Friday, September 30, 2016

AMPEX Records: Jewel

About a month ago, I was talking to the president of Alderson Broaddus University, Dr. Tim Barry, about music. Someone had told him that I had seen a number of concerts and had met a fair number of stars during my 20 years in radio. He amazed me about the number of bands he had seen in concert – far more than I have. As he was rattling off numbers of well-known acts, he listed Mason Proffit. I stopped him and said, “I’ve known very few people who knew about Mason Proffit.” Being that he was from Iowa, it was natural for him to have seen this little known band based out of Chicago.

Mason Proffit was a little ahead of their time. Contemporaries with Poco and before the Eagles, they could have been a national treasure, but they had three strikes against them. 1. They were a little too country, too soon. Had they started a couple years later or even in the early 1990s, they may have resonated with an audience who gravitated toward this style. In other words, they were country way before country was cool.

2. Their songs often were about social injustices, had politically charged messages, and had a penchant for peace during the height of the Vietnam War (and sometimes, just sometimes, they also mentioned Jesus – without being preachy). Perhaps, radio was not ready for the content side of their recordings.

3. Mason Proffit were also doomed to small, insignificant record companies during the height of their popularity. Their first two albums, “Wanted” and “Movin’ Toward Happiness,” were released on Happy Tiger – an arm of the Flying Tiger freight company. Their third, “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream,” was their only foray on AMPEX Records.

By the time they had moved to their first major label, Warner Brothers, the band was disintegrating. Their output included two new albums on the label, a repackaging of the Happy Tiger LPs as a double album, and one by the Talbot Brothers to fulfill the band’s contract with their final label. Brothers Terry and John Michael Talbot were the backbone of the band, and this last album on Warners was later licensed to Sparrow Records when the Talbots devoted themselves to contemporary Christian music as solo acts who occasionally performed together.

In any configuration, the Talbots and Mason Proffit are on my list of favorite artists. For our Friday Flipside and our feature on AMPEX Records, I’ve picked “Jewel,” the flip to their only AMPEX single, “Hope.” “Jewel” is one of their social injustice songs about a black woman, whose husband was at war, and who had her small farm taken away by the government.

To care for her children, “Jewel” began to take odd jobs of cleaning and cooking, but was had difficulty in making ends meet; her children were starving. “A child never fed is a child soon to die.” As a last resort, she went back to the plantation to the Master, a man with whom she had a relationship, so that she may ask for money. She begged and asked him to remember their past. She was later found dead near the pond with a sleeping baby in her lifeless arms. The Master, in his white pillared mansion, “dreams of the black girl he loved long time ago.”

There’s just enough ambiguity in the lyrics to not know what happened to “Jewel.” Did the Master kill her? Did he give her the money and someone else robbed and killed her? Did she commit suicide? Did she die of natural causes? The conclusion I jumped to when I first heard the song was the first possibility, but the Master dreaming about her doesn’t seem like he’s the culprit – unless, she threatened to tell others about their previous affair.

In addition, we don’t know how much time elapsed been her visit and her death? She went to his mansion alone, but she has a child with her when she was found dead. Is this the same child as the one she was carrying at the beginning of the song? Was Master the father? There are too many unknowns to this song. Only the songwriters, Terry and John Michael Talbot, really know for sure. Ruminate on this mystery as it isn’t clear what happened.

“Jewel” is one of Mason Proffit’s more county styled numbers and it’s a tear jerker.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

AMPEX Records: Quiet About It

Somewhere in the recesses of my “stuff,” that is if my wife didn’t get rid of it, I have a baseball jacket that Jesse Winchester sent me in 1981. I tested his record in light rotation, but we never added it to our playlist – and the jacket didn’t influence me to play the record or not, but it was a nice thank you for trying. Jesse Winchester was not a Top 40 kind of guy, but that didn’t stop Bearsville Records and AMPEX before that from releasing singles and trying.

Today’s cut, “Quiet about It,” was his second single release from his self-titled album on AMPEX – the fourth album release for the label. While Todd Rundgren typically produced many of the early AMPEX recordings, he was the engineer on this project. Robbie Robertson of The Band produced the LP and played guitar on it as well – you can hear his licks on “Quiet about It.” Levon Helm, also from The Band, appears on the album playing drums and mandolin. There were a whole host of lesser known folks who contributed to this record.

“Quiet about It” is Winchester’s spiritual search. Noting that there is a God and that he is lost, he realizes that he is being led home.” Winchester has his doubts, but he’ll be content and be “Quiet about It.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

AMPEX Records: One Too Many Mornings

Singer-songwriter John Hartford recorded one song and only one song for AMPEX Records – not even enough to fill both sides of the single it carried. Written by Bob Dylan, “One Too Many Mornings” was the lead cut on the soundtrack for the motion picture “Jud.”

The movie was about Jud Carney, a Vietnam vet, who returned home at Christmas and did not get the welcome he expected. Needless to say, it was a box office flop. AMPEX Records released the soundtrack to coincide with the movie’s release.

The single featuring Hartford didn’t even list an artist for its flip of “Solitary Sanctuary,” which was actually performed by Alan Brackett, John Merrill, and Barbara Robinson. Another version of the same song was the last cut on the LP and was performed by the American Breed.

Hartford, who was under contract at the time to RCA, recorded this tune as a one-off for the soundtrack. I think it was one of his better early recordings. Unfortunately, like the movie, the song never took off. Too bad.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

AMPEX Records: We Gotta Get You A Woman

I have a confession to make. The only AMPEX single that I have in my collection of numerous records of all sizes and speeds is today’s feature: Todd Rundgren’s first single. Issued in October 1970, “We Gotta Get You A Woman” wasn’t even released with his name, but rather the pseudonym “Runt.” Some suggest that the name Runt referred to a band that contained Rundgren and brothers Tony and Hunt Sales. Could be, but I have my doubts.

