Cold Blood Rolls A Rock Uphill

Originally posted May 9, 2008

I worked for a collection agency for about a year in the last bit of the 1990s. I wasn’t a collector; my personality isn’t aggressive enough for that. I was a skip-tracer, one of the individuals assigned to find deadbeats and then turn their names and locations over to the collectors.

The agency I worked for was a national firm, and the client I worked for was the U.S Department of Education. I was tracking down folks who’d defaulted on their student loans. It was kind of fun, and given my analytical abilities and the investigative skills I’d learned as a reporter and editor, I was very good at it. It turned out that spending eight hours a day essentially solving puzzles wasn’t a bad way to earn a living. The pay could have been better, but I got by. And I had enough so I could get over to Cheapo’s a few times a week and pick up some records.

One of the records I found in the last days of 1998 was a self-titled effort by a group new to me: Cold Blood. The jacket caught my eye, and as I examined it, I remembered my friend Chazz, the drummer in the Thursday night band, telling me about the group. His praise had been effusive, and not a lot of groups sparked that kind of enthusiasm from Chazz, who’d begun his musical career in an early band with his cousin, Prince. So I brought Cold Blood home on that December night.

That first album, which I shared here almost a year ago, was on the San Francisco label.  It was a good record, a nice mix of rock, R&B and funk, and I moved Cold Blood to the front of the mental file of groups I’d have to look for. Over the next couple of years, I found the other five albums the group had released between 1969 and 1976, from 1970’s Sisyphus through Lydia Pense & Cold Blood from 1976. The group never quite caught on, releasing two records on San Francisco – which was co-owned by Bill Graham of the Fillmores – then two on Reprise, one on Warner Bros. and finally one on ABC.

The last of the six I found was the band’s second album, Sisyphus, named after the mythological character doomed by the Greek gods to push a boulder up a hill only to have the boulder roll back down when he reached the top. Perhaps that’s how the band was feeling about its attempts to break through nationally from their home in San Francisco. All Music Guide says the band’s chances were compromised by what it calls “Graham’s underhanded distribution deals with Columbia and Atlantic.”

So we’re left with the six original albums (plus two recent releases: a live performance from 1975 and a 2005 studio album). The self-titled release from 1969 is pretty good, and I think Sisyphus is its equal in quality, but it represents a slight change in direction: The songs are longer, with more stretching out by the band. While the songs on Cold Blood weren’t what you could call short, they were concise; there wasn’t a lot of extended playing. On Sisyphus, there is, as three of the album’s six tracks run more than six minutes. That’s not excessive, given the era, and those longer songs do give the band behind lead singer Lydia Pense a chance to show its chops.

The group as a whole is credited with writing five of the album’s tracks. The sixth is a cover of the Stax tune “Your Good Thing,” written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter and released by Mabel John in 1966. I could try to highlight a track or two, but I find that I like the entire album enough that pulling one song aside would be kind of futile (though if pressed, I’d note that the closer, “Too Many People,” is likely my favorite track). It might be more enlightening for me to say that when I listen to Cold Blood – at least to Sisyphus this morning – I hear a singer that drew favorable comparisons with Janis Joplin backed by a band that always reminds me of Tower of Power. If that’s a combination that sounds attractive, you should like Sisyphus and the rest of Cold Blood’s work.

Track list:
Shop Talk
Funky On My Back
Your Good Thing
Understanding
I Can’t Stay
Too Many People

Cold Blood- Sisyphus (1970)

(This rip of Sisyphus is courtesy of Lisa Sinder at Ezhevika Fields, a blog that’s well worth a visit. My vinyl copy of the album is in pretty good shape, but the version Lisa shared is better. My thanks to her.)*

*Lisa seems to no longer be posting regularly, which is a shame. Note added and a few corrections made June 27, 2011.

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One Response to “Cold Blood Rolls A Rock Uphill”

  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 good on horns, but the […]

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