Entry for August 11, 2005

by

What a great idea!

There’s a book I highly recommend called The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion that came out a few years ago that I suggest you purchase at your convenience. It’s an, um, invaluable compendium of some of the best albums made in the history of recorded music, featuring some brilliant expository prose by some of the world’s best music writers, including—how shall I put this?—me.

Speaking purely as an egotist, I found the book’s one central flaw to be its lack of an individual writer’s credit per album entry. Meaning that if I’m going to take the time to research and write about, say, Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit And Greenhill’s The Unwritten Works Of Geoffrey, Etc. (1968, Uni Records), then there’s a tiny part of me that wants the world to know I—among the vast cast of distinguished music writers participating in the book’s writing—was the guy who wrote it.

That said, there were a handful of entries that I wrote that never actually made it in the book. Were they crappy? Were they lost in email? Are the MOJO guys simply too polite to tell me that all of my writing was slowly veering toward sheer hackery? Or was it all a dream?

Long renowned for being a world-class efficiency expert, I have thus decided to offer the world this never before published batch of material sure to set the world afire in years to come! Check it out! The good times start here!

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Ford Theatre

Trilogy For The Masses

ABC ABCS-658

*Not currently available on CD

Tracks: Theme For The Masses/101 Harrison Street/Excerpt (From The Theme)/Back To Philadelphia/The Race (Pt. 1)/The Race (Pt. 2)/From A Back Door Window (The Search)/Theme For The Masses/Postlude: Looking Back (37:14)

Recorded: Massachusetts, New York, 1967. Released: 1967. Chart Peak: na (US)

Personnel: John Mazzarelli (organ, voc), Arthur “Butch” Webster (gtr), Harry Palmer (gtr), James Altieri (bs, voc), Robert Tamagni (drm), Joey Scott (voc). Engineers: Russ Hamm, Bob Arnold and David Greene. Producers: Bob Thiele, Harry Palmer, Fred Cenedella,

*Early concept album with classical overtones offers thrilling, extended instrumentals and intense pycho-journey libretto. Big in St. Louis.

“This is as much a dramatic work as a musical one,” says Ford Theatre’s composer/leader Harry Palmer in the liner notes to this remarkable 1967 conceptual document. “We’re trying to create a whole environment–an ominous kind of environment.” And nothing succeeds like success, Harry. Though it largely got lost in the marketplace due to a label more used to marketing Ray Charles and Top 40 pop stars like Tommy Roe, Trilogy For The Masses will thrill anyone who hears it.

A throbbing, continuous work recorded live in the studio in only two takes, then sweetened with occasional strings, the album alternates harshly introspective lyrical themes with intense, drawn out improvisational passages that–with the guitarists’ reliance on the tremelo bar and octaves–suggest Quicksilver Messenger meeting Wes Montgomery at an Amphetamines Anonymous meeting, all played over a bed of droning organ and pounding drums. While it sounds like the work of a group that had been at it for years, it wasn’t. In fact, New York-based Palmer only found his band–originally from Milford, Massachusetts and called Joyful Noise–after penning the complete work. Recording it with them independently, then shopping it to labels, Palmer & co. were offered deals by both Columbia and ABC.

“Columbia perceived these tapes that I brought down as great demos,” says Palmer today, now executive vice president and general manager of (oddly enough) Sony Classics worldwide. “They were very excited by them–they wanted to re-record the album and then really do us. [ABC president/producer] Bob Thiele, being who he was–a really interesting guy, a real innovator–he loved the raw energy of this thing. And so while he wanted to sweeten it, nevertheless he wanted to put the record out ala the Big Brother”s Mainstream album–rough around the edges, raw, raw stuff. That was the difference between the two companies. He gave us plenty of money, but he wanted to put it out as is. So that’s what we did.”

And how. ABC’s disorganized distribution system meant the album often wasn’t where it needed to be. “We went to St. Louis, played in an auditorium to 10,000 people with Big Brother& the Holding Company, Iron Butterfly–a whole wonderful list of bands all new at the time, like us–and all I know is there wasn’t one record in the whole city of St. Louis,” recalls Palmer. No Trilogy, no masses, and Ford Theatre held on for one more album before Palmer left the business to eventually join…er, the business.

Further listening: Time Changes (1969)

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