Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Darrow Mosley Band Demos 1973

THE DARROW MOSLEY BAND ‘Desert Rain’ Limited Edition 10” vinyl (Shagrat Records)

Quite literally where Moby Grape meets Kaleidoscope, The Darrow Mosley Band was a short-lived ensemble where the family trees of those two extraordinary bands interlocked for a few short months in 1973. Until recently however, virtually nothing was known about the ephemeral musical alliance between Bob Mosley (bass player/ vocalist from The Grape) and Chris Darrow (multi-instrumentalist/vocalist from Kaleidoscope). In fact, no photographs appear to exist and they reportedly only ever actually played one gig (a fund-raiser for the presidential campaign of Democrat George McGovern in Beverly Hills). However, when the indefatigable Nigel Cross discovered the existence of an unissued three song demo for Warner Bros, he was determined that not only should Shagrat, the world’s most idiosyncratic record label, finally make this music available, in homage to two of his all-time favourite bands he would make it his most extravagant project thus far. Well, old pal, this is definitely mission accomplished – and some.

Backtrack to ‘67. Two bands bursting at the seams with creativity (nay, genius), technical expertise and an insatiable thirst for innovation. San Francisco’s golden boys, The Grape: razor sharp songwriting, elegant harmonies, breathtaking triple-guitar cross-talk, and occasional atonal guitar forays into the dark magic of freeform lysergic experiment. Kaleidoscope: authentic psychedelic gypsies from Southern California: an eclectic mix of influences (‘world music’ before the term existed), a vast array of exotic percussive and stringed instruments, and a pulsating tripped-out middle-eastern cajun blues intergalactic flamenco vibe. They shared a (mother) record company, Columbia, and their paths crossed in psychedelic ballrooms, at tribal gatherings and at Columbia Studios on Sunset Boulevard. By the end of the decade, however, both bands had lost key members and some of their creative spark, returning (as did many of their contemporaries) to less complex musical themes.

By 1973, and sharing the management and production expertise of Michael O’Connor, Darrow and Mosley had long left their respective trailblazing outfits behind and had realised relatively low-key and under-appreciated solo projects. Both missed being in a band so O’Connor suggested they pool their talents to form “a great American rock and roll band”. For the project Darrow enlisted his favourite guitar-player, Frank Reckard, a jamming friend of Moby Grape’s Jerry Miller from Santa Cruz. Known as "Fast Farm" due to his speedy fret skills, he was a progressive country player in the style of Clarence White, and even had a B-string bender on his Gibson TV that gave him a pedal steel sound. Frank recommended drummer Johnny Craviotto (later to loom large in the amazing story of The Ducks, where he and Mose hook up with Jeff Blackburn and Neil Young) while Darrow added pianist Loren Newkirk who had played on his 1972 Fantasy LP ‘Artist Proof’. O’Connor also managed Claudia Lennear who’d been part of Joe Cocker & Leon Russell’s space gypsy entourage, Mad Dogs & Englishmen (she is often cited as inspiration for The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar") and both she and Jennifer Warnes provided background vocals for the DMB, as they had done on Darrow’s earlier album. Overall, a band of red-hot musicians at the peak of their game.

OK, there might only be three songs on this fab slab of 10 inch vinyl but they are all absolute crackers. I reckon those of you already familiar with Darrow’s ‘Albuquerque Rainbow’ via the mellow opening cut of his 1973 eponymous album, will be knocked sideways by the Exile-era Stones swagger and skirmish of the Darrow Mosley Band’s blistering, fully-formed take. If O’Connor’s vision was Gram and Keef, baked by the sun, sharing a peyote-sprinkled red hot burrito with Crazy Horse and Nicky Hopkins out on a sweltering dusty New Mexico bajada, they nailed perfectly. Topped off by Darrow’s sublime impassioned vocals and fuelled by Mosley’s pounding bass-line, Darrow and Reckard pull out searing back-to-back solos as the band roar relentlessly on with all the precision and drive of a gleaming 12 cylinder Peterbilt roadtrain tearing up the desert highway.

