Words by Wermod
A rundown of curio pop and audio miscellanea from the Wermod vaults featuring a host of no hit wonders with the greatest of potential and the quirkiest of productions that failed to find an audience the first time around but are primed for rediscovery. From first commercial releases of 80s pop stars to solo efforts from former pop stars (and everything in between) Israel Watcyn and Dulcie Midwinter rummage through the racks to give a brief overview on a few 7” to turn on, tune in and drop out to.
Body and Soul -As Time Goes On (National General, June 1970)
Initially started as a label to release soundtracks of National General Pictures film distribution company and cinema chain. (Billy Goldenberg’s ‘The Grasshopper’ may be of interest as it has treated effects and spacey arrangements and twangy sitar.) As the company was facing financial problems and licencing more and more European films that had other labels distributing the soundtracks. Buddah Records stepped in to distribute product and used the label as a release dumping ground with no clear demographic. Among the erratic roster were the (non private press) debut of Phili soul singer Barbara Mason and introspective left-field singer-songwriter Risa Potters.
Amongst these also was Body and Soul , a band comprising of respected jazz journeymen who had paid their dues in the studio as well as on the road. Under the watchful eye of producer and Mama Jo’s North Hollywood recording studio founder Freddie Piro (who had produced the similar mixed bag soul LP The Shades Of Black Lightning for Tower in 1968) Body and Soul provided a largely self-written set. The covers featured are a drastically reworked take from the Hair musical’s ‘Easy to Be Hard’ that seems to be channelling Sweet Exorcist era Curtis Mayfield, whilst Laura Nyro’s Stoned Soul Picnic teeters more towards the Funkadelic camp than the Fifth Dimensions take.
The track under discussion is ‘As Time Goes On’, the B side of the extracted single ‘Things’, a homage to Sly and the Family Stone’s brand of funk that has found favour in Northern Soul circles. ‘As Time Goes On’ however is a unique composition. Composed by Body and Soul’s keyboardist John Barnes, the track takes on a Cadet era Terry Callier vibe as minor chord licks and B3 Organ float along with vocalist Luis Doc Shervington whose downer vocals almost become inaudible as the bongo and cymbal work out progress. The middle eight takes the track on another tangent as it embodies a Chambers Brothers style freak-out awash with horn blasts and chunky fuzz tone guitar. The original motive returns with a lovely (if far too brief flute solo) as Shervington’s barely audible vocals patter out and the remaining grooves are filled with downtempo jazz dirge. An album’s worth of ideas within one single that shifts from folk funk, to psych funk and ends up in a jazzy free soul all its own.
Thelma Camacho / Thelma Lou – Time (Reprise, 1969) // O My Sunshine (Reprise, 1970)
The National General Records connection continues with the next selections with musician Michael “Dink” Kaplan. Former guitarist of 60s garage rock band the Knack that regrouped as Chariot (with former band mates Howard “Pug” Baker and bassist Larry Gould) released a single album on National General before it folded, the results were a good time rock effort. The period of interest however is Kaplan’s musical endeavours after leaving the Knack and providing tracks for Reprise Records from 1969 -1970. Michael Kaplan worked with two acts, the first was Byrds-lite Chackra (who knocked up two releases). The second was Thelma Lou Camacho, former female vocalist to the First Edition.
Having been a mainstay for three albums and appearing on sessions on the 4th album, Thelma parted ways with Kenny Rogers and the band. Although accounts differ from members it seems that she enjoyed the work in the studio but loathed the gruelling touring schedule. Reprise however kept her on the books and the results were two singles, the first single featured production from the First Edition’s producer Jimmy Bowen but the results were decisively different – Bowen may have been forgiven as he had come off producing the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s sessions – ‘Time’ features a solid conga beat and the loveliest string arrangements this side of Bonnie Dobson’s self-titled RCA album. Thelma’s breathy vocal delivery is wonderful and flutters seamlessly from precious psych folk to AM pop
Kaplan upped his stake as he handled arrangements on her last Reprise release. Now going under the stage name Thelma Lou and apparently embracing her inner Janis Joplin. ‘Oh My Sunshine’ is Thelma at her most gravelly voiced propelled along by the congas and joined by jazzy flute accompaniment not too dissimilar to Albert Moore from labelmates Sweetwater. Although a meandering track, it’s still a lovely grittier folk-funker cut from a similar cloth to Ellen McIlwaine’s Polydor LPs. With Thelma Lou’s Reprise swansong going no further than a radio promo the label cut her losses and Thelma went on to appear in an episode of the Mod Squad before relocating to Europe and releasing sporadically throughout the 80s.
