This page is intended to examine all the - often confusing - information available concerning the band's known early studio recordings, sort out all the inconsistencies (or at least, highlight them), and then lay it out chronologically in order to try and make some sense of it all.
That's the theory, anyway. Remember - this page is recording-centric, by which I mean, I may mention certain other events that occurred in the history of the band during the following discussion, but if it's not relevant to an examination of the recordings, I won't be explaining or examining it here. All that will be looked at in the SWU history pages elsewhere in this section.
Apart from information I've gleaned during my own researches, the main external sources I'll be examining on this page are:
Information regarding the first demo I know of came in the form of the following - fleeting - comment by Richard Meltzer in his 'In the Belly of the Beast' ["The Rock Marketplace", Oct 1973] article that actually was pretty illuminating:
So they signed with Elektra (Mercury had turned 'em down already) and they had done a demo with Al Kooper
So - before Elektra, there was Mercury, who promptly "turned them down". This begs the question - what did Mercury turn down? A demo-tape or did they go and see a showcase gig, like Jac Holzman did for Elektra (later on in the story)?
Until recently, this was the only indication I had ever seen that mentioned an initial Mercury demo, until, in a podcast interview in August 2018 with producer Bobby Owsinski, Buck Dharma also referred to it.When quizzed about it afterwards, he had this to say:
I don't know what happened to those early reel to reel demo tapes. They did exist, but I don't have any of 'em.
Information regarding the next demo I know of came in the form of the following - fleeting - comment by Richard Meltzer in his 'In the Belly of the Beast' ["The Rock Marketplace", Oct 1973] article that actually was pretty illuminating:
So they signed with Elektra (Mercury had turned 'em down already and they had done a demo with Al Kooper at which Al was embarrassed to be a fellow yid of Braunstein cause that's how bad Braunstein was: bad) and at the signing there was supposed to be champagne but all he had for 'em was asti spumante that tasted like vomit.
Albert Bouchard has stated that the "Al Kooper demos were at the Columbia 51st Street Studios" - how come they were recording them at Columbia's studios? Was this for a previously unknown 1st Columbia demo?
Anyone got any info on this?
Until Buck confirmed that there had been a Mercury demo, I had previously wondered might this "Al Kooper Demo" have been something tangible with which to approach Mercury, and that is what they "turned down". But I'm obviously now back to thinking that these are two separate sets of demos we're talking about.
It'd certainly be very interesting to know what tracks were on that tape...? If this was the first recorded testimony of SWU with Les, it'd certainly be very interesting to hear it.
By the way - Meltzer's put down of Les Braunstein in the above quote has to be seen in context: Meltzer was not a fan of Les... come to think of it, Meltzer's blacklist was pretty long...
There's also a further - again fleeting - mention of this session in the Goldmine article that helps a little.
Whilst discussing a late-night jam between Jimi Hendrix and the Butterfield Blues Band guys after a gig SWU did with Chuck Berry at the Generation Club (16/17 April 1968), there was this aside:
Note: Kooper, one of Albert's and Donald's heroes from the Blues Project, had actually engineered a demo session for the SWU prior to this.
Kooper was in the studio with Hendrix for the making of Jimi's "Electric Ladyland" album, more or less around the time of the Generation gig, and he is credited as playing piano on the track "Long Hot Summer Night".
So - if this info is correct - and the SWU demo with Al Kooper was "prior" to the 16/17 April gigs, then that makes this demo pretty damn early in the SWU timeline - March/April 68... Les only actually joined the band around the 3rd Feb 68...
That'd make the submission to Mercury around, say, May or June...?
The Al Kooper demo was for Columbia before we got the Elektra deal.
So - that's interesting - that confirms that Columbia must have turned them down before Elektra. Albert doesn't mention Mercury - only Meltzer has mentioned that.
I wondered if Les might have any recollections about Mercury, Al Kooper etc, so I asked him: did he recall what was the first demo he ever recorded:
I should remember, but I don't. We did a demo with Al Kooper and that wasn't the only one. It might have been Mercury but I don't recall - have you asked the others? This is the kind of info that Albert or Donald usually knew. Sorry. I never took notes in college either.
Well, so far all the talk has been about the "Al Kooper demo"... then Buck chimed in and put a spanner in the works:
We never worked with Al Kooper, but we did a demo at Columbia Records Studio on 52nd St. (in the Underbelly era, not when we were close to signing as BOC,) with David Rubinson producing.
Rubinson had produced the first Moby Grape record, which we all thought was amazing.
Al Kooper showed up in the control room, and basically distracted Rubinson from the session with his banter and presence.
So it wasn't a net positive, although we were huge fans of Kooper from the Blues Project, which by that time had disbanded.
Kooper had done "Supersession" with Mike Bloomfield and was doing Blood Sweat and Tears.
The Columbia demo exists as reel to reel tape somewhere.
Well, as Buck seems to have such a strong memory of this particular event, I'll go with that and re-designate the "Al Kooper demos" as the "David Rubinson demos"...
OK - well, at the moment then, the chronology of Pearlman's approaches to record companies would seem to have been:
According to Goldmine, before The Soft White Underbelly set foot inside the Elektra NY studios, they'd already had a session with Jerry Ragovoy, had actually produced a haircream jingle and Albert also did a spot of session work with Tom Paxton.
Whilst discussing the Paxton record, Albert informs us:
Actually [the Paxton recording was] not my first time in a studio because we'd played all over the place [by then]. Jerry Ragovoy, the author of "Piece of My Heart", did a demo with us at his little studio.
So... how did they come to do this session? Albert has said in the past that the session with "Jerry Ragavoy was in his office at Atlantic", but when was it? What did they record? If anyone knows anything, please let me know...
The Ragavoy demo was apparently done only weeks before Holzman turns up at the Hotel Diplomat.
Funnily enough Ragavoy is a Hungarian and at that point was actually calling himself Norman Meade.
Well, my current best guess for the date of the Diplomat showcase for Holzman is 28 August 1968. If the Ragovoy demo was done "only weeks before" this gig, then that would place it around the start of August.
In Goldmine, Albert said:
We played a bunch of things. We actually made a Score hair cream commercial, which got played on the radio.
For those of you youngsters out there who don't kmow what 'Score' is, Score was the competitor of Brylcreem: [singing the jingle] "Score gives you no outrageous promises/Score gives ya good-lookin' hair" [laughter]
That's what it was. And one of the DJs - I think it was Dan Ingram - said, "Hey, groovy spot!" It was [on] WABC."
So some questions remain... What does "We played a bunch of things" mean? Did the band get to record anything of their own during this visit?
Albert has said previously that the "Score jingle was some small 3 track place on Long Island" but how on earth did they come to do it? And when was it?
Yea we did the jingle with some hack. We were making fun of the whole thing which is why it was so great.
I don't have a copy of it, but I still remember the tune. I could probably recreate it with Les.
We know the Showcase for Elektra at the Diplomat where Holzman decided to sign SWU to his label was on or about 28 August 1968. We must assume the actual "ceremony" to mark this signing - alluded to by Meltzer above ("at the signing there was supposed to be champagne but all he had for 'em was asti spumante that tasted like vomit") - must have been at the start of September 1968.
According to "Morning Final #4", as well as the Rhino CD, Sandy Pearlman arranged for The Soft White Underbelly to go into the studio around November 1968 with Elektra Records house producer Pete Siegel to record some demos:
Without wasting any time, he [Pearlman] put the band in the studio around November of that year, and they recorded a couple of demos of their hottest tunes, so Elektra house producer Pete Siegel could get a grip of the band and their music.
I initially read that there were just these three demos recorded at this November session: Bonomo's Turkish Taffy, Arthur Comics and Queen's Boulevard.
The article further stated it is believed that Sandy Pearlman did the actual producing of the tracks.
However, Albert later revealed that there were four demos done for Elektra:
Bonomo's was written in time for that Elektra demo. It was Rational Passional, Arthur Comics and Queens Boulevard.
Albert has furthur stated that "there was a little demo studio one floor above the Elektra offices. That's where we did the demos and also "Lam" from the Stalk Forrest record".
