Smog Veil Records SV132CD
9 songs — 33 minutes
Here’s a real flashback for you. It’s not an acid flashback in most respects, but this album was recorded in Cleveland in 1967 as a parallel project by members of the James Gang, one of the most important groups in the era of the Summer Of Love.
The Schwartz-Fox ensemble featured two original Gang members: Drummer Jim Fox, whose previous group, The Outsiders, soared near the top of the charts with “Time Won’t Let Me,” and bassist Tom Kriss as well as Glenn Schwartz, Cleveland’s first recognized guitar hero, who joined the band shortly after splitting from military service.
Influenced by bluesmen Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson as well as B.B. King, James Cotton and others, they emerged from the University Circle neighborhood on the city’s East Side, a small oasis of hippies and free thinkers surrounded by neighborhoods that would erupt into race riots and civil unrest a few months later. As the James Gang, they followed the musical footprint of English invaders like the Yardbirds and Rolling Stones. On this one, however, they laid down a set of songs written by some of the biggest names in the blues world.
Sunday Morning Revival resulted after the success of jams at The Coffeehouse, a nearby hangout. The music you’ll hear here was captured in the middle of the night, and participants believed the tape to be lost for eternity about the same time that Schwartz left the James Gang for California, where he eventually joined another top act, Pacific Gas & Electric — to be replaced by one of his former guitar students, future Eagle Joe Walsh. (The pair reunited on stage at the Coachella Music Festival last year.) It was rediscovered about 25 years later when someone — even the band doesn’t know who — sent the cassette to Kriss out of the blue.
You’re able to listen to it now in because Florida-based Smog Veil Records has released it as its second entry in its Platters Du Cuyahoga series, a follow-up to Mr. Stress Blues Band Live At The Brick Cottage 1972-73. Harmonica player and vocalist Mr. Stress, aka Bill Miller, also features prominently on this recording, as does Kriss’ guitarist/vocalist brother Rich and keyboard player Mike Sands. Despite the age and origin, the sound is crisp and the music delivered in stereo.
A rapid-fire version of Sonny Boy II’s “Ninety Nine” opens the set, followed by B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel,” Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil,” written by Willie Dixon, before the only original cut on the disc, entitled “Sunday Morning Revival.” It’s literally 50 seconds long and is nothing more than the band tuning after a vocal introduction. Four more covers — Muddy’s “Long Distance Call,” Sonny Boy’s “Dissatisfied” and “Checkin’ On My Baby” and Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” — bring the set to a close.
On the whole, the album is an aural time capsule that captures the era well. However, like much of the music from that time, it’s raw and feels dated.
That said, however, Sunday Morning Revival has its merits in other areas. Released on CD and LP, it’s accompanied by a richly illustrated 16-page booklet written by Nick Blakey that captures the locale and era vividly and that includes extensive interviews with the people involved. In the CD version, the type used is about the same size as you’d find in a newspaper want ad, but worth the effort and eyestrain because of its detail about life in Cleveland at a time of civil discord. And if you’d like to read more, there’s an extended bibliography online at the Smog Veil website.
Available through most major online retailers, the blues here is faithfully delivered throughout, but the back story is far more interesting, especially in our current era of political unrest.