It was Gary Farr's lot to be known more for the people he was related to, and worked with, than as a character in his own right. He was the son of a heavyweight British boxing champion, and the brother of one of the most visible British rock promoters. He took over the residency at the club that gave two of the greatest British '60s rock groups their start, and worked extensively with the man who owned that club, who was likewise involved with those great British bands' management. A member of a 1970s supergroup was in one of Farr's early bands, and one of the greatest producers and label executives of all time co-produced his final album, whose CD reissue you're now holding. None of this got him much appreciable sales or recognition from the record-buying public. But it made for an interesting journey as Farr navigated his way through British Invasion R&B, folk, and blues before somehow ending up recording in Muscle Shoals Sound for Addressed to the Censors of Love.
The son of Tommy Farr, who'd been the heavyweight boxing champion of Britain in the late 1930s, Gary Farr started out playing folk and blues in clubs in Worthing, Sussex before forming the T-Bones in 1963. Very much in the R&B-rock style of the early Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, the T-Bones were in fact tapped to succeed both of those groups as the house band at the Crawdaddy Club in London; they also took over the Yardbirds' Friday night residency at London's Marquee Club. (The Yardbirds connection did not always work to their advantage; a French T-Bones EP release confused consumers by using a cover photo of the Yardbirds by mistake.) The T-Bones also managed to put out three singles ("Give All She's Got," the best of them, sounded very much like the early Denny Laine-era Moody Blues) and an EP in 1964 and 1965; these, along with some recordings not released at the time, have seen reissue on some obscure import albums.
The T-Bones never did make the charts, however, and probably got their biggest exposure when they somehow snagged a spot on a Shindig Goes to London episode for American television. Filmed live at the Richmond Jazz & Blues Festival in August 1965, Farr and the T-Bones are seen playing "Wooly Bully" between slots by the much more celebrated Animals, Moody Blues, George Fame, and Steampacket (featuring future stars Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, Long John Baldry, and Rod Stewart). Shortly after that festival gig, organist Keith Emerson joined the T-Bones for a while, although a single the band did with Emerson in the lineup, "Together Forever," was never released. The T-Bones, in fact, never did release anything with Emerson on board before disbanding in late 1966.
Going solo, Farr apparently re-embraced his folk roots, though the man who ran the Crawdaddy, Giorgio Gomelsky—who'd also managed the Yardbirds in their first few years, and was an unofficial manager of sorts of the Rolling Stones in early 1963—continued to be involved in the singer's career. On a live 1967 bootleg recorded in Sweden, and largely featuring the Gomelsky-managed psychedelic band Blossom Toes, Farr can be heard doing a couple solo acoustic tunes, including a cover of Tim Hardin's "Hang on to a Dream." He briefly worked with Blossom Toes drummer Kevin Westlake, the pair issuing an obscure single in 1968 before Farr released his 1969 solo debut album on Gomelsky's Marmalade label. Members of both Blossom Toes and fellow British band Mighty Baby appear on that LP (titled Take Something with You), and some Mighty Baby musicians are also on his early-'70s follow-up Strange Fruit, which also includes contributions by the young Richard Thompson.
The roots rock and moody, Tim Hardin-styled folk-rock of Strange Fruit were indicative of Farr's change of stylistic direction since his T-Bones days. "I've turned a whole circle now actually, been a long way sailing around," he told Melody Maker around the time of the album's release. "I started off playing folk blues, went through the days at the Crawdaddy, playing with the T-Bones alongside Yardbirds and the Stones, then tripped. Four years ago I picked up a guitar again, started writing and started traveling. I suppose I am now a folk singer, because I believe today's rock and roll is today's folk music. One thing I am certain of now, I am a poet. It's always been so hard for me to get that over to people, when you're born into an athletic family and our old man's a world famous boxer it doesn't look right somehow to covet books and things like that. It's good singing in folk clubs...I've been told I'm too commercial, and I can't be used because I'm not folk—but I am doing what I feel are really valid songs for today."
Farr's appearances in Britain during that era were not limited to folk clubs. On August 31, 1969, he played at the Isle of Wight Festival, which drew about 200,000 people—though it's most famous for the appearance of Bob Dylan and the Band to close the show later that night. He also performed at the even huger 1970 Isle of Wight fest, his appearances at the event no doubt made easier to arrange by virtue of his brother, Rikki Farr, being one of the festival promoters. (Rikki, famously, can be seen losing his temper at the crowd as the gathering threatens to careen out of control in the documentary Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival.) Still, Gary's records didn't make much of an impact in Britain, and by the time 1973's Addressed to the Censors of Love was released on Atco, he was with his third label in as many albums, though at least it gave him the chance to record in the United States.
Co-producing Addressed to the Censors of Love (with former Hit Parader editor Jim Delehant) was Jerry Wexler, the Atlantic executive most famous for working with soul legends like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. On several occasions, Wexler had matched white singers possessing rhythm-and-blues sensibilities with American southern musicians and production facilities; Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis was the most renowned of those albums, though he'd also produced another British woman star, Lulu, in such a setting on the less celebrated album Melody Fair. A similar strategy was applied to Gary Farr, with Addressed to the Censors of Love getting recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound in Alabama, using respected Muscle Shoals session men such as guitarists Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carr, keyboardist Barry Beckett, bassist David Hood, and drummer Roger Hawkins. In addition to singing, Farr played 12-string and harmonica.
Unsurprisingly, the result, while similar in some respects to the earthy folk-tinged rock Farr had recorded on Strange Fruit, had a more pronounced American soul-rock feel, as well as some jazz and Tex-Mex accents. While the title of the album might have led some to expect lyrically controversial or even risque material, in fact most of the numbers were romantic singer-songwriter compositions, albeit with references to Isaac Hayes, Joe Louis, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Hugh Hefner, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and numerous mysterious women of exotic backgrounds. All the songs were written by Farr save the closer, Slim Harpo's "I'm a King Bee," a throwback to his 1960s roots in the T-Bones.
Addressed to the Censors of Love was certainly the Gary Farr recording that got the most exposure in the United States. That's not to say, however, that it got much exposure. It's one of the rarer early-'70s Atlantic LPs, and after its commercial failure, Farr never released another album before dying in Los Angeles in August 1994. This CD reissue restores to print the swan song of this hard-to-classify British artist, who dabbled in blues, R&B, soul, and folk-rock without ever settling into any of those styles for too long.
by Richie Unterberger
1. Breakfast Boo-Ga-Loo - 3:13
2. Wailing Wall - 4:41
3. Muggsey The Lard - 3:57
4. General's Daughter - 3:32
5. Mexican Sun - 2:39
6. White Bird - 3:22
7. Faith With A Face - 3:13
8. I'll Be Your Rocket - 3:05
9. Certain Lady - 3:00
10.John Birch Blues - 2:42
11.Rhythm King - 4:57
12.I'm A King Bee (Slim Harpo) - 3:56
All songs written by Gary Farr except where noted.
*Gary Farr - Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica
*Barry Beckett - Keyboards
*Harrison Callaway - Trumpet
*Pete Carr - Guitar
*Ben Cauley - Trumpet
*Ronnie Eads - Sax
*Roger Hawkins - Drums, Percussion
*David Hood - Bass
*Jimmy Johnson- Guitar
*Mike Lewis - Sax, Flute
*Jerry Masters - Bass
*Charles Rose - Trombone
*George Terry - Guitar
*Harvey Thompson - Sax Flute