(4 / 5)
My late Step-Father was a trumpet player in big bands, jazz gigs and recording. A good one too. Really knew his music and really loved his music. I learned a lot from his record collection, talking to him and going to some of his gigs.
I was first “introduced” to the music of my now favourite ever band, Tower of Power, via him. One cold, foggy, November night in the mid-1970s, I went with him to a rehearsal of a new big band formed by a top American band leader.
This was the first rehearsal of all these top UK players, and on arrival, they were handed “the pad” – the music sheets – of the repertoire they were about to play. This was no stale, dusty old 1940s big band stuff. This was so fizzing, rockin, soulful and powerful, it almost knocked my socks off.
One song they played, made me put down my music ‘paper, forget all about the cold in this icy school room with no heating on, and wait until they finished the number to go up to this American chap and ask him what the song was.
He handed me the dots on the sheet, and there at the top of the page, it said: “Don’t Change Horses In The Middle Of The Stream”. But there wasn’t any name to say who it was by. I asked him, and he huffily responded, “Tower of Power”. I had no clue who that was, and he got the hump when I then asked him who they were. Today, he’d have probably said: “Google it, Sonny”.
That was that. Maybe a year later, I was in my favourite second-hand record store, The Very Bizarre in Leicester’s hippy Silver Street, and came across a vinyl LP I had not seen before. In the track listing, bang! There it was. That same song from that freezing cold big band rehearsal. “Don’t Change Horses In The Middle Of The Stream” on the 1974 LP by Tower of Power where that song comes from: “Back To Oakland”. The guy was happy to play it for me on his stereo in the shop. I so wanted to hear that one song again.
First few bars, and he had my cash in his hand, and I was away for the bus, to rush home to play this gorgeous album in full. I still love it today. Oh man, that was a great day and the start of my 40+ year’ love affair with TOP and their timeless soul and funk music.
My Step Dad enjoyed hearing me play my Tower Of Power records when I lived with my parents, because of the fabulous horn section. But he also sat me down to play me some stuff from one of his all-time favourites; Blood, Sweat & Tears. I got into them back then too.
So I was delighted to receive a copy of this new live release by the band. Two discs – seven tracks on CD # 1 and six on the second disc. Opening with the timeless “Spinning Wheel” and closing the first CD with “(I Can Recall) Spain”. Then “Hi-De-Ho ‘That Old Sweet Roll’ ”, and ending with another staple for BS&T concerts, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”.
The band was formed by Al Kooper in the late 60s, but he left after a few months. The band would go on to become one of the biggest selling bands of the late 60s and into the 70s. With hits such as “Spinning Wheel”, and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” mixing up jazz and rock. British born David Clayton-Thomas was asked to join the band to replace Kooper.
He was born David Henry Thomsett in Surrey, England in 1941. His father Fred was a Canadian soldier, his mother Freda, a British music student. After the war, the family settled in Willowdale, a suburb of Toronto. As a teenager, his clashes with his authoritarian father led to David living on the streets by the time he was 14, then spending the rest of his youth in and out of jails and reformatories.
At 14 he left home, sleeping in cars and derelict buildings, stealing food and clothing to survive. He was an angry street kid, a tough nut with a bad temper. So inevitably he was nicked for various misdemeanours such as theft, fighting and vagrancy. But when a bashed up old cheap catalogue guitar was given to him by an inmate who had been released, David focused on his love for music, to keep him out of trouble.
As an underage musician playing Toronto’s Yonge Street strip, David sat in with rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins and his band The Hawks, before they were known as The Band. A lot of the R&B artists and blues bands from the U.S., particularly Detroit and Chicago, loved to play in Toronto because there was no colour bar. In the ’60s, a black band in Detroit played only in the black clubs, but in Canada, black and white audiences mixed.
One night in 1966 after “sitting in” with blues singer John Lee Hooker in Yorkville, Toronto, David left with him for New York. Hooker soon departed for Europe and David stayed on in New York City. Prior to leaving Toronto, Clayton-Thomas fronted a band called The Bossmen. In the summer of 1966, the band had a Canadian number one hit with their anti-war anthem, “Brainwashed.” The song maintained the number one spot on the charts for an unheard of 16 weeks.