He didn't make it clear which demos he was referring to, but if there's a small studio above Elektra, it makes sense that this is where they'd have occurred.
Regarding the idea that Albert reckoned they also recorded "Rational Passional" during these November sessions, some proof of this turned up on ebay in Feb 2016: an acetate of Rational Passional (said to be Buck's own copy), and the Elektra label was stamped with a date of 19 November 1968.
So then, it looks as if these were the four demos recorded in November:
I imagine these were probably recorded in one day, and an acetate or two cut at the end of the session for them to demo to various interested parties. Hence, I've dated the session as Tuesday 19 November 1968 (as per the label stamp).
Right around the time SWU were recording their demos, Albert was roped in by producer Pete Siegel to do a little extra-curricular activity - session drummer for Tom Paxton:
Right after we got signed, our producer Pete Siegel was producing [a] Tom Paxton record and he said [to me]. "I need a drummer, You're a great drummer, you should play with him".
It was "Things I Notice Now" [Elektra LP 1969]. I have two copies," Albert added with a laugh. "I played with Tom, just that one song - the lead-off track, "Bishop Cody's Last Request".
It took like five minutes. It was fun. The best part about that was meeting, and getting to be friends with, David Bromberg. That was my first recording session.
At this stage, we have to take Albert's "That was my first recording session" comment with a pinch of salt, because we know, for example, that the SWU had already done some recording with Al Kooper earlier in the year, at least.
And logically, how could Pete Siegel say "you're a great drummer" to Albert if he hadn't been working with him already on the above-mentioned November demos to know how good he was?
So - until I hear differently, I'm placing this recording session with Tom Paxton as occurring after the November demos, though conceivably it could have taken place during them!
When asked was this session before, during or after the demos, Albert said: "As I remember we had already started to record. We recorded the record at A&R studios. Shelly Yakus was the intern."
Albert later offered this clarification:
Bishop Cody was my first professional recording session. I'd been making recordings since I was 14 years old but they were just a build-up. I recorded it after SWUB recorded Jay Jay.
Yikes! That puts a spanner in my timeline. So far as I know - Jay Jay was recorded in January/February 1969 (see next section) - but if "Bishop Cody's Last Request" was recorded after this, then surely that shifts the Tom Paxton session into 1969 also...?
OK - well, first of all, I need to consider the actual date when these recording sessions took place...
The Rhino CD notes said this:
In January 1969, they started putting down the basic tracks for what would have been their first album as Soft White Underbelly. It was during these sessions that the tension between the band and Les Braunstein finally reached its apex.
"Morning Final #4" gave the following info:
The sessions for the making of the Soft White Underbelly album began in January 1969, and they recorded basic tracks for 7 songs but only six of these were finished: one of the songs was left without the vocal.
However, in the Goldmine piece, Albert said:
We were signed in the Fall of '68 and we started making the record in February ['69].
So: January or February? For reasons you'll discover if you read further, I think it was more likely March or April, but let's go with February for now, because January doesn't seem feasible.
Anyway, according to "Morning Final #4", the 7 tracks recorded in "January" - but as I've just said, we're currently going with February - were apparently as follows:
Pete Siegel was the producer.
Only two of these tracks had been recorded as demos back in November (Rational Passional and Queen's Boulevard), leaving Bonomo's Turkish Taffy and Arthur Comics not being re-recorded for the LP. This doesn't seem right.
Incidentally, the BOCFAQ adds this info:
According to Bolle Gregmar, 10 tracks in total were recorded in January of 1969, although only the above 7 songs were believed to be planned for the album.
There's that "January" mention again. Let's park that for now.
However, if those figures were correct, it didn't say what the other three tracks were that were recorded.
As it turns out, I now think there was at least eleven songs recorded.
The track list from MF#4 is wrong. We recorded all the demos over again in multi-track versions (the demos were live stereo tracks).
We also recorded "All Night Gas Station", and "American Dream", later called "Home From the Hills".
The Song credits are also wrong:
Albert's mention of "American Dream"/"Home From the Hills" was interesting, because I'd previously seen that song title mentioned by Les in "Morning Final #13" and wondered about it:
We wound up recording three of my tunes. "Jay Jay", "Home from the Hills", and "Rational Passional".
OK - so that means we have the original seven songs listed above, plus the two demos not included in that seven, plus the two additions supplied by Albert - that makes eleven tracks - not ten, as mentioned earlier.
It's worth noting, in the Popoff book, Meltzer says this:
It ("Donovan's Monkey") was also recorded for the first Soft White Underbelly record that never happened, with Les Braunstein singing. And that's one where I mention Killer Kowalski, who was my favourite wrestler.
So, if he's correct, "Donovan's Monkey" was also recorded with Les, so that'd make twelve tracks at least...
Just to complicate matters, I also have a suspicion that - possibly - there was a further track recorded around this time - "John L. Sullivan", for reasons described here. But that's just a suspicion, and I can't prove it at the moment.
So here's my list of the twelve songs that I think were recorded in January/February 1969 for inclusion on the first Elektra album:
Albert confirms that the SWU engineer was Gabor Szabo, the Hungarian guitarist. Quite what he was doing engineering for Elektra on a moonlit flit is anyone's guess. It's so random.
But if there is only one Gabor Szabo then AB says: "He was the engineer but his thing was ambient semi-classical music and he made us sound too mushy. We didn't have the crispness of the MC5, or The Doors, or even Bread, who were all on the label."
Personally, I reckon Szabo engineered some of the SWU but not the Columbia demos (see later), which according to your research resulted in six tracks, though other reports said only four.
Gabor Zabo did not engineer the session but the engineer who engineered him did. Don't remember his name but you can probably google it.
I'd previously read the stories about Les insisting on countless vocal overdubs and never being satisfied with what he'd just done and always thought the next one would be "the one", with the result that, after a while, all spontaneity was gone and the track had lost its way...
But what I didn't realise was just how long this process seemed to have gone on for.
Here's what Les had to say in "Morning Final #13":
I started doing vocal overdubs. We moved out of the big studio and over to Elektra's small studios. I recorded every day with Peter Siegel, for about a week to 10 days. I feel that at the end of that, only some of it was my best work. Some of it had lost its spontaneity. I was getting too close to it. I was stressed out about the distance that was opening up between me and the guys who I loved playing with.
Around this time, while I was recording the vocal overdubs, we had booked a gig up in the Finger Lakes at Wells College in Aurora, NY. Beautiful territory, overlooking the lake, and it was my stomping ground in college. I went to Hobart, on the next lake over, but I hung out in Aurora at the beautiful girls' college of Wells, which had nothing but beautiful, classy women.
Somehow we had booked a gig there, and we were going up to play, but the night before I was scheduled to do more vocal overdubs, so the band went up with the van, and I drove up to Aurora after I was done recording. It was a seven hour trip, so I drove all through the night, and I was pretty spaced out. I hadn't been back to the Finger Lakes since I graduated college in '67, and this was '69.
OK - Les reckons the overdubs took place over a week to 10 days or so after the main body of the album had been recorded.
If the album tracks were recorded in January, then we'd expect these overdubs to be either also in January or else very early February.
But - so far as I can discern - the Wells College gig (which was contemporaneous with Les doing the overdubs) was in March 1969 - so that moves the whole timescale on by a month at least, maybe closer to two.
Also - another question arises: if Les had all that time to do repeated vocal overdubs, how come "Fantasy Morass" doesn't even have one vocal track? Not even a guide track?
One is still confused by the suggestion that some of the SWU stuff was actually done at the perfectly decent A&R studios (322 W.48th St, hired to cope with artists of lesser pressing import who couldn't book time in Columbia, and therefore maybe also Elektra) in January/February '69; that may have been when Les went in on his own (if he did) to re-record his vocals with the increasingly beleaguered Pete Siegel.
Says Albert: "Les left some songs unfinished because he never got to do what he considered a final vocal. He'd done what he thought were scratch vocals, which were fine with us but he had a crisis of confidence and insisted on redoing them. Trouble was he just couldn't sing them properly anymore. And he probably didn't really like some of them.
Nowadays you would make another safety copy but of course nobody did that. He started out by lying on the floor about twelve feet away from the microphone, which didn't really work (laughs), and then he had to do the rest of his vocals when the band weren't even there (implying this was the final straw)."
