Friday, July 20, 2018

Sweathog - 1972 - Hallelujah


01. Road To Mexico - 2:18
02. Ride, Louise, Ride - 3:16
03. Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo - 3:17
04. Questions And Conclusions - 4:08
05. Things Yet To Come - 2:48
06. Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice - 2:30
07. Hallelujah - 2:55
08. Darker Side - 4:07
09. Working My Way Back Home - 2:55
10.In The Wee Wee Hours Of The Night - 4:58
11.Rock And Roll Revival - 3:22

Lenny Lee - Organ, Vocals
Frosty - Drums, Percussion
B.J. - Guitar, Vocals
Dave Johnson - Bass, Vocals

With Michael Omartian - Piano
Jimmie Haskell - Horns Arrangement

Sweathog was a San Francisco-based quartet whose sound was fairly far removed from the music normally associated with that city. They were a powerful ensemble instrumentally, keyboardist/singer Lenny Lee (aka Lenny Lee Goldsmith), guitarist/singer Bob Jones, bassist/singer Dave Johnson, and drummer Frosty (aka Barry Smith, aka Bartholomew Smith) all top players in their field -- Frosty had played with Lee Michaels on his third and fourth albums, while Jones had played on Harvey Mandel's Cristo Redentor and Righteous in the late '60s, and Goldsmith was an ex-member of the Five Americans. 

They were not bad as singers, either, with Goldsmith handling the leads. Their music was a mix of Southern-style soul, early-'70s funk, and blues, all wrapped around a virtuoso rock sound. The group was signed to Columbia Records at the time of that label's fixation on West Coast acts, under Clive Davis's regime -- they were always looking for another Big Brother & the Holding Company, or something to take the place of that act on their roster. The group's self-titled debut album passed mostly without a musical trace, without an AM radio hit to drive sales, though its cover image of bare buttocks was censored in various countries. 

In 1972, they seemed to hit paydirt with their single "Hallelujah," a driving piece of explosive Southern-fried rock & roll with a soul edge that was a killer showcase for all four players (especially Frosty). It got to number 33 on the national charts, but that relatively modest performance doesn't indicate how popular it was on the radio, where it got airplay closer to that of a Top 20 hit. 

The song got the album (also titled Hallelujah) into stores, at least, but it never sold in huge numbers, despite a respectable promotion effort and a lot of exposure for the band, touring behind Black Sabbath, among other top acts of the period. They broke up in 1973, and Goldsmith later played on Martha Reeves' first post-Motown solo album before joining Stoneground. 
by Bruce Eder

The Top 40 title track got Sweathog some chart action in 1971. Drummer Frosty found fame with the pop/blues minstrel Lee Michaels, and here forges a Southern rock sound with bassist Dave Johnson, guitarist B.J., and organist Lenny Lee -- none of them household names, and an album that is highly competent but as non-descript as the players. When your drummer and a guest pianist by the name of Michael Omartian have more recognition, it is clear it will be an uphill climb. 

There's an interesting version of "Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo," a song which wouldn't hit until 1974 for Rick Derringer, so the band showed they have some taste (and that they toured with or at least listened to Edgar Winter's White Trash). For the times, though, heartfelt songs like "In the Wee Hours of the Night" needed a strong personality fronting the group. L. Goldsmith performing Joe Cocker's "Ride Louise Ride" or Sanford Townsend Band material makes for a solid outing, but not the additional hit singles this group needed to amass a following. 

Great music, stirring performances, it's just that the world wasn't quite ready for Three Dog Night meets the Allman Brothers Band. The title track remains a forgotten classic which oldies stations would be smart to add to their play lists. 
by Joe Viglione

Sweathog - 1971 - Sweathog


01. Nonbeliever
02. All I Ever Do
03. Still On The Road
04. Burned
05. Things Yet To Come
06. Runneth Over
07. You Just Took The Ride
08. Lock Up My Body
09. Layed Back By The River

Lenny Lee Goldsmith - Lead Vocals, Keyboards
B.J. - Guitar, Vocals
Dave Johnson - Bass, Vocals
Frosty - Traps, Trans-Celeste, Bells

Sweathog was a San Francisco-based quartet whose sound was fairly far removed from the music normally associated with that city. They were a powerful ensemble instrumentally, keyboardist/singer Lenny Lee (aka Lenny Lee Goldsmith), guitarist/singer Bob Jones, bassist/singer Dave Johnson, and drummer Frosty (aka Barry Smith, aka Bartholomew Smith) all top players in their field -- Frosty had played with Lee Michaels on his third and fourth albums, while Jones had played on Harvey Mandel's Cristo Redentor and Righteous in the late '60s, and Goldsmith was an ex-member of the Five Americans. They were not bad as singers, either, with Goldsmith handling the leads. Their music was a mix of Southern-style soul, early-'70s funk, and blues, all wrapped around a virtuoso rock sound. The group was signed to Columbia Records at the time of that label's fixation on West Coast acts, under Clive Davis's regime -- they were always looking for another Big Brother & the Holding Company, or something to take the place of that act on their roster. The group's self-titled debut album passed mostly without a musical trace, without an AM radio hit to drive sales, though its cover image of bare buttocks was censored in various countries. In 1972, they seemed to hit paydirt with their single "Hallelujah," a driving piece of explosive Southern-fried rock & roll with a soul edge that was a killer showcase for all four players (especially Frosty). It got to number 33 on the national charts, but that relatively modest performance doesn't indicate how popular it was on the radio, where it got airplay closer to that of a Top 20 hit. The song got the album (also titled Hallelujah) into stores, at least, but it never sold in huge numbers, despite a respectable promotion effort and a lot of exposure for the band, touring behind Black Sabbath, among other top acts of the period. They broke up in 1973, and Goldsmith later played on Martha Reeves' first post-Motown solo album before joining Stoneground.

Fantastic short lived band that could have been superstars in my opinion. Both albums rock with Hallelujah being the better of the two, but not by much . They toured Black Sabbath, Grand Funk, J. Geils, Edgar Winter and others. Dave Johnson played with Dr. John & The Beach Boys, Bartholomew Eugene Smith-Frost also known as "Frosty" played with Lee Michaels (one of my favorites) they mostly hailed from No. Calif and played at all the Bay Area venues. Get these before they're gone Good Stuff !!!

Lee Michaels - 2015 - Heighty Hi

Lee Michaels 
Heighty Hi

01. Heighty Hi
02. Do Ya Know What I Mean
03. If I Lose You
04. The War
05. Goodbye, Goodbye
06. Hello
07. Carnival Of My Life
08. Uummmm My Lady
09. Keep The Circle Turning
10. Thumbs
11. Can I Get A Witness
12. Hold On To Freedom
13. Murder In My Heart (For The Judge)
14. Sounding The Sleeping
15. Stormy Monday
16. What Now America
17. Who Could Want More
18. No Part Of It
19. Own Special Way (As Long As)
20. Love

Nobody sounded quite like singer, songwriter, and keyboardist Lee Michaels during his seven-album run with A&M Records, circa 1968-1973, and while some have tried, nobody has quite nailed his unique, frequently minimalist creative vision since. A soulful vocalist often accompanied on album by only a lone percussionist, Michaels explored the use of piano, keyboards, and even harpsichord in rock music unlike any other artist at the time; even when he went the full band route by adding bass and guitar, it was Michaels’ keyboards that led the parade.

