Sunday, April 10, 2016

Don 'Sugar Cane' Harris - 1970 - Keep On Driving

Don 'Sugar Cane' Harris 
Keep On Driving

01. Keep On Driving 4:05
02. Blues On The Moon 6:53
03. Which Way Is The Bathroom ? 4:02
04. Desiree 8:40
05. Almost Broke 5:58
06. Coitus Interruptus 4:58
07. Remember The Past 10:08

Recorded at MPS-Ton-Studio, Villingen/Germany, Nov, 17 and 18, 1970

First release comes in a gatefold cover, with red centerlabel, shows MPS- and BASF-brand.

- Don 'Sugar Cane' Harris / electric violin, acoustic violin (on 1,2)
- Volker Kriegel / guitar
- John Taylor / electric piano
- Tony Oxley / drums, amplified percussion (on 2,7)

Harris was born and raised in Pasadena, California, and started an act called Don and Dewey with his childhood friend Dewey Terry in the mid 1950s. Although they were recorded by Art Rupe on his Specialty label, mostly utilizing the services of legendary drummer Earl Palmer, Don and Dewey didn't have any hits. However, Harris and Terry co-authored such early rock and roll classics as "Farmer John", "Justine", "I'm Leaving It Up to You", and "Big Boy Pete," all of which became hits for other artists.

Harris was given the nickname "Sugarcane" by bandleader Johnny Otis and it was to remain with him throughout his life.

After separating from Dewey Terry in the 1960s, Harris moved almost exclusively over to the electric violin. He was to reappear as a sideman with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and Frank Zappa, most recognized for his appearances on Hot Rats, and on the Mothers of Invention albums Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh. His lead vocal and blues violin solo on a cover of Little Richard's "Directly From My Heart to You" on Weasels, and his extended solo on the lengthy "Little House I Used To Live In" on Weeny are considered highlights of those albums. Reportedly, he was rescued from a jail term by Zappa. Zappa had long admired Harris's playing and bailed him out of prison, resurrecting his career and ushering in a long period of creativity for the forgotten violin virtuoso. He played a couple of live concerts with Zappa's band in 1969.

During the early 1970s, Sugarcane fronted the Pure Food and Drug Act which included drummer Paul Lagos, guitarists Harvey Mandel and Randy Resnick, and bassist Victor Conte, who was the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO). Conte replaced Larry Taylor who was the original bass player. His first solo album (with back cover art by underground poster artist Rick Griffin) is a forgotten masterpiece of blues, jazz, classical and funk compositions, and his 1973 live album Sugarcane's Got The Blues, recorded at the Berlin Jazz Festival show an accomplished musician at the top of his game.

This studio session marked the beginning of blues violinist Don "Sugarcane" Harris' association with the German record label Saba (later renamed MPS). Harris, who was nearly flat broke at the time, had to borrow one of the violins used on the date, along with a pickup for the amplified selections. Joined by electric guitarist Volker Kriegel, pianist John Taylor, and drummer Tony Oxley (all of whom are better known for their jazz credentials), the session ends up being a fusion of blues, jazz, and a bit of rock, while all of the songs are Harris' originals. The opener, "Keep On Driving," is the kind of insistent blues typically associated with Harris, though it is a bit low key, possibly due to the use of acoustic violin. The free improvisation within "Blues on the Moon" is atypical for the genre, but not Harris, who is again on the acoustic instrument. The leader's slashing attack on electric violin in the humorously titled "Which Way Is the Bathroom?" is easily the highlight of the date, recalling his best collaborations with rocker Frank Zappa, as well as the violinist's rare live recordings. He is at his most soulful in "Desiree." The brisk "Almost Broke" showcases a hot solo by Kriegel, while the funky "Coitus Interruptus" finds Harris' violin taking on an almost vocal quality, followed by Kriegel's blistering solo. The disc ends with an extended workout of "Remember the Past," a sort of blues strut that detours into wild improvisations by the quartet. This was a fine beginning for Sugarcane Harris' debut with the label, though health problems essentially ended his recording career within just a few short years.

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