Robert writes about rock & pop music, and vinyl record collecting.
As we continue our series of articles about "bird" and "animal" groups and artists in rock 'n' roll history here at DigitalDreamDoor, let's continue with our "bird" theme.
As all James Brown fans know, there was a man behind his music and we may have never heard of "The Godfather of Soul," if not for a gentleman named Bobby Byrd. Bobby Byrd was playing baseball against the inmates of the Alto Reformatory prison team in 1952 and met the music-obsessed James Brown who was apparently showing off his singing prowess to other inmates. Byrd befriended him and arranged for Byrd's family to oversee Brown's parole. Byrd and his family-sponsored Brown's release from prison (Brown was incarcerated for armed robbery) and Byrd also gave Brown a job in his vocal group, the Avons. The charismatic and enthusiastic Brown soon took over and the group became James Brown and the Famous Flames.
Like many close associates of Brown, in addition to playing with the Flames, Byrd got a chance to record his own music. Byrd had modest success with the Brown produced songs "We're In Love" (1965) and "I Need Help (I Can't Do It Alone" (1970), each making the Rhythm and Blues Top 20. But Byrd performed a valuable service at concerts to, not only Brown, but Soul music in general, as he often would warm up the crowds as a solo singer before retreating into the background on keyboards as a member of the Famous Flames. He and Brown split up in 1973. He was married for many years until his death to soul singer Vicki Anderson, who was another James Brown collaborator. Sadly on September 12, 2007, surrounded by his family, Byrd died of cancer at the age of 73 in Loganville, Georgia.
Alternative country band, the Jayhawks were formed in 1985 by vocalist and guitarist Mark Olson, whose desire to write and perform his own country-rock material led him to form the Minneapolis-based band. He enlisted the help of fellow guitarist Marc Perlman to take up the bass guitar and added drummer Norm Rogers to the group. They played in front of a sparse crowd one night and one of the audience members was a veteran of a couple of local bands named Gary Louris who was well known for his innovative pedal steel-like sound. They talked after the show and soon Louris joined the Jayhawks.
Inspired by the influences of Gram Parsons, Tim Hardin and Bob Dylan, the band quickly became a Twin cities favorite. In 1986, the Jayhawks released their debut album, a self-titled pressing (only a few thousand were released) filled with pure alt-country, gracious harmonies from Olson and Louris and highlighted by cuts like "Six Pack On The Dashboard," "I'm Not In Prison" and the tongue-in-cheek "The Liquor Store Came First."
The group continued honing their skills with well-received live shows around the Twin city area. In 1988, drummer Norm Rogers departed (to join up with the band The Cows) and he was replaced by Thad Spencer. That same year, Louris was almost killed in a serious auto accident and the band went on hiatus. But, in 1989 local independent record label Twin/Tone compiled an album from a series of demos the group had recorded and released the album called "Blue Earth." Filled with rich sounds, songs of bittersweet romance and intuitive song writing, the release brought the group considerable attention. In fact, when producer George Drakoulias heard the band playing in the background during a telephone to Twin/Tone's office, the Jayhawks were then signed to a major label, (Def) American Records.
With yet another drummer coming into the fold (Spencer departed and was replaced by Tim O'Reagan), the group released their breakthrough record called "Hollywood Town Hall" in 1992. Grabbing rave reviews, the album was full of engaging harmonic wisdom, captivating and energetic guitars and was hailed by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the essential albums of the decade. With alternative radio hits like "Waiting For The Sun," "Take Me With You (When You Go)" and "Settled Down Like Rain," this album exemplifies the maturity and musicianship of song writers Marc Olson and Gary Louris.
After a tour, the group added Minneapolis pianist Karen Grotberg to the mix and individual members of the band guested on albums by the Counting Crows, Joe Henry and Soul Asylum, among others. Before the release of the 1995 album "Tomorrow The Green Grass," another drumming change took place and it would also be the last album for singer, song writer Marc Olson.
