Buffalo Springfield; another moment they recall a slightly less greasy Grandma’s Roadhouse; then they step back in time and channel the timeless sound of 50s AM pop; when you’re least expecting it they all of the sudden sound like the Bee Gees after they discovered that disco beat! The bottom line is this–if you’re into vintage pop music, Nice to Be With You has certainly got something that will undoubtably float your boat.

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“Louisiana Line”

:) Original | 1972 | Sussex | search ]
:D Reissue | 2010 | Fuel | buy ]

Gene Vincent “If Only You Could See Me Today”

Gene Vincent’s self-titled lp (also known as If Only You Could See Me Today) is the first of a pair of records released by Kama Sutra Records in 1970. Recorded at the legendary Sound Factory recording studio in Hollywood, CA just a year before his untimely death in 1971, Gene Vincent was undoubtably an attempt to cash in on the roots-rock surge of the late 60s and early 70s. Just as Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Link Wray, and the Everly Brothers were busy updating their images and fashioning new sounds for the changing times, so was Gene Vincent. Fortunately, Gene and his band, which featured L.A session ace and Kaleidoscope co-founder Chris Darrow as well as not one, but three members of the infamous Sir Douglas Quintet (Harvey Kagan, Johnny Perez, and Tex-Mex Farfisa fanatic Augie Meyer), were able to deliver an excellent record that expands upon Gene’s classic sound while simultaneously creating a melting pot of numerous roots-rock styles; with touches of Cajun, Tex-Mex, Swamp Rock, Soul, R&B, Country, and Folk, Gene Vincent is an excellent example of some fine Cosmic American Music to be sure!

The first track, a cover of Mickey Newbury’s “Sunshine”, is quite possibly the finest version of the song that’s been laid to wax. Setting the blueprint for the sound of the record–70s bootcut boogie with a serious Texarkana twist–the tune opens with acoustic guitar and a funky bass line topped off with some tasty Tex-Mex tinged organ riffing courtesy of Augie Meyer. When Gene sings “Sunshine, you may find my window/But you won’t find me…Sunshine, as far as I’m concerned don’t be concerned with me,” his lazy laid-back delivery truly embodies the voice of the character in the song–a man who’s tired of struggling to keep out the darkness and has resigned himself to a life of depression and isolation. Almost entirely gone is the rollicking rockabilly style of his younger years, in its place is a laid back yet emotionally expressive vocal style.

Next up is “I Need Woman’s Love”, which sounds similar to a handful of tracks off Doug Sahm’s excellent 70s solo records. Augie’s presence once again goes a long way in terms of adding legit Tex-Mex flavor and the tune will likely be a favorite of Sahm fanatics craving more funky borderland jams. Slow Times Comin’ is a stoney swamp rock jam in the vein of CCR’s “Keep on Chooglin” and “Graveyard Train” that clocks in at just over nine minutes. “Danse Colida,” a traditional Creole folk tune, brings yet another slightly unexpected twist to the album with its spicy Cajun fiddle licks. “Geese,” which also appeared on the B-side of the “Sunshine” single, is a folky tune about the free wheelin’ lives of, you guessed it, geese. While not exactly a throwaway tune, it lacks momentum and substance compared with some of the other tunes on the release.

Gene’s take on the Bobby Bare tune “500 Miles” that kicks off Side B is absolutely irresistible with its swampy late-night Texarkana soul vibe. Fleshed out with funky wah-wah guitar, Garth inspired organ grinding, underwater leslie background guitar textures, and a bold fuzzed-out guitar line in the bridge, this is definitely one of the standout tracks on the lp–absolutely perfect for those wasted days and wasted nights! “Listen To The Music,” Gene’s plea for world peace through song, is a bouncy pop tune with a forever relevant message delivered in a fashion completely true to the time. “If Only You Could See Me Today” is a swampy country rocker written by Augie Meyer that recalls some of the more rocking tunes on Dale Hawkins’ L.A, Memphis, & Tyler, Texas, and “A Million Shades of Blue,”written by Gene along with the help of his wife Jackie Frisco, is a lovely pop/country tune that would’ve made an excellent single had Kama Sutra decided to release another one after “Sunshine”. The bluesy “Tush Hog” closes the lp with nearly 8 minutes of sultry southern swamp jammin’.

