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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2002/01/22
by Mike Gruenberg

The Youngbloods

Last month, my column was in the form of a letter to George Harrison thanking him for leaving us the legacy of his music. I knew that an answer to the letter would not be forthcoming, so instead of waiting, I decided to do the next best thing and look through some pictures of the Beatles and George that I have collected over the years. My favorite one of him is where he is standing on the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco during the summer of 1966. His then wife, Patti Boyd, accompanies George. He is wearing heart shaped sunglasses. Seeing this again brought back memories of that summer and the music produced during the middle and late 60’s.
I like to consider myself somewhat of a rock ‘n’ roll historian. Knowing the derivation of groups, producers, record labels and significant events in the life of the group is of great interest to me. In thinking about the San Francisco based groups of the 60’s, I couldn’t help but think of the Youngbloods. I remembered their first hit, "Grizzly Bear" sung by their lead singer, Jesse Colin Young. What is fascinating about Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods is the musical family tree that sprouted around this group in addition to producing a handful of excellent tunes. Not all their songs were gems, but some were. Not all the people associated with the Youngbloods went on to fame and fortune, but some did.
We associate the Youngbloods with San Francisco, but the truth is that the roots of the band were in Boston and New York. Jesse began as a folk singer playing in the clubs of Greenwich Village. While performing in those clubs, he met Bobby Scott, a composer, singer and pianist who had worked with Bobby Darin. Scott produced and financed Jesse’s first album called "The Soul of A City Boy" released on Capitol Records in 1964. To try and breathe life into the sale of this album, Jesse played in the coffeehouse circuit in New York and Boston, but the album met with no success.
Soon after the first album, Scott produced another album for Jesse on Mercury Records called "Youngblood" which had the same lack of sales as the first one. However, John Sebastian, later of the Lovin’ Spoonful was prominently featured on the album.
In 1965, Jesse was inspired by the Beatles and decided to form a group. While working in various coffeehouses in Cambridge, Mass, he met guitarist Jerry Corbitt and the group was born. They had trouble finding a bass player that would fit into the group. They interviewed a number of candidates including Felix Pappalardi (Cream, Mountain, etc.) and Harvey Brooks (Electric Flag); finally Jesse decided to play bass. The group was signed to RCA Records and their first album produced the hit "Grizzly Bear" written by Jerry Corbitt and "Get Together" written by Dino Valenti (Quicksilver Messenger Service). Both tunes were mild hits, then in 1969, "Get Together" was picked as the theme for the National Council of Christians and Jews, resulting in it becoming a huge hit and it went gold. The album also contained a number of blues tunes including "Statesboro Blues," "CC Rider " and Jimmy Reed’s "Ain’t That Lovin’ You, Baby."
The band’s next two albums were produced in New York by Felix Pappalardi yielding no hits. They decided to move to Marin County in San Francisco. Their "Elephant Mountain" album was produced by Charles Daniels, who later became the driving force of the Charlie Daniels Band. In my opinion, this album is the best of all the Youngbloods’ albums. My favorite is a tune called "Beautiful." Jesse wrote the majority of songs on this album and I feel this offering was his coming of age. This album is an excellent example of timeless tunes that have stood the test of time and still sound good today.
I own three Youngbloods LP’s – "Earth Music (RCA 3865), "Elephant Mountain (RCA 4150) and "Sunlight" (RCA 4561). I also have a solo Jesse Colin Young LP, "American Dreams (Elektra 6E157). For whatever reason, there are very few liner notes on any of these albums, so I was delighted to learn that One Way Records had released on CD the "Get Together" and "Elephant Mountain" albums on one CD. I was hoping for more insight into the group, but One Way has followed suit and has given limited information.
You may ask why seeing a picture of George Harrison reminded me of the Youngbloods? The truth is that my train of thought went from reminiscing about George, seeing a picture of him in San Francisco in the 1960’s, which reminded me of the groups of that time period from that part of the country and the songs that they sung. Although I am not equating George with the Youngbloods, both gave me great songs to remember. The difference is that George was able to sustain the success and quality a lot longer than most everyone else, which is not to take away any credit from Jesse and the group. With that said, I would strongly recommend the double album CD on One Way and give yourself a slice of San Francisco peace and love from the 60’s.

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