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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Crow - Mosaic (1971 us, groovy hard boogie psych rock, 2011 Arf issue)

 Very few Minnesota rock 'n' roll bands, in the days before Prince and Grammy-winning producers Jimmy "Jam" Harris and Terry Lewis made the scene, managed to successfully steal even a slight serving of the nation's auditory attention. Among such acts were the Trashmen, the Gestures, the Castaways and Crow. Before their precarious perching on the charts, Crow was known as South 40: Dave Wagner (vocals), Dave "Kink" Middlemist (organ), Harry Nehls (drums) and the brothers Dick Wiegand (guitar) and Larry Wiegand (bass), a twin cities bar band known for playing hard edged R 'n' B. 

The formation of South 40 can be credited to the merging of two of Minneapolis' favorite mid-sixties rock bands: the Rave-Ons and Jokers Wild. The album, South 40 Live At Someplace Else! (Metrobeat MBS-1000) contained such rock standards as "Fire," "You Keep Me Hangin' On," "Get Out Of My Life Woman" and "99 ½" as well as several excellent originals such as "I Want Sunshine," "If No Love," "What's Happenin'?" and "Goin' Someplace Else." Even then the group exhibited a very original style, combining the best of soul music, R 'n' B, straight-ahead rock 'n' roll. South 40 never received a lot of local airplay, so to speak, but did garner a bit of recognition in the outlying areas like Fargo, North Dakota and Duluth Minnesota.

The band's big break came when it took first place in a "contest for rock bands" sponsored by the National Ballroom Operators Association in Des Moines, Iowa on September 29th, 1968. The prize - a recording session with Columbia Records. Three judges presided over N.B.O.A. contest that night, one was Timothy Kehr, former booking agent of the Rave-Ons. It came down to South 40 and the Fabulous Flippers, split even, until Kehr cast the deciding vote.

On January 31st, 1969, Crow entered the Columbia Recording Studio in Chicago for the first time, to begin what would be a bittersweet roller coaster ride that would last the next two-and-a-half years. Several changes had occurred in the four-month interim since winning the N.B.O.A. deal. Most notably was the name change. The guys, as one, decided to make it on a national level, South 40 just wasn't going to cut it. But why Crow? "Well, a crow is a kind of funky bird," recalled Kink Middlemist. "It's a scavenger, a nasty hard-hitting kind of bird and our music is kind of that way. Also, it's a short name, one that's easy to remember." Enough said.

Along with the name change came a personnel one too. Harry Nehls had received a good offer to join the local Minneapolis group T.C. Atlantic, so he left. After searching through the Minneapolis Musician's Union entourage, Michael Malazgar was settled on. Denny Craswell (of the Castaways) had been the group's first choice, but he had to finish up a few prior commitments with Blackwood Apology, of which he was a member. He would join the other four in about a month. Mike Malasgar was on the five-song session in Chicago, however. 

The five songs recorded during that cold January day were: "Time To Make A Turn," "Busy Day," "Gonna Leave A Mark," "White Eyes" and "Evil Woman." Columbia Records passed on Crow after hearing the demos. "Columbia had specked us the free time," said Larry, "but they never promised records would come of the deal. I'm sure they had visions of Dave being another Gary Puckett, who was big for them at the time. We were a little bit too funky for them though. I'm sure that's why they passed."

Mosaic produced by Bob Monaco, exemplified by material such as "Sky Is Crying" and "Keeps Me Runnin'" the album offers up another set of straight-ahead mid-western hard rock. With the exception of Larry Wiengand's atypical jazzy "Easy Street" (quite an interesting change of pace), and the weird, soul-ish "I Need Love", it's not particularly subtle or sophisticated, but then that isn't what Crow fans were looking for.  Sure, the album may be somewhat limited in terms of scope, but Wagoner had a great set of pipes and the band were quite good at what they did.  

Elsewhere, a remake of the oldie '(Don't Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On the) King of Rock and Roll' b/w 'Satisfied' (Amaret catalog number 45-125) and 'Yellow Dawg' b/w 'Watching Can Waste Up Time' (Amaret catalog number 45-129) were pulled as modestly successful singles.  Even though the band had begun to record material for a fourth album, by the end of 1971 the combination of growing unhappiness with their label and sheer exhaustion effectively spelled the end of the group.  

Wagner was the first to give notice, but faced with a significant financial debt, the remaining members decided to soldier on, quickly replacing him with former White Lightening drummer/singer Mick Stanhope.  The revamped band struggled on for roughly a year before finally calling it quits in 1972.

1. (Don't Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On the) King of Rock and Roll (Jeff Thomas) - 2:32
2. Easy Street (Larry Wiegand) - 5:03
3. Yellow Dawg (Larry Wiegand) - 3:01
4. Sky Is Crying (James, Robinson, Lewis) - 5:57
5. I Need Love  (Larry Wiegand, Dick Wiedgand, Dave Middlemist) - 4:22
6. Keeps Me Runnin' (Larry Wiegand) - 3:00
7. Watching Can Waste Up Time (Larry Wiegand, Dick Wiedgand) - 3:58
8. Satisfied (Larry Wiedgand, Dave Middlemist) - 5:13
9. Watch That Cat (R. Wiegand, Dave Waggoner)  - 5:30
10.Let's Not Say Goodbye (Dave Middlemist, Dave Waggoner) - 5:10

*Dave Wagner - Vocals
*Dave Middlemist - Keyboards
*Dave Wiegand - Guitars
*Denny Craswell - Drums
*Larry Wiegand - Bass

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