Saturday, July 6, 2013

Zephyr: Sail On

From Boulder, Colorado, the band Zephyr is often recognized as being one of the seminal bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s; however, they never were a household name. Usually two aspects of Zephyr’s potential are acknowledged – the guitar of Tommy Bolin and vocals of Candy Givens. Both rising stars, their lives were cut short far before their time.

Of the two, Tommy Bolin had the greater fame. When he left Zephyr in the early 70s, he was selected to be Domenic Troiano’s replacement in The James Gang. Troiano, who had been Joe Walsh’s replacement, was moving to The Guess Who to be a replacement for a series of guitarists who had successively moved into the lead guitar spot after Randy Bachman left the band.

Bolin later left The James Gang in 1975 to fill the shoes of Ritchie Blackmore who had exited Deep Purple. Within a year Bolin was dead from a drug overdose that occurred two months after he left Purple and his return to a solo career.

Vocalist Candy Givens also had great potential. You could compare her as a cross between Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, and possibly – just possibly, you might add a touch of Ann Wilson; although, Wilson came on the international scene much later than Givens and could have never influenced her. As good as Givens was as a vocalist, I can still hear pitch imperfections in her performances on this disc.

Sometimes she went sharp and other times she was flat – this is especially notable as she soared in the higher notes of her range. In other words, although a powerful singer, she was a little erratic at times. Later records indicate that practice had helped to eliminate some of these pitch irregularities.

In 1984, Givens met her untimely demise in a hot tub. She apparently was over relaxed from ingesting Quaaludes and slipped out of consciousness allowing her to drown.

Today’s Bubbling Under hit comes from the band’s 1969 debut album on ABC’s Command-Probe label. “Sail On” was cowritten by Bolin and Givens and gives you a taste of this influential, but hardly famous, rock band. “Sail On” was the album’s single, but it failed to chart. The album charted in the 40s in spring 1970.

While I've made much ado about Bolin and Candy Givens, they were not the only members of the band; and in totality, they all were great musicians.  Candy's husband at the time, David Givens, was Zephyr's primary songwriter and bassist.  Robbie Chamberlin handled the back beat. Keyboardist John Faris made an important contribution to “Sail On” with the organ. I can't swear to it, but it sounds like a Hammond to me. 

I received my copy of Zephyr’s self-titled album in 1972. At the time, I think I was put off by Candy Givens’ vocal calisthenics and I shelved the album at the time – this was before anyone had heard of Tommy Bolin outside of Zephyr. 

To be truthful, Probe Records, a subsidiary of Command Records, a subsidiary of Grand Award Records, a subsidiary of ABC may have placed the album out of the major promotional priorities of ABC and its other artists on more successful labels under their control.

Rediscovering the album recently allowed me to put the LP in perspective and it really does hold the test of time. I wouldn’t consider it a classic, but I would rank it a very important contribution to rock music as a whole. The fact that it has stayed in print over the years also speaks to its longevity. Rock on Zephyr.

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