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Slices of Bread: David Gates and James Griffin’s Solo Records, Reissued and Remastered

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David Gates - Elektra AlbumsBread occupied a unique place on the Elektra Records roster.  The so-called “soft rock” band shared a label with the likes of Love, The Doors, The Stooges and The MC5, and regularly visited the charts with such signature songs as “Make It with You” (No. 1, 1970), “It Don’t Matter to Me” (No. 10, 1970), “If” (No. 4, 1971), “Baby I’m-a Want You” (No. 3, 1971), “Everything I Own” (No. 5, 1972) and “The Guitar Man” (No. 11, 1972).  All of those staples were written and sung by David Gates, the band’s de facto leader who was going through a true purple patch after toiling in relative obscurity as a songwriter for most of the 1960s.  But songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist Gates wasn’t the only songwriter in Bread.  The team of James Griffin and Robb Royer even received an Academy Award for their song “For All We Know,” co-written with Fred Karlin for the 1970 film Lovers and Other Strangers and later popularized by the Carpenters.  Indeed, the band originally was intended to showcase both Gates’ and Griffin’s songs, but Gates’ mellow ballads were invariably chosen as single A-sides…and became hits on multiple charts.  Bread broke up in 1973 with tension high, though a brief 1976 reunion led to one more LP.  During that hiatus and after, both Gates and Griffin took to solo recording.  Edsel has recently reissued all four of David Gates’ Elektra albums as one 2-CD set with the straightforward title of First/Never Let Her Go/Goodbye Girl/Falling in Love Again, while Hux Records has delivered James Griffin’s two Polydor albums on one disc as Just Like Yesterday: The Solo Anthology 1974-77.

For 1973’s First, David Gates was joined by Bread members Mike Botts (drums) and Larry Knechtel (piano/bass) along with such stellar session men as Larry Carlton, Russ Kunkel and Jim Gordon.  The LP wasn’t Gates’ first solo work, however; he had recorded singles under his own name as far back as the late 1950s.  One could be forgiven for mistaking a number of the album’s tracks for Bread songs, with Gates’ reassuring vocals and always-impeccable songcraft keeping the ballads squarely in Bread territory.  But on First, Gates (also acting as producer and arranger) melded rock and folk influences (not to mention folk-rock!) and tackled an 8+ minute orchestral suite of two linked compositions, “Clouds” and “Rain.”  Despite compelling material like the opening track “Sail Around the World,” the jazzy, electric piano-driven “Lorilee” and the Bread-esque ode “Ann,” First peaked at No. 107 on the Billboard 200, bested by the No. 2 chart peak of The Best of Bread!  1975’s Never Let Me Go again welcomed Knechtel and Botts and emphasized the group’s style even more than First had – no surprise, considering that most of the group was playing on the record.  The title track, a bit reminiscent of “Baby I’m-a Want You,” scored a Top 30 hit for the solo Gates, and Gladys Knight and the Pips picked up on “Part Time Love.”

Following Never Let Her Go, Gates, Knechtel and Botts reunited with Griffin.  (Robb Royer had left Bread after 1971’s Manna, and was replaced by Wrecking Crew veteran Knechtel.)  Bread’s “reunion” album Lost Without Your Love yielded the group’s final Top 10 hit with the title track, again written by Gates.  But with Bread’s reunion a short-lived one, Gates plunged into more solo work, and was rewarded with his biggest-ever solo hit with 1977’s “Goodbye Girl.”  The theme to Neil Simon’s film comedy The Goodbye Girl, it reached a No. 15 Pop peak, and an album was built around the song.  (The vocalist Rumer has recently applied her honeyed voice to a cover of Gates’ emotional composition.)  Joining “Goodbye Girl” and five more new Gates compositions (including the breezy “Took the Last Train” and the bleak “Overnight Sensation”) were five retreads from First and Never Let Her Go; accordingly, Edsel has only included the six original songs on the Goodbye Girl portion of the reissue.

Edsel’s set concludes with Gates’ final solo LP for Elektra, 1980’s Falling in Love Again.  “Where Did the Lovin’ Go” cracked the Top 50, but commercially speaking, the time had largely passed for the kind of Southern California soft rock perfected by Bread in the seventies.  As on Goodbye Girl, Bread-mates Knechtel and Botts played on Falling in Love Again.  Gates has only recorded sporadically since 1980, issuing a couple of solo LPs and a career overview with new material; Bread even reunited with both Gates and Griffin for a brief spin in 1996-1997.  The 2-CD set, remastered by Phil Kinrade, includes a 36-page booklet with a new essay from Alan Robinson plus complete lyrics and credits.

After the jump: onto the solo albums of James Griffin! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 18, 2013 at 10:20

Reviews: Real, Real Gone with Sanford and Townsend, Jimmy Griffin and Jackie Gleason

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Long before Barry White, a rather different music maker was providing the soundtrack for a romantic rendezvous in the moonlight, but his name might be surprising to some: Jackie Gleason.  Even if one can’t readily picture Ralph Kramden seducing Alice with its lush accompaniment, the American record buying public had no such reservations. The Great One’s 1952 Music for Lovers Only sold over half a million copies, and spent a still-unbeaten record of 153 (!) weeks in the U.S. Top 10 album chart.  Real Gone Music has just lowered the lights and lit the candles for its return to CD, in the most complete edition yet (RGM-0082, 2012).

