Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pomplamoose -- "Mister Sandman" (2009)

Give him a lonely heart like Pagliacci
And lots of wavy hair like Liberace

The Chordettes, a female vocal quartet that was formed in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in 1954, had their biggest hit with "Mr. Sandman" in 1954.  Obviously, there was a lot that they didn't know about Liberace.

The Chordettes
"Mr. Sandman" was subsequently recorded by Chet Atkins, Marvin Gaye, The Chipmunks, the Supremes, the Andrews Sisters, and Linda McCartney.  Perhaps the most famous cover version of the song was the one recorded by Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt in 1980.

Pomplamoose recorded "Mister Sandman" (not "Mr. Sandman") in 2009, and their version was a perfect choice for the soundtrack of this 2010 Toyota Avalon TV commercial:

I don't know quite what to make of Pomplamoose.  Their music is foamy and frothy and lighter than air.  It's twee squared.  Twee with a capital "T"!  Twee on steroids!  But the 337,000 subscribers to the duo's YouTube channel don't seem to mind.

Even their name is twee.  Pomplamoose is a play on the French word for grapefruit, pamplemousse, which sounds even more ridiculous than the typical French word.

The band's two members -- they're a couple in real life -- are Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn (née Natalie Dawn Knutsen).  If you don't believe they're as twee as twee can be, check out Pomplamoose performing "Jingle Bells" on this Hyundai TV commercial from a couple of Christmases ago:

Nataly, who does most of the singing, is probably a perfectly nice young woman.  But Nataly's style of singing -- affected and cutesy and almost childlike -- has become all too prevalent among young female indie singers.  This kind of singing needs to stop!  (As does Jack's insufferably goofy on-camera behavior.  No juggling -- please!)

I think the main problem with Pomplamoose is that Jack and Nataly both went to Stanford University.  (Jack majored in music, while Nataly studied art and French literature.)

Jack and Nataly: twee and tweer
Jack and Nataly are typical of pop musicians who went to Ivy League schools or quasi-Ivy League schools like Stanford.  Bands like Pomplamoose and Vampire Weekend (whose members went to Columbia) and others of that ilk are generally (1) too smart, (2) too affluent, (3) too self-aware, and (4) too well-adjusted to be rock stars.

Rock stars are generally angry -- perhaps because they grew up poor, had rotten parents, or were social misfits in high school.  From all outward appearances, Pomplamoose's members have absolutely nothing to be angry about -- so you end up with songs like "Mister Sandman."  

Ex-Harvard student Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine -- whose music is an angry as its name indicates -- may appear to be an exception to my rule, but RATM's anger is mostly just political correctness.  It's intellectual anger, not the kind of deep personalized anger that drives you to do great things just to show all the assh*les who dissed you when you were in high school how stupid they were.

These two graduated from Stanford?
It's not surprising that Pomplamoose picked "Mister Sandman" to cover, given that its lyrics feature a reference to the famous opera, Pagliacci.  That's about as intellectual as pop music gets.  (I don't recall any operatic references in "Hound Dog" or "Summertime Blues.")

Speaking of Stanford, I visited the Stanford campus recently.  As I've explained elsewhere, I stayed in San Francisco when my family flew back from our recent vacation there -- I was flying to San Diego on business the next night.  Before heading to the airport, I drove to Palo Alto and rented a very nice KHS hybrid bike from the Campus Bike Shop, a large, well-stocked, and privately owned bike store that's located smack dab in the middle of the Stanford campus.

Here is a picture of some of the bikes in the Stanford rental fleet:

Stanford has a very attractive campus.  I didn't think it had a lot of personality -- it was too tidy and uniform-looking to be all that interesting -- but it seemed like a very pleasant environment for its students.  And it is a very bike-friendly place -- a lot of students ride bikes to class:

Here's a view of one of the classroom buildings at Stanford.  You can see the Hoover Tower (named after Stanford grad Herbert Hoover) in the background:

Unfortunately, there were no good bike trails nearby.  I rode through Palo Alto's residential neighborhoods for several miles, crossing over into Mountain View before finally coming to the paved Stevens Creek Trail.  I took it until it ended in Shoreline Park, where I had a view of the marshy southern parts of San Francisco Bay.

