Monday, October 16, 2023

Simpson - Simpson (1971 us, wonderful folk country silky rock)

Simpson was recorded in the fall and winter of 1970-1971 in Studio A, Columbia Records building, 49 East 52nd Street, New York City, and released in May 1971; and re-engineered and re-mastered by Jerry Brown of The Rubber Room, Chapel Hill, NC, and is being re-released in August 2021, with help from The Splinter Group, Carrboro, NC. 

Bland Simpson on piano led the quartet, which included David Olney (acoustic guitar), Steve Merola (drums), and Rob Rothstein (bass). Olney would have a storied career as a Nashville songwriter (and a member of the famed cohort that included Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt), recording artist, and leader of the high-powered X-Rays; Rothstein (as Rob Stoner) would later tour as bandleader of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue and record with Epic, MCA and Sun Records; Merola would perform on Broadway, and widely beyond, and also become the president of one of the first internet music companies, AreaMusic Entertainment.

The quartet was joined on the record by legendary musicians Bill Keith (veteran of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, on pedal steel), Eric Weissberg (of the Greenbriar Boys and The Tarriers, on fiddle and dobro), and Billy Schwartz (then appearing on Broadway in Hair and later a star recording artist and producer in Denmark as Billy Cross, electric guitar) and Rick Derringer (founder of the McCoys, later working with Johnny and Edgar Winter, Weird Al Yankovic, and Ringo Starr, electric guitar).

In 1972, Simpson returned to North Carolina, and he and John Foley (on 12-string guitar) formed a popular duo in Chapel Hill, soon expanding into a folk-rock quintet, the Southern States Fidelity Choir (with Jim Wann, guitar; Jan Davidson, bass; and Mike Sheehan, drums). The Southern States and The Red Clay Ramblers old-time band took Simpson and Wann's musical Diamond Studs: The Life of Jesse James to New York and a 1975 hit Off-Broadway run and national tour, opening the door to a host of "musicians' theatre" shows that later earned Wann & Foley et al.'s Pump Boys & Dinettes a Tony Award nomination and an Olivier Award in England and the Ramblers' Fool Moon a Special Tony Award and a Drama Desk “Unique Theatrical Experience” Award after that show's third Broadway run.

Simpson, who received the North Carolina Award for Fine Arts in 2005, is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of English & Creative Writing at UNC Chapel Hill, where he has taught since 1982. He has collaborated on numerous musicals, including King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running and Kudzu, and he has written many books about North Carolina. His new work North Carolina: Land of Water, Land of Sky (with photography by his wife and collaborator Ann Cary Simpson, Tom Earnhardt and Scott Taylor) will be published by UNC Press in October 2021.  

David Olney’s entry into music was much like that of many a young man and woman during the 1960s. “It was something that I could do,” he says, “and there weren’t a whole lot of those things. The times were pretty weird, the wild ‘60s, and that was the thing that I could count on.” Born in Rhode Island, Olney began his career playing guitar, eventually moving to North Carolina to attend college.

“I got into music really serious when I was in North Carolina,” he remembers, “and a friend of mine, Bland Simpson, went up to New York and got some interest up there, so he called me up to play in the band. We did a record, but nothing much happened, so we were back in North Carolina.” That band, named Simpson, would record a single album with Rick Derringer and Olney on guitars, Bland Simpson on piano, and Eric Weissberg on fiddle.

“I went down to Atlanta to be in the Atlanta Children’s Theater,” says Olney. “I was writing songs, and at some point it seemed the time to make a move, musically, and Nashville was the closest place. I knew a couple of people, so I had a couch to crash on. That was in 1973.” Olney arrived in the Music City at the tail end of the “cosmic cowboy” phase of outlaw country music. “Waylon Jennings was hitting big, so it was still going on,” remembers Olney. “I always thought that the gas crunch of ‘73, the first gas crisis, kind of shut things down. I don’t think the business felt like it could take chances on the crazy people. You couldn’t waste a lot of money on somebody that was interesting, which was too bad.” David Olney passed away on Saturday night, January 18th, 2020.
1. Mama, On My Way - 2:36
2. I'm Not Leaving You Now - 2:55
3. Swordswoman Provocation - 4:08
4. Interlude: Dixie - 0:57
5. Detroit Gregorian - 1:58
6. Too Much Help - 3:20
7. Crimes And Misfortunes - 2:58
8. Take It Your Own - 2:51
9. Lord, How I Wanna Go Home Again - 3:53
10.Worthless, Out Of Tune - 4:36
11.Interlude: Black Betty - 1:02
12.Cemetery Hill - 2:04
13.Long Day's Journey Into Night - Mrs. Neill - 2:16
All songs by Bland Simpson except track #4 by Daniel Decatur Emmett

*Bland Simpson - Piano, Vocals
*David Olney - Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
*Rob Rothstein - Bass, Organ, Vocals
*Steve Merola - Drums
*Rick Derringer - Electric Guitar (Track 3)
*Bill Schwartz - Electric Guitar (Track 1)
*Bill Keith - Pedal Steel
*Eric Weissberg - Dobro, Fiddle