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written by: Nigel Camilleri
A Brief History
Occasionally one comes across an album that strikes the individual as being a musical gem. This occurred to
me the first time I heard Ford Theatre's album Trilogy For The Masses. The story as to how I came to possess the
album is indeed strange. I was visiting my friend Keith Goodwin (a name well known within Progressive rock
circles), and he gave me the album telling me that it was one of his favourite albums. For some unknown reason he
had been unable to ever trace the band and any other recordings of the group as he had received the album from an
American radio disc jockey in the late sixties who deemed the album not worthy of airplay as the station was
strictly devoted to playing chart toppers! (Something that many stations seem to suffer from till this day)
In truth the Internet has been of practically no help as there is virtually no information related to the band
and any of their recordings except from one particular site, that of R. Stevie Moore nephew of band leader Harry Palmer. R. Stevie
Moore (a musician in his own right) passed me on to Harry Palmer and I am indebted to both of them as well as
fellow band member James Altieri for their time and wealth of information that they have so kindly passed on to
me, thus allowing this dedication to one of rock's Forgotten Sons to be created.
The origins of the band lie in a popular Boston-based group called Joyful Noise, which played the
college circuit. The four members of the band were James Altieri (bass), Arthur Webster (guitar), Robert Tamagni
(drums) and John Mazzarelli (keyboards, vocals). All of them were childhood friends from Milford, Massachusetts.
The group attracted the attention of New Yorker Harry Palmer who first came across the band when attending
college in Boston. Palmer was a composer by nature and was looking for that band that could play the musical
ideas he had, and on his return to Boston, a few years later, contacted Joyful Noise to do just that. The
link between the band and Palmer was their eventual manager Fred Cenedella who used to book bands for dances to
pay off his tuition fees and who had met Palmer on a visit in 1965. There exist acetate recordings from 1967 of
the quartet Joyful Noise as they made two demo recordings in the hope of acquiring a record deal. The
tracks included are Known the World Over, Something Of A Change, Good Thing and Stop.
The group were impressed by Palmer's material and slowly he became a fully fledged member of the band. However
a few changes were made to the band. First a vocalist, Joe Scott, was drafted in (also from Milford,
Massachusetts), and secondly the name of the band had to be changed. The reason for this was that Palmer's music
was dark and ominous, a reflection of the times as America was still reeling from the assassination of President
Kennedy and was in the midst of the Vietnam war. Thus Joyful Noise became Ford Theatre, the place where
President Lincoln was shot. (Actually the name of that place is Ford's Theater, but the group dropped the 's and
changed Theater to Theatre.) On the other hand an interview with the band at the time of the release of their
first album has them dismissing the link and instead stressing that the name was actually a combination of two
factors. The Ford was used as a sign that the group would one day make money doing auto commercials while on the
other hand the Theatre gives the group a dramatic and serious slant. The first concert that the band played under
the moniker of Ford Theatre came in the summer of 1967 at the Unicorn Theatre in Boston.
By this time Palmer had already composed the track trilogy For The Masses and the group was overheard by Dick
Summer, a DJ with WBZ radio in Boston, who in turn contacted executive producer of ABC Records, Bob Thiele
(1922-1996). Thiele asked the band to provide a demonstration recording which the group obliged by recording a
complete one-track album in little over two hours. ABC gave them $12,000 front money for equipment and a
percentage of the record sales and with that the group entered the studio to record their first album.
Interestingly this concept album, one of the first of the genre, was recorded live in 2 takes in the studio as a
continuous performance, much like the band would play the performance live. The vocals were added at a later
take. Production was entrusted to Bob Thiele and the tracks were taken to New York and strings added to Theme For
The Masses. The string arrangement was entrusted to Wally McGee, a musician/teacher in the Boston area who also
came from a classical background. Interestingly though he was given co-writer credits on the album liners, McGee
was only responsible for the string arrangements, while lyrics and music was all in the hands of Harry Palmer.
Trilogy For The Masses was released in July of 1968 (ABC ABCS 658) while From A Back Door Window/Theme For
The Masses (ABC 11118) was released as a single.
Following the release of the first album, the band went on tour of seven cities including
Chicago, New York and Philadelphia performing with bands such as Big Brother And The Holding Company, Iron
Butterflyand Procol Harum as well as playing local television shows. However poor promotional
backing from ABC did not help the band. A classic example was the summer of 1968 when the band played in
front of 10,000 people at the Kiel Auditorium, sharing the bill with Big Brother and Iron
Butterfly. The album was being played in heavy rotation in its entirety on the local radio (KSHE), thus
achieving a large amount of publicity. However there was one snag. The area of St Louis was not supplied
with records of the band and thus all the publicity that was achieved was all useless!
September of 1969 saw the release of the band's second album, Time Changes (ABC ABCS 681/Stateside
SSL 10288; Value BS15:00). Though dubbed a concept album, it is in fact a loose collection of songs, most of
which were new songs composed by Harry Palmer. Recordings took place at the original Hit Factory in New York
while production was entrusted to Bill Scymczyck. Time Changes was the first piece of production work for
Szymczyck, who would go on to achieve fame for his production work with James Gang, Joe Walsh, Edgar
Winter and The Eagles. Also there was a change in line-up for the recordings of the album as James
Altieri had left the band and was replaced by Johnny Pate.
Two singles were released from the album Time Changes/Wake Up In The Morning (ABC 11192) and I've Got The Fever/Jefferson Airplane (ABC 11227)
However, the second release was weaker than the debut album and failed to achieve desired sales
figures as well as garner enough radio interest for promotional purposes. Thus he band were dropped from ABC and
they eventually disbanded.
Jim Altieri continued to play with various bands in the Boston area while Bob Tamagni teaches at the Berklee
School Of Music in Boston. Harry Palmer went back to New York, producing other bands and artists before moving
towards the business side of the musical worlds and becoming an executive for various record companies such as
Polygram, Atlantic, BMG and Sony.
Unfortunately none of the band's albums are available on CD though Jefferson Airplane
is available on the compilation CD Acid And Flowers (TB-104) and Incredible Sound Show Stories Vol. 7 -
Illusions Of Alice In Black (Dig The Fuzz DIG 013, 1998).
However there might be a light at the end of the tunnel. It seems that there might be some negotiations going on
as to the release of Ford Theatre material. Also it seems that a vintage unissued reel of Ford Theatre playing
live at the Boston Theatre in 1969 has been unearthed and might be mastered and issued. Further information about
these possible releases can be obtained by emailing R. Stevie Moore.
Before I conclude this section I would like to thank Harry Palmer, R. Stevie Moore and James Altieri for their
patience as well as the wealth of information that they have passed on to me to be able to compile the background
of a true Forgotten Son of progressive rock.