Saturday, July 28, 2012


Funny how this band was supposed to be the next big supergroup and redefine the country rock that the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers did on their albums (Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and Glided Palace Of Sin) but I could never get into their Picking Up The Pieces album at all although it still sits on my shelf gathering dust.

But over their history and with Rusty Young being the foundation that other vocalists and players came through  Poco's albums have been spotty and scattered all over the place.  It may have been a downer to know that The Eagles became the country rock darlings, after Poco begin their career that radio continues to play The Eagles all the time, whereas Poco is hardly heard of, unless it's Crazy Love or Heart Of The Night from Legend.

For my money The Very Best Of Poco (the original 2 record set) just about captured it all, the great, the good and the bland but I never forgave Sony Music for omitting Railroad Days off the CD when I had to go find it on the bland From The Inside album.  It's also interesting to know that their best album was the live Deliverin' with A Man Like Me and the record actually does a good job capturing Poco on a great night too.  Ditto that for the Epic contractual Poco Live as well, although later Sony Music took the best of moments for their Setlist Series.  The Epic years I think the S/T album probably was their best studio album, From The Inside their biggest disappointment and Cantamos their most underrated.  Losing Jim Messina may have hurt them but in the long run (to quote The Eagles) Paul Cotton was a valuable member who added a bit more rocking country to the spark that sometimes bogged  Richie Furay down at times although Crazy Eyes may have been the best album featuring Furay before he moved on to the illfated Sother/Hillman/Furay band. (Falling In Love would have sounded pretty good on a Poco album too)

Most of the Poco stuff with Furay remains in print but once he left, the major labels either shuffled the other albums on various labels (One Way, Wounded Bird) or just deleted them altogether.  Seven lacks direction after Furay left but Cantomos was much better, their most underrated album I think. After Cantamos, Poco moved over to ABC for Head Over Heels or Cantamos part 2 but with an eye for the radio with the hit single Keep On Tryin' one of most beautiful songs they ever came up with.  The record sold better than the previous, but nevertheless could be found in cutout bins in the 70s.  The CD is a little bit harder to find but worth it if you come across it.  Tim Schmit left for the Eagles (who replaced Randy Meisner who was part of the original Poco lineup) and for the rest of the ABC/MCA years the songwriting would be between Paul Cotton and Rusty Young.  At times they would get some FM cuts that get played (Rose Of Cimarron-why wasn't this a bigger hit?) but then they made their biggest selling album to date with Legend, which was more MOR rock than what Poco was better known for and scored a number 2 hit with Crazy Love and another top ten with Cotton's Heart Of The Night.

The MCA era again had some singles worth noting (Under The Gun)  but most of the albums that I heard were kinda boring, Blue & Gray a concept album that is many a fans favorite if they heard it.  Cowboys & Englishmen was a strange covers album but that didn't sell  and Poco went to Atlantic for two albums, Ghost Town which I thought was their best since Head Over Heals and Inamorata a album to which Richard Landis can be blamed for imploding the band since he didn't like the rhythm section very much and the album was clash of styles although some of the original members did help out on backing vocals to make it their most Eagles sounding album but it didn't sell despite a radio ready single that could have done wonders had their label promoted it better (This Old Flame).  And then it was over.

For what's it worth Legacy doesn't try to recapture the early years when the guys who made Pickin Up The Pieces came back to this reunion album but it is a good contemporary album of the times which gave them a top 30 song with Call It Love and to a lesser extent Nothin' To Hide.  Paul Cotton would return later on for the more Nashville sounding Running Horse.

With all the choices out there for the Ultimate Collection or Best ofs, The Ultimate Collection (Hip O) tries to do its best to give the best overview but it only gives four props to the Epic years but does add some Atlantic and RCA sides. The Essential Poco pretty much deals with the Epic/RCA era with only Crazy Love and Heart Of The Night  from ABC/MCA.  Before I could find Head Over Heels, I ended up getting the 20th Century Masters version since that album had most of the ABC/MCA stuff I listened to.  I don't think they ever topped The Very Best Of Poco when it came out as a 2 record set but since they never did correct it the right way, the reader is on his own when it comes to deciding what to get for the Sony Years Poco.

I don't believe Poco was a minor league band, they had great songs and good albums but they always seem to have a label indifference  and the only time it ever worked for them was Legend when Crazy Love made it up the charts. Bad luck or bad timing or bad producers, Poco has continued to stand with the best of what The Eagles or any other harmony driven country rock band could do.  The Sony Music albums with Richie Furay remain out there to be heard, the rest you can keep an open eye out for the Atlantic/Rhino or One Way/Wounded Bird reissues that didn't stay in print very long.  Or the get the vinyl.

The best overview:
Ultimate Collection (Hip-O)
The Very Best Of Poco (Epic vinyl)
20th Century Masters (MCA)

Studio albums of note:
Poco (Epic 1970)
Crazy Eyes (Epic 1974)
Cantamos (Epic 1974)
Head Over Heels (ABC 1975)
Ghost Town (Atlantic 1982)

Live albums:
Deliverin' (Epic 1971)
Poco Live (Epic 1976)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Ram Jam

A big hit wonder band with Black Betty but the metal heads out there say that their second album Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Ram is a headbanger's classic.  Martin Popoff gave it a perfect 10 on his metal meter.

The single actually goes back to Bartlett's early band Starstruck who released it under their TrackStar label (B side I Should Have Known) but Epic put it out under the Ram Jam name and Bartlett recruited newer members to make their uneven first album.  It didn't help with production from Kastner/Katz who were associated with the Bubblegum pop of Buddah Records of the late 60s.  Ram Jam the album had some nice numbers (Right On The Money, 404 and even a cover of Tuff Darts All For The Love Of Rock And Roll) but the song selection was spotty and most of the album was forgettible as well as the failed followup single Keep Your Hands On The Wheel.

