Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Flock (Part 3)

Our Forgotten Hits tribute to The Flock continues this morning with more from The Illinois Entertainer series "The History Of Chicago Rock" by Jeff Lind (courtesy of Guy Arnston):

JEFF LIND: Goodman became a full-fledged member of the group, and as he gradually became the dominant figure, his ideas took the band to a higher plane. The Flock became a mini-orchestra, with violin, horns and rhythm section. Bassist Jerry Smith remembered, “We were just really trying to flow with whatever is happening. We just have so many ideas, we can’t confine ourselves to certain boundaries. We don’t want to prostitute ourselves to one category because it’s not really us. We were a big soul band before Jerry was in the group. He was way out. It was a little strange to get into his new thing.
Indeed, it was strange and new. Goodman’s solos showed a lot of classical influence, yet the form riffs were tinged with R&B feeling. Webb’s improvisations on sax and flute lent a jazz flavor to the music, yet at the same time, theirs was a basic rock beat underlying the entire endeavor. Some of the lyrics (i’e’ “The after-image of mental scrimmage” from “I Am a Tall Tree”) were pure acid rock in tone.
Soon, the group began lining up better gigs, one of the most important being a job at the Kinetic Playground in early 1969, sharing a bill with John Mayall’s band.
At that time, the Kinetic Playground was the most important concert hall in Chicago, and its owner / manager, Aaron Russo, was one of the more influential men in the concert business. He was so impressed with the Flock’s sound and performance during those three nights that he took the group under his wing, becoming their manager, and helping them land a recording contract with Columbia Records.
Material for the first album was selected with close scrutiny. The group considered reissuing previous material, but the songs sounded dated in comparison with the newer material. And what was settled on was five medium-length songs and one extended jam. And when the album made its appearance during the summer of 1969, it was a totally new listening experience. “Introduction” was Goodman’s tour de force on violin; “I Am a Tall Tree” talked about hallucinations and psychedelics, while “Tired of Waiting,” a rework of the Kinks opus, was a classic interpretation, even thought it bore little resemblance to the original. “Store Bought-Store Thought” featured heady lyrics, along with some fluttery flute by Webb and Goodman on 12-string guitar, with the album ending in the bluesy jam “Truth.”

KK: I have had in my record collection for YEARS now a white label promo copy of the Columbia single "Tired Of Waiting", The Kinks song that The Flock covered in the late '70's ... oddly enough on my copy, it credits The Flock with having written the song! Any idea as to the story behind that?!?! Was this single later commercially released or did it only make it to the promo stage?
FG: That was an obvious mistake as the Flock did NOT write it. The Flock covered "Tired of Waiting" in 1969 on their first Columbia album. I'm not sure if the single was commercially released ... but I did see it in jukeboxes here in the States.