Here's a shot of Stevens Creek and the trail:

 The trail runs along the western edge of Moffett Federal Airfield, a former naval air station that is now part of NASA's Ames Research Center.  

Hangar One at Moffett was built to house the USS Macon, which was launched in 1933 and was one of two largest helium-filled airships ever built.  (It was just a few feet shorter than the hydrogen-filled Hindenburg.)  Hangar One's floor covered eight acres and could have accommodated six football fields.    It's almost 200 feet high.  Hangar One is not only a big-ass hangar, it's one of the biggest-ass structures in the world.

Here's the Macon moored outside of Hangar One:

The Discovery Channel show, MythBusters, used another big-ass hangar at Moffett to disprove the old myth that it is impossible to fold a sheet of paper in half more than seven times.  (They started with a piece of paper that was as big as a football field.)

Moffitt Airfield is also home to a Boeing 767 owned by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.  (Google is headquartered in Mountain View.)

Here's Pomplamoose's "Sandman" video.  It's a good example of Pomplamoose's "VideoSongs," which are completely transparent.  Pomplamoose doesn't do any lip-synching -- for voice or for instruments.  If you hear a sound, you will see it -- and vice versa.  So when Nataly's voice is overdubbed to make it sound like she is singing three-part harmony, you will see three Natalys singing.  (There's a short interview with Jack and Nataly after the song, which I found unbelievably annoying.  How did these two get into Stanford?  They act like twelve-year-olds with room-temperature IQs.)

Click here to buy "Sandman" from Amazon:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nortec Collective: "I Count The Ways" (2010)

I ride my bike . . .
I shift the gears and let go . . .
Up to Golden Gate Park
On to Ocean Beach

To paraphrase William Cowper (not to mention Bono), 2 or 3 lines moves in mysterious ways.

Sometimes I hear a song and I'm suddenly compelled to write about it -- the song is the sine qua non of the post.  

Sometimes I have a story to tell, and I search for a song that fits the story. 

And sometimes I just have some pictures I don't want to go to waste.

This post started out as a photo-driven one -- I still have a lot of photos from my family's recent San Francisco vacation that I want to share.  (As you know if you're a regular 2 or 3 lines reader, I've recently returned home from a 12-day pleasure-business-pleasure trip.  The first part of that trip was a brief family vacation in San Francisco, where I had lived 30 years ago, before any of my children were born.)

Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park
But when I was searching for a song to feature in the post, I stumbled across one that was utterly unfamiliar . . . but utterly perfect.  So perfect, in fact, that I found it a little disconcerting.  (More about that song a little later.)

After I took my family to the San Francisco Airport for their return flight to Washington, DC, I spent much of the day on a rented bike, riding through Golden Gate Park until I reached Ocean Beach -- and then riding through the Presidio and on to the Golden Gate Bridge.

One of my first stops was Lloyd Lake, which features a portico that is all that remains of a Nob Hill mansion that was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

Many occult occurrences supposedly occurred at Lloyd Lake.  It is the place where the Kim Novak character in Hitchcock's 1958 movie, Vertigo, becomes possessed.  (Hitchcock didn't actually show the lake -- but the description of the site is very specific.)

I then rode all the way to Ocean Beach, and remembered the very good meal I had with my family at the Beach Chalet the first night of our San Francisco vacation.

I rode back into the park past some large shrubs with big purple flowers -- Echium candicans, or "pride of Madeira":

Here's a closeup of the pride of Madeira's flowers:

There are two large and once-functional windmills near the western edge of the park.  Together, the two windmills pumped well over a million gallons of water per day.

The Dutch Windmill is surrounded by the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden:

Queen Wilhelmina was the queen regnant of the Netherlands from 1890 until 1948.  She is the longest-reigning monarch in Dutch history, and was a symbol of Dutch resistance to the Nazis during World War II.