A reappraisal of Lee Michaels’ place in the rock ‘n’ roll history book as been long overdue, and perhaps the release of Heighty Hi: The Best of Lee Michaels will prompt a well-deserved rediscovery of one of the great lost rockers of the 1970s. Comprised of 20 tracks, including his lone Top Ten hit “Do You Know What I Mean,” Heighty Hi provides an insightful cross-section of Michaels’ music, pulling material from all six of his studio albums and offering a representative sample of his artistic ambitions. The compilation provides an introduction, of sorts, to new listeners and is being released alongside the seven-disc The Complete A&M Album Collection box set for those who desire to jump headfirst into Michaels’ milieu.

So what can the intrepid listener expect from Heighty Hi? Opening with the controversial title track, “Heighty Hi,” (hey, it was originally released in 1968), Michaels applies a jangly, Southern gospel vibe to what appears, on the surface, to be a pro-marijuana song but seems to me to be just as likely to also serve as an apt metaphor for peace and brotherhood. Led by Michaels’ wistful vocals and intricate piano playing, the song is certainly infectious in its charms. The comp cranks right into Michaels’ best-known tune, “Do You Know What I Mean,” a studio throwaway that, while based on a true story, the singer never really cared for…and ironically, it became his biggest hit. Featuring a repeating keyboard riff and minimal percussion, the song relies on Michaels’ tortured, tearful vocals that – whether he cared for the song or no – nevertheless channel true emotion.

If only for these first couple of songs, which stood proudly alongside the typical guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll fare of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Michaels deserves acclaim. As shown by Heighty Hi, though, there are lots of other fine examples of Michaels’ musical genius. “If I Should Lose You,” from Michaels’ 1968 sophomore album Recital, masterfully blends R&B roots with a bit of psychedelic pop for a quick shot of exhilaration: Michaels’ whimsical vocals and baroque piano are accented by former Paul Revere & the Raiders’ guitarist Drake Levin’s soaring notes and soulful blasts of horn on what should have been a radio-ready chart hit. Michaels’ original “The War,” also from Recital, is a somber but moving anti-war dirge lifted above the mundane by Michaels’ anguished, angry vox and his clever, effective juxtaposition of harpsichord and keyboards to create a discordant backdrop to the lyrics

Heighty Hi includes the non-LP track “Goodbye, Goodbye,” a high-octane rocker that was released as the B-side to single “The War.” A foreshadowing, perhaps, of the sort of (slightly) more commercial rock music that Michaels would explore on his album 5th, “Goodbye, Goodbye” is a busy, engaging tune with dynamic keyboards pitted against fluid piano licks, with steady percussion (including a resonant cowbell) and an upbeat, energetic feel that should have made it an AM radio hit. The title track from Michaels’ sophomore effort, “Carnival of Life” has a psych-pop edge that’s sharply honed by intricate keyboard runs and blustery percussion while “Keep The Circle Turning,” one of the many cover songs that Michaels visited on 5th, is provided a rich foundation built on Michaels’ gospel-tinged keyboards, the singer’s reverent vocals supported by the warmth of Merry Clayton’s backing vox.

Michaels’ cover of the Marvin Gaye classic “Can I Get A Witness,” also from 5th, was the singer’s only song to hit the Top 40, and a good ‘un it is, Michaels’ high-flying voice surfing atop a recurring keyboard riff similar in sound to “Do You Know What I Mean.” The urgency and romantic frustration found in Michaels’ vocal performance separates it from his better-known hit, and while it’d never be mistaken for Gaye’s incredible version of the Holland-Dozier-Holland gem, Michaels does the song proud. Michaels shared management with fellow San Francisco rockers Moby Grape, so his cover of their raucous “Murder In My Heart (For The Judge)” comes as no surprise. A rowdy take on the song that features Levin’s nimble fretwork and explosive percussion courtesy of drummer Frosty (a/k/a Bartholomew Eugene Smith-Frost), Michaels’ deft piano-pounding and gang vocals add a real sense of menace to the song.

Michaels’ original “What Now America,” from 1970’s Barrel, is the sort of gritty, socially-conscious protest song that he could sink his teeth into as a songwriter (Michaels has stated on more than one occasion that his ‘love songs’ were penned only to pacify hit-hungry label execs). With minimalist backing instrumentation and intelligent, probing lyrics, Michaels’ plaintive vocals slowly reach a crescendo before ebbing back into darkness. The shortest of the four songs from Michaels’ 1972 psych-rock experiment Space & First Takes, “Own Special Way (As Long As)” re-imagines the typical love song of the day with a clamorous, keyboard-dominated soundtrack that, along with drummer Keith Knudsen’s solid timekeeping and Levin’s subtle guitar, takes on an authentic funky undercurrent.

After his stint with A&M Records concluded with the release of the obligatory Lee Michaels Live album in 1972, the singer signed with Clive Davis and Columbia Records, recording a pair of albums for the label that went nowhere when Davis, the singer’s biggest advocate, was forced out of the company. Those Columbia label albums have become obscure footnotes to Michaels’ career, sought-after collectors’ items that command posh prices. After releasing one more album, Absolute Lee, on his own independent label in 1982, Michaels retired from music altogether to pursue a successful career as a restaurateur.

In spite of his unfair distinction as a “one hit wonder,” interest in Lee Michaels and his music remains extremely high to this day, better than three decades after he sung his last note. Four previous Michaels compilations have been released on CD over the past 25 or so years, with Heighty Hi offering more songs and a much more comprehensive look at the diversity and artistry of Michaels’ music. For the casually curious, Heighty Hi will satisfy your needs, providing the ‘hit’ and much more.

Lee Michaels - 1974 - Tailface

Lee Michaels 

01. Met A Toucan 5:20
02. Politician 3:52
03. Slow Dancin' Rotunda 4:26
04. Roochie Toochie Loochie 2:48
05. Drink The Water 4:26
06. Lovely Lisa 3:38
07. Garbage Gourmet 4:45

Bass – Frank Smith (Rank Frank)
Drums – Bartholemew Eugene Smith-Frost
Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals – Michael Olson

One of the most interesting second-division California psychedelic musicians, keyboardist Lee Michaels was one of the most soulful white vocalists of the late '60s and early '70s. Between 1968 and 1972, he released half a dozen accomplished albums on A&M that encompassed Baroque psychedelic pop and gritty white, sometimes gospel-ish R&B with equal facility. A capable songwriter, Michaels was blessed with an astonishing upper range, occasionally letting loose some thrilling funky wails. In 1971, he landed a surprise Top Ten single with "Do You Know What I Mean," one of the best and funkiest AM hits of the early '70s.

But Michaels was really much more of an album-oriented artist, from the time he began recording in the late '60s. Michaels started playing music in Southern California, where he was in a band with future members of Moby Grape, the Turtles, and Canned Heat. By the time he signed to A&M, however, he'd moved to San Francisco, joining the management stable of Matthew Katz (which also included, at various times, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, and It's a Beautiful Day). Michaels was unusual for a San Francisco act in that he relied mostly on an organ-based sound, especially after the first pair of albums, when for a time he played, live and in the studio, with the mammoth drummer "Frosty" as his only accompanist.

In the 80's, Michaels moved to Hawaii for an extended retirement from the music business; aside from a self-released album in the early '80s, little's been heard from him since.

