Rare psychedelic LP from 1970 featuring musicians from New Zealand, UK & Puerto Rico……….
Along with The New Mix, The Travel Agency, and The Music Asylum, the one and only NZTC album is a “never found” (as opposed to “lost”) psychedelic classic. The album contains no list of personnel, no background information on the band, nothing. The record label itself is a mystery. Even Vernon Joynson’s American psychedelic bible Fuzz, Acid, and Flowers overlooks the group (the review in the web-based version of that book is mine)! Not surprisingly, you can still pick this one up on the cheap. This is psych - jazz that will appeal to-fans of Wake Up…It’s Tomorrow era Strawberry Alarm Clock. The material is all original, save for an engaging cover of “Hey Jude”. The writing is of consistently high quality, and the harmonies grab the listener and don’t let go. Particular highlights include the fuzz guitar / vibes interplay on “Jam And Anti - Freeze”, and the vivid character study “Winnifred Jellicoe”. I’d not only take this one to the desert island, I’d stay with it if the rescue party didn’t have room for the both of us! Indescribably essential! ~ BY Ochsfan (RYM)……………
The New Zealand Trading Company recorded their sole LP for the Memphis label in 1970. What little information I’ve seen on the band seems to indicate that there were some native New Zealanders in the group. Other than that, there’s not much to be found. Musically they’re a very interesting blend of melodic pop (with the tiniest little progressive tinge), late 60s groove and tight, almost Association-like harmonies. I featured the psyched up tune ‘Jam and Antifreeze’ in Iron Leg Digital Trip #24 – Rope Ladder To the Moon, and the poppier ‘Oh What a Day’ in ILDT #25 – Sunny Day People (see the ILDT Archive link in the sidebar). ‘Could Be’ fits right in between those two numbers, with an upbeat, vaguely jazzy feel and some groovy vocals. I really dig the phlangey guitar solo, with the group harmony laid underneath, that ends the song. The album is unusually hard to find, but apparently not all that expensive ………………
The New Zealand Trading Company album was released in the US in 1970, but only a few copies made it to New Zealand. On the back of the album the musicians stand beside the Mississippi River, resplendent in flared trousers and heavy sideburns. To get to Memphis, the members of the band took long, strange journeys.The LP’s dark cover gives away few details. On the front, the band is brooding, barely visible. The back just lists the song titles, the composers, the producer, engineer and the address of the record company. The New Zealand Trading Company album came out on the Memphis label, a short-lived firm with its own studio down the road from the one in which Dusty Springfield sang of her preacher man and Elvis of suspicious minds.
The story of the New Zealand Trading Company begins in Gisborne in 1958. Born in 1944, Thomas Kini (Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki) was a 14-year-old guitarist who grew up listening to his father playing violin, guitar and lap steel – and to his collection of big band jazz. His brother Martin was a member of the Kini Quartet (‘Under the Sun’). In 1960, aged 16, Thomas Kini moved to Wellington to join the fledgling Māori showbands.
The first Māori showband was the Maori Hi-Five, who began in 1957 as a rock and roll band called the Hi-Five Mambo. They were so successful that the Hi-Five company – run by expat Britons Charlie Mather and Jim Anderson – formed a second group, the Maori Hi-Quins. Led by the Mambo’s founder, bassist Ike Metekingi, the original Hi-Quins were Thomas Kini on rhythm guitar, pianist James Tuatara (AKA Jimmy “Junior” Rivers), Matthew Kemp on lead guitar, Tab Paenga on sax, and Peter Wolland on drums. The Hi-Quins moved to Australia early in June 1960, with Rim D. Paul on board as singer and bassist. They had residencies at the Chevron Hotel in Surfers Paradise and the Rex Hotel in King’s Cross, Sydney. While in Sydney, Kini developed an interest in jazz and studied music. Later that year the Hi-Quins moved to England. Besides Kini on lead guitar, Paul as singer, and Rivers on piano, the group now featured singer-pianist Kawana Waitere from Putiki (a school friend of Paul at Te Aute College), and Eddie Nuku from Taranaki on bass. Plus, there were two Australians: drummer Neville Turner and singer Lynn Rogers.