Maybe (A&R) is where Les took in the arranger David Horowitz for the aborted attempt to add orchestration, though surely Sandy Pearlman would have nixed that.
Also, they simply didn't have the money for such frippery.
Despite the problems being experienced during the recordings, it's clear that it was fully expected that this LP would get a release.
The July 1969 edition of Circus Magazine had the following full page article on the band:
Previews & Profiles: Soft White Underbelly
Like Rhinoceros plus a Moby Grape version of the Velvet Underground plus the Kinks'version of Donovan plus a Stones' version of the Airplane plus Del Shannon... That's the Soft White Underbelly, no it isn't, they're something else and they're something other than that too.
Don Roeser, maybe the shortest guitarist on the Anglo-American scene, also just happens to be the (yeah) best (that's right). His leads for the Underbelly are flying knife-edge buzz-saw sky-scrapers of you-name-it. After hearing him live you'll know that Clapton, Hendrix, McGuinn, J. Winter, B.B.,You-name-him are mere approximations of what can be done on guitar. And how can your favourite proficient guy, who can play just about anything that arises in his mind, come up with the uninteresting preferences of a Clapton as to exactly what to play? And what Don Roeser produces with his ax is rock and roll, not blues-dominated, jazz-orientated super-efficiency but superduper rock'n'roll, pure and simple (a landmark).
Alan (sic) Glover Lanier, when he's messing around on organ, can hold the whole Underbelly show together and make it bristle like a marshmallow porcupine, and Andrew Winters can lay down boss licks on bass that can make Phil Lesh sound like an academic bore. And Albert Bouchard, who has fully electrified his drum set, has a better railroad sound than your favourite railroad at full gallop.
With their own original songs the group is at the crossroads of infinity, as the comic books would say. In a time when rock excitement has become just a convenient abstraction, the Underbelly's "Buddah's Knee" (comparable only to "Eight Miles High" and the original live "Pooneil") is you-guessed-it. "Bonomo's Turkish Taffy," with a why-get-out-of-bed lyric in the midst of enough energy to get to Mars, places fun-freedom-etc. in the science-fiction thimble, and everywhere else. In "The Curse of the Hidden Mirrors," the city is the country and nature is a popular eyesore and everything is anything, and poetry is a real live teddy bear. "Queens Boulevard" is a geographical motorcycle song ("... three Fleischman's Motorcycle Shops, one in Long Beach, one in Bayshore, one on..."). "Bark in the Sun" is a love song "through corridors of pennies on the dull side of town." "John L. Sullivan" is the snappiest tune ever sung about a boxing movie or you and me. "Mothra" is about the famous monster and early Country Joe. "Donovan's Monkey" is etc.
That was just a preview: Soft White Underbelly's first album, on Elektra, is due any day now. Buy it.
It reads rather like a puff-piece, a put-up job by someone friendly to the band (shock horror) - the article has no name credit, but Andy Winters has revealed:
Richard Meltzer wrote this about my old group for Circus magazine. Note the favorable comparison with Phil Lesh for my bass playing. A slight exaggeration but much appreciated.
The timing of the piece was rather strange and indeed unfortunate as it came just after Les had left and the recording of the LP was consequently left somewhat in chaos. It reads as if Meltzer simply stripped out any mention of Les from a piece that had already been written beforehand and blithely assumed that the LP would still come out as planned, despite there being no Les around to finish off the vocal tracks...
I'll leave it up to you to judge the ethics of someone apparently abusing his position of power by anonymously urging the public to buy a record on which he himself had penned a number of the songs...
One thing in the article that jumped out at me was that I hadn't previously known SWU were doing John L Sullivan during Les's tenure... the way that text reads, it looks as if we could have expected to see it on the forthcoming record...
... but whatever happened to the Elektra first SWU album tapes?
That's the burning question, the Holy Grail in BOC circles... somebody must have them, surely...
In 2015, a number of studio rehearsal demo tapes found their way onto youtube and these gave a tantalising glimpse of what the Les-fronted SWU might have sounded like.
But where are the actual SWU masters? Could they be in some remote cave in the Iron Mountain facility?
Back in January 2009, "DumplingStan" mentioned this on the J&A forum:
Les posted a few years ago that Rhino had looked for the original SWU masters when they were putting together the "St. Cecilia" disc, but they were unable to find them.
A regular contributor, "me262edh", responded with this info:
Buck once said he thought the tapes were in a landfill somewhere, but they need only look in the "Caves of Rosendale, NY" - I saw it there when I worked for Iron Mountain.
I mean hell, I know the building they are in and the rack too... the very back building in the cave: enter the door, turn right, go to the third row, and then follow the alphabet until you get to "S"... they came right after the Soft machine's 3rd album demos...
It's been almost 9 years since I worked there. I left in September of 2000. But for the 5 years I was there, I checked on it once a week, kinda obsessive I know, but what can I say? I'm in here aren't I ?
But the guy who showed it to me said, that it had been there for at least 15 years, as thats how long he worked there, so 20 years at least, plus the 9 years that has passed.
And that facility has been there for 50+ years, so it is very possible they have been there since 1970? Who knows.
The address there is 658 Binnewater Road, Kingston, NY, but it technically is Rosendale.
Pretty cool place (no pun intended) when you walk in the main gate, its like 55-60 all the time, there are 2 lakes back in there too, from the limestone that was mined there years ago. They hit some underground aquifers, at least that's the story I was told.
I was sick one day, and on that one day, Bob Dylan showed up, my BASTARD co-workers didn't bother to call me. I was pissed. I would gone to work with a 106 fever if I knew he was there.
I saw some really cool Miles Davis stuff down there too. There was lots I times I was supposed to be working, when I was just looking at stuff in wonderment and awe for hours...
But those SWU tracks are still the property of Columbia as far as I know. I mean, as it stands, if they are still there, the way to get them out is via a 'Columbia Request Acquisition' sheet.
All of the King Biscuit Flour Hour Masters were in there too! West Wood One also! That place killed me every damn day!
That mention of Columbia would tend to suggest that Ed was talking about the "SWU" tracks that were used for the bonus tracks on the first album Legacy CD with Eric when he first joined, not the tracks that were done with Les prior to that.
Could that be the case?
This had the members' names on it (paper in the box), and this one Had "L. Braunstein" on it there was no "E. Bloom" on that particular reel.
Trust me it was the real deal, and it was only one reel not multiples. I can't tell you how many times I went back to that building to make sure it was still there and I worked there for over 5 years.
It killed knowing it was in there. Only good thing is that, those buildings are all climate-controlled and the humidity level is usually under 28% so if its there still, at least you can rest easy that its in excellent shape.
Again, I'll add it was only one Reel, albeit it was one of the really big ones, I don't know how much those things hold space wise. But, I always suspected it held a key to the early BOC Mystery.
Ed was asked about the security at the place - could he have, let's be charitable and call it "borrowed" the reel at any point?
If I even tried to take something like that I would have gotten fired. If I could've gotten away with it I would have. But when you leave the cave the Guard/Cop pats you down. And those reels aren't small.
Trust me - the thought TOTALLY occurred to me, but see the problem was, I'd be the obvious suspect as I wore my BOC shirts to work everyday.
Plus at the time my son was like 2-3 years old and it way more important that I was able to provide for him at the time, etc.
Family first. Trust me that job killed me, as I am a crazy audiophile. And everyone there knew it!
Aside from the fact that the SWU Reel was there. There was everything From the entire SONY/Columbia Catalog!!! I mean everything! That included Portrait records!!! So yeah I saw that too!!!!!
Capitol Records, Atlantic Records, that includes Megaforce/Elektra, ATCO, Cotillion every friggin' subsidiary label!!!
SLAYER, Metallica (Pre-1st record) Jump in the Fire demos... TVT records were there, yeah nIN stuff was there too.
I saw unreleased Stevie Ray Vaughn stuff... Live stuff... I saw Dat tapes, acetates, reels of various sizes.
I am suprised I lasted as long as I did. And I swear I was watched a lot, and accused a lot of stuff gone missing, but I was always cleared, cuz some people there always misplaced stuff.
