What could be better? Those of you who, like me, collect vinyl records, can understand the joy of receiving a gift like this. Sadly, my brother-in-law’s father passed away several years ago. More recently, my sister and her family moved out of the country and one of the things left behind was a large plastic container of records. Kindly, my brother-in-law told me I could have them. So, here is something sad that lead to something joyous.
Picture me: one Friday night I sat on a chair in my basement with this bin of records beside me. I hadn’t looked in the bin yet but tonight would be the big reveal. I propped open the lid, giving myself just enough room to fit my arm in and pull out one record at a time. While I knew beforehand that this would be kicks, I was not prepared for the exhilaration of wondering what record would emerge next. In the end, they were a great mix of more obvious and popular titles and such staggering oddities that I often had no idea what I was looking at.
There were in that treasure chest common titles like Lionel Richie’s first two solo albums, Thriller and the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. I was happy to see emerge one of my favourite albums, Band on the Run, which I already owned. This treasure chest copy, though, still had in the jacket the original poster that came with the record – I swiftly added this to my existing copy. But for every one of these well-known records there were a couple from left field and these albums we’ll be talking about today.
On a personal note, another fascinating aspect of this journey was a window into who my brother-in-law’s father had been. I never knew the man who’s name was Sam Kaye – knowing full well there was a bandleader in the Forties by that name, I’ve always referred to him as Sammy Kaye, as in “swing and sway with…”. I’m asking you to consider this particular situation but this can apply to anyone’s box of records or anyone’s belongings offered at an estate sale, for instance. It can be a riveting and thought-provoking experience to attempt to form an impression of someone through a study of their belongings. It the case specifically of music, I used to always say that I could really come to know a person by looking at their music collection; not just what they owned but how they were cared for and stored. I would often jokingly add that I couldn’t exactly judge a person by their collection – but I’d like to.
I was scratching my head when I was done emptying Sammy Kaye’s Treasure Chest. Inside I had found Thriller and Led Zeppelin’s debut on Atlantic. I had found Rumours and the second record from The George Benson Quartet in pristine condition. Lionel’s Can’t Slow Down with “All Night Long” on it and an Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Sammy was all over the place, I thought. Of course, through the years, the records of others could have been added to this collection, perhaps his wife’s or other family members’ records. But it got my imagination going. It often does when I find treasures at a garage sale or thrift store; who bought this and why? Where did they buy it? On what did they listen to this record and when? And so on. Every box of records tells a story, don’t it?
Other highlights from this haul include; debut albums from Crazy Horse and the Pointer Sisters, Keef Hartley Band’s Halfbreed record, Jethro Tull’s compilation Living in the Past with the big book inside and records from the Ohio Players, the Tower of Power and War. Solid.
I’ve chosen five of the incredible oddities to discuss today and I’ll be looking at them in alphabetical order by band name. I’ll admit that I had not heard of any of these bands before I stuck my arm in the chest. Everybody’s heard of everything and nothing is really rare anymore, I know. But with these albums I have to wonder. I’d love to have you tell me in the comments if you’ve heard of these bands. I’m thinking almost none of you have.
Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express – Straight Ahead // RCA Records, 1974
London’s Brian Auger (born 1939) is a keyboardist who specializes in the Hammond organ. As a session man, Auger played on the Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” in 1965 and then formed The Steampacket. Here’s a sore spot for me; I once bought a cheap-o CD of this band’s music on the strength of seeing that Rod Stewart sang in the band before he had done anything – but I got rid of it. Like an idiot. Long John Baldry was also in the band. After performing with the Monkees on a 1969 TV special, Auger formed the Oblivion Express in 1970. There is precious little to read out there about Auger’s career but he does today remain active in recordings, performances and on social media. Check him out at BrianAuger.com.
