Hardwater “Hardwater”

These pages are overflowing with tales of bands that came within a whisker of making it big in the halcyon years of rock: bands for which talent, originality and a fine first album wasn’t enough to propel them into the commercial big-time and which subsequently fell by the wayside. Few came closer than Hardwater; only their timing probably let them down.

Their back pedigree was immaculate; guitarist Richard Fifield and bassist Robert McLerran had been members of the Astronauts, the Boulder-based surf outfit who’d released a string of nationally successful singles and albums on RCA between 1962 and 1968 and garnered an enthusiastic following in Japan. Relocating to LA and recruiting full-blooded Apache drummer Tony Murillo and bilingual guitarist Peter “Pedro” Wyant, they were signed rapidly to Capitol as Hardwater – the name being hippie argot for ice – assigned to illustrious house producer David Axelrod and directed to record in Capitol’s famed Records Tower studios with all its near-limitless resources. Axelrod was also a top-notch composer and arranger, and Hardwater’s situation could be compared to a new but well-qualified UK outfit being assigned to George Martin and recorded at Abbey Road. Success seemed inevitable.

There was no distinctive lead singer, but effortless three-part harmonies carried the songs which were comparable with those of Buffalo Springfield and Moby Grape, although the band members themselves claimed to have been heavily influenced by Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. In other words, definitive West Coast folk/country/acid rock that couldn’t have come from any other area or any other era. Liberally sprinkled over the tight, taut rhythm tracks was Wyant’s remarkable lead guitar, whose unique style juxtaposed rippling Eastern raga scales with aching pedal steel simulations via a volume swell. His sound was and remains revolutionary, especially since he favoured an unfashionable hollowbody Fender Coronado guitar with low-powered DeArmond pickups. The rockin’ leadoff medley “My Time / Take A Long Look” sets out the store, while the subsequent tracks vary from the unassuming folk-rock of “City Sidewalks”, and the good-timey two-step of “Plate Of My Fare” built around a sinuous Wyant guitar riff, through the dreamy acid-folk of “Monday” and the complex, contrapuntal acoustic guitars of “To Nowhere” to the funky finisher “Good Luck” with its popping bass and eleventh chords reminiscent of the Fabs’ “Taxman”.

No problems in the execution, then, and the album should have been a biggie. The problem was that Capitol had signed and recorded a glut of top-quality acts around that time, notably the Band and the Steve Miller Band, and subsequent record label effort was overwhelmingly directed towards these other acts. Hardwater’s eponymous debut was six months delayed in release, there was no record company-sponsored tour, and like so many other praiseworthy offerings in those prolific days it failed to sell and duly disappeared, the disillusioned band fragmenting. Of its members, Wyant had the most high-profile subsequent career, having impressed Axelrod sufficiently to appoint him his house guitarist and feature him on Axelrod’s own highly-successful quasi-orchestral recordings and on the ersatz Electric Prunes’ infamous Mass In F Minor. He has since enjoyed a long and varied career whose details can be found at his website.

The CD reissue on Cherry Red’s subsidiary Tune In is brief but excellent, augmenting the original running order of around thirty minutes with the very different re-recording for a projected single of “Plate Of My Fare”. Axelrod’s production standards were as good as it got at the time and still sound good today if you don’t mind the sweeping stereo separation fashionable back then, with guitars and drums widely spaced across the plane. The accompanying booklet with historical perspective by Wyant is exemplary.

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“Medley: My Time / Take a Long Look”

:D Reissue | 2011 | Tune In | buy here ]
:) Original | 1968 | Capitol | search ebay ]

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  • Nik

    Hey, far out! I was just looking into this band yesterday due to their Horses connection – apparently Richard Fifield was the main man to occupy the Horses vocal spot before Don Johnson took over. Looks like I’ve got to track me down a copy of this one.

  • Jason

    I read a review in either Record Collector, Uncut or Mojo where they gave this disc 4 stars. I bought it a few months ago based on that review but haven’t had the time to really give it a good listen. Had it not been for this review I probably would have forgotten about the album. Thank you for the review Len, this will prompt me to listen to the Hardwater album. I remember Plate Of My Fare sounding very different in the outtake/single version that is tacked on as a bonus track.

  • Len Liechti

    It sure did, J. Pedro Wyant wasn’t featured. Good solid band but he was without doubt the jewel in the crown.

  • mark

    This is a remarkable album!
    Once again, I thank you for the review and posting.
    Listening to the album (just received in the mail today) now I notice immediately the tautness of the songs, the mature lyrics, the rich and intricate guitar work… The Axelrod-effect did push Wyant’s guitar over to the right channel, suppressing the depth and “space” of the music. I would like to have heard the guitar emerge as the “center” of the sound: it wants to come forward – to the front of the sound – surround and envelop the listener… I don’t want to suggest that David Axelrod should have kept his hands (and mind) out of Hardwater… however good the Prunes were (their later versions), Hardwater had a potential that he should have grasped more fully… they lyrics are excellent, the drumming primitive (in the best way) and slightly softened, but the guitar work would have made each song into a unified composition… Nonetheless, I give Hardwater very high marks! tante grazie!

  • Gray Newell

    Thanks for the glowing review of the Tune In CD issue of this fantastic album, I am very proud to have been instrumental in making this available once again for the appreciation of those with an ear for excellent music. I was also responsible for the liner notes, with the Hardwater story pieced together from talking with all four of the musicians involved. This truly is a lost gem of mid sixties West Coast rock.

  • 40 years later. Wow! Thanx so much for these wonderful comments. The album died a quick death in those days and was forgotten, but thanx to these re-issues, weve found an audience for the discs. I really apreciate this you guys. We can all thank Grey and the crew from Tune Up/Cherry Red for taking the interest.

  • Len Liechti

    Brilliant to hear from you, Pedro, and I hope the reissue does as well as it deserves to. Do you still use the Coronado? I have a ’66 which comes out of its case occasionally to do the business and is still a favourite of mine. Atentamente, Len Liechti.

  • My congratulation goes out to longtime friend Pete (Pedro) and Rob McLerran. Forty years later the ’68 Hardwater album, produced by David Axelrod, returns as a CD. The re-issue package was first class – thanks for the memories and liner notes too. And thanks to Gray Newell, for rediscovering this jewell.

  • Miguel

    Hi, this record is not country or country rock music. Is another 60´s group that reminds moby grape or any west coast´s band, but remarkable. Don´t expect find sweetheart´s of the rodeo-gram parson´s lookalike sound. Very Moby Grape at the end.

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