by Fred Mills
From the misty portals of hippiedom we have two key (well, sorta …) avatars of the era. Elephants Memory was the NYC combo that would gain notoriety in the early ’70s as John and Yoko’s backing group. The 1972 Elephants Memory release, Sometime In New York City, however, didn’t sound much like the jazz-rocking, avant-gardeish band of 1969’s Elephants Memory. This album commences on a somewhat alarming note with “Don’t Put Me On Trial No More,” a pedestrian slice of psychedelic funk stuffed with unintentionally hilarious lyrical clichés (“Hey little chile don’t you put me on trial/ You got me burnin’ on a fiery pile”). And the second cut, the poppy, lightweight “Crossroads Of The Stepping Stones,” summons images of Sonny & Cher joining the New Seekers and aiming to buy the world a Coke — or a toke. (Fun fact: E.M’s first female vocalist-foil to lead singer/sax player Stan Bronstein was one Carly Simon, replaced here by Michal Shapiro.) Thankfully, though, the rest of the album holds up. Highlights range from the Zappaesque, big-band prog of “Super Heep” to seven-minute psych suite “Old Man Willow” to the hard-rockin’, is-it-about-drugs-or-actual-franks “Hot Dog Man.” Factor in a naked sleeve photo plus detailed liner notes and you’ve got an intermittently grooveworthy period piece.
Even better was Tampa’s Blues Image, who, by the time of its second album, 1970’s Open, wasn’t particularly bluesy but rather a complex blend of hard rock and Latin-tinged jazz. It didn’t have much of an image, either, at least not one jibing with the image fostered by the 1970 mainstream pop smash “Ride Captain Ride.” But with Open now available domestically for the first time on CD, the aural evidence, at least, is unequivocal: Blues Image was a superbly gifted, multifaceted group that shoulda been a contender, not a faceless one-hit wonder. Open is rife with curveballs, from Free-like riff-rockers and extemporaneous forays into freeform psychedelia to over-the-top covers of “La Bamba” and “Parchman Farm” and the aforementioned hit single. By the time Open closes you’re left wondering, who are these guys?
The group didn’t last long enough to supply the answer. Vocalist Mike Pinera abruptly split to join Iron Butterfly (he’d later work with Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper) and the band broke up after a disappointing third album. But just for a moment, as percussionist (and future Steve Stills/Manassas player) Joe Lala remarks in the liner notes, “I’m telling you, that band was unstoppable.”
E-mail Fred Mills at email@example.com.