The Second Disc

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Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.: Esoteric Reissues David Sancious’ First Two Albums

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David Sancious - ForestWhen the members of Bruce Springsteen’s mighty E Street Band took the stage at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center earlier this year to accept their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, keyboardist David Sancious took his rightful place among them.  Asbury Park, New Jersey native Sancious, the only band member who actually lived on E Street, helped shape the band’s sound on Springsteen’s first three albums before decamping to begin his own musical journey.  Sancious’ first two albums – 1975’s Forest of Feelings and 1976’s Transformation (The Speed of Love), the latter with his band Tone, have both been recently revisited by Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings label.

Tom Werman of Epic Records wrote in the original liner notes for Forest of Feelings, “The music on this album (David’s first) is the result of fifteen years of playing keyboard instruments.  At age 15 he also took up the guitar and percussion…David, who is now 21, has given us an extraordinary album.  We at Epic wish him a 400-year lifetime.”  Indeed, music was part of Sancious’ life from an early age, beginning with classical piano.  In the fertile music scene of Asbury Park in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sancious met Springsteen, his E Street Band comrades, and the likes of Southside Johnny Lyon and Bill Chinnock.  Sancious played with the future Boss in bands like Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom – also featuring Steven Van Zandt, Garry Tallent, Southside Johnny and Vini Lopez – and the original Bruce Springsteen Band, also with Van Zandt, Tallent and Lopez.  On Springsteen’s debut album, 1973’s Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., Sancious, Lopez and Tallent all appeared (along with a certain Big Man, Mr. Clarence Clemons).

Piano/organ/keyboard prodigy Sancious played a major role on Greetings, as well as The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, for which he not only handled keyboards and the pivotal organ solo in “Kitty’s Back,” but also the string chart and piano introduction for “New York City Serenade” and even the soprano saxophone part on “The E Street Shuffle.”  (He wasn’t involved in initial sessions for the album, but officially enlisted on June 28, 1973 in the group that would become known as The E Street Band, joining Tallent, Lopez, Clemons and Danny Federici.)  When drummer Vini Lopez left the band’s ranks in early 1974, Sancious recommended his friend Ernest “Boom” Carter as a replacement.  Though Sancious and Carter would both leave themselves in August of that year, they didn’t take off before performing on “Born to Run,” the single that would catapult Bruce Springsteen’s career to the next level.  It was the only track on the album on which they played.

Join us for a look at both of these recently-reissued albums after the jump!

Sancious and Carter teamed with bassist Gerry Carboy for Forest of Feelings, produced by jazz fusion great Billy Cobham, veteran of Miles Davis’ band and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.  Sancious’ jazz style, which had added fluidity and a sense of the unpredictable to Springsteen’s arrangements, came to the forefront on an album that couldn’t have been more different to the muscular rock Sancious had been playing.  For his part, Springsteen was supportive of Sancious and Carter’s move, and even was instrumental in making sure that Epic Records – sister label to Springsteen’s home of Columbia Records – gave Sancious’ new ventures the proper attention.

Forest of Feelings could broadly be described as progressive rock-meets-fusion, though Sancious observes in the new liner notes for Esoteric’s reissue that Forest also incorporated classical and pure rock-and-roll influences.  The varied, 9-track album included the baroque jazz-rock of “Suite Cassandra,” so named after Clarence Clemons’ cousin (an object of Sancious’ affection!), a smart, politically-charged reinvention of the traditional “Dixie,” the funky “One Time,” the Moog-driven “East India,” and the sweeping, intense title track.  Sancious composed the entire album, and in addition to his array of keyboards, also contributed electric guitar and percussion.  Esoteric’s reissue features fresh remastering by Paschal Byrne, notes by Sid Smith, and one bonus track – the piano solo “Promise of Light” which previously appeared on Columbia’s long out-of-print U.S. CD reissue.

