Sometimes I think we forget that Crosby, Stills & Nash were, for a moment at least, the closest thing to America’s answer to The Beatles – partially evidenced by the proliferation of imitators in the years immediately following their formation. While Woodstock served as only the second official public performance from Crosby, Stills and Nash, their debut album, released the day before Memorial Day to kick off the summer, served as the unofficial, endlessly played soundtrack of the Woodstock summer. By the time ‘Ohio’ hit the charts a year later, college students everywhere were passing around acoustic guitars and joints in imitation.
From mellow acoustic guitars to soaring harmonies and even the amalgamation of last names to form a band, Robey, Falk & Bod are among the most guilty of imitators. The trio had formed a college band at Elon University, before managing to capture the ears of legendary record label giant, Clive Davis, who signed the band to Epic Records. The ambitious Davis smelled success, and according to Arthur Bod, initiated changing the band name from Daze End to laughably transparent Robey, Falk & Bod, in a strikingly fitting example of youth music tastes, and as a result, the big machine of major record labels, moving away from Summer of Love psychedelia towards the post-Woodstock ‘back the land’ roots revival.
Robey, Falk & Bod did not have the supergroup pedigree of Crosby, Stills & Nash – or much of any pedigree at all. But they had Clive Davis’ ear, and thus access to his wallet, which meant their forgotten debut album appeared to be a curiously well-funded affair. Davis clearly had decently high hopes for Robey, Falk and Bod, surrounding the trio of guitar-strumming harmonizers with a crop of Nashville’s best session aces, including Kenny Buttrey on drums, along with David Briggs and Bobby Emmons on keys. The all-star backing cast, who had recently released a pair of (stellar) LP’s under the Area 615 moniker, had grown into a loose collective and constructed Nashville’s Quadrofonic Sound Studio as their playground. The studio has famously hosted many all-time great recordings, including Neil Young’s Harvest just months before Robey, Falk & Bod, and the recording, gear and mastering lend an audiophile level of clarity and soundstage to this forgotten dollar bin LP.
As for the music itself, the CSNY influence is always in plain sight, and the shimmering acoustic guitars and soaring harmonies sound pleasant enough, even if the songwriting lacks originality. The album’s clear highlight is actually a cover, of ‘Magic Woman Touch’ by an overlooked UK psych/prog band, The Greatest Show On Earth. The original is a joyful if unmemorable little psych rock chestnut, but Robey, Falk & Bod transform the song into a Delaney & Bonnie-style rollicking acoustic jam, with Weldon Myrick’s steel guitar adding a funky shot of Rod Stewart-esque greasy rock ‘n’ roll to the band’s cascading guitars and strong harmonies. In short, it should have been a guaranteed hit – but the label dropped all of their promotional efforts once The Hollies released their own far blander version that became a hit instead. Classic music industry madness, you literally could not make this shit up. Record label discovers young potential emerging band and invests in top-of-the-line backing musicians and recording studio, receives the perfect hit song they wanted, then refuse to promote it because they gave the same song to a washed-up band on their same label. It’s a shame, because while the LP is more solid than spectacular, ‘Magic Woman Touch’ is the kind of song that really should have broken through, and could have changed the trajectory of the band.
With sunny three-part harmonies over strummed acoustic guitars on every track, Robey, Falk & Bod were a bit too formulaic and limited for sustained success, and the songs where the sympathetic backing musicians push the envelope a bit – with the swirling instrumentation of ‘Free Blue’, rousing fiddle on ‘Brown Skin Blues’ or guitar interplay of the title track – fare the best.
Kentucky Gambler may not be a forgotten gem of the 1970s, but led by breezy harmonies, studio session aces and impeccable sound quality, it certainly makes for a plenty enjoyable listen on a spring Saturday afternoon.
Turntable: JVC JL-A20
Cartridge/Stylus: Shure M44 w/ N44-7 by Zafira
Amplifier: NAD 7025PE
Speakers: KEF C80