Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #9. Crabfoot – The Flock

Chicago, the band, was not the only horn/rock ensemble to hail from Chicago, the city. The Flock also called The Windy City home and made their own unique contribution to the horn/rock music scene. Aside from the genre standard of a tight rhythm section and blaring horn troupe, The Flock featured a secret weapon in legendary fusion violinist, Jerry Goodman.
On first listen, ‘Crabfoot’ sounds like an up-tempo rocker that had likely been born out of a studio jam. But further study reveals a compositional demonstration not unlike other songs from the horn/rock genre. The Flock’s ability to make the song seem loose and fun only adds to their credibility as a top-flight band. But aside from the vocal interplay, motific horn-lines, and various solos, ‘Crabfoot’ provides much more for any eager listener. Halfway thru the eight-minute piece the song changes speeds with a percussion break-down and violin solo which morphs into a lengthy drumming spotlight. Then, as if the listener hasn’t heard it all, the studio trickery begins with what, is our best guess, a sped up sax, violin duel. The group weaves their way back to the crux of the song for one final, spirited verse.
It’s not clear if the collage of sound delivered on ‘Crabfoot’ was merely done for self-indulgence fulfillment or if it was serving a greater musical purpose. Nonetheless, The Flock, were obviously in no way, trying to emulate Chicago, the band, with something akin to ‘Make Me Smile’. Rather, The Flock delivered a unique brand of music that should make Chicago, the city, proud.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A tribute to Aram Schefrin

Aram Schefrin of the group, Ten Wheel Drive, passed away this week. He was a Harvard Law School graduate who spent most of his life practicing law out of Rhode Island. However, before donning a suite and tie he was the guitarist and lyricist for the seminal horn/rock band Ten Wheel Drive. Schefrin formed the group with writing partner Michael Zager in 1968. The band was fronted by female rock & roll pioneer Genya Ravan. Ten Wheel Drive recorded 4 albums, three of which featured Ravan as the vocalist. The group survived and at times thrived despite an ever-changing line-up and relentless comparisons to Blood, Sweat, & Tears and Chicago, but eventually disbanded in 1974.

In recent years, Ten Wheel Drive has been heard in rap music samples such as Jay-Z’s, ‘1-900-Hustler’ and 50 Cent's, 'I Am A Rider'. After the collapse of Ten Wheel Drive, Schefrin worked extensively on solo projects for Ravan as well as producing albums for the bands, Sunshine & Egg Cream. He also produced disco classics from DC LaRue, such as Overture & Cathedrals. He left the music business sometime in the early 80’s to practice law. Schefrin is also the author of four novels. He was 68. -JP

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #15. 1849 – Lighthouse

Lighthouse clearly lit the way for all Canadian bands in the horn/rock genre. Their output of 10 albums in five years was only half as impressive as the sheer girth of a group that included both a horn and string section along with a rhythm section and a boatload of singers to boot. After three albums of meager success their fourth, One Fine Morning, saw the group earn international success. One of the cuts that fully pronounced their musical abilities was the anthem-esque, 1849.

Most of the songs on One Fine Morning showcase the superb vocals of Bob McBride. On this tune, however, it’s a chorale of voices that tell the tale of wagon trains traversing the 19th century American landscape in search of riches. Even though the track is rich with harmonies from the voices, strings, and horns, it’s the lyrics that stand out as most impressive. The clever lyrical turn from hopeful expectation to reality almost gives you the sense that this group of Canadians singing about American pioneers from years gone by must be somewhat autobiographical. For just as those pioneers discovered the harsh realities of their material pursuits Lighthouse, too, must have experienced the harsh realities of emphasizing the word ‘music’ before the often-succeeding word ‘business’. Nonetheless, the musical achievement found here can stand on its own merits regardless of any harrowing back-story. And a live version from Live at Carnegie Hall the following year only adds to the group’s credibility.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #16. Was It I - Illustration

