The story of Blood, Sweat & Tears began with The Buckinghams. They were a band that placed a number of singles on the Billboard Hot 100 during 1967 and 1968. Their use of a horn section that was at the center of their sound was somewhat unique at the time.
Steve Katz and Al Kooper had been members of the improvisational and psychedelic rock/folk band, The Blues Project. They were playing some gigs with jazz drummer Bobby Columby and former Mothers Of Invention bassist Jim Fielder when they obtained a copy of The Buckinghams album Time & Charges. After listening to the album, they assembled a brass section and Blood, Sweat & Tears was born.
Kooper lasted one album. Child Is The Father to The Man was well received but only marginally commercially successful. Singer David Clayton Thomas would come on board for their next three albums, which would propel the band to superstar status during the late 1960s early 1970s. While their albums sold millions of copies, it was their singles that dominated the airwaves and were memorable. Real Gone Music has now reissued all of their Columbia label single releases under the appropriate title, The Complete Columbia Singles.
Their first single, “I Can’t Quit Her” is a bluesy affair that shows Kooper’s limitations as a vocalist when surrounded by brass. When you get to such classic singles as “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel,” “And When I Die,” “Hi-De-Ho,” “Lucretia Mac Evil,” and “Go Down Gamblin’” you have some of the best hit songs of their era. The horns are not just used on the breaks and to fill in the sound but help carry the melody. Thomas has a voice that fits the sound perfectly, plus enough power not to be overwhelmed by the sounds swirling around him.
Everything is in chronological order and the B sides follow their hit sides. Tunes such as “Sometimes In Winter,” “Blues-Part II,” “The Battle,” and “More and More” may not be as well-known as their more famous counterparts but they have textures and subtle twists and turns that makes them very listenable over four decades later.
Thomas left the band after their fourth album and their commercial success would wane. Jerry Fisher was the new vocalist and the second disc covers the singles issued from New Blood (1972), No Sweat, (1973), and Mirror Image (1974). The backing sound gradually moved away from melodic pop/rock toward more of a jumbled jazz/rock fusion.
While there are some high points such as “So Long Dixie,” “Save Our Ship,” and “Tell Me That I’m Wrong;” in general the material is weaker and pales next to that of the first disc. Clayton Thomas would return to the band but their material and fortunes would not recover.
There is a version of Blood, Sweat, & Tears still on the road today. While their career is now approaching the half-century mark, their imprint on the music industry remains centered on their first four albums, which contained all their hit singles.
The Complete Columbia Singles is a fine introduction to their sound. Disc two is interesting in places but the first is essential to the music of the era.