In a way, I was perfect for that job, I got a lot of stuff organized - that was like having record collection in the millions...
The Columbia thing is certainly confusing if what Ed says about the sheet accompanying the reel which mentioned "Les Braunstein" was correct - wish I had an image of it to see what it actually said.
However, the fact that Elektra also store their stuff there is helpful in maintaining the hope that the lost SWU tapes are indeed safe, deep under the the iron mountain waiting patiently one day, like Smaug's horde, to be freed by an intrepid band of dwarven thieves, led by one brave little hobbit...
Who knows, there might even be a book - and a film - in it...
Hey - I live near Rosendale! This whole story is news to me and I suspect the rest of the boys too. We've discussed it over the years and assumed these recordings would never turn up.
But if they were going to last from then till now Iron Mountain (the Rosendale facility) would be the kind of place.
Listening back to the scraps of this and that that have survived, I tend to be a bit embarassed by my vocals but I suppose I can get over that, if you guys can.
Then the question remains - who has the juice to get these recordings out?
That's actually a good question - who cares enough to look deeper into this whole thing and try and get something sorted...?
I made a trip to Iron Mountain once to pick up a reel from the FOUO sessions that had the "sound effects" from Joan Crawford on it... that included the cacophony from the middle AND Albert's "CHRISTIIIIIIIIIIINA... mommy's calling you"... we needed them to put them on a cassette so GPG could insert them into the live show... it was always really weird to hear those tapes being cued up through the PA every day... JUST Albert's voice going "CHRISTIIIINA".... DEEP LOOOOONG breath... "mommy's calling you"...
Steve Schenck told me once that he had overheard talk at CBS that the masters from the 1st 2 Simon & Garfunkel albums went missing at Iron Mountain... when the reels were pulled to do the cd's in the 80's, the boxes had reels from John Kennedy speeches and various other shit... no Simon & Garfunkel to be found.... they ended up with some acetates, but nothing of any higher quality...
By the summer of 1969, it seems that the status of SWU (with their new, non Les-shaped, front-man Eric Bloom) was in a state of flux with Elektra.
They'd been signed very largely as a result of Holzman's appreciation of Les being a potential "East Coast" Jim Morrison, so what on earth would happen now that Les has gone.
Although they were still signed to Elektra, it seems as if Sandy Pearlman began to cast around in the hopes of securing a possible new record contract in the event of Elektra cancelling their contract.
This period seems to have generated some confusing info out in the public domain. But before I look at that, it's probably useful to state what we know for certain.
Eric took over as front man sometime in May (not April as he often states in interviews), because we know Les's last actual gig with SWU was Wells College in May - we know this because it came after the 3rd May 1969 gig supporting "The Band" at Stony Brook - therefore we can assume Les left sometime in May.
It's also reasonable to assume that the band spent May and June getting Eric up to speed on his new role - Eric brought a "rockier" edge to the SWU table, and so a number of the songs were probably jettisoned around this time as they didn't suit Eric's style. I can't imagine Eric singing "Jay Jay", for example...
SWU played a trial gig at a debutante's party in Riverside CT (around June) to try and get him ready for the big prestigious 3 July gig they already had booked at the Fillmore East, supporting Jethro Tull and Jeff Beck.
During this period whilst the band were getting their new line-up ready, it seems that Sandy Pearlman managed to line-up an opportunity for them to do some demos for Columbia.
As some of these Columbia demos have been subsequently released (on the remastered 1st BOC LP, as well as on a sampler album and a "Rarities" disk), we now know the dates of two of these sessions (thanks to the sleeve notes).
Thanks to the liner notes for the bonus tracks on the remastered first BOC LP, we know that the following tracks were recorded on this date:
Other info given was that they were part of a "Columbia Records 'Soft White Underbelly Demo' Session" and were "Produced by Jay Lee and Bob Devere".
I have a suspicion that three tracks were recorded on this day and that the third track was "I'm on the Lamb" - I'll say why in the next section.
Right in between the two (known) sets of demos for Columbia comes this little gem.
This song dates from the earliest days of SWU and I previously only knew of its existence because it was listed as having been played at the Anderson Theater show in Feb 1968 in Howie Klein's review of the gig.
When Albert mentioned on his WFKU radio show that this song had actually been demoed at some point, a relentless campaign began to nag him to let us hear it, and he said, one day, he would, if he could find it...
True to his word, Albert recently [Aug 2018] came across a copy of it in his archives and uploaded a copy to youtube and we were finally able to hear it!!
First off, I would never have guessed it came from August 69 - but Albert says that's the date on the box. Sung by Albert, this sounds like it was from much earlier than that. We know what the two sets of Columbia demos sound like, and this is nothing like that.
At this stage, Eric had been with them for over three months, and had given them a focussed, harder, perhaps a "rockier" edge - yet this doesn't seem to fit that model, maybe because it was an earlier song anyway...
Just a note about regarding the status of the band at this point, all printed evidence indicates that they were still using the SWU name at this time - and then they became Oaxaca (around Nov-Dec 69) first, and then came SFG around the start of 1970...
No. We decided we had to change our name after the disastrous Fillmore East show. But we couldn't agree on what to change it to and out on Long Island we still had some drawing power as SWUB.
Oaxaca might have been the name when we recorded this but as it never caught on (Like Los Maniacos Busboy Club) so SFG was the only name that stuck.
Los Maniacos Busboy Club...? Blimey...
Obviously, I wasn't there at the time, and I hate to disagree with Albert who was, but all I have to go on is what's available to me now in print from that timeframe, and none of the sources I can find seem to back that up.
They were still booking gig both locally and further afield (eg Ithaca) as SWU as late as November and December 1969...
So if - internally - they thought of themselves as SFG, the face they presented to the outside world was still Underbellian in nature...
But back to the song - I was interested in the mechanics of this recording - what were they using to produce it?
I think we used a Wollensak with sound on sound. I believe I double tracked it.
Sang while drumming then added another plus Eric Don and Allen did background vocals on the overdub.
This was the first actual SWUB tune that I wrote with Allen in the fall of 67 in honor of our first official gig in a Port Jefferson black dungeon.
For more info on the "Port Jefferson black dungeon", check out the early gigs page...
Since this song became available, two more songs have surfaced on youtube, presumably from the same date - they weren't demos as such, more liked rehearsals captured on tape, but they do serve to provide a fascinating audio snapshot of what the band were up to at that time...
Rather frustratingly, nobody seems to know what the third song was called, but check them all out here:
I find the rehearsal tracks to be particularly interesting, especially the "Untitled" track - it's rough and ready, some stopping and starting, and the occasional out of tune bit... in short, it shows a band trying to structure a song - even if nobody does seem to be able to recall anything about it now. There's no vocals, so was it intended to be an instrumental piece, or were the vocals going to come later? We may never know...
I was glad we got a song with Eric singing though, because I was starting to find it a bit weird that the band's new singer wasn't getting a look in at this rehearsal... :-)
Again, thanks to the liner notes for the bonus tracks on the remastered first BOC LP (Monkey/Sneakers), as well as the "God Save Blue Oyster Cult From Themselves" Sampler (for John L Sullivan), we know that the following tracks were recorded on this date:
So that's three tracks recorded in one day - maybe they could have fitted in three tracks at the previous session also?
Other info given on the remastered first LP notes said that "Donovan's Monkey" and "A Fact about Sneakers" were again part of a "Columbia Records 'Soft White Underbelly Demo' Session" and were "Produced by Jay Lee and Bob Devere" at CBS Studio B, NY.
"John L. Sullivan" (originally called "John L. Sullivan's Readymade", according to Meltzer) was originally released on "God Save Blue Oyster Cult From Themselves" Sampler, and the sleeve notes again gave the same information: it was recorded as part of a "Columbia Records 'Soft White Underbelly Demo' Session" on "11 September 1969 at CBS Studio B, New York" and was "produced by Jay Lee and Bob Devere".
NB: "Donovan's Monkey" was also on that sampler - with the exact same details as on the remaster.
