“The Sound of ’65” – The Graham Bond Organisation
Recorded: Dec 1964 / Jan & Feb 1965
Released: February 26th 1965 on Columbia 33SX 1711
Graham Bond was recruited to Alexis Korner’s Blues Inc. as an alto sax player, to replace the departing Cyril Davies, but he soon persuaded Alexis to let him sing and play Hammond Organ in the intervals, with the band’s rhythm section, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. Baker’s prophetic aside to Alexis, ‘Blimey, you’d better watch him, he’ll nick half the band!’ came true when Graham resigned on behalf of all three, and took the Graham Bond Trio on the road. His coup was completed when he persuaded tenor player Dick Heckstall-Smith to quit Blues Inc. and join him, naming the new line-up The Graham Bond Organisation. Like their parent band, they were all mature musicians, Dick being 30 years of age, Graham 28, Ginger 25 and Jack, the baby of the band, 21.
They were already experimenting with new methods of sound production. Bond had achieved a greater degree of portability for the cumbersome Hammond Organ by splitting it into two parts. He was also first in the UK to run it through a Leslie Cabinet, whose rotating speakers caused periodic changes in sound and volume, adding vibrato and Doppler effects to the keyboard. Bruce, who in the trio days had still been playing an upright bass, converted to electric bass guitar, and for most sessions his instrument of choice was the unusual Fender Bass VI, a solid-bodied six-string bass with three pick-ups and a tremolo arm, modelled on the Fender Jaguar and tuned an octave below a standard guitar.
For many groups in the sixties, recording was still a hurried affair, though there’s some disagreement about just how long it took to get The Sound of 65 on tape. Bruce has always claimed the whole album took only three hours, while Ginger maintains it took “less than a week.” Alternatively, discography notes on Borge Skilbrigt’s well-researched www.grahambond.org suggest recording took place on five sessions spaced over nearly a month. In any case, the resultant sound is clear enough to give a good impression of the sonic impact the Organisation could project, which Dick H-S described as a “powerhouse discipline.” Lyricist Pete Brown said “when they were playing it was like a house on fire, there was nothing else happening – they were it!” Music Journalist Chris Welch wrote the sleeve notes for their debut LP, which earned him the princely sum of ten shillings (50p) and he stated the case eloquently and accurately enough to rate a repeat here.
“This record marks the break-through of the unique and exciting music of the Graham Bond Organisation. It will bring wider appreciation for their startling fusion of rhythm and blues and modern jazz, which until now, only club and concert audiences have experienced”. (Unless of course you’d bought their first single and EP on Decca! – Sneaky Stevie King)
The extraordinary variety of sounds, styles and treatments that Graham’s band can attain are brilliantly showcased in this, their first album, which will surprise new listeners and delight devoted fans.
The Organisation was formed in early 1963 when all four left Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. It was natural that the new group should have a jazz feel to their music. Graham has already been voted second in the 1961 Melody Maker readers’ poll ‘New Star’ section, and has made his name playing alto saxophone with the Don Rendell Quintet.
The other members of the group, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Dick Heckstall-Smith have all played in various jazz groups. But as renegade jazzmen they turned to rhythm and blues with such fervency and played with such a combination of skill and emotion, they quickly built up a massive following in live appearances up and down the country. One of those rare groups in which each member in indispensable, they all make a vital contribution to the overall sound.
Graham leads on organ and vocals and occasionally returns to alto sax, which he plays simultaneously with the organ, and what an impressive sight he makes!
Good-looking Jack Bruce lays the solid foundation of bass guitar and is being featured more and more on harmonica and as a singer.
Peak-capped Dick Heckstall-Smith riffs and wails on tenor saxophone, and the explosive Ginger Baker propels the group with his dynamic and completely personal drum technique.
They are musicians who are technically brilliant and at the same time emotionally responsive, to such a degree that they can produce sounds that a few years ago would not have been believed possible by British musicians. It is unlikely that there is another group like them in the world.
Sophisticated, raw, savage and soulful, their music is all these things. It is the music of the Graham Bond Organisation – The Sound of ’65.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Welch was merely indulging in journalistic hyperbole, but both in 1965 and to this day, you’d be hard put to find another Blues Band who could match their musical prowess, or create such an unique and uncompromising sound. Unlike their contemporaries, The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones, these weren’t teenagers keenly striving to approximate the sounds of US Blues. These were men, confident in their capabilities, bringing their Jazz-honed skills to bear on R&B with all the zeal of the newly-converted. And, reader, they did it all without a guitar hero!
