Hearts & Flowers: Country Rock

Back when I did the daily commute to Baltimore and my car radio had better reception, I used to enjoy a great community radio station that shares programming with its owner, WXPN, the Philadelphia radio station known for its “World Cafe” program, and yet operates out of a high school from just across the Chesapeake Bay.  You would think a signal of 17,500 watts would reach folks in Silver Spring, but sadly that’s not the case.

I remember phoning the late, great Charlie Coleman from the road, after I’d stumbled upon Worton, Maryland’s WKHS FM, to tell him how much I enjoyed his show, and Charlie asking me right off the bat if I was a fan of “country rock” — the first time I had ever stopped to consider that term.

Front & rear cover – 1967 LP Now Is the Time for Hearts and Flowers

I have since renewed my appreciation for 1995 retrospective, Legends of Country Rock, Volume 5 of Rhino’s “Hillbilly Fever!” series. Besides the opening track, 1967’s International Submarine Band’s “Luxury Liner” (written by Gram Parsons and released on Lee Hazlewood‘s LHI label), I am also taken with a song – “Rock and Roll Gypsies” by trailblazing Los Angeles country rockers, The Hearts and Flowers – that is almost tied for earliest recording on this CD compilation (i.e., “Grizzly Bear” – an RCA single by The Youngbloods, released in December of 1966, whose A-side would be misspelled on the rear cover of 1967’s The Youngbloods album):

“Rock and Roll Gypsies”      Hearts and Flowers      Recorded Dec. 20, 1966

Larry Murray:  Vocal & Guitar
Rick Cunha:  Guitar & Backing Vocal
Dave Dawson:  Autoharp & Backing Vocalr
Bernie Leadon:  Guitar
John Forsha:  Guitar
Ray Pohlman:  Bass
Toxey Sewell:  Drums
Joe Porcaro:  Percussion
Jimmy Bond:  Arranger
Nik Venet:  Producer

Grammar police strike again – Rear Cover of 1967’s Youngbloods LP

Rich Kienzle, in his liner notes for Legends of Country Rock, as you would expect, delivers on the history:

The mid-’60s L.A. band Hearts and Flowers featured songwriter Larry Murray and future Burrito Brother and Eagles charter member Bernie Leadon.  This group, all but forgotten today, exemplified the talented if commercially unsuccessful country-rock pioneers.  Their harmonies were far more bluegrass than folk, not diluted in any way to grab a pop audience.  The use of mandolin on a pop record was unusual, as was the use of autoharp, the push-button instrument played by Mother Maybelle Carter.  Aside from the Hearts & Flowers, only The Lovin’ Spoonful‘s John Sebastian used one.

Their producer Nik Venet, who’d worked with Lou Rawls, Bobby Darin, and The Beach Boys, hoped the group could fuse country music with politically liberal themes.  “Larry Murray was really a country boy,” Venet recalls. “He wanted to be a country artist-writer.”   “Rock and Roll Gypsies,” from their 1967 debut album, Now Is the Time for Hearts and Flowers, sold well regionally but didn’t break out nationally.  The chaotic sound effects at the song’s end, says Venet, were real.  Armed with a portable monaural recorder, Venet went up to Sunset Boulevard and recorded the sounds of an actual 1966 hippies-versus-LAPD riot near a rock club called Pandora’s Box.  The group made two albums for Capitol before disbanding.

Look what turned up in Popsike – this promotional 45 insert – when I searched for auction sales related to Hearts and Flowers:

For your eyes only:  $50 at auction

“Rock & Roll Gyspies”.  This is a hit!  This is a hit!  This is a hit!  The song, although written some time ago, is strangely applicable to the happenings on the many ‘Sunset Strips’ across the nation today.  On the ending repeat of the song, actual crowd sounds are used from recent Sunset Strip riots in Los Angeles.  The Hearts & Flowers, a very popular group from Los Angeles, was being very heavily bid on by many of the major labels based there.  Their vocal sound is a unique combination of rock, folk and country, and they utilize strange old instruments, such as the autoharp and dobro in creating new Top 40 instrumental sounds.  ‘Road to Nowhere’ is an exceptionally strong back-up side for the debut disc of a group that is definitely going to happen!