In context of being a strangely unique later album from an established young musician who most record labels of the time would willingly and even blindly invite into their studio that resulted in producing a future classic album and setsvnew highes in sales. This was a period when the labels knew they had little understanding of what "magic" ingredients makes any record outsell another. One ingredient consistently associated with many successful albums happened with expressing an intense emotional experience any "deep" artist would commonly become fully immersed and proudly suffer the process; especially during a "you ripped my heart out and I don't understand why" period. So, certain artists were allowed endless studio time with full control in hopes a groundbreaking album that sets a new high in sales.r was resresultedexperiment with produce anything they wanted in a top selling album could be repeated that would guarantee sales.guarateewere doing guidelines or rules that could be followed derstood some records became big sellers sold of 70's "whole thing" has a certain charm that 70's music fans and Lee Michaels fans will appreciate. Fans already know the details of Lee Michaels moving from A&M to Columbia and this brief switch from his trademark Hammond to these raunchy guitar riff sounds. The cover is perfectly hilarious, and for me, this cover photo also captures the special charm of this timepiece: Three music dudes livin' for their craft and stopping for a quick snap to visually document the magic of the moment. You then put this on your turntable to be treated to slightly catchy riffs, silly lyrics, and simple rock vocals. The lead guitar work is weak while the rhythm is very, very good. The back photo is Lee playing as he might have live though I don't think this album ever toured (I saw him late seventies and he was all Hammond again). A unique album that did not work. Many will find this album amusing and interesting, and some may even like it for several spins. If it is ever put out on CD I would probably buy it. But, I also like instant coffee....

Lee Michaels - 1973 - Live

Lee Michaels 

01. Hold On To Freedom 10:50
02. Call It Stormy Monday 6:28
03. Mad Dog 4:55
04. My Lady 3:26
05. Thumbs 5:35
06. Day Of Change 7:30
07. Drum Solo 6:20
08. War 4:16
09. Forty Reasons 4:40
10. Oak Fire 4:10
11. Heighty Hi 9:00
12. Rock Me Baby 4:00

Drums: Keith Knudsen
Organ, Guitar, Vocals: Lee Michaels

Recorded in concert accompanied by drummer Keith Knudsen, Lee Michaels goes through mostly extended versions of various songs from five of his first six albums, interspersed with numbers unique to his concerts, such as "My Lady." Oddly enough, Michaels doesn't perform his biggest hit, "Do You Know What I Mean," preferring numbers such as "Oak Fire" and "Rock Me Baby" from the same album. This is an honest presentation of a Lee Michaels concert, with a raw, un-retouched sound, and he is in excellent form, instrumentally and vocally, on numbers like "Hold on to Freedom," "Stormy Monday," and most of the rest of this album. It might not be the best way to start listening to him, however; Recital and the self-titled third album are better in that connection. Lee Michaels Live is a heavy dose of Michaels' brand of bluesy, R&B-based rock, and while he does coax a nice range of sound out of his two-instrument combo, ultimately it lacks some of the variety found on his early studio albums, which also had more of a psychedelic feel than is to be found here. Ironically, the six-minute Keith Knudson drum solo, more than anything in Michaels' own performance, is the one artifact that dates this album.

By the time of the release of: "Lee Michaels Live" in 1973, this musician was indeed well known in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lee, migrated from the central valley of California to San Francisco in the mid-sixties, and very quickly became known as: "The B3 Beast" By the end of that decade, Lee was a headliner on two coasts {Lee, was the headlining act at the Fillmore East in 1971 when Humble Pie recorded their: "Rockin' The Fillmore" LP}.

By the early seventies the Lee Michaels Band consisted of Lee on Hammond Organ and a massive drumming army named Frosty. And at the time of this live recording Lee had five albums under his belt and was as popular as Steve Miller {Pre:"Joker"} His white soul was a force to witness in concert and with Frosty on his left side facing him these two men seemed to be having a duel on stage, and enjoying every second of it!

Well, for some reason, this 1973 record is without Frosty, and as Keith Knudsen, {a later member of the Doobie Brothers} is a fine drummer it was Frosty who was the 'Yang' to Lee's 'Ying', and without him: "Live" is the begining of the end.

This album is a fine document of Lee Michaels in concert, and with "Heighty Hi" "Stormy Monday" "Forty Reasons" and "Day Of Change" it is peppered with Lee's best known songs, performed with all the normal gusto in front of a very happy crowd. The sound is much like the double LP that I purchased in 1973, it isn't great, and this album does not seem to be tweaked or sweetened from those original tapes. For the spoiled sound children of the digital age, the sound may indeed be a problem but, records of the seventies DID sound like this so for old geezers it's quite nice. The real issue is this: Lee Michaels is all but forgotten today and few remember his greatness 45 Years on And that, is the real crime!

This was a record that meant a lot to me in the early seventies, and as it was always a pleasure to see Lee play live in San Francisco, he would all but disappear soon after this record was in the shops. This is a Great album, it is too bad that just a very few of us are left to remember the great Lee Michaels, and enjoy this fantastic music.

This album is a direct reminder of an era, that we will never be a part of again.
Thank You, Lee, Frosty & Keith.

Lee Michaels - 1973 - Nice Day For Something

Lee Michaels
Nice Day For Something

01. Your Breath Is Bleeding 3:35
02. Same Old Song 2:30
03. So Hard 3:50
04. High Wind 5:55
05. Olson Arrives At Two Fifty-Five 6:40
06. The Other Day (The Other Way) 3:00
07. Rock & Roll Community 3:36
08. Bell 4:25
09. Went Saw Mama 3:00
10. Nothing Matters (But It Doesn't Matter) 6:30

Drums – Keith Knudsen
Guitar, Organ, Vocals – Lee Michaels

I guess somewhere in the mid-1970s, Lee Micheals--"You Know What I Mean" was his big hit in 1971--left A&M and the 1960s behind. Nice Day is on Columbia.

And is a good album. Michaels keyboard-based sound does not change from his earlier albums--although he does try using a synth here, and has replaced booming organ with piano.

What is different is the writing. Michaels has given up 1960s heaviness for condensed, streamlined songs. Nothing wrong with this--given that this was the early 1970s, tightening your keyboard sound is miles above sailing smackface into ELP goop. And there is an easy going, bluesy feeling which Michaels polishes to his advantage, sometimes even getting suddenly funky.

I do miss the experimental, uncharted feel of Michaels A&M albums like Carnival of Life and Recital--just blasting echo keyboard and space cadet art soul all over the place. But that was a different time and place, one we can always visit. I fully recommend this.

But for good tight writing and a tasteful transition into more home spun rock, it is a nice day for this album

Lee Michaels - 1971 - Space And First Takes

Lee Michaels
Space And First Takes

01. Own Special Way (As Long As) 4:33
02. First Names 13:36
03. Hold On To Freedom 5:02
04. Space And First Takes 16:40

Bass – Joel Christie
Drums – Keith Knudsen
Guitar – Drake Levin
Organ, Piano, Guitar, Vocals – Lee Michaels

This album is a fascinating hybrid of psychedelia and mainstream hard rock, incorporating elements of both. Consisting of two short numbers (clocking in a under five minutes) and a pair of extended tracks running a quarter-hour each, it stands apart from most of the extended art rock jams of its era by virtue of its consistent, driving beat and the emphasis on crunchy guitar sounds (courtesy of ex-Paul Revere & the Raiders ax-man Drake Levin and Michaels himself). The title track and "Hold On to Freedom" seem like a lot of empty posturing, although the playing and production on "Space and First Takes" have enough of a psychedelic edge that its 16-minute length is mostly a virtue. "First Names" is slightly shorter, and intense enough across 14 minutes to pull the listener in even deeper and more successfully.