Yes, the times have undoubtedly changed since the album’s original release.  Even its strikingly photographed cover today seems a remnant of another age: two lit cigarettes (unfiltered, natch!) reside on opposite sides of an ash tray as two nearby glasses cast a shadow.  A woman’s purse is nearby, her glove draped over the edge of the table, and a key, significantly placed outside the purse.  This urbane, sophisticated and altogether sensual image of days gone by sets the scene for the album’s music, a collection of slow, melodic and elegantly orchestrated ballads, all from the standard songbook: Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz’s “Alone Together,” George and Ira Gershwin’s “But Not For Me,” Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s “I Only Have Eyes for You” (pre-Flamingos!), Mel Torme’s “A Stranger in Town.”  There’s no swinging here, just exquisitely arranged and passionately played mood music.  By most accounts, this is the album that coined the phrase, and the mood is love.

Just what the heck did comedian and actor extraordinaire Jackie Gleason have to do with the whole thing, anyway?  Reissue producer Gordon Anderson’s liner notes explain all.  Cornet player Bobby Hackett, featured prominently on the album, famously quipped, “He brought the checks” of Gleason.  And Hackett’s (uncredited) musical contribution shouldn’t be overlooked, as he’s generally recognized as the album’s arranger and perhaps the bandleader, as well.  But Anderson reveals that Gleason did much more, putting his own money on the line to record the album and see through his vision of the perfect romantic long-player.  It seems that Gleason took conducting very seriously and even composed one song on the LP, its closing track “My Love for Carmen.”  All sixteen songs are swathed in strings that would have made Gordon Jenkins (Sinatra’s arranger of choice for his most lush outings) proud.  Many of these songs are still familiar today; their endurance speaks volumes for Gleason’s taste, as well.

The notes also shed light on the convoluted release history of the original record.  The original mono 8-song album was released as both a 10-inch LP and a double 7-inch EP in 1952.  Three years later, it was reissued in a 16-song version, still in mono, which is the version replicated on Real Gone’s CD edition.  In 1958, however, Capitol enlisted Gleason to record a new 12-track version in stereo.  This wasn’t an uncommon practice at the label.  Even vocal stars were asked to do the same; hence the two versions of classic albums like June Christy’s Something Cool.  At his former label, Collectors’ Choice Music, Anderson had reissued the 8-track mono album from ’52 (still following me here?) on a two-fer with the 12-track version of its “sequel” album, Music to Make You Misty.  Four of the eight remaining mono tracks then were paired with another Gleason release, 1953’s soundtrack to the television ballet Tawny.  This release marks the very first full reissue of the mono Music for Lovers Only.  Maria Triana has remastered this beautifully-recorded set.

The languid Music for Lovers Only will sound great on your modern hi-fi.  But I can’t recommend listening to it alone; you just might get depressed and shed a tear or two in the drink that should almost certainly be by your side.  (I won’t blame you if you eschew the cigarettes, though.)  So invite your significant other over and see if playing this sultry, classy and refined collection of orchestral ballads still works as well as it must have in 1952!  You just might thank Mr. Gleason later.

After the jump: a pre-Bread James Griffin goes on a Summer Holiday, and there’s Smoke from a Distant Fire! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 20, 2012 at 12:21

Getting Real Gone in July with Sanford and Townsend, Clover, 20/20, Jackie Gleason and More

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Real Gone Music may not be going “to the moon, Alice,” but the eclectic reissue gurus are going just about everywhere else with their batch of offerings set for July 31.  Yes, Jackie Gleason features in a line-up also including poet Charles Bukowski, Sanford and Townsend (Smoke from a Distant Fire), a member of Bread, and a couple of underrated rock-and-roll bands.

After the recent, potent reissue of the self-titled debut from Durocs, Real Gone jumps back into the power pop game with 20/20.  Tulsa’s own Steve Allen and Ron Flynt recorded two albums and a pair of non-LP singles for the Portrait label, and all of those recordings are being collected on one disc by the Real Goners.  Singer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Gallo and keyboardist Chris Silagyi joined the duo for 1979’s 20/20 while drummer Joel Turrisi replaced Gallo for 1981’s Look Out!  “Child’s Play” and “People in Your Life,” both from 1981, round out Real Gone’s survey of the group’s Portrait output.  (These two singles have never been on CD, while previous reissues of the albums proper now command high prices in the secondhand market.)  The group split in 1983, having recorded just one more album following the two for Portrait (1982’s Sex Trap on the Mainway label).  New liner notes draw on interviews with the band members.  Maria Triana at Battery Studios has remastered all tracks.

If Clover is remembered at all today, it’s likely for backing Elvis Costello on his incendiary 1977 debut, My Aim Is True, or perhaps for morphing into the hitmaking Huey Lewis and the News. The country-rock group was actually founded in 1967 by future Doobie Brother John McFee, Alex Call (author of Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny”) and bassist/session pro Dr. John Ciambotti, with Mitch Howie playing drums through 1971.  The band’s first two records, Clover and Fourty Niner [sic] were recorded for the Fantasy label in 1970 and 1971, respectively, and bear the influence of Bay Area friends and Fantasy labelmates Creedence Clearwater Revival.  For Real Gone’s first-ever Clover revival, Alex Call supplies the new liner notes.

After the jump: Bread’s James Griffin!  Charles Bukowski!  Sanford and Townsend!  And the Great One himself! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 15, 2012 at 10:23