Clayton-Thomas was working a regular gig uptown New York with the house band at a club called The Scene. One night, folk singer Judy Collins came in. So blown away by what she had heard, Collins returned the following evening and brought Bobby Colomby and Jim Fielder of Blood, Sweat & Tears with her. Blood, Sweat & Tears had already released their debut album on Columbia, but then they broke up, so Bobby was looking for a new singer. They found him that night in DCT.
December of ‘68, Blood, Sweat & Tears released their self-titled sophomore album, which featured the David Clayton-Thomas penned “Spinning Wheel,” the band rocketed to international acclaim. By Christmas of the following year, they had the number one album in the world. The album sold 10 million copies worldwide.
At the time of its original release, “Spinning Wheel” went on to top the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart and peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was also nominated for three Grammy Awards in 1970, taking the honour for Best Instrumental Arrangement while Blood, Sweat & Tears won in the Album of The Year category.
David and BS&T sold more than 40 million records. In 1996 he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and in 2007 his jazz/rock composition “Spinning Wheel” was enshrined in the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame. In 2010 David received his star on Canada’s Walk Of Fame.
This live set was recorded in 1975, capturing the raw-throated vocals of David Clayton-Thomas and showcasing some superb ensemble playing from the band, who stretch out and show off some awesome jazz and rock chops. It was originally released as a double vinyl LP set in 1976 in Japan and Europe. Recorded at four different concerts, over five nights: Schaefer Music Festival, Central Park, New York; The National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Canada; Monterey Jazz Festival, California and City Hall Plaza, Boston, Massachusetts. Mike Stern on guitar.
If you know this band and their repertoire, and have already got some of their output in your collection, there’s not much more to say about this live set. Other than give you the track listing to check off against the studio recordings you may own already, and to bring a smile when you spot the songs you love.
So, here goes: “Spinning Wheel”,(David Clayton-Thomas) “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”, (Al Kooper) “Lucretia MacEvil”, (DCT) “And When I Die”, (Laura Nyro) “One Room Country Shack”, (John Lee Hooker) “And When I Die (Reprise)”, (Laura Nyro) “(I Can Recall) Spain” (Chick Corea). That’s CD # 1 sorted.
Now for the second disc: “Hi-De-Ho ‘ That Old Sweet Roll”, (Goffin and King) “Unit Seven”, (Sam Jones) “Life”, (Allen Toussaint) “Mean Ole World”, (Jerry LaCroix), “Ride Captain Ride” (Carlos Pinera and Franke Conte) and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” (Berry Gordy Jr., B Holloway, F. Wilson, P. Holloway). That’s it. Seven plus six cuts = we have 13 tracks in total.
My own BS&T ‘story’ goes like this…Back in 1978, 79 or could even have been 1980, I was shooting photos for a music ‘paper and I think maybe also for the concert promoter, of a gig at Coventry Apollo Theatre, where The Beatles and The Stones and all the big names of the 60s and 70s had performed. On the bill this night was a double-header. Blood, Sweat & Tears and War. Wow! I had died and gone to heaven when I saw that line-up, and then got access to shoot pix of the whole show.
Lee Oskar was fronting War, and David Clayton Thomas was the main man with BS&T. Both bands were on fire that night, and in 39-years of shooting pix of, and writing about concerts, (and a few years longer seeing live bands as a punter), this gig is still in the Top 10 of my personal favourites.
The place was packed, and there were a lot of musicians and VIPs in that night. Comedian and actor Lenny Henry was there, and he remembers that evening for more than the music. I vividly recall seeing him standing on a seat, jumping up and down to War, when they played “Me And Baby Brother”. On a typical theatre or cinema seat, which folded flat to the back of the seat. But it collapsed while he was stood on it, and he got his foot trapped down the back of the seat.
That didn’t stop him digging the music and the band’s groove. No way. While he was stuck and theatre staff tried to free him – eventually having to dismantle the seat – he was still grooving to the music and waving his arms in the hand, albeit a one footed dance! I came across Lenny in the private Soho media venue, The Groucho Club some years later, and reminded him of that night. He laughed his arse off and we reminisced about that amazing gig.
I found one of the photos from that gig not so long back, in my huge archive; a black and white 10 x 8 of DCT singing his soul-drenched heart out. I think he was wearing a BS&T silk tour jacket. It brought back great memories of a fantastic concert, and of a band who pioneered the sound of jazz-rock. This new live release brings back even more fond memories of BS&T and one of the best singers ever.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’