Unjustly dismissed upon its initial release, mostly ignored by long-time fans and deemed a failed attempt at a comeback by much of the rock press of the era, it’s high time that Gene and his gang receive the credit they deserve for what is not only an excellent time capsule of funky early 70s roots-rock sounds, but actually a really great album with an interesting and varied sound that could’ve and should’ve taken Gene’s career in a new direction had years of  hard livin’ not taken him away from us too soon. While not extremely pricey, original vinyl copies of Gene Vincent can be a tad tricky to come by. However, Rev-Ola has issued a cd compilation entitled A Million Shades of Blue that consists of Gene Vincent as well as the Kama Sutra follow up Day the World Turned Blue. Don’t miss out on this forgotten 70s classic!

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“Sunshine”

:D Compilation | 2008 | Revola | buy ]
:) Original | 1970 | Kama Sutra | search ]

Sandy Bull “Inventions”

In a world full of musical copycats, where imitation is often regarded as the highest form of flattery, a musical artist as singular as Sandy Bull truly stands on his own. Born in New York City in 1941, Bull picked up the guitar at the age of 15 and first began performing at clubs and coffeehouses on the folk music circuit in Cambridge, Massachussets in the early 60s. Though he was only in his early 20s at the time, Bull had already adopted a distinctive yet subtle approach when it came to combining elements of different styles, ranging from jazz to raga to country and western to Arabic–Bull loved it all and mixed and matched styles and instruments in unique and challenging ways that often defy the listeners’ expectations. Although often, and understandably so, lumped in with visionary guitar poet-composers such as Takoma’s John Fahey and Leo Kottke, Bull was truly in a league of his own and his music has an exotic, smokey, almost acid-tinged vibe that doesn’t exactly sound like anything else out there. While not quite exactly psych-folk, Bull’s early output is quite possibly some of the weirdest folk music released in the guitar and banjo boom of the time. Bull was exploring radically altered tunings and transposing ragas to guitar when most guitarists his age were still trying to figure out the chords to Woody Guthrie tunes.

In 1965 Vanguard Records released Bull’s second solo record, Inventions. Inventions can easily be seen as the second half of an excellent pair of records that began with his first lp, Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo, which was released in 1963. Inventions is the perfect name for an album where Bull doesn’t so much cover other writers’ tunes, but completely re-imagines them–constructing a whole new world for the the songs to exist inside of and to be experienced within. Bull, a multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, and all-around musical artiste, covers tunes from sources as disparate as Chuck Berry (“Memphis, Tennessee”) and Bach (“Gavotta No. 2”). Along the way, he manages to lay down some killer riffs on the acoustic guitar, the banjo, the electric guitar and bass, and the Turkish oud–an instrument whose open, airy, exotic, and seductive tone he specializes in wielding with truly mesmerizing results. On several tracks he is accompanied by Billy Higgins–a highly lyrical and expressive drummer with an impressive track record that, at the time, had already included gigs with Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, the results are stunning to say the least, and make for some of the most evocative, emotional, and expressive music ever to be laid to tape.

Bull kicks it all off with “Blend 2,” a sequel of sorts to “Blend,” which appeared on Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo. On “Blend 2” Bull and Higgins take the listener along for the ride as they travel to lands both east and west, north and south–combining riffs from different songs from all over the world in a sort of fluid free-form emotionally evocative expressionist piece. Elements of jazz and raga surface frequently, although “Blend 2” is neither, as such it is a wonderful example of the kind of piece that only Bull seems to be able to construct and deliver in such an astonishing fashion. One moment the listener notices traces of an Ornette Coleman tune, the next moment Ali Akbar Khan, the next a Mike Seeger melody. “Blend 2” certainly can be a challenging song to listen to as the tension slowly builds and releases and Bull and Higgins pick up their bag and move from one side of the world to the other. In many ways “Blend 2” is a sort of test for the listener–if you can make it through, you’ll certainly love the rest of the record. Bull is, almost above all, an artist intent on challenge.

