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Blood, Sweat & Tears

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AboutNo late-'60s American group ever started with as much musical promise as Blood, Sweat & Tears, or realized their potential more fully -- and then blew it all in a

series of internal conflicts and grotesque career moves. It could almost sound funny, talking about a group that sold close to six million records in three years and then squandered all of that momentum. Then again, considering that none of the founding members ever intended to work together, perhaps the group was "lucky" after a fashion.

The roots of Blood, Sweat & Tears lay in one weekend of hastily assembled club shows in New York in July of 1967. Al Kooper (born February 5, 1944, Brooklyn, NY) was an ex-member of the Blues Project, in need of money and a fresh start in music. He'd been toying with the notion, growing out of his admiration for jazz band leader Maynard Ferguson, of forming an electric rock band that would use horns as much as guitarists and jazz as much as rock as the basis for their music. Kooper hoped to raise enough cash to get to London (where he would put such a band together) through a series of gigs involving some big-name friends in New York. When the smoke cleared, there wasn't enough to get Kooper to London, but the gig itself produced a core group of players who were interested in working with him: Jim Fielder (born October 4, 1947, Denton, TX), late of the Buffalo Springfield, on bass, whom Kooper brought in from California; Kooper's former Blues Project bandmate, guitarist Steve Katz (born May 9, 1945, Brooklyn, NY); and drummer Bobby Colomby (born December 20, 1944, New York, NY), with whom Katz had been hanging out and also talking about starting a group. Kooper agreed, as long as he was in charge musically -- having just come off of the Blues Project, who'd been organized as a complete cooperative and essentially voted themselves out of existence, he was only prepared to throw into another band if he were calling the shots. This became the group that Kooper had visualized; it would have a horn section that would be as out front as Kooper's keyboards or Katz's guitar. Colomby brought in alto saxman Fred Lipsius (born November 19, 1944, New York, NY), a longtime personal idol, and from there the lineup grew, with Randy Brecker (born November 27, 1945, Philadelphia, PA) and Jerry Weiss (born May 1, 1946, New York, NY) joining on trumpets and flugelhorns, and Dick Halligan (born August 29, 1943, Troy, NY) playing trombone. The new group was signed to Columbia Records, and the name Blood, Sweat and Tears came to Kooper in the wake of an after-hours jam at the Cafe Au Go Go, where he'd played with a cut on his hand that had left his organ keyboard covered in blood.

The original Blood, Sweat & Tears turned out to be one of the greatest groups that the 1960s ever produced. Their sound, in contrast to R&B outfits that merely used horn sections for embellishment and accompaniment, was a true hybrid of rock and jazz, with a strong element of soul as the bonding agent that held it together; Lipsius, Brecker, Weiss, and Halligan didn't just honk along on the choruses, but played complex, detailed arrangements; Katz played guitar solos as well as rhythm accompaniment, and Kooper's keyboards moved to the fore along with his singing. Their sound was bold, and it was all new when Blood, Sweat & Tears debuted on stage at the Cafe Au Go Go in New York in September of 1967, opening for Moby Grape. Audiences at the time were just getting used to the psychedelic explosion of the previous spring and summer, but they were bowled over by what they heard -- that first version of Blood, Sweat & Tears had elements of psychedelia in their work, but extended it into realms of jazz, R&B, and soul in ways that had scarcely been heard before in one band. The songs were attractive and challenging, the arrangements gave room for Lipsius, Brecker, and others, to solo as well as play rippling ensemble passages, while Kooper's organ and Katz's guitar swelled in pulsing, shimmering glory. The group's debut album, Child Is Father to the Man, recorded in just two weeks late in 1967 under producer John Simon, was released to positive reviews in February of 1968, and it seemed to portend a great future for all concerned. It remained one of the great albums of its decade, right up there with Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited and the Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet. The only thing it didn't have, which those other albums did, was a hit single to get radio play and help drive sales. Child Is Father to the Man was out there on its own, invisible to AM radio and the vast majority of the public, awaiting word-of-mouth and whatever help the still fledgling rock press could give it, and the band's touring to promote it.

Even as their debut was being recorded, however, elements of discontent had manifested themselves within the group that would sabotage their first tour and their future. At first, these were disagreements about repertory, which grew into issues of control, and then doubts about Kooper's ability as a lead singer. With Colomby and Katz taking the lead, the group broached the idea of getting a new vocalist and moving Kooper over exclusively to playing the organ and composing. By the end of March of 1968, with Child Is Father to the Man nudging onto the charts and sales edging toward 100,000 copies and some momentum finally building, Blood, Sweat Tears blew apart -- Kooper left the lineup, taking a producer's job at Columbia Records (where one of his very first actions was to secure the U.S. release of the Zombies' Odessey & Oracle LP and the single "Time of the Season"); at that same point, Randy Brecker announced his intent to quit, in order to join Horace Silver's band. Ironically, at around the same time, Jerry Weiss, who'd actually favored Kooper's ouster, also headed for the door as well, to form the group Ambergris, which lasted long enough to cut one album in 1970.

