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1 Mar 2017

Smoke Rise “ A Rock Opera The Survival Of St. Joan” 1971 US Psych Pop Rock

Smoke Rise “ A Rock Opera The Survival Of St. Joan” 1971 US Psych Pop Rock
In 1970, they created the first American Rock Opera, The Survival of St. Joan, based on a play and a libretto by James Lineberger and produced by Oscar-winner Stephen Schwartz and Dave Blume. The Buffalo Production of The Survival of St. Joan set box office records in the fall of 1970 at the Studio Arena Theater in Buffalo, NY. The New York Off-Broadway production was staged at the Anderson Theater in the East Village, with Gretchen Corbett (later of “Rockford Files” fame) playing the title role. Another Oscar winner, F. Murray Abraham, was also a member of the cast. The artwork by Doug Jamieson for the cover of the double album (Paramount PAS 9000) was displayed in the New York Museum of Modern Art. To date, their works have not been issued on compact disc……………. 

Finally! This double vinyl LP album is on CD. This is the Flawed Jems CD (JEM 106 from Sweden) and it mastered from the vinyl LP records. There is some surface noise but that does not distract from to overall sound, it’s the music that counts. The music is melodic rock from 1971 and has good progressive elements, tight rhythm section and excellent 4-part vocal harmonies, all performed with enthusiasm, and I love it! The packaging is slightly different from the original Paramount Records PAS-9000, in that the front cover has the band’s name in it’s original stylized lettering, and the back cover is different, but the inside inlay card has the original back cover artwork. This reissue does not include the libretto, so if you have the original LP with the booklet, you may follow along. However the the artwork depicting the life of St. Joan is included. 
I would like to see a domestic US record label reissue this album from the original master tapes on CD with the libretto included, someday soon. I like the music, that’s why I bought it….ByJoel J. Reisteter…………. 

The following year found them signed to Paramount, releasing 1972’s Dave Blue and Steve Schwartz produced “A Rock Opera The Survival of St. Joan”. From a marketing standpoint Paramount seemed to have considerable faith in the band, allowing them to release a double album, 23 track concept piece. With a plotline having something to do with the life and times of Joan of Arc, the results clearly weren’t for everyone. Sure the lyrics were occasionally clumsy and the plotline was incomprehensible without the accompanying booklet. That said, backed by strong pseudo-progressive moves, some great melodies, nice harmonies and enthusiastic performances, material such as the single ‘Love Me’, 'Survival’, 'Run, Run’ and 'Back In the World’ wasn’t half bad. In fact, the album was actually quite heavy, with tracks like 'Someone Is Dying’ standing up well against far better known headbanger competitors (imagine Grand Funk Railroad with a brain). Heard in isolation and not knowing this was a concept piece much of this would have sounded pretty darn good on FM radio. Needless to say, commercially the set went nowhere though Paramount at least made some sales attempts, releasing 'I’m Here’ b/w 'Love Me; Survival’ (Paramount catalog number PAA-0113PR) as an instantly obscure single. (The album was originally released with a gatefold sleeve and an accompanying booklet that explained the elaborate plotline.) 
That was the original review I wrote a couple of years ago and has subsequently been used by people for various eBay sales, and even shows via a Wikipedia link (how funny is that). In the ensuing couple of years I’ve sold five copies of this set. Each time I’ve sold a copy I’ve ended up stumbling across another one which goes into my 'listen to it again’ pile only to be pulled and sold before I can get to it. Well with the most recent sale I went back to the original review to see what all the excitement was about. I have to admit I don’t remember all that much about the LP. Reading the review it also became clear that I must not have made much of an effort to research the group. Here’s some of the stuff I missed the first time around. 

It turns out the album was written by James Lineberger (lyrics) and brothers Gary and Hank Ruffin (music) as progressive rock musical play. Sporting a strong anti-war plotline (Lineberger wrote the film treatment for “Taps”), the story was apparently built on an old legend that Joan of Arc was spared from execution (a double took her place and was burned to death). The legend had it that Joan married a nobleman, while the musical has her ending up with a blind farmer, only to rejoin the Army; lose her faith in the war; ultimately being burned by country villagers who think she’s hexed their cow. Adapted for the stage complete with dialog, the play was actually produced and presented in Buffalo and a brief off-Broadway run. Sounds like a fun night of entertainment for the family. Apparently quite complex and expensive to stage, it died quickly…..Bad Cat…….. 