David Sancious - TransformationSancious, Carter and Carboy – now billed as “David Sancious and Tone” – followed up Forest of Feelings with Transformation (The Speed of Love), recorded at Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears producer Jim Guercio’s Caribou Ranch with producer Bruce Botnick (The Doors).  Sancious was again responsible for playing a multitude of instruments on this expansive album which incorporated eastern, psychedelic and folk influences in its prog-fusion sound.

Sancious composed and arranged the album’s four lengthy cuts which culminated in the side-long title track.  Influenced by Yes and Genesis’ musical trips, it featured Gayle Moran on backing vocals for a wholly unexpected series of soulful musical progressions.  Sancious’ surprisingly virtuosic, often searing guitar played an even bigger role throughout on Transformation.  “Sky Church Hymn No. 9” was directly inspired by Jimi Hendrix, an exercise as Sancious puts it in “contrasting dynamics…[it] started out as one thing and became something else, bookended by the bluesy thing.”  The band’s improvisational interplay had developed since Forest of Feelings to take the music, spiritually and sonically, to another level altogether.  “The Play and Display of the Heart” features Sancious on a solo piano improvisation to which he later overdubbed acoustic guitar; opening salvo “Piktor’s Metamorphosis” is more grandiose, an intense and intricate progressive flight.  Sid Smith and Paschal Byrne again are responsible for liner notes and remastering, respectively, on Esoteric’s reissue.

Since his two Epic albums and a couple more with Tone (including one which didn’t see release for decades), David Sancious has blazed his own path, sporadically releasing his own music as well as playing with musicians from every genre including Sting, Peter Gabriel, Stanley Clarke, Jack Bruce, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jon Anderson, and occasionally, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  Both of Esoteric’s reissues of his seminal early albums are available now at the links below!

David Sancious, Forest of Feelings (Epic KE 33441, 1975 – reissued Esoteric ECLEC 2457, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Suite Cassandra
  2. If You Feel Up to It (And Get Down)
  3. East India
  4. Dixie
  5. March of the Conditioned Souls
  6. Civil War of the Souls
  7. The Forest of Feelings
  8. Joyce # 8
  9. Crystal Image
  10. One Time
  11. Further in the Forest of Feelings
  12. Promise of Light (Bonus Track)

David Sancious and Tone, Transformation (The Speed of Love) (Epic EPC 81203, 1976 – reissued Esoteric ECLEC 2458, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Piktor’s Metamorphosis
  2. Sky Church Hymn No. 9
  3. The Play and Display of the Heart
  4. Transformation (The Speed of Love)

Written by Joe Marchese

August 29, 2014 at 10:11

4 Responses

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  1. One correction here: David Sancious only helped shape the sound of Bruce Springsteen’s first two albums, “Greetings From Asbury Park” & “The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle” (and the song “Born To Run”) and not the first three that your piece mentioned.

    Eddie Scott

    August 29, 2014 at 11:07

    • Thanks for writing, Eddie. I believe that “Born to Run” is a rather pivotal moment on BORN TO RUN, and a major part of that album; as he did play on that key single, there’s nothing inaccurate about stating that Sancious was a big part of shaping the band’s sound on Bruce’s first three albums. You’ll notice that, later in the article, I do specifically make note that he only played on the title track of BORN TO RUN: “Though Sancious and Carter would both leave themselves in August of that year, they didn’t take off before performing on ‘Born to Run,’ the single that would catapult Bruce Springsteen’s career to the next level. It was the only track on the album on which they played.”

      Joe Marchese

      August 29, 2014 at 11:50

      • Yes Joe, you’re right. I should have read that passage about David Sancious & “Born To Run” in your article before I wrote.

        Eddie Scott

        August 30, 2014 at 10:46

  2. These are both good David Sancious albums, but his masterpiece is True Stories! Produced by Eddie Offord of Yes and ELP fame and featuring vocals from Alex Ligertwood. True Stories is one of those lost gems that makes all of the time spent searching for great overlooked music worth it. It is a one of a kind truly incredible listening experience.

    Warren Mason

    August 29, 2014 at 23:47

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