The new collection on Ace Records' BGP imprint packs a mighty punch. That's because it's dedicated to Horn Rock (with the equally-important subtitle And Funky Guitar Grooves), that boldest and brassiest of rock subgenres. The phrase "horn rock" immediately brings to mind the sound popularized by Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears (only one of which is represented here) but the added colors afforded by horns were applied to recordings in the baroque-rock, art-rock, psych-rock, and jazz-rock idioms, just to name a few. This 17-track sampler from artists both unfamiliar and unknown touches, if fleetingly, on many of those sounds as well as straight-ahead R&B. "I am the thousand trumpet lines that were an afterthought/Intended as a way to get a dying record sold," Rupert Holmes knowingly observed in his powerful meditation "Studio Musician." Those countless pop songs adorned with a dash of brass aren't on the menu here; instead, the selections mainly feature horns fully integrated into the mix.
Blood, Sweat & Tears' debut album arrived in February 1968, about fourteen months before the same label, Columbia Records, introduced the band then known as Chicago Transit Authority. BS&T's debut, Child Is Father to the Man, was an ambitious blend of pop, soul, classical, and jazz, but failed to yield any hit singles. Frontman Al Kooper moved on, and with the addition of lead singer David Clayton-Thomas, and the band hit its commercial stride with December 1968's eponymous LP which spawned three top 5 entries. Horn Rock doesn't feature any of those familiar songs from the band but instead spotlights co-founder Al Kooper's "Toe Hold" and a later BS&T track from the post-Clayton-Thomas era. Kooper continued in the vein of his BS&T for his first solo album, the fittingly-titled I Stand Alone. A Stax tune previously recorded by Sam and Dave, "Toe Hold" lent itself to down and dirty horns. Add in the soulful backgrounds of The Blossoms, and the result is a driving slice of blue-eyed soul from a musical renaissance man. The BS&T track, 1973's "Roller Coaster," was written by "Suspicious Minds" author Mark James and featured a seeming reference to the band's ubiquitous "Spinning Wheel" with the lyric "the wheel will keep on spinning." Featuring Jerry Fisher on lead vocals and an emphasis on jazz fusion, "Roller Coaster" boasts a very different sound than either the Kooper or Clayton-Thomas periods, but the horns still blowing at full force on this funky little number.
One track here was actually released on Stax: Delaney and Bonnie's "It's Been a Long Time Comin'." Recorded with producers Duck Dunn and Don Nix and featuring The Memphis Horns, it's much more R&B than rock, but with Delaney's persuasive growl and Bonnie's earthy rasp at their finest, it's hard to argue with the inclusion. San Francisco band Cold Blood, a favorite of Janis Joplin's, also had Stax as a touchstone. Lydia Pense's lead vocal style compares favorably to Janis' own sound, while the song takes in R&B and jazz influences with its prominent organ and insinuating brass, respectively. (There's even a climactic saxophone spot.)
It's unfortunate that Chicago isn't represented here (whether for licensing or creative reasons), because the band's specter hovers over many of these tracks. Lighthouse's rhythmic "One Fine Morning" is in the same high-octane vein as early Chicago and The Ides of March, another Windy City group sadly not included here. There's even a dash of BS&T as the gritty lead can't help but recall Clayton-Thomas. Those "funky guitar grooves" promised in the compilation title are also evident on this lost gem.
It's tempting to consider Chase's "Run Back to Mama" as a BS&T pastiche, but the song co-written and sung by The Ides' Jim Peterik is very much in the spirit of his own "Vehicle." Chase's five trumpets, led by founder Bill Chase, gave the band a sound of its own bolstered by guest Peterik's sharp-as-ever pop instincts. Chase's LPs were released on CBS label Epic, sister to Columbia Records; while the CBS family might have had its hands full with Chicago and BS&T, the label group also shepherded another horn-rock band. The Flock was harder-edged than either of those acts. Produced by classical producer John McClure, "Clown (Part I)" has undeniably impeccable musicianship (including a fine violin solo) but lacks that universal spark.
