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23 Nov 2016

Bead Game ‎ “Welcome” 1970 US Hard Psych Fuzz









Bead Game ‎ “Welcome” 1970 US Hard Psych Fuzz
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US outfit BEAD GAME was formed in Cambridge, Massachussets sometime in the lates 60’s, and consisted of K. Westland Haag (guitars, vocals), Jim Hodder (vocals, drums), R. Gass (keyboards), Lassie Sachs (bass) and John Sheldon (guitars). The band managed to build up a local following in the Boston club circuit, which landed them a record deal with AVCO Embassy Records, who released their debut album Welcome in 1970. While Bead Game were working on their second album Baptism in 1970, the band fell apart. Their sophomore effort was shelved, but saw a very belated release 26 years later. Today this band is first and foremost remembered as the first band of Jim Hodder, who would later make a name for himself in the US act, Steely Dan……. 
This is an album that’s attracted considerable critical hype and to be honest, the first time around, it didn’t make a major impression on me. It was certainly listenable and had a couple of interesting moves, but overall the collection just didn’t click. So a couple of years have passed and I’m giving it another shot (on a brand new Rega PB3 turntable) and about all I can say is the album sounds a helluva lot better this time out. 

It’s interesting how many collectors have heard of this band, but know little or nothing about them (not that I have a lot to add to their biography …). They were apparently formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a line-up showcasing rhythm guitarist Ken Westland Haag, singer/drummer Jim Hodder, keyboardist Robert “Bobby” Gass, bassist Lassie Sachs, and lead guitarist Jim Sheldon. Having previously toured the States with Van Morrison, Sheldon was seeming the front man. A true ‘hippy’ band, the members lived together and even though they apparently weren’t big on rehearsals, somehow managed to attract a local following on the Boston club circuit, eventually cutting a series of demos for a planned album entitled “Baptism”. The album was promptly shelved until the small American Sound label released a limited press in 1996 (American Sound catalog number AS 1004). And here’s where it gets even more confusing. I’ve never been able to find the details, but under the name Freedom Express, with the addition of a horn section, the five members seemingly cut a quickie album of horn-propelled psych-oriented cover tunes for Mercury (“Easy Ridin’” catalog number SR 61250). Abandoning the Freedom Express nameplate, the band somehow captured the attention of AVCO Embassy Records, which promptly signed them to a recording contract. Recorded at New York’s Record Plant 1970’s “Welcome” was produced by Gary Kannon (aka Gary Katz). Featuring all original material, tracks such as 'Punchin Judy’ and the fuzz guitar propelled 'Wax Circus’ showcased an engaging mix of hard rock moves with occasional country-rock and jazz touches. As lead singer Hodder had a voice that was well suited to the group’s repertoire (anyone into early Steely Dan will instantly recognize him) while keyboardist Gass was notable for his understated playing (a rarity for '70s bands). The other highlight came via Sheldon’s consistently impressive fills. Personal favorites include the rocking 'Amos & Andy’ (which really did sound like an early Steely Dan tune) and the extended, moody closer 'Slipping’…………….. 

'Welcome’ is the mildly interesting 1970 debut of an obscure New England funk-rock band whose progressive tendencies are evident from the opening strands of “Punchin Judy” through the extended tempo-shifting closing track “Slipping”. The band would disappear shortly after recording an aborted second album, but the songs here are quite good for the time period in which they were recorded and all the members of this fledgling group went on to moderately successful music careers. 
Bead Game (named I assume for the odd Herman Hesse novel 'The Glass Bead Game’) was formed by a quite young John Sheldon, an aspiring kid from the Boston area who was among other things a childhood friend of the great American folk singer James Taylor. Sheldon in fact purchased his first electric guitar from Taylor. Sheldon had toured the East Coast as a member of Van Morrison’s band while in high school, and scored a record deal while still a teenager. This album was the result of that deal. 

The band also featured a young Jim Hodder on drums. Hodder would go on to form Steely Dan with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker and appears on that band’s first three albums including providing the lead vocals for the smooth jazz hit single “Midnight Cruiser”. Interestingly enough keyboardist Bobby Gass’s organ work on this album sound a bit like Fagen’s light jazzy style that would so endear fans to that band in their early days, particularly on “Wax Circus” and the rambling “Slipping”. 

In addition to a noticeable New England jazz-funk pop sound on the first few tracks, the band seems to have dabbled a bit in the country-rock sound that was somewhat popular in the United States at the time with the trio of tunes “Natural Song”, “Country Girls” and “Amos & Andy”. These come in the middle of the record and are decidedly more earthy and languid than the guitar/organ heavy front side of the album. 

For a closing number the band shows strong progressive leaning in their song construction with the wandering, eight-minute plus and heavily instrumental “Slipping” which features some excellent guitar breaks from Sheldon and complex drum work courtesy of Hodder. This particular song is quite distinctive from the rest of the album. 

The Fallout label CD reissue includes three bonus tracks that feature flute and what sounds like a spinet. These are more instrumental and folksy than the original album, all decent but none exceptional except the closing instrumental “My Life in Review” which provides an inspiring and emotive ending to the record. 

Although the band did tour some in the New England area following this release, the group and their album found little success and disbanded after laying down tracks for a second album. That record wouldn’t be released until 1996, more than two decades after the members of the band had all moved on to other pursuits. The five members also released another record in 1970 under the band the Freedom Express, along with an obscure funk single fronted by Buddy Miles. 

Sheldon would later tour with Linda Ronstadt and take on sporadic session work and songwriting after returning to Boston to study music theory. He also released at least three albums with Blue Streak, another band he founded, and has recorded several solo albums (Bead Game guitarist/lead vocalist Ken Haag appears on some of these recordings). Hodder would depart Steely Dan in 1974 for a career doing session work including sessions with Sammy Hagar’s band before drowning in 1990. Bassist Lassie Sachs became a studio engineer. 

This is an obscure album and certainly not a lost classic, but the music here is quite good and professionally delivered. I’ll say it is at least a three (out of five) star effort, but not quite four. Well recommended to fans of early seventies American music. 

peace….. by ClemofNazareth …… 
This is going to sound a bit condemning, but there’s simply some swell music on this album. This is pretty much the epitome of a crossover prog release: slightly idiosyncratic time shifts, shimmery organ swirls, occasionally unusual lyrical motifs…but it’s all so dang *listenable.* If anything, they are just barely too odd to find their niche as a straightforward pop-rock band, but not odd enough to warrant exclamations over breathtaking compositions and musical virtuosity. This is prog-pop, with a tip of the musical hat to the atmospherics of psychedelia: lots of great hooks, too. I’m adding on the extra star for lyrical content, which is pretty impressive overall, as well as for the occasional tasteful intrusion of a classical theme. If you decide to go hunting down a copy, be certain to get the bonus track remaster. It comes with a great, compact prog epic called Sweet Medusa that is not to be missed…..by Lozlan…… 

Line-up / Musicians 
- K. Westland Haag / guitars, vocals 
- Jim Hodder / vocals, drums 
- R. Gass / keyboards 
- Lassie Sachs / bass 
- John Sheldon / guitars 

Songs / Tracks Listing 
1. Punchin Judy (5:12) 
2. Lady (4:22) 
3. Wax Circus (4:29) 
4. Mora (4:20) 
5. Natural Song (3:55) 
6. Country Girls (2:36) 
7. Amos n’ Andy (4:47) 
8. Slipping (8:23) 

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..