Music News

Blood, Sweat & Tears

When Clive Davis succeeded rock-hating Mitch Miller as head of Columbia's A&R department in the late '60s, he had to make up for a lot of lost time. While he had his share of missteps -- like wearing ascots, signing the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, releasing Moby Grape's first album entirely on singles and signing off on the disastrous anti-establishment "The man can't bust our music" ad campaign -- he made up for it by signing Janis Joplin, Laura Nyro, the Chambers Brothers and Blood, Sweat & Tears, when Al Kooper was still calling the shots.

By 1968, Kooper had quit the Blues Project, taking that group's guitarist, Steve Katz, with him. Kooper was ready to form a new combo, intent on adding brass to a batch of songs he'd written, two of which -- "I Can't Quit Her" and "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" -- remain the best cuts in the Blood, Sweat & Tears canon.

BS&T was never just the straightforward jazz ensemble with minuscule rock tendencies it would later become. Sure, Kooper wanted to be Maynard Ferguson, but he also wanted to be the Left Banke, the Zombies and James Brown (listen to his screams at the end of "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" and see if you don't feel like dropping a cape on his back). Some songs didn't even have horns -- "The Modern Adventures of Plato, Diogenes and Freud" features Cooper's piano and a string section. This eclectic blend of pop, soul, psychedelia and a bossa nova (check out the version of Nilsson's "Without Her") was a first in rock music and, sadly, also a last.

Kooper was already an established star but the other group members weren't, so they ousted him from the band (or he left, depending whom you ask) before the making of the second record. BS&T also changed producers, from the inventive John Simon (the Band, Simon and Garfunkel) to James William Guercio, who'd already plastered his by-the-numbers horn sound all over the Buckinghams and Chicago.

There's no denying that BS&T had greater commercial success without Kooper, but many of the best ideas from their self-titled Kooper-less follow-up were nicked from Child Is The Father. The organ groove at the end of "You Made Me So Very Happy" is a direct lift off the band's earlier cover of Tom Rush's "Morning Glory," and horn stabs like the kind in "Spinning Wheel" turned up previously on "I Can't Quit Her." And then there's David Clayton Thomas, who always sounds like he's about to devour a Hungry Man frozen dinner and just can't wait until it's out of the box to start chomping. Eventually, everyone and his husky-voiced uncle would copy Thomas' gruff sound, but given my druthers, I'd rather hear "Vehicle" by the Ides of March than David Clayton Thomas turds like "Lucretia McEvil" and "Spinning Wheel."

Before the Black Rock Coalition, was there such a thing as "brown-eyed" rock? The Chambers Brothers certainly would've qualified. Unfortunately, this rerelease of their 1967 Columbia debut tacked on quite a few early recordings on which their drummer sounds like he's pounding away in another room entirely. At this early stage, the Chambers Brothers sound best when they show their gospel roots, and in turn, deliver their best with renditions of "People Get Ready" and "What the World Needs Now Is Love."

What the world certainly doesn't need is even an 11-minute version of "Time Has Come Today," complete with the Brothers jamming on "The Little Drummer Boy" and laughing maniacally like James Earl Jones with a cowbell gone amuck. Generally, Sony Legacy reissues always include the mono single mix, and because the Brothers recorded an inferior version of the song in 1966, that's what we're stuck with. And when my brain's been psychedlicized, "that just won't do."

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic