Thursday, April 24, 2014

Keltie's added information on The Staccatos/The Guess Who - A Wild Pair

My good friend Keltie sent some more great info on The Staccatos/The Guess Who album A Wild Pair that I recently wrote about. You can see Keltie's comments below:

Great post and a great album as well. A few other points of interest to pass along. Both the Guess Who and The Staccatos recorded radio ads for Coke around the same time. (The GW's spots were re-writes of "Shakin' All Over" and their at-the-time current single "This Time Long Ago". Imagine Burton belting out "Quivers down my back-bone, I got shakes in my thigh-bone and a tremor in my knee-bone, for a Coca-Cola!") The Guess Who spots both have the same production quality (horns, strings) as the Wild Pair album. So here's assuming that Jack Richardson must have played a part (he was an advertising exec at the time.) The Guess Who also did a 2 minute original rock jingle for Honda around the same time, again, with horns and sharp production.

All the recording for A Wild Pair, the Coke and Honda radio spots, and the next 2 Guess Who singles on Nimbus 9 (both preceding "These Eyes") was done at Hallmark Studios in Toronto. At the time Hallmark was one of few studios in town to offer 3 track recording. (As an aside, a very young Glenn Gould recorded some tracks for Hallmark that pre-dates his Columbia debut with "The Goldberg Variations".) And a LOT of the credit of the fresh sound of A Wild Pair has to do with producer/engineer Phil Ramone, who was a friend of Richardson's and brought from New York City to engineer. Ramone owned A&R Studios in New York where Richardson took the Guess Who to record the Wheatfield Soul" LP. Sadly (and I just realized this) Phil Ramone had passed away last year. He leaves behind a legacy of masterfully produced records.

And very funny to think that this album was pressed in stereo only! Considering the target market for this promotion (teens and listeners in their early 20's with crappy record players) and that most Canadian records at the time were still released only in mono, it surely WAS a gamble. My thinking is that Richardson felt that even on a crappy mono record player, the production quality would be a stand-out, compared to other Canadian records of the time, and even kids/teens/young adults would pick up on just how top notch these bands were. Speaking of the pressing, the mastering and pressing of this album was contracted out to RCA in Toronto. RCA had one of the few pressing plants in Canada at the time. Its neat to note that all Nimbus 9 records in Canada were subsequently distributed by RCA and The Guess Who got signed to RCA in the states.

And a minor correction, the Wild Pair recordings of the Guess Who are the same ones as on the "Let's Go" compilation. The band used a mono 7.5 ips dub-down of the tracks and offered that to CBC to use on the show, Hence, the inferior sound quality of those tracks on that release. It was easier (and cost-effective) on the band to just give CBC a copy tape rather than try to re-create the songs in the CBC Winnipeg studio. I wish some video footage of the boys miming to these songs existed.

And I believe (and could be wrong here) that Capitol Records (in both Canada and the US) felt that the band's magic would do well in a "real" studio and all following Staccatos/Five Man Electrical Band recordings for Capitol were done at the Hollywood studios.

You're right, The "Wild Pair" tracks by The Staccatos have been since officially released on the excellent CD by Pacemaker Records called "The Stacatos/Five Man Electrical Band - First Sparks:The Anthology (1965-1969)". They were remastered from a clean vinyl source for this issue and sound great. Its unfortunate the Guess Who tracks haven't been properly reissued, (This writer HAS heard a direct dub of the "Wild Pair" master tape and it sounds so good. I wish I was able to keep a copy.!)

That's about it that I can add to the story. DEFINITELY a watershed moment in the careers of both bands. And an important footnote in Canadian music history.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Classic Album: The Staccatos & The Guess Who - A Wild Pair

I remember when I was in grade four, when the mini bags of chips you would buy at school had these little plastic cards in them. If you found the required 4 cards, you sent them in for your prize! Sure enough, 50 bags of chips later, I got the ever so rare fourth card and quickly sent it away for my luxurious MC Hammer VHS.

Apparently this promotional gimmick has been around for decades. Back in 1968, if you collected 10 plastic liners from Coca-Cola bottles and sent in a dollar, you got this great split release by The Staccatos and The Guess Who. There is quite a bit of history behind this promo LP!

First, let’s get caught up to date with each of these bands:

The Guess Who

The members who would eventually become The Guess Who began as the backing band for singer and guitarist Chad Allan in 1962. Called Chad Allan & the Reflections (later Chad Allan and the Expressions), they were signed to Quality Records and recorded numerous singles including a cover of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ song Shakin’ All Over. This particular single was credited to “Guess Who” as Quality was trying to build some mystery around the single, hoping to get some hype with listeners thinking it was other star musicians in disguise. The single went to number one in Canada. After a few lineup changes, including the departure of Chad Allan and the addition of Burton Cummings, the band officially changed their name to The Guess Who. They continued to release singles in Canada, but failed to get any full support from their label Quality Records. Around this time they also ventured to the UK to chase an opportunity, which failed to prosper. They then returned to Canada with a huge financial loss from this trip. Luckily, they quickly landed a great gig with CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) as the house band on the television show Let’s Go. Here they started gaining some popularity and caught the eye of Toronto producer Jack Richardson. Jack believed in the band and put up a great deal of money to support them, paying for the recording session which resulted in their big hit These Eyes (which was released after A Wild Pair).

Jack decided to partner with three friends and start the label Nimbus 9. They made a deal with Coca-Cola to release a promotional LP that people could get by sending in plastic liners from Cola bottles. They gained permission from Quality Records to record this promotional split LP with The Staccatos called A Wild Pair. They allowed this believing that any publicity would only benefit their sales.

The Staccatos

The Staccatos was a band from Ottawa, ON initially consisting of members: Dean Hagopian on vocals, Vern Craig on guitars, Brian Rading on bass and Rick bell on drums. Hagopian was replaced by guitarist/vocalist Les Emmerson prior to their first album, and Les became the band’s main songwriter.

They released the initial single, It Isn’t Easy, on small indie label Allied Records, and eventually got signed to Capitol Records where their first hit Small Town Girl was recorded. They followed with several other singles, usually landing on the top 40 charts and gaining them some recognition in Canada. They released their debut album Initially in 1966, mixing their hit singles with a handful of new recordings.

They eventually added a second drummer, Mike Bell, and released a new personal best single called Half Past Midnight. It was around this time that brand new label Nimbus 9 records contacted Capitol Records looking to record and release a promotional split LP for Coca-Cola with The Guess Who called A Wild Pair. Like Quality Records with The Guess Who, Capitol Records allowed this assuming that any publicity would only benefit their sales.

A Wild Pair

Being an early release for both bands, this album has a fresh sound completely unique to their later releases. Each band still seemed to be in search of their own signature sound that would later bring them both success.  
This was a real turning point for The Guess Who particularly since they were getting little backing and promotion from their current label Quality. Nimbus 9 saw something in this young band and through a lot of passion and support towards them, this was the beginning of a long relationship.

A Wild Pair sold 85,000 copies in Canada. Think about that for a second…this was a promotional record through Coca-Cola!!! Hell, gold status was 50,000 albums in Canada at the time, but this album didn’t even qualify for “gold” as it was a promotional item.

Nimbus 9 was ecstatic about the success and particularly excited about The Guess Who. They offered Quality Records $1000 to buy out their contract with The Guess Who, and somehow they agreed. I’m thinking this was probably not the best business decision that Quality ever made.

So, there is a lot of history behind this promotional LP. First record ever by Nimbus 9, as well as a real turning point for the struggling band The Guess Who. All songs were unique to this release only and not taken from other albums. The Guess Who songs reappeared later on the album Let’s Go – The CBC Years but were not the same recordings; instead these versions of the songs were tried out for the Let’s Go television show. A few of The Staccatos songs showed up on some Five Man Electrical Band compilations/anthology releases. After the release of A Wild Pair, The Staccatos went through another lineup change losing Vern Craig and adding Ted Gerow on keyboards. This lineup recorded their next album, but not before changing their name to the better known Five Man Electrical Band.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Classic Music: Thunder and Roses - King of the Black Sunrise

I recently purchased a small record collection filled with unfamiliar to me albums. The initial album that jumped out at me had this psychedelic cover:

Come on, just look at that cover... you know it’s going to be great.

King of the Black Sunrise is the sole album by the Philadelphia band Thunder and Roses released in 1969 on United Artists (UA 6709). While their life as a band was short lived, this trio proved to be influential to some noteworthy bands, including Nirvana who did a cover of the opening track White Lace and Strange for a (recorded but not released) radio broadcast in 1987. This recording was included on Nirvana’s rarities box set With the Lights Out.

Thunder and Roses was another one of those power bands that baffle me with the insane full sound that they achieve with minimal instruments. It’s the familiar approach of heavy drum fills, lot of cymbals, lead guitar with the vocals, and complex bass lines. Its sound is in contention with Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. And just for a good comparison, they even included a cover of Hendrix’s Red House on this album.

Band members were: Chris Bond on guitars and vocals; Tom Schaffer on bass and vocals; and George Emme on drums. There is not a whole lot of history available online for the band including the reasoning behind their breakup. Chris Bond did stay involved in the music industry producing a number of albums for Hall and Oats.

This may be a bit of a tricky album to track down. The originals seem to sell for quite a bit on eBay and I don’t see any rereleases readily available on amazon or other notable online stores. A few vinyl and CD reissues appear from Germany and the UK but I’m not sure if these are official releases or not. So if you see one in your crate digging adventures, I absolutely recommend picking it up, but until then the album is streaming on YouTube at least for the time being.