Meadow – Something Borrowed Something Blue (Paramount, 1973)
Paramount records seemed to have a thing about performers from the Hippiesploitation musical Hair, and during their tenure released two albums featuring former cast members. The first was in 1970, when Sally Eaton (who played Jeannie in the Broadway version) unleashed Farewell American Tour. Largely self-penned and featuring the acid folk classic ‘Flowers in the Air’ it was an ambitious album full of competent song writing and striking arrangements.
The second release features the contribution of one Walker Daniels (who played Claude in the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre version of Hair) who started this endeavour through a chance meeting with Chris Van Cleeve, a student at New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Hitting it off they started developing ideas for Daniel’s musical Blueberries are a Way of Life. This led them to the door of George Pincus, a publisher of some repute – he had owned the US and Canada Publishing rights to a variety of Beatles early songs until 2012.
The duo was shopped around to various companies with only Columbia showing an interest and a demo was arranged. Between the arrangement and session, a third member was added. A young singer and fellow AADA student called Laura Branigan who had impressed the duo with her powerful, expressive voice. The session was an early production by Lou Hemsey (who produced the sought after 1975 RCA released Buari album.) Hemsey amassed a crack team of session musicians that featured trumpeter Jo Shepley, who had played on such out-there releases as Bobby Callender’s 1968 release Rainbow and many an early CTI Jazz releases. Zanzee regular Billy Arnell on electric Guitar, and drummer Rick Marotta – who had already sat behind the stool for Annette Peacock’s strange Bley-Peacock Synthesizer Show and I’m The One releases on RCA. Three tracks came out of these sessions, ‘Cane & Able’, ‘Here I Am’ and ‘Something Borrowed Something Blue’. The three songs have a great individuality not quite routed in the West Coast Folk Rock styles of say Crosby, Stills and Nash or the quirky orchestrated pop of Canada’s Poppy Family. The theatre background of the three vocalists give a lovely feeling of storytelling that doesn’t lend it self to the Laurel Canyon Sect. The sympathetic but highly ambitious arrangements by Hemsey pepper the compositions with a fuller sound and bursting with repeat listening detail found in other New York SSW of the time – a clear comparison would be Kathy McCord’s debut on CTI from 1970 and even Sally Eaton’s album is within its orbit. It should also be noted that the intro of ‘Something Borrowed Something Blue’ is a dead ringer for the Isley Brother’s 1977 slow jam ‘Footsteps in the Dark’, which became a Hip Hop anthem when it was used by Ice Cube on ‘Today was a Good Day’ in 1992.
To coincide with a trip that “executive producer” George Pincus was taking to London, a radio promo of ‘Here I Am’ \ ‘Something Borrowed Something Blue’ was issued by Paramount with talk of a British release of their upcoming album The Friend Ship. Yet no British pressings of the album have materialised, but the album did gather strong reviews in the music press in America. However, like many reappraised classics a changing of management at Paramount meant that the marketing push was not forthcoming, with new executives denying that the band were available for magazine interviews and live appearances. This came to a head when an inside source had said that Meadow were not available for an interview with Rolling Stone. Walker Daniels confronted the A&R man in question in dramatic fashion and that was the end of their relationship with the label.
As a postscript Laura Branigan became a well known solo singer in the 1980s. Her hit ‘Gloria; still gets regular plays and she returned to theatre performance playing Janis Joplin in an off Broadway show before her untimely death in 2004.