I'll bet it surprised Lee Michaels when 'Space and First Takes', released in 1972, never took off commercially. After being relegated to a spot as a second tier California rocker in the late 1960's, Michaels scored a rousing accidental hit with 'Do You Know What I Mean?' on 1971's 'Fifth'. This album followed, and Lee put together a hard rock delight. The album only consists of four songs, neatly divided into a short and an extended piece on each side of the vinyl. The late 1960's spawned the era of the opus, with many pioneering bands offering long-winded exposes, such as Iron Butterfly's 'In-a-Gadda-da-Vida' and the Chambers Brothers 'Time Has Come Today'. This phenomenon so gripped the times that many bands took Top 40 hits and expanded them into lengthy show topping excursions, such as The Byrds take on 'Eight Miles High', and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's epic 'Carry On'.

So in 1971 it's no surprise that an aspiring artist like Lee Michaels would take a cue from everything happening around him, and produce his own extended works. These songs do not come across as productions that would have been better in a truncated version. The instrumental variations on the basic themes are intriguing and deserving of the vinyl they displaced. In fact, for avid fans of lengthy guitar jams, the performances offered by Lee Michaels and former Paul Revere and the Raiders lead guitarist Drake Levin are nothing short of exquisite. They are hard rocking and varied, making the approximate quarter hour devoted to each tune a rewarding investment. The two shorter numbers are also strong guitar based compositions, the best being side two's 'Hold On To Freedom', which would appear as the opener on 1973's 'Live'. The live version is actually superior, as it is delivered on Michael's cherished and familiar B3 Hammond organ with great weight and energy. The studio version offered here is good, but the song is much better tendered on the B3 than guitar.

If there is any explanation for why this album essentially became Lee Michael's swan song, it would have to be the lyrics. While Lee could at times be a compelling lyricist, he could also come up with some of the most mundane or confusing of lyrics. He offers a pertinent example of each on this disc. 'First Names', the extended piece offered on side one, delivers trite thoughts such as "First names, running around my brain. First names, they all sound the same". Sometimes I think Lee actually wrote songs, including his hit, "Do You Know What I Mean?" as Ecclesiastical statements on the meaninglessness of it all. On the other side of the coin, and the other side of the vinyl, we have the title track, the last extended piece. I'm really not sure what Lee is talking about in 'Space and First Takes', though it does seem to have to do with the musician's studio experiences. As on most of Lee's albums, however, the lyrics are certainly secondary to the instrumental prowess and captivating guitar performances churning throughout.

The Lee Michaels catalog contains four discs that I consider essential to my musical collection, 'Live', 'Lee Michaels' (his third studio album), 'Fifth', and this release. Of the three, this one gets the most frequent spins in my CD changer. I've always been enamoured with extended guitar jams, and these make the half-hour listening time fly by swiftly, effortlessly, and with great aural gratification. Unfortunately, a used copy of this out-of-print disc will set you back forty dollars at present. The MP3 tracks offered by Amazon consist of only the two shorter songs from the album, certainly due to the extended length of the more desirable tracks. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for these relatively obscure productions to be released again, so if you find a reasonably priced copy anywhere, be sure to grab onto it. In lieu of that, contact a friend who can make a copy for you. Life is short. Don't be without it.

Lee Michaels - 1971 - 5th

Lee Michaels 

01. Keep The Circle Turning 2:41
02. You Are What You Do 2:58
03. Willie & The Hand Jive 3:02
04. Didn't Have To Happen 2:32
05. Rock Me Baby 2:28
06. Do You Know What I Mean 3:11
07. Ya Ya 2:19
08. Can I Get A Witness 3:02
09. Oak Fire 2:53
10. I Don't Want Her 2:25

Percussion – Joel Larson
Guitar, Organ, Bass, Vocals – Lee Michaels
Saxophone – Jackie Kelso

Following the success of his third album, Lee Michaels continued the path of a solo artist -- solo meaning that most of the sounds on the record were primarily recorded by Lee alone. Organ (Hammond and pipe), piano, harpsichord, and organ bass create a heavy, dense foundation. Michaels had a unique sound, and along with his larynx-shredding vocals, the results are staggering. Aided by Joel Larson on drums, Michaels does a lot of covers on this record -- including "Willie and the Hand Jive," "Ya Ya," and "Can I Get a Witness." Michaels renders them all in an infectious, gospel style. There are only a few originals on the album, and one, "Do You Know What I Mean" (which really sounded like a cover), was a monstrous hit and cemented Lee Michaels as one of the best white blues performers of the period.

Lee Michaels - 1970 - Barrel

Lee Michaels

01. Mad Dog 3:44
02. What Now America 3:25
03. Uummmm My Lady 3:00
04. Thumbs 4:05
05. When Johnny Comes Marching Home 2:04
06. Murder In My Heart (For The Judge) 3:36
07. Day Of Change 3:32
08. Think I'll Cry 2:42
09. Games 3:09
10. Didn't Know What I Had 3:12
11. As Long As I Can 1:27

Frosty - Drums
Drake Levin - Guitar
Lee Michaels - Bass, Keyboards, Vocals

Thumbing through dollar bins at record shops can be depressing, particularly when the pickings are slim. Plumbing the depths of milk crates jammed with forgotten vinyl, which no longer lie on shag carpets and basement floors, but in mounds that neglect their prior value, that reject what they once might have meant to someone, somewhere, upon their original release, is a real downer. Here lie bands without a myth, un-legendary singers, devalued albums that once topped the charts, last names written in faded Sharpie ink on moldy album covers. Indefinitely, these albums and their memories remain in $1.00 purgatory, doomed to a needle-less existence.

But one recent find dispelled the notion that happiness can’t be retrieved from the bottom of a barrel. Lee Michaels, a laidback rocker with soul from the West Coast, known for making his Hammond the core of his sound, released Barrel to little notice or airplay in 1970. (Michaels wouldn’t tap the mainstream until the following year with “Do You Know What I Mean?,” a corny-cool, organ-led tune which implores the listener for empathy over a girl who’s scrammed.)

And notice and sales really weren’t warranted. Among Barrel’s eleven tracks, only a few pass muster—Michaels’ cover of Moby Grape’s “Murder In My Heart (For The Judge),” “Mad Dog,” and “Didn’t Know What I Had” achieve brief moments of hallelujah-rock exaltation, thanks to Michaels’ skills as a keyboardist and rock vocalist with a gospel edge. The other songs, several of which attempt to address the war in Vietnam,” don’t do the trick, nor does the album’s weakling of a ballad, “Uummmm My Lady.”

Whereas the quality of the songs leaves something to be desired (Barrel was recorded at Michaels’ California ranch, which features prominently on the cover and jacket art), the spirit of the music-making doesn’t disappoint. Listening pleasure is drawn from the fact that Michaels, along with frequent drummer, Barry “Frosty” Smith, and guitarist Drake Levin of Paul Revere and the Raiders, don’t seem to be taking their jobs too seriously. 

The songs have a one-off feel, and the photo montage on the inside jacket is an awesome monument to stoner-slackerdom—one photo shows Lee feeding a pair of cheetahs on his back deck; another reveals a heavyset Frosty gesticulating, sporting spotted pajama pants. This makes the experience of Barrel not quite a joke, but it does give us license to laugh off its artistic flaws, and forget that overwhelming critical and commercial success are even legitimate criteria of how listening choices are made.  Barrel is not trying to be anything more than what it is, and this is a hallmark of all classic good-times music.

