When reviewing a solo record by a member of a favorite band, it's tempting only to listen for echoes of their other music, Lawrence Hammond was, of course, the singer with Mad River, one of the most interesting American underground bands of the 1960's (and cover stars of FLASHBACK #1). Their 1968 debut was one of the most dense and troubled albums to have emerged from the psychedelic movement, while 1969's PARADISE BAR & GRILL, their second and last effort, found them blending their intense brand of acid rock with a marked country influence, virtually inventing the genre now known as 'alt country.'
Having grown up in Missouri, country and bluegrass were in Hammond's blood, and that's the direction he went in following Mad River's split. By the early 70's he was still involved in music, having toured with the Youngbloods' Jerry Corbitt and briefly worked as a production-line songwriter in New York. The main fruit of that period was "John Deere Tractor,' which went on to become a hit for The Judds, and something of a standard. Having formed the Whiplash Band, in 1976 Hammond released COYOTE'S DREAM on Takoma, but the label folded before a followup could be completed. When it collapsed, these songs (some demos, some complete studio recordings) were forgotten about, and-as the title makes clear-thought to have vanished forever. Their belated isssue is a tribute to the persistence of Shagrat's Nigel Cross.
Opening 'Red-Dirt Texas Fiddler' is a generic uptempo country workout, and if everything on PRESUMED LOST sounded like it, the album would quickly wear thin for most FLASHBACK reader. Gratifyingly, however, much of the set comprises thoughtful ballads. There's no psychedelic influence at all, but Mad River enthusiasts will instantly recognize the plaintive vibe of several songs hear. There are one or two other hoedown-type number (including Hammond's own rendition of 'John Deere Tractor') but most of you will respond to the touching "Nevada McCloud", good natured 'Little Britches,', gorgeous "Papa Redwing Blackbird,' and brooding "West Texas Border Patrol.' All of these have evocative lyrics, full of romantic natural imagery.......
Led by acoustic guitar, the arrangements incorporate fiddle, flute, pedal steel, banjo and more, but aren't cluttered, each instrument aptly serving the song. The sound quality is mostly excellent, as is the packaging featuring thorough liner notes by Nigel Cross and numerous rare photos, housed in a gatefold sleeve. The result is not only recommended to fans of PARADISE BAR & GRILL, but to anyone who enjoys the country-inflected singer-songwriting that boomed so spectacularly in the 1970's. (Richard Morton Jack)
After tasting unexpected success when his song "John Deere Tractor" hit big for the Judds, Hammond formed The Whiplash Band in the early 70's, releasing "Coyote's Dream" on Takoma in 1976. The album sank, and Hammond started training to become a doctor, leaving the follow-up they'd struggled to complete in the vaults for decades.
Hammond still pursues his medical work for the under-privileged, but sterling efforts by Shagrat's Nigel Cross have resulted in a beguiling follow-up to the 2011 release of Mad River's "Jersey Sloo." Sublimely framed by stellar musicians including fiddler Byron Berline, guitarist James Parber, and pedal steel maestro Bill Weingarden, Hammond's disarmingly pure but impassioned voice elevates poignant cowboy ballads such as "Pale Moon on the Pecos," Papa Redwing Blackbird" and the epic "West Texas Border Patrol." His own take on "John Deere Tractor" and a humorous Jesus-freak outing on "The Heavenly Sage of Flight 641" add balance. With Shagrat's usual exhaustive annotation, this little beauty becomes both a fascinating archeological artifact and a timeless classic from a lost world.
One of the 100 best records of 1976.
And a superb country-rock-folk album we have here...grazin' profoundly on americana acres...out-west lassoin' the majic deep outta vaults of the pioneering days, with splendid rhyme-smitin' ' story-weavin'. Lawrence's voice kindles a similar spark as can be discovered in Steve Goodman's. among the very best efforts in this vast field.
Following 2011’s magnificent packaging of Mad River’s Jersey Sloo, Nigel Cross’ Shagrat Records pull off another coup in this most revered of ’60s bands’ tale by restoring singer Lawrence Hammond’s follow-up to Coyote’s Dream, his 1976 release on John Fahey’s Takoma label.
Finished in ’81 but never released, it again shows Hammond as a uniquely haunting voice, ringing loud and clear on a sublime selection of cowboy ballads (‘Pale Moon On The Pecos’), humorous outings (‘The Heavenly Saga Of Flight 641’) and his ’John Deere Tractor’ (later covered by The Judds), while ‘Tumbleweed Plantation‘ recalls his old band’s ‘Paradise Bar And Grill’. These, plus heart-circling ‘Papa Redwing Blackbird’ and epic ‘West Texas Border Patrol’ are boosted by stellar musicians, including fiddler Byron Berline and pedal-steel maestro Bill Weingarden. Stetsons off to Shagrat for allowing this previously lost space cowboy masterpiece to finally ride out of the traps as a classic of its era.