Tulips weren't the only flowers that war blooming near the windmill:

I'd never seen a flower that was this shade of blue before.  I think it's a pericallis hybrid:

Next, I headed east and stopped at the bison paddock.  There have been bison in Golden Gate Park since 1891.  Today the paddock holds ten bison:

I continued east until I reached Arguello Boulevard, where I turned north and headed for the Presidio.  The Spanish originally fortified the Presidio in 1776, and it passed to Mexico when that country gained its independence in 1821.  The United States took it over in 1848, and the Presidio was a military base until 1994, when the National Park Service took it over.

The Presidio is about three square miles of primo real estate -- the views of the Golden Gate are truly spectacular:

I made it all the way on to the Golden Gate Bridge itself before turning around and riding back to the park:

After turning in my very nice rental bike, I drove to the Lower Haight (as opposed to the Upper Haight, also known as Haight-Ashbury) and replenished my precious bodily fluids at the Toronado Pub:

The Toronado is a little hole-in-the-wall bar with a spectacular selection of Belgian and other beers on tap.  (It had hundreds of tap handles hanging from the walls, ready for action at a moment's notice.)  Here's just a portion of its menu board that shows some of the Belgian beers that were available when I visited:

I chose a De Koninck, which is brewed in Antwerp:

As the lyrics quoted at the beginning of this post indicate, the singer of "I Count The Ways" is also a biker who rides through Golden Gate Park all the way to Ocean Beach.  The singer then headed east and rode through the Western Addition after leaving the park, ending up in the Mission District.

The Western Addition borders the Lower Haight, so the "I Count The Ways" rider might also have stopped at the Toronado on the way.

The Mission District is directly south of downtown San Francisco, and is home to the oldest building in San Francisco, Mission Dolores (which was built in 1791).

The neighborhood is San Francisco's biggest Latino enclave -- large numbers of Mexican immigrants moved into the Mission after World War II, and many Central and South Americans have subsequently settled there.

"I Count The Ways" was recorded by a group of musicians who formed in Tijuana, Mexico, so it's not surprising that the singer of the song winds up in the Mission.

The Nortec Collective was a musical collective that got together in Tijuana around the turn of the century.  It seems to have broken up into various solo and duo acts.

"I Count The Ways" was recorded by Ramón Amezcua and Pepe Mogt, who are known as Bostich+Fussible.  Amezcua (who studied dentistry -- orthodontics, to be specific -- before becoming a musician) has been called the "Godfather of Nortec."  He has collaborated with a number of film directors, visual artists, authors, and other musicians.  (You fancy, huh?)

"Nortec" is a combination of two very different musical genres -- norteño (a traditional rural Mexican musical genre that features accordion and guitar instrumentation) and electronica.  That sounds like a very odd combination, and it is -- the end result is something that sounds like a combination of disco and bossa nova and a few other things.  It's pretty hypnotic stuff.

Kylee Swenson Gordon
The singer on this track is Kylee Swenson Gordon, who handles vocals for a San Francisco pop/electronica band called the Loquats.  (The loquat is a fruit-bearing evergreen native to China.  It sounds like it should be related to the kumquat, but I don't think the two plants are close relatives.)  I'm not sure if suggested the bike rider's route, or whether Bostich+Fussible are devotees of two-wheeling on the streets of San Francisco.

Here's "I Count The Ways":

Use this link if you'd like to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Talking Heads -- "Artists Only" (1978)

I'm painting, I'm painting again
I'm painting, I'm painting again . . .
All my pictures are confused

I'm of the belief that you should visit at least one museum whenever you travel to a large city.  After all, culture is good for you!  (Sort of like cod liver oil.)

So on my family's recent trip to San Francisco, we spent one morning at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (or "SFMOMA") -- which is probably second only to the New York Museum of Modern Art when it comes to American museums of modern art.

I'm betting the NYMOMA coffee shop doesn't offer a cake that looks like a Mondrian painting:

SFMOMA ain't cheap -- we're talking $18 per ticket.  (I'm spoiled by living in Washington, DC, where the National Gallery of Art and all seven of the Smithsonian art museums are free.)  I thought we should stay until the place closed to get our money's worth, but the rest of the family demurred when lunchtime rolled around.