JEFF LIND: By the turn of the decade, the Flock embarked on a major national tour which coincided with the release of the record. While most people in Chicago paid little heed, people on the West Coast were flocking to see them, and most were dazzled by their sound and technical virtuosity. Among those duly impressed was Mayall, who offered the testimony which appeared on the liner notes of the group’s first album:
“The date is July 9th, 1969. I’m sitting in the Whisky a Go Go Los Angeles, and the Flock are making their West Coast debut at last. It seems sort of strange that I should be writing a liner note for a band that I’ve only heard three times before this night. Those three times happened in Chicago earlier this year when we shared the bill at the Kinetic Playground. When I heard them then, I got close to going berserk over their prodigious and varied musical talent as a whole and individually.
“Unfortunately, sometimes in this day and age of hype and undeserved glory for the mediocre, really good musicians are often overlooked.”
There was, however, a creative rift forming in the band. Perhaps it was Tom Webb’s natural desire to find his own means of expression, but he must have been frustrated playing in Jerry Goodman’s shadow. It was Webb who wrote all the horn charts for the first album, as well as playing sax, flute, harmonica and maracas, as well as singing; but it was Goodman who was the dominant figure.
Jerry explained it to Sue Clark, the author of The Superstars in Their Own Words (published by Music Sale Corp., 1970). “I’m always experimenting with sounds. There are so many unused possibilities with amplifiers. If I find a new thing, I kind of play with it. The sound doesn’t stay outside of your ears, but it comes inside and starts pushing your eardrums in and out. I found it’s not really a sound that you hear, but it’s a sound that you feel. Like I find it funny sometimes that I actually get applause for hitting a note that’s blowing their ears off. I don’t have to generally, but that’s a weapon. I use it as an outlet sometimes.”
The release of the group’s second album, Dinosaur Swamps, in the middle of 1970, marked another change. Produced by Ron McClure, it showed a more unified group effort than the first. It was a concept album which attempted to link the spirit of the past and the present. Webb wrote three of the songs and was featured more often as soloist. He sang lead on the lively “Mermaid,” a song which brought folklore into the Flock’s rock. The album directed itself in a country vein. As Goodman recalls (again with Sue Clark), “Country music has been big for a long time. It’s just that other people are getting into it now. And realizing the value of it, and it’s a beautiful form. We have a tune called “Big Bird.” It has a country feel to it. We didn’t write it as a country tune. It just happened to be a country tune. We don’t like to put labels on it. It’s just an indication that we aren’t really into writing a rock & roll song and a country song and one that’s going to be classically oriented. But like this country tune, which it turned out to be, for instance, has in the middle of it, there is somewhat of a bridge that’s in 6/8. Tom Webb, our sax player, just improvised against a jazzy kind of rhythm thing, and then he goes tenor and I take over on violin, the same type of thing, and then, boom, ‘Big Bird.’” (The Flock also played a straight country tune, “Hoedown,” but it never made any of their albums.
The remainder of the album ran the gamut from soft, gentle melodies (“Hornschmeyer’s Island”) to rock (“Lighthouse”) to jazz (“Crabfoot”) and back again. But, they could draw no singles from the record, and their sales suffered accordingly.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: For the record, those first two Columbia Flock albums both made The Top 100 Albums Chart in Billboard Magazine ... "The Flock" reached #48 in 1969 and the following year "Dinosaur Swamps" went to #96. They are currently available as a Double-CD Set ... here: "THE FLOCK / DINOSAUR SWAMPS")

By late 1970, Fred Glickstein was already considering disbanding the group. According to the Jeff Lind / Illinois Entertainer article, "The Flock's record sales in the U.S. were discouraging; indeed, European sales accounted for over 40% of the total figures. As a matter of fact, Columbia Records’ international division released a double import album with material from The Flock and Dinosaur Swamps, thus making the group the only Chicago band with an import album at the time."

The group just couldn't seem to mutually agree on a musical direction ... and it eventually did them in. Again, Jeff Lind picks up the story:
The group broke up in the midst of disillusionment in late 1970. Webb split to the West Coast to study scientology; it was obvious he was still evolving musically. Glickstein took a sabbatical to Florida to decide his future. Canoff moved into the musical production and management field. Jerry Smith hooked up briefly with Aura. And, of course, Goodman went on to fame as the violinist with John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. (McLaughlin was quoted once as saying he wanted Goodman more than many of the other well-known violinists because he was the only one doing anything original.)
The breakup of the Flock was symptomatic of what was happening to the entire Chicago rock scene during 1970-72 — things just weren’t happening.