So if you find a copy of Barrel in a bin somewhere, don’t expect too much, but expect to be amused, bemused, and occasionally, moved. It might have meant something to some lost teenager from the ’70s before it wound up at the bottom of the heap.
by Meghan Roe

After "Recital" this is another great Lp by this great keyboard player. For some reason I find it hard to categorize this music. It's closest to singer songwriter, but with a more 60's vibe. If you can imagine the barrelhouse keyboard player in a saloon in the old west playing occasionally funky, mellow 60's music with piano, hammond organ and'll get the idea. Although, the harpsichord is mostly missing on this set.

Lee had a real talent for writing really nice melancholic ballad-y tracks and he continues here with "What Now America" & "I'll Think l'll Cry, however the best track for the newcomer to start on is the Hammond organ driven "Day Of Change" which is probably the easiest track on the Lp to latch on to.

Lee Michaels - 1969 - Lee Michaels

Lee Michaels 
Lee Michaels

01. Medley 20:29
Tell Me How Do You Feel
(Don't Want No) Woman
My Friends
Think I'll Go Back
02. Stormy Monday 5:10
03. Who Could Want More 3:42
04. Want My Baby 2:58
05. Heighty Hi 5:57

Recorded June 2, 1969

Lee Michaels – lead vocals, organ, bass
Barry "Frosty" Smith – percussion

One of the masterpieces of the period, Lee Michaels was essentially recorded live in the studio by only Michaels (organ/bass pedals) and Frosty on drums. It's a fabulous performance and one of the finest R&B/rock sets of the period. The first side is comprised of a medley of soulful workouts that come out sounding not unlike Led Zeppelin. Here, Michaels pulls out all the stops (literally) and showcases the organ as a bona fide rock instrument. Despite the lengthy drum solo, it's one of the finest sides of Los Angeles rock & roll. Michaels also reprises "My Friends," a song from his first album, to great effect. Lee Michaels is also home to the good-time, pro-drug anthem "Highty Hi," as well as an awesome cover of "Stormy Monday." A true party platter.

All these years later I still love this album. If I had a dollar for every version of Stormy Monday that was ever recorded I would be rich. And a lot of those versions are damn good. Having said that I have never heard a better version then the one Lee recorded on this album. Lee displays what a powerful and incredible instrument the Hammond organ is in the right hands. He's got that thing firing on all cylinders and man, on Stormy Monday Lee will take you to church. Every time I play that song I have to crank it up.

I love the whole album, especially side 1 but it's Stormy Monday that defines this album for me. It just doesn't get any better!

Lee Michaels - 1968 - Recital

Lee Michaels 

01. If I Lose You 2:30
02. Time Is Over 3:34
03. No Part Of It 2:11
04. Fell In Love Today 1:54
05. Blind 2:53
06. Grocery Soldier 2:32
07. What Can He Do 0:42
08. Basic Knowledge 3:29
09. Gonna Leave 2:24
10. The War 3:15
11. Spare Change 7:25

Bass – Larry Knechtel
Drums – Frank Davis
Drums – John Barbata
Guitar – Drake Levin
Vocals, Piano, Harpsichord, Organ, Bass – Lee Michaels

This is Lee Michaels' second album, and while his debut release, Carnival of Life, remains his strongest effort in my book, this second outing runs a close second. It is most notable for Michaels' expressive vocals and his brilliant overdubbing of various keyboards into each song (ie., Hammond organ, pipe organ, electric piano, grand piano, up-right piano, and harpsichord)to create a "keyboard wall of sound", and all of it without guitars, save the opening track of "If I Lose You", and which is notable for Drake Levin, late of Paul Revere and The Raiders, contributing some excellent licks. Like Carnival of Life, Recital's songs are mired in 60's psychedelica and sentiment, commenting on the Vietnam War, panhandling hippies, and altered states of consciousness. The songs still hold up, despite the dated themes, because of Michaels' inventive arrangements, multi-layered keyboard treatments, and soulful vocals. Highly recommended

Lee Michaels was a bit of a keyboard virtuoso popular in the Late 60's / Early 70's, although maybe a bit more on the fringe rather than part of the mainstream. This Lp features him on Piano, Organ, Harpsichord and briefly Pipe organ. It's somewhat singer songwriter in attitude, but more fuller, melodic and upbeat in a 60's sense. Side 2 is probably the best place to start checking this Lp out. Although I thought overall the whole Lp is great, it was an acquired taste and it took few listens to click. Spare Change" has a fantastic funky keyboard intro, somewhat wasted when it peters off into an oversimplified, overlong extended track...I still love that intro anyway.

A great upbeat track left over "Goodbye Goodbye" (..which really should have been on the Lp) was the B side of "The War" single and is worth hunting down.

Lee Michaels - 1968 - Carnival Of Life

Lee Michaels 
Carnival Of Life

01. Hello 4:24
02. Another One 4:08
03. StreetCar 3:35
04. Love 5:07
05. Carnival Of Life 3:00
06. Why 3:23
07. Tomorrow 4:33
08. Sounding The Sleeping 4:05
09. My Friends 2:40

Bass – John Keski
Drums – Eddie Hoh
Guitar – Hamilton W. Watt
Organ – Gary Davis
Piano, Organ, Harpsichord, Vocals – Lee Michaels

Lee Michaels' debut studio album Carnival of Life includes nine tracks which are all pretty nice but nothing totally mindblowing. The sound of this record is organ driven psych rock style with some pop-psych elements here and there. I dig the sound of these guys but the problem is the songwriting which is decent at best.

This album was quite something back in the late '60s. Lee's large vocal range and his Hammond organ work (along with piano and harpsichord) was pretty awesome. And the band with Hamilton W. Watt III on guitar (full of huge slabs of tightly controlled fuzz) along with the impressive drumming of "Fast" Eddie Hoh (who recently passed) who also played on Tim Buckley's "Goodbye And Hello" album, along with Jimmy Bond on bass, and an added guitarist give this set some good period excitement. Even the lighter songs have a certain something that makes this album a perfect example of late '60s rock. And check the cover photo of Michaels--another example of the late '60s.

Carnival Of Life, I'll bet, is one of those albums that grazed across very early FM radio for a few months, before the formats became more streamlined, back when the "underground" was really only 500 or so albums.

It's got soul influenced, pre-progressive organ jams, with a little acid guitar, and Michael's voice riding someplace under the huge organ and the huge drums, which, I understand, were played by a huge guy named Frosty.

Carnival Of Life also has a muddy sound--which I like. It almost takes on a FM 3am dream quality-the type of music you THINK you heard, a long, long time ago, maybe at a 1968 party at 3am. Maybe studying in your dorm with your hip roommate, the one with all the "groovy" records. Maybe doing something else with your hip roommate. Use your 1968 imagination. Did you EVER hear this music? Did it even exist?