If you get a chance to hear one song from this album, try ‘Little Britches’ (not a typo) as it’s almost thematic; bluegrass fiddle is fiddled, horses are ridden, cowboys reminisce and rodeos are recalled. Lyrically it’s faultless; a brilliant piece of vintage Western folk music, beautifully played and exquisitely crafted.
Anyone for whom the name Lawrence Hammond hasn’t already rung a bell of recognition will have furrowed their brows in puzzlement at the vocal delivery by this stage. If the quavering cadences seem strangely familiar, take a listen to ‘Pale Moon on the Pecos’, ‘West Texas Border Patrol’ or ‘Nevada McLoud’. By now you won’t need me to tell you that these songs are by THE Lawrence Hammond, late of the mighty Mad River – one of the most unique, magical and endlessly fascinating bands to emerge from the late 60s San Francisco melting pot.
Don’t expect the guitar pyrotechnics or explosive psychedelic delivery, but aficionados of both the country and the western sides of Mad River, for example ‘Cherokee Queen’ and Lawrence Hammond’s own ‘Paradise Bar and Grill’ from the LP of the same name, will nod sagely at hearing ‘Tumbleweed Plantation’ in particular – close your eyes and it could almost be an outtake. It’s almost my favourite cut on the album, but that accolade has to be reserved for ‘Papa Redwing Blackbird’, a stunningly beautiful song which features some gorgeous guitar plucking, with both Hammond’s quavering voice and an occasional flute dancing through the skies above and around it.
As well as singing, Hammond plays piano, dobro, fiddle, mandolin, viola, acoustic guitar, lead guitar and just about everything other than the bass he played with Mad River. The material actually dates from the late 70s, and as the title suggests was unreleased and “presumed lost” until recently. Nigel Cross makes a masterful job of recounting the story behind the album in his sleeve-notes, so I shan’t repeat them here – rest assured that fans of Mad River; bluegrass fans; anyone who appreciates a well written and professionally delivered song will find something to appreciate and admire here. (Phil McMullen)
Of the close on 400 bands resident in, or hailing from, the Bay Area of San Francisco in the mid-to-late 60s that are listed in the back of Ralph J Gleason’s book The Jefferson Airplane & The San Francisco Sound, only 20 or so to my knowledge ever managed the dubious honour of being signed to a major record label. About half of these are well-known names who, if never perhaps fully appreciated at the time, have since become rock icons, Mojo fodder and relatively famous. Of the other half a familiarly disastrous tale of exploitation, naïve management, drug-fuelled disfunctionality, and general unwillingness to conform can be told – a bright burst of creativity and hope followed by the inexorable decline into hazy obscurity and eventually the pages of Shindig! magazine. One such band is the sublime and impeccably-named Mad River.
Perhaps the ultimate Bay Area cult band from the 60s, Mad River had all the ingredients for a group destined for an enigmatic and doomed career. As people they were intelligent, talented, principled, well-connected, single-minded and hedonistic. Their music was finely crafted, adventurous, complex, and, for most people, difficult. And the two albums they made for Capitol Records, Mad River and Paradise Bar & Grill are both challenging and highly individual works much revered by people who have dedicated half their lives to ensuring that this music is kept alive.
Mad River began life at Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, blues-biased, playing mostly covers and inspired by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. They were never going to be restricted by rigid musical idioms though; they very soon started to develop a singular vision, rehearsed intensely, and after a tentative stab at recording they headed west to Berkeley in the spring of 1967. There they appeared to slip smoothly into the prevailing cultural ambience, attracted the influential attention and approval of Ralph.J Gleason and legendary DJ Tom Donahue and befriended radical community group The Diggers and cult writer Richard Brautigan who became something of a mentor and guiding spirit for them and even fed them when times were particularly hard.
From their first gig in a lowly pizza parlour they soon graduated to the more prestigious Avalon Ballroom, sharing the bill with more illustrious names, and their reputation grew steadily albeit locally. Their music though was never easy. It was very arranged and orchestral in structure and they were loud, unpredictable, and they “didn’t swing”. It was demanding, intricate and for those who got it, it was beautiful, refined and stimulating, but even for an audience as receptive and accepting as existed there and then they managed to alienate people like Bill Graham, who was reluctant to have them play The Fillmore, and Rolling Stone writer Ed Ward who gave their debut album a thorough and thoroughly undeserved pasting.