When Columbia released the "Rarities" disk as part of the 40th Anniversary set, they included "John L. Sullivan" but quoted a slightly longer running time of [01:37], and slightly vaguer info: "Originally recorded 1969" for "Columbia Records Soft White Underbelly Demo Sessions, Produced by Bob Devere and Jay Lee"
The Columbia B studio was also where they did Secret Treaties, yes? The big panelled room that Miles Davis used in the late 1960s and Sinatra in the 1950s. Believe that was aka "The Church" and Allen used their gorgeous concert Grand and their oversized Moog.
The enormous leap in sound that one hears all-too briefly on John. L Sullivan must have been down to the Columbia facility, way more state of the art than Elektra was.
The Columbia demos, far as I know, were never done for the label as such: they hired the space and used the facilities for their own benefit and as leverage with Holzman.
It may have been down to a favour from Murray Krugman, who I believe SP told me was on staff as an engineer stroke marketing man at Columbia, so he got them in after hours at a cheap rate.
That's interesting - that's something that had never occurred to me. I just automatically assumed that meant they were recorded for Columbia Records as opposed to in Columbia Records...
Funnily enough, the BOCFAQ actually states positively that the demos were for Columbia and that they did in fact reject them, but doesn't cite a source for this information:
In the summer of 1969, the band (presumably still using the name "Soft White Underbelly", but now with Eric Bloom as lead vocalist) recorded the following tracks as demos for Columbia (which rejected them) in the hope of securing a record contract:
Also - in "Morning Final #5", Bolle does say that the Columbia demos were "recorded with Columbia Records in mind"... and that once they were recorded, Columbia had first option to sign them, but declined...
So all that seems to be at odds with Max Bell's idea above about the band just hiring the Columbia facilities for their own use - I'll have to investigate this a bit further...
The rest of the info in the BOCFAQ seems to fit in with the known facts, however, and offers the additional info that "I'm On The Lamb, But I Ain't No Sheep" was part of the Columbia demos.
The only thing is - the BOCFAQ does not offer any details where this extra track information comes from.
If the BOCFAQ is right, then the best guess for the recording of this track was during the first session on 21 July 1969.
But: bear in mind - a one-off version of "I'm On The Lamb" was recorded separately after the California album around March 1970, so it may be that this version might be what we're talking about, and so it wasn't recorded during the Columbia sessions after all...
Anyway, there are two alternate positions at the end of this:
Now onto the confusion I mentioned earlier. Here's what "Morning Final #5" has to say about this period:
Between Elektra's rejection of Soft White Underbelly and Stalk Forrest's "St. Cecilia" album is a hazy interim period where our Oyster-boys-to-be did some additional demo recording known as either the first Columbia Demo, or simply, The Oaxaca Tapes.
After Les Braunstein left the band, Sandy Pearlman quickly came up with the temporary name Oaxaca to replace S.W.U., and the Oaxaca tapes were put together in the aftermath of this, with new singer Eric Bloom, (aka Jessie Python).
Sandy got them into the studio to do this recording which was made with Columbia Records in mind.
These tapes were recorded under quite stressful circumstances at Elektra Sound Studios in New York between late 1969 and early 1970, and they also functioned as pre-production for recording the St. Cecilia album.
Elektra House Producer Jay Lee, who claimed to have worked with the Beach Boys, among others, was officially in charge, but he didn't show up at most of the sessions, leaving Pearlman the uncredited but actual producer.
This demo consists of four songs:
Columbia had first offers on the results, but declined to sign the band.
There are a number of aspects of this description that are confusing - it merges together what would seem to be two distinct things - at least two Columbia demo sessions and the recording of the second set of demos ("The Oaxaca Tapes") - which I initially thought were for Elektra but which Albert says were for Columbia - which we haven't yet reached in our chronological examination of this topic.
A further confusing aspect is the description of Jay Lee as "Elektra House Producer" - I had been assuming he was an independant producer because he is also credited as having produced the Columbia demos.
How could that be the case if he was also Elektra's "House Producer"? I'm confused...
Can anyone help with some info?
Albert told me: "Oaxaca was a very temporary name that Sandy gave us after the Fillmore gig where we'd screwed up (laughs). We didn't need Les to screw up, we could do that on our own."
At this point then (right after the Fillmore) they must have resumed recording in New York, uncertain of what they were going to call themselves.
Obviously, Oaxaca was a kind of in-joke name that nobody could pronounce. And since they didn't like the alternative SFG either and were comfortable being SWU they dithered between titles.
When they played at Stony Brook it would have made sense to keep the name the punters were familiar with. If I was starting a group now though I'd cop Knife-Wielding Scumbags all day long.
The only problem I have with that is how temporary is "very temporary"? The Fillmore gig was 3rd July 1969 and the Oaxaca recording sessions were Nov-Dec 1969, so that'd give you a 4-5 month time-frame for that name... Maybe longer - we know they were SFG by Feb 1970, but the exact transition month is not yet clear...
OK - if the previous section had confusing aspects, you would think that we should be on a bit more firmer ground when we take a look at "The California Album"...
When last we left Sandy Pearlman, he was casting round (probably sometime mid-September 1969 or so) for a new record company to take a look at the band.
What seems to have happened is that he couldn't find one, and instead went back to Elektra with whom they were still contracted, and who had already heavily invested in the band when they were with Les Braunstein.
Could they be expected to throw some good (new) money after bad?
The Rhino CD notes throws some light on the matter:
Holzman didn't like Bloom fronting the band, but Pearlman persuaded him to give the band a fair shake and after a show at The Electric Circus, Holzman finally agreed to let them take another shot at it.
That's interesting. Some companies prefer to work off demo tapes, whereas Elektra seem more interested in judging bands by their live appeal. The fact that Pearlman invited Holzman down to see a gig (again) also shows just how 'hands-on' Holzman was.
Plus - that Electric Circus gig is one I didn't previously know about, but when was it?
We played the Electric Circus several times. I remember Jac Holzman was there at one of the gigs and looked annoyed. Once, we lip-synced to one of our tapes that we had cut previously. I think we were high on something-or-other.
I remember dancing on a sort of column next to the stage. We were a bit nuts... but it was fun.
The Rhino CD again:
The band began recording anew as Oaxaca at Elektra's New York studios. These sessions later assembled in California, spawned the original versions of "Ragamuffin Dumplin'", "Curse Of The Hidden Mirrors", "Bonomo's Turkish Taffy", "Gil Blanco County", "St. Cecilia", "A Fact About Sneakers", and "I'm On The Lamb (But I Ain't No Sheep)". All ten recordings were initially rejected by Elektra.
In February of 1970, the band travelled by van to Elektra's Sound West studios in Los Angeles to record what would become known by the band as their "California album".
The band ended up doing the album with Pearlman and co-producer Dennis Murphy behind the boards.
So - if these notes are correct the process went (dates are guesses):
Well, thanks to the St Cecilia CD notes, we have a pretty clear idea of what happened, if not when it happened.
They say a picture paints a thousand words, and one of the most useful things were the images of the recording tapes themselves amongst the text.
That's why I can say with some confidence that the following songs comprised the assembled 10 song 2 Track mixed Master:
The songs were on a 3M reel (numbered 266146) and was labelled "Oaxaca" - no producer credits are visible anywhere on the box.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the tape box is a plain Scotch tape box - there are no record company markings visible on it
Unfortunately, there's no date in evidence, but the mention of "Oaxaca" is interesting as it shows they recorded these demos under that name.
However, according to the Rhino notes, Elektra "declined to release them, for reasons which remain unclear".
Now - the tricky matter of location. Were these ten tracks recorded in New York - or were these done in LA, as some folk think? Here's my theory...
When I got my copy of these demos on cassette in 1976, there was a photocopied recording studio info sheet that came along with it, which contained a track list etc.
The studios were Six West Recording, 6 W 57th Street, New York, NY 10019 (212 246-7959). The producer's name was given as "Jay Lee" and the studio was designated as "Studio C".
So - that seems as good a theory as any - these demos were all produced by Jay Lee - possibly in Six West Recording studios.
As we'll soon see, two tracks from these sessions actually comprised a limited release promo single in July 1970, and the credits on that are "Produced: Jay Lee, Engineered: Brian Ross-Myring", so the theory does fit in with the known facts.
