Thursday, March 26, 2015

Kama Sutra Records: Hello Hello

It’s day five of our feature on Kama Sutra Records and we celebrate this Thursday with a one-hit-wonder by the band Sopwith Camel. Named for the famed British World War I biplane, the band hailed from San Francisco and recorded a total of three albums.

Only the self-titled debut album was issued by Kama Sutra in 1967. Their second LP, “The Miraculous Hump Returns from the Moon” was released by Reprise in 1973 – two years after the band reformed. The third LP, which was recorded in 1973, was not released until 2001. Strange as it seems, Kama Sutra credited the band as “The Sopwith ‘Camel’” on the single releases and “Sopwith Camel” on the album.

The band’s only hit was the 1967 nostalgic sounding “Hello Hello.” Reminiscent of the Vaudeville/Music Hall era, “Hello Hello” was one of several songs that elicited these long forgotten musical styles to make it to popular radio. Others the evoked this nostalgia included The New Vaudeville Band’s “Winchester Cathedral,” Peter and Gordon’s “Lady Godiva,” and Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe through the Tulips.”

Other popular acts also used a similar style on their albums. Some examples include The Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four,” Cream’s “A Mother’s Lament,” and Arlo Guthrie’s take on “Ukulele Lady” – especially if you find the longer version that was issued on the 1972 “Warner/Reprise Loss Leader” sampler: “The Whole Burbank Catalog.” I’m sure there are many others that I’m forgetting at the moment.

While peaking at #26, “Hello Hello” wasn’t the biggest hit in 1967. It was, however, the first single in the Top 40 by a San Francisco band. Oddly enough, you might occasionally hear it today on oldies radio.
“Would you like some of my tangerines?”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kama Sutra Records: The Rapper

I had to make an emergency trip to Western Pennsylvania tonight, so for our look at Kama Sutra Records, I have decided to pick what may have been the only Pittsburgh act on the label: The Jaggerz. Their unusual name came from Pittsburghese slang for any number of plants that have thorns, burrs, and briers and were typically problematic for kids playing in the woods. The localized term is jagger or jagger bush. They may be the only band with a Pittsburghese derived name to have a hit record.

Kama Sutra was the second of three labels who had signed the band and the only one to have charting singles. Three out of four Kama Sutra issued Jaggerz 45s made it to the Hot 100 with one, “The Rapper,” charting at #2 in Billboard at #1 in Record World. It was also certified as a gold record by the RIAA.

With the success of “The Rapper,” you might think that the band released several albums with Kama Sutra. Unfortunately, their only LP with the label was “We Went to Different Schools Together.” The album peaked at #62 and it was the only one their three albums to chart. Despite having a hit single and mid charting album, it was not enough to sustain the group’s contract with Kama Sutra.

The best known alumnus of the band was guitarist/vocalist Dominic Ierace – who would be later known as Donnie Iris. Although much has been made concerning Iris’ membership in Steubenville, Ohio’s “Wild Cherry,” he joined the band it its waning years and only appeared on their final album. Donnie’s greatest fame came with his solo career in the 1980s when his songs became a staple of album radio.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Kama Sutra Records: Have You Seen My Baby?

The Flamin’ Groovies from San Francisco had their own cult following, but unfortunately this proto-punk/blues/rock band never became a household name. Although they lacked the fame they deserved, the Flamin’ Groovies produced some great music. Their 1971 album “Teenage Head” was the final of the two LPs released by Kama Sutra Records. Today’s selection is a single release from their last LP with the label: “Have You Seen My Baby?” Unfortunately, it never made it onto any chart.

Although they had released several singles and EPs, the Flamin’ Groovies would not release another album until picked up by Sire Records in 1976. Albeit they still had a cult following, the Groovies had a modicum of commercial success on their new label. When I think of the Flamin’ Groovies, I picture guitarist/vocalist Cyril Jordan playing his Dan Armstrong “see through guitar.” The same guitar he is pictured playing on “Teenage Head.”

Designed by luthier Armstrong for Ampeg in 1969, these guitars and basses were constructed from clear Plexiglas. Because acrylic was denser than wood, the Dan Armstrong model was a heavier guitar in more ways than one because it sustained like crazy.

In addition, the pickups, manufactured by Bill Lawrence, had a bite that added to the attraction of this unusual see-through instrument. The guitar was designed so various pickups could be interchanged.  Ampeg manufactured these models through the early 1970s and many of the guitar legends of that day had one in their arsenal. In 2006, Ampeg reintroduced the Plexi model for a limited time. Both the originals and the reissues surface on eBay every so often.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kama Sutra Records: You Didn't Have To Be So Nice

In 1965, I discovered the power of the medium of radio. From that point onward, it drastically affected my life. For twenty years, I worked actively on the air behind the mic and then transitioned to other positions where my skills were used for commercial and half-hour long show production. Today, I teach broadcasting. One of the things I specifically remember about 1965 was the music of The Lovin’ Spoonful.

John Sebastian and company were the second group to sign to Kama Sutra Records and were welcomed with open arms in 1965 by the American and Canadian record buying public. By the way, The Vacels were the first to sign with the label. Remember them? Neither do I, but I am certain that my readers remember The Lovin’ Spoonful.

While the band was primarily American, the inclusion of Canadian lead guitarist Zal Yanovsky secured their popularity across the border. Canadian Content (CanCon) rules required stations to play a majority of programming that involved Canadian artists. With Yanovsky as part of the band, it guaranteed that The Lovin’ Spoonful would be heard in the Great White North.

For their second single with the label, the band released “You Didn’t Have to be so Nice.” It was the sixth single release on Kama Sutra and was from their second album, “Daydream.” According to Brian Wilson, the vocal arrangements would inspire The Beach Boys to write Carl Wilson sung ballad “God Only Knows.”

