Sunday, July 14, 2013

Blind Faith -- "Had to Cry Today" (1969)

I'm taking the chance 
To see the wind in your eyes
While I listen
You say you can't reach me
But you want every word
To be free

Guitar World magazine recently named what it believed were the 20 greatest supergroups of all time.  Click here if you'd like to read it.

Here’s how Guitar World defined a supergroup:

1. There have to be at least three members.  (In other words, two big stars getting together and playing with more-or-less anonymous backing musicians is not a supergroup.)

2. They have to have released at least one album -- no all-star jams.

3. A majority of their band members have to have been in well-known bands before the supergroup formed.

4. A supergroup cannot be formed by a well-known musician joining a pre-existing band.

Blind Faith: superest supergroup?
I think that’s a pretty good definition.  Ideally, you’d like to see all the band’s members be stars – although it’s rare that every member of a supergroup is a star of equal magnitude.  (It’s like an all-star baseball team.  Everyone on an all-star team is recognized as a very good player, but not everyone is equally good – you always have a few superstars whose talents dwarf even other all-stars.)

Given, that who is the greatest rock supergroup of all time?

Guitar World says Cream, and there are others out there whose supergroup rankings are also topped by Cream.  There’s no doubt that Cream was a fabulous group.  But was Cream really a supergroup?

Eric Clapton was a member of the very successful Yardbirds before joining Cream, so he qualifies on that count.  The other members of Cream – bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker – came from the Graham Bond Organisation, which was a highly-respected British blues/jazz group that was not commercially successful and didn’t make much of an impression on the public before breaking up.  So I’m not sure Cream really qualifies as a supergroup.

Clapton and Baker’s next band, Blind Faith, certainly qualifies.  Clapton and Baker were certainly superstars on the basis of Cream alone.  The band’s keyboard player and lead vocalist, Steve Winwood, came to Blind Faith by way of Traffic (one of the greatest rock groups of all time) and the Spencer Davis Group, which wasn’t too shabby either.

Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton in 2007
The remaining member of Blind Faith, bassist Ric Grech, wasn’t nearly as famous as Clapton, Baker, or Winwood.  He came to the supergroup from Family, a progressive rock/psychedelic group that had several top ten albums in the UK, but sold very few records in the U.S.

But I don’t think having one less well-known member disqualifies Blind Faith from being a supergroup.  The other three members were much bigger stars, but Grech certainly was no amateur – and (fairly or unfairly) bass players are usually the least-noticed band members.  

I also think supergroups should have a relatively short life – one or two albums at most.  (Think Edna St. Vincent Millay:  “My candle burns at both ends/It will not last the night/But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends/It gives a lovely light!”)  Blind Faith released only one studio album – which was eponymously titled (of course) – and toured for only a few months before breaking up shortly after that album’s release.

The Blind Faith album sold half a million the first month after its release, and made it to #1 on both the American and British charts.  The original album cover featured a topless pubescent girl holding a vaguely phallic silver spaceship model.  That cover was replaced before the album was released in the U.S.

The original Blind Faith cover
Here's the story behind the album as told by photographer Bob Seidemann:

I received a phone call from Polydor Records' London office.  It was an assistant of Robert Stigwood, Clapton's manager.  Cream was over and Eric was putting a new band together.  The fellow on the phone asked if I would make a cover for the new unnamed group.  This was big time. It seems though the western world had for lack of a more substantial icon, settled on the rock and roll star as the golden calf of the moment. . . .
I could not get my hands on the image until out of the mist a concept began to emerge.  To symbolize the achievement of human creativity and its expression through technology, a space ship was the material object.  To carry this new spore into the universe innocence would be the ideal bearer, a young girl, a girl as young as Shakespeare's Juliet.
If she were too old it would be cheesecake -- too young and it would be nothing.  It was the beginning of the transition from girl to woman, that is what I was after.  That temporal point, that singular flare of radiant innocence.  Where is that girl?
I was riding the London tube . . . when the subway doors opened and she stepped into the car.  She was wearing a school uniform, plaid skirt, blue blazer, white socks and ball point pen drawings on her hands.  It was as though the air began to crackle with an electrostatic charge.  She was buoyant and fresh as the morning air.

Photographer Bob Seidemann
I approached her and said that I would like her to pose for a record cover for Eric Clapton's new band. Everyone in the car tensed up.
She said, "Do I have to take off my clothes?"  My answer was yes.  I gave her my card and begged her to call.  I would have to ask her parent's consent if she agreed.  When I got to Stigwood's office I called the flat and said that if this girl called not to let her off the phone without getting her phone number.  When I returned she had called and left her number.
[A friend and I] headed out to meet with the girl's parents.  It was a Mayfair address.  This was a swank part of town, class in the English sense of the word.
[We] made our presentation, I told my story, the parents agreed.  The girl on the tube train would not be the one, she was shy, she had just passed the point of complete innocence and could not pose.  Her younger sister had been saying the whole time, "Oh Mummy, Mummy, I want to do it, I want to do it."  She was glorious sunshine.  Botticelli's angel, the picture of innocence, a face which in a brief time could launch a thousand space ships. 

 . . . I called the image "Blind Faith" and Clapton made that the name of the band.  When the cover was shown in the trades it hit the market like a runaway train, causing a storm of controversy.  At one point the record company considered not releasing the cover at all.  It was Eric Clapton who fought for it. 
(Times have certainly changed, have they not?  What would happen today to parents who did something like this?)

The girl's identity remained a secret until 1994, when a British newspaper reporter tracked her down and wrote a story about her.

Mariora [Goschen], now a 36-year-old graphics programmer with an 11-year-old daughter, was on holiday  . . . in Big Sur, California, when I spoke to her.  "I have only just started to find the whole thing amusing," she said.  "At the time it was a nuisance, being recognized in the streets."

"The nudity didn't bother me.  I hardly noticed I had breasts. . . . [W]hen people tell me they can remember what they were doing when they first saw the cover, and the effect it had on them, I'm thrilled to bits."

Mariora Goschen as an adult
Guitar World ranks Blind Faith #7 on its list of the greatest supergroups.  The MSN Entertainment website also placed Blind Faith #6 in its top ten supergroup ranking. 

That’s WAY too low.  Ranking Blind Faith behind the Traveling Wilburys, Bad Company, Velvet Revolver, Audioslave, and Them Crooked Vultures is crazy – when you consider their superstar quotient and their musical output, none of those groups compares with Blind Faith.

I think the only classic supergroup that competes with Blind Faith for the #1 spot in the rankings is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.  David Crosby came from the Byrds, Graham Nash came from the Hollies, and Stephen Stills and Neil Young were alums of Buffalo Springfield – all of which were great bands.  

And all four of them were accomplished songwriters and musicians who contributed significantly to the group’s records – this wasn’t a case of one supergroup member being the equivalent of Napoleon, the pig who was more equal than the other animals in George Orwell’s Animal House.

L to R: Young, Nash, Crosby and Stills
I can’t argue with you if you think CSN&Y is the superest supergroup of all time.  But I’m going with Blind Faith.  

Blind Faith’s album – especially Steve Winwood's three compositions -- is like nothing else I’ve ever heard.  It really left you wanting more.  But the band self-destructed so quickly that we’ll never know what it could have been. 

Blind Faith was the rock-and-roll equivalent of James Dean – to borrow the famous line from the 1949 movie, Knock on Any Door, they lived hard, died young, and left a very good-looking corpse.    

Here’s the first track from the Blind Faith album, "Had to Cry Today":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

No comments:

Post a Comment