Blood Sweat and Tears
"From the very
beginning," original Blood Sweat and Tears drummer Bobby Colomby explains,
"there was a concept for the band that included more of a jazz orientation
and more experimentation. We had an opportunity for the guys to display
whatever talent they had."
Blood Sweat and Tears put so many
different sounds together, they rank high among 60s rock innovators. Just adding horns to a rhythm section was
nothing new. It was a core element of
rhythm and blues, even using musicians with jazz chops. However, featuring the jazz musicians and
their improvisational soloing was something few R&B groups did. Where the R&B jazz players more often
than not came out of the era when jazz bands played to dancers, the BS&T
horn section came out of the post-bop ethos wherein people listened to
jazz. Randy Brecker would move on to
Horace Silver's band. Lew Soloff worked
with Mingus. Their version of
"rock jazz" (as opposed to Miles' "jazz rock") was
unique. That it became the stuff of
chart topping gold and platinum records was exceptional. It became a sound that intrigued the public
and spawned hoards of imitators during the early 70s (remember Chase, Dreams,
Lighthouse & Ides of March?).
Although most bands name their
first albums after themselves, Blood Sweat and Tears followed about a year
after the group's debut, Child Is Father To the Man. A lot had happened in the interim. For one thing, the group's co-founder, lead singer and main
songwriter, Al Kooper, had left the band, as had trumpet players Randy Brecker
and Jerry Weiss. Still, Columbia president Clive Davis continued to love the
idea of the band and told them the company stood behind them. With that in mind, the group started to
rebuild. The first order of business
was finding a new lead singer.
considered, and even rehearsed with Laura Nyro," recalls the band's
drummer Bobby Colomby. "We were talking about Steve Stills and other
people. But Steve Katz and I had heard
this group called the David Clayton Thomas Combine at Steve Paul's Scene, a New
York rock club. Every time the singer
sang, I just looked up at the stage and said, 'Is that voice coming from that
guy? He sounds like Bobby Blue Bland.'
Really powerful singing. So, when we
were going through who we thought could be our singer, Steve Katz said, 'What
about that Canadian guy that we heard at the Scene?'"
The group invited Clayton Thomas to audition, asking him to
come ready to sing some of the songs from their first album. He came in with "I Love You More Than
You'll Ever Know."
"Out comes this magnificent voice that I thought matched the power of
the horn section," Colomby recalls. "To me, that was always essential. It had to
be a very compatible sound. He knocked us flat on the first verse of that tune. We knew we had found our singer."
Lew Soloff and Chuck Winfield came on board to play trumpet.
Jerry Hyman joined on trombone. The nine musicians took up residence in a
rehearsal loft above the Garrick Theater in Greenwich Village, working out new
material and running the new players through the older songs.
"I was pretty excited while we were rehearsing,"
says Colomby. "I really enjoyed it. It was a positive time. I had an idea we were onto something when, in the middle of the hot summer in Greenwich Village, there
were people just standing on the hot street, listening to us rehearse.
"When we played our first engagement at the Café Au Go-Go on Bleeker St., right next to the Garrick Theater, I saw lines around the block," he continues. "I had no
idea who they were there to see. I
didn't realize the word of mouth on the band had spread to the extent that
there would be that many people there to hear us."
Flush from this success, the band went into the studio.
"We didn't have a lot of material, but we had stuff that we had played
live. When you know your material, when you've had a chance to play it out, it
really does make it a lot easier to record."
As diverse a group of players as you could put in a room,
the material the chose reflected that eclecticism. Blood Sweat and Tears runs the gamut from Motown to Satie, from
Billie Holiday to Laura Nyro.
"The way the band chose material was extremely democratic," Colomby concurs.
"If these nine musicians agreed on a song, then it probably would work for us.
Like the Eric Satie piece, or 'God Bless The Child.' Obviously, there was no continuity in the
song selection. The musicians in the band liked those tunes, so we did
them. We had no master plan, no
strategy. We just went into the studio
and had fun."
The band had played one of those tunes almost since the
beginning, a cover of "You've Made Me So Very Happy," a Brenda
Holloway Motown tune that scratched the top 40 (#39 in 1967). By the spring of
1969, BS&T's version of the song became something that eluded the band with
their first album: a bona fide hit, reaching #2 on the chart and staying there
for three weeks, going gold in the process. They followed this with another gold single, "Spinning Wheel."
"Stylistically, 'Spinning Wheel' was simple enough
where we could have fun with it, make an almost comedic, overblown arrangement
of a very simple tune," Colomby recalls. "It was about fun. When it
became a hit record, in a way I was thinking, 'My god, they don't get the
joke! They're serious.' And as time
went on, it became more and more serious, because it became a big hit."
By the next fall, the band was up at #2 and gold again, this
time with a cover of Laura Nyro's "And When I Die." When the smoke cleared, Blood Sweat and Tears spent seven weeks atop the Billboard album chart, sold over three million copies and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and another one for Pop/Rock/Contemporary-Other for the album track "Variations On A Theme By Eric Satie." Beyond being the group's commercial apex, the album represented the
group's peak in many more personal ways.
"By the summer, we were off of a massive hit,"
Colomby recalled of the wake of Blood Sweat and Tears. "Our manager was
trying to extract the last nickel out of us, so we were touring
incessantly. When it came time to
record our next album, we didn't have time to stop and organize a thoughtful
"We did some interesting stuff," he adds wistfully, "but I didn't feel any of the joy I felt recording our second album."