„Short Stories“: A lavishly produced masterpiece does not find its way into the shops (1971)

When the party is over

At some point the endless jam party was over and the „balls“ were a thing of the past. Tony Secunda, however, had not lost faith in Steve Gibbons despite the meagre yield of this supergroup experiment.

The result was Short Stories, a solo album by Steve Gibbons.

And although the last project Tony Secunda had pushed was a loss-making business, he managed to convince the record company that they shouldn’t cut back on anything. Therefore, not only Steve Gibbons got a considerable advance, but there were also enough funds available for an elaborate production.

Celebrity musicians

The band with which this album was recorded was top-class:

  • The keyboards were played by Gary Wright, who co-founded Spooky Tooth and later worked as a studio musician for George Harrison, Joe Cocker, Elton John, Steve Winwood, Salt ‚N‘ Pepa, Eminem and Joan Osborne.
  • On one of the guitars was Albert Lee, who had already played with Jimmy Page as a studio musician before he took off with Led Zeppelin. Later Lee was to play the six strings in Bill Wyman¹s Rhythm Kings.
  • On drums was Alan White, an ex-ball, but also a veteran of the Plastic Ono Band, who together with Klaus Vormann on bass had set the rhythm for the notoriously tactless John Lennon and Eric Clapton. Later he was to become drummer of the YES.
  • The bass was played by another ex-ball, Gibbons‘ old buddy Trevor Burton

Also the background choir was of the best

And even the background choir was at its best. It was cast with two US-American women who had already celebrated chart successes and worked with the big names of the industry on world hits that everyone had heard at least once.

Since the „main musicians“ are well-known, we would like to introduce the two background singers in more detail at this point:

Madeline Bell: Cocker, Donovan and Eurovision Song Contest

Firstly, there was Madeline Bell, who, with „I’m Gonna Make You Love Me“ by Dee Dee Warwick, which had previously been recorded by the Supremes and Temptations, made it into the top thirty of the pop and R&B charts as a one-hit wonder.

After moving to the UK, she became a member of the pop group Blue Mink, which reached number 3 in the UK in 1969 with the song „Melting Pot“.

800px-Jazz_singer_Madeline_Bell
In 2008 Madeline Bell sings at the Kurhaus Wiesbaden on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift. Picture source: Martin Greeson, U.S. Army – http://www.defenseimagery.mil; VIRIN: 080628-A-2403G-0049http://www.defenseimagery.mil; VIRIN: 080628-A-2403G-0049

Before singing for Steve Gibbons in the background she had already done this for Dusty Springfield, Johnny Hallyday and Donovan. She also appeared on the studio recording of Joe Cocker’s version of the Beatles song With a Little Help from My Friends and Rod Stewart’s „Every Picture Tells a Story“.

And four years after the recording session with Gibbons, Bell could be seen and heard by millions of people all over Europe at the Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm in 1975. There she sang in the background on Joy Fleming’s „Ein Lied kann eine Brücke sein“ (A song may be a bridge).

Doris Troy: A hit in ten minutes

The second US emigrant singing in the background on „Short Stories“ was Doris Troy.

She had been discovered by James Brown and had made it to number 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963 with the song „Just One Look“, which she co-wrote. (By the way, this song was recorded in only ten minutes because Atlantic Records decided to use the demo version for the record release. So Troy had an effective way of working, from which The Balls could have cut a slice).

The song probably earned Troy some royalties, as it was later covered by The Hollies, Linda Ronstadt, Bryan Ferry, Klaus Nomi and Harry Nilsson in duet with Lynda Laurence.

Doris_Troy
Doris Troy: Source: Wikipedia

Like Madeline Bell, Troy moved to Great Britain because she hoped to have more success there. There she made it to number 37 in the single charts with „Whatcha Gonna Do About It“ in December 1964.

Among the other artists she sang for on recordings were the Rolling Stones, on whose anthemic „You Can’t Always Get What You Want“ she can be heard as well as on George Harrison’s „My Sweet Lord“, Carly Simons` „You’re So Vain“ or Billy Preston’s album „That’s The Way God Planned It“, for which she also co-wrote songs.