The Hi-Quins toured in Britain, Germany, Spain and Sweden. In London they played the prestigious Pigalle club, and were seen by Sammy Davis Jr. He encouraged them to move to the United States. The Gisborne Photo News reported on Kini’s progress in September 1964: “In less than five years, the show band has played in dozens of overseas countries, including Australia, England, Europe, and, more recently, the United States and Canada. When Thomas returns to America, he will be playing with the band for six weeks in New York, and will then go to South America and back to England.”
They performed at venues such as the Stardust Resort in Las Vegas and the Latin Quarter in New York. In 1965 a reviewer in Canada raved about the Maori Hi-Quins’ appearance on a local TV show. “The group responsible for the musical witchcraft that left me spellbound consisted of three Maoris from New Zealand and one Australian … Musically the group is not the greatest on earth. But their vocal arrangements are, for the most part, out of this world. Their material ranges from native ‘action songs’ to jazz and rhythm’n’blues with a shake of rock’n’roll thrown in for good measure. And although the quartet readily admits a dislike for rock’n’roll, they put their hearts and their hands professionally into all they do.”
The frenetic touring schedule of the band is reflected in a letter that Paddy Te Tai of the Maori Hi-Five wrote to the magazine Te Ao Hou from Las Vegas in September 1966: “Just finished out here at the Thunderbird Hotel are the Maori Hi-Quins – Thomas Kini, Gisborne; Kawana Waitere, Putiki; Eddie Nuku, Auckland; and Lynn Alvarez and Neville Turner of Australia. These boys have recently returned from five weeks in Hawaii, are now in Tuscon, Arizona, and leave shortly for Montreal, Canada.”
By 1969 Kini, Nuku, Waitere, Turner and Alvarez were based in Chicago with a new name: the New Zealand Trading Company. They recorded a single for Cadet Records, an offshoot of the legendary Chess label. In Cadet’s catalogue, number 5637 is credited to the New Zealand Trading Company performing Kini’s ‘Could Be’ b/w ‘You’ – but it has left little trace.
Here the story gets more complicated – and more multi-cultural. Alvarez, Turner and Nuku left, and Kini and Waitere joined forces with an English pianist, Maurice Moore. They had possibly met in Australia earlier in the 1960s, when Moore worked for JC Williamson theatres. While playing in Miami, they recruited three Puerto Rican musicians from a band called Abram Shoo: Cuban-born guitarist Jorge Casas, drummer Gonchi Sifre, and pianist/singer-songwriter Alberto Carrion. (Just out of their teens, the trio had briefly backed Janis Joplin one night in 1969, when they were playing a residency at a Puerto Rican club and she stepped on stage.)
The sound of the second New Zealand Trading Company was inevitably cosmopolitan, a mix of high-end, arranged pop like the Fifth Dimension with more edgy styles such as jazz-fusion and funk. They appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show twice in April 1969, and were booked for residencies at Playboy clubs around the world. In New York, they performed in Shepheard’s nightclub in the Drake Hotel, one of the most fashionable rooms in the city. The Drake was frequented by musicians ranging from Frank Sinatra and Jimi Hendrix to Led Zeppelin (who once had $200,000 cash stolen from the hotel’s safe-deposit box).
While performing at the Playboy club at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the New Zealand Trading Company was discovered by Ronnie Hoffman. He was friends with a couple from Memphis who were involved in the local music business, Natalie and Seymour Rosenberg. Natalie ran a booking agency and was an independent record producer who had worked in the Stax studios. Seymour was a well known local lawyer – and big band musician – who often represented artists battling their record companies for royalties. For 15 rollercoaster years the couple managed country legend Charlie Rich.