Rosalie (AKA Rose Marks, Rosalie Mark) – DOORS (Laurie, 1968), Every step GETS a little bit slower (Avco Embassy, 1971), Children guard your house (Red Bird, 1977)
Writing partners Lowell and Roslaie Mark had shopped around their songs to forward thinking producers and found a level of success when RCA signing Betty Barnes covered their composition ‘Walking Down Broadway’ with great success partly down to Herb Bernstein’s period production. Having arranged many of Laura Nyro’s early releases on Verve Forecast, jazz groves, a variety of percussion and bombast brass charts were certainly part of his audio pallet. The Marks took note and shopped a single to New York based Laurie Records. Collaborating with lyricist Norman Simon (who had built up a reputable biography working on Soul Sides for labels such as Diamond Records and Mercury) created an orchestrated light psych double sider that fit with Laurie’s left field release schedule roster. (Rosalie’s labelmates included Dion (of the Belmonts) who had taken ‘Purple Haze’ to a peculiar acoustic direction, Whilst psych troubadour Click Horning unleashed tracks such as ‘Rainmaker’ and ‘Dancing Babies’ on a puzzled listening audience. Rosalie was certainly channelling the Janis Ian / Nancy Priddy sound with ‘Doors’. Strummed guitars give ways to a break beat backing, nimble fingered bass runs and numerous time signature shifts whilst her tender yet expressive voice soars above the whole thing. The plug side ‘Turn Back the Clock’ sees staff producer John Abbott ramp it up with epic harp arrangements and banjo solo’s whilst Rosalie’s voice takes a stage show direction about the youth of today. The whole thing makes for a schizophrenic composition that failed to make much of a dent on any radio playlist. Undaunted the writing duo of Norman and Mark hit pay dirt by writing lyrics to Francis Lai’s Oscar winning score to the 1970 hit Love Story (not wanting to do a six degrees of separation but Meadow’s Walker Daniels featured in this film as Ryan O Neil’s roommate) titled, ‘Look Around (and You’ll Find Me There)’, this vocal treatment was covered by British crooner Vince Hill and Brazilian songstress Joelma.
With this fame Rosalie’s second single was released on the Avco Embassy film distributor’s record offshoot Avco. Casting their net far and wide, Avco had released a variety of near hits and audio curiosities with little regard for chart trends. ‘Every Step Gets a Little Bit Slower’ was a collaboration that featured arrangements by Joe Renzetti who fresh from production work on the heritage release Euphoria transferred the left-field leanings to this ballad, adding a distinct mandolin intro and Mediterranean arrangements that are almost at odds with Rosalie’s voice but again it meshes well. This single did little in way of chart action, things went silent on the release front for Rosalie until 1976 (Norman Simon stayed busy working with Moog Pioneer Gershon Kingsley on the Moog Shabbat album the 5th Cup A spirit Explosion in 1974). Released on their own Red Bird label, the LP The Magic Of Rosalie once again featured collaborations by Lowell and Norman and featured arrangements by Lee Holdridge (Holdridge had already worked with left-field songstress Dorothea Joyce on her 1972 album Enlightenment and the arrangements have a similar feel on Rosalie’s release). The Following year a single was extracted, the highlight being the ode to property damage by children, ‘Children Guard Your House’. Sounding like a mix of ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ by Paul Simon and a string section reminiscent of Buzz Cliford’s ‘I See I am’, the song once again has an earworm chorus wrapped in a bizarre musical arrangement.
This seems to be the end of Rosalie’s musical output as a performer, but her brief discography is one of audio wonder and should be cherished by those who enjoy the freakier side of studio pop. As an interesting footnote Lee Holdrige ended up composing the soundtrack for the Love Story sequel Oliver’s Story. The coincidences keep coming.
Headstrong – Ode To A Heffalump (Amos, 1969)
Children’s literature seems to be a rich source of inspiration for psychedelic musicians. Alice in Wonderland being a touchstone for the likes of Jefferson Airplane. But lest we forget A.A Milne who’s beloved Winnie the Pooh has inspired many an artist. From Melanie Safka who performed ‘Christopher Robin’ and ‘Alexander Beetle’, to the United States of America who quoted the honey loving Pooh in their tranquil masterpiece ‘Cloud Song’. Late to the party was the mysterious band Headstrong, a psychedelic co-ed band that sound like a sparser, eerier Mama’s and the Papas. Starting with echoed strummed guitar and followed by hushed boy/girl vocals. By the second verse freaky soaring femme vox raise from the grooves whilst the jazz drums propel the song along until the middle eight is decimated by the dirtiest surf guitar solo before the vocal refrain returns (with lashings of echo and light phasing) The B-side, ‘Possum Jam’ is an instrumental that retains the same fuzzed out guitar solo that finishes rather briefly. One can imagine this being a studio concision dreamt up by Amos Records owner and highly respected Los Angeles producer Jimmy Bowen. Whilst not working with Frank and Nancy Sinatra (as well as the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band) his output on his own label was consistent quality from early releases by Kim Cranes to the percussive reworkings of Leonard Rosseman’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes soundtrack (as well as the ‘mail order mystic’ Wilburn Burchette’s debut Occult Concert) Headstrong seems to be one of many 7” curios released by the label.
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