‘Can’t Stop The Madness’

Originally posted July 7, 2008

I don’t know a lot about Rosemary Butler, but I know I’ve heard her sing many times.

I imagine the first time I knowingly heard her voice was when I bought Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty album in March 1978. Butler was part of the band that recorded that album – one of the best in Browne’s long career – on stage, backstage, on the bus and anywhere the music popped up. And Browne gave Butler a solo slot, too: She’s the second voice you hear on “Stay,” the album’s closer. (Released as a single in the summer of 1978, “Stay” went to No. 20.)

I say “knowingly” because – looking at the list of credits at Butler’s All-Music Guide entry, I know I heard some of the albums she worked on before 1978, but back then, I generally didn’t pay much attention to album credits. I’d heard Browne’s The Pretender, and I’d certainly heard parts of the Doobie Brothers’ Livin’ on the Fault Line and Warren Zevon’s self-titled debut album, as well as others on which Butler sang.

But until I heard her solo on “Stay” when I bought Running On Empty and saw her perform that solo – as well as sing background – during a concert in St. Paul in April 1978, I didn’t know who she was. After that, I knew her name but not much more. But that was a start, and as I began to build the record collection over the years, hers was one of the names I looked for in album credits. It popped up frequently, and it was a selling point when I had to make decisions based on budget in the scuffling days of the 1990s: An album with Butler’s name listed in the credits was more likely to come home with me than one without it. (There were other folks, too, whose names enhanced the value of albums like that; probably the name at the top of the list, the session player whose name nearly ensured that a record would go in my bag, was Barry Beckett, the keyboard player for the Muscle Shoals rhythm section.)

Then, one day in April 1998, during one of my twice-weekly visits to Cheapo’s, I came across an LP titled Can’t Stop The Madness by a group called Birtha, an all-woman group. The graphics on the album cover and the wardrobe of the four women in the cover picture screamed “Early Seventies boogie!” So I looked more closely, reading the credits on the back. The record was from 1973, and there was Rosemary Butler’s name, credited for playing bass and singing some of the leads.

It turned out that Can’t Stop The Madness was the second – and last – album Birtha released. A self-titled album came out in 1972, but it took me a long time to learn that. (Every once in a while, I wonder how I ever learned anything without the ’Net.) I took the record home. And I liked it pretty much, enough so that the self-titled debut went on my wish list. As it turns out, I’ve never seen the vinyl.

Sometimes, the breadth of stuff offered by music bloggers astounds me. Soon after I got my USB turntable and began ripping albums to mp3s, I pulled Can’t Stop The Madness off the stacks and put it in the long row of albums I intended to rip. But before I got that deep into the row, I ran across a rip of the album at another blog sometime last year. I stared at the post for a few seconds, then realized that many of those things that seem relatively obscure to me exist in thousands out there in the world. So Can’t Stop The Madness goes into the category of records I would have ripped from vinyl if I’d needed to.

Highlights? Well, the title track, which opens the album, is one of them. Starting with a cowbell and then a snaky bass riff, the song slides through a nice instrumental introduction – very clearly an early Seventies sound – and onward, with guitarist Shele Pinizzotto taking the vocal. I also like “Don’t Let It Get You Down,” which starts with Butler’s quiet vocal over a bed of organ and strummed guitar and then alternates between that fairly understated sound and more aggressive choruses. “Rock Me” and “All This Love” provide some blusier (and a little bit harder) sounds, as does the closer, “My Man Told Me.”

During its brief existence, Birtha would draw comparisons to Fanny and Deadly Nightshade, two other all-woman groups of the time. I don’t know enough about Deadly Nightshade to say anything, but I think that Birtha was just as good as Fanny, a group that got more attention. Thirty-five years later, Can’t Stop The Madness is a good listen.

Along with Butler and Pinizzotto, the other two members of Birtha were Olivia “Liver” Favela on percussion, harmonica and vocals, and Sherry Hagler on keyboards.

Can’t Stop The Madness
My Pants Are Too Short
Let Us Sing
Don’t Let It Get You Down
(When Will Ya) Understand
Rock Me
All This Love
My Man Told Me

Birtha – Can’t Stop The Madness [1973]


One Response to “‘Can’t Stop The Madness’”

  1. Sixteen Years Gone « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] Can’t Stop The Madness by Birtha, 1973 Original post here. […]

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