A discussion about Inventions simply wouldn’t be complete without mention of Bull’s version of the classic Luiz Bonfa tune “Manha de Carnival.” With the help of the most advanced multitrack recording technology available at the time Bull was able to accompany himself on several different instruments. Warm and gooey electric bass holds down the low end, and an acoustic guitar plays the chord changes while Bull delivers an astonishing performance, playing the melody on the oud. Seductive, humid, and airy, this incredibly evocative piece is one of Bull’s most effective. As if the idea to play this genre defining Brazilian Bossa Nova piece on the Middle Eastern oud wasn’t brilliant enough, Bull’s performance magically guides the listener to lands yet undiscovered.

Bull’s version of the Chuck Berry classic “Memphis, Tennessee” takes the listener straight to the swamps of the southern bayou. Here the listener is treated to another wonderfully expressive performance where Bull, along with help of Higgins, seems to extract the most interesting ingredients of the song and reinsert them in a distilled form. Never content to stay in one place for too long, Bull and Higgins travel east for portions of the song, using raga inspired elements to give the bluesy tune an exotic feel. It was another genius move on Bull’s part to blend these two approaches together, as the true origins of the pentatonic scale–which Blues and Rock n’ Roll are both largely based on–originally made its way to West Africa from India.

Sadly, even as Fahey and company were gaining attention for their American Primitive compositions, Bull languished in obscurity for his entire career. He managed to release only two more albums, 1969’s E Pluribus Unum and 1972’s Demolition Derby, before disappearing for many years into the horrors of addiction–barely returning to perform the occasional show. In the 1990’s he resurfaced in Nashville, where he lived until his passing in 2001, releasing a small handful of albums on the Timeless Recording Society label. Those interested to learn more about Bull would do well to check out the excellent documentary, “No Deposit, No Return Blues.” There’s no doubt that Bull was quite a complicated artist; “Inventions” stands not only as Bull’s finest hour, but as an excellent introduction to the man and his music.

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“Memphis, Tennessee”

:) Original | 1965 | Vanguard | search ]
:D Reissue | 2009 | Sutro Park | buy ]

Timbercreek “Hellbound Highway”

Timbercreek, a young band of ruffians who hailed from the small town of Boulder Creek (pop. 4081), nestled deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California, recorded this lost country-rock gem with a for-real-not-ironic-rural-vibe in 1975. The small California indie label Renegade Records released the lp, and depending on who’s story you choose to believe, somewhere between 100 and 3,000 copies of Hellbound Highway were pressed. Needless to say, this record is very rare, and very, very good. If you’re a fan of The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, or Workingman’s Dead/American Beauty era Grateful Dead then today is your lucky day.

Larry Ross, Jon Hicks, Carl Holland, Bill Woody, and Frank Gummersal met in the Santa Cruz Mountains area and began, along with the help of lyricist Frank Andrick, writing tunes not unlike those being churned out some fifty miles north by the great songwriting team of Garcia/Hunter. Before long they were playing the Bay Area circuit, hitting clubs from Santa Cruz to Palo Alto to La Honda, the one time home of The Merry Pranksters and the site of numerous acid tests. By the time the group of friends entered The Church in San Anselmo, Ca to record their debut record they had developed a solid rural country-rock sound complete with twanging telecasters, bluesy benders, Big Pink harmonies, and tales of life on the road and the fight to take it easy.

The title track is the highlight of the bunch, the story of a highway kind enjoying the finer pleasures in life–jukebox tunes, honky tonk saloons, and of course the midnight special with the truck stop girl. The narrator seems to know that the life will kill him eventually, but he’s trying to make the most of the cards that he’s been dealt. Complete with a few sounds of the road, a killer opening and closing riff, and a nauseous phased out bridge, this song surely delivers. “Nobody on the Streets” has that funky backwoods bootcut sound, complete with wah-wah guitar and a groovy bassline–played by bassist Jon Hicks on his completely homemade bass guitar no less! “Hell in the Hills” is a wonderful album closer that really shows off the band’s jammier side.