Was It I starts off like the musical equivalent of a Mack truck barreling down the highway, a thick rolling groove led by the Clayton-Thomas-like vocals of Billy Ledster. He growls and swaggers asking rhetorically Was It I that put a smile on your face knowing damn well that he did that and more while the horns stab from both sides blanketing the listener in a sonic warmth. Then all of a sudden as he asks again if it was he who made you fall in love, you can begin to hear the doubt creep in and the groove just falls apart. Then like a James Brown encore, the band tries to pick him up as Ledster, now losing his confidence wonders if it really was him after all. Blood, Sweat & Tears may have been more proficient musicians, but they never inflicted as much psychological torture on themselves than Illustration did on this song, from the highs of a roaring semi to the putter of a Volkwagon microbus all in 2 minutes and thirty seconds.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #17. Ease My Mind - Gotham

Debut albums in the horn-rock genre are deceiving because many members of said groups typically had some sort of prior recording experience. Thus was the case with Gotham. Nearly every member of this New York powerhouse had his share of stage and studio time before a single note of Gotham’s debut album, Pass The Butter, was recorded. And this may be one reason why it’s difficult to single out one great track from this record. Nevertheless the responsibility has befallen us and we think we’ve chosen wisely.

‘Ease My Mind’ is a matrix for the ideal horn-rock tune. The triple-threat of a powerful horn section, a dominating vocalist, and a tight rhythm section lead by a guitar virtuoso are all the tell-tale elements of what made the music of this genre so respectable. And Gotham hits the trifecta on this number. Within 10 seconds of the tune, the band is already riding the pedal to the floor. And for the next four minutes they seemingly find a way to drive harder and harder. After one listen you’d be hard-pressed not to agree. The only thing that won’t ‘easy your mind’ upon listening to this gem is the knowledge that there was never a follow-up record. The other 10 songs on Pass The Butter will have to suffice.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #18. Flower Pot – Loadstone [1969]

1969 offered a cornucopia of music but few songs provided such variety as Loadstone’s ‘Flower Pot’. Clocking in at over 15 minutes, this ambitious piece provides elements of psychedelic, jazz, and horn-rock for the patient listener. Most music from this era that passed the five-minute mark was built almost exclusively around soloing. And although ‘Flower Pot’ dishes out a fair share, its really only one aspect of what is expressed.

The pristine musicianship and compositional skills are apparent for this group of Las Vegas hired-gun musicians. But few would guess that prior to the Loadstone album, these guys were backing the likes of Andy Williams and Bobby Darin. And with jazz-pianist-turned-producer Dave Grusin at the controls musicianship, and not self-indulgence, was likely the emphasis. Regardless, few groups succeeded, let alone, rose to this level of ambition on their debut record. And it’s hard to not consider ‘Flower Pot’ a mark of achievement and greatness in the rock genre. But as the song suggests, “It’s not what you are, it’s what you got”. And the listener may best decide that.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #19. Puzzle-N.Y.C. [1974]

Here’s a case of a band that had the good fortune to get signed to major label in the early 70s. Unfortunately it was to Motown, who was probably thinking they had another “Chicago” on their hands. The fact is they were most likely pushed to sound like them. Having both formed in the same town was where the similarities ended. Puzzle had a more soulful vibe owing that fact to singer/drummer John Lavigni. They never had that one breakout song to get on them on the charts and by their second album (titled The Second Album – was the band losing interest already?) one can feel the despair creeping in and the feeling of being lost. No track captures that any better than the last track on the LP, N.Y.C. Lavigni sings about being kicked out of his apartment and having nowhere to go while the band plays shuffles to a funky latin beat. (Was he living in Spanish Harlem?) Even at their “lowest” point the band still feels like if there’s not hope at least we can have fun.

