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Blood, Sweat & Tears

Predating contemporary jazz-rock/pop giants CHICAGO by a year, in terms of debut set release; and weighed down by even more band members: eight!), New York City’s BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS sold a boat-load of LPs before their fickle fanbase grew tired of their brassy funk. As the post-psychedelic 70s progressed along fresh lines, the ever-changing BS&T petered out to nothing. And when one thinks of the top musicians that had passed through their ranks (AL KOOPER, Steve Katz, Jim Fielder, Randy Brecker, David Clayton-Thomas, et al), there was a sense that they’d somehow missed a trick.
Formed late summer 1967, by BLUES PROJECT defectors Al Kooper (keyboards/vocals) and Steve Katz (guitar); together with rhythm section Bobby Colomby (drums) and Jim Fielder (bass) – the latter had experience with both BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD and The MOTHERS OF INVENTION – the octet was inclusive of a brass section that comprised Randy Brecker, Jerry Weiss, Fred Lipsius and Dick Halligan (the latter pair also doubled as keyboardists).
BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS’ first album for Columbia Records: CHILD IS FATHER TO THE MAN {*9}, was released in February 1968 to critical acclaim and a transatlantic Top 50 place. A psychedelic, Baroque blues, soul/jazz-rock miasma that possessed a brassy element not yet heard within America’s inner circle of players, Al Kooper’s acid touches lifted songs such as `I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’, `Somethin’ Goin’ On’ (at 8 minutes) and `The Modern Adventures Of Plato, Diogenes And Freud’ to another level. Peppered alongside renditions of TIM BUCKLEY’s `Morning Glory’, NILSSON’s `Without Her’ and RANDY NEWMAN’s `Just One Smile’, they’d also a bit of bubblegum to blow.
Internal strife caused the itching “I Stand Alone” AL KOOPER to bail soon after the record’s release; his berth filled by Anglo/Canadian crooner David Clayton-Thomas. Out of the picture too were Randy Brecker and Weiss; superseded by Chuck Winfield, Lew Soloff and Jerry Hyman. And then they were nine!
The eponymous chart-topping BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS (1969) {*9} – produced by James Guercio – was a different kettle of fish, so to speak, in that the LP showcased three monster No.2 hit singles: `You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ (penned in part by BRENDA HOLLOWAY), Clayton-Thomas’ `Spinning Wheel’ and LAURA NYRO’s `And When I Die’. Further radical covers of TRAFFIC’s `Smiling Phases’ and BILLIE HOLIDAY’s `God Bless The Child’, classical Erik Satie/“Gymnopedies” bookends, plus a jazzy prog-length `Blues Pt.2’ –inclusive of some CREAM tracks to blow one’s mind – the Grammy-winning, triple-platinum BS&T were everything to everybody.
Although his powerful, soulful larynx perfectly complemented their brass-heavy jazz-pop sound, Guercio found Clayton-Thomas’ ego in the studio too much to take. To save his own “Smiling Phase” from turning sour, the producer decided to walk while he was ahead; taking his skills to the more commercial, and less volatile, CHICAGO. With BST’s lead vocalist beginning to dominate the outfit more and more, further friction was inevitable. However, the ensemble began to court the media and became the critics’ darlings for a short time, even appearing at the Woodstock fest, much to the bemusement of the peace & love children.
The nonet’s third album, BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS 3 (1970) {*6}, was another commercial bulls eye; however the critics were not so enamoured by the pounding horn section, and the louder DCT (a fusion of ARTHUR BROWN and JAMES BROWN). Once again they were not shorn on a few hits, but the showbiz-y `Hi-De-Ho’ (authored by Goffin-King) and the funky `Lucretia MacEvil’ were hardly groundbreaking material. Ditto re-hashes of JAMES TAYLOR’s `Fire And Rain’, LAURA NYRO’s `He’s A Runner’, JOE COCKER’s `Somethin’ Comin’ On’, TRAFFIC’s `40,000 Headmen’, and an embarrassing, pretentious portrayal of `Symphony/Sympathy For The Devil’.
1971’s B, S & T; 4 (1971) {*5}, saw the band reconciled with KOOPER, although only in a production capacity; and as co-author of `John The Baptist (Holy John)’. Hyman had also moved on; for Dave Bargeron. By and large, the winning Top 10 formula continued, notably with the valedictory Clayton-Thomas-penned opening salvo, `Go Down Gamblin’, a heavy-blues cut that starred the excellent fret work of guitarist Katz. The album’s problem was that it slid back into the swinging 60s for `Cowboys And Indians’, minor hit, `Lisa, Listen To Me’ and a cover of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s `Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While).
In between times (“3” & “4”), and almost drowned in its own sea of self-indulgence, the soundtrack to THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT (1971) {*3} was underwhelming. As funny and daring as this odd-couple movie (starring Barbra Streisand and George Segal) was for this era, the record’s extended dialogue – much of it consisting of heated argument and shouting! – made for tedious listening. The jazzy instrumental interludes by main composer Richard Halligan were far too thinly-spread, and locating them was like sticking a quartz needle in a proverbial haystack. All that said, a top-of-their-game, late-60s-vintage BS&T almost made it worth persevering; and at least the main theme’s unhurried brass motif – heard on the opening grooves of `The Confrontation’ (and repeated at both the tail end of `The Seduction’ and the beginning of `The Reunion’) – didn’t require much effort.
While DCT’s vocals helped win BS&T chart success, there were continual arguments over the band’s musical direction; most of the members were classically-trained. This resulted in a huge bust-up in 1972; exit one DAVID CLAYTON-THOMAS, whose solo career duly backfired unceremoniously. In his absence he was replaced by Bobby Doyle, then Texas-born Jerry Fisher. This subsequent domino effect saw chaos reign supreme; different factions within the band had been pulling every which way but loose: Lipsius had departed, though his short-term replacement Joe Henderson was superseded by Lou Marini Jr. The addition of Swedish-born guitarist Georg Wadenius and local keyboardist Larry Willis (to fill the void left by Halligan) were in place for NEW BLOOD (1972) {*5}. Earnestly trying to recreate something that could get them back on track, Katz and Co played it strictly for their AOR audience; though covers of DYLAN’s `Down In The Blood’, HERBIE HANCOCK’s `Maiden Voyage’, Goffin & King’s `Snow Queen’ and the Mann-Weil piece, `So Long Dixie’, were way out of sync with the times.
Going from bad to worse; and without Katz (who was to join AMERICAN FLYER) and Winfield; who’d made way for Tom Malone, there was little support for the bloodless, NO SWEAT (1973) {*6}; the only tears came by way of chewy covers of TRAFFIC’s `Empty Pages’, RANDY NEWMAN’s `Rosemary’ and a few other combinations.
As another personnel cull resulted in the absence of Fielder and Soloff (replaced respectively by Ron McClure and Bill Tillman), there was only a spiraling decline of sales for the AM pop/jazz rock of MIRROR IMAGE (1974) {*5}. Additional brass and horns had arrived through Tony Klatka and Jerry LaCroix (ex-EDGAR WINTER’S WHITE TRASH), but given that AVERAGE WHITE BAND and WEATHER REPORT had now stolen their thunder, only the “Movement I-IV” infusions created anything worth the admission price.
BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS were now, however, losing their reputation as a crowd-pulling ensemble, and even with the as billed “featuring David Clayton-Thomas” return for the Top 50 NEW CITY (1975) {*5}, the writing was on the wall. Incidentally, trumpeter Joe Giorgianni replaced Malone. Once again underlining a hybrid of jazz, blues, funk and AM pop, the album was pushed back by overwrought re-arrangements of tracks once the property of BLUES IMAGE (`Ride Captain Ride’), The BEATLES (`Got To Get You Into My Life’), JANIS IAN (`Applause’), RANDY NEWMAN (`Naked Man’), ALLEN TOUSSAINT (`Life’), among others.
Clayton-Thomas, Colomby, Bargeron, Willis and Tillman duly enlisted bassist Danny Trifan to replace Kenny Jones; temp. Jaco Pastorius joined WEATHER REPORT. Wadenius’s berth had been taken by Mike Stern, whilst trumpeter Forrest Buchtell superseded recent “In Concert” addition Don Alias (from MILES DAVIS’ group). Produced by Bob James, BS&T’s ninth and final album for Columbia Records, MORE THAN EVER (1976) {*5}, was just as average in terms of quality control. The set did however pave the way for future solo artists PATTI AUSTIN (who penned `Sweet Sadie The Savior’) and GWEN GUTHRIE.
It was time for a parting of the ways. BRAND NEW DAY (1977) {*3} – their first for MCA Records – continued their creative slump and failed (for the first time!) to break into Billboard’s Top 200. In truth, the once great BS&T was on its death throes, breathing its last as a backing section for Clayton-Thomas’ similarly expiring career.
By 1980’s NUCLEAR BLUES {*3} – one must avoid the re-hash of HENDRIX’s `Manic Depression’ – only the said singer was recognisable as a bone fide BS&T member; the remaining alumni came by way of Robert Piltch (guitar), David Piltch (bass), Bobby Economou (drums), Richard Martinez (keyboards), Bruce Cassidy (trumpet/flugelhorn), Earl Seymour (sax/flute) and Vernon Dorge (sax/flute).
Unsurprisingly, BS&T broke-up the year after. Clayton-Thomas and Colomby did some reunion concerts and even re-formed with various unrecognisable line-ups in 1984; Clayton-Thomas himself, left in 2004 – his place taken by a succession of singers; latest Bo Bice (2014), who replaced David Aldo and Jason Paige in a plethora of revolving-door personnel changes. For authenticity sakes, original member Katz integrated for live shows between 2008 and 2010.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2009/GRD/LCS-BG // rev-up MCS Aug2019

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  1. Naught Bester Langs

    No Sweat is the single most underrated recording in their discography. I’d give it 11 out of 10 stars. It’s the fifth-best recording after the first four-IF you don’t count the annoying dialogue disabled “Owl and the Pussycat” soundtrack. It’s another case of (what Zappa liked to shorthand as “No Commercial Appeal” Counterintution) the better the Music, the poorer the profit potential.

    1. Martin Strong

      Thanks Rick. I’ve raise the bar accordingly, and will give the set a few further spins in the next few weeks when I get time. No Sweat, man.

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