That might've been the end of their story, except that Bobby Colomby and Steve Katz saw the opportunity to pull their own band out of this debacle. Columbia Records decided to stick with them while Katz and Colomby considered several new singers, including Stephen Stills, and actually got as far as auditioning and rehearsing with Laura Nyro, before they found David Clayton-Thomas (born David Thomsett, September 13, 1941, Surrey, England). A Canadian national since the age of five, Clayton-Thomas at the time was performing with his own group at a small club in New York. He came aboard and, with Halligan moved over to keyboards, Chuck Winfield (born February 5, 1943, Monessen, PA) and Lew Soloff (born February 20, 1944, Brooklyn, NY) on trumpets, and Jerry Hyman (born May 19, 1947, Brooklyn, NY) succeeding Halligan on the trombone. The new nine-member group reflected Colomby and Katz's vision of a band, which was heavily influenced by the Buckinghams, a mid-'60s outfit they'd both admired for mix of soul influences and their use of horns -- toward that end, they got James William Guercio, who had previously produced the Buckinghams, as producer for their proposed album. Though Kooper was gone from Blood, Sweat & Tears, the group was forced to rely on a number of songs that he'd prepared for the new album.

The resulting album, simply called Blood, Sweat & Tears, was issued 11 months after Child Is Father to the Man, in January of 1969. The album was smoother, less challenging, and more traditionally melodic than its predecessor. It was ambitious in an accessible way, starting with its opening track, an adaptation of French expressionist composer Erik Satie's "Trois Gymnopedies" that transformed the languid early 20th century classical work into a pop standard. David Clayton-Thomas was the dominant personality, with Lipsius and the other jazzmen in the band getting their spots in the breaks of each song. The first single by the new group, "You've Made Me So Very Happy," quickly rose to the number two spot on the charts and lofted the album to the top of the charts as well. That was followed by "Spinning Wheel"/"More and More," which also hit number two, which, in turn, was followed by the group's version of Laura Nyro's "And When I Die," another gold-selling single. When the smoke cleared, that one album had yielded a career's worth of hits in the space of six months, and the LP had won the Grammy as Album of the Year, selling three million copies in the bargain. So much demand was created for work by Blood, Sweat & Tears, that the now 18-month-old Child Is Father to the Man, with the different singer and very different sound, last seen and heard in the spring of 1968, made the charts anew in the summer and fall of 1969 and earned a Gold Record of its own.

The group soon faced the problem that every act with a massive success has had to confront -- where do you go from up? By the fall of 1969, with ten months of massive success behind them, the record company was eager for a follow-up album. The group began recording Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 while the second album was still selling many tens of thousands of copies every week. This time, the group produced the album, Guercio having decided that he didn't like working with the band, but the label was willing to accommodate the request. It seemed as though the only question was when the new album should be best released to mount up millions more sales.

And then issues of image and politics entered into the picture. When Al Kooper led the group, there was no question of how hip and tuned in Blood, Sweat & Tears was, to the rock culture and the counterculture -- by his own account, Kooper was a resident "freak" wherever he went in those days, and they were a daring enough ensemble to speak for themselves with their music.

But the mach II group's music, and their use of horns, in particular, was more traditional, and it made them a little suspect among rock listeners. "Spinning Wheel," especially, was the kind of song that invited covers by the likes of Mel Torme and Sammy Davis Jr., after all, and was the sort of rock hit that your parents didn't mind hearing. And "You've Made Me So Very Happy," for all of the soulfulness of David Clayton-Thomas' singing, also had a kind of jaunty pop-band edge that made the group seem closer in spirit to the Tonight Show band than, say, to the Rolling Stones or the Cream.

Compounding the uncertainty of just who and what Blood, Sweat & Tears were, and how cool they were, was a decision that they made in early 1970, to undertake a tour of Eastern Europe on behalf of the U.S. State Department. A few other rock bands (most notably the Rolling Stones) had played Eastern Europe before, but never on behalf of a government, much less one that, at that particular time, was singularly unpopular with a lot of Blood, Sweat & Tears' potential fan base over the war in Vietnam. In fact, the contrast with the Rolling Stones was a good one -- one always had the vague notion that Her Majesty's government might have been very happy if they never played a note of music abroad, at home, or anywhere else, and this did no harm to their credibility in the rock world; and here was Richard Nixon's State Department (the same State Department that, at that time, was trying to deport John Lennon, who was probably the biggest hero in rock at the time) organizing a tour and paying the way for Blood, Sweat & Tears. There was something horribly wrong with this picture in May of 1970, but the group was oblivious to it.

