It was the Spring of 1968, and San Francisco was the place to be if you loved "the new rock 'n' roll." What differentiated the new rockers from the original forefathers of the genre— Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, the Dominoes, the Drifters, and so many others—was that the focus, as well as the presentation of the music, had shifted dramatically. Since the advent of The Beatles a few years before, the emphasis now was far less on the "roll" and much more on the "rock."
With so many middle-class white kids having discovered the joys of rock 'n' roll in their adolescence, it was a natural evolution of musical and cultural values that took rock 'n' roll down its inevitable path 10 or 12 years later. The kids who loved the authentic, unadulterated, R&B-infused rock 'n' roll of the 1950s, and then grew up with intentions of being musicians themselves, had to interpret that music a certain way. And that, more or less, explains how The Loading Zone came to be.
This particular San Francisco band was a horndriven septet led by writer/arranger Paul Fauerso, who also sang and played keyboards in the group. The Loading Zone had been given a chance to record a single for Columbia Records in 1966 but nothing had happened with it, and there was to be no album made for that company. But the next year a small label, Umbrella Records, did get behind an album project for The Loading Zone.
On the strength of this first full effort, RCA Records—whose most successful group signing at this time was San Francisco's own Jefferson Airplane, with their bigselling 1967 LP, Surrealistic Pillow—decided to give The Loading Zone a shot. After all, they were making a lot of money right then with the Airplane, and all the labels were hungry to cash in on this "San Francisco Sound" phenomenon. RCA no doubt was hoping that lightning would strike twice in as many years.
If this Loading Zone band (whose music was described as something called "psychedelic soul") had a Surrealistic Pillow up its sleeve, the business people reasoned, there was lots more money to be made off of this Bay Area music explosion that was taking place. Around the same time that RCA was about to invite The Loading Zone to make an album for them, the band made a choice that a number of San Francisco bands had already made.
That change was noted on stage at the Winterland Ballroom in mid April of '68 by none other than Janis Joplin. "The Loading Zone's going on next," Janis told the audience, as she got ready to do the last song of her set with Big Brother & The Holding Company. "Okay...Wow! You gotta stay and see that chick, man. She's outta sight!" Janis was talking about Linda Tillery, a young black woman recently asked to join and front The Loading Zone as lead vocalist. It didn't take long for Tillery to make an impression on her fellow musicians, and RCA was banking on that appeal translating to rock music fans everywhere.
Big Brother had Janis, the Airplane had Grace Slick. Why not the talented, charismatic Linda Tillery taking The Loading Zone all the way to the top? Well, as history shows, that's not what happened. The Loading Zone, undeniably a good group who earned the respect of many other musicians and were well-received by the people who heard them, never really made it out of their native San Francisco.
They made a good album for RCA, but it did not sell in large quantities, and they were not given the chance to do another one. Columbia Records never regretted its earlier decision to not put its money on The Loading Zone, because by the time RCA signed them Columbia had its own psychedelic soul band taking off (on a subsidiary, Epic Records), another horn-driven San Francisco group called Sly & The Family Stone. Sixty-eight was the year Sly Stone and his integrated band of family and friends began its run of hit singles (with "Dance To The Music"), big-selling albums and influential, boundary-crossing music that ultimately earned them a place in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
The Loading Zone was handled by an organization called World Funk Management out of Berkeley, California. But in the newly-burgeoning world of funk music, Sly & The Family Stone was pretty formidable competition, locally and everywhere else. It was Sly who became the "King of Funk" in the late Sixties, and it was Sly & The Family Stone that was featured at Woodstock, and in the movie and album that followed.
The Loading Zone, meanwhile, had its brief moment in 1968, then faded out of the picture. Which is not to say, by any means, that their RCA album doesn't deserve its due, especially in view of what was going on in The Loading Zone's musical midst. Let's take, for instance, one of the songs that was on side 2: the re-make of jazz singer Billie Holiday's "God Bless The Child." It is virtually without question that Blood, Sweat & Tears cut this song for its self-titled second LP on Columbia (the album that insured that band's success) because The Loading Zone showed them how it could be done. Al Kooper, an original member of Blood, Sweat & Tears who was ousted from the group after its first LP, referred in his autobiography to B,S&T's version of "God Bless The Child" as a "Las Vegas desecration"—something that would never be said of The Loading Zone's treatment of this classic number.
Maybe that was the problem—The Loading Zone was too respectful of a great song to glitz it up for "crass" commerical purposes. (Kooper also produced a solo album for Tillery, "Sweet Linda Divine," that came out later on Columbia.) The other nine tracks on "The Loading Zone" were a mixture of other song revivals and Paul Fauerso originals.
Perhaps where the group miscalculated was in reaching back several years or more for previously-recorded tunes, instead of trying to come up with mostly (or entirely) original material. (Tillery did no writing at all for the RCA album, suggesting that the record had been all planned-out before she even joined The Loading Zone.) Obviously fans of Detroit music, the band chose three songs associated with Motown Records to put on the album. "Shop Around," which closed side 1, was of course originally done by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, one of Motown's earliest smash hits. "Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead" had been a single release for The Marvelettes in 1965 on Motown's Tamla label. (Bonnie Raitt also cut this song, a few years after The Loading Zone did, and it ended up on her debut album.).
The album also featured "Love Feels Like Fire," written by Lamont Dozier and the brother duo of Brian and Eddie Holland, the songwriting team that came up with a bunch of hits for The Supremes. The retro feel of the album may have dashed hopes for a hit on the charts in 1968, but does not at all detract from our enjoyment of the tracks decades later.
The Loading Zone, perhaps, didn't have the knack for hitting the crest of the wave and riding it for fame and riches in the music business, but its members did have a good feel for the music they liked, and they knew how to play it well. Unfortunately, Paul Fauerso and his bandmates drifted into obscurity after 1968, while groups with similar ideas (B,S&T, Chicago, Tower Of Power) went on to enjoy success in the 1970s. Like The Electric Flag, another good Bay Area band from that era, The Loading Zone were also-rans, with a lot of "what if's" to ponder later in life about a career cut short.
Linda Tillery, however, went on to a still-vital career in music. Although hers is not a household name, she has earned the admiration of many music lovers over the years, proving the legitimacy of Janis Joplin's estimation that her talent was "outtasight." Tillery has worked with such recording artists as Oleta Adams, Linda Ronstadt, Boz Scaggs, Santana and the Turtle Island String Quartet. She is also founder of The Cultural Heritage Choir, as well as a member of that ensemble.by Steve Roeser, June 2001
1. No More Tears (Shappiro, Fauerso) - 3.12
2. Love Feels Like Fire (Holland, Dozier, Holland) - 4.42
3. Don't Loose Control (Of Your Soul) (Fauerso)- 3.21
4. I Can't Please You (Robbins) - 4.07
5. Shop Around (Gordy Jr., Robinson) - 3.50
6. The Bells (Ward) - 3.55
7. Kalui Yuga-Loo (Fauerso) - 3.23
8. God Bless The Child (Holiday, Herzog) - 4.45
9. Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead (Paul, Stevenson, Hunter) - 3.34
10.Can I Dedicate (Fauerso) - 9.37
The Loading Zone
*Linda Tillery - Vocal
*Paul Fauerso - Organ, Piano, Vocal
*Peter Shapiro - Lead Guitar
*Steve Dowler - Rhythm Guitar
*Bob Kridle - Bass
*George Newcom - Drums,
*Todd Anderson - Tenor Sax
*Patrick O'hara - Trombone
*Frank Davis - Drums on "Can I Dedicate"