Side One :
Trk. 1) The traditional riff of “Hoochie Coochie “ (sic) intros Graham’s unconventional vocal style, at first menacingly intimate, then rising to a rasping, full throated roar, mirrored by his mighty Hammond. Bruce’s pumping bass and “yeah, yeah, yeah” backing vocals add an insistent drive to the chorus, and the whole thing reaches a climax as Bond takes an unrestrained, squealing alto solo over the last verse. Simply glorious.
Trk. 2) “Baby Make Love to Me.” In complete contrast, this smouldering song of seduction’s the epitome of restraint. Sung up close by Bruce, with Bond providing the harmony, it was written by Jack and his young wife-to-be Janet Godfrey, also the band’s fan club secretary. There’s little hint of the Hammond, unless it’s providing the bass line? Meanwhile the chorus breathes, suggestively, “Do you think that we could maybe make love?” and Bruce’s harmonica and the two saxes intertwine languorously in the solo. It’s sensual, sultry, completely divine, and over in less than two minutes.
Trk. 3) A cover of Jimmy Hughes’ 1964 US R&B hit “Neighbour Neighbour,” a favourite with UK bands of the day, is sung here by Bond, delivered with what Welch calls “determined violence.” Bruce and Baker are strong and tight but economical, and the Hammond rumbles, growls and screeches its way through a gorgeous sixteen bar solo. Nice!
Trk. 4) “Early in the Morning” has quite a history. Previously played as a rather dull instrumental by Blues Inc., it was carried over to the Organisation as a jumping off point for Ginger’s solo, and that version can be heard on ‘I Met The Blues At Klooks Kleek,’ an album that’s suffered many re-packagings, having previously been ‘Live at Klooks Kleek,’ ‘One Night at Klooks Kleek’ ‘At The Beginning,’ ‘Person To Person Blues,’ ‘Faces and Places,’ and ‘The Beginning of Jazz-Rock.’ Like “Five Live Yardbirds,” it was recorded, albeit somewhat unsuccessfully, by Phillip Wood and Giorgio Gomelsky, and the authorship of the song is often mistakenly attributed to Dallas Bartley, Leo Hickman & Louis Jordan, or Woody Harris & Bobby Darin, all of whom wrote different “Early In The Mornings” altogether.
This is a prison work song, first committed to tape by Alan Lomax at the notorious Parchman Farm penitentiary in 1947, where it was sung by inmates Walter ‘Tangle Eye’ Jackson, Willy ‘Hard Hat’ Lacey, Benny Will Richardson ’22,’ and ‘Little Red.’ In the “Sound of 65” cut, the Organisation restores the words of the chant, with all their murderous intent, and adds unexpected harmonies that increase the chilling eeriness of this unusual piece. Jack’s solo, at the top end of the six-string bass, sounds almost like an acoustic guitar, and there’s an uplifting surge in the sound when he returns to the lower notes. Probably one of the most striking numbers on the album, it’s still less than two minutes long.
Trk. 5) Bond composed the instrumental “Spanish Blues” perhaps harking back to the time when he’d worked as a cocktail pianist on the Spanish island of Majorca. The lead is taken by Graham duetting with himself on organ and alto simultaneously. – something few men could do- and it was recorded in one take. Very tightly arranged, it goes through several movements, starting staccato, then swinging, and at one point becoming almost Egyptian in flavour. Defying easy classification, it’s still a fascinating and inventive piece from an extraordinarily gifted musician.
Trk. 6) “Oh Baby.” Hardly really a song, so much as couple of lines thrown down on top of a Bo Diddley beat, to provide a starting point for Ginger’s solo. Still, at 2 minutes and 39 seconds you can hardly call it self-indulgent, and it reaches a terrific finale with thundering drums and overblown saxes which is a delight in itself.
Trk. 7) A four bar drum intro brings in Graham’s “Little Girl,” a fairly straightforward and relaxed Blues wrapped round a sax riff, giving Dick his first genuine solo on the album. Bond puts his voice through its paces, screaming and shouting convincingly, no doubt a number that went well in the clubs.
