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24 Jan 2017

Sleepy John ‎ “Sleepy John” 1970 US Psych Hard Rock

Sleepy John ‎ “Sleepy John” 1970 US Psych Hard Rock
interview by psychedelic baby
Monster psychedelic hard-rock & proto-prog sounds from Northwest, 1970, never released at the time. Ultra-raw basement sound with devastating guitars and fantastic Hammond organ all around, sometimes sounding like a heavier version of Hunger. ….. 

“ Crude early 1970s local NW basement hardrock with intense Hammond and fuzz excursions and a truly frantic drummer. Similar to Stone Garden’s ” Patrick Lundborg (Acid Archives) ………….. 

Another one-off but surviving through contemporary releases that fuel the insatiable appetite for more and more touchstones to this era where many of us wish we could return and perhaps even record our own as well as live the overall dream again [apparently the band’s 1970 recording sessions did not get released as an lp until 1999]. This is a heavy blues rock album, driven by the Hammond organ of David Lee. The band is remembered as a brilliant live act and supported other bands like Moby Grape and The Mothers of Invention. Opener River has the organ drive of Deep Purple, and second Nothing has strong vocal, this linked to the rock guitar solo with an emerging psychedelic sound. Fourth Searching for the World employs more vocal harmony and at times sounds like Jefferson Airplane, and fifth Trying to Fly is a jazzy instrumental, this, like Someones Band just reviewed, hitting the rock requisite buttons of the time, but doing so with heart and some skill. Seventh You Say provides another one of the odd rock album expectations of the time: the ‘comic’ number, often with a Country lilt [or a jug band leaning], and here including various pig, cow, chicken and horse noises. I don’t think you can blame the drugs………….. 

Group from Lewiston (Idaho). It was formed in December 1969. The name chosen in honor of Mississippi bluesman from Sleepy John Estes. Later moved to Spokane (WA), which appeared in the «Fox Theater» and «Spokane Coliseum», improvising in jams with other groups and honing its original style. During this period they played with «Badfinger», «The Zombies», «Moby Grape», Frank Zappa (which they like). But to break out of the headliners was difficult and the group is gradually nearing its disintegration, which happened in 1972 … The CD contains recordings made during the group sessions in both states…………. 

Sleepy John came together late 1969 in Lewiston, Idaho. A very short lived band, by very impressive. They mostly improved their tunes, and their communal house was host to all types of musicians as a place to jam. They formed out of the remnants of two bands. One from Lewiston, ID, and another from Valhalla, ID. They never actually met though, until both of them ended up in Seattle (apparently to aid in dodging the draft). They played alot in the Seattle area as well as Canada. In two different sessions, they recorded some really great material which never officially was released. It was recorded in one of the members basements, so it’s definitely got that raw feel to it. Hard Rock with very prominent Hammond among heavy distorted guitar. They spent a good chunk opening for a number of bigger acts (the Zombies, Moby Grape, and The Mothers of Invention) and apparently, Frank Zappa was so impressed with them that he wanted to arrange that they be the opening act on a tour for one of his acts, Wild Man Fischer. It definitely sports a Uriah Heep/Deep Purple kinda feel to it. The unreleased recordings were ultimately released on Gear Fab in 2004 (GF-205) L.P., CD, CASS, and again in 2014 on Guersson (GUESS133) L.P. Spain. …. 

Hard-driving Lewiston, ID, rock quartet Sleepy John came together at the tail end of 1969, formed by David Lee (keyboards, vocals), Tom Williams (drums), Jim Bartlett (bass, vocals), and Frank Trowbridge (guitar, vocals). Lee and Williams had begun playing together all the way back in 1963 in the Lounj Men, a first band for both teenagers. Like a majority of the garage combos that popped up in that year, the appearance of the Beatles on the American scene was their stimulus and model, though they mostly played instrumental rock & roll on the order of the Ventures. When Lee’s family moved to Boise in 1965, he met Trowbridge and, over the subsequent few years, the two formed a pair of beat outfits, the Wondering Kind and Destiny, until the threat of the military draft convinced the friends to relocate to Seattle. Coincidentally, that very same month Williams, Jim Bartlett, and guitarist Clark Osterson had decided to move their band, Free, from Valhalla, ID, to Seattle as well. In a fortuitous bit of synchronicity, they found themselves bunking in the same boarding house as Trowbridge and Lee. Free found limited success in the summer of 1969 playing the regional open-air festivals, while Lee’s new outfit, Silver Bike, worked the local club circuit. When Osterson decided to leave Free, Williams and Bartlett persuaded Trowbridge to return to Lewiston and start a new band. Silver Bike broke up at about the same time, and with Lee also joining the fold, the newly christened Sleepy John – named after Tennessee “crying” bluesman Sleepy John Estes – became a four-piece. Sleepy John having formed out of the ashes of several working bands, Sleepy John immediately drew from wellspring of developed original material, much of it in a straightforward hard rock vein, though with interesting strains of prog rock and country music, and some subtle satirical inclinations. Improvisation was the quartet’s forte, and its communal Sleepy John House was a hot spot for area musicians who wanted to jam. This helped the group, by early 1970, to develop a distinctive sound and, using connections made during the members’ previous stay in Washington, to earn key gigs in neighboring Spokane (to where they would eventually relocate), after which they landed steady work throughout the Northwest and Canada, opening for and sharing stages with Badfinger, the Zombies, Moby Grape, and the Mothers of Invention, among others. Frank Zappa was so impressed with their music that he requested Sleepy John to play several dates with his recent discovery, Wild Man Fischer. That spring and summer, the band also completed two separate recording sessions, laying down enough material for an LP’s worth of their original songs, all engineered by their friend Paul Speer of fellow Idaho band Stone Garden. Those recordings went unreleased at the time but would eventually form the basis for the 2004 Gear Fab retrospective CD Sleepy John. 
After a spiritual awakening and prior to the second recording session, Bartlett left Sleepy John to join the popular Christian band Wilson McKinley, a leader in the early-‘70s Jesus rock movement. L.A. transplant John “Bosco” Jackson, who had gone to high school with the Turtles’ Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman and played in a pre-Steppenwolf combo with John Kay, took over bass duties, and the band continued to sustain its regional popularity. It would last more or less into 1972, when the quartet slowly and quietly dissolved. Lee moved to Seattle and joined Stone Garden. Trowbridge formed Blind Willie with another bunch of expat southern Idahoans and had success on the Northwest rock circuit. Lee and Williams also hooked up again in the successful retro '50s revue, Louie & the Rockets, which eventually became the Unholy Rollers and then just the Rollers. With a revolving door membership – including stints by Paul Speer and Trowbridge – and pronounced comedic elements, the Rollers had a successful eight-year run throughout the United States and Canada before the onset of disco stalled its momentum. ………… by Stanton Swihart… 

