Thursday, March 5, 2015

Forgotten Bands Of The 60s-The Blues Project

As far as I know, The Blues Project only made one proper album in their career Projections and I tend to agree with Al Kooper that the mix sucks. Upon hearing the Verve reissue of the CD way back in 1995 it sounded like it was mastered from an old scratchy acetate, which overlook that and you can tell that the album is quite good.

The Blues Project was a idea based upon a jamming group of dudes, Al Kooper the better known but had Steve Katz, Danny Kalb, Andy Kulberg and Roy Blumenfeld (and don't forget Tommy Flanders) as a band collective.  Kooper worked with Bob Dylan during the Blonde on Blonde album and classic recording of Like A Rolling Stone, one of the first 6 plus minute song to make it on 45.  Upon gigging at the Cafe Au Go Go, Verve decided to issue that via their fledgling Verve/Folkways later Verve/Forecast offshoot label and although the live album is hit and miss it does have a few staples that they would revisit from time to time Going To Louisiana, Catch The Wind and a lot more of the Willie Dixon catalog that most bands were covering at that time.  I tend to think Spoonful and Who Do You Love go on a bit too long but overall, The Blues Project were good purveyors of the blues.

Tom Wilson seemed to be the idea producer to work with.  At that time, Wilson was working with The Animals, Bob Dylan and Mothers Of Invention to name a few and what better way to get noticed is with a hip producer but again what stands out in Projections is who screechy and tinny the sound is on their classic I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes which basically recopies Howlin' Wolf's Little Baby or Blind Willie Johnson.  Or blame Val Valentin's for the lousy sound since he was head engineer of most of the MGM Verve roster recordings.  Still Projections is the Blues Project at their best and versatile, they could retell Chuck Berry and make it rock (You Can't Catch Me) or take a stab at pop (Wake Me, Shake Me) and even jazz comes into play (Flute Thing) or country (Fly Away) but overall, it's a blues effort although I tend to think that the whole 11 and half minutes of Two Trains Running comes close to make one fall asleep while Caress Me Baby is somewhat like the Jefferson Airplane was doing when they cover Rock Me Baby.  It's been known that Kooper calls Two Trains Running vintage Danny Kalb on the liner notes to the Rhino Best Of The Blues Project but perhaps it's best to see them perform this in concert rather than under headphones.

A split in the band came when Kooper wanted to add more horns to the songs whereas the band didn't, so Kooper and Steve Katz left to form Blood Sweat And Tears and made their pseudoclassic Child Is Father To The Man album (before Kooper left that band under mysterious circumstances)   and Verve was trying to come up with new Blues Project music and settled upon adding crowd noise to a couple of singles and leftover live performances and called it Live At Town Hall.  No Time Like The Right Time, a single only release, was peppered with applause as well as a couple other forgotten singles; for the live performances, the Electric Flute Thing is quite boring and we get an alternative version of Wake Me Shake Me and a lesser known Mean Old Southern.  The record label was already scraping the bottom of the barrel.  With Kooper gone, Andy Kulberg recruited new members  for the drab Planned Obsolescence.  If nothing else that album would be the beginning of a new project that eventually became Seatrain. Outside of If You Gotta Make A Fool Out Of Somebody which owes a lot to Blind Faith, the rest of the album bores me to death.  Tommy Flanders came back to play on the two Capitol albums but I have not heard any of these.  However, in 1973, The original boys (sans Flanders) did Reunion in Central Park for MCA and while reviews were lukewarm, I actually liked this album and thought that this version of Fly Away was superior to the one on Verve. And it did come out on CD for a short while in the 90s.

As for the best ofs, they provide a nice sampler although the only remote thing they had for a hit was No Time Like The Right Time (which can be found on the original Nuggets album via Elektra/Rhino/Sire). Although I give a slight nod to the Rhino best of for the obscure Flute Thing that didn't make the Reunion In Central Park listing over the Polygram 2 CD anthology but both best ofs omit anything from Obsolescence or the Capitol albums.  They're both flawed for overviews buyer beware.  In the end, if nothing else The Blues Project can be considered one of the early pioneers of jam band which is not a bad thing,  The Grateful Dead is a jam band as well.  But like some jam bands, the songs can be tedious (Electric) Flute Thing comes to mind or Two Trains Running. But when they do find a right jam be it I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes or Wake Me Shake Me, The Blues Project knows how to jam.  Andy Kulburg died in 2002 but sometimes Steve Katz or Danny Kalb and Roy Blumenfeld have known to resurrect The Blues Project from time to time, last in 2013.  Al Kooper continues to do his own thing and has his own column of writing about his favorite music called New Music For Old People you can find at The Morton Report.

Live At A Cafe Au Go Go (Verve/Folkways 1966) B+
Projections (Verve Forecast 1967) A-
Live At Town Hall (Verve Forecast 1968) B-
Planned Obsolescence (Verve Forecast 1969) C-
Lazarus (Capitol 1971) NR
Blues Project (Capitol 1972) NR
Reunion At Central Park (Sounds Of The South/MCA 1973) B+
Best Of The Blues Project (Rhino 1989) B 


David Ray said...

Great great blog -- is there any way your pictures of marion are still online somewhere>

R S Crabb said...

Hi Dave,

I updated the site and got the pictures back up where they're supposed to be at. Here's hoping they don't disappear again.