After working the circuit, opening for groups like Kingfish and The Sons of Champlin, and even receiving radio play in the San Francisco Bay Area, the members went their separate ways. Fortunately we have Hellbound Highway to remember them by. If you’re looking for a tasty tonic to satisfy your craving for more laid-back West Coast country-rock, Timbercreek’s Hellbound Highway will get you drunk on funky rural vibes straight from the backwoods hill country of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Avoid the unlicensed Radioactive Records bootleg cd release and score an original pressing on vinyl, you won’t regret it!

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“Hellbound Highway”

:) Original | 1975 | Renegade Records | search ebay ]

Jesse Fuller “San Francisco Bay Blues”

Born in Jonesboro, Georgia in 1896, Jesse Fuller spent most of his childhood growing up in the countryside outside Atlanta under what you could call less than ideal circumstances in a foster home. Fuller spent the next sixty years working a handful of odd jobs, working on the fields and in the farms, on the railroads and in the factories, and out in the street. His resume even included a stint in the circus and an appearance as an extra in the film The Thief of Bagdad. In the years just before World War II, Fuller found himself living in Oakland, CA and working for the railroad. As work became increasingly difficult to find after the end of the war Fuller began to consider, already well into his 50’s, the possibility of a career in music. This should have been an obvious choice for Fuller, as he had already developed a wide ranging repertoire of songs on the guitar as a boy. After failing to put together a dependable band, Fuller decided he’d simply have to become a one-man band.

San Francisco Bay Blues, Fuller’s first album, was released by the label Good Time Jazz in 1963 and features Fuller performing mostly originals, singing and playing guitar while accompanying himself on a variety of instruments, including harmonica, kazoo, high-hat, and the fotdella–a musical instrument of Fuller’s own creation that is essentially an upright bass with six strings that are plucked by a row of foot pedals. Every track is all Fuller and completely live with no overdubs of any kind.

The record kicks off with the title track, “San Francisco Bay Blues,” a completely classic song in every way. One of the quirkiest blues songs ever laid to wax, this tune has a good-time jug band vibe that leaves the listener feelin’ good and waiting for more. Side 2 kicks off with Fuller showcasing his bluesy bottleneck guitar style on “John Henry”, his own re-telling of the classic railroad tale of man vs. machine. “Stealin’ Back To My Old Time Used To Be” is an upbeat rag that features Fuller accompanying himself on acoustic 12 string guitar and harmonica, channeling a country blues sound straight from the Piedmont Georgia pines and backwoods farms of his youth. Fuller wraps it all up with “Brownskin Girl (I’ve Got My Eye On You),” a rollicking country-blues pop tune that sounds, like much of the album, too big to have been performed by just one man.

Fuller’s debut is notable not only for the top-notch singing and songwriting, as well as Fuller’s unique one-man band approach that he had perfected to a tee, but for being such a vivid portrait of, essentially, an old time street performer. Good Time Jazz Records had the foresight to capture Fuller in his prime, playing the songs the way he had intended, instead of forcing him to record with a band backing him, as was becoming more and more common with many of the blues records of the era that were streaming out of studios like Chess in Chicago. Good Time Jazz made the equally smart decision to send Fuller to a quality recording studio, and San Francisco Bay Blues greatly benefits from a wonderful quality of sound, where every instrument can be heard with a surprising clarity– putting the album, in terms of listenability, heads and shoulders above piles of excellent but muddy sounding blues records. The Grateful Dead, Dylan, Clapton, and others have covered his songs and the influence of Fuller and his bold one-man band sound can be heard in groups like Jim Kweskin and his motley crue of jug fanatics and the legions of kazoo blowing washboard wailers that had began popping up around America in the years just before and following the release of this lp. With a sound equally rooted in the Georgia country blues of Blind Willie McTell, the ragtime rompers of Gary Davis, and the old-timey jug sound of groups like The Memphis Jug Band, Fuller’s San Francisco Bay Blues serves as a bridge between the acoustic blues of the late 20s/early 30s and the acoustic blues and jug sounds of the mid-century urban folk music revival that brought hordes of bohemian beatniks into coffee shops from coast to coast–San Francisco Bay Blues brought the blues into a new era and onto the West Coast.