SFMOMA was located upstairs in the War Memorial Veterans Building from its founding in 1935 until 1995, when it moved to a dramatic new building located in the SOMA (South of Market [Street]") neighborhood near the city's convention center.   SFMOMA's collection has doubled in size since it was built, so the museum will close in June and stay closed until 2016, when a major expansion of the building will be complete.  

Here's the exterior of SFMOMA as it looks today:

Here's a depiction of what the new addition will look like:

The day we visited, SFMOMA was featuring 40 pieces from a collection given to the museum 15 years ago by collectors Vicki and Kent Logan.  (The Logans still own some 900 works of contemporary art, many of which are housed in a private museum that stands next to their house in Vail.)

The Logan Collection at SFMOMA contains works by well-known contemporary artists like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst, as well as a number of paintings by Chinese artists.  

Here's Warhol's Double Jackie (1964):

Here's Amylamine (1993), one of Damien Hirst's thousand or so "spot" paintings (which were actually painted by his assistants):

(Hirst is notorious for any number of provocative creations.  Beyond Belief was a platinum human skull adorned with diamonds that weighed over 1100 carats -- which were valued at over $22 million.  A Thousand Years consisted of a large glass box enclosing a severed cow's head and maggots who fed on the cow's head before turning into flies, who reproduced and started the cycle anew -- unless they were killed by an "Insect-O-Cutor" bug zapper placed inside the box.  )

Here's an untitled 1989 painting by Christopher Wool:

Chinese artist Liu Wei's 1990 work, Two Drunk Painters, seems to be saying something about Chairman Mao:

Here's a 1960 Mark Rothko painting titled No. 14, 1960:

Remember the Mondrian cake?  The SFMOMA café also offers a piece of toast modeled on No. 14, 1960:

No. 14, 1960 is positively cheery compared to the paintings in the fourteen paintings in the Rothko Chapel in Houston, which feature dark colors plus plain old black.  I once spent a three-hour college class sitting in the Rothko Chapel staring at these paintings, which have been called "impenetrable fortresses" of color and "massive, imposing visions of darkness."  Rothko never saw his paintings as they were finally installed in the chapel.  After working on these paintings for six years, Rothko committed suicide just before the chapel opened.  I'm only surprised he didn't do it sooner.

Here are some of the Rothko Chapel paintings.  It was bad enough that I had to sit in the chapel for the entire three-hour duration of the class.  Talk about sensory deprivation . . . and check out those comfy benches you have to sit on.  

My personal favorite was probably Japanese artist's Takashi Murakami's 1999 painting, Super Nova, which features cartoonish-looking mushroom creatures -- presumably a reference to the mushroom clouds that once rose over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  

Here's that painting, which is almost 10 feet tall and almost 34 feet wide:

Here's a detail from Super Nova:

We were at the museum about a week too early to view Christian Marclay's The Clock (2010), a video installation that is composed of thousands of clips from old and new movies that have been carefully edited into a 24-hour-long montage that matches the film images to real time, minute for minute. 

You can get in line during regular museum hours and wait your turn for one of the 81 seats in the installation -- it looks like wait times have been ranging from 15 to 45 minutes or so.  Once you get in, you can watch for as long as you like.  

If you think you want to watch the entire 24 hours of The Clock, SFMOMA is offering 24-hour screenings on six different dates.  

Here's a seven-minute excerpt from The Clock -- it includes clips from TV shows (including Mission Impossible, The Prisoner and Twin Peaks) and movies (including The Sting, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Crocodile Dundee). 

Slaking one's thirst for contemporary art can give you quite an appetite, non?  So after leaving SFMOMA, we headed for Yank Sing and chowed down on Chinese dim sum,  including exquisite Shanghai soup dumplings (xiao long bao).  These dumplings consist of a ball of minced pork -- plus a spoonful of hot soup -- inside a pleated flour-dough wrapping, which is steamed.    

