Bridging The Gap Between Tribes

Originally posted May 21, 2007

The suburban house band I wrote about Saturday wasn’t the first band I was involved with over the years, but my involvement there was the longest and most serious.

In junior high school, my friend John and I sat next to each other in band, in the trumpet section. (I actually played a cornet, a horn designed just a little bit differently, but the fingering was the same and the sound was essentially the same, so I generally say I played trumpet unless I’m trying to confuse someone.) He was first chair and I was second; I think our talent level was about the same, but he worked harder at it and deserved first chair.

We’d been friends for a long time through church, but junior high was the first time we’d gone to school together, and we had fun. We put together a silly James Bond sketch for our seventh grade talent show that gave both of us a chance to play a piece of Bond music on the piano; he played Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” and I played John Barry’s “Goldfinger.” Jerry, the third member of the cast, played a dead body, but was ill on performance day. His replacement, Tom, was a good understudy. A year or so after that, I think it was, John and I thought about putting some kind of musical group together.

Given that we both played horn (as well as piano), we decided on something like the Tijuana Brass. Our band director had a set of music performed by the TJB arranged for small groups, and he loaned the books to us. We recruited a trombone, a couple of woodwinds (if I recall correctly), a gal who played guitar, and Tom, the erstwhile dead body, played drums. And we got together for two practices. The first was at John’s house, the second at mine.  Both moms excelled in the area of snack production, and I would guess that the ration of snack time to practice time was somewhere around two to one.

But that was okay. We did play a little bit of music. But what was more important, as I look back, was that the group of the six or so of us was equally mixed between boys and girls. Not that we paired up or anything. That would have been way too scary – this was, after all, 1966 or 1967. But it was a chance to spend time with members of that mysterious other tribe – girls! – in activities that we all enjoyed: playing music and snacking. It was, to put a high-concept meaning to it, a good step in our social development. It was also an easier way to begin to get to know members of that other tribe than were the occasional dances at school.

During those dances, the boys stood along one wall of the gym of the cleared-out lunchroom and the girls stood along the other as someone spun 45s. Fast records were okay; everyone met more or less in the middle of the open space and acted like the dancers on Shindig! or Hullabaloo. If we hadn’t watched either of those shows, we watched the kids who had, and if you weren’t really dancing with anyone, well, no one could really tell.

The slow numbers were tougher, scary and wonderful. We guys would hold our partners by their waists oh so tentatively and nearly at arms’ length, swaying slowly as something like “Cherish” or “Walk Away Renee” played through its seemingly interminable three minutes. If there was eye contact, well, it was likely an accident. And when the song was over, we boys grinned goofily and our partners blushed, and we retreated to our safe havens on the separate sides of the gym or lunchroom, shaken and sweaty and wishing we could do it again.

One of the girls I wanted to have one of those scary/wonderful moments with was, well, let’s call her just W, the girl John and I recruited to play guitar in our short-lived band. I never danced with her. But as I said, the second – and final – practice our band had was at my house, and for one late spring Saturday afternoon, W was at my house, playing her guitar, laughing, sitting in my back yard. I imagine she knew how I felt about her – I’ve never been a very good poker player – and I also imagine she didn’t know how to react. That was one of the first times I wanted to really bridge the gap between the tribes, and as I would guess most of my readers know from experience, it takes a long time – on both sides – to learn how to do that.

All of that has very little to do with today’s album, the self-titled debut release of the Bay Area group Cold Blood. Well, except that, like thousands of other songs in the world, a good portion of the songs performed here by lead singer Lydia Pense and her boys are about successes and failures in bridging that gap between the tribes.

Some notes on the album:

Six of the seven cuts in this share are from the CD The Best of Cold Blood, which I found some time ago on another blog. The seventh cut – the final song on the album – I ripped this morning from vinyl.

Cold Blood’s first two albums – the self-titled debut and Sisyphus – were released on Bill Graham’s San Francisco* label after the group performed at his Fillmore West. The group’s sound – blues-rock and some funkiness with horns – brought comparisons to Chicago and to its fellow Bay Area group Tower of Power. And Lydia Pense’s vocals brought comparisons to that other blues belter, Janis Joplin.

According to All-Music Guide, Cold Blood was hampered more by Bill Graham’s business practices than by listeners’ comparisons to other groups. After two albums on Graham’s label, the group moved to Reprise for two more, and then did single albums on Warner Bros. and ABC. A live performance from 1973 was released on Dig Records in 2001, and the re-formed group released Transfusion in 2005, also on Dig.

Highlights of the debut remain “I’m A Good Woman,” which on the album is edited so tightly to “Let Me Down Easy” that the two could have been presented as one cut, and “You Got Me Hummin,” a single edit of which reached No. 52 back in 1969.

All of Cold Blood’s work is worth seeking out. Cold Blood and Sisyphus are available online as a combined release. The rest of the group’s albums are available, some new and most used or as cutouts. Check your favorite online marketplace.

Cold Blood – Cold Blood [1969]

*Not the San Francisco Sound label, as I originally wrote. [Note added April 21, 2011.]

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One Response to “Bridging The Gap Between Tribes”

  1. Finding A Cold-Blooded ‘Thriller’ « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] the horn work seems better here than on the group’s first three albums: Cold Blood from 1969, Sisyphus from 1970 and 1972’s First Taste of Sin. The band’s members were pretty […]

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