In 1969 the Rosenbergs launched a label, Memphis Records, and built a studio that emulated the proportions and shape of Stax, a former cinema. The Rosenberg’s Universal studio was situated on Chelsea Avenue, near Chips Moman’s American studio where Elvis Presley and Dusty Springfield and others recorded many hits in the late 1960s. Seymour had been Moman’s original partner in American.
On Hoffman’s recommendation, the Rosenbergs signed the New Zealand Trading Company, recorded them at Universal in 1970, and released their album on the Memphis label later that year.
Natalie Rosenberg produced the album, with the studio’s house engineer Steve Stepanian at the desk. Speaking on the phone – long distance from Memphis, Tennessee – Natalie remembers the New Zealand Trading Company fondly. “I really loved those guys,” she says. “They were so respectful and so professional. They came to Memphis, rehearsed at my house, then we went into the studio. The sessions just took a few days, from what I remember. But I recall the looks on everybody’s faces when we had the playbacks: the sound of the studio, the sound of the entire album. I’m prejudiced, of course, but it was perfect. I wanted every instrument to be heard, for every one of those great musicians to have their moment.”
The concept for the album cover came from Natalie. Wanting to play on the band’s “trading company” name, she took them down to the Mississippi River, where they were photographed among barges, and walking along the riverbank. “It could be anywhere in the world, but the idea was that they were the New Zealand Trading Company.”
Once the album was recorded and mixed – the date September 1970 is on the cover – the Rosenbergs tried to get local radio play, but struggled. “The problem was, at that time, there was no niche for them to fit into,” says Natalie. They weren’t Top 40, they weren’t R&B, they weren’t jazz. “They were … I don’t know what they were. No one knew. Obviously that was the problem for Leonard Chess. We couldn’t find a place where they could sit musically. They were a showband really.”
Their emphasis was on entertainment? “Absolutely. These guys were rockin’.”
Forty-five years after the sessions, Natalie Rosenberg has few detailed memories of the sessions. She thinks it was Kawana Waitere who sang ‘Hey Jude’, the album’s only non-original. “Which was just awesome.”
By getting on to Memphis radio, they hoped the band would be picked up nationally by a major record label. “We were looking for airplay first, locally, but the radio programmers couldn’t find them a niche. They would love the album, the players, the music. But it was a time when rock’n’roll and R&B and country – we always had country in the South – they were dominating. So where do you put the New Zealand Trading Company? That was the problem.” The music was too sophisticated? “That’s right.”
After the album’s release, Natalie lost track of the musicians. “And that was always very sad for me, because I believed in them so much. And I thought they were all such beautiful people, it saddened me that we couldn’t do anything for them at that time.”
By October 1970 the Rosenbergs had sold their studio, and the Memphis label went quiet. So too did the New Zealand Trading Company. “I always believed that they would have a huge future ahead of them. I didn’t know whether it was in the record business, perhaps as a showband going around the country. And eventually that they would find their fame and fortune, which is what we all hoped for. Their music was just a joy, and I listen to it to this day.”
After the demise of the New Zealand Trading Company, Waitere was briefly a member of nightclub band Commonwealth with Maurice Moore; he died in 1997. Jorge Casas went on to become Gloria Estefan’s musical director, Alberto Carrion a highly regarded Latin composer, and Moore has had a long career leading club bands.
Thomas Kini was in Miami in the early 1970s when the leader of the Latin band Hondo Beat heard him play and invited him to come to Chicago and join the band. He was recruited as a bassist, so bought an electric bass and became a sought-after player in Latin, jazz and soul sessions. Kini is said to have recorded with Minnie Ripperton and Donny Hathaway, and performed with Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock and George Benson.