However... Albert Bouchard has since thrown a spanner in the works regarding the text in the St Cecilia CD notes:
We never recorded a version of the California album in NYC. That is an error. We did the Columbia Oaxaca demos with Jay Lee for Columbia not Elektra.
Elektra never had possession of those tapes. They were the property of Columbia who paid for them. We recorded them in a caffeine frenzy.
So taking into account Albert's latest info, after Columbia passed on the Oaxaca New York demos, Pearlman had to go back to Elektra, the "re-audition" gig at the Electric Circus was arranged and Holzman decided to give them another go:
After that Pearlman convinced Elektra to give us another shot with Brian Ross Myering at Elektra West Studios in LA.
Elektra therefore arranged to have the band go to their iconic Elektra Sound Recorders in LA to record their LP.
We also know - thanks to the images of the recorded reels in the Rhino CD notes, that they recorded these sessions as "Stalk Forest". Oaxaca was dead - long live Oaxaca!!
What I Thought I Knew: In the following "quote panel" is all the information I had previously researched and thought was kosher:
BOC headed out across country to LA and spent a month staying at the Tropicana whilst they laid down six new versions of songs they'd already had rejected from the previous Oaxaca sessions.
** "I'm On The Lamb" was recorded after the California trip, according to Albert Bouchard.
To these half-dozen tracks were added three songs from that previous mixed Oaxaca master reel without any changes to produce a 9 song SFG master.
It's unknown if the band had also re-recorded those three songs in the Feb sessions, but they just hadn't been good enough, or else did they know beforehand that the original versions were so good there was no need to redo those ones?
Again, thanks to the St Cecilia CD notes, we have a clear idea of the initial running order of the tracks on the LP:
Side A: [Reel 74046A]
Side B: [Reel 74046B]
The producer credits are "Dennis Murphy/Peter Siegel" (though Sandy Pearlman also involved by all accounts) and as mentioned earlier, the band name is given as "Stalk Forest".
The Rhino CD also says the tracks were "recorded at Elektra Sound Recorders February to May 1970" - clearly it would seem that only the Feb part was actual recording - the rest was taken up by the mixing and assembling etc - in the band's absence as they were back in a frozen Long Island by early March.
As mentioned above, "I'm On The Lamb" was recorded after the California trip with Dennis Murphy in New York, according to Albert Bouchard.
in the Goldmine article, it said this: "'Curse Of The Hidden Mirrors' is the song I was trying to think of," said Pearlman, who produced the Stalk-Forest recordings, with a guy named Jay Lee as his co-producer."
Are they just mixing up the Oaxaca demos with the LA tracks - obviously, it is all a bit confusing unless you stayon top of it - or did Jay Lee have ANY involvement at all with these? Not according to the Rhino CD images, he didn't...
The three "Oaxaca" tracks that were added to the six "SFG" tracks are all different lengths than the ones listed on the nine song SFG master tape.
Maybe there's a technical reason for this - something to do with running speed adjustments, maybe different machines play back at different speeds - I dunno, but the anomalies are not consistent:
Like I said, the above is what I thought was correct, albeit with two or three anomalies.
Then Albert revealed this:
After that Pearlman convinced Elektra to give us another shot with Brian Ross Myering at Elektra West Studios in LA.
And no, they were not mixed in with any Oaxaca demos. We recorded all 10 songs out there.
The only exception was the redone version of Lam recorded in the Elektra demos studio with Dennis Murphy.
So - if that is right - then the true story would seem to have gone like this:
According to Albert Bouchard, the version of "I'm on the Lamb" which was recorded in California had to be re-recorded separately after the trip back in New York:
There was a little demo studio one floor above the Elektra offices. That's where we did the demos and also "Lam" from the Stalk Forrest record.
We recorded "Lam" over in NY after the CA sessions.
We called it the Dennis Murphy "Lam". Dennis was a hopeful engineer. We recorded it with him.
It'd be interesting to find out the reasons for the re-recording - what was the problem with the first one?
Actually, this song had undergone a bit of a mutation in between demo version and proposed LP track - plus it had the start of the Red and Black ending tacked on, but with an awful speeded-up ending like the tape's coming out of the machine. Plus, I like Buck's guitar better on the demo - it's less "whiny"...
So, all I can think of is they were determined they wanted to use the most up-to-date version of the track. But why that awful ending...?
OK - Albert's new information has now thrown up a problem when it comes to the promo single [EKM-45693] "What Is Quicksand?"/"Arthur Comics" Elektra released on 20 July 1970.
These two tracks are supposed to have been taken from the Oaxaca demos:
The credits are given as "produced by Jay Lee and engineering by Brian Ross-Myring".
But remember when Albert said this:
We did the Columbia Oaxaca demos with Jay Lee for Columbia not Elektra.
Elektra never had possession of those tapes. They were the property of Columbia who paid for them. We recorded them in a caffeine frenzy.
If the Oaxaca demos were done for Columbia - and Elektra had no access to them, how could they comprise the tracks on the Elektra single?
Furthermore, how could Jay Lee (the Columbia Oaxaca NY demos) and Brian Ross-Myring (the Elektra Stalk Forrest LA tracks) both get credited on the single??
There's a definite mystery here...
It's also interesting to see that the name of the band, according to the single's label, had now expanded to become The Stalk-Forrest Group, meaning they'd gained a "The", a hyphen, an extra "r" and a suffix of "Group". I wonder how that came about?
Only 200/300 copies of this single were produced (although in the 70s, a number of bootleg copies of the single were freely available), but it did receive some airplay:
Since Bob Devere produced Donovan's and John L. etc I always wondered why Jay Lee got the credit on the SFG Rhino CD for Comics and Quicksand?
Quite how they got lumbered with Jay Lee of Yellow Balloon fame is anyone's guess, but they were surf rock fans. Maybe his name was considered a calling card.
This song was played on the radio by John Zacherle, a big DJ in NYC at the time. He lived in the same building as my girlfriend's grandmother and it was thanks to her that Zacherlie played it.
Unfortunately, the numbnuts at Elektra didn't release it [the single] and only pressed the few copies that included this one.
The flipside ["What is Quicksand?] is probably my favorite of the tunes we cut during those sessions.
Brian Ross-Myring (who co-produced the original Mary Poppins soundtrack with Botnick! wonder if he told Jim that) and so-called rescue/salvage operator Don Gallucci (see later) came as a package 'cos of the Stooges, obviously, but they may have liked DG because of his Kingsmen association, or even the Touch album.
I heard 'Quicksand' on the radio a few times. John Zacherle, who hosted this monster show and ended up being a DJ at WNEW-FM, he played it, and Richard Robinson played it too. This was in early days of FM rock.
OK, the LP was all finished and ready by June 1970. The 11 July 1970 issue of Billboard contained an article highlighting 15 albums that Elektra were getting ready to put out:
New York: Six albums for July and nine for August-September were introduced at Elektra Records annual sales convention on June 26 at the firm's new offices in the Gulf and Western here...
The August-September product will include albums by the Voices of East Harlem, Roxy Farquahr, Fred Neil, Judy Collins, Stalk Forrest, Delaney & Bonnie, The Stooges, and the Butterfield Blues Band.
That's a very useful indication that Elektra had every outward intention of releasing the record and had earmarked an "August-September" 1970 slot for its release.
But behind the scenes, all had clearly not been going well, following the band's return to Long Island in early March.
According to Goldmine:
By early March, the band was back on Long Island, which was experiencing a winter akin to the dreadful Winter of '96 in the New York area. The L.A. "fun" was over and now they were sitting round in the band-house, freezing with no work, waiting to hear what Elektra was going to do with their new recordings.
Albert: "We made the record, we came back to New York, they mixed it. They mixed it out in LA (Elektra Sound West Studios, same place it was recorded). We heard the mixes, we loved the mixes. We came back, and then nothing.
First, we didn't hear anything [more about it]. We were waiting around, and waiting around. Here we thought we'd made it. We'd gotten signed by a major label. Well actually it was a minor label at the time, but they had hits!
