Finding A Cold-Blooded ‘Thriller’

Originally posted June 20, 2008

During the late 1990s, when I was playing keys in the recreational band that we called Jake’s, one of my guides to music new to me was one of our drummers, Chazz. As soon as he learned that I was a record collector, Chazz began to bounce suggestions and ideas my way. On the phone, during breaks at rehearsal and during fairly lengthy drives into the exurbs to practice with a smaller group we played with, we talked about all types of music, but especially funk, R&B, rap and hip-hop.

Chazz was a professional musician – the other members of his first band were his cousin, Prince, and a neighbor who became André Cymone – and his background in those and many related styles of music far exceeded mine. So I kept his comments and suggestions in mind as I made my thrice-weekly trips to Cheapo’s and rummaged through stacks of records in a few other shops.

Sometimes I could surprise him. One evening, as we waited for a gig to start, he mentioned to me that he’d heard something good that day. “There’s a group called SWV,” he said.

I nodded. “Sisters With Voices,” I said.

He stared at me. “How’d you hear of them?”

I shrugged, said I’d read or heard of them somewhere.

Sometimes I could fake him out. One Saturday evening, he called and asked what I’d found that day. One record I mentioned was a collection of the Ohio Players’ work called Gold. I hadn’t yet played it and knew little about it, but as I mentioned it, I remembered something I’d read about the record somewhere. “It looks okay,” I told him, “but it doesn’t have ‘Funky Worm’ on it.”

He cackled. “Oh, man,” he said, “cat knows ‘Funky Worm’!”

During the three or four years we hung out together, I learned about a lot of music new to me. Probably the best advice he gave me, though, was about the San Francisco-based group Cold Blood. I’d seen the group’s first album in a store’s stacks and it caught my eye, so I grabbed it. I knew nothing about the group at the time and before I played the record, I mentioned it to Chazz. “Soon as we hang up,” he said, “You listen to it, and then you go look for the rest.”

I listened, and I looked. As related earlier, I eventually found all six of Cold Blood’s albums from the late 1960s and early 1970s. I might have gotten around to the rest of the group’s work eventually, but who knows? One of those that Chazz particularly urged me to find was the band’s fourth album, the 1973 release, Thriller!

When I found it in early 1999, I understood why. The second of two the band released on Reprise, it might be Cold Blood’s best album. Six of the seven tracks are covers, with only “Live Your Dream” being an original (written by trumpet player Max Haskett), and the band gets inside most of the covers and finds a way to claim them as their own. The one exception is Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.” It’s not a bad version of the song; it’s just that there are some songs that are so fiercely identified with their original performers that it’s almost foolhardy to try to take them on. And this seems to be one of those songs.

But that seems to be the only misstep on the record. The best work comes on what was Side Two of the original vinyl: “Sleeping,” the Robbie Robertson/Richard Manuel tune that was on The Band’s Music From Big Pink; “Live Your Dream” from Haskett; “I’ll Be Long Gone,” the Boz Scaggs tune from his first solo album; and “Kissing My Love,” a Bill Withers song that he hid on his third album, Still Bill.

The band is crisp and the vocals from lead singer Lydia Pense are good throughout, but for some reason, the last four tracks – Side Two in the original configuration – work better. I’m not sure why the first side doesn’t grab me as much (aside from my already mentioned concern about the Stevie Wonder cover). For whatever reason, those first three tracks – with Jerry Ragovoy’s “Baby I Love You” and Temple and Johnson’s “Feel So Bad” sandwiched around the Wonder song – just seem somehow a little less shiny.

Overall, 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 credits on Thriller! show that the band got help – who knows how much? – from a full slate of well-known Bay Area horn players: Mel Martin, Bill Atwood, Bob Ferreira, Pat O’Hara, John Mewborn, Benny Maupin, Mike Andreas and Rigby Powell. (If you run most of those names through All-Music Guide and click on “credits,” you’ll find amazing lists of albums.)

Other credits show Holly Tigard and the Pointer Sisters providing background vocals.

Cold Blood’s members were: Pense on vocals, Gaylord Birch on drums, Rod Ellicott on bass, Haskett on trumpet and background vocals, Raul Matute on keyboards, Skip Mesquite on tenor saxophone, flute and background vocals, Michael Sasaki on electric and acoustic guitars, and Peter Welker on trumpet and flugelhorn.

Baby I Love You
You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
Feel So Bad
Live Your Dream
I’ll Be Long Gone
Kissing My Love

Cold Blood – Thriller [1973]


One Response to “Finding A Cold-Blooded ‘Thriller’”

  1. Packing, Greetings & Gypsy « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] with Blue Rose and wrote several of the songs on that band’s 1972 self-titled album. Another was Peter Welker, who played horns on Cold Blood’s 1973 album, Thriller! And most recently, I got a nice note from […]

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