Over the next 40 years, Kini became a stalwart of the Chicago jazz scene, and a local champion of Māori culture. He died of a heart attack in Chicago on 5 April 2004. “He just loved this city and all of its energy,” his fiancée, Sonya Walker, told the Chicago Tribune. “He loved music and he loved his heritage.” Lynn Rogers, a former member of the Maori Hi-Quins, said, “The world is a sadder place without the wide smile of Thomas Kini. He was without doubt one of the finest human beings I have had the pleasure of knowing and his musicianship was extraordinary.”
Maurice Moore, the leader of the New Zealand Trading Company, recalled in 2012, “It was a fantastic group – more suited to live performances than recording hits. I spent the best years of my life with these guys.”….by Audio Culture…………
In spite of the name I’d be willing to bet they weren’t from New Zealand (by the way there really is an international trading company that goes by the same name). Whoever these guys were (the front and back album covers show a six piece outfit), their sole 1970 album was re-mixed and issued by a small Memphis-based company. Also worth mentioning, their anonymous lead singer had a mild accent that sounded Dutch to my ears.
Well, turns out I was largely wrong with those comments. This band really did have their roots in New Zealand, evolving out of the New Zealand show band The Maori Hi-Quins. Having toured internationally for over a decade, by 1969 The Maori Hi-Quins were history with singer Lynn Alvarez, guitarist Thomas Kini, bassist Eddie Nuka, drummer Neville Turner, and keyboardist Kawana Waitereards forming the Chicago-based New Zealand Trading Company. Signed by Chess Records Cadet subsidiary, the band made their debut with an instantly obscure single (I’ve never even seen a copy of the 45):
- 1969’s ‘Could Be’ b/w 'You’ (Cadet catalog number 5637)
The band did well on the nightclub and casino circuit, but underwent a major personnel shake up. Alvarez, Nuka, and Turner quit and were replaced by English keyboardist Maurice Moore, guitarist Jorge Casas, drummer Gonchi Sifre, and singer/guitarist Alberto Carrion. The latter three had previously been members of the Puerto Rican touring band Abram Shoo. Signed by the Natalie and Seymour Rosenberg’s Memphis Records, 1970’s “New Zealand Trading Company” was a pretty fine release. Produced by Natalie Rosenberg in the company’s Memphis studio, the album featured largely original material; the lone exception being a cover of The Beatles 'Hey Jude’. Musically the set was quite varied showcasing their show band history, but also showcasing an engaging set of commercial pop with light-psych influences. Those sunshine pop/light psych efforts were among the album’s highlights. That was kind of a surprise for me since a couple of brief reviews I’d seen painted this as being blued-eyed soul (perhaps due to the fact it was released on the Memphis label). At least to my ears a far better comparison would be a tripper version of The Association. Like that band, material such as 'Nine To Five’ and 'Could Be’ featured strong melodies and nice group harmonies, though coupled with more experimental arrangements. The only real disappointment here was the closing ballad 'Total Stranger’. The 'Hey Jude’ arrangement wasn’t really bad, slapping a weird pseudo-jazzy vibe on the song and ending it with a quick nod to 'Norwegian Wood’). That said it was simply a song you didn’t need to hear again (from anyone). Highlights included the fuzz-propelled opener 'Oh What a Day’, 'Jam and Anti-Freeze’ and the 'Eleanor Rigby’ inspired 'Winnifred Jelicoe’. Certainly not the most original LP you’ll stumble across, but tons of fun … By the way, while I have no idea what the words are about, the funky 'Rua Moko’ may be in Tarawan…..by Bad Cat……….
Personnel: Jorge Casas — guitar Alberto Carrion — vocals, keyboards Maurice Moore — keyboards Kawana Waitere — vocals, keyboards Thomas Kini — bass Gonchi Sifre — drums, percussion
Tracks: 01. Oh What A Day — 2:45 02. Jam And Anti-Freeze — 4:11 03. Nine To Five — 2:17 04. Hey Jude — 8:18 05. Winnifred Jelicode — 3:47 06. Ruo Moko — 2:45 07. Could Be — 3:45 08. The Prisoner — 3:10 09. Total Stranger — 4:28