Simply put, San Francisco Bay Blues serves up a heapin’ helpin’ of upbeat, feel-good blues tunes, reminding you that, dark as the days may get, as long as you’re alive you’ve got a reason to dance. Better get ready!

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“San Francisco Bay Blues”

:D CD Reissue | 1991 | OBC | buy here ]
:) Original | 1963 | Good Time Jazz | search ebay ]

The Brazda Brothers “The Brazda Brothers”

By the early 70’s Slovakia-born brothers Bystrik and Andy Brazda had relocated to Ontario, Canada in search of greener pastures. Shortly after settling down in their new home they began writing music together. Canadian owned Dominion Records released their first and only lp, The Brazda Brothers, in 1974. Rumour has it that the brothers laid the entire album to tape in a marathon six hour session at RCA Studios in Toronto. Marathon session or not, The Brazda Brothers is one of the finest psych-folk lps ever pressed to wax.

The first track, “Walking Into the Sun”, sets the warm and peaceful pace that permeates the album when a lightly strummed acoustic guitar gives way to a gentle soft-psych tune that comfortably slinks by–full of melodic, wistful vocals, crystal clear electric guitar, thumpy tubby drums, and a wonderful appearance by what sounds to be a calliope, but is credited as a Cordovox–the same keyboard that shows up frequently to add its unique touch to much of the record. Right off the bat it’s clear that the brothers had a vision to share and they do so in an innocent, heartfelt way. This homegrown feel sets their record apart from the pack, earning it a place at the table with other lost classics of the era.

“Share With Love” is an upbeat number that encourages the listener to consider the needs of their fellow brothers and sisters. With its reverb drenched guitar and minor key refrain this tune has an almost garage flavored folk-rock sound, and its slightly eerie vibe adds a different taste to the record and shows a different side of the brothers’ sound. Midway through the album the brothers turn the volume up a bit with “Gemini”. Complete with gloriously fuzzed-out electric guitar and an almost-boiling Hammond Organ that adds something exotic to the mix, this tune definitely delivers in the psych category and comes out as one of finest cuts on this collection. The entire song has a subtle Eastern-European vibe that becomes most apparent when the brothers harmonize on the refrain. On the next track, “Nature”, Andy dreams of a carefree life spent living in the country, singing “the sun will shine all day/Mother nature will be our neighbor”. Reminiscent of “Hello Sunshine” and other tunes off of the Relatively Clean Rivers lp, this song has a great late sixties soft-psych vibe as well as a catchy chorus, and continues the acid-rural-pastoral-folk vibe that begins with the album opener.

“Lonely Time” is a beautifully sad little gem that finds Andy again longing for the peace and serenity of a home surrounded by nature and the familiar faces of friends and loved ones. In 2008 Panda Bear of Animal Collective fame payed tribute to these Slovak brothers when he released a remix of The Notwist’s “Boneless” that uses the opening riff of “Lonely Time” to fine effect.

The only criticism of this album is that several of the songs, such as “My Little Girl” and “Nature” have a very similar sound. However, it’s hard for it to bother you when it’s such a great sound! In the end, the pure and honest nature of the album along with the wonderfull vibe trumps any criticism.

The Brazda Brothers is a great album that stands shoulder to shoulder with other similar sounding lost classics of the time such as Relatively Clean Rivers, Rodriguez’s Cold Fact, and Jim Sullivan’s UFO. With their laid-back attitude, sunny rural vibe, and unique voices, the brothers crafted the perfect album for a lazy summer afternoon full of good vibes. As you’ve already guessed, original copies are rare, and sell for a very pretty penny when they do pop up. Hallucination CDs out of New Jersey re-released the album on cd with a limited pressing of 1,000 copies, and Void Records has reissued the album on vinyl. Pick up a copy while they’re still available!

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“Walking Into The Sun”

:) Orig Vinyl | 1973 | Dominion Records | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2009 | Hallucination | buy here ]

Dale Hawkins “L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas”

Dale Hawkins, cousin of the legendary rockabilly raver Ronnie Hawkins, is most commonly remembered for writing and recording the original version of the swamp-rock standard “Suzie Q” in 1957. Born and raised in Louisiana, Hawkins had reached a milestone at the beginning of his career by bringing the sound of the swamp to the masses. However, Hawkins was much more than just a writer or a singer, and he spent the next ten years recording more singles for Chess Records and working behind the scenes as a producer and A&R man.

