Friday, October 11, 2013

Blood, Sweat & Tears -- "Go Down Gamblin'" (1971)

Down in a crap game
I've been losing at roulette 
Cards are bound to break me
But I ain't busted yet 

If you read the previous 2 or 3 lines, you know about my annual business trips to Las Vegas.  (If you didn't read the previous 2 or 3 lines, click here and you can remedy that.)

I do better than 99% of the gamblers who go in search of Lady Luck at Vegas casinos.  That's because I don't gamble when I go to Las Vegas -- I don't bet a penny.

Years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, my friend Rick and I used to hop on a cheap bus and head to Reno to pay blackjack every so often.

We were disciples of Professor Edward O. Thorp, whose groundbreaking book, Beat the Dealer (which was published in 1962), proved that it might be possible to overcome the house's advantage in blackjack by counting cards.

Viva Edward O. Thorp!
Thorp's strategy worked better in Reno casinos than in casinos in Las Vegas or most other cities because there were a number of casinos in Reno that used only one deck for blackjack.  (The more decks the dealer shuffles together to deal blackjack, the less significant is a card counter's edge -- also, the harder it is to count accurately.)

Rick and I had only one rule when choosing a blackjack table: always choose a table with a female dealer.  You're no more likely to win or lose with a female dealer, but we liked women better than men.  (And we still do.)

After we had played for half an hour or so, Rick would admit something to the dealer.

"You've probably figured this out by now, so I might as well be honest," he would say in a solemn voice.  "We are" -- dramatic pause -- "professional gamblers."

This never failed to get a laugh from our dealer.  I seriously doubt that it caused the casino management to monitor our play more closely -- if anything, the casinos probably dismissed us as clueless rubes.

Which I sort of was.  But Rick was pretty good.  He rarely climbed back on the homeward-bound Greyhound with less money than he came with.  Often he would go home up $100 or $200.

That may not sound like a lot of money, but we were playing mostly to amuse ourselves.  Also, to take advantage of the 99-cent "steak"-and-egg breakfasts the casinos offered during the wee hours of the night.

Viva cheap steak-and-eggs breakfasts!
The last time I bet in Las Vegas was in 1998.  The 49ers (led by Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young) were playing the Redskins on Monday Night Football, and were giving only seven points.  I was sure the Niners would PONE the Redskins, so I bet $10 on the favorites.

The 'Skins took a quick 7-0 lead, and I was kicking myself.  But the Niners ended up winning 45-10, proving what a smart guy I was.

Viva Steve Young!
So the next day, I go to the sports book to collect.  In the line next to me is a young guy who is basically a gopher for a client of mine.  (I'm guessing he made maybe twenty grand a year.)

We're congratulating each other on being such smart football guys.  I pick up my $10 in winnings, and he picks up his $500 in winnings.

That's right -- he had bet $500.  And yes, even though I had won, I did feel like a huge loser with my stupid $10 bet.

"Go Down Gamblin'" is on Blood, Sweat & Tears 4, the group's fourth studio album.

Blood, Sweat & Tears was founded by musical genius Al Kooper in 1967.  The group's first album, Child Is Father to the Man, is simply fabulous -- one of the most distinctive albums of its era, and still a delight to listen to today.

But some of the members of BS&T didn't think Kooper was the right guy to be the band's frontman, and he was forced out of the group after that album was released.

BS&T considered Laura Nyro, Stephen Stills, and Alex Chilton as replacements for Kooper.  I don't see Stills being a good fit for the group, but Nyro and Chilton (he was post-Box Tops but pre-Big Star at the time) would have been very interesting choices.

Judy Collins reportedly recommended David Clayton-Thomas, and he was given the job.  The group's eponymous second album -- the first to feature Clayton-Thomas -- made it to number one on the album charts thanks to its three hit singles ("You've Made Me So Very Happy," "And When I Die," and "Spinning Wheel," all of which reached either #2 or #1 on the singles charts).

That album, which was produced by James William Guercio (who had previously produced the Buckinghams and would eventually produce nine albums for Chicago), beat out Abbey Road for the "Album of the Year" Grammy.

David Clayton-Thomas (third from left)
and the rest of Blood, Sweat & Tears
If David Clayton-Thomas were an actor, you would say he was a "scene chewer" -- which is a term applied to a thespian who overacts.

Clayton-Thomas growls, he yells, he sings falsetto, he interjects "Lord, Lord!" and he generally goes way over the top in his BS&T recordings.

If you don't believe me, I offer "Go Down Gamblin'" as Exhibit A.

But despite Clayton-Thomas's chewing the scenery, it's not a bad song -- to the contrary.

Clayton-Thomas's 2010 autobiography
BS&T's brass and rhythm sections are technically very accomplished and they really cut loose on this recording.  The horns are used very effectively to fill in the gaps in the first two verses and choruses when Clayton-Thomas isn't singing.  But all that is merely a warmup for the eight-bar bridge that begins at 3:08 and leads into the final chorus.

It's barely 15 seconds long, but it's the most powerful 15 seconds of horn playing I've ever heard on a rock record.

It should come as no surprise that Clayton-Thomas wrote "Go Down Gamblin'" -- the lyrics of the song are just as over the top as the singing.  If you don't believe me, I offer as Exhibit B the lines that follow the lines quoted as the beginning of this post:

'Cause I've been called a natural lover
By that lady over there
Honey, I'm just a natural gambler
But I try to do my share

Here's "Go Down Gamblin'" -- play it LOUD!

Here's a link you can use to order the song from Amazon:

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