Posts Tagged ‘Brian Auger


Hidden treasure

For years, the album Fiends & Angels has been one of the best kept secrets from the late 1960s blues-rock scene. Finally in 2008, the independent CD label Wounded Bird, which specializes in albums that the majors refuse to reissue, released this Martha Velez gem.

mvelez-1Until then, it had fetched rather pricey numbers on auction sites despite not having been a big seller at the time of its release in 1968. Still it was one of the defining blues-rock albums of the times, bringing together an almost perfect combination of singer, players and producer for a raw blues outing with unbridled energy. And some of the best playing by some of England’s best musicians.

Not available in the album credits and still not known completely, the personnel included, Eric Clapton, guitar; Jack Bruce (Cream), bass; Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix) and Jim Capaldi (Traffic), drums; Brian Auger (Oblivion Express), organ; Christine McVie (Chicken Shack, later Fleetwood Mac), piano; Keef Hartley, drums, and Chris Mercer, sax (Keef Hartley Band, John Mayall); Chris Wood (Traffic), sax and flute; and Duster Bennett, harmonica. That’s just a portion of the list.

Velez is a New Yorker, who studied opera at a young age and later attended the High School for the Performing Arts in Manhattan. She also joined a touring folk group, the Gaslight Singers, in college (Long Island University) and later had several lead roles on Broadway, including Hair. So how did she wind up recording her first solo album in England with all these prominent blues-rock musicians?

While recording a demo in New York with producer Richard Gottehrer, Seymour Stein of Sire Records was in the studio by coincidence. They immediately wanted to sign Velez and when it was revealed she loved the blues and particularly the material Cream was doing, they hooked her up with Mike Vernon, an English blues producer who had worked with the early Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall and later Ten Years After, among many others. He was also the founder of the blues label, Blue Horizon.

Vernon gathered together the elite group of musicians and a torrent of hot, inspired performances was unleashed on the material, matched perfectly to Velez’s voice, which has a trained quality but can be raunchy when needed.

mvelez-2The guitar solos are ferocious on most cuts and although Clapton is said to have played on only four, he is extremely recognizable on  the heavy groove of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Feel So Bad, I’m Gonna Leave You (perhaps the album’s best two tracks), It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry and In My Girlish Days. This was confirmed on a Velez compilation, Angels Of The Future Past, released on CD in the late ’80s. The other solos are just as powerful and inventive, perhaps attributable to the only listed guitarist on the session, Rick Hayward, although Spit James (Keef Hartley) and Paul Cossof (Free) are said to have also participated.

Jack Bruce is equally recognizable for his driving bass lines, all tight, punchy and restrained. Bennett blows heavy duty harp on both I’m Gonna Leave You and Feel So Bad, and Vernon also made liberal use of horns, giving the sessions yet another dimension.

The album contains so many other jewels: Velez’s funky composition Swamp Man, which holds the album’s title in the lyrics; the Joplin-esque slow blues A Fool For You; a cover of Etta James’ Tell Mama; the moderate shuffle of a smouldering Drive Me Daddy, over which Velez wails; Come Here Sweet Man, a delicate Velez original; and Let The Good Times Roll, the suitable rollicking closer. A great selection of songs.

Velez went on to record four other albums in the ’70s, including a reggae release, Escape To Babylon, produced by Bob Marley. She never fully returned to an album of all blues, although she did work with Vernon one more time on Matinee Weepers. Married to Keith Johnson, noted trumpet player with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Van Morrison, she also sang with Morrison’s band for a while. All her records, with the exception of her second, Hypnotized, are available from Wounded Bird.

You are unlikely to find Wounded Bird releases in a big music or electronics store at the mall. They are readily available at places such as Amazon. But a trip to the label’s web site is preferred because perusing its catalogue, you’ll find so many other long lost albums that haven’t seen the light of day on a major label.

My vinyl version of Fiends & Angels is still one of my most treasured from that time period. Even one in funky condition is fetching as much as $50 on eBay, despite the CD release. You have to love that album cover, too. The second image is from the UK release. For the record, Velez’s full name is Martha Carmen Josephine Hernandéz Rosario de Veléz. That’s an earful and so is this classic album.

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An Original CAST! Performance

I went up to Black-Eyed Sally’s in Hartford Saturday to catch an exciting and talented group of young musicians, Coryell Auger Sample Trio (CAST!). The group played two sets, providing a smokin’ blend of funky fusion, steeped in bebop, blues and rock via Venice, California, where the trio hales from.

All three have well-known fathers in the world of jazz-rock, but each stands clearly on his own as a proficient player and composer of note.

castGuitarist Julian Coryell is the son of jazz-rock pioneer and legend Larry Coryell, Karma Auger’s dad is Brian Auger, who played with Julie Driscoll and led the Trinity and Oblivion Express in the ’60s and ’70s, and Nicklas Sample is the son of Joe Sample, the keyboard player from L.A. based fusion band The Crusaders.

CAST! played material from their first album, Coolidge Returns, which they sell at live shows and on their web site, including Walk Of The Dragon, Rice Krispy Socrates, Nadine and Purple Panther, as well as tunes from an upcoming second album. The band cooked in the first set, but really opened up in the second with a slant more toward the rock end of things.

Each player displayed his virtuosity within the context of the band. Coryell mixes high doses of blues-inflected playing with flights of jazz lines that combine stunning technique with deep feeling. Auger lays down infectious funk grooves that create a solid foundation and augments them with brilliant latin-flavored to straight-ahead rock flourishes around his kit. And Sample is equally at home providing soulful funk, driving rock or matching Coryell on swift, doubled melodic lines.

I saw Karma play with Brian and his sister, Savannah, two years ago in the latest version of the Oblivion Express at Stage One in Fairfield for a night of extraordinary organ-fueled tunes, many classics from the Express repertoire. Brian Auger was in fine form that night playing with the fire, virtuosity and abandon he has always exhibited on his timeless jazz-funk compositions. Highly recommended when they make their way back to the East Coast. Check tour dates and a definitive collection of his work on his web site.

After playing a string of West Coast dates, CAST! has been on the East Coast for the past week and plays for one more week in Baltimore, Boston and New York before heading home.

In all, a wonderful night of music from three outstanding, rising stars.


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