Rhino’s international arm is boxing up remastered albums by two very different artists of the late ’60s and early ’70s: New Orleans R&B master Dr. John and definitive soft rock combo Bread.
For six decades, Dr. John has been spreading the funky gospel with his singular brand of psychedelic soul. On September 22, many of the good doctor’s most acclaimed albums will feature in The Atco Albums Collection. This set brings together the former Mac Rebennack’s first seven classic albums, released on Atco between 1968 and 1974, all in newly-remastered editions.
Rebennack was already a music veteran by the time he signed with Atco. Countless records made in the Crescent City bore his imprint as musician, songwriter, artist and even A&R man before he decamped with producer Harold Battiste for Los Angeles in the mid-sixties. In L.A., he recorded his 1968 debut album Gris-Gris with Battiste, only taking on the flamboyant persona of Dr. John Creaux, The Night Tripper when he could find nobody else to “play” the role – and the rest is, as they say, history. This box opens with the hip and heady brew of Gris-Gris and continues with 1969’s Babylon (which included the bitingly acerbic commentary of “The Patriotic Flag Waver”) and 1970’s Remedies. The latter originated during a bleak period in Dr. John’s personal life in which his battles with hard drug addiction took a mighty toll. (Happily, he has been sober since 1989.) He regrouped in London to record The Sun, Moon and Herbs in 1971, and although the album was his first to chart, it yielded no 45s.
Atco hadn’t given up on Dr. John, however. Whereas Atlantic’s Tom Dowd co-produced Remedies, another great from within the label family – Jerry Wexler – joined Harold Battiste to co-produce 1972’s Dr. John’s Gumbo. On the contentedly nostalgic Gumbo, Dr. John’s distinctive drawl graced a set of New Orleans classics including the single release of “Iko Iko” and a Huey “Piano” Smith medley. Affectionate and authentic, Gumbo remains one of Dr. John’s most enjoyable LPs.
Finally, in 1973, came Dr. John’s all-time classic and commercial breakthrough, In the Right Place. Producer-arranger-conductor and fellow New Orleans native Allen Toussaint proved the perfect match in the studio for his old friend Rebennack. Toussaint’s unerring instincts and the musical participation of The Meters gave In the Right Place, including its incomparably cool, funky anchor “Right Place Wrong Time,” the right balance of grit and playfulness, rendered with a potent commercial sheen. (Bob Dylan, Bette Midler and Doug Sahm were among the artists to contribute to the song’s lyrics, each offering up an instance of bad luck!) “I Been Hoodood” returned Dr. John to the murky swamp waters. Toussaint took Dr. John back to vaudeville with his bouncy soft-shoe arrangement of “Such a Night,” with woozy horns and cooing voices supporting Dr. John as he jauntily croons about stealing his best friend’s woman. The Toussaint-penned “Life” featured its composer on his distinctive background vocals.
Naturally, Toussaint and The Meters returned for a follow-up. 1974’s Desitively Bonnaroo would turn out to be Dr. John’s final Atco release (and naturally, the final title on this collection). The freewheeling vibe of In the Right Place continued to this LP, whether on the bright “Let’s Make a Better World” or the rather direct “(Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away,” which doesn’t go much deeper than the title, but certainly proves that Dr. John spoke words of wisdom. “Mos’ Scocious” offered one of his most irresistibly swaggering grooves. Dr. John went on to record for labels including United Artists, Horizon, Warner Bros., Virgin, and Blue Note, but not before leaving behind the richest and perhaps purest expression of his musical soul at Atco.
Next, things move from N’awlins to Los Angeles with The Elektra Years, a six-album collection featuring the complete studio work of Bread. This talented set of multi-instrumentalists was founded by co-lead singers David Gates and Jimmy Griffin with guitarist/bassist Robb Royer. Together, Griffin and Royer had penned the lyrics to “For All We Know,” a Top 5 hit for the Carpenters; as members of The Pleasure Fair in 1967, their sole album was produced by Gates. After their self-titled 1969 debut and a tour with session drummer Jim Gordon, Mike Botts took the stool for second album On The Waters in 1970.
Here, Gates’ compositions began to take center stage, such as the single “Make It With You.” A soft, romantic ballad, it shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for a week in the summer of 1970. A re-recorded version of Bread track “It Don’t Matter to Me,” recorded for On The Waters, was another Top 10 hit. After 1971’s Manna and another Top 5 in “If,” Royer left the band but continued to write with Griffin. In his place came legendary Wrecking Crew bassist/keyboardist Larry Knechtel; this lineup’s first album together, Baby I’m-a Want You, was their most successful, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200 in 1972 and spinning off two Top 5s in the title track and “Everything I Own.”
Seven months after the release of fifth album Guitar Man in late 1972, personal and professional strains, chiefly between Gates and Griffin, led the group to call it a day. But you can’t keep a good soft rock band down, and in late 1976, Gates, Griffin, Botts and Knechtel reconvened in the studio for one more album, 1977’s Lost WIthout Your Love. Its title tune gave the band its sixth and final Top 10 hit. Botts, Knechtel and session guitarist Dean Parks, a participant on Bread’s final tour, backed up Gates’ solo touring (credited as Bread until Griffin pursued legal action, settled in the early 1980s). The 1972-1977 lineup reunited for a 25th anniversary tour in 1996. Gates and Boyer remain the only living members, with Griffin and Botts succumbing to cancer in 2005 and Knechtel passing away four years later. All six of those remastered and unforgettable albums now get their due on disc in The Elektra Years. It’s available October 27.
Pre-order links and discographies for both boxes are below.
Disc 1: Gris-Gris (ATCO SD 33-234, 1968)
Disc 2: Babylon (ATCO SD 33-270, 1968)
Disc 3: Remedies (ATCO SD 33-316, 1970)
Disc 4: The Sun, Moon & Herbs (ATCO SD 33-362, 1971)
Disc 5: Dr. John’s Gumbo (ATCO SD-7006, 1972)
Disc 6: In the Right Place (ATCO SD-7018, 1973)
Disc 7: Desitively Bonnaroo (ATCO SD-7043, 1974)
Disc 1: Bread (Elektra EKS-74044, 1969)
Disc 2: On The Waters (Elektra EKS-74076, 1970)
Disc 3: Manna (Elektra EKS-74086, 1971)
Disc 4: Baby I’m-A Want You (Elektra EKS-75015, 1972)
Disc 5: Guitar Man (Elektra EKS-75047, 1972)
Disc 6: Lost Without Your Love (Elektra 7E-1094, 1977)