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Article 33

Rock On

Blood, Sweat & Tears

(Published in Times of India, Pune on 16th February, 2002)


R ock music, as the language of the youth in the sixties and seventies, has always been an amalgamation of many musical influences. Initially Blues, Jazz and Country were the primary music forces that molded this new Art form. As the music developed, each music form started borrowing from the other. Every year, the audience was fortunate to hear some incredible experiments that went on to become landmarks in the history of Rock culture. Improvising is the backbone of Jazz music and this quality is also present in the Blues and Rock genre, although in a less sophisticated form. Therefore, whenever a Rock musician becomes proficient at his musical instrument and he starts looking for ways to grow, he almost always finds himself at the doorsteps of Jazz. Suddenly, his guitar licks start sounding jazzy and his chord progressions get complicated with extended chords. The limitations of Rock vocabulary become binding and the free soul of the musician longs to break free. It finds avenues in experiments with Jazz musicians, whose training and musical dexterity is astounding.

New York's Greenwich Village was the center of creativity in those days and various artistes gathered to explore and experiment with their Art forms. Al Kooper was one such musician. His claim to fame was his coincidental organ playing on Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone". His subsequent band "The Blues Project" with Steve Katz on guitar was really going nowhere and they were looking for new directions when they met up with Bobby Colomby, the jazz drummer. They decided to form a band with Jazz and Rock as the foundation and Bobby went looking for a hot horn section. New York had the finest Jazz musicians and it wasn't difficult to get musicians of the caliber of Fred Lipsius on saxophone, Dick Halligan on trombone, Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Jerry Weiss, also on trumpet and flugelhorn. Jim Fielder former member of the Buffalo Springfield and the Mothers of Invention took on the bass chair and a truly super group was formed. It has been said that Kooper came up with the name while he was talking to a promoter while gazing at a Johnny Cash album cover called Blood Sweat & Tears.

The record companies just could not ask for more and they had three of them chasing them to sign up for their debut album. "Child is father to the man" was the name of that album and it received rave reviews from the critics. The "Rolling Stone" magazine said "Blood, Sweat & Tears is the best thing to happen in rock and roll so far in 1968". Unfortunately, the public did not think so and it only hit # 47 on the charts. The need for a strong vocalist was sorely missed and there was discord within the band. A revolt against Kooper who had captured the chief songwriter and vocalist position resulted in the entry of the Canadian blues man David Clayton-Thomas and the exit of Kooper. The Golden Age of BS&T was ready to take off as they set off to record their second album and Rock history was ready to happen.

I was fortunate enough to listen to this album as a teenager and it was an awesome experience. Even today as I write this article, the album, playing in the background, exudes the same freshness and vitality that I felt so many years ago. The album produced three gold singles, "You've Made Me So Very Happy," "And When I Die" and "Spinning Wheel". The album also won five Grammy awards, including Album of the Year and Best Performance by a Male Vocalist. Suddenly BS&T were stars and offers started pouring in for major concerts and TV appearances. They started playing at major jazz and rock festivals from coast to coast. They were even one of the headliners at Woodstock along with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

It was truly unfortunate that BS&T missed out on appearing in the Album and the movie of this historic festival that made household names of so many Rock artistes of that generation. Bennett Glotzer, their manager, could not anticipate the tremendous exposure and subsequent income that would accrue to all the performers who agreed to the meager fee that the Festival organizers were offering for the rights. After all, $7500 was not enough to "star" in a movie! The producers of the festival and documentary were not permitted to film the band's performance. Janis Joplin was also another artiste who suffered the same fate, as her manager the great Albert Groomsman felt the same way.

The band went on to record another album "Blood, Sweat & Tears 3" which struck gold upon release. Another album, "B, S&T 4" followed before the rumblings of discord once again surfaced. The end was not far. Numerous reunions and albums followed after gaps of years but nothing could capture the magic of their Golden days. BS&T was a band that had changed the direction of popular music and influenced many musicians. I for one am eternally grateful to them for introducing Jazz, the great American tradition to me. For a Rock musician, a new language was introduced which truly enriched my life. It also served to develop Rock Music into the Art form it has now become. Rock On.

Nandu Bhende

http://nandu_bhende.tripod.com


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