Monday, August 21, 2023

Hamilton Streetcar - Hamilton Streetcar (1969 us, gorgeous melodic brass rock, sunny psych)

Bassist Bart Conway and guitarist Tom Fannon had been members of a high school surf band The Regents.  By 1965 they'd expanded their repertoire to more conventional rock, added keyboardist John Burge (aka Ian Hamilton), drummer Barry McGuire (quickly replaced by Danny Fantz, who was then replaced by Greg Hart) and singer Ralph Plummer to the lineup.  They also picked up a new name - The Chosen Few.  Within a short period they'd mutated into Rollin' Machine (the name supposedly inspired by their drummer's recreational habits), replaced Conway with Jay Alan and started to attract attention on the local club scene and by serving as opening for various national touring acts.  

Their big break came as a result of playing a UCLA frat party.  The performance attracted the attention of Forrest Hamilton (son of jazz drummer Chico Hamilton), who signed on as group manager.  Obviously time for a new name - briefly Hamilton Omnibus, followed by Hamilton Streetcar.  Their initial efforts to attract the attention of major labels went nowhere.  

Steady work in local clubs did little to attract the attention of major labels, but that changed when the group somehow caught the attention of the ever eccentric Lee Hazlewood who promptly signed the band to his newly established LHI label where they recorded to psych-tinged singles:

Former Challengers drummer Richard Delvy signed the band to Dot.  Unfortunately Delvy apparently had little interest in the group's original sound, rather was interested in using them as a backing group for material written by former Appletree Theatre fron tman John Boylan.  Perhaps not a major surprise, but dreaded creative differences quickly arose within the band and in a matter of months the band had fallen apart leaving Plummer  and keyboardist Hamilton to carry on as the sole survivors.  Boylan, Plummer and Hamilton quickly recruited singer/guitarist Buzz Clifford (who'd enjoyed an early 1960s hit with 'Baby Sittin' Boogie') and finished the album with backing from sessions players.

Described by Plummer as a "contractual obligation" project, 1969's "Hamilton Streetcar" found the survivors reluctantly continuing to work with producer Delvy.  The impact on creativity was obvious.  Whereas Plummer had previously written all of the band's material (he'd reportedly written some 50 tracks for their catalog), on the album his contributions were limited to handling lead vocals and penning the pop-flavored 'Silver Wings'.  That left Delvy to stitch together an album mixing popular covers with  new recruit Buzz Clifford picking up the creative slack with a series of four tunes.  Structurally the set was certainly odd, largely forsaking conventional three minute song structures in favor of a pair of side long, multi-part suites that frequently interweaved main themes with shorter refrains (examples included Clifford's 'Welcome into Your World' and a cover of Tim Buckley's 'Pleasant Street').  

Heavily orchestrated tracks like their cover of Lee Michael's 'Streetcar', Boylan's 'Brother Speed' (which the original band line up included in their live repertoire) and 'I See I Am' featured an engaging mixture of lounge act, MOR pop, with occasional psych moves.  The song quality bounced all over the place (Plummer himself has slammed the LP - see below), but several of the tracks were simply great - 'Wouldn't It Be Nice (To Have Wings and Fly)' and Plummer's 'Silver Wings' were personal favorites.  Not a perfect comparison, but songs like 'Now I Taste the Tears' and the instrumental 'Entre Acte' sounded a bit like Curt Boetcher and Gary Usher's work with Sagittarius.  It certainly wouldn't appeal to everyone, but folks into sunshine pop, or Boylan's work with Appletree Theatre would probably find a great deal to like.
1. Overture / Streetcar (Lee Michaels) - 5:49
2. Brother Speed (John Boylan) - 2:55
3. I See I Am (Buzz Clifford) - 4:41
4. Where Do I Go (Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni, James Rado) - 3:32
5. Now I Taste The Tears (Buzz Clifford) - 2:40
6. Welcome Into Your World (Buzz Clifford) - 2:16
7. Entre Acte - 4:01
8. Wouldn't It Be Nice (To Have Wings And Fly) / Silver Wings (Buzz Clifford / Ralph Plummer) - 7:08
9. Honey And Wine (Carole King, Gerry Goffin) - 3:18
10.Pleasant Street (Tim Buckley) - 4:25
11.Wasn't It You (Carole King, Gerry Goffin) - 3:15

Hamilton Streetcar
*John Boylan - Vocals
*Ralph Plummer - Vocals
*Ian Hamilton "John Burge" - Keyboards
*Buzz Clifford - Guitar, Vocals 
*Greg Hart - Drums
*Jay Alan - Bass
*Dave Roberts - Horns
*Richard Delvy - Orchestral Arrangements

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