But, "Tomorrow The Green Grass" is the group's crowning achievement and is a splendid mix of several musical styles. A single, the mournful "Blue," with its tender string section, received significant air play. Other cuts included the alt-rocker "Real Light," the exuberant "Miss Williams' Guitar" (a tribute to Olson's new wife, Victoria Williams) and the soaring pop and infectiously keen tune called "I'd Run Away." Following a tour, Olson announced he was quitting the band to spend more time with his wife who suffered from multiple sclerosis. The couple relocated to Joshua Tree, California and subsequently formed the rootsy-folk band "Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers."
Louris stepped up as front man for the band (they also added another guitarist, Kraig Johnson) and the group released an album called "Sound Of Lies" in 1997. An eclectic release, it is a departure from the Jayhawks' distinctive alt-country and includes more melodic rock oriented music and proves that the Jayhawks can adapt as they remain a viable alt-country act.
In 2000, the pop oriented sound of the album "Smile" alienated some long time fans, longing for more of the music they had grown accustomed to from the Jayhawks. The album, "Rainy Day Music," was released in 2003, and sees the band step back to their alt-country roots. This is the last album to date by this inventive and invigorating band, although Olson and Louris have toured together in the winter of 2005 and spring of 2006. They were billed as "From the Jayhawks, an evening with Mark Olson & Gary Louris, Together Again." Both new and old Jayhawk band members have moved on and the band, as a whole, is considered to be broken up, however band members all stay in touch.
Jay and the Techniques
Jay and the Techniques were an interracial R&B rock group from Allentown, Pennsylvania featuring lead singer, Jay Proctor. The group scored three Billboard Top 40 singles, including their biggest hit, 1967's Billboard Top Ten, bubble-gummish song called "Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie."
Later that year, the group scored another Top 40 hit with the catchy single called "Keep The Ball Rollin'." They followed that hit with their last Billboard Top 40 hit named "Strawberry Shortcake," in the winter of 1968. The group made one last attempt to achieve pop music success with the R&B hit entitled "Number Onderful," but the band quietly faded away into obscurity. Mercury Records released a compilation album in 1996 called "The Best Of Jay & The Techniques."
Bobby Byrd Tidbits:
In 1993 Byrd released a solo album On the Move on the German record Label, Soulciety Records.
In October 2004 Bobby Byrd's songs "I Know You Got Soul" and "Hot Pants" were featured on the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas soundtrack, playing on fictional radio station Master Sounds 98.3. In September 2005 his song "Try It Again" appeared on the soundtrack of Indigo Prophecy.
Byrd also recorded many solo funk tracks which have been sampled by musicians including Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim, Ice Cube, LL Cool J and A Tribe Called Quest.
In April, 2009, Billboard reported that the Jayhawks have reunited. The band's mid-90s lineup will play two shows this summer: One at Barcelona's Primavera Sound Festival on May 30 and one at Minneapolis's Basilica Block Party on July 10. Band co-leader Gary Louris told Billboard that the reunion will be a part-time thing: "I think the plan is that we're going to play festivals. Next year, we're hoping to play Bonnaroo and things like that. We'll see if it grows from there."
In September, 2008, the 1995 lineup of Louris, Olson, O'Reagan, Grotberg and Perlman reunited for the Azkena Rock Festival in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.
In December the 1st, 2008, Louris and Olson reunited for an acoustic concert in Cádiz, Spain.
Jay & The Techniques Tidbits:
The track "Keep The Ball Rollin'" was used in instrumental form, as recorded by Al Hirt, on the television program, Bowling for Dollars.
Jay & the Techniques made their final effort with its R&B hit, "Number Onderful", but after that, the group disbanded.
In 1996, Mercury Records released a compilation album of the band's hits entitled The Best of Jay & the Techniques.
"Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie" was covered by The Fourmost in 1968.