Straight Ahead is the BAOE’s fifth album. They would release four more – two live – before going on hiatus in 1977. The Oblivion Express’ brand of jazz fusion is at some points gentle with pop leanings and at others it is concerned with the groove and gifts the listener with sonic meanderings that chart territories designed to take you to a cool, blue prog rock/jazz place.
Bloodrock – Bloodrock 3 // Capitol Records, 1971
From the enigmatic thrill of the Brian Auger record, I landed with a thud on Bloodrock. Out of Fort Worth, the band formed in ’63 and laboured in obscurity for six years when guitarist Dean Parks left to start a prolific career as a session musician. The band teetered until, in 1969, they ran into Terry Knight, manager and producer of Grand Funk Railroad. Knight signed the boys to Capitol, had them change their name to Bloodrock (why?) and eventually had vocalist and drummer Jim Rutledge come out from behind the kit to sing exclusively.
This record was the follow-up to their most successful album, Bloodrock 2 that yielded the single “D.O.A.”, a song that was the group’s only hit, peaking at #36 on the Pop charts. When this third LP wasn’t a success, the band soon splintered. With new personnel coming in, the group’s hard rock sound lightened and veered towards progressive rock. Bloodrock, then, even at what passes for their best, is a poor man’s version of other, better heavy rock bands of the time. I did find a website that provided some info on this band. Geezerology.com published an article in 2021 they called Bloodrock: Here and Gone Like a Comet in the Sky in which they ranked all of the band’s albums. They say that Bloodrock 3 is the best and “is the closest Bloodrock came to releasing a perfect album”.
The sound of Bloodrock 3 is very Deep Purple owing to the admittedly canny use of the organ played by one Stevie Hill. While this is generic early metal, the band scores points for being ambitious and self-contained. Rutledge, though, has that unappealing screaming-type hard rock voice; hitting the right notes, maybe, but bereft of any character. So, this was interesting but not great.
Carp // Epic Records, 1970
Here was yet another album coming out of Sammy Kaye’s Treasure Chest that had me stumped. Carp? The album cover seemed…broken so I turned it over and saw a picture of the four guys in the band. He was unmistakable. Gary Busey. Can you believe it? Gary Busey formed this band with his buddies, fellow students at the University of Oklahoma in the spring of 1966 when the Buse was 22. They eventually made the move to Los Angeles where they were picked up by Epic. Their only album was released in 1970 – I saw one source claim it was ’69.
It has made me to look at Gary Busey a little differently, learning about this band and the fact that he sang, played drums and – aside from one track written by a guest – wrote every last word of every song on the record. I have found a bit of info on the band in the ether and only one site lists another band member as vocalist; that would be pianist Glen Mitchell. So, we’re left to assume that Busey sang lead on every track. But there are too many voices on the record and too many fine harmonies to suggest that Busey did it all himself. But I buy that he was, indeed, the lead singer. I can believe that, having wrote all the words, he would want to sing them, too.
I thought at first that he sounded a bit like Rick Danko and definitely Carp sounds like The Band. The album is barroom country/rock in the CCR mold and Rick Getman can wail on the guitar. This is good, music, actually – even if the songs themselves are not fantastic. It is jangly music with lyrics that speak of the American west and the Old South with mentions of Jesus thrown in, which would tie in with the Jesus Movement going on at the time. A pleasant surprise, this record.
The band broke up almost immediately after the record’s release and the failure of two singles. Using the alias Teddy Jack Eddy, Busey would play drums on records by Kris Kristofferson and Leon Russell before focusing on acting. I had known that he did his own singing and playing in his Oscar-nominated performance as Buddy Holly so I shouldn’t be too surprised that he started as a musician. The other three members of Carp – add to those previously mentioned John Crowder on bass – went on to middling careers as session men.