However, further confusion occurs with the title of Rundgren’s first album – the fifth to be released by AMPEX – listed as Runt. In addition, there were two versions of the Runt album issued in 1970: The intended 10 track version and a 12 track version that has alternate takes that was inadvertently released by AMPEX in November 1970.

Adding to this confusion is the title of the song. The original single and the 12-track album lists the song as “We Gotta Get You A Woman”; however, the official album and the Bearsville oldies single has it as “We Got to Get You A Woman.” When Bearsville Productions left AMPEX with their catalog in 1972, the album was reissued on the Bearsville imprint.The Bearsville oldies single lists Todd as the artist and not Runt.

While Tony Sales played bass and percussion and Hunt Sales was on drums and percussion, all of the other instrumentation and vocals were by Todd Rundgren. In addition, Todd wrote the song and produced it as well. “We Gotta Get You A Woman” peaked at #20 and was AMPEX Records’ biggest hit.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Seventh Anniversary: Episode 1700

Seven years ago today and 1700 posts ago, I began this blog on a rainy afternoon. Today we celebrate my seventh year along with my 1700th post. This is one of the few times where the year and post anniversary fell on the same day. Before we get into analysis of blog, let’s talk about today’s feature.

In honor of the 1700th post, I selected the hit recording from Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “Album 1700.” The name came about as it bore the Warner Brothers catalog number of W-1700. I’m not aware of any other recording that was named in honor of its catalog number. The LP was issued in 1967.

The only hit from the LP, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” was issued two years later. Written and originally recorded by John Denver under the title, “Babe I Hate to Go,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane’ was the biggest and final hit for Peter, Paul, and Mary. It was their only #1 single and was released on the Warners-7 Arts label, as Warner Brothers Records was branded at the time. It peaked at #1 in Canada and at #2 in the UK.

As for the blog, Google Analytics has changed their metrics again and much of the data we had previously reported is no longer available, so I’ll give a scaled down version of what we’ve offered in the past.

The Top Ten Visitor Countries

Since our last analysis, Germany moved from number four to number two displaced the United Kingdom and Canada, which dropped from three to six. In addition, three countries, Brazil, Spain, and the Netherlands, dropped out of the Top 10 and were replaced by Russia, Ukraine, and Japan.

1United States305,028
3United Kingdom38,756

As it has been for some time, September 28, 2010’s post regarding Elliot Murphy’s “Eva Braun” continues to be the most viewed page. Google remains the prime source of driving traffic to the blog. Thanks for your support of Reading Between the Grooves.

AMPEX Records: She Comes In Colors

Our second post from AMPEX Records features Fever Tree from Houston, Texas. The group began in 1966 as a folk band, but by 1967 they had adopted psychedelic music as a genre. Fever Tree first recorded several singles with Mainstream Records – the first label for the Amboy Dukes and Big Brother and Holding Company. By 1967, they had moved to UNI Records where they had their greatest success with the single “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native). This 1968 release only charted at #91.

After two albums on UNI, the band moved to AMPEX in 1970 and recorded several singles and the album “For Sale.” Today’s selection is the first of two singles for AMPEX – a cover of Arthur Lee and Love’s “She Comes in Colors.” Lee wrote this song about a girl he knew that always dressed in flowing colored outfits. It is thought that “She Comes in Colors” inspired the Rolling Stones “She’s a Rainbow.”

Although I like the original better, I think Dennis Keller’s vocals on Fever Tree’s redition are superior to Arthur Lee’s on Love’s version. You decide.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

AMPEX Records: I Ain't Searchin'

In the late 1960s, the AMPEX corporation known for its production of high quality magnetic tape decks (in a number of configurations) and commercial blank tapes entered the world of recorded music producing prerecorded reel-to-reel, 8-track, and cassette tapes for existing labels – often these were branded as being on the AMPEX label. Anyone who has collected recorded music for any length of time will have a few copies of AMPEX prerecorded tapes.

In 1970, AMPEX decided to venture into the vinyl record business. Working in conjunction with Albert Grossman and Todd Rundgren’s Bearsville Studio in Upstate New York, AMPEX set out to be the next label. AMPEX also distributed Bearsville Records (later under the Warner Brothers umbrella) and Big Tree Records, which later was distributed by Bell Records and then Atlantic Records. AMPEX Records folded in 1973 with the catalog going to Bearsville Records.

The very first AMPEX vinyl album and single was by the Philadelphia area band, The American Dream. It is often cited that this album was Todd Rundgren’s first attempt of producing. The single was popular in the Philadelphia region receiving airplay in nearby markets, but it was not a national hit. Three years ago, I featured the cover by David Uosikkinen's In The Pocket.

The American Dream included Nicky Indeliato on lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Nick Jameson on guitar, keyboards, and vocals; Don Lee Van Winkle on guitar; Mickey Brook on drums and percussion (notably on cowbell on this cut); and Don Ferris on bass and backing vocals. “I Ain’t Searchin’” was written by Jameson, who covered it in 1977.

The tune is indicative of the sound of local bands in the US of this era. You can hear Rundgren’s fingerprints on this cut, and it shows that he was a fairly mature producer with his first attempt. Unfortunately, the vocals on this classic Philly tune could have been a bit stronger – which probably doomed it to being only a regional hit.