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 contacting R. Stevie Moore via his website, mentioned above.
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.
Ford Theatre - Trilogy For The Masses
Tracklist: Side 1 Theme For The Masses (2:51), 101 Harrison Street (Who You Belong To)
(9:22), Excerpt (From The Theme (1:09), Back To Philadelphia (4:11), The Race (0:26)
Side 2 The Race (0:04), From A Back Door Window (The Search) (14:02), Theme For The Masses (2:59), Postlude: Looking Back (2:09)
Musicians: John Mazzarelli (Keyboards, vocals), Harry Palmer (Guitars), Butch Webster (lead guitar), Joey Scott (Lead Vocals), Jimmy Altieri (bass, vocals), plus String Quartet (Charles McCraken, Bernard Eichen, Aaron Rosand, George Ricci, Arranger: Wally McGee)All tracks were composed by Harry Palmer and Wally McGee except for Postlude:Looking Back (Harry Palmer)
Produced by Bob Thiele for ABC and Harry Palmer & Fred Cenedella at Fleetwood Studios, Revere MA Spring 1968
Engineers: Russ Ham, Bob Arnold, David Greene
Cover and Liner Design: Byron Goto/Henry Epstein/Photos: Ed Andrey/Eyes: Frissi Titsworth
Ford Theatre is the place where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. And in these days of horrifyingly regular public murders, it's reasonable to ask what kind of name this is for a rock and roll group. A sick joke? Absolutely not. These six young men are deadly serious, and they chose their name because it corresponds in a way to what they are trying to create -- a vision of America in all its present chaos and agony. Harry Palmer, the leader, talks about it with the intensity of a man who feels he has got to be heard. "We're trying to get at the kind of desperation and searching that people are going through," he says. "This is as much a dramatic work as a musical one. We're trying to create a whole environment -- an ominous kind of environment." All the lyrics are in the second person, addressed to us. We're on the spot -- and there are very few of us who won't see parts of ourselves in these lines, or recognize the kind of tension that builds up in these long, corrosive instrumental breaks. The very least you can say about this album is that it's original, and fearlessly honest. And that's not nearly as common as some people think it is.
Jazz & Pop Magazine
Trilogy For The Masses opens with the Theme For The Masses, the main theme that connects the whole of the album together. Played in a form of lament, the track is rich in both strings and organ very similar to a style that would be utilised by many of the proto-progressive rock bands such as Procol Harum and The Moody Blues. The subsequent track, 101 Harrison Street is a clear indication of the times. Featuring a lengthy and mesmerising guitar solo accompanied by a hypnotic continuous rhythm, this piece of music is a sure sign of the psychedelic drenched times the band were living in. This was the year of Woodstock and the height of flower power, and one can easily envisage this track being played endlessly with one solo being meted out after the other.
Excerpt (From the Theme) resurrects the opening theme to then lead into Back To Philadelphia, a track that would also be utilised for the bands second album, Time Changes. Slow paced and laid back, this track in contrast to 101 Harrison Street, lays more emphasis on the guitar work rather than having the organ dominate the sound of the music. Both Sides One and Two are linked by the short echo-filled The Race.
A name that comes to mind after hearing From A Back Door Window (The Search) would be legendary group Love. Ford Theatre manage to exude a certain amount of power and anger without letting it get in the way of their musical arrangements and without compromising their ability to incorporate ear-catching choruses in their music. This lengthy track also manages to combine the two distinct musical touches that the band had expressed so far on the album, that of a more guitar orientated rock feel as well as that of the R&B organ dominated sound. Well, From A Back Door Window (The Search), has both these elements with an extremely pleasant organ solo coupled with lengthy guitar work. Once again the emphasis seems to be on the ambient that the instruments manage to create with their obvious psychedelic allusions capable of
Theme For The Masses resurrects its head in bringing the album to a close with Postlude: Looking Back, the only composition credited entirely to Harry Palmer on the album. Musically this track is strikingly different to the remainder of the album as it is devoid of the elaborate arrangement present on the album giving this pleasant track an almost country rock feel to it. This is one album from my record collection that somehow finds itself regularly on the turntable. There is something innocent and unique about the sound of the album that is hard to find in many albums from this era. Musically I feel that it is a gem and should appeal to all those who like what is often termed as proto-progressive rock.