By 1967 Hawkins was itchin’ to cut an lp of his own again and headed into a small studio in Los Angeles where, he began work on what was to become L.A, Memphis, & Tyler, Texas. Holed up in bassist Joe Osborn’s basement studio, Hawkins began laying the framework for his new record along with the help of Taj Mahal, James Burton, Ry Cooder, and Paul Murphy. Hawkins had established a practice of playing with up and coming musicians when he successfully enlisted the help of a young James Burton for the twangy signature lick on “Suzie Q”, and things were no different this time around with youngbloods Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal along for the ride. Hawkins would later travel to Memphis, TN where he worked with Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, and Wayne Jackson & the Memphis Horns at Ardent Recordings and then to Tyler, Texas where Hawkins hunkered down in a funky little studio and finished the record with the help of Texas Garage Rock obscurites Mouse & The Traps. When all was said and done he had managed to lay down ten slices of pure swamp-funk genius, even getting songwriting help along the way from Bobby Charles of “See You Later Alligator” fame and the writer of “The Letter”, Wayne Carson. Pretty impressive.

L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas sounds like the front cover looks. That is to say, laid back, down-home, stoned, and restless all at once–it’s a deep fried oddball of an album that takes the genre to new levels and doesn’t sound exactly like anything else out there. The closest points of comparison for Hawkins’ funky noise would no doubt be the kindred spirits of Jim Ford, Link Wray, and Bobby Charles, although the kinda eerie haunted vibe that possesses part of the album brings to mind Skip Spence’s acid masterpiece “Oar” more than the music of Dale’s cousin Ronnie Hawkins or Dale’s former Chess Records labelmates. Simply put, L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas is weird, in a totally wonderful way.

The title track is an instant southern juke joint dance floor classic–throw it on the turntable and watch the hips begin to shake! A perfect introduction to the record, right on par with the title track off of Jim Ford’s excellent “Harlan County” lp; the equation begins with an undeniably funky Levon Helm-esque drum beat and ends with a fat and brassy horn part courtesy of The Memphis Horns, with some slinky slide guitar from Ry Cooder and some twangin’ tele from James Burton thrown in for good measure. “Heavy On My Mind”, co-written with the help of Carson, has a great muggy southern vibe and rollicks along at a brisk pace, aided by more excellent guitar work from his young dream team of killer pickers.

Things get freaky on “Ruby, Don’t You Take Your Love To Town”, a song about a disabled Vietnam vet and his unfaithful wife, which Kenny Rogers later scored a hit with. Along with the help of his friends in Mouse & The Traps, Hawkins managed to record a version of this song that really nails the subject matter. It’s deep, dark, murky, and weird, like a bad trip put to wax. Hawkins and the boys must have been chowin’ down on some mighty strange gumbo in that funky little Texas studio to cook up something this chewy. Meanwhile, Bobby Charles co-write “La-La, La-La” is a catchy little winsome pop ditty, and “Little Rain Cloud” is a swamp masterpiece that simply must be heard to be believed. The only place Hawkins comes close to missing the mark is on his cover of the great Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do”, which falls just short of the high level of excellence set by Reed’s original version. Nevertheless, the tune fits in pretty perfectly with the freaked out funky vibe of the whole album.

The late 60’s and 70’s were a time when handfuls of great record producers such as Alan Parsons, John Simon and Jack Nitzsche were spending time on the other side of the glass recording albums of their own. Hawkins’ background as both a musician and a producer allowed him to make a record that’s distinctive and exciting in “L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas”. There was nothing like it before, and nothing’s come along since. Dig in, y’all.