Shortly before the recordings with Steve Gibbons, she recorded her first solo album for Apple Records, which was produced by none other than George Harrison,

The crème de la crème of the rock music of the time contributed to this album. Among other things were involved:

  • George Harrison,
  • Ringo Starr,
  • Stephen Stills,
  • Klaus Voormann,
  • Billy Preston,
  • Peter Frampton,
  • Leon Russell and
  • Eric Clapton.

The life of Troy, who left England in 1974 and moved first to Los Angeles and then, for performance opportunities, to Las Vegas, was to become the model for the musical „Mama, I Want To Sing“ in the 1980s.

This was written by her younger sister Vy and her husband Ken Wydro. The play, premiered in Harlem and later presented on tour, had 1,500 performances. From 1984 to 1998, Troy appeared in the play herself, singing and playing the role of her mother. At a London guest performance, the role of the young Doris was played by none other than Chaka Khan.

Worth hearing result: Variety of styles

So Steve Gibbons‘ solo album was well filled in all positions. Among other things, the yield of the sessions – in contrast to the recording efforts of The Balls – was more than visible and audible.

The result was a lavishly instrumented album, with country and pop songs interspersed between the rock songs. And sometimes you think you can hear an impression of Irish Folk.

The quality of the individual songs is consistently good. The album doesn’t wear off even when you listen to it for the umpteenth time, but you discover new facets and sounds when you listen to it again. (It is not dissimilar to the album „Chasing Tales“, which was released more than 35 years later and whose title also refers to literary narratives, although the instrumentation is much more sparse on the later.)

For some people the range of this album might even be too wide:

Those who appreciate the gruff nature of „Leader of the Band“, „You’ve Got Pay“ – a song with lyrics that fall far short of the qualities of Steve Gibbons‘ other works – or „Bye Bye Buffalo“ may not necessarily like the country number „Now You’re Leaving“ that follows „Leader of the Band“.

And the heartache of „Until She Comes Home“, performed by the backing choir, is not for everyone. Whereby this song is actually grounded again and again by the rough voice of Gibbons after the choir’s sphere excursions. In general, the rather „poppy“ songs, to which one can probably count „The Last Farewell“, have a quite high level and are far away from any superficiality and from kitsch.

Most ingenious rocking storyteller: Chatting and acting to rock music

With „One Of These Days“ Gibbons presents on this record the first of many songs in a style that was to become his trademark.

„The most ingenious rocking story teller“ was what one commentator on a Internet forum once called him. This fits very well with his way of not singing some songs, but simply telling their plot rhythmically across the music.

The best known example in which he uses this technique, which he also uses in his concerts in many input sequences, is probably „Mr. Jones“ from the later second album of the Steve Gibbons band „Rollin` On“. And on „Chasing Tales“ he perfects this art.

Everything that characterizes these later songs is, however, already laid out in „One Of These Days“. Even the laconic-sarcastic narrative tone, which all too easily overlooks the rather dubious character of many of its protagonists, is already there:

I went downstairs an`I kicked my wife/ she chased me round with a long big knife

she missed her aim an`she killed the cat/Yeah it`s gonna be one of them days

General store with uniform power: A touch of „Exile on Main Street“

It may be a bold comparison: the album reminds one a little of the Rolling Stones‘ „Exile on Main Street“, recorded shortly after that, which is also held together by „the continuous atmosphere full of power and groove“, despite all the differences in the recorded material – as Wikipedia writes about the Stones album.

In any case, both albums have one thing in common: the producer Jimmy Miller, who had also produced „Beggars Banquet“ (1968), „Let It Bleed“ (1969), „Sticky Fingers“ (1971) and „Goats Head Soup“ (1973) for the Stones.

Excursus: Two farmers in the country – And what that has to do with recording

Two Bavarian farmers are sitting in the middle of fields at a crossroads where the bumpy dirt road splits into three new paths, and are having a snack when a large limousine with foreign license plates slowly approaches, obviously lost.