Ford Theatre - Time Changes
Tracklist: The following tracklist and description is taken from the insert that accompanied the vinyl version of the album.
TIME CHANGES, is the story of a young man named Clifford Smothergill (known to his friends as Clifford) and his search for meaning and significance in life. This musical tale is based on the life of a very real person, whose true identity is a matter for very careful consideration, significant as it is.
01. Introduction (1:00) Being as it is, an introduction.
02. Time Changes (3:09) and so it does. The Chorus (consisting of our main character) discusses our theme.
03. Interlude One (1:14) Enter Puck, wandering minstrel, who will introduce the characters in our play, and reappear from time to time to tie together the loose ends of our plot.
04. That's My Girl (2:12) a significant scene, wherein, we find Clifford in the midst of his first meaningful love affair.
05. Wake up In The Morning (3:08) And upon doing so, Clifford finds himself a victim of man's eternal adversaries––doubt and insecurity. In short, Clifford panics.
06. I've Got The Fever (5:17) Finding his doubt and insecurity to be justified as the result of Mary Jane's leaving him in his hour of need, our hero sinks into the lowest depths of despair and experiences frantic moments that severely shake his faith in humanity.
07. Crash (1:06) Which he did.
08. At The Station (3:51) The possibility of finding some meaningful answers at home occurs to Clifford which prompts him to leave New York and return to Philadelphia.
End of Act I
09. Back To Philadelphia (3:58) Bringing it all back home proves to be a futile attempt at solving his problems, and so poor Clifford is left with the realization that his search for meaning must go on.
10. Clifford's Dilemma (1:58) A choice must be made, and Clifford considers the two possibilities––a return to New York and to Mary Jane or an aimless wandering.
11. Jefferson Airplane (2:59) Our hero decides to wander aimlessly for a while, and in doing so he loses touch with most of the world around him. Clifford Smothergill experiences a journey that few minds can endure.
12. I Feel Uncertain (2:26) Who can survive too long a journey such as this?!!? Our hero can take it only so long, and eventually he decides to return to Mary Jane and to resume the love affair. Mary Jane receives him gladly (after having gone through some pretty heavy changes herself), and now Clifford is left once again with haunting feelings of insecurity.
13. Interlude Two (1:18) Re-enter Puck, who will now enlighten us somewhat concerning a few of the more subtle aspects of our plot.
14. Good Thing (2:17) Oh, glorious day for Clifford!! Finally, he is convinced that he has found meaning and significance in life. Let us only hope that herein lies the end to our noble hero's desperate search.
15. Outroduction (1:13) Wherein Puck sums up our story in a most lucid fashion, bringing to mind the philosophical significance of all that has transpired.
Musicians: Harry Palmer (guitars), John Mazzarelli (keyboards, vocals), Butch Webster (lead guitar), Joey
Scott (lead vocals, bass), Bill Szymczyk (narration)
Additional Instrumentation Arranged & Conducted by: Bert DeCoteaux––except on "TIME CHANGES"––Strings Arranged & Conducted by: Johnny Pate. And presenting THE FORD THEATRE Rock & Roll Concert Orchestra • Violins Irving Spice––Concert Master • Herbert Sorkin • Louis Haber • Gene Orloff • Matthew Raimondi • Elliot Rosoff • Louis Stone Chelli Seymour Barab • Alan Shulman • Maurice Bialkin Viola Jean DuPouy Trumpets Joseph D. Newman • Burt Collins Trombone Benny Powell • Tenor Sax & Flute Seldon Powell • Baritone Sax Joe Grimm • Harpist Sally Goodwin (and special thanks to Sally for performing her "Jam in "C" for Harp" under extremely difficult conditions.)
Songwriting Credits: All tracks written by Harry Palmer except for I've Got The Fever (Harry Palmer/V. Marsden)
Produced by Bill Szymczyk
Recorded at Hit Factory, New York
Cover & Inside Photos––Ellen McNeilly • Back Cover Photos––Ed Judice • Cover Design––Byron Goto & Henry Epstein • Hassles by––Mel Cheren •
Time Changes, the follow up album to Trilogy For The Masses, was also conceived as a concept album. However, for some reason or another the album fails to live up to the expectation after hearing their debut, with the band seemingly losing its sparkle.
Starting with the fanfare of Introduction, which sounds uncannily like what the BBC would use in their station openers and closers. The group move into the title track, Time Changes. From the first notes of this track, there is that feeling that the music has lost a bit of its edge from the first album and has become somewhat mellower, and dare I say it...More commercial. There is still that psychedelic influence with the guitar and strings evoking a classical sixties atmosphere.
Interlude One has producer Bill Scymczyk's narration backed by some delicate acoustic guitar and strings creating a theme that will reappear every now and again throughout the album. That's My Girl has a happy feel that carries a beat similar to other sixties bands, especially British bands such as The Kinks and The Small Faces. The zaniness of the track also has a British feel though there is a Dixieland atmosphere also associated with the track with the inclusion of tuba and banjo.
Wake Up In the Morning is the first track so far that has a certain similarity to the first album in that it carries a dark aura to it. The strings have that rich lush sound, similar to what McGee had created effectively on the debut, while at times there is that certain touch to their sound that reminds me of another overlooked, yet classic band, Love.
I've Got The Fever has the band reverting to that happy feel as on That's My Girl, though the theme to the track is in itself not a happy one!. This time round the band incorporate both strings and brass together with the band. An unmistakably sixties together with a sing-along chorus, this is their most accessible and ear-friendly tune on the album. This track is a sure reflection of the times and changes within the rock world as the group manage to incorporate clever hooks in a complex and rich musical atmosphere.
Crash has the band playing along in what seems to be a jam session coupled with some weird sound effects. The closing track to the first side of the album, At the Station contrasts sharply with the rest of the album. Here the group shift their musical balance towards that of a country rock style with some delightful harmonies, an indicator of a style the group was well versed in before they became Ford Theater and would play during dances as Joyful Noise. The side ends with the sound of train pulling out and the narrator announcing the end of Act (Side) One.
The second side opens with a track that was originally penned for, and appeared on the debut album, Trilogy For The Masses. However, Back To Philadelphia is changed completely with the tempo slowed down considerably and the musical structure varied to a certain degree. The backing sound is stronger, courtesy of the inclusion of a brass section while the vocals, especially the chorus section, are changed giving the track a darker vibe. This is strange as it contrasts with the rest of the album in that the album on the whole has a happy feel to it, unlike the debut album which is generally speaking a dark album.
Clifford's Dilemma is an instrumental track featuring some mellow guitar work coupled with backing strings, and acts as an introduction to Jefferson Airplane. This track seems to be one of the most popular Ford Theatre tracks, as it is this track that makes its way onto compilation albums that feature the band. The track is psychedelic in nature, as should be expected when the track itself is named after one of the great bands of the psychedelic era!
I Feel Uncertain is a track that flows along the same lines as at the station with the band leaning towards that country-rock style, which though pleasing to the ear, leaves me baffled as to how and why a group that managed to create such intricate music with their debut had to resort to such a style. In fact this is brought up again on Good Thing, following Interlude Two.
Admittedly, Time Changes is somewhat of a disappointment when compared to Trilogy For The Masses. For some reason the group seem to have opted for a more commercial sound for their second album, a move which must have proved fatal as they disbanded shortly after the album was released. The album has its good moments, but if i had to advise the progressive rock fan, the album that should appeal to them would be Trilogy rather than Time Changes. On the other hand this album is still a pleasant album to listen to especially for those who like that classical sixties sound. In fact Time Changes has not aged as well as Trilogy and sounds somewhat dated, unlike Ford Theatre's debut album.
Very little information is found on the net regarding Ford Theatre, though Harry Palmer's nephew, R. Stevie Moore has set up a Ford Theatre section within his own site dedicated to his uncle's band and music.
Should you have any further information regarding Ford Theatre that could be added to the site, do not hesitate to contact me.