The Lone Ranger, a mysterious masked rider and protector of the innocent during America’s wild west years of the 19th century, is one of pop fiction’s most famous characters. Originally created for radio in 1933 by Fran Striker (who also wrote most of the scripts) and George W. Trindle, the show debuted in Detroit and developed a large following very quickly, leading to nationwide exposure on the Mutual radio network. Two 15-chapter movie serials, The Lone Ranger and The Lone Ranger Rides Again, were produced by Republic Pictures in 1938 and 1939, but it’s the television series that has left an indelible impression on most everyone. Premiering in the fall of 1949, this show became the first big hit for the fledgling ABC network. Starring Clayton Moore, a veteran of many B pictures and movie serials, as the title hero and Jay Silverheels, a stuntman and bit player of Mohawk descent with a few dozen small (mostly uncredited) roles on his resumé, as his Indian friend and bad-guy battler Tonto, the series produced new episodes for five years and continued in reruns for decades. One word everyone remembers from those shows is “ke-mo-sah-bee” (or “kemo-sabe” or, as it was later spelled, “keem-o-sabe”). No real need to explain its meaning, as both the Lone Ranger and Tonto regularly threw the term around as a reference to their faithful friendship (though Boy Scouts have an alternate definition, “scout runner,” which could also, perhaps, apply to an ever-watchful Indian like Tonto). It made sense, then, that this word would one day be used as the title of a musical piece designed to conjure images of redskin warriors. Len Barry, former lead singer of Philadelphia group The Dovells (“Bristol Stomp” in 1961, “You Can’t Sit Down” in ‘63) and a successful solo singer (“1-2-3” in '65), had an interest in Native American history, likely inspired by the western films of the Saturday matinees of his childhood and the Lone Ranger TV series, which hit the ultra-small screen when he was seven years old. By 1969, his singing career at an impasse, he produced “Keem-O-Sabe,” titled after Tonto and his Ranger pal’s favorite word, an instrumental built around an old western movie riff (usually heard when Indians were approaching) with a little of Gioachino Rossini’s 140-year-old “William Tell Overture” (the classic Lone Ranger TV theme) thrown in. Songwriter credit went to Barry’s mother, Bernice Borisoff, and Swan Records owner Bernie Binnick. The track featured studio musicians including Bobby Eli (real name Eli Tatarsky) on guitar and Philadelphia-born jazz musician Vincent Montana on vibraphone; they and others involved had worked as session players for Philly producer Kenny Gamble and landed a minor hit, “United,” on the Gamble label in 1968 as The Music Makers. “Keem-O-Sabe,” credited to The Electric Indian and issued on an oddball United Arists subsidiary label, Marmaduke, Inc. (then switched to UA for wide release), became a surprise hit, spending two months in the top 40 (peaking top 20) from August to October 1969. Len even did a vocal version for the Scepter label with lyrics suggesting the title translated as love between the sexes: ’…every brave wanted a Keem-O-Sabe to love him 'til the end,’ adding he would also like 'a woman to share his teepee!’. Disc jockeys opted not to share these age-old traditions, staying with the first version. An instrumentalized “Land of 1000 Dances” (the crowd-pleasing Chris Kenner-Fats Domino tune) was the follow-up Electric Indian single and reached the national charts in December. For Len Barry, this was the last successful recording he was associated with, though he continued performing as a live act for many years. Eli, Montana and other ex-Electric Indians were regulars on sessions at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia for many years, later coming together as MFSB (which stands for “Mother Father Sister Brother”), a large orchestra featuring 30 or more members at any given time. Signed to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International label, they had several hits in the 1970s, spectacularly bursting onto the scene with the mostly-instrumental “T.S.O.P.” (which means - what else? - “The Sound of Philadelphia!”) featuring vocals by The Three Degrees; it was used as the theme for the syndicated Soul Train music-and-dance show hosted by Don Cornelius and hit the top of the charts in 1974. - Michael Jack Kirby……..
A US studio group that recorded a song called ‘Keem-O-Sabe’ in 1969 and took it to number 16 on the US charts. The group was assembled by Bernie Binnick, who had founded Swan Records, and included musicians who later went on to form the Philadelphia group MFSB, as well as Frank Virtue of the instrumental group the Virtues. ‘Keem-O-Sabe’ was notable in that it was an Indian-music flavoured instrumental that made heavy use of the then-trendy sitar. An album was released under the Electric Indian name, and the group landed one other single on the charts, a cover of ‘Land Of 1, 000 Dances’, but the project was soon abandoned………….
