Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Flock (Part 2)

The earliest incarnation of The Flock can probably best be described as "hard rockin' with some pretty heavy rhythm and blues overtones mixed in" ... the band went from the usual line-up of guitars, keyboards and drums to first adding brass and then electric violin!!! (That was a pretty unparalleled musical avenue at this time!) Groups like The Ides Of March, The Buckinghams, The Mauds and The Mob would dabble with brass in many of their recordings ... and by the late '60's, we were only a few months away from Chicago (the group, not the city) exploding on the national scene ... but The Flock were different. As the music got heavier, their stuff got more and more progressive, often pushing the boundaries of what was becoming the much more common extended jams that we were being subjected to on stage. Most called it "expressive" and / or "progressive" ... "art rock" if you will ... others found it indulgent and boring at times ... but the truth is, this is where music was heading in 1969 and The Flock were one of the pioneer bands taking music in that direction.

Jeff Lind of "The Illinois Entertainer" (who wrote that excellent series on "The History Of Chicago Rock") remembers:
1965 ... that was the year that the Flock was born, right here at Sullivan High School in Chicago. At their inception, the Flock included Fred Glickstein on guitar (he later added trumpet and organ to his repertoire) and lead vocals; Rick Canoff on tenor sax and vocals; Rick Mann on guitar; Jerry Smith on bass; and Ron Karpman on drums.
Back at the beginning, The Flock was playing a straight-forward, sunny type of rock; primarily original compositions. Led by Glickstein’s clear, resonant vocals, the Flock’s act soon caught the attention of Destination Records’ Jim Golden and Bob Monaco, who inked the group to a contract in 1966. During the latter part of that year, Destination released the group’s first single, “Can’t You See.” The record broke into the local Top 40 charts, where it peaked at #23, and stayed there for nearly two months.
It looked like a satisfactory start, but the Flock was not static. As “Can’t You See” began to fall off the charts, their second single moved right in to take its place. “Are You the Kind?” was a bouncy, up-tempo song of under two minutes, highlighted by Ron Karpman’s fast-paced woodblock-bass drum combinations. This Flock song, a definite change of pace from past endeavors, also rose to #23 on the local charts, and was the first Flock record to feature horns (played by Glickstein and Canoff). However, the song did not have the staying power of its predecessor on the charts, so members of the group began thinking in terms of some new musical direction.
That new direction turned out to be soul music, and the Flock was well-suited to it, since all the members had been bathed in the sounds of Chicago R&B for years. The instrumental lineup of the group was solid, but Glickstein wanted to expand the horn section for a fuller, funkier sound. The new Flock soul sound soon reached the receptive ears of two gifted musicians, Thomas-Smith Henry Webb and Frank Posa, who were then gigging with For Days and a Night. Webb was a multi-instrumentalist, on harmonica, flute and sax, as well as vocals. He had previously led his own Smith-Henry group. Posa was accomplished on trumpet and trombone.
As a seven-piece band, the Flock began to sharpen its live performances, soon gaining widespread popularity as one of the better soul bands around. All of the members became entertainers as well as musicians, and this was to be the greatest benefit to them later in their career.
They were major innovators, and on more than just the local music scene. They were one of the first white bands to plunge deeply into playing what was then called “soul music.” Soon, a whole wave of bands (i.e. Baby Huey, the Mob, the Soul Machine, the Mauds, etc.) followed, but by then the Flock had left R&B and moved on to a style of music that encompassed several forms of music, and would later come to be known as “brass rock.” Unlike the other bands that garnered success from the brass rock age (Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Chase, the Ides of March), the Flock found imaginative ways to include the usage of electronic effects and phrasing, coupled with the crowning innovation in which Jerry Goodman introduced the violin to rock.
Certainly a band that pioneered and paved the way for so many new groups and musical ideas deserved more than what they got. While they were critically acclaimed in Europe, they were largely ignored in the United States, especially home in Chicago. The group’s albums sold fairly well, but they never had a bonafide hit single. Ironically, their biggest “hit” record was written by someone outside the group.
Because their music was years ahead of its time, the Flock never caught on to the large scale acceptance enjoyed by the other brass rock groups. And that factor caused the disillusionment that eventually brought about the breakup of the original band. A lot of talented musicians passed through their ranks, but none of this could pull them into the status of being a “super group.”

KENT KOTAL: When The Flock were first charting here in Chicago, they were a big part of the local music scene ... three tracks made the WLS Chart back in 1967: "Can't You See (I Still Love You)", #22; "Are You The Kind", #23 and "Take Me Back", #12. Your sound back then can probably best be described as pop with heavy R & B overtones ...
FRED GLICKSTEIN: This early version of the Flock basically did cover material ... Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues, Pop, etc. There were so many different types of music that was popular in the '60s ... and pretty much all of the popular music influenced us in some fashion. Later on, we started writing our own songs ... probably around 1966.

