Asylum Choir – Marc Benno and Leon Russell
Listen – Asylum Choir – Welcome to Hollywood – MP3
I hope the dawning of both a new week and new year find you all well.
I spent New Years Eve amongst with my wife, kids and in-laws up in frosty upstate New York, playing Go Fish, drinking ginger ale and going to bed before midnight.
Last night, after the children had retired the wife and I were having a discussion about the pros and cons of New Years Eve as a celebratory milestone, eventually agreeing that aside from hanging with the family, we had both endured too many disappointing parties (as a couple, and before we were together) to get revved up about the night. It just seems that outside of an opportunity for binge drinking and an ugly peek into the mass psychology of crowds, the night is better spent amongst those you love.
That said, the tune I bring you today is a look at an early side of the mighty Leon Russell, one of my all time favorites, who I have rhapsodized about in this space before.
Russell came west from Oklahoma in the early 60s, eventually carving himself out a place as an in-demand session player (and member of the Shindogs) in the studios of Los Angeles (including those of Phil Spector) as a keyboardist and arranger.
He teamed up with guitarist/bassist Marc Benno in 1967 to form the band Asylum Choir, and their debut album ‘Look Inside the Asylum Choir’ was released on the Smash label the following year.
The tune I bring you today was the lead-off track from that album. ‘Welcome To Hollywood’ has hints of Russell’s rootsy heart (the guitar and piano could have come off of one of his Shelter LPs), but is marked by psychedelic flourishes. His easily recognizable voice is front and center, but where his later work would be enveloped in waves of Americana, the Asylum Choir tracks feature all manner of timely baroque filigree, including phasing, ringing Beatle-esque trumpets and the like.
‘Welcome To Hollywood’ is a typically jaundiced look at the mean streets that awaited those who were drawn west (but a little further south) during the Summer of Love. It’s a groovy look (listen?) to the world of Leon Russell just prior to his hirsute escalation into rock’s first rank alongside the various and sundry Cocker/Delaney/Bonnie/Clapton conglomerations, and his own amazing solo work.
I hope you dig the tune, and I’ll be back later in the week with something cool.