Saturday, December 11, 2021

Evergreen Blueshoes - The Ballad Of Evergreen Blueshoes (1969 us, extraordinary folk psych rock, with Skip Battin from Byrds fame and Chester McCracken from Doobie Brothers, 2016 korean remaster)

The underground folk-rock band Evergreen Blueshoes was conceived in Los Angeles in June of 1967  by a  guitarist/songwriter and bassist/singer trying to bring their two musical experiences together to form a unique new one.  It survived the turbulence of the following year only to die of neglect in mid-1969. Its heart was the partnership of Allan “Country Al” Ross aka Al Rosenberg aka A.P. Rosenberg, a struggling songwriter and folk and country music guitarist and Clyde “Skip” Battin, a singer-bassist hoping to turn a 1959 hit record into a post-Beatles career. The band was rounded out by Kenny Kleist, organ and trumpet, Lanny Mathijssen, Rock ‘n Soul guitar, and Chet McCracken, a soul-type “heavy” drummer.

At its best in live concerts the group presented a humming blend of different musical genres: American and ethnic folk, Rock & Soul, Country,  20th Century modernism and poetry,  knitted together by spoken narrative to form a continuous 40 minute set and album  [Amos  Records (vinyl, of course) , a sub-label of Warner Bros.]

Most of the band’s repertoire was written by Ross (Rosenberg at the time), a protégé of Doc Watson and student of American string-band music and Balkan dance accompaniment while an undergrad at UCLA.  [Jewish Teahouse] is an example of what could happen when he got his shit together. The melody is lifted from Ladarke, a kolo dance tune complete with accelerating entrance,  a Haiku-like lyric and Rock bridge. It was the first song in a projected cycle that left  Ross and the band with three recorded but unreleased songs,  Gypsy Wedding , Telephone Sue and Piece of the Action.

Battin brought his 1959 ballad “Cherry Pie” to the table in the band’s efforts to get gigs and court record producers, as well as his front-man charisma and sexuality (“Pick one girl in the audience and take her home with your eyes.”) The “Cherry Pie” identification cut both ways: they would get low-paying gigs in beer joints from owners Skip had known in his “Skip and Flip” days, backing up “Cherry Pie,” but they’d often have to play the song, which by that time Skip hated. If they didn’t, there were occasional consequences. Once, in a mainly Chicano San Fernando bar, a Pachuco came up to the stage in the middle of a cutting-edge, no-breaks concept set, loomed over Kenny, the organ player, and said, “Play ‘Cherry Pie.’ Play it now.’” Another time Skip and Al were trying to get the attention of Snuff Garrett, a heavy-hitter producer/A&R guy at Liberty Records. They made a plea in his office to hear some of Al’s “now” compositions. As they made their pitch, Garrett leaned back in his chair, smiled and said, “I’ll consider it, if you sing ‘Cherry Pie.’” Skip reportedly looked like he was going to cry but did it anyway. Garret did not make a record of them.

Two things kept the band under constant pressure: the need to work, especially in venues that encouraged acts to perform fresh material (no “Top 40,” please) and the development of…fresh material. For Skip, booking the band into small, out-of-the-way venues that paid bills but gave no exposure to the record industry and had no use for new material, was easy. The hard part was convincing the band’s foot soldiers, organist Kenny Kleist, guitarist Lanny Mathijssen and an early drummer named Willie, that it was necessary to give up a gig at, say, the Plush Purple Lounge in Anaheim at $145/week per man for a week at the Topanga Canyon Corral, a hot but low-paying club in the Santa Monica Mountains, because producers, A&R guys and other scouts came there, if only to scope out hippy chicks who danced flowingly with no underwear on and macramé tops as concealing as hurricane fences. Generally speaking, though, Lanny and Kenny, and, later, drummer Chet McCracken, went along with it, probably sensing that small, obscure, Top Forty bars were not where it was “happening” in middle/late ‘Sixties Pop and Rock. So the band worked steadily from its inception in the summer of 1967 until early 1969.

It was in the development of material that Skip and Al’s partnership worked best. Skip, old pro that he was, admitted he had trouble writing, in fact, with creativity in general. So he recruited Al, a local country-folk guitarist who taught at and frequently accompanied acts appearing at the Ash Grove, to form a band with him, fifty-fifty in every way. He, Skip, would sing lead, play bass, recruit other members and, at first, lead them to gigs. Al, inexperienced as a rock player but more in touch with where music was headed in the mid-‘Sixties than Skip,  would write and adapt Public Domain material like this arrangement of Life’s Railway to Heaven, perform and, later, book the band into such venues as the Topanga Corral, Ash Grove, Troubadour and Whiskey A Go Go.

Though never expressly articulated, it was a good plan, because Skip had great stage presence, sex appeal and knowledge of the record business, if not the material itself.  He knew what to do with fresh product even if he couldn’t produce it himself. He also had a line to Al’s imagination that enabled him as a mentor to guide his disciple along creative paths that might pay off. They developed a strong friendship, which included sharing acid trips, as well as the exciting, exhausting business of launching and sustaining a new band. The result was that soon after their first meeting Al began writing, adapting and arranging songs and instrumentals for Skip to sing and the band to play.