KK: Who were the main songwriters in these early stages of the band?
FG: I wrote most of the music myself with Rick Canoff writing most of the lyrics.

KK: What was the line-up of the band at this point ... and how did the band first hook up?
FG: I met my musical partner, Rick Canoff, in high school. Rick played the saxophone, wrote lyrics and sang. I had been playing the guitar since I was about ten years old ... actually I started on the ukulele after a friend of my mom's taught me out to play some chords. After that, I graduated to the guitar and then just started singing and writing songs, too. Rick and I formed a few groups together between '63 - '65 before the Flock ... with names like the Squires, the Triumphs and the Exclusives. Once we became the Flock, the group consisted of Ron Karpman on drums and vocals, Jerry Smith on bass and vocals), Rick Mann on guitar and vocals and Rick Canoff and myself. Rick played the sax and handled the vocals and I played the guitar and handled most of the lead vocals. A short while later, we added Frank Posa on trumpet and Tom Webb on sax, flute, harmonica and vocals.

KK: And that THIS point you weren't really a "garage band" anymore, right?
FG: Well, we always had Rick's sax as part of the line-up so I guess in that regard we were a little bit different ... and once we added Frank Posa on trumpet and Tom Webb on sax and flute, I guess you could say we changed our direction a little bit. I don't think that we ever consciously TRIED to be different ... but these additions certainly allowed us to pursue more of an R & B vein with our music.

KK: Your biggest local hit (and my personal favorite) is "Take Me Back". In fact, I've been hearing it more and more on the radio again lately ... and I think it's a GREAT song. How did The Flock come to record this tune? This one is NOT an original composition, right?
FG: No ... out of our four earliest singles, we wrote three songs and Robert Stanley (not a Flock member) wrote one.

Jeff Lind picks up the story here (from his original Illinois Entertainer piece on The Flock):
The problem facing the group in the summer of 1967 was what to record next. They wanted to do a soul tune, not a problem, since most of the songs they were performing at this time were merely cover versions of R & B standards ... but the band wanted something original.
Fortunately for the Flock, a Waukegan-area group called the Bryds was in the city to cut some demos for Monaco, Golden and Bobby Whiteside.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Bob Monaco and Jim Golden were acting as The Flock's Manager at this time, having signed the band to the Destination Record Label.)
The Bryds' lead singer, Bob Stanley, had written three tunes to record. Among them was “Take Me Back.” When Whiteside heard the demo, he knew that it would mesh well with the Flock’s funky style. When the Flock heard it, they flipped!
“Take Me Back” was rearranged by the group, with Bobby Whiteside producing. With a full horn section consisting of Posa, Glickstein, Webb and Canoff, the song never stopped its driving, frenetic pace (it had to be faded out). Sax solos by Webb and Canoff screeched over the rhythm section, as the group kept repeating the hook, “take me back.” It was two-and-a-half minutes of compressed energy.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The Flock cut this track at the legendary Chess Recording Studios at
2120 S. Michigan Avenue. Known for their Blues and R & B Artists, it's interesting to note that MANY of our Chicagoland bands ... like The Flock, The New Colony Six and The Buckinghams ... were also laying down their tracks inside these historic walls!)
“Take Me Back” shot up the charts, peaking quickly at #12, becoming the Flock’s biggest hit. Yet, even as the group rode with their greatest success, individual members were becoming disenchanted with “soul music.” A rash of imitators had appeared on the scene, and there was a feeling that this particular genre of music was confining and smothering the creativity of the band. Once again, they wanted to move in a different direction in order to be able to grow musically and expand their performance.

It would prove to be a turning point for the band. Glickstein remembers toying with the idea of adding strings to the band, a point reiterated in Jeff Lind's Illinois Entertainer article:
What the band really wanted to do was to get into a synthesis of several music forms, without diluting any of the elements. The horns would still be used and the rock beat would be kept ... but there was still something missing. Glickstein was toying with the idea of adding a string section to the band. While it never really got that far, this was the point where the band thought more and more about their violin-playing roadie, Jerry Goodman. A classically trained violinist (who played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for several years), Goodman had been friends with the members of the group since their days at Sullivan High. He had been serving as part-time roadie, sound man, etc., with the group and was digging their musical evolution the whole time. Even with all of his classical experience, he had a yearning to try something different with the violin, namely playing the instrument in a rock contest.
(EDITOR's NOTE: Many of you will remember from our earlier series spotlighting The New Colony Six that legendary Chicagoland Sportscaster Chet Coppock worked as a roadie for The New Colony Six in the late '60's ... and on crazy-enough nights would throw on a big white pompadour wig, join the band on stage and do his Wayne Cochran impersonation!!! lol)
There were loads of new and refreshing ideas in Goodman’s head ... and they were all trying to get out ... so it is little wonder that his musical state of mind was compatible with that of the group. They asked him to sit in on the recording of their next record for the Destination - U.S.A. label. That session in early 1968 was a landmark occasion, as it helped to define the musical direction that Chicago rock was to take during the next few years. The song they cut that day, “What Would You Do If the Sun Died?”, was the most advanced recording of its time, featuring Webb’s complex horn arrangements, electronic effects, vocal phrasing, haunting lyrics, and full-bodied production of the rhythm section.
Nobody, especially the listening public, was quite ready for this record, and while it predictably did not break any sales records, it made musicians, producers, arrangers and executives take notice.