Philadelphia had been a hotbed of musical activity at least since Dick Clark began hosting “American Bandstand” there in the 50’s. Record labels such as Chancellor, Swan, and especially Cameo-Parkway chalked up a ton of hits in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and Swan Records, co-founded by Bernie Binnick, actually had the original U.S. rights to the Beatles’ single “She Loves You.” That alone kept the label afloat for three years, but Swan finally called it quits in 1967.At the time, native American culture had attained a new popularity in the media, which inspired Binnick to write today’s featured song and, with Len Barry, assemble a crack team of Philadelphia studio musicians to record it. It would not be wrong to say that the Electric Indian was The Assembled Multitude was MFSB – they all worked out of the famed Sigma Sound Studios and formed the backbone of the Philly sound, much like the Funk Brothers of Motown or Stax’s Booker T. and the MG’s. We recently featured an early pairing of this group of musicians with the famed team of Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff here. Among the members of the Electric Indian were keyboardist Daryl Hall, who would go on to greater things after meeting John Oates, and guitarist Frank Virtue. You’ll also note the song was arranged by Tom Sellers, whom we’ve met here and here. Wow, this Philly music’s rather inbred, isn’t it?
The song reached #16 in September 1969, and one copy of this record was sold to my mother, who played it quite a bit. They did record an album which yielded one more single, a rather poor cover of “Land Of A Thousand Dances,” which rocketed all the way to #95. You would hear these guys throughout the 70’s, backing groups like the Stylistics and the Spinners – the nucleus of the sound of Philadelphia. So let’s listen to our featured song, with a title and artist that definitely wouldn’t fly today. When you hear it, you’ll remember the Electric Indian with “Keem-O-Sabe.” ……………..
This 1969 album titled Keem-O-Sabe (United Artists 6728) is by the Philadelphia studio instrumental group cobbled together by Bernie Binnick as The Electric Indian. Members included vibraphonist Vince Montana Jr., guitarists Bobby Eli and Tim Moore and a young Daryl Hall at the keyboard. The contents, most arranged by Montana, are: A1. Keem-O-Sabe (2:10); A2. I Heard It Through The Grapevine (3:10); A3. Spinning Wheel (3:05); A4. Storm Warning (2:18); A5. Rain Dance (2:10); B1. Geronimo (5:15); B2. Only The Strong Survive (2:27); B3. My Cherie Amour (3:12); B4. What Does It Take To Win Your Love? (3:07); B5. 1-2-3 (2:20). Produced by Len Barry, who had a hit in 1965 with a vocal version of 1-2-3, most of the tracks were engineered at his Sigma Sound Studio by Joseph Tarsia, and most of the musicians involved would later score again as members of the studio’s in-house band, MFSB, in the 1970s.
The single Keem-O-Sabe had been released earlier that year on Marmaduke 4001 b/w Broad Street and when it began to be noticed locally was picked up by United Artists, and with their promotional clout behind them, the band saw it rise to # 16 Billboard Pop Hot 100 in Aug-Sept 1969 as United Artists 50563. It also struck a chord in the R&B market, making it to # 46, as well as, somewhat surprisingly, an even higher # 6 on the Adult Contemporary (AC) listings. The only thing then keeping them from becoming a legitimate One-Hit Wonder was the subsequent instrumental version of Land Of 1000 Dances which made it to # 30 AC and # 95 Hot 100 late in December b/w Geronimo as United Artists 50613. Other releases failed to chart in 1970 (Rain Dance b/w Storm Warning as United Artists 50647 and Apotchee b/w Chicago Hawk as United Artists 50701) and in 1971, Geronimo b/w My Cherie Amour as United Artists 50744.
Finding any of the sides cut by The Electric Indian in CD format is virtually impossible, with the exception of Keem-O-Sabe which I know for sure is in Volume 1 of Stardust Records’ 12-volume series Vintage Instrumentals which began in 1996. Hopefully, someone like Collectables will do their specialty and re-produce this vinyl album as a CD, perhaps with “bonus” tracks to include any missing sides. It’s not like there were dozens of such cuts. ……………..
Tracklist A1 Keem-O-Sabe Arranged By – Thomas Sellers 2:10 A2 I Heard It Through The Grapevine 3:10 A3 Spinning Wheel 3:05 A4 Storm Warning 2:18 A5 Rain Dance 2:10 B1 Geronimo 5:15 B2 Only The Strong Survive 2:27 B3 My Cherie Amour 3:12 B4 What Does It Take To Win Your Love 3:07 B5 1-2-3 2:20