Wednesday, December 5, 2018

It's a Beautiful Day

San Francisco psychedelic folk-rock found a host in It's a Beautiful Day, primarily the vehicle of virtuoso violinist David LaFlamme. Beginning his musical education at age five, LaFlamme would early on serve as a soloist with the Utah Symphony; he was only 21 years old. After relocating to the Bay Area in late 1962, he immersed himself in the local underground music scene, jamming alongside Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin. After a short-lived stint with a band he called Electric Chamber Orchestra, LaFlamme co-founded Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks before assembling It's a Beautiful Day in mid-1967. 

The group, which included LaFlamme (Flute, Violin, Vocals),  keyboardist wife Linda (Organ, Piano, Celeste, Harpsichord, Keyboards), vocalist Pattie Santos, guitarist Hal Wagenet, bassist Mitchell Holman, and drummer Val Fuentes, released its self-titled debut LP on Columbia in 1969, scoring their biggest "hit," so to speak, with the haunting FM radio staple "White Bird." Linda LaFlamme left It's a Beautiful Day soon after, going on to form Titus' Mother; keyboardist Fred Webb signed on for the follow-up, 1970's Marrying Maiden, while Holman exited prior to 1971's Choice Quality Stuff, recorded with new guitarist Bill Gregory and bassist Tom Fowler. In 1973, ongoing disputes over royalties forced LaFlamme out of the group he created – though, quite honestly, none of that really matters. All that matters is It's a Beautiful Day's one, nearly flawless psychedelic LP (note the use of "psychedelic" as a codicil to "flawless").

While the name remains one of the clunkiest in music (indeed the band's name may be the only complete sentence in rock), it was often cause for confusion: was it the name of a band, a song, a forecast, though it indeed gave a distinct impression of the middle earth kind of ethereal feel of the band’s music.

The artwork for Moby Grape's Wow had a similar feel.
A short rundown: "White Bird," their most (read that as "only") famous track is one of the most beautiful melodies in rock, offering a strange sadness that opens with a pizzicato passage on the violin and harmonies that don't quite work (kind of like bad Renaissance). "Hot Summer Day" has a bit of an edge to it, though in a lilting minor key. "Wasted Union Blues" begins with a nasty little guitar in a psychedelic blues number about being strung out. "Girl with No Eyes," which may vie with "White Bird" for its lovely  melody, is a paradoxical track about a poster on the wall with lyrics that may provide some insight to the band's psychedelia: "She's just a reflection of all the times I've been high." "Bombay Calling" is an instrumental with an Indian feel, building from a short catchy riff to a rock tune. "Bulgaria" is a mysteriously dark tract  that's something like a religious rite of passage, and "Time Is" is an uptempo closer about time's relativity. The eponymous debut is far from an AM10, but still serves alongside psychedelic classics like Blue Cheer's Vincebus Eruptum or  Moby Grape's Wow, and provided, like Zappa and the Mothers, an American taste of early progressive rock. "White Bird," of course (and the LPs cover art), is worth the price of admission, as is LaFlamme's flawless violin.

The LPs cover is often more recognizable than what the album contains. It was painted by Kent Hollister (no information) who based his painting on "Woman on the Top of a Mountain," painted in 1912 by American artist Charles Courtney Curran.

An aside uncharacteristic of AM, e.g. the small print: To throw in a bit of controversy if you've never heard the band (and most of you will note that these kinds of conspiracies are mostly poppycock), simply listen to Deep Purple's "Child in Time," which, to IABD fans, is better known as "Bombay Calling," which LaFlamme first started writing with Electric Chamber Orchestra (sometimes known as Orkustra) in 1965. Though the melodies are similar, no lawsuit or claims were ever made by LaFlamme, who was advised that Deep Purple’s version was dissimilar in more ways than it was similar and included extensive lyrics that become the track’s focal point. (More interesting if you’re looking for scandal, Orkustra member, Bobby Beausoleil, left the band to star in controversial filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising before becoming involved in the Manson Family. He is now serving a life sentence in a psychiatric medical facility for the murder of Gary Hinman. Beausoleil would write "Political Piggy" on Hinman’s wall in his own blood.)

There is a similarity as well in Curran's clouds.