When I was in the band The Blues Project in early 1967, I started writing songs that suggested to me that horns would make them sound better. I asked the leader of the Project, Danny Kalb, if we could add horns to the lineup and he turned me down, saying we couldn’t afford it (true). My songs pestered me into quitting the band in search of the perfect band to record these new songs. In addition, I had selected cover tunes that I had good ideas for horn arrangements on. So after a wide search I had put together an unheard of eight-member aggregation. This is the sound and story of the song selection for that album.
1. "Just One Smile" (demo) — Randy Newman (2:41)
I was signed to a publisher as a songwriter when I was about 16 years old. I usually wrote with two other guys, Irwin Levine and Bob Brass. They wrote the words and I wrote the music. Our biggest song was "This Diamond Ring" by Gary Lewis and the Playboys, which went to #1 nationally. We worked on the east coast. The west coast office signed people from there and they had a young Randy Newman writing songs there. So I would hear his demos and MAN! That was some of the strangest stuff I heard in that time period. One of those songs I truly loved and I had his weird-ass demo of it. I still have it (on disc) and I transferred it to the computer so it’s all scratchy and pretty strange anyway. This is where I originally got this song and I wrote my own arrangement of it for the album.
2. "Just One Smile" (backing track) — Blood Sweat & Tears (4:28)
This was a rough mix from back then that I used to rehearse doing the vocal. It’s nice because you can hear all the little thingies the band is doing. There were some amazing musicians in this band: Randy Brecker, Fred Lipsius, Jim Fielder and Bobby Colomby were probably the top four. Each of the four horn players could play keyboards better than me. That was embarrassing.
3. "Something Going On" (demo) — Al Kooper (3:04)
This was a song I wrote by myself probably around 1964 and I recorded this demo back then. It’s very James Brown-influenced. I played all the instruments except for drums which were played by then-sessioneer Buddy Salzman. I decided in 1967 that this would be a great track for the band.
4. "My Days Are Numbered" (demo) — Blood Sweat & Tears (2:40)
This was one of the original demos we recorded as a rhythm section BEFORE we had a horn section. We hired two trumpet players to play a makeshift arrangement and we used about four songs to try and get a record deal. Jerry Wexler at Atlantic turned us down; Mo Ostin at Warner Brothers passed on us; but Bill Gallagher at Columbia records was interested. He got fired and Clive Davis replaced him. Fortunately, he also liked the demos and we eventually signed to Columbia Records. This was one of my new songs that wanted horns. Pretty ironic title when ya think I only lasted one album.
Original BS&T, 1967
5. "The Modern Adventures of Plato, Diogenes and Freud" (demo) — Al Kooper (4:26)
When we selected John Simon to be the producer of the album, he took us into the studio and did live one-take versions of the songs so he could choose which songs to use and make some arrangement changes. This was the last song I wrote for the album and Bobby Colomby HATED it because it was essentially a solo track with just a vocal and a John Simon string arrangement — he felt it "wasn’t the band." My argument concerned that other band where just one guy in the band played acoustic guitar and sang with strings behind him and they called it by the group's name AND it went top ten. But that was just The Beatles ("Yesterday"). What difference could THAT make in a Bobby Colomby argument? It was the first step in my being “fired” from the band. The song was about a psychiatrist in New York who had many musicians as patients. He was a disciple of Timothy Leary’s and that was a plus for him at the time. When it was discovered he was shtupping his female patients, his career quickly ended. So I wrote a little eulogy for him. This was one of the strangest songs I ever wrote. Maybe Bobby Colomby was right.
John Simon, 1967
6. "I Can't Quit Her" (live, 1994) — Child Is Father to the Man (3:46)
This was a version of BS&T I put together for my 50th birthday party celebration at The Bottom Line in New York. The reformed Blues Project also played and my current band at the time, The Rekooperators. This band had Jimmy Vivino on guitar, Will Lee on bass, Anton Fig on drums, and horn players Randy Brecker, Lou Soloff, Fred Lipsius and Tom ‘Bones’ Malone. Background singers were Katherine Russell and Sheryll Marshall. John Simon played keyboards that I didn’t play and also the string parts he originally wrote on synth on this one. I played piano and sang. It is on The Soul of a Man album, which is essentially my only solo live album. So this is actually ‘reunion’ BS&T.
7. "Without Her" — Nilsson (2:10)This was Harry’s first hit single and it was current when we were planning the album. I really wanted to cover this but I had to find an angle 'cause this version you didn’t wanna compete with. So I came up with a bossa nova arrangement which was miles away from the original and had wonderful solos by Brecker, Lipsius and John Simon on piano. I didn’t even play on our version — just sang.
8. "So Much Love" — Percy Sledge (2:56)
This was an album cut I really loved written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. I was a big Percy Sledge fan but I thought not enough people knew this song. We played this and "Just One Smile" for our Atlantic/Jerry Wexler audition. He turned us down but he turned around and cut those two songs with Dusty Springfield on the Dusty in Memphis album which came out BEFORE our album (one of the reasons I don’t really love the music business). Anyway, this is the original version, although Steve Alaimo’s version was also out at the same time.
9. "Morning Glory" — Tim Buckley (2:51)
Steve Katz and I both liked this Buckley cover so I whipped off a horny arrangement for Steve to sing to. Also Jim Fielder was in Buckley’s original band. That helped. This is a great version and if you’ve never heard it, you’re gonna like it. Steve and I did.
10. "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" — Amy Winehouse (4:40)
This appeared on YouTube a couple of years ago and just ripped my head open. Damn — she was great! I also love the fact that she didn’t change the lyric gender. Other women who recorded it (Carmen McRae, Dakota Staton, Cold Blood) all took the female side. NOT AMY. I have included the video because it’s so good. Other than, of course, Donny Hathaway and on YouTube there’s a Stevie Wonder (!) version, Amy is up there in the top three. What a talent! I remember writing this song in my apartment in the Village at 140 Waverly Place in 1967. I was really happy when I finished it 'cause it was hard to write. It’s now become my largest earning song largely because of the Hathaway version.
"Wake Me, Shake Me" — The Golden Chords (2:58)
I include this because I learned the Blues Project staple from this version. I also was present at this live recording at a bar called The Sweet Chariot on West 47th Street. That was my ‘hang bar’ for the short year or so it was open circa 1963 in NYC. I was a regular and sat at the bar practically every night getting a thorough Hammond B3 organ education from the house organist Bobby Banks. It was an amazing place — the waitresses were dressed as angels (including wings!), they served soul food only, and every audience member got a tambourine on entry. Wish they’d reopen...