Al’s creative “product,” as credited either in the album’s liner notes or the group’s estimation, included “Life’s Railway to Heaven,” “Line Out” (with Skip), “The Raven” (with E.A. Poe), “Mrs. Cohen’s Little Boy” (with Dave Cohen), “Moon Over Mt. Olympus” and “Jewish Teahouse.” There were three post-album songs he wrote but never recorded: “(Have You Ever Seen a) Gypsy Wedding?,” “Telephone Sue” and “Midget at the Whiskey,” as well as a novel bluegrass treatment of the Hedgehog Song written and performed by the Incredible String Band, a British group.

This material was hatched, slowly at first, then more quickly as Al became more sure-footed as a composer and lyricist. There were always stages, risers, bars, love-ins, high school auditoriums, music festivals and shows to test the new material in and, therefore, get feedback from. In general, the feedback was nearly always positive, often dramatically so in venues like the Corral, Ash Grove, Whiskey, and, for one magical night when the band was supposed to go on as ringers for the United Fruit Company but ended up performing as EGBS, at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium.

Although the band played a lot of bars at the beginning, for nothing but survival pay, things got better and better as an identity gradually emerged. Some time in mid-1968 Bob Hite, lead singer for Canned Heat and champion of EGBS to the bookers at the Topanga Corral, introduced Skip and Al to John Hartmann and Skip Taylor, partners in Kaleidoscope, a fledgling management and representation agency that would be out of business in less than a year. In the meantime, they booked the band into larger, higher-paying one-night venues, like the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Anaheim Playhouse and some classier lounges in Las Vegas, and began to expose the band to producers, A&R men and record labels. But it was at the Whiskey A Go Go, on the Sunset Strip, that Mike Post, future TV theme-music giant (“Rockford Files,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Law and Order,” et al) found and, ultimately, produced them.

There was definitely public awareness of the band at the height of their activity. The Whiskey and Ash Grove dates drew capacity crowds and “for twenty minutes,” as Al said, they were considered the most popular underground band in L.A. Members of Buffalo Springfield, Pogo (later “Poco”), Canned Heat and the Byrds could be seen in audiences, and, perhaps, drew some spiritual if not musical sustenance from the band.

But, as with so many unseasoned bands, things began to fall apart between the time the album, “The Ballad of Evergreen Blueshoes,” was produced and its release. The post-recording doldrums had Skip hating the record production, producer and production company with good reason: all of them sucked. It was Al who’d found and put them in everybody’s faces, mainly because he believed in Mike Post, an ambitious if moderately gifted producer, who had just had a huge hit single, Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas.” That Post was also the producer of Sammy Davis, Jr., didn’t raise questions in Al’s mind says something about his inexperience. Skip never completely forgave Al for his aggessiveness, which he characterized as “Rossiprocity.”

For his part, Al came to despise the managers that followed the suddenly-defunct Kaleidoscope, Laurel Canyon Productions, which he blamed for the breakup of the band because they paid the members salaries in lieu of getting them gigs. Thus, Skip and Al honored their tacit 50-50 partnership agreement even as the band slid into oblivion, the album’s eventual distribution notwithstanding. !0,000 pressings were said to have been made, though’ this seems to be an educated guess rather than an accountancy fact.

As for the rest of the band, Wisconsin farmer/organist Kenny Kleist, construction-worker/guitarist Lanny Mathijssen and Kid Chet McCracken (ten years younger than the next oldest band member, Al) they thought they’d died and gone to heaven. They were in a real-deal hippy band making music (when they were actually making music) in L.A., were on a double-jacketed album cover emblazoned with a four-color photo of them cavorting nude in the Hollywood Hills (the first such album-cover artwork in the Industry), were being paid by their “Canyon” managers to not work, had bought a bunch of new furniture, had tried cocaine, had copies of their production contract with four pages missing right where it talked about reporting of proceeds, advances against royalties and gross (as opposed to net) accounting. Which they signed! It doesn’t get any better, and neither did Evergreen Blueshoes.
1. Life's Railway To Heaven (Al Rosenberg, Chester McCracken, Ken Kleist, Lanny Mathijssen, Skip Battyn) - 3:50
2. Walking Down The Line (Bob Dylan) - 3:25
3. Line Out (Al Rosenberg, Skip Battyn) - 0:46
4. Amsterdam In 1968 (Mark Levine) - 3:07
5. Everything's Fine Right Now (Mike Heron) - 3:00
6. Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry) - 3:00
7. The Hedge Hog's Song (Mike Heron) - 2:44
8. The Raven (Al Rosenberg, Edgar Allan Poe, Skip Battyn) - 1:53
9. Mrs. Cohen's Little Boy (David Cohen) - 1:55
10.Moon Over Mt. Olympus (Al Rosenberg) - 1:45
11.Jewish Teahouse (Al Rosenberg) - 3:16
12.The Everblue Express (Kim Fowley, Skip Battyn) - 4:54

The Evergreen Blueshoes
*Al Rosenberg - Guitar 
*Lanny Mathijssen - Guitar
*Ken Kleist - Organ
*Skip Battyn - Bass, Vocals
*Chester McCracken - Drums  

Related Acts