Cold Blood – Lydia // Warner Bros. Records, 1974
At first I assumed this was an album called “Cold Blood” by someone named Lydia. But I was wrong. Kinda. Lydia is the name of this the fifth album from Cold Blood featuring lead singer Lydia Pense. This horn-based funk/rock band was formed in San Francisco and was the first to be signed by Bill Graham to his Fillmore Records. Pense is a little white chick with a big R&B voice – this combined with the band’s funk sound lead early critics to dismiss them and Pense as a Janis Joplin/Big Brother knock-off. But Janis herself gave Lydia her blessing and recommended her to Graham.
My man Steve Cropper of Stax Records fame took charge of the band for this album and handled production duties. The record – their first and only for Warners – has a good sound but things seem splintered. The first side is full-on, feel the funk, ya’ll and Pense seems to drown in the proceedings. The funk is solid, though, make no mistake. I was not on board with Lydia until I turned the record over. The splintering comes from the fact that the first side of the record was recorded in LA with one set of musicians while the second side starts out with three songs cut with another group of players – only two men played on both sessions. Weird.
The first three tracks on side two were recorded in Memphis and include two songs written by Cropper. These three songs seem to stand alone. The first track, “Consideration” is less funk and more R&B and Pense seems more suited to this Irma Thomas-like set-up. If I’m honest, I didn’t care for Pense as a singer at all until the second side. Either she grew on me as the record progressed or there was perhaps more of a balance between the robust players and the little lead singer when the funk got toned down a bit.
“East Bay grease” this type of music is apparently called and perhaps the Tower of Power – also of the Bay area – did it better. In fact, since they both became “legacy acts”, the horn sections of the two bands have become interchangeable with players pulling duty in both outfits. My confusion over the band’s and the album’s name is explained by the fact that Lydia Pense had become so popular that they gave this record her name. The title of the next album, Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, drove this home but it was the last before the group went on a 10-year hiatus while Pense raised her daughter. Today, Lynda Pense and Cold Blood continue to record and perform in theatres and pubs and lounges on the west coast. Check out their site here.
Smyle // Columbia Records, 1971
Nice – my brother-in-law’s dad was a Southern Ontario guy and he owned this record by a band from Burlington. In fact, it was this band’s only album. In the late 1960s, Columbia Records staged many “Canadian Talent” crusades in search of acts for the mega-label’s Canadian arm. On the strength of their robust live show, Columbia signed “The Smile”, had them change their name and ushered them into Toronto Sound Studios, which was about to become famous as the studio where Rush created their finest music.
This pretty good record starts out sounding like heavy Byrds/Buffalo Springfield but then a horn section has them sounding like Lighthouse. Mostly, though, Smyle is a straight-ahead rock band lead by singer/songwriter/guitarist Ron Demmans. Ron lives now in Tennessee as author Ronald D. Demmans. Ron wrote the bulk of this record but the group also covers “Maybellene” and they close the record with their version of fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”. Not a bad record, this, with a lot of character.
For those of you not familiar with Discogs, it is a music database that specializes in listing albums and their various versions that have been released since the dawn of time. This invaluable resource is also a marketplace and each album’s entry has links to where a copy can be bought or yours sold. I will often gauge a record’s rarity by how many copies are up for sale and for how much. A basic title may show 300 copies for sale starting at $0.82. Smyle shows only EIGHT copies for sale starting at $102. The lowest a copy has sold for is $25.99 and the highest is $203.96. So, that’s how rare it is.
So, to wrap up, while none of these five records blew my mind, they were all pretty good and more than that discovering these bands was fascinating; certainly I’ve been introduced to at least one underground hero in Lydia Pense. I’ll be keeping all of them except the Bloodrock. But more than whether the records were good or not, the whole experience of being given a box full of records was wonderful. I have to wonder if it’ll ever happen again, though. Nowadays, people think that their records are worth more than they are and they are hesitant to give them up. But unless you find a dealer who is willing to take the lot off your hands, they are simply worth what people that walk up your driveway on a Saturday morning are wiling to pay. But I’ll tell you what; the records I was given in this bin are of great worth to me and that has nothing to do with money. Thanks, Sammy Kaye. Part of you is living on in my house.