The reason for the tour was a practical one, according to some sources. David Clayton-Thomas was a Canadian with very uncertain visa status in America, and the State Department indicated that it would be a lot more agreeable about Clayton-Thomas working in the United States if the band did them this favor. It was a coup for the government, getting one of the hottest rock acts in the world to represent the government in the Eastern bloc nations. The problem was that everything the Nixon administration did in those days, or anything done for it, in many millions of Americans' eyes, had to be stacked up against its Vietnam policy. Worse yet, the group embarked on its tour just at the time of the Kent State massacre, in which four students were shot to death by National Guardsmen, an event that Nixon chose to capitalize on politically. The imagery was difficult to miss -- while artists such as Neil Young and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were writing and recording the nasty, ominous "Ohio" in response to Kent State, David Clayton-Thomas and company looked like they were advertising for Nixon and company.

Complicating matters even more was the fact that by 1970, college students, hippies, freaks, peace activists, anarchists, and anyone else not wired into the world of conformist politics had what amounted to their own "jungle telegraph" in the form of the alternative press. This included virtually all of the rock press, embracing everything from new publications like Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy, to relatively venerable leftist newspapers like the Village Voice; they spoke to this audience directly, giving them all the news they felt they needed. And virtually everyone associated with the rock press hated Nixon and anyone who would have anything to do with his government.

It's impossible to imagine what life was like during that period, unless you were there -- as close to an open insurrection against the government as we'd seen since the early days of desegregation in the South, except that this wasn't confined to one region or city; police departments from New York to Los Angeles were paying informants to infiltrate political and student groups, and people who had previously been content to carry protest signs were suddenly feeling sympathetic to bomb-makers. And the President of the United States, in whose government's name the band was going on tour, was helping to organize assaults on Americans exercising their legal rights and telling the FBI that it was legitimate to spy on anyone that the White House wanted targeted.

That was the America that Blood, Sweat & Tears flew out of as they headed off on that tour for the government -- they might as well have been spitting in the faces of tens of millions of would-be fans. And it got worse when they came back, after seeing the police in Bucharest, in particular, take a violent hand to any audience spontaneity; a statement was issued on the group's behalf, upon their return, trumpeting the virtues of American freedom -- this, one month after Kent State, with the murders of the students still an open wound and the reactionary rioting that had ensued in cities like New York (where the police had done nothing to stop a mob of construction workers from attacking anyone with long hair and invading City Hall) still fresh in peoples' minds. In June of 1970, Blood, Sweat & Tears were the only act hipper than the Johnny Mann Singers putting out feel-good messages.

Their record company was aghast over the whole matter. Indeed, Columbia Records president Clive Davis, who seldom got involved in the minutiae of his artists' decisions on where they played, had implored them not to make the tour, and was appalled at its aftermath. It was on their return to America that Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 was released. Under the best of conditions, it would have been too much to hope that it could match its predecessor, and the truth was that it didn't. Despite some attractive songs, the album never achieved the same mix of accessibility and inspiration displayed by the earlier album, and some of the players felt the difference -- the Blood, Sweat & Tears LP might not have been the most daring album ever done, but it was executed with a relatively free spirit and free hand. BS&T3, by comparison, was done under a lot of pressure to replicate its predecessor and get a second bite of the same apple.

The album shipped gold and topped the LP charts for two weeks in mid-1970, and the single "Hi-De-Ho" made it to number 14, but the edge was off and the numbers didn't keep soaring week after week as the sales of their prior two LPs had. More troubling, the group was starting to get criticized in the rock press, not directly for their State Department tour -- though that couldn't have made a lot of reviewers and columnists too pre-disposed to go easy on the band -- but over who and what they were (and that was where the infamous tour did enter into the picture). A lot of rock critics felt that Blood, Sweat & Tears was a pretentious pop group that dabbled in horn riffs, while others argued that they were a jazz outfit trying to pass as a rock band -- either way, they weren't "one of us" or part of who we were. Oddly enough, some members of the jazz press liked them, but that was small help -- at any time after the early '40s, jazz reviewers in America reached no more than a small percentage of listeners. And regardless of what the critics said, a lot of serious jazz listeners who were the same age as the bandmembers thought the group was fluff, jazz-lite.

Their image problem grew worse when the group accepted an engagement to appear at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas -- the gambling Mecca had never been known as friendly to current rock acts, and the group felt it was doing journeyman service by opening up Caesar's Palace to performers under 30. Instead, it multiplied their difficulties -- Vegas and what it represented were almost as bad as Nixon.