Yeah, it did. Still does. If you're ever curious about the underbelly of the underground or want to hear some of the music the world has completely forgotten--except for a record sleeve eating crazy like me--check Carnival Of Life out

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Rockets - 1983 - Live Rockets

The Rockets
Live Rockets

01- Rollin' By The Record Machine
02- Desire
03- Can't Sleep
04- Sally Can't Dance
05- Takin' It Back
06- Open The Door To Your Heart
07- Oh Well
08- Turn Up The Radio
09- Born In Detroit

Jim McCarty - Guitar, Background Vocals
John "Bee" Badanjek - Drums, Background Vocals
David Gilbert - Lead Vocals
Donnie Backus - Keyboards, Synthesizer, Background Vocals
Bobby Neil Harrelson - Bass
Chuck Perraut - Sax
Shaun Murphy - Background Vocals
Suzi Jennings - Background Vocals
Mary Kay Lalla - Background Vocals

Recorded at the Royal Oak Music Theatre

Detroit Rock City boasts an impressive rock & roll pedigree that includes ALICE COOPER, BOB SEGER, MC5, RARE EARTH, TED NUGENT and BROWNSVILLE STATION. LIVE ROCKETS is a slam-bang grab bag of boogie classics from that region's most underrated band, whose five album career has otherwise never been legitimized by a greatest hits compilation. DAVE GILBERT's raspy, "party boy" screech is bolstered by ex-DETROIT WHEELS legends JIM MCCARTY's careening axe salvos and JOHNNY "THE BEE" BADANJEK's solid stick-work. The core band is augmented by guest sax blower CHUCK PERRAUT and a trio of soul-powered female backing vocalists...this is a made-loud-to-play-loud farewell party with equal parts class, trash, and sass. Crash 'n burn BADENJEK originals like CAN'T SLEEP, TURN UP THE MUSIC and ROLLIN' BY THE RECORD MACHINE mix seamlessly with a suitably funky cover of LOU REED's slinky SALLY CAN'T DANCE and a ballbustin' version of bloozer PETER GREEN's classic OH WELL. As one of their album titles suggested, there are NO BALLADS to get in the way of a good time. Brash, bloozey, and bawdy, once you give 'em a ride, LIVE ROCKETS is a hard platter indeed to take off your record machine

The Rockets - 1982 - Rocket Roll

The Rockets
Rocket Roll

01. Rollin' By The Record Machine 3:47
02. Rock 'N Roll Girl 3:14
03. Gonna Crash 3:08
04. (I Wanna) Testify 3:46
05. Gimme Your Love 3:17
06. Born In Detroit 3:13
07. All Night Long 3:19
08. Kid With The Heart 4:01
09. Rollin' And Tumblin' 4:30
10. Mean Streets 2:53

Bass – Bobby Neil Haralson
Drums, Backing Vocals – John "Bee" Badanjek
Guitar, Backing Vocals – Jim McCarty
Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals – David Gilbert

The Rockets 1982 album Rocket Roll represents a dramatic drop-off in quality from the albums that had come before. The warm Jack Douglas production of 1981's moderately successful Back Talk is gone and is replaced by a glossy sound that pulls off the neat trick of sounding over-produced and under-played at once. The songs are forced and thin, nearly every one is an up-tempo rocker that attempts to sound exciting but it just sounds like the band is desperate. Desperation rarely makes for good AOR records, only good art, and the Rockets were AOR to the core. The lyrical concerns of the songs are pretty flimsy; the main topics being rockin', testifying, mean streets, rock & roll girls and record machines. Great topics for a group who is making exciting music but these guys were in the throes of their last gasp at making a record the "kids" might dig. They didn't dig it and the band called it a day soon after the record justifiably flopped.

The Rockets - 1981 - Back Talk

The Rockets 
Back Talk

01. Back Talk
02. Jealous
03. Lift You Up
04. Shanghaied
05. Love For Hire
06. I Can't Get Satisfied
07. Tired Of Wearing Black
08. I'll Be Your Lover
09. American Dreams
10. Lie To Me

Bass – Bobby Neil Haralson
Drums, Lead Vocals – John "Bee" Badanjek
Guitar – Dennis Robbins
Guitar – Jim McCarty
Keyboards – Donnie Backus
Lead Vocals – Dave Gilbert
Percussion – Jack Douglas

The hard-rocking Rockets from Detroit almost hit the big time with their 1979 record Rockets (Turn Up the Radio). They had two pretty solid AOR staples (in the Detroit area anyway) with their blistering cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" and the rollicking "Turn Up the Radio." However, by the time of 1981's Back Talk, the band was still trapped in the netherworld of being a perennial opening act and really struggling to survive. It shows in the music, as almost every song seems to be aping another act or trying a different sound. Mostly though they sound like a good bar band of the early '80s able to crank out good-time summer rock & roll ("Back Talk"), moody ballads ("Jealous"), blue-eyed soul ("Lift You Up," "Lie to Me"), lighter-waving ballads ("Tired of Wearing Black") and tunes to get the girls out on the dance floor ("I Can't Get Satisfied," "I'll Be Your Lover"). At times (especially when Johnny Badanjek takes over the vocals from somewhat shrill David Gilbert) they sound a lot like Huey Lewis & the News, a good-natured bunch of lifers with loads of talent and spunk. What they came up with is a decent rock record really worth re-discovering.

The Rockets - 1980 - No Ballads

The Rockets
No Ballads

01. Desire
02. Don't Hold On
03. Restless
04. Sally Can't Take
05. Takin' It Back
06. Time After Time
07. Sad Songs
08. I Want You To Love Me
09. Is It True
10. Troublemaker

Bass – Dan Keylon
Drums, Backing Vocals – John "Bee" Badanjek
Guitar, Backing Vocals – Dennis Robbins
Guitar, Backing Vocals – Jim McCarty
Keyboards, Backing Vocals – Donnie Backus
Lead Vocals – Dave Gilbert
Organ – Lee Michaels

No Ballads had "Desire," the band's best, written by Rockets guitarist Dennis Robbins (now a successful Nashville songwriter) and Bee; it only dented Billboard's Top 100, but won mad radio play and should've landed the band atop the AOR heap. Buoyed by Bee's "Sad Songs," a "Sally Can't Dance" cover and an apt (and unironic) closer, Gilbert and McCarty's "Troublemaker," the album was serviceably rock-solid. 

Hard to imagine, but here was a Motor City band penning true, blue-collar, Detroit-style anthems for hard-working beer drinkers, radio and girls, a band that'd trekked across this continent countless times playing arenas supporting the biggest names in rock 'n' roll, recorded five albums on four different major labels — it was a rock 'n' roll machine that did everything … but truly succeed. 

Looking back, listening, something's dark about the Rockets, something feels doomed. Timing is everything and the end of the '70s might as well have been the end of the century, musically. Oh well.

The Rockets - 1979 - Rockets (Turn On The Radio)

The Rockets
Rockets (Turn On The Radio)

01. Can't Sleep
02. Turn Up The Radio
03. Oh Well
04. Lost Forever, Left For Dreaming
05. Long Long Gone
06. Love Me Once Again
07. Something Ain't Right
08. Lucille
09. Felle Alright

Vocals – David Gilbert
Bass – David Hood
Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals – John "The Bee" Badanjek
Lead Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Backing Vocals – Dennis Robbins
Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals – Jim McCarty
Organ, Clavinet – Chuck Leavell
Piano, Backing Vocals – Donnie Backus

Drummer/vocalist Johnny “Bee” Badanjek and Jim McCarty of the Wheels formed their new band in 1972, adding John Fraga on bass and Marc Marcano on keyboards. A few years later they added front man David Gilbert, who had a short run as lead vocalist on tour for Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes.

This was the lineup that landed a record deal with RSO, home of such non-Detroit rocker fare as The Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, and the Grease and Saturday Night Fever soundtracks. Eric Clapton also had a run on RSO, but for the most part the label was far from blue jeans and slide guitars.

But the Rockets weren’t. These guys played solid, blues-based rock, like their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”.
The album was recorded at Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia—home of the Allman Brothers—and featured Muscle Schoals session player David Hood. Remember the line “Well Muscle Shoals has got their Swampers” from Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama?”  Hood and company are who is being name checked there.

And speaking of name checking, Rockets dedicated this album to those killed in the Lynyrd Skynrd plane crash: “This album is dedicated with love and respect to our good friends and brothers J.B. Fields, Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines.”

So with all of that pedigree, what the heck happened to Rockets? Were they lost on what was essentially a disco label? Were 11 years of grinding it out enough? I don’t know, but by the end of 1983 the band was done.