But The Flock's story doesn't end in 1970 ... in 1972, Fred Glickstein decided to reform the group. He felt that by this time the audience was ready for a more "sophisticated" type of music ... so, according to Jeff Lind ...
He decided to reform the Flock, minus the horns this time. Webb was working with his own band (later to become known as the Eddie Boy Band) and had attracted the interest of several labels, while Canogg was producing the act, so they had to be written out of the picture. Smith and Karpman rejoined, but it still left the gap of replacing Goodman. The found Mike Zydowsky, another classically trained violinist who matched Goodman’s technical skills on the instrument, though his stage presence and ability to transcend sounds beyond the instrument were somewhat more restrained.
The new group premiered at a rundown dance club in Round Lake called Nowhere. Imagine that — the Flock starting Nowhere! It was autumn, 1972, and Glickstein beamed with new excitement and enthusiasm. And by the summer of 1973, the group was thriving again, thrilling audiences with their unique brand of music. A second European tour that fall saw sellout crowds all along the way.
Then, in May of 1974, keyboard specialist Jim Hirsen, who had previously been working with Jumbo, approached the group and asked to sit in. His keyboard / synthesizer skills and composing abilities were the right elements that really helped pull the whole project together.
As a quintet, the Flock began touring the U.S., again attracting the attention of major record companies. They finally chose their hometown-based Mercury and, in the summer of 1975, the new Flock emerged with "Inside Out".
Produced by Felix Pappalardi, the album had a feeling of flowing accessibility that was lacking on their previous records. Although no one song stood out, the album as a total concept worked quite well, and its general flavor was a laid-back mellowness in keeping with the group’s credo: “We’re not a super-amplification group. We do some loud things,but that’s not our thing. We have a lot of very dynamic changes.”
Unfortunately, there were no hit singles forthcoming from the album, and the songs only appealed to a small portion of hardcore Flock freaks that remained through the years of transition. It again appeared that nobody was ready for the music the Flock had to offer. A brief Midwest tour saw little reaction and their performances were erratic at best.
Mercury dropped the act in early 1976, and soon after, they disbanded. It seemed an appropriately sad ending foor an oft-lamented group.

A couple of other reincarnations also took place (Flock III anyone???) but The Flock never fully regained their audience (or themselves from the sounds of things). At the time of his original article published in The Illinois Entertainer, writer Jeff Lind recapped the latter days for the members of the band as follows:

Glickstein once again brought the group back to life, this time as a trio. The new aggregation met severe disapproval from their few local gigs, and it seems, at this writing, that the Flock has finally faded into oblivion.
What happened to the others? Jerry Goodman, after leaving McLaughlin, cut an album, "Like Children", with fellow Mahavishnu member Jan Hammer. The album displayed Goodman’s talents on mandolin and guitar as well as the violin. Since then, he has been living a private life, out of the public eye. Jim Hirsen had his own trio, and has been doing some work with the Temptations. Rick Mann, after leaving the Flock, spent some time with For Days and a Night, along with Baraboo, and is now playing pedal steel in studio session work. T.S. Henry Webb, after retreating into scientology, has returned, releasing "You Are a Star" on Dharma Records. He is presently working solo, after a brief stint with Jet Stream.

Lind also offered up these corrections and updates:
First, when the Flock regrouped in late 1972, the violinist who played with them was Arnie Roth, not Mike Zydosaki. But Roth only stayed with the band briefly, leaving when he found out the group was going to tour extensively. Roth had come to the band from Happy Day, and left to settle down and give married life a try. All this took place in the summer of 1973, and created the opening for Zydowski to step in.
Second, when Flock III was formed, the lineup consisted of Fred Glickstein on vocals, guitar and organ; Ron Karpman on percussion and special effects; and Tom Blecka on bass. Since this group started by doing old Flock material, it seemed logical to keep the old name, but Ron and Fred really wanted to shed the old image and try some new music.
A short time ago, they picked up bass player Arch Terrance and became Strategic Ear Command.
In a sense, however, they can never really leave the Flock behind, because the basic spirit of the Flock’s music, experimental and progressive, is still with them.
What happened to some of the other old members? Jerry Smith is presently a salesman for Hohner Music, the organization that is synonymous with harmonicas; Frank Posa is working for a data processing firm; and Mike Zydowski is currently a violinist with the Belgium Symphony Orchestra, living in Belgium and putting his background in classical music to good use.

Fred Glickstein, who has been following our tribute series very closely, has also offered up a number of correction and amendments to Jeff Lind's article. (Keep in mind that this piece first appeared in The Illinois Entertainer close to 35 years ago!) I'm hoping that we might also have a memory or two to share from some of the other original members of The Flock as well. We'll have many of these corrections posted on The Forgotten Hits website on Saturday. Meanwhile, we'll be wrapping things up on our little Flock Mini-Series tomorrow in Forgotten Hits ... hope you'll join us here! (kk)