The New York Times described the process of making Shanghai dumplings as "a labor-intensive balancing act of timing, texture, and temperature."  A lot go can wrong along the way, but Yank Sing cranks these bad boys out with great aplomb:

Shanghai soup dumplings
"Artists Only" is from the Talking Heads' second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978).  I played that album a lot when I lived in San Francisco in the early eighties, so it's only fitting that I feature it in a post about my return to the most beautiful city on earth over 30 years later.

Click here to listen to "Artists Only":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

James Taylor -- "Machine Gun Kelly" (1971)

You'd better watch out Machine Gun Kelly
Careful of what you do now
If you keep listening to your old lady
Ain't no telling what'll happen to you now

Good advice -- unfortunately, George "Machine Gun" Kelly (who was born George Kelly Barnes) didn't take it.  As a result, he ended up in the federal penitentiary on Alcatraz Island.

My family and I visited Alcatraz Island on our recent trip to San Francisco.  "The Rock" is only a short ferry ride from the Fisherman's Wharf area, and is a very prominent feature of San Francisco Bay.

Here's how Alcatraz looks from Coit Tower, which stands on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco:

The Alcatraz federal prison was open only from 1934 to 1963, but it looms very large in the public's imagination -- partly because of the notorious criminals who were incarcerated there (including not only Machine Gun Kelly but also Al Capone, Robert "Birdman of Alcatraz" Stroud, and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis) and partly because no one successfully escaped from Alcatraz.  (Five of the 36 men who attempted to escape from Alcatraz did make it off the island, but are presumed to have drowned in the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay.)

We travelled to Alcatraz on the one and only hybrid ferry operating in this country, the "Hornblower Hybrid":

Here's what Alcatraz looks like from the ferry:

Alcatraz is quite close to San Francisco, as the next photo shows.  Former prisoners talked about how maddening it was to hear the sounds of music and laughter from the city as they lay in their beds:

Back to the story of Machine Gun Kelly . . .

George Barnes was the son of a well-to-do Memphis insurance agent and his wife.  He became a bootlegger at an early age, but his criminal career really took off when he met his second wife, Kathryn.  (George was her fourth husband.)

Kathryn Kelly had a real talent for public relations.  She bought George a .45-caliber Thompson submachine gun like this one at a pawn shop:

Pretty soon, people in the Southwest began to tell stories of a bank robber who signed his name in bullet holes on billboards and bank walls after his holdups.  Kathryn networked with other criminals by handing out spent cartridges from George's machine gun as souvenirs.

Katherine Kelly
Kelly listened to his old lady when she dreamed up a bold plan to kidnap Charles Urschel, an Oklahoma City oil millionaire.  The Kellys eventually collected a $200,000 ransom from Urschel's family, then released him unharmed.

But the brand-new "Lindbergh Law" - enacted that same year in response to the shocking abduction and murder of Charles Lindbergh's baby -- made kidnapping a federal crime, and the FBI was quickly on the Kellys' trail.

Three months after the kidnapping, FBI agents and local police tracked the couple to a Memphis hideout and arrested them without a shot being fired.   The Memphis chief of police described the arrest in these words:

When Kelly looked into the muzzle of a sawed-off shotgun in the hands of a Memphis detective sergeant, there was a thin yellow fluid that began to rise up the canal of his spinal column, in much the fashion that mercury rises in a thermometer on an exceedingly hot day, and he immediately dropped his revolver and submitted quietly to arrest.

The Kellys in court
Kelly never shot anyone -- in fact, he never even fired at anyone -- but thanks in part to Kathryn's efforts, he had become one of the most famous and feared criminals in America.  The couple were tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison within two weeks of their arrest.

Only a few days later, the Federal Bureau of Prisons purchased Alcatraz Island from the U.S. military, and converted the existing military prison on the island to a maximum-security federal penitentiary.  In 1934, Kelly became one of the first inmates to be jailed at Alcatraz when he and a number of other prisoners were transported there by train from the prison at Leavenworth, Kansas.

Kelly's mug shot
Kelly spent 17 years at Alcatraz.  He was a model inmate and was given the nickname "Pop Gun Kelly" by other prisoners.  In 1951, he was transferred back to Leavenworth, where he died three years later of a heart attack at the age of 59.