For a while, at least. Since 2010 some flavor of the Rockets has still been out and about. I don’t see any current tour dates on their website, but at least they have a site, so maybe they’re still out there.

This is the kind of record that you’ll run across in your local charity shop bin, and if you do I say pick it up. These guys rocked, and now you have lots of trivia to share while you’re spinning it. You’re welcome, and happy hunting.

One of the best unheralded groups of the stops, no detours, just straight ahead Michigan magic... Turn It Up!

The Rockets - 1977 - Rockets

The Rockets

01. Lufrania 4:31
02. Juke-Box Daddy 7:53
03. Rocket Car Wash Blues 7:40
04. Feel Alright 7:10
05. Rock 'N' Roll 5:34
06. Working Man Blues 2:48
07. Thing In "D" 3:35

John "The Bee" Badanjek: vocals, drums, percussion
John Fraga: bass
Marc Marcano: keyboards
Jim McCarty: lead guitar

According to the liner notes, the album was released on Guinness Records and distributed by Dellwood Records. Its Guinness Catalogue Number is GNS 36043.

As with many of the albums released through tax-scam labels, there is no documentation beyond what appears on the album itself. Scot Blackerby in his review of the album, comments that, based on what has been uncovered about tax-scam labels and their operations, there are only two possibilities. None of the tracks on the album, with the exception of "Feel Alright", which appears in a shorter version on their 1979 album, appears on any other release. This means that the recordings used were sourced either from studio demos or from material rejected for their debut album. It is not known just when they were recorded, but based on the fact that the six tracks feature both David Gilbert and Johnny "Bee" Badanjek performing lead vocals, which is something that would only have occurred if some of the tracks had been recorded before Gilbert joined the band

I guess it shouldn't come as a major surprise, but I've never seen a Rockets discography that includes this 1977 release.  Similarly I've never seen the album discussed by any of the band members in an interview.  The fact that the cleverly titled "Rockets" was issued by the tax scam Guinness label and may have been of questionable legality probably had something to do with those omissions ...  who knows.

The Rockets started out as a post Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels/Detroit enterprise led by singer/drummer  John "The Bee" Badanjek.  The line up was rounded out by bassist John Fraga, keyboardist Marc Marcano, and former Detroit wheel lead guitarist Jim McCarty.  Their earlier successes with the Detroit Wheels were of little help when it came to scoring a recording contract and the the quartet spent several years plugging away on Michigan's club circuit.  

In 1976 the band underwent a personnel shake up that saw former Amboy Duke vocalist Steve Gilbert added to the line up (Ted Nugent had kicked him out of the band for his drinking and drugging).

Released in 1977, "Rockets" seems to have been an effort to capitalize on the strong reviews surrounding the release of the band's 1977 RCA Victor debut "Love Transfusion".  Unfortunately, as typical for a Guinness release, the liner notes provided little information on the set.  The vocals were split between Badanjek and Gilbert indicating at least some of the track were recorded post-1975 when Gilbert was added to the line up.  This is nothing but speculation on my part, but I'm guessing the material was culled from tracks the band had previously recorded when they signed with Don Davis' Tortoise label.  That, or it may have reflected outtakes from sessions for their debut album.  Another story that I've heard is that the material reflected tapes the band had financed themselves, but abandoned in a dispute with the studio owner.  The studio subsequently unloaded the master tapes on Guinness at a heavy discount.  Regardless, produced by William S. Evans, the six tracks all featured surprisingly good sound quality.  

For a throwaway collection this one was surprisingly enjoyable.  Certainly better than some of their latter studio sets with big name producers like Jack Douglas.  Love to know more about it ...

Sadly, having lived the true rock and roll lifestyle which included overdoses of drugs, wine, and women, lead singer Gilbert died of cirrhosis and liver cancer in September 2001.  He was only 49.

True to the rock and roll lifestyle, late-inning bassist Bob Neil Haralson died in a drug deal turned sour.

The Rockets - 1977 - Love Transfusion

The Rockets
Love Transfusion

01. Fast Thing In "D"etroit 2:54
02. Fell Out Of Love 4:45
03. My Heart Needs You 5:33
04. Lookin' For Love 2:55
05. I Got To Move 3:16
06. Ramona 4:25
07. Fly Little Bird 5:02
08. Love Transfusion 2:44
09. She's A Pretty One 4:21

Bass – John Fraga
Drums, Vocals – John (The Bee) Badanjek
Guitar, Vocals – Jim McCarty
Guitar, Vocals, Talkbox – Dennis Robbins
Lead Vocals – Dave Gilbert
Piano, Organ, Clavinet – Marc Marcano
Backing Vocals – Brandye

The Rockets were formed in 1972 by former Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels members Johnny "Bee" Badanjek and Jim McCarty. Vocals and drums were handled by Badanjek, McCarty was on lead guitar, John Fraga was on bass and Marc Marcano was on keyboards. Johnny Bee was the driving force and primary songwriter for the Rockets.

In the early days, The Rockets paid their dues playing gigs at venues such as The Rainbow Room in Detroit, The People's Ballroom in Ann Arbor, and The Rock 'N Roll Farm in Wayne, Michigan.

The band took on a new sound in 1976 when David Gilbert was brought in by new manager Gary Lazar, who also managed Detroit RCA Victor recording artist Dan Schafer, to take over vocals from Johnny Bee and Donnie Backus took over on keyboards. Gilbert had fronted several bands and was one of several lead singers that passed through the ranks of Ted Nugent and The Amboy Dukes. In 1971, he toured with them for a year and a half before forming Shadow which led to a record deal with RSO Records.

The Rockets made five studio albums that produced several minor hits, including a rocking rendition of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well", which made the Top 40.

Always a popular group in Michigan, The Rockets had gotten some attention outside of the state, but never really got the big break to become a true national act. The first album, Love Transfusion, was released in 1977. During this period, they also opened some shows for Kiss. The album failed to produce any hits.

The 1979 self-titled release featured the hits, "Oh Well" and "Turn Up The Radio". This record also featured David Hood on bass, one of the "Swampers" from the famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama. Muscle Shoals was mentioned in Lynyrd Skynyrd's southern rock anthem "Sweet Home Alabama". The album was dedicated to Skynyrd members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines, who all perished in Skynyrd's infamous 1977 plane crash.

The third attempt came (with the addition of new bass player Dan Keylon) in 1980 with "No Ballads", "Desire" was a popular tune from this album. Next came the Back Talk album in '81 (with another new bass player, Bobby Haralson) and then finally Rocket Roll in 1982. "Rollin' By The Record Machine" from this release was the last hit for the band. The final release, Live Rockets, was recorded on December 26 & 29, 1982 to a sold-out house at the Royal Oak Music Theatre near Detroit. This was the first time the band recorded with back-up vocalists, Shaun Murphy and Suzy Jennings, who continued to tour with them.

The Rockets performed for their last two shows at Pine Knob near Detroit on August 28 & 29, 1983. The band splintered and the members all went their separate ways. 