In the mad rush to grab as many hip San Franciscan bands as possible Capitol Records, after landing Quicksilver Messenger Service and The Steve Miller Band, signed them, appointed an entirely unsuitable producer in Nik Venet for their first album, messed up the artwork, and when mastering the record catastrophically speeded it up so that neither side of the LP exceeded the designated 18 minutes in length! Not really surprising that the reviews were half-hearted and guarded at best. They recovered though and went on to make a second record, largely produced by the much more sympathetic Jerry Corbitt of The Youngbloods, that was a lot more eclectic and approachable in style and content. However their general lack of success and acceptance, their growing disillusionment with the whole west coast scene and the very real threat of being drafted to serve in Vietnam meant that they were never going to be able to flourish and develop further as a band. They played their last gig even before Paradise Bar & Grill was released and the various members dispersed. Some, like drummer Greg Dewey who subsequently joined Country Joe & The Fish, furthered a career in music; others started a new life. All of them it seems remain in touch, reunite every now and then and are open to the idea of recording together again. We can but hope.
This is the bare bones of a fascinating story told in much more elegant detail, and with significant contributions by band members, by David Biasotti in the 36page 12” x 12” handsome and generously illustrated book that complements this excellent and valuable record. Jersey Sloo is a lovingly-assembled vinyl 12” release that allows us for the first time to hear clearly what Mad River sounded like at the beginning and near-end of their cursed recording career. Side one is taken up by title track Jersey Sloo, a frenetic, sharp, bluesy number recorded during rehearsals for Paradise Bar & Grill that for some reason never made that album, and side two has four numbers that constitute their first demo session in Dayton, Ohio in early 1967 and even then shows the band to be an entity apart from some of their more predictable and shapeless contemporaries. Much of the music on these songs is wilfully erratic, irreverent, blues-influenced, atmospheric and entirely of its time. The prominent guitar work, by David Robinson which often steals the show, is piercing and angular and in Windchimes, the only song here that made the first album, they have perhaps a signature tune to match say Dark Star and The Fish’s Section 43. Avid collectors have, until now, had to live with inferior quality second and third generation tapes of this material but now thanks to the digital remastering wizardry of Tony Poole, these five tracks are restored to a standard that often eclipses the Capitol albums.
For devotees of this period of music I would recommend Jersey Sloo unreservedly; for those curious to know and hear more I suggest the modest investment in this record and book could open up a whole new world. And after all, how can we, of all people, resist investigating a band with a name like Mad River? (Andy Childs)
There will always be another amazing record you haven’t yet heard, but it’s also true that a wealth of unreleased recordings exist that would blow minds, if only somebody ever saw fit to release em. This is what Nigel Cross at Shagrat Records has made a career of: mining the archives for aural documentation worthy of serious reconsideration. Since I last checked in with Nigel a few years ago, he’s released previously unheard, early 70′s jazz rock jams by American ex-pat Londoners FORMERLY FAT HARRY, post-MOBY GRAPE twang by THE DARROW MOSLEY BAND, and amazingly fluid psych sessions ca. 1971 by Brit master musicians HORACE. Now, hot on the heels of a 10″/book by late 60′s SF ballroom kings MAD RIVER, Nigel gives us the Presumed Lost CD by ex-MAD RIVER multi instrumentalist Lawrence Hammond. And what a confoundingly great, sincerely stellar record it is.
Up front I should admit I’ve never been a diehard fan of MAD RIVER’s schizo, acid rock cut-ups. The BEEFHEARTian jaggedness of their first LP and cowpoke trippiness of their later Paradise Bar & Grill record do have wiggy moments, moments I once savoured deeply when courting “altered” states of mind as a young adult. But MAD RIVER also had a perverse knack of changing the psychic flow without warning, often at the most inopportune of times. And more than once, I’ve pulled that first rec off the deck mid-tune, as the music therein was threatening to sour my trip, bigtime. Clearly though, group leader Lawrence Hammond had some serious talent, and long after he’d left SF behind he recorded an album that illustrates those strengths beautifully.