Kathryn was released from prison in 1958, and worked as a bookkeeper at an Oklahoma prison until she died in 1985.  While in prison, she wrote these lines -- presumably about her husband:

My heart is numb, yet aching with the need of you.
Grim, stark sadness dims everything I try to do
That banner in courage I carried fell apart
The want of you is like no other thing, dear heart

"Machine Gun Kelly" was released in 1971 on James Taylor's third and most successful album, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.  It was written by Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar, a famed session guitarist, songwriter, and producer who has worked with not only Taylor but also Carole King, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, and Don Henley.

Here's a live performance of "Machine Gun Kelly":

Click below to order the song from Amazon:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Electric Flag -- "She Should Have Just" (1968)

I knew she thought she was 
Doing me a big favor
By loving me just once
And then being a good neighbor

Ladies, that is NOT doing a man a big favor.  No, no, NO -- it's just the opposite.  It's about the worst thing you can possibly do.  Trust me on this one.)

When I started writing this blog, I said that it was more about the music than it was about me.  Obviously, that was a big-ass lie.  

On occasion, 2 or 3 lines does focus much more on the featured song than on the usual autobiographical tales told by this idiot, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.  (Paraphrasing the "Bard of Avon" is always a good way to give a blog a certain intellectual aura despite the steady diet of profane rap lyrics and Kim Kardashian pics that constitute the daily bread of 2 or 3 lines readers.)

But before we get down to the Electric Flag and "She Should Have Just," let's get my family back to our home base in San Francisco after our recent excursion to Marin County.  

We'll pick up where we left off -- enjoying a delightful lunch on the waterside deck of Sam's Anchor Cafe in Tiburon:

Next, we took a very twisty-turny drive on the aptly-named Panoramic Highway until we reached the Muir Woods National Monument, which preserves 240 acres of old-growth coastal redwood forest.  (California once had an estimated 2 million acres of coastal redwood forest.)

Here's an example of the dozens of videos taken along the road to Muir Woods that have been posted to Youtube.  Every driver who is depicted in these videos is thinking just what I was thinking as I drove: PLEASE GOD DON'T LET ME PLUNGE TO MY DEATH BEFORE I GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS TERRIFYING ROAD.

Coastal redwoods can reach heights of 380 feet, and can be as large as 26 feet in diameter.  (Talk about a big-ass tree.)

The tallest tree in Muir Woods is 258 feet tall.  The big redwoods there are generally 500 to 800 years old, but some are estimated to be 1200 years old.

The Muir Woods is a very popular destination, and the most popular trails in the park can be fairly crowded -- you don't go to Muir Woods to get away from your fellow man (and your fellow woman and your fellow kids and baby strollers).

But walking through the redwoods at Muir Woods is an entirely magical experience.  It's quiet, the air is cool and still, and the sheer magnificence of the trees creates an atmosphere of awe and reverence.  It's oddly like walking through a medieval cathedral, except the environment is entirely natural.

Be sure you're holding on to something when you look up -- it can give you a serious case of vertigo:

After a harrowing drive down the narrow and very foggy Muir Woods Road, we eventually reached U.S. 101 and headed for the Golden Gate Bridge.  It's remarkable to see the evening fog roll in from the Pacific through the valleys of Marin County and the Golden Gate:

Edna St. Vincent Millay's most famous poem, "First Fig" -- which was published in 1920 -- is only four lines long:

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!

The Electric Flag -- the first rock "supergroup" to truly deserve the name -- stayed together for less than a year.  But although the Flag didn't stay together for many nights, they gave a very lovely musical light while they lasted.     

The group's first album was a mostly instrumental LP consisting of the soundtrack they did for the 1967 movie, The Trip, a cult film about an LSD trip that was directed by famed low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman, written by Jack Nicholson, and starred Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, and Susan Strasberg.

Here's the trailer for The Trip, which appears to have been a completely unwatchable mess:

The second album, which was released in 1968, was titled A Long Time Comin', and it is a soul-blues-rock masterpiece that is almost forgotten today.

