High Moon Records’ new collection from Curt Boettcher and Friends, Looking for the Sun, takes its title from a 1968 Boettcher production for singer-songwriter Gordon Alexander. Given Boettcher’s participation, one might expect the song to be a dreamy SoCal pop fantasia with richly layered harmonies. But instead it’s a rather sparse, dark rumination with an acid coffeehouse feel. Alexander, in the song at least, doesn’t find the sun, and arguably, neither did Curt Boettcher in his lifetime. But the late, enigmatic visionary (The Association, Sagittarius, The Millennium) left behind a remarkable and often devastatingly beautiful body of work in his mere 43 years. Looking for the Sun doesn’t concentrate on Boettcher’s familiar classics like “Along Comes Mary,” “Sweet Pea,” or even “My World Fell Down,” but rather turns the spotlight on 21 rare and previously unissued gems (most from the Sony vault, all circa 1966-1968) from the producer-songwriter and those in his inner circle, including Gary Usher, Victoria Winston, Gary S. Paxton, and Sandy Salisbury. It paints a fascinating portrait of a prodigiously gifted sonic auteur and his spellbinding, if criminally unknown, creations.
Looking for the Sun showcases Boettcher as producer, songwriter, and artist in various pop styles. Girl group The Bootiques, a.k.a. Christine Costello (daughter of film legend Lou), Julie Jones, and Merle Levine, delivered one single to Columbia subsidiary Date Records produced by Boettcher: the buoyant “Did You Get Your Fun” b/w “Mr. Man of the World,” an offbeat folk-rock spin on a ’50s sound from the ever-innovative producer. Also in the girl group mode is Cindy Malone’s psychedelic “You Were Near Me,” recorded in 1967 but inexplicably unreleased until now. The Bootiques and Malone singles are just some of the many fine cuts here recorded at Gary S. Paxton’s studio with his usual group of musicians (including such veterans as Mike Deasy and Jerry Scheff) and the background vocalists of The Ballroom. Action Unlimited’s haunting “My Heart Cries Out,” written and sung by Chuk Trisko, is another GSP production from 1966 (this one originally issued on the Parkway label). It was backed with a sprightly but dense rumination on the generation gap, “Thinking to Myself.” Clearly, Boettcher would never be content to remain in one bag for long.
A trio of productions for Ray Whitley (writer of The Tams’ “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)”) include both sides of a 1966 Columbia single and one previously unissued cut. The driving “Take Back Your Mind” is equal parts rock and soul, with an ear-opening harmony interlude; it originally appeared on 45 with the more overtly pop-ish “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” as the flip. Newly unearthed is “Lorraine,” co-written by Whitley and Paul Revere and The Raiders’ Freddy Weller. It’s not hard to imagine the yearningly romantic ballad sung by Bill Medley or even Roy Orbison. Gordon Alexander gets three tracks, too, all from his 1968 Columbia LP Gordon’s Buster. Boettcher collaborators Joey Stec and Michael Fennelly are among those heard on these deep cuts. Besides “Looking for the Sun,” Alexander’s eerily detached, almost Jim Morrison-recalling voice is heard on “Miss Mary” and “Windy Wednesday.” There’s no small amount of studio wizardry from Boettcher here, with effects, echo, and extraordinary background arrangements. (Sonny Knight produced the remainder of the album.)
Curt and his friend Victoria Winston were not only executives (for a time) in the Our Productions company, but performed together as flower-power duo Summer’s Children, so named by then-ubiquitous poet-songwriter Rod McKuen; their gentle, sweetly tuneful “Milk and Honey” is another gem from Gary Paxton’s studio. (The B-side of that Date single, Curt’s production of Tommy Roe’s “Too Young to Marry,” hasn’t been included.) The same group of musicians and singers contributed to British singer-songwriter Jonathan Moore’s Columbia single “I Didn’t Ever Know” b/w “London Bridge.” The former is graced by a bouzouki as well as Mamas and the Papas-esque harmonies from Curt and Victoria while the latter finds Curt capitalizing on the British Invasion with a Herman’s Hermits-esque sing-along tune.
The Friends of the title don’t get short shrift, either. There’s Keith Colley’s 1967 re-recording of his 1963 minor hit “Enamorado,” featuring Curt among the background singers. The track with its Tijuana Brass-esque flavor was produced by a key figure in Boettcher’s circle, Gary Usher, and boasted the contributions of Wrecking Crew members including Glen Campbell (on both guitar and harmonies), Jerry Cole, Bill Pitman, Plas Johnson, Ray Pohlman, and future Bread leader David Gates. “Enamorado” was backed with “Shame, Shame,” co-written by Keith but better known via The Magic Lanterns’ recording.
Eddie Hodges may be one of the most-well known names here for his work on Broadway in the original production of The Music Man and opposite Frank Sinatra in the film A Hole in the Head. The former child actor had grown into the role of a bona fide pop star, charting hits like “I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door” in 1961. His 1967 Sunburst single “Shadows and Reflexions,” penned by Larry Marks and “Along Comes Mary” author/Boettcher pal Tandyn Almer, is sophisticated pop-psych of the highest order.
Singer-songwriter Sandy Salisbury played a key role in Boettcher’s professional life, collaborating on projects released as The Ballroom, The Millennium, and Sagittarius; Curt also produced his solo album Sandy. He was the artist on a lone promo single released by Our Phonograph Records? (question mark intentional), distributed by Amy/Bell. Both sides produced by Steve Clark under the Our Productions banner are happy additions here: the brassy, uptempo “The Best Thing” and the blissful soft-baroque pop nugget “All I Really Have Is a Memory.”
If there’s any doubt why Brian Wilson was captivated by Curt’s work, look no further than to the final two tracks on this collection: Sagittarius’ 1968 single “Another Time” b/w “Pisces.” As “pure” Boettcher, one can’t do better than the ravishing, delicate ballad “Another Time,” which he wrote and sings. He’s joined on harmonies by producer-arranger Gary Usher as well as by future Millennium members Lee Mallory, Ron Edgar, and Doug Rhodes (all late of The Music Machine) plus Keith Olsen, who would co-produce that group with Boettcher. The Usher-penned “Pisces” lacks Boettcher’s participation but has The Wrecking Crew working its own magic. The Eastern-flavored instrumental cut was culled from a previous Usher project, The Astrology Album.
Curt Boettcher subsequently produced for artists like Eternity’s Children, Song, and even The Beach Boys (their infamous disco remake of Wild Honey‘s “Here Comes the Night”), as well as recording with California Music on Equinox and under his own name for Elektra. Yet personal struggles took their toll, even as listeners in the CD era were about to finally open their ears to the beguiling music he’d made decades earlier. He passed away in 1987 at the age of 43. In her comprehensive liner notes about his life and career, Boettcher historian Dawn Eden Goldstein (author of the recent memoir Sunday Will Never Be the Same) quotes his mother Peg in 1989 recalling when her son presciently observed, “I’ll probably be recognized after I die.” That recognition did come in no small part due to the dedication of fans like Goldstein and this set’s producer, compiler, and designer Steve Stanley of Now Sounds. Goldstein and Stanley have left no stones unturned in their detailed track-by-track annotations (including session musician and discographical information) while Stanley has designed the entire, handsome package including the digipak, the 36-page, full-color booklet, and period labels decked out in the style of mid-1960s Columbia Records. Alan Brownstein has mastered from the original tapes, with most everything in crisp, punchy mono.
A set of this magnitude is no small undertaking. Looking for the Sun is a compelling tribute to a multi-faceted music maker, taking in the sunshine and the darkness from a beautiful dreamer. The booklet’s back cover repeats the words printed on The Millennium’s lone original LP, and they’re hopeful, indeed: To Be Continued.
Looking for the Sun is available on both CD (21 tracks) and vinyl (18 tracks) at the links below.
- You Were Near Me – Cindy Malone (previously unreleased)
- Take Back Your Mind – Ray Whitley (Columbia single 4-43980, 1967)
- Milk and Honey – Summer’s Children (Date single 2-1508, 1966)
- Did You Get Your Fun – The Bootiques (Date single 2-1513, 1966)
- Enamorado – Keith Colley (Columbia single 4-44410, 1967)
- Shame, Shame – Keith Colley (Columbia single 4-44410, 1967)
- I Didn’t Ever Know – Jonathan Moore (Columbia single 4-43658, 1966)
- Shadows and Reflexions – Eddie Hodges (Sunburst single 773, 1967)
- My Heart Cries Out – Action Unlimited (Parkway single P-115, 1966)
- Thinking to Myself – Action Unlimited (Parkway single P-115, 1966)
- Here Today, Gone Tomorrow – Ray Whitley (Columbia single 4-43980, 1967)
- Lorraine – Ray Whitley (previously unreleased)
- London Bridge – Jonathan Moore (Columbia single 4-43658, 1966)
- The Best Thing – Sandy (Our Phonograph Records? single 50,005, 1967)
- All I Really Have Is a Memory – Sandy (Our Phonograph Records? single 50,005, 1967)
- Man of the World – The Bootiques (Date single 2-1513, 1966)
- Looking for the Sun – Gordon Alexander (from Gordon’s Buster, Columbia LP CS 9693, 1968)
- Miss Mary – Gordon Alexander (from Gordon’s Buster, Columbia LP CS 9693, 1968)
- Windy Wednesday – Gordon Alexander (from Gordon’s Buster, Columbia LP CS 9693, 1968)
- Another Time – Sagittarius (Columbia single 4-44398, 1968)
- Pisces – Sagittarius (Columbia single 4-44398, 1968)