The album sold enough for Epic to give the go ahead on the followup and with a new guitarist at hand (Jimmy Santoro) Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Ram came out to very little fanfair and a much heavier sound and stinging leads from Santoro to give people a headache.  Poorly recorded (lotta treble, not so much bass) Pretty Poison was another failed single.  The album has its moments such as a moody Turnpike, a pop stab with Saturday Night a song that most didn't like but I thought it was the best song of the album and the punk sounding Gone Wild but Santoro's leads overwhelm the whole thing.  Despite kudos from a Geoff Barton and Popoff, most reviews were negative and Epic pulled the plug on the band and they fell apart.
Howie Blauvelt died in 1993 from a heart attack at age 44, Peter Charles in 2003.

Both albums can be found on CD, Collectibles released the first album under Golden Classics, whereas the import Rock Candy reissued Portrait in 2006, remastered by Jon Astley but still remains a ear piercing headache although it has its moments.

Ram Jam (Epic 1977-later reissued Collectibles 1994)  C+
Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Ram (Epic 1978 reissued Rock Candy 2006) C+
Very Best Of Ram Jam (CBS import of both albums on one disc) NR

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Linn County (or a brief history of Iowa rock)

Iowa rock and roll is not exactly a big deal in the music world.  Sure Iowa has have their share of bands that made it on the regional side of things.  Some bands toil in obscurity for their whole lives (Townedgers come to mind) while some managed to make a hit and then fade off.  And then there were some that became legends in their own time, The Everly Brothers started at a Shenandoah station, Andy Williams was born in Wall Lake and of course went on to a steller recording career.  The most popular band that still makes its home in Des Moines is Slipknot, Corey Taylor has done marvelous things in that band and Stone Sour.

There are legends that still hang around in the area for radio and blues music, Bob Dorr and The Blue Band, an Iowa staple since 1981 and of course Billy Lee Janey and son Bryce continue to rock the blues away.  The late Tommy Bolin made his name in Zephyr, then The James Gang and later Deep Purple, was born up in Sioux City Iowa, his brother formed DVC which made one album for the Japanese based Alfa in 1980.  At that time The Hawks (no relation to Levon and The Hawks or Ronnie Hawkins) scored a CBS deal and made a power pop first album that like The Brains, can't seem to find its way on CD.  Columbia botched them up by sticking their best song Need Your Love a B side to Right Away which bombed. Their S/T titled album sold enough to warrant another CBS album 30 Seconds Over Otho.  But they did managed to get Clarence Clemons to wail away on saxophone on another failed single.  Only CD that ever came out was for their aborted third album Perfect World Radio that Not Lame issued in 2003.

The Iowa Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is a lot more lenient when it comes to inducting musicians into their museum unlike the joke that is the Rock n Roll Hall Of Fame of Jann Wanner and his money friends.  Many local bands here that are in it are probably too obscure for Wanner to know if they exist. The Pete Klint Quintet is one example: they made a few singles that a couple that got picked up for distribution by Mercury and Atlantic/Dunwich, Gonn's Blackout Of Gretely (Emir) may have been the best garage rocker of them all, even to the point that it wasn't included on the original Nuggets album on Elektra.  Lenny Kaye saying that the song was too long but then again, he included The Amboy Dukes Baby Please Don't Go in all of it's five minute and thirty six second glory. (Blackout was only 4:33).

Perhaps the best known band prior to Slipknot had to be The Linn County Blues Band led by Stephen Miller.  In the late 60s TLCBB was into the hippy dippy blues freakouts that was the rage at the time.  They were propping up a album at Chess Studios for Dunwich Records when they were snapped up by Mercury Records for fifty thousand dollars, a very high price for a local band.  Their first album S/T (known as Proud Flesh Soothseer) provided one single, a cover of Think (Mercury 72852) which didn't chart. Many consider the first album to be their best.  And it's the only one out there on CD.

Fever Shot, the second album is best known for the title track which got played a lot on Clyde Clifford's Beaker Street show.  They covered Little Richard's Girl Can't Help It and Too Far Gone may have been picked as a single but outside of the title track, I found the album to somewhat dull but then again I may have been put off by the scratchy album that it skipped on a couple of the songs off that album.  Fever Shot the track was a FM underground classic.

With the third album Till The Break Of Dawn, Linn County got switched from Mercury to the lesser priority and prestigious  Phillips and from what I heard of that album it was them going back to a more straight forward blues with a country hint on another failed single, the swinging Let The Music Begin (Phillips 40644).  The Phillips album is very hard to find with prices commanding 40 dollars or more.  Miller left to join Elvin Bishop for three albums on Fillmore and Epic and then moving over to Grinderswitch later on.

Linn County was inducted into the Iowa Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2004.  Stephen Miller died in 2003
Linn County Singles

Cave Song/Think  Mercury 72858
Lower Lemons/Fast Days  Mercury 72882
Fever Shot/Girl Can't Help It   Mercury 72907
Let The Music Begin/Wine Take Me Away  Phillips 40644

Stephen Miller 45
Sea Cruise/It's A Fact Of Life   Phillips 40669



Proud Flesh Soothseer (Mercury 1968)  B+  (later reissued on Kismet UK)
Fever Shot (Mercury 1969) C
Till The Break Of Dawn (Phillips 1970) B
Live (K-Tel Download Only 2010) NR