The Happy Dragon Band - 1978 - The Happy Dragon Band

The Happy Dragon Band 
The Happy Dragon Band

01. 3-D Free
02. Positive People
03. In Flight
04. Long Time
05. Bowling Pin Intro
06. Lyrics Of Love
07. Disco American
08. Inside The Pyramid
09. Astro Phunk
10. 3-D Free (Electronic)

The Happy Dragon (vocals, synths, guitar, bass, drums, keyboard),
Tom Carson (vocals, guitar, keyboards),
Cicely Lonergan (vocals),
Clem Riccobono (vocals),
Gary Meisner (guitar),
Scott Strawbridge (guitar),
Brian White (guitar),
Dennis Craner (bass),
John Fraga (bass),
Mike deMartino (keyboards),
John "Bee" Badanjek (drums),
Ralph Sarafino (drums),
Mike Orzel (tambourine)

Oooh, we've got a weird one here. Seriously. But very cool we think. Didn't know what to expect from the whimsical band name and front cover artwork, but it wouldn't have been *this* anyway! The first track, "3-D, Free" starts things off pretty freaky with spacey vocal effects and a lethargic reggae beat, with heartfelt lyrics, singing lines like "I saw police shooting rats". It's reprised later at the end of the album in an even more wigged out "electronic" version. This is definitely psychedelic rock music, but also very futuristic for its time (circa 1977-1978), hinting at new wave/punk. With track two, "Positive People", things get even more Devo. And it doesn't get any more normal as it goes. Capt. Beefheart also seems to be at this party... weird weird weird. But these folks have a knack for melody amist the madness.
Having release a little noticed 1974 album for Capitol under the guise of Phantom's Divine Comedy, four years later drummer John Bdanjeck, singer/guitarist Tom Carson, bassist Dennis Craner, keyboardist Mike DeMartino and guitarist Gary Meisner reappeared as The Happy Dragon Band. Released by the small Michigan-based Fiddlers label, anyone expecting to hear another set of faux Doors-inspired psych was bound to be surprised by 1978's "The Happy Dragon Band". Whereas the earlier Phantom LP featured all-original material, here all nine tracks were penned by a Tommy Court. Whoever he was, Court was also credited with production, engineering and direction. Musically the set was a major shocker. Dropping their earlier pseudo-Doors stance, material such as "3-D Free", "In Flight" and the instrumental "Bowling Pin Intro" found the band plunging headlong into outright experimentation. Featuring extended tracks filled with synthesizers, odd sound effects and dazed vocals, the results didn't make for a particularly commercial outting. That said, the album sports a weird, hypnotizing appeal that's worth a couple of spins. Dark, heavy and disturbing, part of the aura may be explained by the liner notes.

Tom Court aka Tommy Court is 'The Happy Dragon' (stated on back of sleeve) 
This album is in memory of my friend Ritchie and my child Ritchie Joe

By the end of the 1970s, the hangover had worn off and underground psych entered a problematic phase, a second adolescence. If psychedelic rock had ever been a movement, it certainly wasn’t anymore, having undergone fragmentation and dispersal into the comparatively humorless realms of progressive rock and heavy metal. At the end of the decade, punk began to rear its ugly head, borrowing the DIY ethos of underground psych toward its own polemical ends. Though (post-)punk eventually addressed the need for music that appealed to the “higher” four circuits of human consciousness, in 1978 it was a stripped-down, primitive snarl without so much as a lysergic residue.

It is this background that makes a record like The Happy Dragon-Band — the sole album released by the eponymous Detroit band led by composer Tommy Court — such a unique case. It was recorded and released at a time in which there was barely any context for what it offered, an eclectic mashup of apocalyptic psych-folk and brain damaged groove glued together by a no-budget production with occasional side trips into abstract electronic noise. It was an idiosyncratic response to void times by a composer who was aware of the adventurous periphery of psychedelia. Captain Beefheart, Chrome, and Comus are a few of the possible reference points, and those are just the “C”s. This is not to suggest that the album is derivative. On the contrary, it is remarkably coherent and assured. That confidence of tone is especially true of the vocals, which alternate between the starry-eyed euphoria of first-wave psych and the acidic sneer of punk. Even as the band fumbles and trips over itself, the vocals carry the weird banner of The Happy Dragon-Band ever forward.

Released on the tiny Michigan-based indie Fiddlers Music, the album made very little impact and was quickly forgotten until a later generation of rare psych collectors retroactively recognized it as a lost classic. This led to a digital reissue in 2005 by bootleg label Radioactive. Due to poor research and the echo chamber quality of the internet, the record has frequently been incorrectly attributed to the Detroit group who recorded the Doors-esque album Phantom’s Divine Comedy in 1974. Listening to the two albums side-by-side should confirm the lack of even a slight similarity between the two. Phantom is derivative and staid, an avant la lettre throwback with the pedantic overtones of art rock thrown in for bad measure. The Happy Dragon-Band, for all their flaws, were startlingly original, and completely in step with the flux of their particular moment. Look no further than the album’s opening track “3-D Free,” a loping reggae jam with lyrics that evoke a bizarre apocalyptic vision: “All the buildings started to fall/ I saw police shooting rats swarming in the drains.”

Phantom - 1990 - Phantom's Divine Comedy, Part 2 - The Lost Album

Phantom's Divine Comedy, Part 2 - The Lost Album

01. Your Life; "Tales From The Wizard"
02. Queen Of Air
03. Lone Wolf
04. Storms
05. The Music Rolls On
06. Release Me
07. Sailing Away

Bass – Dennis Craner
Drums – John Bdanjeck
Guitar – Gary Meisner
Keyboards – Mike DeMartino
Vocals, Guitar – Tom Carson

Recorded in Los Angeles in the early '70s.

Originally known as Walpurgis, just think The Doors with a much heavier sound and a more polished singer and you have their first album "Phantom's Divine Comedy Part 1".

Walpurgis was the official name of the band for years and they came from Detroit. They played all over Michigan, Ohio, and Canada. They were recording their first LP in New York in 1974 under that name before the big hiatus happened, leaving no choice but let Capitol Records redo the LP, take control, and change the name to Phantom's Divine Comedy. The members of the band were John Bdanjeck, Tom Carson, Dennis Craner,Mike DeMartino, and Gary Meisner .

"The Lost Album" is supposed to have been recorded in Los Angeles and predates the official Phantom's Divine Comedy release

I find this somewhat implausible to believe that this is supposed to pre-date the classic Phantom's album, it being far too glossy and commercial. It is, of course, entirely possible that the commerciality came first and they ditched it for the psychedelic colossus that was issued in 1974 but I just can't see it. The voice is nowhere as polished as on the better known album, sounding quite rough at times. The lead guitar work has the stamp of the other album but the arrangements are very different. Being billed as a demo made me expect some half-assed, poorly realised or unfinished recordings, such as is often the case with unreleased material. Nothing could be further from the truth, this is all well recorded, slick and polished and sounds more like an unreleased second album to me. There's no doubt in my mind that all these songs are the finished article. That's the trouble, when a band existed in a cloud of doubt and rumour, it's almost impossible to get a true picture of what actually happened, who was involved and when it all took place. (nb see footnote with link)

The guitarist certainly sounds the same as before; he has a great tone and I wish he had recorded more, assuming of course that he hasn't and how the hell would we know if he had? Even though the voice has some rasping that wasn't previously present it's still a great instrument. It might be more mainstream in nature but it's by no means a middle-of-the-road sell-out, nor is it a soft rock venture that pales in comparison to it's elder brother. It stands up pretty well as a companion piece, it's simply going in a different direction.

After listening to this a few more times there are various features that I believe could point towards a later date; the melodic and forward bass presence in the mix, the sound of the synthesizer used, the more mature and refined arrangements, the slick production, the laid back style. It's not a fait accompli and honestly doesn't matter a jot. The only important question is "Do I like it or not is?" and the answer is a resounding YES.

A great addition to my collection and a welcome find, especially as I think the "other" album is one of THE greatest rock albums of all time.