Friday, January 6, 2012

WHO REALLY KILLED JAZZ-HORN ROCK? NOT PRESIDENT NIXON

This post may shock some of you who read the old blog, but I am going to let a Republican off hook for something he often gets blamed for. First, a little rock and roll history.

In 1967, by a group called the "American Music Band" recorded the music for the Roger Corman/Peter Fonda film The Trip. They soon renamed themselves The Electric Flag, after being signed to Columbia Records. They released their first LP in 1968. This group featured a jazz-influenced horn section.

Also in 1967, Al Kooper of the Blues Project and former Mother of Invention member Jim Fielder decided to create a "rock and roll Big Band" sound based on 40's Big Bands, Maynard Ferguson's band and producer James William Guerico's use of brass backing for the pop group the Buckinghams. They called this group Blood, Sweat & Tears. They also released an LP on Columbia in 1968.

Also, in 1968, producer James Willaim Guerico began working with another Chicago group called The Big Thing. They signed to Columbia and released an LP under the name Chicago Transit Authority in 1969. After that first LP they shortened their name to Chicago.

Soon there was a Canadian jazz-horn rock band on the GRT label named Lighthouse. Over on Capitol Records, a jazz-horn band called Ides of March debuted. Columbia added another jazz-horn band in 1970 with Chase. In 1971, Warner Brothers brought out Tower of Power and RCA gave us the Nite-Lighters. I should also mention two more jazz-piano rock bands, Spirit on Columbia (Surprise!) since 1968, and Steely Dan, who first appeared on ABC in 1972. 

However, by 1973, the jazz-horn bands were not as popular as they had been in their 1969-1970 heyday. Only, Chicago, Tower of Power and Steely Dan managed to stay around to the 80s. Ides of March later dropped the horns and reformed as Survivor. Many rock historians and radio DJs have claimed what hurt the jazz-horn bands was Blood, Sweat & Tears performing at the White House during Richard Nixon's presidency. This supposedly made these groups "uncool." While this sounds good, I think it was two other factors.

Like many fads, jazz-horn rock suffered from overkill. Jazz-horn rock was radio friendly for both the heavy FM album rock stations and AM Top-40. Since it was popular, the record companies wanted to cash in on it. The problem was one record company did the most cashing in: Columbia. As I mentioned Electric Flag, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Spirit and Chase were all on Columbia, not to mention about four or five other jazz-horn bands, as well as Ramsey Lewis and Miles Davis, who released critically acclaimed "rock albums." (Let's face it, after Miles Davis did Bitches Brew, there really wasn't any point in some of these bands trying to do jazz rock.) Columbia had put all their eggs in one basket. The story goes that a jazz-horn band called Soft White Underbelly sent a tape to Columbia. When they asked why they hadn't been signed, someone at Columbia said, "We're sick of bands with horns. We're now looking for the next Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, Deep Purple or Black Sabbath." The group submitted at new tape with a more heavy metal sound under the name Blue Oyster Cult and the rest is history.


If we want to blame some person, lets blame this kid from Awkward Family Photos and all others like him. Lets face it, we have all heard garage bands do horrible covers of the Beatles, the Stones and the Who songs or country bands, who think they can do songs by CCR, the Eagles, Skynard or the Band. It gets worse when bands try to do Led Zep, Sabbath, Kiss or Van Halen. No band should even consider covers of prog rock bands like Jethro Tull, Yes, or the Moody Blues.

However, just about any good junior high/high school/college pep or marching band can do great version or "Spinning Wheel," "25 or 6 to 4," or "One Fine Morning." I recently heard a MSU Bears Basketball road game on KTXR and while Art Hains was recapping the first half of the game, the home team's pep band was playing Chase's "Get It On" behind him. The school band doing a killer version of your song, hurts your rock and roll street cred more than playing for Tricia Nixon and Tricky Dicky.

The late 70s saw a short boom in jazz fusion groups like Weather Report, Spyro Gyra, Return To Forever and Pat Metheny Group. The closest thing to the jazz-horn bands of the late 60s/early 70s in recent years would be the Dave Mathews Band, which was popular in the 90s with radio programmers. However, many of the big hits of the jazz-horn boom are still heard on radio and still downloaded to MP3 players.

I'll provide you with a list of my favorite jazz-horn hits. Meanwhile, check out this website, Horn Rock Heaven.

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