In the meantime, another act, Chicago, produced by James William Guercio, broke big in 1970, also on the Columbia label, and avoided all of these pitfalls and internal problems and ended up stealing a huge chunk of Blood, Sweat & Tears' audience. It seemed as though, after an extraordinary run of luck, the group couldn't catch a break; their musical contribution to the Barbra Streisand film The Owl and the Pussycat, which was financially successful and helped revive the career of the pop diva, did nothing to enhance their image. The group's fourth album, begun in early 1971, was the first that ran into real trouble in the making, which showed from the presence of three producers in the credits, and even Al Kooper was represented in the songwriting and arranging department.

By this time, an ominous pattern had begun to set in, which was observed by Columbia Records. Each Blood, Sweat & Tears album was selling about half of what its predecessor had done, which is not the kind of trend that artists or record labels look for in a quest for long-term survival. The fourth album, issued in June of 1971, peaked at number ten on the charts, nowhere near the top, and none of its singles cracked the Top 30. It was around this time that the membership began shifting -- trombonist Jerry Hyman was replaced, rather painlessly, by Dave Bargeron after the third album in 1970, but they had bigger problems. By 1971, the group was basically divided into three factions, the rock rhythm section pitted against the jazz players, David Clayton-Thomas between them both, and no one happy with what anyone else was doing. Clayton-Thomas no longer enjoyed working with the rest of the band and chose to exit after the release of the fourth album to pursue a solo career.

The group carried on -- a record of ten million singles and LPs sold worldwide in only three years would keep artists and labels swinging at those pitches as long as they could stand at the plate -- and he was succeeded by Bob Doyle. He, in turn, only lasted a few months before being replaced by Jerry Fisher. Meanwhile, Fred Lipsius, who'd been there from the start and had put the original horn section together, finally called it quits and was replaced by Joe Henderson who, in turn, was succeeded by Lou Marini Jr., and Dick Halligan, who'd replaced Al Kooper on keyboards after the first band's breakup, was succeeded by Larry Willis, while Steve Katz got a second guitarist to play off of in the person of George Wadenius. All of these personnel changes led to an extended period of inactivity for the band, which Columbia Records made up for by releasing Blood, Sweat & Tears Greatest Hits in 1972 -- the latter became a Top 20 album and earned a Gold Record award and was a very popular catalog item for many years; one advantage that its original LP version offered the casual fan was that its songs were all the shorter, single-edits of their hits, which were otherwise only available on the original 45 rpm records.

In September of 1972, this lineup released an album, appropriately enough called New Blood, which never made the Top 30 despite some good moments, accompanied by a single, "So Long Dixie," which didn't crack the Top 40. By this time, they'd turned more toward jazz, recognizing that the rock audience was slowly drifting out of their reach. Founding members Jim Fielder and Steve Katz called it quits during this period, Katz preferring to work in the more rock-oriented orbit of Lou Reed. With replacements aboard, Blood, Sweat & Tears continued performing, but their next LP, humorously (or was it ominously?) entitled No Sweat, released in 1973, never rose higher than number 72 on the charts, and that was a hit compared to its successor, Mirror Image, which peaked at number 149. By this time, people were passing through the lineup like a revolving door, and even Jaco Pastorius put in some time playing bass for the group, all without leaving much of an impression on the public.

It's right about here that one would expect that the plug would have been pulled, and it might have been, but for the return of David Clayton-Thomas, whose solo career had fizzled. Now fronting an outfit billed officially as Blood, Sweat & Tears featuring David Clayton Thomas, they released a modestly successful comeback album, New City. The accompanying single, a version of the Beatles' "Got To Get You Into My Life," never made the Top 40, but the subsequent tour yielded a concert album, Live and Improvised, that was issued in Europe (and, six years later, in America). Columbia Records finally dropped the group in 1976, and a brief association with ABC Records -- then a dying label, as it turned out -- led nowhere. The group was caught in between their former Columbia Records rivals Chicago, who continued to get airplay and sell a decent number of new records, and purer jazz ensembles such as Return to Forever and Weather Report, who had captured the moment in the press and before the public. In the end, even Bobby Colomby, who had trademarked the group's name very early after Kooper's exit in 1968, gave up playing in Blood, Sweat & Tears, taking a corporate position at Columbia Records. David Clayton-Thomas has kept the band alive in the decades since, fronting various lineups that continue to perform regularly and record sporadically. The advent of the CD era, and the release of expanded versions of their first two albums, fostered new interest in the group's early history, which was furthered by the 1990s release of Al Kooper's Soul of a Man, which presented the 1967-era group's repertory in concert. The name remains alive behind David Clayton-Thomas, and their recordings through 1972 -- and especially the first album -- still elicit a powerful response from those millions who've heard them. ~ Bruce Eder, All Music Guide

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