Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1970-71)
- Charlie Camilleri -- trumpet
- Gil Fields -- drums, percussion
- Larry Harlow -- keyboards
- Lewis Kahn -- trombone, violin
- Jimmy Maelen -- vocals, conga
- Harry Max -- trumpet, bass
- Glenn Jon Miller -- trombone
- Billy Shay -- guitar, harmonica
- Gil Fields -- drums, percussion
- Jerry Weiss -- bass, keyboards
- Blood, Sweat, and Tears (Jerry Weiss)
- The Hollywood Vampires (Jimmy Maelen)
- The Latin Dimension (Jimmy Maelen)
- Shobizz (Jimmy Maelen)
Rating: 2 stars **
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: gatefold sleeve
Catalog ID: 5928
If you're a Blood, Sweat and Tears, or early Chicago fan this one-off project might be of passing interest. Otherwise, you can stop reading right here ...
It's hard to believe now, but in the late 1960s/early 1970s horn rock was all the rage. Driven by the success David Clayton Thomas and BS&T, Chicago, and others enjoyed, record labels began scouring the countryside for any entity that could be marketed as a horn band. Paramount Records contribution to the feeding frenzy came in the form of Ambergris. If you were a horn band then bigger was apparently considered better and as a ten piece ensemble Ambergris was up there. With former BS&T bassist Jerry Weiss serving as front man, the band featured the talents of drummer Gil Fields, keyboardist Larry Harlow, singer Jimmy Maelen, guitarist Billy Shay and a horn section showcasing Charlie Camilleri, Lewis Kahn, Harry Max and Glenn Jon Miller.
Produced by Steve Cropper, 1970's "Ambergris" should have resulted in something interesting, but judging by these ten tracks, these guys didn't bring anything original or unique to the genre. One of music's most talented players, Cropper was apparently clueless as to what to do with them. Exemplified by tracks like 'Something Happened To Me', 'Play On Player' and 'Endless Night' the players were all pretty good with Bill Shay distinguishing himself with a couple of impressive turns on guitar. Unfortunately, among the weakness, as lead singer Maelen was an acquired taste; his raw voice managed to hold its own against the horns, but it wasn't all that much fun to listen to. Add to that none of the ten songs was particularly memorable, or impressive. Best of the lot was the oddly titled 'Chocolate Pudding'. From there on it was largely forgettable. And if you weren't a fan of horns ... well run away.
At least one review I've seen said something to the effect the cover art was the best thing about the album. That might be a little harsh ... emphasis on little. I'll readily admit I'm not a gigantic horn rock fan, but this one was a major disappointment all around. Even more so given Steve Cropper's involvement.
"Ambergris" track listing:
1.) Something Happened To Me (Jerry Weiss) - 2:51 rating: ** stars
'Something Happened To Me' started off with some nice Larry Harlow harpsichord, but then you got hit by a 1-2-3 punch of Maeulin's flat, forced voice, Lewis Kahn's scratchy violin (bringing back chalk-on-a-blackboard memories), and the horns. Ouch !!!
2.) Play On Player (Calvin Clash - Larry Harlow Kahn) - 3:23 rating: ** stars
'Play On Player' found the band trying to get funky. Not a good musical, or career choice for them.
3.) Gotta Find Her (Arthur Miller - Jerry Weiss) - 3:50 rating: ** stars
Starting out with a nice Billy Shay guitar figure (he also turned in a nice solo at the end of the song), and a breezy tropical feel, 'Gotta Find Her' started out promisingly enough, but then the group vocals and horn charts kicked in. Downhill from there.
4.) Chocolate Pudding (Arthur Miller) - 4:25 rating: *** stars
I'll readily admit that it was lost on my middle class sensibilities, but 'Chocolate Pudding' was supposedly the band's anti-drug statement ... The first couple of times I heard the song I thought it had something to do with having caught a sexually transmittable disease ... I'll give it an extra star for the mildly interesting lyric and the fact Maelen's lead vocal wasn't half bad on this one.
5.) Forget It, I Got It (Jimmy Miller - Gary Wright) - 4:20 rating: *** stars
Kicked along by Larry Harlow's keyboards and Weiss' driving bass 'Forget It, I Got It' wasn't awful. The song had a decent Latin rock edge and while the horns were a little too prominent for my tastes, the track actually became kind of funky and generated a bit of heat by the time it got to the end. Probably the album's best performance, Paramount tapped it as a single:
- 1970's 'Forget It, I Got It' b/w 'Sunday Lady' (Paramount catalog number PAA-0027)
Opening up with some Harlow church organ and Maeulin mouthing some sort of non-sensical mumbo-jumbo (it sounded like a Gregorian chant), 'Walking On the Water' found the group apparently trying to make a big statement. Geez, I've already forgotten everything about the track ...
2.) Sunday Lady (James Maeulen - Jerry Weiss) - 3:20 rating: ** stars
'Sunday Lady' was apparently intended as their attempt at a commercial ballad.. Credit Maeulin for toning down some of his bombast, but the song wasn't particularly good.
3.) Home Groan (Jerry Weiss) - 3:12 rating: * star
Another group sung monstrosity, the only thing the rocker 'Home Groan'' had going for it was a brief Billy Shay guitar solo that was quickly swallowed by the horns.
4.) Soul Food (Fred Lewis) - 3:15 rating: * star
Another attempt to get funky, 'Soul Food' was absolutely dreadful. Maeulen's limited voice simply didn't stand a chance against the busy horn charts. Not that it mattered one iota since the song was fragmented, tuneless, and about as much fun as bleeding gums. Nobody should have to work this hard to sound soulful.
5.) Endless Night (Jerry Weiss) - 5:27 rating: * star
'Endless Night' found the band trying to dance between bluesy moves and a tropical feel before devolving into a completely discordant mess. Too bad none of the genres worked for them. Okay, I'll admit I liked Jerry Weiss' bass pattern.
I've never heard them, but there was also at least two non-LP promotional singles. Wonder if the band knew about the Italian release?
- 1970's 'The Bible Salesman' b/w 'Rise Up' (Paramount catalog number PAA-0060)
- 1970's 'Rise Up (Keep the People Going)' b/w 'Rise Up (Keep the People Going' (Paramount catalog PAA-0060
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