Side Two :
Trk. 1) Augmented by trumpeters John Hockridge and Ian Hamer, “I Want You” is an exercise in tension with gruff, menacing vocals, stentorian drums, and shrieking stabs of brass. A single sixteen-bar verse is followed by a one-chord bridge which builds in intensity, until it reaches a peak and returns to the verse. The lyrics may be a little pedestrian, but the arrangement and sound are terrific.
Trk. 2) “Wade In The Water.” After a manic, Bach-inspired intro, this traditional number settles into a “Hit The Road Jack”-styled groove, where the refrain is carried by Graham and Dick, and Ginger throws in some formidable drum breaks. The performance is virtually identical on the live “Klooks Kleek” album, where it goes down a storm with the club’s crowd, obviously a firm favourite and very well-rehearsed. www.grahambond.org lists it as another one-take wonder, though a second take with a longer intro has now surfaced on the eponymous “Classics, Origins & Oddities” Box Set. Tremendously tight and bursting with energy, a track that defines the “powerhouse discipline” of a band at their best.
Trk. 3) “Got My Mojo Working” was already an old workhorse of the British R&B scene when the GBO recorded their version, but they take it at a different tempo and stamp their own identity on it. A really swinging groove, with a fabulous sax solo from Dick, and Graham’s vocals seem uncharacteristically relaxed until the ending, when they pull out all the stops. Sounds like they enjoyed themselves on this one!
Trk. 4) Jack Bruce reportedly “never felt right” about playing harp in a working band while Cyril Davies was alive. How weird is that? Anyhow, as soon as old Squirrel had kicked the bucket, Jack was free to blow up a storm on his own “Train Time,” allegedly based on a song of the same name by Forest City Joe. It’s got the most insistent and infectious train rhythm, some beautiful brushwork from Ginger, timely accentuations from Dick, and lovely smooth, rolling keyboard from Graham. Probably the best recording of this number ever, in spite of all the versions Cream did. Oh, and the harp’s not bad either, but he’s no Cyril Davies!
Trk. 5) “Baby Be Good To Me.” Another Bruce/Godfrey composition, hurried and hypnotic with hand claps and hooting horns. Jack’s vocals are breathless, the bass line’s strangely snatched and syncopated, and there are a couple of unexpected key changes, one of which almost sounds like a mistake. Altogether quite an unorthodox piece, but also very catchy.
Trk. 6) “Half A Man” is a medium-slow eight-bar Blues of a definite Ray Charles flavour, with an undulating bass line running through it. Very tastefully executed, and like many tracks on the LP, barely two minutes long, but size isn’t everything.
Trk. 7) By 1965 the band were represented by Robert Stigwood, who’s listed as the producer, but who according to Bruce, did no actual production work on the album. He also encouraged the band to record “Tammy,” a Debbie Reynolds hit from 1957, as the single, so that’s two counts against him. Even the extra trumpets can’t save this one.
Overall, a fairly unconventional Blues LP, which, for me, is part of its charm. Bruce’s compositions stand out as perhaps more inventive that Bond’s, whose songs are mostly in the mainstream R&B vein, and the inclusion of two instrumentals is atypical, to say the least. The music press of the day were most appreciative, Record Mirror describing it as “a startlingly effective mixture of sounds” and “a first-rate album.” Disc reviewed it with the words “It sounds like nothing else I’ve heard, and is really musical in spite of the raw instrumental sounds achieved,” and NME said “Way-out blues sounds, weird at times, but always fascinating.” Sadly, none of it translated into big sales.
The Organisation had so much going for them, and also so much going against them. In spite of the quality of their music, and the respect they enjoyed from the music press, they couldn’t compete with the teenage bands in the image stakes, and found it hard to get a hit record. Add to that the drug habits, the money problems, and the bickering that culminated with Baker pulling a knife on Bruce and ordering him out of the band, and they were destined for destruction. But it doesn’t detract from the great musical achievements on this classic LP.
It’s currently available on CD in two forms: On BGO, where it’s twinned with the second LP “There’s A Bond Between Us” – a fine album with a very similar formula, but not quite as compelling – or on Repertoire, where it appears with bonus tracks which include the superb Decca single of Tommy Tucker’s “Long Tall Shorty,” and its B-side, Bond’s own rocking “Long Legged Baby,” both produced by Mike Vernon, as well as the sweet, Soul-flavoured “Tell Me (I’m Gonna Love Again.)” Take your pick, either one is a gem that would grace any British Blues fan’s collection.
© Stevie King 2015 for the British Blues Archive.