ZEPHYR: LIVE AT ART’S BAR & GRILL
by Jim Sheridan
For some time now, one of THE Holy Grails for Zephyr and Tommy Bolin fanatics has been Zephyr Live at Art’s Bar & Grill. It has been said of Zephyr, as with the Dead, and the Allman Bros, that their studio albums were nothing compared to their live sound. While this is a credible claim, the band broke up long before many fans had a chance to see or hear them live. Mike Drumm correctly compares Bolin in Zephyr to Clapton in Cream. In each case the guitarist would move on from that seminal band to a variety of other projects, but many fans would continue to regard the young, hot years as his finest. Till now, Zephyrs recorded legacy consisted solely of their two studio albums, 1969’s Zephyr, and 1971’s Going Back to Colorado.
The only other recording of the band I had heard of was a very poor bootleg of the Art’s Bar & Grill show. The small venue must have been just the place to catch the briefly re-united Zephyr, a band whose members had effortlessly mixed blues, jazz, and psychedelic rock. The environment created by the very talented line-up had everything to do with enabling Tommy to test the creative waters, and experiment heavily with his playing and effects. Teamed with the powerful bluesy wail and harmonica of Candy Givens, the propulsive bass playing of husband David Givens, the hard driving drumming of Bobby Berge, and the outside atmospheric organ sounds and saxophone of the gifted John Faris, the result was a legendary bridge between the classic San Francisco bands of the late sixties, and their lesser known Texas psychedelic counterparts. All unleashed on America with jaw dropping displays of chops and soul. Now, with the Tommy Bolin Archives’ Bob Ferbrache’s usual great job of re-mastering the tape which was provided by David Givens, this great performance is available for all to marvel at. This long awaited Zephyr live disc is your front row ticket to an evening with Boulder Colorado’s all time finest jam masters.
The set kicks off with the apply named Just Warming Up, a bluesy B Bish shuffle, with some great harp playing courtesy of Candy Givens, and a nice thick Bolin slide solo. A solid vamp to warm the crowd and the band for Cross The River, from Zephyr’s eponymous first album. Riffing hard blues throb like turbocharged Canned Heat into a Allmansy funk-jazzy jam. Tommy’s triplet-laden solo mixes in some nice space-ray Echoplex effects. The crowd gets its first taste of Candy’s gutsy singing, and clearly approves! John Faris unleashes his B-3 over David Givens’ flowing bass lines. Effortless shifts in tempo and volume reveal the band’s mastery of dynamics.
Boom-Ba-Boom/Somebody Listen follows, also from the Zephyr album. Put on the headphones and listen to what any of the instruments does on this one; each member of Zephyr displays intimate knowledge of their craft, as the song goes “out there” and back! A beautiful echo-laden cozmic intro by Tommy moves into a dramatic organ powered Since I’ve Been Lovin You minor key blues. Candy’s haunting harmonica solo makes time stand still before she steps to the microphone to wrap her throaty vocals around the tune. Faris gets to elaborate on the keyboards until a SICK guitar solo erupts with nods to Page, although it’s all Tommy. A show stopper.
Huna Buna is a fun stop-n-start blues shuffle that shows Zephyr just having a blast! Jazzy chording supports Faris’ and Givens’ respective keyboard and harmonica excursions on this tasty mover from the first album. This short number is an appetizer for a monumental version of The Creator Has A Master Plan. Faris opens lenghtily with soulful horn sounds over Tommy’s percussive wah-wah wakka wakka, into free-jazz exposition. David Givens says that John Faris was the band’s mentor in exploring unknown realms, and here the band prove themselves to be adept students! This Pharoah Sanders song of faith has Bolin’s well-planned thematic lines follow the vocal and crack the sky wide open. Slide effects and a nice tremelo-picking aftermath return to vocals, then more sound-effect-laden jamming - this song travels to many places! An expansively open lysergic feel says all is possible.
Sail On is a sunny, majestic number that begins with a surging, epic sound, and then in true Zephyr fashion veers into sonic mayhem. A guitar break moves into an organ solo over a one-chord rhythm riff, with blues-rocking guitar taking over, and well, too, before heading back into a slower section with a sweet San Fran-ish sound, into a bolero, which eventually builds into a rave-up, into a series of taut surf-rock drum breaks. Are you exhausted yet? Relief is provided by Crazy ’Bout You Baby. The sweet slide-and-harp blues intro is the real deal, drifting lazily, goin’ back to Chicago! Candy Givens puts loads of sultriness and sass into the delivery.
Does Zephyr cut Ten Years After on Going Home? You decide. Unlike Alvin Lee’s Wooodstock workout, this version features real band interaction, with ear loads of harp soloing over jazzier chording than Lee offered. Everyone steps out; a sweet tasting guitar solo; harmonica fills between verses; an organ solo; a harp solo; and yet another guitar solo ripe with repeated triplets and speed to burn!! David Givens’ bass lines walk like mad. There’s great interplay with the drums, which accent the wild bends, Bobby Berge generally swinging like mad. A nice ’50’s rock riff gets tossed in for good measure, if only because the kitchen sink was unavailable.
The encore of the disc is Hard Chargin’ Woman, starting in a slow, sludgy EVIL intro with bass and keyboard explosions and Candy’s sinister lyrics. This moodpiece lets Tommy wail over the top and maul his guitar, climaxing in an Echoplex discharge into a sweet unaccompanied guitar spectacle which mxes fast fingers with effects to blow your skull sideways and back. Bolin offers blues shuffle soloing that returns to earth before going off into outer space sounds, again grounding itself in Givens’ husky singing. A ghostly Faris organ solo takes the jam back into the evil beginning drones Tommy tossing sci-fi in between eerie vocals and sledgehammer riffs. Zephyr finally throw themselves into bringing the song to a close with heavy pounding drum thunder and Tommy’s shredding not letting up until the very end.