I can still remember taking a community bus to the beach and, on the drive home after a day of body surfing with my junior high friends, hearing The Assembled Multitude’s “Overture from Tommy” for the first time. I was amazed, thrilled and an instant fan of the long form. As soon as I got home, I pilfered my brother’s copy of the Who album and listened to it over and over the rest of the summer. When Jesus Christ Superstar appeared on the scene I was equally rapt—who knew I loved opera! I snapped up every rock opera that came on the market, from the unbelievably horrible The Truth of Truths (featuring Jim Backus as God—that should have been a hint) to Smoke Rise’s thoroughly enjoyable Survival of St. Joan. 
The project began with an original play and libretto by James Lineberger, a playwright and screenwriter perhaps best-known for adapting the screenplay for the Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton movie Taps. The basic story of The Survival of St. Joan is based upon the conceit that Joan of Arc was spared her execution by virtue of a double being burned in her place. After this stroke of good fortune, Joan is led off to a farm where her caretaker falls in love with her and wants her to settle down, but Joan, restless and driven, leaves to try to rejoin the French army in the Hundred Years War. Things go poorly and Joan is again accused of being a witch and this time, does not survive the stake. 
Lineberger gave the libretto to Smoke Rise—a completely unknown American band—to compose and perform the music for the songs. The band consisted of three brothers: Gary, Hank and Stan Ruffin (guitar, keyboards and drums, respectively) along with Randy Bugg (bass). About two-thirds of the songs were written by Gary Ruffin; the other third by Hank Ruffin. The work attracted the attention of Stephen Schwartz who, along with David Blue, produced the album, released on Paramount Records in 1971. It was an ambitious debut: a two-record set spanning twenty-three songs. 
The music on The Survival of St. Joan is mainstream early ’70s pop and rock, leaning a bit more to the FM side of the dial. There are occasional prog elements, especially in the keyboards parts, while the guitar playing has a generally light and folky feel. The vocals remind me of a cross between CSN and Three Dog Night and are excellent throughout. Like in Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar, there are some reprises of themes and even whole sections of songs, though generally in very different arrangements. There are no spectacular songs or shoulda-been hit singles here, but the entire piece has a melodicism and an easy pop sensibility that is hard to resist. With twenty-three tracks, a play-by-play review isn’t advisable, but let me identify a few highlights. The opening “Survival” is a hard rocking number with searing lead guitar, terrific harmonies and a memorable dynamic shift in the chorus. “Someone is Dying” begins with a very gentle arrangement and then builds to an appropriately harrowing climax for a song seeking to represent a woman being burned at the stake. “Back in the World” is a strong melodic track with an arrangement that vaguely recalls the Blues Image’s “Ride Captain Ride.” “Stonefire” is more folk-influenced with rolling piano and, again, great harmonies. “Cannonfire” is the second act ballad which is the closest thing to a showstopper here. It’s a great song with a memorable melody and a beautiful vocal. 
The Survival of St. Joan was staged shortly after the recording of the album, with a preliminary run in Buffalo, New York, and then a brief run off Broadway (very brief, in fact—a mere sixteen performances). The cast included Gretchen Corbett as Joan and F. Murray Abraham playing several parts. None of the actors sang the songs—that was all done by Smoke Rise―which must have proved most puzzling for audiences expecting a Broadway musical. Schwartz was the musical director for these productions and was even asked to write an additional song to flesh out the story—and while the song was not completed before the show folded, the music would serve as the basis for “As Long as You’re Mine” from the musical Wicked. 
Not much more was heard from Smoke Rise—only a one-off single on ATCO in 1972 (“I Need a Woman” b/w “Late Last Friday Night”). Schwartz, of course, went on to great success, first with Godspell and then with Pippin and the aforementioned Wicked. 
The Survival of St. Joan has never been officially released on CD or in the digital domain. An unofficial CD is available on amazon and other sites, but is merely a needle-drop of the original album. The original vinyl appears frequently on second-market sites and is often available for a modest price. If you are a fan of rock opera or early ’70s FM rock, I highly recommend it!…..By Peter Marston…… 

Chuck Gnys - Adapted By [For Records], Directed By 
Ruby Mazur - Art Direction 
Ron Levine - Artwork [Inside Drawings] 
Randy Bugg - Bass 
David Byrd - Design [Cover] 
Stan Ruffin - Drums 
Elvin Campbell - Engineer 
Gary Ruffin - Guitar 
Hank Ruffin - Keyboards 
James Lineberger - Lyrics By 
Smoke Rise - Music By 
Doug Jameson - Painting 
Francis Ing - Photography By 
Ner Beck - Photography By 
Dave Blume - Producer 
Stephen Schwartz - Producer, Supervised By 
Andy Miller - Technician 
Barry Goldberg - Technician 
Carlo De Rosa - Technician 
Marty Bush - Technician 

(side 1) 
1.) Survival (Hank Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 3:37 
2.) Someone Is Dying (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 2:40 
3.) Run, Run (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 0:47 
4.) Back In the World (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 2:30 
5.) I’m Here (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 2:33 
6.) Love Me (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 1:02 

(side 2) 
1.) Stonefire (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 3:35 
2.) Love Me (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 2:47 
3.) Lady of Light (Hank Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 
4.) Country Life (Hank Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 1:41 
5.) Run, Run (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 1:33 
8.) Precious Mommy (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 1:52 

(side 3) 
1.) Medley: 
Survival (Hank Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 
Run, Run (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 
Back To the World (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 
2.) Lonely Neighbors (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 2:37 
3.) Cornbread (Hank Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 1:44 
4.) This Is How It Is (Hank Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 1:24 
5.) Cannonfire (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 3:40 
(side 4) 
1.) It’s Over (Hank Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 2:22 
2.) Darkwoods Lullabye (Hank Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 1:42 
3.) You Don’t Know Why (Hank Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 2:46 
4.) Propitious (Gary Ruffin) - 1:04 
5.) Burning a Witch (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 4:09 
6.) Love Me (Gary Ruffin - James Lineberger) - 3:58 

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..