A law-school friend of mine gave me a copy of A Long Time Comin' in 1975 or 1976.  (I had a stereo in my dormitory room, and he didn't, so he gave me the album so he could drop by and listen to it on occasion.)  I had never heard of it, but it quickly became one of my favorites despite the fact that most would have found its musical style a bit dated by then.

The Electric Flag was a groundbreaking group.  It may have been the first rock band to include a horn section.  It was a racially mixed band, which was very unusual in that era.  It pioneered the use of electronic keyboards and sampling.  

Founder Mike Bloomfield, who had previously been with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was a famed blues guitarist who had played on Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and later joined up with Al Kooper and Stephen Stills on the legendary Super Session album.  He wanted to put together a band with a horn section like the great soul bands of that era and play music that combined different American musical genres -- including Chicago-style electric blues, Memphis-style soul, and rock.

The original Electric Flag lineup
Bloomfield quickly recruited his friend Barry Goldberg -- a songwriter and keyboard player who played with everyone from Bob Dylan to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels to Leonard Cohen to the Ramones.  

Bassist Harvey Brooks, another one of Dylan's band members who eventually became one of busiest studio musicians in the United States, also agreed to join.  Brooks recommended that Bloomfield recruit Wilson Pickett's 19-year-old drummer, Buddy Miles, who later formed his own band and also played with Jimi Hendrix.  

When Mitch Ryder turned down an invitation to be the group's lead singer, Bloomfield called his old  friend, Nick Gravenites (who became the lead vocalist for Big Brother and the Holding Company after Janis Joplin's departure).

The Electric Flag headlined
this classic Fillmore show
With the addition of a trumpeter, a couple of sax players, and an auxiliary keyboard player, the band was ready to get down to business.  Bloomfield's wife and Gravenites found a house for the band in Mill Valley just a few miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, near Mount Tamalpais and the Muir Woods, and the boys got to work.

Shortly thereafter, Peter Fonda unexpectedly asked Bloomfield to do the soundtrack for The Trip, which put a halt to their rehearsing the music that would eventually appear on A Long Time Comin'.  An appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival was another distraction -- the band (which then called itself The American Music Band) had to hurry to prepare a mere four-song set for the live appearance.

The audience loved them, but Bloomfield knew that his band's performance had been overshadowed by Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, and the footage of the Electric Flag ended up on the cutting-room floor when D. A Pennebaker edited his famous documentary about Monterey Pop.

Mike Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites
But what really slowed down the release of A Long Time Comin' was the Electric Flag's drug issues.  In September 1967, Bloomfield, Goldberg, Brooks, and Gravenites were caught smoking marijuana at an Orange County motel and arrested.  

But the band's real problem wasn't marijuana -- it was heroin.  Trumpet player Marcus Doubleday was a heroin addict when he joined the group.  (He reportedly used to hide his stuff in his horn.)  Sax player Peter Strazza also got hooked on heroin.  Goldberg and Bloomfield became users as well.  

The album was finally released in March 1968.  It contained a couple of covers and original songs by several band members.  But the lion's share of the songwriting was done by Nick Gravenites.  

For some reason, several of the songs Gravenites apparently wrote -- including "She Should Have Just" -- are credited on the album to Ron Polte, who managed the Quicksilver Messenger Service.  (It seems that a song that Gravenites wrote for Quicksilver's eponymous debut album also was credited to Polte -- I've been unable to find out why this was.)

I had a hard time deciding which song from A Long Time Comin' to feature on 2 or 3 lines.  Bloomfield and his pals did create music that was a combination of a lot of American genres, and I don't think there's ever been a record quite like it. 

I invite you to listen to "Groovin' Is Easy," "Sitting in Circles," "You Don't Realize," and the very complicated, ahead-of-its-time, nine-minute epic, "Another Country" -- all are great cuts.  But I picked "She Should Have Just" because I can't resist a song that combines a great horn section and a singer who just opens a vein and bleeds to death right through the speakers.

Here's "She Should Have Just":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon: