Archive for December, 2018

Pacific Ocean

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

In 1968, on the advice of some friends whose musical tastes I trusted, I went to the Gazzarri’s nightclub on the Sunset Strip to see the soul band Pacific Ocean. I had heard great things about their charismatic lead singer, Eddie James.

Pacific Ocean was a terrific L. A. brown-eyed soul band. Throughout their performance Eddie would often execute what we used to call “legitimate splits”; that is, he would do the splits, hit the floor and then pop back up onto his feet without using his hands. Previous to Eddie James, I had only seen that trick executed by another James: James Brown.

Mr. James sang with great intensity, occasionally punctuating his vocals with what sounded like a banshee inhaling a scream. Examples of this vocal trick are included in a few of the LP’s songs.

I still have my vinyl self-titled LP of Pacific Ocean (on VMC Records). I assumed it would never be released on CD due to its obscurity. Lo and behold, Pacific Ocean has just been released on CD by the Early Dawn music label.

Most of the cuts on Pacific Ocean are covers of classic soul songs. Here is the original track running order, which somehow got screwed up on the CD release:
1) “16 Tons”
2) “Road to Hell”
3) “My Shrink”
4) “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
5) “Tracks of My Tears”
6) “I Can’t Stand It”
7) “I Wanna Testify”
8) “99 1/2”
9) “Mickey’s Monkey”

I held out hope for a CD release, as there was one important element I thought might make this LP rise back to the surface of our collective musical consciousness. Eddie James sang and entertained with the same ferocious intensity that he later brought to a successful acting career, a career in which he began using his full name: Edward James Olmos.

Big Brother & The Holding Company

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

If you’re a fan of Janis Joplin (who isn’t?) or her band Big Brother & The Holding Company, I would like to bring to your attention a brand new CD of old music.

Columbia Legacy has just released Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills, a two-disc set of 30 songs from the Janis Joplin/Cheap Thrills period of Big Brother & The Holding Company. The set mainly consists of studio recordings of the songs recorded live for what became the LP known as Cheap Thrills. Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills was the original title of the album (I had always heard it was originally Sex, Drugs & Cheap Thrills). That title was rejected by the powers-that-be at Columbia for being too outrageous. CBS shortened it to just “Cheap Thrills“.

The liner notes are terrific. There are two fascinating and revealing essays by drummer Dave Getz, one on how the famous Robert Crumb cover came to be. I was surprised to find out what was intended by Robert to be the back cover ended up as the front cover. His original front cover (rejected by the band) was a cartoon drawing of the band but with photographs for the heads, hearkening back to a form of pop art practiced on a regular basis by Sixteen magazine on their covers back then.

The other liners essay is by Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane (like I have to remind you what band she was in). Grace provides a well-written and thoughtful commentary on Big Brother and that optimistic era.

The music is fantastic. I thought there might be a huge loss of energy with the band in the studio without the presence of an adoring audience. There’s not. The band blasts through these cuts with intense ferocity. There are 29 outtakes on these two CDs (25 previously unreleased) plus a bonus live recording of “Ball and Chain”.

Big Brother has always been my favorite backing band for Janis. I think their majestic rawness perfectly matched her intense vocal style. My friend and guitarist James Demeter was amused when one day I described the Big Brother guitar sound as being like hearing the screams and bellows of colossal wounded dinosaurs in a ferocious death battle. There are some spectacular examples of this on Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills.

I highly recommend this wonderful time trip into the past, a reminder of how great Big Brother & The Holding Company were in their prime. You won’t regret the purchase.

Rock on!