Mac Gayden “Skyboat”

Note: Today’s post comes from dk, author to one of the finest vintage music blogs around: dk presents. Don’t miss subscribing over there and look forward to some more Storm reviews from dk in the future.

The story of Mac Gayden’s Skyboat is one of bad promotion, bad cover art, and bad luck. Gayden was a top-notch Nashville session guitarist who made an uncredited appearance on Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde, played the distinctive slide guitar on J.J. Cale’s ‘Crazy Mama’, and wrote hit songs such as ‘Everlasting Love’ (part of which he claims to have written on his grandmother’s piano when he was just five years old). This 1976 album is a pleasing amalgamation of many 70’s musical styles – country rock instrumentation, soulful vocals, pop sheen (string charts courtesy of Bergen White), and an overall singer-songwriter sensibility. Wedged stylistically between Cat Stevens and Poco, Skyboat should have been Gayden’s breakthrough.

Instead, paint-by-numbers promotion men in Los Angeles saw a Nashville artist and assumed Skyboat was a country record, which it most definitely is not. By pushing this album as country and sending it out exclusively to country stations, ABC Records effectively ensured its doom. And there’s no way to put this kindly – that album art is atrocious. The awkward creature flying across that cover is in no way representative of the 11 highly-polished cuts on this record, and certainly didn’t help its cause.

Opener ‘Morning Glory’ has hit written all over it. One of the great lost tunes of the ’70s, this song is so good that you’ll sing along the first time you hear it. Gayden shows off his considerable guitar chops in two places on this song, but particularly on his solo near its conclusion. Sublime stuff. ‘Gettysburg’ is a stirring, minor-key, banjo-tinged ode to the South that was recorded in a thunderstorm and sounds like a blueprint for Will Oldham’s career. Gayden lays down his own version of ‘Everlasting Love’ (since covered by nearly everyone, including U2), which ironically might be the least heard of the many versions in circulation. Elsewhere, ‘Don’t Look Back’ is a bold re-wiring of a Temptations’ song that makes perfect sense in this context, and ‘Diamond Mandala’ closes the album with 10 minutes of Appalachian fever dream that conjures Sandy Bull, Aaron Copland and Native American spirit dances.

Gayden told Mojo magazine in 2002 that “By the time [radio] realized the album [wasn’t country] it was too late, and many stations refused to play the record because of ABC, not because of me. It put an end to my career… so I do have some bittersweet memories.” The memories might be bittersweet, but the music is pure nectar…

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“Morning Glory”

:D CD 2fer | 2008 | Big Beat | buy at amazon ]
:) Orig Vinyl |  1976 | ABC | search ebay ]

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  • Yeah, I’d love to hear what the album cover designer was thinking. That’s like a never-ending-story-nightmare. I like the music, and maybe it’s just my tinny laptop speakers, but it seems like the steely guitar is mixed a little loud — it’s seems a bit distracting from the vocals and otherwise catchy melodies. But what a shame the industry couldn’t do a better job representing this artist.

  • Len Liechti

    Welcome to the Storm, dk. I didn’t know you had a blog, but I’ve taken a peer and it looks damn fine. Really nice writeup above – I hadn’t heard of Gayden but will certainly investigate his stuff now, as I’ve long been a fancier of Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry and anything by one of their alumni has gotta be worth investigating. (Time their albums were reissued again, surely?) All the best, Len.

  • dk

    Thanks for the warm welcome Len. I’ve been a long time reader and admirer of The Rising Storm, so it’s quite an honor to see my words on this page. My introduction to Gayden came purely by chance, when I stumbled across a promo copy of Skyboat in Amoeba Records’ dollar bin. I actually need to backtrack to Barefoot Jerry and Area Code 615, and I’m looking forward to doing so. I suggested this album to Brendan because i thought it fit in with the style of albums that you guys focus on, and he surprised me by offering me a chance to write it up. So a special tip o’ the cap to him for going out on a limb and offering me this space. Cheers!

  • Liberty

    In case your interested here is a copy of Stu Nunnery’s classic Isle of Debris album….check it out!

  • MG is one really really good song, yup that is one progish looking cover

  • dude… that cover is awesome!

  • max

    Skyboat is an uber-country rock transcendental album of the highest quality. But so are Mac’s other seventies albums (and anything he’s ever done, with Barefoot Jerry or whatever up until this morning) like Hymn To The Seeker and the total classic McGavock Gayden (easier to find in England on the EMI label than in America). Mac Gayden is a one-off. He doesn’t fit in with any other style of music. He isn’t remotely like Cat Stevens, he doesn’t sound like any other Southern Soul artist (though he has an accomplice in the great Buzz Cason) and yet today he sounds as out there as any artist a third his age. Mac’s work with Barefoot Jerry is something else. Their debut disc is precious vinyl.

    All the best to all of you who love Mac Gayden. MB

  • max

    The Light Man song on McGavock. Gotta check that out!

  • dk

    I would contend that while Gayden doesn’t sound like Cat Stevens, his music carries a similar metaphysical weight. Unlike other singer/songwriters of that time, who were deep into marriage counseling on record (think Joni Mitchell or Neil Young), Gayden and Stevens were making semi-spiritual music that was full of moonshadows and diamond mandalas.

    Certainly we all hear different things in music, and I totally respect your right to disagree with the comparison, but I thought I’d pass along some of the reasoning behind it…

  • Alan

    I worked for ABC at the time Skyboat was released. I pushed it but the company never believed in it. Heard Mac Gayden had been asked to cut some tracks at a new studio to test the studio out. This album was the result. But the company never promoted it, thinking it was all country. How wrong they were…one of the greats. And I still listen to it to this day.

  • rni1970

    james and bobby purify took his song ‘morning glory’ to number 27 in the uk charts in 1976

  • Len Liechti

    Yeah, but their version was lightweight compared to the original. Expect Mac appreciated the royalties though.

  • vicky thorpe

    The cover was a little above peoples head

  • Pnin

    In the late 70s this was my ATF album. My room mate and I would play it over and over. Mac was fantastic live. He had a woodwind player who would play two recorders at once, in harmony! And check out his work with the early Barefoot Jerry: “Come To Me Tonight” is an unknown classic!

  • carl p. mayfield

    you can’t blame the record company alone as they had a ton of help from hiding mac gayden and his musical erudition from the world. accomplices include idiot radio program deflectors and dj’s at so-called AOR stations during the 70’s that were blessed with the freedom to select in some cases every tune they played including deep album cuts from unknown artists.

    now, was the 70’s gayden rock or country? “if it was cut in Nashville it’s country”, absolutely not, Gayden himself played on Dylan’s and other rockers albums who discovered that Nashville studios were vaults of recording heaven complete with southern hospitality, homegrown herb, great producers, world class pickers and live music emporiums city wide.

    I would suggest today’s producers and artists looking for hits to record and get spins,spins,spins grab every gayden album made as those so-called rock songs of the 70’s have turned country and with more than 2000 radio stations playing today’s country,the most listened to format, most of what they play is what gayden was creating more than 4 decades ago.

    as for real country music. any listener looking for george jones,haggard, waylon,willie and other legends would have to search the AM dial and get lucky to find a station playing traditional country fulltime. another radio sin, moronic idiots.

    this i s a great forum and I thank you for the blog on one of my musical heroes since the 70’s. I believe I have all of gayden’s released material and some unreleased recordings old and new that should be playing on the radio now by gayden and others. depending on the producer it could fit 3 or more genres now getting played on the radio.

    Mr. Gayden if you’re reading this,God Speed and thank you for sharing your amazing gift.

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