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“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town”

:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Bell | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2006 | Revola | buy here ]

Nicks and Buckingham “Buckingham Nicks”

In 1972 Lindsey Buckingham and his girlfriend Stevie Nicks arrived in Los Angeles with a stack of demos, determined to make a dent in the music industry. By 1973 the pair had scored a deal with Polydor Records and headed into Sound City recording studios in Van Nuys to record their debut with producer and engineer Keith Olson behind the board. The resulting 10 track lp, Buckingham Nicks, is a finely crafted pop record that features contributions from some of L.A’s finest studio musicians of the time, including Waddy Wachtel, Ronnie Tutt, Jerry Scheff, and the infamous Jim Keltner, as well as the exceptional six-string slinging talents that Buckingham would later become famous for and, of course, Nicks’ platinum pipes. Featuring a priceless cover photo, this is the release that first exposed the talents of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie (then credited as Stevi) Nicks to the world.

Side A kicks off with “Crying In The Night”, a poppy folk rocker complete with a lead vocal performance from the young Nicks, already sounding completely in her element. The sound of the song contrasts perfectly with the lyrics, which tell a cautionary tale about a woman on the prowl with not-so-good intentions–another devil in disguise. The driving rhythm, chiming guitars, and hook filled refrain sound straight from the sun bleached streets of Los Angeles and come together to perfectly sum up the essence of what the Buckingham Nicks team was all about. The song is catchy and compact, every element sounding perfectly placed, as if the duo had already perfected their songwriting style and were just waiting for the spotlight to shine their way.

“Without A Leg to Stand On” features both Buckingham and Nicks on vocals, giving Buckingham a chance to step up to the microphone while showcasing their perfectly executed harmonizations, foreshadowing the impressively layered harmonies that would follow shortly when the duo began cranking out hit records with Fleetwood Mac. Chiming 12-strings sparkle and shimmer throughout, and Buckingham even whips up a few tasteful guitar solos, sounding effortless as usual. Overall, the tune has a laid back Malibu vibe that skirts the line between a ballad and a mid-tempo rocker, finally ending up sounding like a lost outtake from Fleetwood Mac streaming out of an FM radio while cruising down Pacific Coast Highway on a sunny day. Which is, of course, a good thing!

“Crystal” surprisingly ends up being one the weaker cuts on the album, with Buckingham at times coming off as if he’s trying his hardest to sing a pretty song, instead of pouring himself into an emotional performance. The treatment given to the song on 1975’s Fleetwood Mac has an added depth lacking from this early version. Meanwhile, “Stephanie” and “Django” are both short instrumental tracks that highlight, you guessed it, Buckinghams enviable guitar skills. The first of these two, “Stephanie”, is a pretty little tune with more of Buckingham’s trademark shimmering Martin acoustic guitar tones, sounding similar to “Never Going Back Again” off of Rumours. The one minute long “Django”, is obviously a tribute to the Gypsy Jazz guitar master, but unfortunately offers little in the way of melodic development.  Neither “Stephanie” nor “Django” detract significantly from the experience of listening to Buckingham Nicks, but their odd placement in the sequencing of the album does disrupt the flow a little bit and leaves the listener wondering what in the world Polydor was thinking. Nevertheless, both of the tracks are valuable for their insight into the Buckingham Nicks machine and should interest listeners who have ventured far enough into the history books to reach word of this release.

The seven-minute long “Frozen Love” is an absolutely epic album closer. Starting off with fingerpicked acoustic guitar and eventually leading to orchestral flourishes, harmony vocals, and killer harmonized electric guitar leads, “Frozen Love” leaves the you yearning for more, practically taunting the listener to flip the record and do it all over again. Appropriately enough, this is the tune that Mick Fleetwood is rumored to have heard one day while touring Sound City, prompting him to offer Buckingham a spot as lead guitarist in Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham infamously told Fleetwood that Buckingham and Nicks were only available as a package deal, and the rest is history!

Unfortunately, Buckingham Nicks has never been reissued on cd. Fortunately, original vinyl copies aren’t too hard to come by, and several cd bootlegs have been available throughout the years. This album is essential listening for fans of Fleetwood Mac and the light it shines on Buckingham’s contribution to the British blues band’s new sound is truly revelatory. If you’ve got a craving for more in the way of 70s era Fleetwood Mac, you know how to score the fix!

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“Crying in the Night”

:) Original Vinyl | 1973 | Polydor | search ebay ]