Thursday, September 23, 2010
Goose Creek Symphony - Est. 1970 (Capitol 1970; 2000)
Even though many country rock and rural rock bands from the late 1960s and early 1970s are finally receiving the recognition that they rightfully deserve, there are still some that unfortunately continue to be ignored in discussions about those two sub-genres. While an inordinate amount of attention is heaped upon groups both worthy (e.g. the Flying Burrito Brothers) and unworthy (e.g. the Eagles) of the accolades that they receive, among the neglected there remain several aggregations cut from a similar cloth that are ripe for rediscovery. Chief among these is Goose Creek Symphony.
The main creative force in the group is singer-guitarist Charlie Gearheart, who was born and raised, logically enough, in the Goose Creek Hollow region of Kentucky, an isolated area of Floyd County in the eastern part of the state. After his family moved to Arizona while he was a teenager, he began to combine his influences of country, jazz, pop, and rock music into a workable formula. Sometime in the late 1950s, he adopted a stage name and formed his first group, Richie Hart and the Heart Beats. They had a hit with "The Great Duane," which led to an appearance on American Bandstand in 1959. After being a mainstay of the Phoenix club scene for a number of years, Gearheart was drafted into the Army in 1963. Upon his discharge circa 1965-1966, he reentered civilian life, returned to Arizona, and found the entertainment world drastically altered due to changes ushered in by Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Gearheart enthusiastically embraced the experimental spirit of the mid-1960s, and, after becoming friends with like-minded guitarist Paul Spradlin and guitarist-keyboardist Bob Henke, began work in 1968 on what would become Goose Creek Symphony's debut album, Est. 1970 (aka Goose Creek Symphony or Established 1970). With the assistance of studio musicians, the LP was completed in 1969. After Capitol Records signed the group, the album was released the following year, with Gearheart, Spradlin, and Henke respectively billed as "Ritchie Hart," "Paul Howard," and "Willard" on the record sleeve. Charlie recruited other musicians as a backing band to support the trio while on tour, some of whom became permanent members of Goose Creek Symphony and appeared on later efforts. While the band's other LPs are all worthwhile, Est. 1970 remains their crowning achievement.
Put simply, there are few finer examples of mind-expanding Americana than this record. Bookended by the old-time gospel piece "I'll Fly Away," Est. 1970 consists mostly of Gearheart compositions that collectively have all the makings of a concept album, or at the very least a thematic one. Downhome instrumentation (dobro, fiddle, steel guitar, Jew's harp, etc.) and Southern-tinged harmony vocals predominate throughout the affair, although many of the performances are also compellingly supplemented with probing guitar improvisations, sound effects, phasing, and backward playbacks, although never to the point of excess. The twangy "Charlie's Tune" and epic-length "Talk About Goose Creek and Other Important Places" sound inspired by Gearheart's rural upbringing if not downright autobiographical. "A Satisfied Mind" is an excellent version of the oft-covered Joe "Red" Hayes-Jack Rhodes song, while the freaky "Confusion" deserves a place on the list of the all-time greatest psychedelic country rock tunes. Mike McFadden (apparently one of the studio musicians who participated in the recording sessions for this album and an occasional songwriter on subsequent releases) contributes with the relatively straight-ahead country number "No News Is Good News." "Beautiful Bertha" is a hard-rocking character sketch, and "Raid on Bush Creek in '39" briefly relates a deadly shooting incident that may or may not be based on actual events. The majestic story-song "Big Time Saturday Night" beats the Band at their own game. The enchantingly mellow closing track "Symphony Music" segues into the reprise of "I'll Fly Away" and properly brings this intriguing album full circle.
1. I'll Fly Away
2. Charlie's Tune
3. A Satisfied Mind
5. No News Is Good News
6. Talk About Goose Creek and Other Important Places
7. Beautiful Bertha
8. Raid on Bush Creek in '39
9. Big Time Saturday Night
10. Symphony Music