Unless you actually knew the arrangement of the song, you may have missed that the rhythm instrument is an autoharp. It blends so well in the mix with the hi-hat that you may have not noticed, but it’s there along with some rhythm guitar overdubs. While it doesn’t mimic the sound of the 12-string guitar that Roger McGuinn used with The Byrds, it produced a jangly sound that added to overall flavor of the record.

In 1965, The Lovin’ Spoonful, a brand new act, scored two Top 10 hits for a brand new label, which is a testimony to their overall sound. “You Didn’t Have to be so Nice” peaked at #10 in the US and at #4 in Canada. By the next year, the band scored a number one release, two #2 singles, and two additional Top 10 releases. These accomplishments cemented the overall success of Kama Sutra Records in the 1960s.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Kama Sutra Records: Put Your Hand In The Hand

For our fourth week label feature, I’ve decided upon Kama Sutra Records. With the aid of Art Kass, Kama Sutra Productions entered the recording business in 1964. The label was distributed by MGM Records until it joined with Buddah Records in 1969, which was owned by the same principals.

Although founded in 1967, Buddah began handing the distribution of Kama Sutra and a number of other labels in 1969. The last release with the Kama Sutra imprint was issued in 1976. This week, we’ll look at the 11-year run at this classic independent label.

For our first song on Kama Sutra, we head back to 1971 when the Canadian gospel rock band Ocean released their debut single: “Put Your Hand in the Hand.” Written by fellow Canadian Gene MacLellan, “Put Your Hand in the Hand” was first recorded by another Canadian, Anne Murray, who released the song on her third LP for Capitol, “Honey, Wheat, and Laughter.” Her previous hit single “Snowbird” had also been penned by MacLellan.

Initially, “Put Your Hand in the Hand’ was not released as a single by Anne Murray. Capitol saw the potential for this song, and in late 1970, country artist Beth Moore released the first single featuring the tune. Her version failed to make a dent in the country charts with a dismal showing at #61. Thinking that perhaps Murray could do better, Capitol released Murray’s version of the single in the US, but not in her native Canada. Murray’s stab did worse, as it peaked at #67 on the country charts.

With two failures with MacLellan’s tune, Ocean tried their hand (get the pun) at the tune and had a colossal hit. While it peaked in Canada at #10 on the Yorkville label, “Put Your Hand in the Hand” was a Top 5 hit in the US for Kama Sutra. While it topped the charts in Record World (remember this trade publication?), it additionally charted at #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and at #4 on the A/C charts. With the exposure of Ocean’s version of the tune, a number of other artists also recorded this now classic.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Wings: Give Ireland Back To The Irish

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! While I only have a modicum of Irish blood in my ancestry, we are all Irish on St. Paddy’s Day. I’m wondering why I’ve never featured Wings’ controversial song “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” until now – so I guess now is the best time. While naturally it was a #1 record in Ireland, it was banned by the British Broadcasting Corporation, but still managed to chart at #16 on the UK charts.

The song was written by Paul and Linda McCartney and recorded by Wings within two days following the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, Northern Ireland on January 30, 1972.  Due to the controversy in the UK, EMI Records did not want the record released, but Paul McCartney insisted and so it was. In addition to the BBC, Radio Luxembourg also banned it as well as Independent Television Authority in Britain.

In the US, the public did not warm-up to the record as did the public in other countries. When it was released in 1972, it was a single only release – like several of the band’s singles of that era. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” did not appear on an album until issued as a bonus track on the CD version of Wings’ first LP: “Wild Life.” The flip side, an instrumental version of the same tune, was not included.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Many Shades of Leon Russell: Lady Blue

Being that I’ve enjoyed featuring Leon Russell, I’m adding an extra day onto our Second Week Special: The Many Shades of Leon Russell. Today’s feature is Leon’s final Top-40 hit. During 1974, Shelter Records moved its distribution from Capitol Records to MCA. Our selection, “Lady Blue.” comes from Russell’s second album to be released through MCA – “Will O’ the Wisp.”

“Lady Blue” was the last cut on the album and was first of two single releases from the LP. While “Will O’ the Wisp” wasn’t Leon’s biggest seller, it peaked at #30 and stayed on the album charts for 40 weeks. It also was certified gold in 1976. As a single, “Lady Blue” had a respectable showing at #14 on the pop charts and #13 on the A/C charts.

Like “This Masquerade,” “Lady Blue” shows the ballad side of Leon Russell. Also like “This Masquerade,” George Benson covered “Lady Blue” and released it as single. Unlike Benson’s cover of “This Masquerade,” Benson’s rendition of “Lady Blue” failed to chart in the Hot 100 and had a poor showing at #39 on the R&B chart.

Leon’s original, however, features a very nice arrangement that is laden with major 7th and 11th chords. The memorable alto sax solo was provided by veteran musician Jim Horn who has played on countless recordings over the years. With the timing of the release in 1975 and its subject matter, I would venture to guess that “Lady Blue” was written for and about his new bride: Mary McCreary Russell.

For those like me are obsessed with record labels, there are some versions of the single that has a symbol that is obscured. When Shelter designed their new label for MCA distribution in 1974, the artist placed “(P) 1974 Shelter Records” along the bottom rim. The (P) symbol is the mark for the copyright of the actual recording. When the label blank was used in 1974, this was not problematic; however, when songs were released in subsequent years, the (P) would need to represent the year the recording was copyrighted.

On some issues of the single, the (P) was blacked out and replaced with the appropriate mark © for the copyright of the label’s artwork. In this case, the 1974 designation would be appropriate for as long as the label art was being used. Just a little bit of intellectual property law for those who may care. For those who don’t, just listen to Leon and forget about it.