And we knew that, once the world heard our stuff, we'd have hits too! They had the Doors, they had Paul Butterfield, they had Judy Collins, Earth Opera [laughter]... you know? So we thought we were gonna be in that same boat, with the hit-makers."
Albert: "Meanwhile, they turned off the heat in the house, and it's still winter. And the pipes froze. So we take the money for the food and we pay the plumber. So I call upstate to one of my musician friends [for work]... Just local stuff, but it was a little bit of money, and I could stay at my parents house and get my laundry done.
Albert: "So we're upstate [Thousand Islands area], and my parents tell me there was a call from Sandy Pearlman. I call Sandy and he's like 'I've been looking all over for you guys! Elektra is freakin' out. They've sent a producer down here to produce a single for you - Don [Gallucci] from Don and the Goodtimes."
Buck: "It was some attempt to bring in relief, a fireman from outside, to try to turn it around. He was like the 'rescue specialist'. [laughs] But Andrew didn't show up, and that was the last straw.
"Anyway, Don Gallucci was there waiting for us [so] we went back," Albert said. "So he comes out to the band house in Great Neck. There's still no heat, but now our pockets are full, so we can get the heat the next day.
We rehearse in the basement, and about half an hour into the rehearsal he says, 'This is the song that should be the single: "Gil Blanco County". But we gotta change the arrangement, change the structure. It's too psychedelic. We gotta make it more like a pop song'.
He didn't actually suggest any ideas, he just [stood there] and we played it a couple of times.
"Then our bass player says 'I've gotta go!'. He left to go to work in the bakery, 'cause that's where he had a regular job. That was the last time he ever played with us. We fired him after Gallucci left.
We just got tired of his attitude. He was very negative at that time. Gallucci said, 'Well I play bass.' SO he played bass with us and we hashed out some ideas and he said 'OK, I think we're making great progress. I'll see you tomorrow. A couple more times and we can go into the studio and do this'.
"The next day," Albert continued, "we go down and practice. Pretty soon, it's dark out. he's not around. We didn't have a phone, so we couldn't call anybody. The next day, we wait. Nothin'. Then finally we get in touch with Sandy and he said, 'Oh yeah, he went back to California. I guess he had somethin' else he had to do'. We were like 'Gee, is he gonna come back?' [Pearlman]: 'I dunno'."
A closer look at the situation, when you add in Buck's recollection, reveals that what probably happened was that Gallucci was shinin' the guys on when he picked up the bass and played with them for a little while on the first day he met with them.
In all likelihood, when he walked into the freezing cold house and saw everybody walking round in overcoats and heavy sweaters, he took it as a bad omen.
According to the Rhino CD:
Meanwhile, The Stalk Forrest Group album was being mixed in at Elektra's Sound West without any participation from the band. Eventually Elektra decided to bring in producer Don Gallucci (former member of Don & The Goodtimes and The Kingsmen) to mix a single.
Gallucci met with the group at their home in Great Neck. It didn't go well. Gallucci alienated the band by saying their songs were too psychedelic and suggested they change the arrangement and structure of "Gil Blanco County" for use as a single.
Winters walked out of the meeting. Gallucci offered to regroup the next day but never showed. According to Meltzer, he kept the band waiting for hours.
The Stalk Forrest Group fired Winters that day and asked Albert's brother Joe Bouchard to join the band.
Unfortunately for everyone concerned, Elektra decided not to release The Stalk Forrest Group's album and shelved the completed finished masters.
I know Andy Winters disputes that interpretation of events, he had a job to go to, a job that was helping to pay some of the bills, but all that's examined in the main SWU/SFG history pages - this page, after all, is for recording-related info only - but what is relevant for this section is the chronology of all this.
Fortunately, there are a few clues...
When Albert called me up in the middle of the night in August of '70 asking me to join the band he said "you gotta come right away because we're opening a tour for Led Zeppelin!"
Of course I said I'll get there as soon as I finish my last production at the Vineyard Players. I was the musical director.
So I drove through the wickedest Labor Day traffic I've ever seen from Martha's Vineyard to Great Neck LI. I got to the house and I said I'm ready for Zeppelin.
Then Albert says the tour is not happening.
A few days later, after I had joined the band at their house in Great Neck, we got a telegram (you remember those things?) from Elektra saying we were "off the label". No reasons given, just a short note that we were "off the label". I was royally pissed. But it worked out I guess.
So the sequence goes:
If all the above is correct, then there follows a gap of about three and a half weeks in which SFG did not have a bass player. Can that be right?
We do know for sure that Joe finally drives down to Great Neck on Labor Day, which was 7th September in 1970, and discovers no Zeppelin gig.
If the telegram came a few days after that, then we can say the band were kicked off Elektra around about 15 September 1970.
But... I don't like that gap in the middle. It seems too long. Is there any way I can arrange the facts to shorten that gap?
Well, the only thing that comes to mind is that the Zepp festival was re-scheduled for 9th September and shifted to the Boston Garden.
Did Albert believe that SFG would automatically be added to the bill of the re-scheduled gig? That would allow him to be able to ring Joe later on in August.
However, none of the other bands from the original festival were on the Boston Garden bill, so there's no reason for SFG to think they might be...
Why did Elektra reject the band?
So why did that telegram come in the first place - why were SFG kicked off the label?
Here are the main reasons offered, according to the Rhino CD Notes:
There are those who believe that Braunstein's departure was the most important factor in Elektra's decision not to release the album.
Others believe that Gallucci may have advised Holzman to cut his losses and dump the band, believing that they were merely charlatans who already had more than their fair share of chances to prove themselves.
Meltzer recalls that it went down this way: "We finished the album and Elektra was going to release it in the summer of 1970, but Pearlman said 'no one buys albums in the middle of summer'.
He kept saying 'how can we delay its release?' and so he decided the best way to do that would be to delay giving Elektra a listing of the track sequence.
He told Holzman 'let me think about it' and every day he'd go home and make up a new fake sequence, just putting the songs in different orders and telling Elektra that he needed more time to think about it.
This went on for weeks and weeks and finally Holzman basically said 'Fuck you! It's not coming out'".
Pearlman disagrees. "Did I say no one buys albums in the middle of summer? Well, I probably did, which was the truth. I don't think that was why it was delayed.
I just don't think they were going to put it out. I don't think they liked it, and that's why they didn't put it out.
They micro-tested 'Quicksand', which means they printed up 300 copies, but I doubt that they ever sent it out. They probably all ended up at Bleeker Bob's.
But Elektra was going to be sold to Warner's at the time and I think probably lots of things went on hold. It certainly occurred within six months of the completion of the record.
Here are my thoughts on these reasons in order:
All in all, if I try to apply logic to this, I struggle. The fact that Elektra had announced its imminent release at that annual sales convention in June says to me that they LIKED what they'd got and had approved its release.
They were quite heavily financially invested in the band - let's say Pearlman DOES bugger them about a bit over track listings etc in a bid to hold up the release to whatever month he deemed worthy, do you - as Elektra - take SUCH umbrage over this that you SHELVE the entire thing and write the money off as a tax loss?
The annoying thing is - it's a bloody good album - had it been released back then, it would have received serious critical attention, I am certain. Things would have changed for the band, that is for sure.
I did see an interesting quote from Holzman, given years later and offering some perspective on his feelings at the time:
"I think I didn't like the group," Holzman frankly states. "Had I heard Blue Oyster Cult more evolved, that would have been another matter. They altered the personnel, and the group then became very solid."
Here's Andy Winters' perspective on the album being shelved:
Meltzer told me all about the circumstances of our album not being released after I had been engineered out of the band at a club called the Riviera in Greenwich Village, over, as I recall, a vodka gimlet or two.
What Meltzer told me years later was that the long hiatus that took place after we recorded the album in L.A. which was when we were doing pretty much nothing - the time of my ill-fated bakery job - was because Pearlman refused to cooperate with Elektra first on sequencing the album then on the date of release which, with his college boy zeal, Pearlman wanted to happen in September of that year, 1970, when the kids were back in school.
If Elektra had released the damn thing when they wanted to, I might still be a member of SWU or BOC or whatever we were called then.
A bunch of young guys with nothing to do and no money hanging around a sweltering house in Great Neck did not make for a happy time.