Historical note:  Release Date indicated above (January 16, 1966) must be a typo if the song was recorded, as Rhino asserts, near the end of December in 1966.

Recordings mostly distributed in US, UK & Canada – except one Dutch picture sleeve

Remember 4 Track Stereo Tape Cartridges?

This is the 8th Zero to 180 piece tagged as Country Rock

“Snowfall”: Soulful + Strings

The Soulful Strings evoke the magic of falling snow — thanks to Dorothy Ashby‘s harp — on their classic instrumental track, “Snowfall“:

“Snowfall”     Soulful Strings     1968

Discogs helps us appreciate how The Soulful Strings were able to create an identifiable sound despite only playing other people’s material:

“The Soulful Strings was a project of the Chicago soul arranger Richard Evans, working with several musicians from the Cadet Records house band between 1966 and 1971 including Charles Stepney, Bobby Christian, Billy Wooten, Phil Upchurch, Lennie Druss, and Cleveland Eaton.

Employing a repertoire composed almost entirely of covers, Evans and company created a unique sound, combining a sharp, soulful rhythm section with a lush string backing.  Evans pushed the strings to the front, assuming an attitude previously reserved only for the hulking funk of bass and rhythm guitar.  It was this crucial element that made The Soulful Strings sound, so successful.”

soulful-strings-magic-of-christmas-lp“Snowfall” can be found on The Magic of Christmas, released in 1968 on Chess jazz subsidiary label, Cadet.

soulful-strings-magic-of-christmas-xCadet would issue 7 albums by The Soulful Strings between the years 1966-1970.

Dorothy Ashby’s Jazz Harp

Just as Rufus Harley expanded the musical possibilities of the bagpipes, Dorothy Ashby likewise liberated the harp from its orchestral internment.  Dorothy Ashby, as it says on her 1957 debut album, was a “jazz harpist” – though not strictly.  1968’s “Soul Vibrations,” as you can hear, would also incorporate funk and electronic sounds into the musical mix:

“Soul Vibrations”     Dorothy Ashby     1968

Zero to 180 is particularly delighted to see the ‘Future Shocktypeface being employed on the album cover.

“Soul Vibrations” would find release as a promo 7-inch on Cadet, a jazz subsidiary of Chess (its flip side “Lonely Girl” – says the 45 – is “from Paramount film Harlow“).

Dorothy Ashby 45In a fascinatingly futuristic move, Ashby would nearly coin the term “Hip Hop” by accident with the release of her 1972 album, Hip Harp.

Dorothy Ashby LPWho’s Counting?  This is the sixteenth Zero to 180 piece thus far tagged as Jazz.

“Wildwood Flower on the Autoharp”: Fine Arts vs. Popular Arts

In 1967 Sheb Wooley released a great single, where the A-side – “Love In” – hilariously mocked the “free love” sentiment then in vogue, while the B-side proudly proclaimed the simple music of the “folk” to be the kind that touches his soul the deepest:

Wildwood Flower on the Autoharp – Sheb Wooley

[Pssst:  Click the triangle to play “Wildwood Flower on the Autoharp” by Sheb Wooley.]

Wildwood Flower 45

That’s right, another salvo in the age-old battle between the fine arts and the popular arts

And the victor of this particular musical fight?   Naturally, popular music – where all the best brawlers are.

The Mother of All Autoharp Players

Mother Maybelle sure had a distinctive way of picking out the melody lines on her autoharp, as this clip from The Johnny Cash Show can attest:

“Black Mountain Rag”      Mother Maybelle Carter      1970

“The Ash Grove”: Not a Harpo Marx Original

When I first became enchanted with “The Ash Grove” from Harpo Marx’s Harpo in Hi-Fi album, I initially suspected Harpo to have written the piece:

“The Ash Grove”     Harpo Marx     1957

But alas, “The Ash Grove” is a traditional Welsh folk song.  Harpo’s version from 1957, coincidentally or not, predates the opening of The Ash Grove folk music club on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by one year.

Harpo Hi Fi LP