Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Best of John Kay & Sparrow: Tighten Up Your Wig

Formed in Toronto, Canada, in 1965, Sparrow evolved from an earlier incarnation, Jack London And The Sparrows. The original line-up - Jack London (vocals), Dennis Edmonton (b. Dennis McCrohan, Oshawa, Ontario, Canada; guitar), Jerry Edmonton (b. Jerry McCrohan, 24 October 1946, Canada; drums), Nick St. Nicholas (b. 28 September 1943, Hamburg, Germany; bass) and Art Ayre (organ) - enjoyed a number 1 hit in Canada with ‘If You Don’t Want My Love’, before London left to pursue a poppier direction. Former folk singer John Kay (b. Joachim F. Krauledat, 12 April 1944, Tilsit, Germany) took his place and with the arrival of Goldy McJohn (b. 2 May 1945) in favour of Ayre, the definitive Sparrow was established. The quintet quickly became a leading attraction in Toronto’s Yorkville district, playing a gruff-styled R&B, perfect for Kay’s growled vocals. By contrast, the Sparrow’s singles, ‘Tomorrow’s Ship’ and ‘Green Bottle Lover’, were, respectively, folk rock and garage punk. They moved to Los Angeles in 1967, but split up when neither band nor producer (David Rubinson) were happy with their final series of recordings. Kay, McJohn and Jerry Edmonton then formed Steppenwolf, whose best-known song, ‘Born To Be Wild’, was composed by Dennis Edmonton, under his newly-assumed name, Mars Bonfire. Nick St. Nicholas was a member of Steppenwolf between 1969 and 1970 and the success of this band inspired the release of John Kay And The Sparrow, which comprised of demo recordings made to secure their recording contract with CBS Records.

The Best of John Kay & Sparrow 1993

Before joining Steppenwolf, John Kay led The Sparrow, a Toronto band that traveled to New York, L.A., and San Francisco in search of success and a secure record contract. Some of their work has appeared on albums in the past, but this 18-track CD is the most thorough compilation of the tapes they cut for Columbia in 1966-67. This includes their lone official 45 and various audition/demo sessions, among them seven previously unreleased performances. The material is a mix of Kay originals, blues covers of stalwarts like John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed, and a previously unreleased version of Hoyt Axton's anti-drug "The Pusher." For all its rarity, this stuff is not terribly impressive; it's pedestrian blues-rock for the most part. Oddly enough, Kay was barely involved in the best -- and least typical -- tracks, the lovely psychedelic tune "Tomorrow's Ship" and the massively echoed freakout "Isn't It Strange." Written and sung by other band members, these songs reflect a trippy Californian ambience that was distinctly at odds with Kay's heavy rock leanings.

This CD would be complete if it wasn't missing "Down Goes Your Love Life" and "Chasin' Shadows" from the original LP. Although it has all of the bonus tracks. Go for the recent Repertoire reissue (...) In 1969, while "Born to Be Wild" was the next big thing, Columbia decided to issue these recordings from 1967. Featuring Dennis Edmonton (better known as Mars Bonfire) and Nick St. Nicholas (who did not join Steppenwolf right off, but came in for the "Birthday Party" LP). Columbia issued only one single off of these tapes in 1967 and did not show interest in issuing anything else. These recordings show the group working out of a blues mold (on Kay's material), a little jazz (Jerry Edmonton sings on "King Pin"), pop ("Down Goes Your Love Life" with, surprisingly,Nick and Goldy McJohn singing!) and even a theremin used on "Green Bottle Lover". Mars Bonfire sings a few tracks ("Isn't It Strange" "Tomorrow's Ship" "Chasing Shadows"), John sings most, and Jerry gets in there. Very interesting to say the least. Not just for collectors, but fans as well. This CD is missing the two tracks from the original LP

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