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Fever Tree


One of the unsung heroes of the US underground psychedelic scene, FEVER TREE were nonetheless an integral part of the movement that encompassed everyone from The DOORS to STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK. Whilst early LPs made the Billboard 200 mark and a single, `San Francisco Girls’, dented the Top 100, most acolytes of British arcane covers specialists THIS MORTAL COIL would scour for FEVER TREE’s sublime reading of `Filigree & Shadow’.
Formed 1966 in Houston, Texas (out of The Bostwick Vines), singer Dennis Keller, guitarist Michael Knust, keyboardist/flautist Rob Landes, bassist E.E. “Bud” Wolfe III and drummer/percussionist John Tuttle had their first break when signing to Chicago’s Mainstream Records. The quintet released two flop 45s, `Hey Mister’ and `Girl, Oh Girl (Don’t Miss Me)’, before moving to the UNI imprint.
A transitional period thereon in, the band progressed from bubblegum-psych to more conventional Baroque rock, underpinned by symphonic strains of neo-classical pop. Bolstered by the surprise minor hit of the aforementioned `San Francisco Girls (Return Of The Native)’, their spring 1968 eponymous album, FEVER TREE {*9}, secured five months in the charts. The eclectic album opened with part-classical `Imitation Situation 1 (Toccata And Fugue)’, melding J.S. Bach with Landes and husband/wife “Mary Poppins” producers Scott and Vivian Holtzman. In fact, the production couple worked well with Rob, Michael and the others on semi-classics `Man Who Paints The Pictures’, `Where Do You Go?’, The Sun Also Rises’ and, of course, `Filigree…’. Keller’s psych-soulful vox was both funky and fuzzy on three effective covers: namely WILSON PICKETT & STEVE CROPPER’s `Ninety-Nine And A Half’, BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD’s `Nowadays Clancy Can’t Ever Sing’ and a segue of BEATLES pairing, `Day Tripper – We Can Work It Out’.
FEVER TREE’s sophomore set, ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE (1968) {*7}, opened with a near IRON BUTTERFLY-type extended re-working of `Man Who Paints The Pictures – Part II’, showing a murkier, heavier side of the band. However, the record was blighted by a poorer choice of cover versions (i.e. the nostalgia-addled `Fever’, `Peace Of Mind’ and `Grand Candy Young Sweet’). Akin to BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS, SPIRIT or The ELECTRIC FLAG, it was somewhat saved by the pre-prog/neo-classic/jazz moods swings of `Jokes Are For Sad People’, `I’ve Never Seen Evergreen’ and `Death Is The Dancer’.
Their third album, CREATION (1970) {*6} contained another fresh undertaking of an old song, `Imitation Situation (Complete And Unabridged)’. The record was an unmitigated creative disaster, although it did feature a guest appearance by Billy Gibbons (of MOVING SIDEWALKS; later ZZ TOP). Outsider tracks came in the shape of Jancy Lee Tyler’s `Woman, Woman (Woman)’, `Run Past My Window’ and `Wild Woman Ways’, though `Time Is Now’ and `The God Game’ had their moments.
Landes and Tuttle moved aside for Grant Johnson and Kevin Kelley by the time they’d moved to the California coast where they’d signed to Ampex Records for a last dismal effort, FOR SALE (1971) {*5}. Yes, they had indeed sold out; the album reviving early Mainstream Records songs, together with covers of SCREAMING JAY HAWKINS’ `I Put A Spell On You’, LOVE’s `She Comes In Colors’ and an over-long 12-minute take of Billy Roberts’ `Hey Joe’.
Toward the dawn of the 70s, Knust resurrected an all-new FEVER TREE; with Pat Brennan (vocals, keyboards, flute), Kenneth Blanchet (bass) and Robbie Parrish (drums/percussion), however only for a rather obscure `Return’ EP, for Buttermilk Records; NEIL YOUNG’s aforesaid `Clancy’ featured alongside a version of AL JARREAU’s You Don’t See Me’.
Sadly, Michael Knust died on September 15, 2003.
© MC Strong 1997/MCS // rev-up MCS Sep2019

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