I have something for you this week from the ‘incredibly strange’ file.
A while back I saw someone post about an album called ‘Sax Appeal’ by a guy named Herb Larson. They said that it was an above-average ‘easy’ played with lots of groovy touches, i.e fuzz guitar, sitar, drums etc.
You know I’m always up for that kind of stuff, so I set out in search of a copy and found one for two bucks! Since the previous description – and the album’s presence on Command – had already piqued my interest, I pulled the trigger.
When the record arrived, and I set to digimatizing, I was pleasantly surprised.
Though the alto sax leads were played in a kind of wide open, Lawrence Welk-ish style, the backing was very cool indeed. It sounded as though the producers had set Herb up with a much hipper batch of studio guys.
There isn’t a lot out there about Larson, but what I was able to find was very interesting.
Larson – born Herb Lipschitz – was a Jewish bandleader from Newark, NJ who’s name shows up in a history of klezmer music. He and his band were apparently quite popular, playing all kinds of parties and events.
His recording history is extremely limited. Aside from this – his sole date as a leader – all I can find is evidence of him recording as a featured player with the Irving Fields Trio (all looking much earlier than this album).
Larson also appears to have been the grandfather of comedian Jeffrey Ross!
That all said, as I dug into the album, I was very happy with what I was hearing.
The arrangements and production were along the lines of the better Enoch Light-asociated stuff from the same era, with a clean, but groovy Now Sound thing going on, including tight drums, sitar, and fuzz/wah wah guitar. The covers of tunes like ‘Dizzy’ and ‘You Showed Me’ were highlights, but nothing prepared me for his take on ‘This Magic Moment’.
The Herb Larson version of ‘This Magic Moment’ is a demonstrably weird, genuinely psychedelic warping of the Jay and the Americans tune that verges on the avant garde. It sounds like a high society orchestra and Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band got trapped in a submarine and started jamming.
Someone is messing with what sounds like a primitive synthesizer, or a broken theremin, or I don’t know what, and the band keeps weaving in and out (the drummer seems lost) with Herb soloing woozily, his axe sounding at times like a Varitone electric sax, and at one point it sounds like someone is tuning the sitar.
I mean, I’m also posting a couple of the other, more ‘conventional’ tracks so you can get an idea what a departure ‘This Magic Moment’ really is.
It’s not that there aren’t interesting touches in other places. The version of David Ruffin’s ‘My Whole World Ended’, which starts with the sax, but then opens up into something that sounds like ‘Eight Miles High’, and the guitar solo in ‘You Showed Me’ are both very cool.
I haven’t been able to track down any detailed information on who the backing band are. The album was almost certainly recorded in New York, but the arranger/producer is a guy named Bill Ramal, who seems to have mainly made a lot of pop/rock and novelty recordings as a sax player, producer, writer and arranger (including a lot of Dickie Goodman 45s).
So we’re all left asking, ‘How did this happen?’
Were Herb and (or at least) the band tripping balls when they recorded this?
What was the record company thinking? There’s nothing else here that isn’t aiming right for the easy listening market. I can’t imagine what people thought when they hit ‘This Magic Moment’, though it is the second to last track on the album, so maybe they were hedging their bets.
Either way, there it sits, like a mysterious island, waiting to be discovered by people like me, who will either immediately pick up the needle and skip to the next song, or become entranced by it, listening over and over again.
You do whatever you think is best.
I’ll see you all next week.