Happy the Man
01. Starborne (4:22)
02. Stumpy Meets the Firecracker in Stencil Forest (4:16)
03. Upon the Rainbow (Befrost) (4:42)
04. Mr. Mirror's Reflection on Dreams (8:54)
05. Carousel (4:06)
06. Knee Bitten Nymphs in Limbo (5:22)
07. On Time as a Helix of Precious Laughs (5:22)
08. Hidden Moods (3:41)
09. New York Dream Suite (8:32)
- Stanley Whitaker / six and twelve string guitars, vocals
- Kit Watkins / mini-moog, acoustic piano, Fender rhodes, A.R.P., Hammond organ, Hohner clavinet, flute, marimba
- Frank Wyatt / sax, flute, piano, keyboards, vocals
- Rick Kennell / bass
- Mike Beck / drums
Often compared to Yes for their melodicism and Gentle Giant for the complexity of their compositions, Happy the Man added their own high-caliber musicianship, a sense of symphonic drama, odd time signatures, spacy sound, and occasional whimsy to their brand of progressive rock. Although their largely instrumental oeuvre was rather inconsistent, Happy the Man still carry a devoted following on the prog rock collectors' circuit. The group was formed in 1974, and during the '70s featured keyboardist Kit Watkins, keyboardist/woodwind player Frank Wyatt, guitarist and occasional vocalist Stan Whitaker, and bassist Rick Kennell, plus a rotating succession of drummers. Original vocalist Cliff Fortney left the band before it signed to Arista. Their self-titled 1977 debut was recorded with drummer Mike Beck and introduced each member's compositional style: Watkins possessed the symphonic grandeur, Wyatt gravitated toward songs with lyrics, and Whitaker allowed his sense of humor to come through on pieces such as "Stumpy Meets the Firecracker in Stencil Forest" and "Knee Bitten Nymphs in Limbo." The follow-up, Crafty Hands, featured drummer Ron Riddle and was released a year later.
While Crafty Hands in particular garnered Happy the Man favorable reviews among the prog-inclined, the group's musically accomplished style was increasingly out of favor in the marketplace, and Arista dropped the band from its roster. Nevertheless, Happy the Man continued on with French drummer Coco Roussel now in the lineup, rehearsing and recording new material for a planned third album and performing live dates. The challenges faced by the group remained daunting, however, and Kit Watkins left the band to join Camel (appearing on two Camel albums); following his departure in 1979, Happy the Man broke up. Watkins would later found his own independent label, Azimuth, and in 1980 the label issued the Watkins solo effort Labyrinth, also featuring Roussel on drums/percussion. Labyrinth was actually the original planned title for Happy the Man's unrealized third album, and Watkins' album of that name included some of the material that would have premiered on that Happy the Man LP -- in 1983, under the title Better Late..., Azimuth would in fact issue demo material recorded four years previously by the full group for the third album which heretofore had not seen the light of day. Watkins and Roussel also released the duo album In Time in 1984, and Watkins would continue recording new age-tinged solo efforts into the 21st century.
Meanwhile, additional Happy the Man material was made available through independent labels. The Retrospective collection was released by East Side Digital in 1989, and during the 1990s Cuneiform issued several worthwhile archival recordings from Happy the Man's '70s heydays: in 1990 the label kept the Azimuth-issued Better Late... in circulation by re-releasing the album (including two previously unreleased tracks), and subsequent Happy the Man collections on Cuneiform included 1994's Live (recordings from a pair of 1978 club dates in Washington, D.C., and Falls Church, VA), 1995's Beginnings (a series of early two-track studio recordings with Fortney), and 1999's Death's Crown (mid-'70s recordings from the group's rehearsal space). The band re-formed (minus Watkins) to release the Muse Awakens CD in 2004.
By mid-70's Cliff Fortney had left Happy The Man because of his stagefright and technical inability and he was replaced by singer Dan Owen, while flute parts were handled by Kit Watkins.Owen spent about 8 months with the band and during his time the ''Death's Crown'' suite was recorded in the band's rehearsal room.After Owen quit in 1975, the rest of the crew decided to move on as a quintet.Happy The Man attracted the interest of Peter Gabriel, who was searching for a backing group after his departure from Genesis and, although this collaboration did not work, this was enough to increase Happy The Man's popularity.They were eventually signed by Arista in a 5-year recording deal and recorded their debut at A&M Studios towards the end of 1976, supported by the production value of Ken Scott, who had worked with The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Supertramp and David Bowie.In 1977 the official debut of Happy The Man sees the light.
''Happy the Man'' was there to unite two different worlds.The one was the complex and intricate Progressive Rock of early 70's with GENTLE GIANT and VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR references, a style totally out of fashion around the time.The other was a style by a Prog band heading to the next decade, smoother, more melodic and atmospheric, with pronounced use of synthesizers and elegant passages, which however contained lots of adventurous themes.The most surprising thing about the group was their ability to follow dense, virtuosic interplays with more delicate, harmonic passages in a very tight combination, revealing tons of composing talent.Their style included influences from Jazz and Fusion, dominated by Frank Wyatt's incredible sax work, the quirky keyboard parts of both Wyatt and Watkins and the consistent rhythm section of Beck and Kennell.They did have also a strong Classical character at moments with piano interludes and symphonic keyboards in the forefront, building structures for the upcoming rich instrumental lines.Happy The Man's introduction was music with unexpected twists, amazing interactions between the instrumentalists, powerful breaks and romantic soundscapes with mellow keyboards.The result is often astonishing with GENTLE GIANT being the main influence minus the Medieval vibes, a beautiful surprise in a scene that was fading around the time.
The early rehearsals of Happy The Man eventually developed into a fascinating, bombastic listening experience with a fresh attitude.Consistent Symphonic/Jazz Rock with both fiery and calm instrumental material, really a pure delight.Absolutely recommended.