From the outset, Presumed Lost announces itself proudly as unabashed country & western, free from most California country rockisms proliferating at the time. Originally recorded for but unreleased by the then-waning Takoma label in the late 70′s, Lawrence’s songs alternate between lilting, southwestern country/folk and a kind of ambitiously composed, spit-shined country pop popular in Nashville then; indeed, his “John Deere Tractor” would later be covered famously by THE JUDDS. He proves himself master on a half dozen instruments (gtr, piano, fiddle, mandolin) while sidemen like banjo player John Hickman and renowned fiddler Byron Berline are consistently sympathetic and always ring in with nimble, biting precision. It’s true that all of this has as much to do with acid rock as Marty Robbins does, but if you can’t sit still for a Pete Drake pedal steel solo . . . well, that’s your loss, partner, not mine.
At heart this is a vocally-driven record, and Hammond’s voice! Good God, what pipes. Few others this side of FAMILY’s Roger Chapman – or even THE FLESH EATERS’ Chris D. – have possessed a voice so divisive as Mr Hammond’s. While I can empathise with reactions noted in Eugene Chadbourne’s review of Lawrence’s first solo LP, Coyote’s Dream, to my ears his mad yodel here is utterly captivating. His lyrics, too, are also fairly unique in the field of C&W: bittersweet narrative punctuated with naturalistic imagery and western colloquialisms, it’s erudite but ornery stuff that gets me believing Lawrence could’ve founded a High Lonesome School of Cowboy Romanticism all his own.
Two songs do bear noting for their peculiar magic: “Papa Redwing Blackbird” is a gorgeous falsetto psych folk number that’ll send chills down your spine every spin, while “Love For The Hunger” is the sort of dark and brooding tune THIN WHITE ROPE might’ve covered to great effect a decade later. But as amazing as those tracks are, they are but diversions in a central, more powerful journey, one where Lawrence nudges country music in profoundly soulful directions few have ever tried to. A trip worthy of serious reconsideration, indeed.
One of the most sensitive and moving performers at work in the field. (Paul Vangelisti)
A prodigious musical talent in all directions. Unreservedly recommended. (Editor)
Uniformly excellent writing, with a fine touch for words and images, and an expressive way of putting them across.
There was never any question who stole the show from the larger names. Lawrence Hammond's snazzy, angular bluegrass fiddling, his clear delivery of some brilliantly original story-songs, and his warm and easy command of the audience won the hearts of the audience at the Paramount.
An impressive figure on stage. His tunes are beauties. As for fiddling, Hammond's "Orange Blossom Special is a contemporary country classic. I'd like to assume that the direction of Bay Area musician's is best exemplified by Lawrence Hammond. His quintet played marvelous music and entertained in a manner so genuine that even the most reluctant felt compelled to shout and clap along. (Phillip Elwood)
I can't remember when such traditional music was presented with so many novel touches, the crazy percussion at the climax of "George Gudger's Overalls, " the rending vocal untwists throughout that flesh out the emotional content, the freewheeling, punchy feel of Hammond's cocky tales, even the quiet ballads like "Light as a Coyote's Dream" reveal an extraordinary sensitivity of form and execution that is never humdrum or pat. Hammond displays an exciting talent desperately needed for the rapidly depleting energy of country and country rock. He has fresh ideas about expressing himself through music-an elaborate but linear prose forcefully enhanced by lyrical melodies-that are neither pretentious nor affected. Once again aboriginal voice is heard in the land.
He may end up being one helluva novelist, but if he don't he is one helluva songwriter
Progressive country practiced with variety and musical élan (John Wasserman)
A depth and earthy connection that recalls Steinbeck...
Rich with harmonic balance and memorable lyrics...he certainly deserves far greater recognition. (Phil Elwood)
"Coyote's Dream" is a first-rate album with a repertoire of hard-driving truck music, timeless country lamentations and sweet country stompers. These were delivered with power, conviction and bold individuality at the Palomino Club. Hammond's terrain includes Kansas dust bowls, endless highways south of Boise, and the brown hills of Washoe County, Nevada. His songs are so basic and achingly honest-and are sung so persuasively-that one believes he has never been off the road. And his lyrics are sprinkled with some unexpected and truly beautiful images, such as "the kiss that she laid on these tired old eyes was light as a coyote's dream."
"This time around Hammond looks like he's on the way to becoming one of the top pickers and writers in the country music world. ...(with) narratives that tell of America's heartland and the people who make their lives and livings there. Hammond's gift for the narrative lyric is incredible. He's a college-educated prairie philosopher, capable of translating the rural experience into pure poetry. ...His work can legitimately be grouped with that of Woody Guthrie-both in its immediacy and tenacious insistence on human dignity. ...The SRO crowd was with him, whooping, clapping and stomping along with his flashing bluegrass fiddle, laughing at his warm, oddly-sophisticated country humor and sailing on the tide of his clear beautiful voice.