Showing posts with label Faces. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Faces. Show all posts

Monday, February 15, 2021

Fifty Years of Music • February, 1971

Last week, I focused on the 50th anniversary of Carole King's, phenomenal album Tapestry. This week, I finish up February, 1971 with fifty songs mainly from twelve albums. Every month, I take a musical journey in the past with my '50 Years of Music' theme and I usually discover one or more albums that I paid little attention to at the time, but now think are fantastic albums. This month I found two, Crazy Horses's self-titled album, Crazy Horse, and Donovan's children double-album, HMS Donovan
Danny Whitten, Jack Nitzsche, Billy Talbot, Ralph Mollina
Crazy Horse is best known for being Neil Young's backup band. Crazy Horse originally started in 1963 as Danny and the Memories, a doo-wop group with Danny Whitten as the lead singer. The group, with its two life-long bandmates Billy Talbot on bass and Ralph Molina on drums morphed into a San Francisco band called, 'The Psyrcle' and then moved down to LA as the 'The Rockets' (a folk-rock band) in 1968. In 1969, Neil Young began to rehearse with The Rockets and liked them so much he used the band in his 1969 solo album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It is during this time that Young himself renamed The Rockets, 'Crazy Horse' as they are given credit on the album cover, "Neil Young with Crazy Horse." In 1970, Young used Whitten, Talbot, and Mollina, including Jack Nitzsche (on piano), and Nils Lofgrin (guitars, vocals) on his solo smash hit, After The Goldrush. On After The Goldrush, Crazy Horse is not given a band credit, but it did lead to the band getting their own record deal and the release of the album Crazy Horse in 1971. The album would include Lofgrin and Nitzsche with both contributing songs to the album. Jack Nitzsche was also the album's Producer. 

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After The Gold Rush are two of my favorite albums of all-time. Why I wouldn't have dived into the first Crazy Horse album in 1971 is beyond me? The raw energy of Young's early solo albums has a lot to do with Crazy Horse's 'three chords and the truth' basic rock 'n' roll playing style that jumped right out at me 50 years later.


To answer my own question above, I came up with two main reasons. One, the album sold poorly; and two, I believe one reason the album sold poorly was because the album cover art sucks. Did the design and photograph literally have to be- a crazy horse?

I started thinking about it. In 1971, every rock 'n' roll fan was very much into the vinyl album art as most devoured the front, inside and back jacket art and liner notes on albums. I think the first album Crazy Horse cover art just scared most teens off, it puts out a very aggressive negative image, that says, "Don't touch this." I do remember seeing the album in a record shop album bin sometime in college and said to  myself, "WTF!"
What if they had simply gone with some cool graphic of Chief Crazy Horse right from the get go, like when they (probably Neil's people) started using the Crazy Horse logo shown here to the right. All I'm saying is Crazy Horse could have used some promotional artistic help after recording a very fine first album... presentation, presentation, presentation.

Sadly during this time, Danny Whitten had become a heroin addict and quickly descended into the hell that it brings. By early 1972, Talbot and Mollina had to fire their leader and main songwriter Whitten from Crazy Horse because he simply could not function to be an active member of the band and work on their second album.

In April of 1972, after receiving a call from Young to play rhythm guitar on the upcoming tour behind Young's Harvest album, Whitten showed up for rehearsals at Young's home outside San Francisco. While the rest of the group hammered out arrangements, Whitten lagged behind, figuring out the rhythm parts, though never in sync with the rest of the group. Young, who had more at stake after the success of After The Gold Rush and Harvest, fired him from the band on November 18, 1972. Young gave Whitten $50 and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. Later that night Whitten died from ingesting a combination of diazepam, which he was taking for severe knee arthritis, and alcohol, which he was using to try to get over his heroin addictionWikipedia

Back in February of 1972, Neil Young had released the song, Needle and the Damage Done from the Harvest album, a heartfelt lament that was written directly about his friends Danny Whitten and also Bruce Berry, a roadie for Crazy Horse and CSN&Y. Whitten had in fact turned Berry on to heroin and he would also later die of an overdose in 1973.

The story of Crazy Horse continues in its many iterations, including Whitten's replacement on guitar in 1975 with Frank "Poncho" Sampedro who would become one of Neil Young's greatest compadres over the years working with and without Crazy Horse. Poncho retired from the band in 2014 and is a neighbor of Neil's in Hawaii. Since 2018, the current lineup of Crazy Horse has Nils Lofgrin on guitars who plays with them on their reunion gigs with Neil, and has been a regular member of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band since 1984. 

Long live Crazy Horse! And, rest in peace Danny Whitten, as I can hear from your five songs on this first Crazy Horse album, you were on your way and Neil Young still misses you.


The second album that caught my attention 50 years later was Donovan's HMS Donavan. It's a double album of children's songs but I looked at it as more than just that, as it connects Donovan with his Scottish roots. I was most impressed with his guitar work as I had always just thought of him as 'a strummer over a picker.' Here you get to hear Donovan's skilled finger picking on many tunes from the album. If you think of it, Donovan is the perfect children's musician with his cosmic quality to songwriting and singing that's so completely unique and makes him a beloved person around the world.

Donovan also knew something about album art.


Enjoy my friends! Stay well and mask-up, it's beginning to get better.



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