This album’s music was made in 1970 – it’s therefore not surprising that you don’t find raging power metal here, but rather relaxed yet still often unbound heavy rock with fiery guitars – and organ music – as evidenced by the totally exploding end part of “River”, the opening track. 

The disc’s sound does not conform to today’s standards, but it is lively and honest, and you get the feeling that the band is standing right next to you. 

Sleepy John was still operating on the threshold of the psychedelic bands of the 60’s to the hard rock of the 70’s. 

Extensive, mind-bending jams and solos that rob you of your senses are as much part of the repertoire as are straight-line-like, aggressively driven moments of penetrating melodies. 

Especially the often ecstatically whirling drummer is absolute ear candy, yet only a small part of the whole experience. 

The pieces are playful, but flow forward naturally and stay reconstructable. A few freaky parts here and there do not interrupt the flow. 

Even when the guitar does not sound badly distorted, the ardent way in which it is worked evokes a sense of immense power. 

Every so often the fuzz box is turned on and a sizzling distorted sound sneaks in and cuts right into your belly. 

After two hard rock pieces, every band needs a break, so a ballad, heavy on melancholy and furnished with rich organ arrangements is just the right thing. 

Even here are moments where the band steps up the drama by increasing the volume, but these moments then give way again to softly floating passages. 

Or, take note of the frenzied leads in the absolutely crazy instrumental middle passage of “Dragons” which produce an almost hypnotizing effect. 

Hard rock is not the only style aid here; threads of softer, swinging songs with a somewhat fluid expression are also weaved in. 

That’s the way it was back in 1969/70 – to not think and compose one-dimensional, but to create a salient point in the material to unify it. 

When you compare this band to current mainstream rock music, you should – your face distorted with disgust – turn your naked ass to today’s modern, uninspired plastic shit, to say it bluntly. 

Today, they either use demented screaming, bored droning on or whining. In contrast, take the almost floating “Seasons” where the middle part integrates passages which sound like Eastern European folk music and psychedelic heavy rock, and the band ability to change back and forth without missing a beat. 

That song alone has more diverse passages than many bands have in their entire discography: It swells, becomes highly intensive and brings you toward ecstasy, flows into more floating moments, falls into playful parts with twisted bridges, then mysterious and dark, then rocks and culminates in a scream and fiddling guitar after the folk music-like middle. Wow, I gotta sit down. 

The song “Losing my plow“. A song placed somewhere between Country and Slapstick, “Losing my plow”, follows. Hard-core rockers with blinders on are probably screaming now, but as a comedic interlude I find it rather refreshing. 

In their playful way, Sleepy John fall in with high-class bands. They continually add ideas that make for very diverse material – this naturally requires a certain level of immersion on the part of the listener. 

I think it’s fair to say that for hard rock fans listening to this disc is like running a gauntlet. 

There are bluesy interludes that are so mischievous that they take on a parodic character – yet, the band does this with such honesty and authenticity which makes it very believable People who dare go near such a multi-layered band with a like CD should add Sleepy John and their so-named debut-CD to their shopping list. 

It’s truly great fun to listen to the four young men’s performance. 

Unfortunately, Sleepy John never had the good forture of a regular publishing then, only in 2004 the US Label Gear Fab burnt the two recording sessions from the 70’s into a CD. 

The result speaks for itself. Liner and booklet are nicely done, with band history and illustrations. And with 73 minutes it’s not too short………….. 

David Lee - Hammond organ and Vocals 
Frank Trowbridge - Guitar and Vocals 
Jim Bartlett - Bass 
Tom Williams - Drums 

01. River — 5:34 
02. Al Capa Strong — 4:59 
03. Nothing — 5:00 
04. Dragons — 4:17 
05. Prelude To A Dream — 3:50 
06. Seasons — 9:27 
07. Losing My Plow — 2:13 
08. Hard Workin’ Woman — 2:54 
09. I Just Happen To Be (In Love With You) — 3:40 
10. Monday Blues — 5:36 
11. You Say — 6:18 
12. Trying To Fly — 3:26 
13. Blue Sky — 3:43 
14. Cowboy — 2:18 
15. Searching For The World — 8:18 

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..





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