One of the most familiar names on this set is Tower of Power. The cool, percolating groove of the band's "Clever Girl" is propelled by driving drums, Lenny Williams' smooth lead, the group's call-and-response vocals, and the horn section that's played on dozens of records from varied artists. Tower of Power deftly integrated R&B, soul, and jazz into their signature sound. Like Tower of Power, The Sons of Champlin hailed from the Bay Area. Led by the versatile Bill Champlin (who would later join Chicago for a long stint), the psych-rock band successfully integrated horns into the lengthy, oddly-titled "Boomp Boomp Chomp." With improvisational and jazz elements, it's not tightly focused, but captures the region's experimental spirit well.
Another recognizable name on Horn Rock is that of The Electric Flag. Buddy Miles and Barry Goldberg's funkily rocking "Make Your Move," produced by Jerry Wexler, has been culled from the band's largely-unheralded 1974 reunion LP The Band Kept Playing. Mike Bloomfield of The Electric Flag had departed by the time The Paul Butterfield Blues Band released "Buddy's Advice," the Jerry Ragovoy-produced song that played down the band's pure blues aspect in favor of a soulful attack.
One rather questionable curatorial choice is "Tuane" from Hammer, which has jazzy scatting, searing guitars, a burbling organ, propulsive beat and Latin percussion, but no horns. The same goes for "Somebody Oughta' Turn Your Head Around" from Motown/Rare Earth act The Crystal Mansion by way of Philadelphia producer Jerry Ross. Despite the lack of horns, they're both soul-rock nuggets which could have used those overdubs to which Rupert Holmes was referring. Perhaps the set's oddest cut is "Aunt Marie" from Kansas City group American Sound Ltd. It's a bizarre juxtaposition of a British Invasion-style lead vocal over a boilerplate, brash horn-rock track.
A couple of unreleased tracks premiere here. Texas vocalist Donnie Brooks' "Blow Your Mind" was produced by a pre-Fleetwood Mac Keith Olsen. Brooks employed a jazz influence in the shifting time signatures and choice of instrumentation (dig those vibes!). "Shoe," from the band Black Magic, also makes its debut.
As compiled by Dean Rudland, Horn Rock and Funky Guitar Grooves 1968-1974 proves that horns gave a new palette to rock and roll, affording talented musicians a new arena in which to stretch. Their presence undoubtedly added to the growing sophistication of what was then still a young genre. The set includes a 20-page booklet with Rudland's track-by-track liner notes. Nick Robbins has nicely remastered all tracks. A vinyl edition is also available.
One hopes that a Volume Two is on the way, perhaps offering selections from Chicago, The Ides of March, Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes, and the many other groups which have flown the horn-rock flag. Until then, however, this primer is an exciting listen from start to finish.
- Buddy's Advice - The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (from Elektra LP EKS 74053, 1969)
- Toe Hold - Al Kooper (from Columbia LP CS 9718 1969)
- It's Been a Long Time Coming - Delaney and Bonnie (Stax single STA-0003, 1968)
- Understanding - Cold Blood (from San Francisco LP SD 205, 1970)
- One Fine Morning (LP Version) - Lighthouse (from Evolution LP 3007, 1971)
- Roller Coaster - Blood, Sweat & Tears (Columbia single 4-45937, 1973)
- Clever Girl - Tower of Power (from Warner Bros. LP BS 2681, 1973)
- Blow Your Mind - Donnie Brooks (previously unreleased)
- Run Back to Mama - Chase (from Epic LP KE 32572, 1973)
- Tuane - Hammer (from San Francisco LP SD 203, 1970)
- Somebody Oughta' Turn Your Head Around - Crystal Mansion (Rare Earth 4047, 1972)
- Clown (Part I) - The Flock (CBS single 4965, 1970)
- Gypsy Boy II - Tobias Wood Henderson (from Pulsar LP 10605, 1971)
- Shoes - Black Magic (previously unreleased)
- Make Your Move - The Electric Flag (from Atlantic LP SD 18112, 1974)
- Boomp, Boomp, Chomp - The Sons (from Capitol LP ST-332, 1969)
- Aunt Marie - American Sound Ltd. (Pearce single 5841, 1968) (*)
All tracks stereo except (*) mono