|the desert island classics story #4:|
In the Beginning:
The story begins in the San Francisco Bay Area. It's 1963 and young high school freshman David Biasotti meets fellow student, banjo player and bluegrass fan Randy Groenke in an English class. Groenke is part of a small group of Bay Area musicians trying to establish an alternative to the "British Invasion" by focusing on the American tradition – as a sort of bohemian "In-crowd"... He's taking lessons from a guy whose group of students soon includes David Biasotti as well – a certain Jerry Garcia. But when Biasotti and Groenke present their own bluegrass outfit Misty Mountain Boys a little later on, some of the guys of this early Bay Area bluegrass scene are already busy embarking on new psychedelic journeys into other (musical) dimensions....
Leaving most of their bluegrass ambitions temporarily behind, Biasotti and Groenke relocated to Southern California in 1967 to pursue their higher education. It is the quality of the the city's colleges that draws them to Claremont initially, but they soon find they've happily stumbled into a small but thriving music scene, presided over by such lofty figures as Guy Carawan, Chris Darrow, and David Lindley. Soon Biasotti meets a fellow campus musician and literature buff - the folk freak David Perrin Muir, who cut his musical teeth in the La Jolla folk scene. A shared love for the music of The Byrds, The Beatles and traditional folk ballads soon inspires them to collaborate on original material. They strike up a songwriting partnership that mainly sees Biasotti as tunesmith and Muir as lyricist. Muir's lyrics are evocative, not just stories but even "morality plays and mental excursions into untapped regions of the mind" (C. Darrow). Biasotti's melodies in turn are both fluent and strangely tuneful. They are individualists keen to make a mark. A young local player by the name of David McClellan joins them and the aspiring Jim McGuinn Memorial Band is born. Gigs are going well and to emphasize their individualism a new band name is needed soon after. Inspiration comes in the form of a hip art exhibition poster. The name of the illustrator is Maxfield Parrish.
In early 1969, while attending a gig at a local auditorium, ex-Kaleidoscope member Chris Darrow hears Maxfield Parrish for the very first time, supporting pioneering guitarist John Fahey. Darrow enthuses about the band and expresses an interest in producing an album. At this time, Darrow is one of the mainstays in a scene of players who are intensely working on merging elements of folk, country and rock – while the country rock category is not being born yet. After a two-year stint in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Claremont native is also part of a group of players who are persuaded by songwriter/musician/producer Michael Nesmith to form a backing band for the up-and-coming young vocalist Linda Ronstadt. Besides Darrow there's Bernie Leadon, John Ware and John London – operating under the name of The Corvettes. After backing up the popular Ronstadt for a while, it becomes clear that the industry's interest for these new names from Southern California is huge. Pretty soon The Corvettes disband: Leadon joins the Flying Burrito Brothers, Ware and London answer calls to take part in Mike Nesmith's First National Band. Chris Darrow is opting for the solo route. He is also keen on producing – and Maxfield Parrish is his first project. To add to the individual talents of the band members, Darrow recruits not only the former members of the Corvettes but also some of his Kaleidoscope alumni: David Lindley and Chester Crill (a.k.a. Max Buda). Sessions start in the summer of 1969.
Maxfield Parrish bring in their original material, some of which is considered to be pretty weird but innovative all the same. A trilogy of psychedelic folk ballads even inspires Lindley & Co. to try out new ideas like playing the banjo with a violin bow. Other songs are fusing rock and country in a new kind of way - so it should be noted that it wasn't just Gram Parsons or Dillard & Clark alone who invented this new kind of music. Some of the Maxfield Parrish material ("It's Alright -I Love Her", "Bottle Of Reds Blues", "Ellie McCall", "Cross Over The World") from these sessions is just as groundbreaking and an outstanding example for the creation of early country rock. Today Chris Darrow also likes to mention the western gothic quality of the band's material - alluding to the literary tradition of romantic thrillers. A prime example of which is the psychedelic folk ballad "The Widow". And so "IT'S A CINCH TO GIVE LEGS TO OLD HARD-BOILED EGGS...." is a creative success in a sense not dissimilar to The Band's early work. It creates a folk/rock/country fusion with a very dense atmosphere that is based on musical and literary myths and traditions that are now incorporated into the world of contemporary music. This statement can easily be verified by listening to the new edition of the album even today. Watch out for bonus #1: two previously unreleased songs from these 1969 sessions.
BUT – for reasons none of the participants can remember, the album is released as late as 1972 when the country rock genre is already firmly established and Maxfield Parrish have broken up....
Maxfield Parrish drift apart mainly because they cannot find a way to duplicate the sound of "IT'S A CINCH..." on stage. Because of the long delay of the album's release, Biasotti, Muir & Co. fail to keep the initial momentum going. But when it's finally released the two main songwriters of the band get together again to demo a bunch of unreleased material with simple equipment in Muir's canyon cabin. Thus, the new TAXIM edition of the album also presents five prime examples from these sessions as an added bonus. The recordings prove how the duo's musical influences of these later days also include shades of the late Beatles and mid-period Rolling Stones ("Exile on Main Street"). Biasotti and Muir began writing songs together again a few years ago under the moniker Mad Meg. While the songs on "IT'S A CINCH..." and the cabin tapes remain their most important musical legacy up to this point, it should be interesting to hear what this reunited partnership produces in the future.
Here's Chris Darrow once again: "This album was my first job as a producer and I am as proud of it now as I was at the time, maybe even more so. So many of the participants on this album went on to great heights in the music business and I think that it is great to see how well the songs and the playing hold up after thirty years. This is one of the great, lost albums of the seventies, enjoy it."
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