KK: Although it may not have officially had a name yet, The Flock were in the process of evolving into one of the very first of what I've always called "The Art Rock" Bands. What was the inspiration for this? While music was clearly getting much heavier by 1968, there really wasn't a precedent for this ... not here in Chicago anyway.
FG: I'm tellin' you, KK, it all just seemed to come together. Everything just fell into place. I started writing songs that were a little less "commercial" and more progressive sounding. Our friend Jerry Goodman would come with us to gigs before he joined the band. Someone mentioned that Jerry was a classically trained violinist and we had the idea of adding him to the Flock ... well, the rest is history.

KK: The "horn bands" were starting to come into their own right around this time ... Blood, Sweat And Tears and our very own Chicago Transit Authority were singled out as the leaders of this new genre of rock and roll (although incredibly NEITHER band has been recognized for their innovation by The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame!!!) Horns were being used by The Buckinghams, The Mauds and The Ides Of March ... so "The Sound Of Chicago" became a very "horny" sound to say the least!!! The Flock not only added horns to their line up but also an electric violin (!!!) by way of Jerry Goodman, who would go on to join the Mahavishnu Orchestra a few years later after leaving The Flock. What was the initial reaction to the new sound here in Chi-Town ... quite honestly, there was NOTHING else like it at the time.
FG: Horn bands have been around ever since the 1920s so what's the big deal? A 60s Rock band with a violin ... now THAT was new. I like to say that "The Flock died so that the Mahavishnu Orchestra could live"!!! At that point, The Flock was in the process of breaking up anyway.

KK: But by that point, the band had signed with a major label, Columbia Records, and clearly you guys were headed in another direction. I've read some reviews that said the band really should have been bigger than Chicago who, by this time, were now your labelmates ... yet the following just never seemed to take off here in The States ... but, from what I understand, The Flock were HUGE in Europe ... and especially in France ... making The Flock kind of the "Jerry Lewis of Rock And Roll" I guess. Can you shed any light on this era?
FG: The Flock was very much appreciated in Europe; France, Germany and England, for example. Europeans have always seemed to be hipper audiences. Many U.S. jazz musicians moved to Europe because they were appreciated much more there. However, the Columbia / Goodman Flock had many, many fans in the U.S. Flock toured all over the U.S. playing in many cities at many major Pop Festivals.

In fact, we found concert and tour itineraries that show The Flock touring and performing with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and The Animals (at The Los Angeles Pop Fest), The Jefferson Airplane and Frank Zappa (at The Denver Pop Fest), a European Pop Fest Tour that put them on the bill with Santana, Canned Heat, Led Zeppelin, The Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, Marc Bolan and T-Rex, The Byrds and Pink Floyd and an appearance at The Royal Albert Hall where The Flock were the headliners and the opening act was Johnny Winter! The Flock did a number of dates opening for The Who and Fleetwood Mac, played The Filmore West in San Francisco with The Grateful Dead, Ten Years After, Humble Pie and Ike and Tina Turner and The Filmore East in New York City with Ten Years After, John Mayall, It's A Beautiful Day and Mother Earth. They did a Dutch / Amsterdam, Holland television show, "The Grand Gala Du Disk", where they performed live on the same program as The Four Tops, Bobbie Gentry, Procol Harum and Jose Feliciano. They headlined at The Whiskey A Go-Go and The Olympia Theater in Paris ... and also shared the stage with Spirit, Albert Collins and Joe Cocker ... not bad for this little garage band out of Chicago that rarely even makes the list when putting together the names of the artists big on The Chicago Music Scene in the '60's and '70's. (It's almost like they, too, had to leave home in order to gain the respect and appreciation they so rightly deserved.)

Freddy tells us: The Flock also toured Sweden, Belgium and Germany (and they LOVED us in Germany, mit that crazy violinist!)

The Flock were one of the earliest artists attempting to push the limits within the rock and roll format ... a few years later, Jethro Tull would rise to international fame when they added an electric flute to their line-up ... nothing any more revolutionary than The Flock adding an electric violin a few years earlier. It seemed like ANYTHING to expand the ususal line-up of guitar, bass, keyboard and drums helped to bring a certain "uniqueness" to these artists ... and, without question, The Flock was one of the innovators in this area.

Jeff Lind picks up the story tomorrow in Forgotten Hits ... hope to see you here!!!