Liberace (above), Spooner Oldham (below)
Listen/Download – Liberace – Suite Judy Blue Eyes Listen/Download – Liberace – Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye
The track I bring you today is an interesting cover by an artists that no one, least of all me, thought would ever appear here at Iron Leg.
That said, Liberace is proof that sometimes the least obvious books contain a fairly interesting chapter or two.
I found my way to the sequined master’s 1970 LP ‘A Brand New Me’ via the drum break on his cover of Steam’s ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’.
Yes, drum break.
I forget where I heard it, but when I finally looked up the album, I saw that was composed entirely of what were contemporary rock and pop tunes.
When I finally got my hands on a copy, I was genuinely shocked to discover that the group backing Lee on his entry into the pop-stakes was led by none other than the mighty Spooner Oldham.
The album ‘A Brand New Me’ was Liberace’s first after leaving Dot records for Warner Brothers in 1970.
What evidence there is, including the fact that the album was produced by none other than Ed Cobb, indicates that someone was making an honest stab (at least as honest as possible) to take the star-spangled candelabra wrangler and hip him up a bit.
I can’t imagine that anyone honestly thought this would lead him to hitting the festival circuit, where he might be tempted to share a stage with Canned Heat or some such, but taken as a whole, the LP is a pretty interesting effort.
In addition to Oldham, one of the architects of southern soul, the group included drummer Dennis St John (soon to join Neil Diamond’s band), bassist Emory Gordy Jr (a Nashville favorite and arranger of today’s selection) and guitarists Larry Collins, better known for his early years with his sister Lorrie as the Collins Kids, and Barry Bailey, later of the Atlanta Rhythm Section and percussionist Joe Correro.
Though all of these players were from the south, the record itself was recorded in Hollywood.
Now for me, the big question is how much did Liberace have to do with the record, other than playing the piano leads.
The arrangement of ‘Suite Judy Blue Eyes’, with groovy electric piano touches by Oldham, and understated brass is actually quite interesting. Though the ‘sound’ of the song is probably restricted by its existing structure – fairly elaborate for a rock song – it manages to exceed all expectations.
No one would ever accuse Liberace of being a soulful piano player, yet his contribution to the song is restrained. The interplay between the acoustic and electric piano is minimal, with the two instruments taking separate paths within the arrangement, and the horns and strings, like Liberace’s playing are far less florid than you might expect.
The final product is comparable to the version of the same song recorded by Bola Sete around the same time for his ‘Working On a Groovy Thing’, (click on the link to hear it) a similarly constructed album.
The version of Steam’s ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’ is less interesting, suffering from the formality imposed upon it by the loss of vocals and the addition of piano lead. I include it because it contains what has to be the only open drum break on a Liberace album, which like unicorns and yetis simply must be put on display when finally captured.
I hope you dig the cuts, and I’ll be back next week with a new edition of the Iron Leg Radio Show.