The song itself is a gem. Albuquerque lies in a rain shadow and a wet day in the city is about as rare as a dry one in Capel Curig. A love triangle, a lonely drive home, the narrator asks “Did you want to stay with him or would you come home?” A sudden thunderstorm and the rare appearance of a rainbow is seen as a harbinger:

“Albuquerque Rainbow, shining in my eyes,
the colors form a bridge up above.
Albuquerque Rainbow, shining in my eyes,
seems to say go on back to the one you love.
I turned the car around, and headed back to town……..”

Turn the record over and you’ll find a continuation of the meteorological theme and, as Bob Mosley steps onto centre stage, discover that the trip back to town ends in heartbreak.

As a long-term Grape nut, just hearing a ‘new’ vocal from one of the most expressive and distinctive voices in rock music was likely to be a emotional experience and this cover of the Temptations’ classic tale of despair, ‘I wish it would rain’, really tugs at the heart-strings as it pulls out the very best of Mose’s hocked soul. The opening sequence of delicate chords and tumbling bass bears the stamp of classic sad-song Moby Grape with Reckard’s curling Clarence White B-bender licks adding to the air of melancholy. The band stumble in as the story begins:

“Sunshine, blue skies, please go away,
My girl has found another, and gone away
With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom,
So day after day, I stay locked up in my room.
I know to you it might sound strange,
but I wish it would rain”

There’s fabulous use of light and shade as the layers gradually build into a dense throbbing soul stew, each player coming up for air and letting rip, with the classy backing-vocals of Warnes and Lennear helping Mose pour out his grief:

“Day in day out, my tear stained face
pressed against my window pane,
I search the skies desperately for rain
’cause rain drops will hide my teardrops
and no one will ever know
that I'm crying, crying,
when I go outside”

The history of this song is filled with sadness too as the lyrics were written by Tamla Mowtown staff write Roger Penzabene after he discovered his wife had been cheating on him and, unable to deal with the pain, he took his life on New Year’s Eve 1967, a week after the Temptations single was released.

The final song, Bob Mosley’s “Beautiful Day”, will be familiar to many as it was one of the highlights of the under-rated ‘Moby Grape ‘69’ album. A gorgeous melody then and a gorgeous melody still, this version is slower and may not have the rich rippling reefer-fuelled San Francisco vibe (not to mention the whistling!) of the original but the way Reckard’s wispy dobro-like guitar and Newkirk’s elegant piano patterns blend give it an even more laidback bucolic feel. Truly a thing of beauty; innocence and simplicity is the key:

“From dawn to dawn a lifetime,
the birds sing and day is begun,
the heavens shine from dawn to dusk,
with golden rays of sun.
People on their way,
beginning a brand new day,
I love hearing people say
It's a beautiful day today”.

The song gently fades and The Darrow Mosley Band is gone. Musicianship of the highest quality, elegant, and eclectic, sadly it’s futile to muse on what might have been. This, folks, is definitely all there is. Everything IS everything.

We have Nigel’s determination, energy, and vision to thank not only making these wonderful long-lost recordings available but also for persuading the legendary John Hurford to contribute his spectacular psychedelic art to the package (both sides of the sleeve, the insert and two different labels!). John’s work regularly adorned the covers and pages of the UK Underground press (Oz, IT, Gandalf’s Garden, etc) in the sixties and he continues to produce incredibly beautiful and intricate art. Sunrise Press of Exeter published a fantastic hard-back collection of his work, “Johnny”, in 2006 while I suggest you also feast your eyes on his website:

Shagrat has set the bar high with this near-perfect archive release, passionately and stylishly pulling together so many vital reference points on the Pyg Track chart. It has encouraged me to dust off my early Chris Darrow solo albums and re-discover the many delights therein. Oh yeah, and the fact that in places it sizzles like a Martian hog-roast is an added bonus!

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