Motown had no idea what to do with the band and their 2 LPs nowhere as well as having been erased from Motown’s history. Even Lavigni changed his name to John Valenti and continued a solo career. Could they have ever had a better shot & a bigger career? That’s the real puzzle.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #20. I Had Him Down – Ten Wheel Drive [1971]

Nearly every horn/rock record featured at least one gratuitous ballad to showcase the more sensitive side of its writers and musicians. Chicago’s ‘Color My World’, and Janis Joplin’s ‘Maybe’ are two classic examples of the typical ballad fare. But in many instances, the ballad song-form became an additional vehicle for artistic expression within the genre. Such is the case with TWD’s ‘I Had Him Down’. Genya Ravan’s compelling vocal and TWD’s powerful horn section showcase both restraint and raw power all within 4 minutes. The usage of strings only further beautifies this masterpiece. But the importance of this piece should be noted for its usage of all the elements that made horn/rock unique and great by including complex meter, wide range of dynamics, well-crafted lyrics, outstanding arrangement, and great musicianship. TWD proved they could run on all eight cylinders even if the tempo was ‘down’.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The 20 Horn Rock Songs You Can't Live Without

In the next week we will be presenting our case for the 20 horn rock songs that you can't live without....
We will be counting down a new horn rock song each week. We welcome any comments and opinions as well as any new info on horn rock artists.

Monday, July 5, 2010

What are your favorite Horn Rock Songs?

We will be counting down our favorite 20 horn rock songs in the coming weeks. We welcome any comments and opinions as well as any new info on horn rock artists.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Just Add Horns #1: Looking Glass

Looking Glass was a 4 piece formed in New Jersey when the members met as students of Rutger's University. The group broke up, people tried different bands, but eventually the 4 guys got to together to make a serious go at it. After a hookup which got them a showcase for then-president of CBS Records, Clive Davis, they were signed to Epic Records.

They started to work on the some songs, trying out a tune the singer, Elliot Lurie wrote, called Brandy. Various producers tried their hand at making Brandy sound good, but the 4 piece rock band could never get the sound just right. So they decided to produce the song themselves and rerecord it with engineer, Bob Liftin at Regent Sound Studios in New York. They eventually found the ingredient that worked for the song - "just add horns". And voila, the song shot all the way to #1 on August 26, 1972.

Here's a taste of some Looking Glass magic:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Have a slice of Mom's Apple Pie

This Warren, Ohio horn rock band was discovered and managed by Terry Knight, who was also managing Grand Funk Railroad. They released 2 albums, Mom's Apple Pie in 1971 and Mom's Apple Pie II is 1973. They recorded a third album which was never released.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Johnny Maestro, leader of the Brooklyn Bridge, has died

The Leader of the horn rock group, The Brooklyn Bridge, has passed due to his ongoing battle with cancer at age 70. Johnny was the also the lead singer of the interracial doowop group (how many can say that?), The Crests and hit #2 in early 1969 with Sixteen Candles. Ten years later he was back in the Top 10 with Worst That Could Happen, a combination of the Del Satins & the Rhythm Method combined to form The Brooklyn Bridge. Johnny continued playing with various formations of the band for decades.

Here's the band performing their big hit on Cousin Brucie's Rock N Roll Party:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Blood Sweat & Tears at Woodstock

 Not included in the movie or either of the 2 soundtracks, the hottest band in August of 1969 was denied the fruits of this legendary 3 day festival. Who knows why? It wasn't because the music wasn't smokin'. Check out this clip and begin scratching your head...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gotham - Pass The Butter (album review)

Gotham – Pass The Butter   Motown 1972

         With names like John Gatchell, John Eckert, and PeeWee Ellis, how can you go wrong? You can’t. And the lesser-known musicians are just as inspiring specifically drummer Jimmy Strassburg and the explosive voice of lead vocalist Schullar ‘Sky’ Ford. Produced by Tom Wilson who’s resume includes such names as Bob Dylan, Sun Ra, John Coltrane, The Velvet Underground, and the very 1st Simon & Garfunkel album, Wed Morning 3am, Pass The Butter sees Gotham on the attack from the get-go. The suits at Motown kept some of the aggression at bay leaving the group to maroon another albums worth of tunes in the vault. But they could not be contained enough to make this masterful LP. Pass The Butter may be one of the truest jazz and rock hybrids of the era. ****

Key tracks: Ease My Mind, Why Doesn’t The Sun Shine, Use It or Lose It
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