Hot Platters: Elephant Mountain- The Youngbloods (RCA Records 1969)

TRACK LIST

  1.  Darkness Darkness 

  2.  Smug 

  3.  On Sir Francis Drake 

  4.  Sunlight 

  5.  Double Sunlight 

  6.  Beautiful 

  7.  Turn it Over 

  8.  Don't Let The Rain Get You Down 

  9.  Trillum 

10.  Quicksand 

11.  Black Mountain Breakdown 

12.  Sham 

13.  Ride The Wind 

 

The Youngbloods were a band from the sixties that consisted of members of the East Coast folk music scene-- Jesse Colin Young (lead vocals, bass), Jerry Corbitt (lead guitar, vocals), Lowell Levenger a.k.a. "Banana" (keyboards, guitar, vocals) and Joe Bauer (drums).  Reflecting the diverse musical elements of the sixties rock scene, the various members favored different styles of music (blues, jazz, bluegrass) which somehow morphed into a style that sounded fresh and new.  Most folks remember the Youngbloods from their Top 40 hit, "Get Together" (ah, the anthem of brotherhood) but it was on the magnificent album, Elephant Mountain, that the band reached its creative peak. 

After the single "Get Together" stiffed when it was released in 1967 (later to be released in 1969 to widespread acclaim), Corbitt left the band thereby reducing it to a trio.  This event, coupled with the fact that the band set up headquarters in the pastoral environs of Marin County in California during this same period, gave rise to a fresh new blend of jazz infused blues music.  The writing on this album is confident and assured; songs like "Ride The Wind", "Beautiful", "Smug" and "Darkness Darkness" captured the sensibilities of the late sixties, many of these expressions of love, friendship, betrayal and one's role in society, were prevalent in much of the rock music from this period except here it lacks the pretension that graced many records in the late sixties.  The primary reason for this?  Jesse Colin Young's angelic voice for one along with the eccentric approach to making music.  The Youngbloods, much like the UK band Traffic, frequently made keyboard-based material and this lack of a guitar driven sound ultimately made the band stand out somewhat.  At the time, I thought Elephant Mountain to be one of the best albums of 1969 and it stands the test of time, still sounding fresh after all these years.  The record features an oddball mix of ragtime, bluesy jazz, ersatz classical and simple balladry that slowly insinuates itself into your overall music-head. 

Jesse Colin Young interview on bestclassicband.com: "Charlie Daniels produced that album. What was he like?  Jesse Colin Young: You should have seen Charlie in a rayon suit with short hair and milk bottle-bottom glasses. He was a perfect producer. He explained it to me. He said, 'Sometimes artists need you to get behind them and push them, and then other times you get in front of them and hold them back, but I think you guys just needed me to be there.'  The band became a trio at that time. What happened to Jerry Corbitt?  Jesse Colin Young: Three tunes into the Elephant Mountain album, Corbitt left the band. He said, 'I can’t fly anymore.' Here we are at the beginning an album; we were recording in L.A. at RCA Studios. So we just carried on and Charlie was the transition. He was always in a good mood, always ready, always appreciative and supportive. He got us through it."

 

"With the departure of member and co-founder Jerry Corbitt, Jesse Colin Young became the primary songwriter of the band, penning seven of the 13 tracks on the album, and co-writing four more with Lowell Banana Levinger and Joe Bauer. Young's songwriting ranges from jazzy acoustic ballads (Sunlight and Ride the Wind), to country/folk pop (Smug and Beautiful) and bluesy hard rock (Sham). Darkness, Darkness and Quicksand are songs dealing with depression and suicide, quite at odds with the optimistic to happy-go-lucky image of the band created by songs like Get Together and Grizzly Bear). The four tracks credited to Young, Banana, and Bauer are all instrumentals.  

Levinger's On Sir Francis Drake is another instrumental named after Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Marin County, an area in California where the band had recently moved. At 6:44 it is the longest track on the album, consisting of two sections, the first an electric piano-based waltz, the second a blues jam with some bass soloing by Young. The remaining song on the album is Rain Song (Don't Let the Rain Bring You Down) was co-written by Jerry Corbitt, Felix Pappalardi (of Mountain) and Gail Collins, his wife.  Reviewing for The Village Voice in 1969, Robert Christgau wrote, 'In the manner of tight groups, the Youngbloods stretch thinner all the time. Not only have they lost Jerry Corbitt, but their own expertise has become somehow attenuated. Banana used to be the most tasteful electric pianist in rock. Now he has become so tasteful he can sound like Roy Kral on a lazy night."  Lester Bangs was more enthusiastic in Rolling Stone, saying "this is one of the most encouraging albums I have heard in months. ... This album exudes that supremely rare commodity in these dark, bored, destructive times – joy.'  Years later, Rolling Stone said the album bridges the gap between the last days of psychedelia and the outbreak of country-rock that had afflicted artists like the Byrds and Neil Young." (Wikipedia)

 

Sadly, The Youngbloods were unable to top this release as the band's subsequent live and studio recordings that hardly seemed as if they were made by the same group who came up with the elegant Elephant Mountain.

 

 

Another key element to this slide from grace may be attributed to the band leaving RCA for Warner Brothers, who gave them their own label, Raccoon Records.  For years, The Youngbloods had been at odds with RCA.  Jesse Colin Young, in a Rolling Stone interview, claimed, "They never knew what to make of us and tried to set us up as a bubblegum act.  They never knew what we were and never knew how to merchandise us."  Once free of RCA, the band was given free reign by the Warner Bros label but therein lies the rub.  Once they were set up with the commercial clout of the Warner Bros nexus and running their own label, the Youngbloods never really made any truly significant music again.  The brief glimpse of greatness provided by Elephant Mountain is now but a slow train moving through the mist of time.

Currently, Jesse Colin Young pursues a solo career and Lowell "Banana" Levinger is touring worldwide with Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul.


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THE HIDEAWAYS / PETE MANCINI & THE HILLSIDE AIRMEN

WED SEPT 25 @ MY FATHER'S PLACE

This Wednesday night, two of the hottest bands on Long Island take the stage at  My Father's Place @ The Roslyn Hotel!

Opening the show is the popular Americana outfit, Pete Mancini & The Hillside Airmen (Diversion Records). “Just as Roger McGuinn, Gram Parsons and company had done decades earlier, Mancini’s crew crafts a warm, organic sound bearing deep country roots, but still informed by rock ‘n’ roll.” (NPR)
 

The headlining band on this cool double bill is The Hideaways (Mind Smoke Records), a wild & loose blues powerhouse that conjures up an atmosphere of Chuck Berry meets The Clash with a side order of cajun mojo and Bod Dylan circa Blonde On Blonde. "I just had the opportunity to review the most recent release, The Lost Tapes Vol. 1, from The Hideaways, and it's terrific!  Opening with Albert King's Let's Have A Natural Ball and it's on fire! With Chris James on lead vocal and guitar, the band sounds more like Gatemouth Brown or Alvin Lee!  Sean O'Neill on bass really drives the bottom and Scotty Micciche hits it hard on harp. Sensational opener!" (BMan's Blues Report)

 

This is gonna be a night to remember! 

PURCHASE TICKETS HERE

 


 

 

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