As an interesting footnote on the subject of the size of the SWU advance, Max Bell has offered me some additional information:
I asked Albert about the oft mentioned $100k advance and he says "No way. Absolutely not. We got 4 or maybe 5 thousand dollars in total. (more must have been coughed up for the California trip).
No way would Elektra have given us that huge sum. Why would they? When we did OYFOOYK we got our biggest advance, $75k, and a lot of that went to Jack Douglas because he was considered to be the best mixer.
It's true that Elektra thought we would be huge, and if we'd been given Rothchild and Botnick we could have been amazing, but we didn't think that. We thought if we were lucky we'd be like the next Autosalvage (obscure NYC psych band from 68).
And the money was only for new equipment (purchased as you know at Sam Ash with Eric no doubt taking a commission). I bought a new kit but I didn't like it. My drum sound on those demos was horrible.
When we did the Stalk-Forrest (Stalk Forest) sessions I reverted to my old high school kit and I kept on using that for several years."
However... recently (June 2016), rocksbackpages.com uploaded a short audio segment of an Allen Lanier interview from 28 Apr 1978 (with Ian Ravendale), and in it, and when asked why the album wasn't ever released, Allen says this:
I don't know why it wasn't released - we'd finally finished it - it was the first album we'd ever finished...
I don't know - we never got along with them (Elektra) very well - we were the world's most irresponsible band at that time, we never did anything on time.. and they finally got sick of us and said that's enough...
We got lots of money from them, though... and they didn't get any of it back... they own it (The SFG record) to the tune of $120K!!
So there you have a diametrically-opposed point of view about the size of the advance... the mystery of that massive Elektra advance (or otherwise) rumbles on...
The infamous Camp Swan Lake weekend gigs took place sometime in mid-September or so, and it was here that the band famously met David Lucas, who had been so taken with the band that he invited them to come along and record some demos at his 8-track jingle studio.
I don't currently know how long after the Camp Swan Lake gig it was that they took up his kind offer - when I do, I'll have a better idea of when that date might have been.
Whenever it was, they went down there and recorded and mixed four songs in one day. According to MF05, those songs were:
This version of "Then Came the Last Days Of May" is the actual track that was later remixed and used on the first album.
However, according to the BOCFAQ, these songs were not part of the first demo session:
BOC is believed to have made 3 demos for Columbia records in 1971. The following tracks were part of the second demo. This is the demo that the band made at David Lucas' studio in the summer of 1971 - this demo led to a live audition for Columbia and the band's signing to that label:
The following songs were believed to have been recorded on either the first or third demos for Columbia:
If the second demo got them the important audition, why did they need a third demo?
And if the BOCFAQ is correct about the fourth song being "You Make Me Feel" - where on earth does "She's So Snide-err-Nice!" fit into that picture...?
So, if there were three demo sessions, I'd love to know the dates and what songs were recorded at each.
A further clue was provided by Albert in an NME article by Dan Nooger from 30 March 1974:
"We were about to quit because we were always running in the red. But we gave them a demo that had 'Redeemed', 'I'm On The Lamb But I Ain't No Sheep', and 'Then Came The Last Days of May' - and they loved it."
"We used 'Last Days of May', the demo version, on the first album because we xouldn't improve on it."
Pearlman came up with the name Blue Oyster Cult from a song he'd written only a few days before the contract was signed.
So if that's right, and if there were three demos of four songs each, then that's 8 out of the 12 song titles accounted for.
Anyway, as discussed in the main article, one of these demos did indeed earn them a live audition at Columbia in July 1971.
It was successful, and on 28 July 1971 the band were sent contracts to sign.
In October 1971, they returned to David Lucas's Warehouse studios to record the tracks that would comprise their first album, which was released in January 1972.
Obviously, they used the version of LDOM from the earlier demos, but - other than the tracks we know were on that record - did they record any other tracks that didn't make the cut?
The (8-track) elephant in the room, of course, is why were they recording their inaugural LP in David Lucas's studio at all? They'd just been signed to Elektra - why weren't they at some state-of-the-art 24-track studios?
Albert says: "We were comfortable with David's place and Last Days was the demo that we recorded nearly a year earlier there. That song was a selling point."
But even so, I'd bet they'd have felt even more comfortable at Columbia's B studio...
That said, I just love the whole sound of that first record, and the results were a testimony to the creativity and resourcefulness of both band and producer...
This final section contains a few notes and snippets of information regarding the recording of some of the songs mentioned earlier on this page...
In Morning Final #13 - Les reveals that it was hard work getting the band to include this song at all in the sessions as Sandy Pearlman did not want it on the LP. By the time the sessions were nearing their end, they still hadn't recorded it:
If I was going to have any song on the album, I wanted it to be that one. I was getting three on the album, if we did "Rational Passional."
So we came down to the last day doing tracks. Everybody was afraid to confront me. As far as anybody knew we were going to get to it. But I believe Sandy had already had a discussion with the band and convinced them that it was in everybody's interest that we don't record it.
We got down to the point where we only had time to record one more song. And we were supposed to record "Rational Passional" and some other tune. That was the moment of truth, where they would have to say we weren't going to record "Rational Passional."
I could see that that was what they were planning on doing, and they certainly could outvote me, but nobody had the guts to say it. So I said, "Let's flip a coin to see which song we're going to record." They jumped on that, because that wasn't confrontational, and up came "Rational Passional." So, everybody looks at each other, and they go OK, you want to do "Rational Passional"? Let's do "Rational Passional" heh- heh- heh. That's the way Sandy Pearlman was saying it.
We all started walking out into the studio. And along with me, Donald, Albert, Allen and Andy, out comes Sandy with a harmonica in his hand, and Eric Bloom, who was our equipment man, with a tambourine... They all go out to do "a job" on "Rational Passional."
What happened was, as always, we got into the sucker! We did up "Rational Passional," we had a good time, and that was the best thing of mine that was going to be on the album.
Regarding "hard copies" of this song, Buck's brother, John Roeser, has said: "I remember having an Acetate Record of Rational Passional that I played in a WT Grants store for a few of my friends when I was in 9th Grade. Wish I still had that memorabilia!"
Since then, of course, in February 2016 an acetate of this song, said to have once been Buck's own copy, surfaced on ebay (starting bid $999), and stamped with a date of 19 November 1968, so clearly came from the original SWU Elektra demos, as opposed to the version recorded for the planned LP...
Again in Morning Final #13 - Les reveals his grand plans for this song:
When I wrote "Jay Jay" I had written it keeping in mind a lot of the classical themes I'd played in concert band in high school, where I played French Horn.
When we recorded "Jay Jay" I was nicely indulged because Peter Siegel got me together with this arranger David Horowitz. He was a great piano player/ arranger.
I told him what I want is these classical themes to play along with the music and then come out at you, meaning not blend with the music, but suddenly be juxtaposed on the music.
So he would say "Like this?" "No I want it to come out more." "Like this?" and he was understanding just what I was looking for, and he created this wonderful classical piece that went with it where 6 different classical themes rose up and out of the music and then came to a final tumultuous, but together, finish. It was phenomenal.
He and Peter Siegel hired 8 or 9 classical musicians - strings, trumpets. This is early on in the period of rock bands using classical instruments. The Beatles had just done Sergeant Pepper a little while before. They would occasionally get a rock gig, and they had no respect for it whatsoever.
So he hands [the scores] over to these musicians who are like "oh we're playing on this trashy little rock and roll session but these bastards seem to have money, so we'll do it..." And here's this young guy who's going to conduct.
After examining the scores, the guy who's in charge said to David on behalf of the musicians, "There's a problem in the scores that you have written out. I have an E right next to his Eb..." He pointed to another instrument. And David says, "No that's correct." And so once they saw he was serious, they all lean over their music and start taking it seriously.
David led them through it a couple times, and they were really cooking in an exhilarated way by the time they were done. They laid down those tracks, but they're not on the tape I've heard.
Why can't you have an "E" next to an "Eb"? And what's the difference between "Eb" and "D#"? Answers on a postcard, please...
I wonder if the master tapes at Iron Mountain contain the full version of his song, strings, trumpets and all?