When the car arrives at the two farmers, the visibly desperate driver drops the side window and asks in perfect English: „Excuse me, how do I get from here to the next city?“

The farmers just look at him without understanding. Then the driver asks in accent-free French: „Excusez-moi, comment puis-je aller d’ici à la prochaine ville?“

The peasants, on the other hand, just shrug their shoulders. From the car the Italian question „Scusi, come arrivo da qui alla prossima città?“ follows.

When that doesn’t help either, a Russian „Извините, как мне добраться отсюда до следующего города?“, which meanwhile sounds a bit meek, is added.

Again without success!

With a dull voice the stray passenger tries one last time with Esperanto: „Pardonu al mi, kiel mi ricevas de ĉi tie al la sekva urbo?“

When there is no reaction, the man in the car accelerates annoyed and drives in a randomly chosen direction.

After the cloud of dust has settled, the first farmer says to the second: „Did you hear it?“

„What do ya mean?“

„Have you noticed how many languages this man spoke? Five languages! That’s amazing!“

The answer comes without stirring: „So what! And what did it get him?“

It is certainly no coincidence that this joke came to our minds at this point: Steve Gibbons‘ solo album – like Doris Troy’s solo album, by the way – became anything but a box-office hit despite all the effort, quality and celebrity involved.

A wizard who does not do magic

The reasons for this are manifold. Among others, the LP was released under the order number SWZA 5501 on the record label Wizard, which had a prominent owner, Denny Laine, also an ex-Ball, but was not destined to have a long life.

Accordingly, the record was not available for decades, let alone that it would have been ready for pickup in any store. (Which is why Michael Vonau says that the album was a „megararity“ until its re-release on CD).

No wonder that even the single „Alright Now“ (whose B-side „Lay Some Lovin`Down“, interestingly enough, didn`t make it onto the vinyl album at the time or under the bonus tracks of the CD re-release), which was released from this album, left no traces. Despite that Gibbons still plays the song today, more reserved and therefore more intense, at his concerts.

IMG_3703
Also a bit odd: Advertisement for the single release from Steve Gibbons‘ first solo album: Was Jethro Tull the godfather?

Other songs from the album would probably have had more chances as a single.  But then Gibbons or the company would have had to decide whether they wanted to address the rock audience with „Leader of the Band“ or „You Gotta Pay“, for example, or the friends of cultivated pop with a song like „The Last Farewell“ or the country faction with „Now You’re Leaving“.

Which probably addresses a fundamental problem in marketing Steve Gibbons: His image has always been sold as a dubious rocker, but in fact he has more to offer musically. (On the other hand, it did not hurt the Bad Boys per se, the Rolling Stones either, to record things like „Angi“e and country numbers).

The cover of Short Stories may have contributed a little bit to the fact that the LP, when it came into a store, hardly found any buyers who didn’t already know what music was on, because it did not tempte to buy it spontaneously or at least to listen to it in the store:

The „fairy-tale“ cover with a Princess and a Prince (which looks a lot like Steve Gibbons), makes you think more of an album with filigree, not quite kitsch-free folk music than of a solid mixture of rock, country and predicate pop.

This finding would not be changed by the fact that the picture on the cover might have been painted by Steve Gibbons himself, as on some other later albums.

IMG_3702
Should this be Steve Gibbons?

With „Ridin Out the Dark“ and – above all – „Chasing Tales“ the cover designs harmonize with the content. With „Short Storyies“, on the other hand, it’s just like a strong Bavarian snack package, which is packed like  children’s chocolate!

A manager who gives preference to a new protégé

The lackingg sucess of the album may also be caused by the fact that Tony Secunda found no time to take care of the marketing as he had found a new protégé, who he expected to be more commercial. His name was Marc Bolan. The rest is an important but short chapter of rock history that came to an abrupt end on November 16, 1977, in the passenger seat of a small car in the London district of Barnes.

But shortly before Bolan’s death, he and Gibbons and Bolan should meet again. Steve and his band were guests on Bolan’s TV show years later, on September 14, 1977.

Difficult starting position for the next stage

So Steve Gibbons had recorded his first longplayer, at the same time he had to find a new manager – and learn that he was still bound to a adhesion contract even if he did not work with the manager who got him into it.

He should still have to carry this burden for a long time.

So it remains exciting!

Extra, extra, read all about it here!

 

 

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