The Asylum Choir

Band members                              Related acts

  line up 1

- Marc Benno -- vocals, guitar, keyboards 
- Leon Russell -- vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards 


- Marc Benno (solo efforts)
- The In-Group (Leon Russell)
- Leon Russell (solo efforts)





Genre: psych

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Look Inside the Asylum Choir

Company: Smash

Catalog: SR-67107

Year: 1968

Country/State: Tulsa, Oklahoma

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear; gatefold  sleeve; banned toilet paper cover

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4807

Price: $35.00


Genre: psych

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Look Inside the Asylum Choir

Company: Smash

Catalog: SR-67107

Year: 1968

Country/State: Tulsa, Oklahoma

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear; gatefold  sleeve; replacement cover

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4808

Price: $15.00





In the late 1960's Marc Benno and Leon Russell were working as Los Angeles based sessions musicians. Having recorded an unsuccessful solo single, Russell used the resulting earnings to build a recording studio, working with the likes of Gene Clark, Harpers Bizarre and Gary Lewis. The duo's initial collaboration resulted in the release of 1968's "Look Inside the Asylum Choir." Intended as a state-of-the- art, quasi-psychedlic rock effort, the album had it's moment, including the lead-off 'Welcome To Hollywood' and Russell's blue-eyed soul 'Soul Food'.  Unfortunately, much of the collection was given over to topical (if inferior) material such as the psychedelic 'Icicle Star Tree', 'Indian Style' and 'Episode Containing 3 Songs, N/Y. Op., Land of Dog, Mr. Henri the Clown' which did little for the collection's accessibility. While the album attracted rave reviews from hip critics, it proved a commercial non-entity.


alternative cover


(Originally released with toilet roll artwork, the cover quickly offended then-delicate public sensibilities. Smash quickly re-released the album with a more sedate cover featuring a photo of the duo.  

"Look Inside the Asylum Choir" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Welcome To Hollywood (Leon Russell - Marc Benno)
2.) Soul Food (Leon Russell - Marc Benno - Boatman - Markham)
3.) Icicle Star Tree (Leon Russell - Marc Benno - Wilson)
4.) Death of the Flowers (Leon Russell - Marc Benno - Dempsey)
5.) Indian Style (Leon Russell - Marc Benno)

(side 2)

1.) Episode Containing Three Songs (Leon Russell - Marc Benno)
2.) N.Y. Op (Leon Russell - Marc Benno)
3.) Land of Dog (Leon Russell - Marc Benno)
4.) Mr. Henry the Clown (Leon Russell - Marc Benno)
5.) Thieves In the Choir (Leon Russell - Marc Benno - Riopell)

6.) Black Sheep Boogaloo (Leon Russell - Marc Benno)

Genre: blues-rock

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Asylum Choir II

Company: Shelter

Catalog: SW-8910

Year: 1971

Country/State: Tulsa, Oklahoma

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 2

Catalog ID: 4809

Price: $15.00



1971's "Asylum Choir II" was originally intended as a follow-up to 1968's "Looking Inside the Asylum Choir".  Unfortunately Smash Records executives shelved the set where it sat for the next three years.  The collection was ultimately rescued in 1971 when Leon Russell (enjoying stardom as a solo act), bought the tapes and released the collection on his newly formed Shelter imprint. Ironically, by the time the sophomore album saw the light of day, Russell and singer/multi-instrumentalist Marc Benno had dissolved their musical partnership.  Musically the set wasn't a major change from the debut, though there were a couple of marked differences.  While the debut was very much a collaboration, this time around the focus was clearly on Russell.  That may have something to do with the fact Russell was responsible for the collection's release.  As on the debut, Benno was credited with co-writing most of the material (there were three tracks credited to Russell alone), but Benno's other contributions were far and few between.  He handled backing vocals on a couple of tracks, but elsewhere was largely absent.  While full of engaging melodies, lyrically the album was a topical timepiece - though I've always found it an engaging reflection of the times.  There were a couple of nifty anti-war tracks ('Down On the Base' and 'Ballad for a Soldier') and some dated social/political commentary ('Sweet Home Chicago' with it's not-to-subtle commentary on 1968's Democratic National Convention and 'Straight Brother'). Speaking of dated, amazing how time impacts language ...  "when you're bass player's flat and your drummer drags, don't you wish you had a fag"  Anyone under 30 probably doesn't realize he was talking about cigarettes, not lifestyles.  Bottom line is that it was a good effort, though largely a Russell solo effort and simply not on a par with the debut.


 "Asylum Choir II" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Sweet Home Chicago   (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) - 3:20

'Sweet Home Chicago' opened the album with a nice breezy blues tune that showcased Russell's instantly recognizable voice.  I'm guessing the lyric had something to do with the '68 Democratic Convention.   The tune was tapped as a Dutch single.  rating: *** stars

2.) Down On the Base   (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) - 2:18

Strange, but interesting tune with a not-too-subtle anti-war sentiment.  Always liked the guitar solo and the nice bass pattern on this one.   rating: *** stars

3.) Hello Little Friend   (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) - 2:52

Russell double-tracking his voice on a rambling tune.  Benno's fuzz guitar provided the highlights.  rating: ** stars

4.) Salty Candy   (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) - 2:26

I have yet to meet anyone who can explain the goofy lyric (I suspect it wasn't suitable for youngsters), but it almost didn't matter given the pretty, shimmering, slightly psychedelic melody and the fact this was one of Russell's nicest vocals.  He almost sounded like Roy Orbison on this one.    rating: **** stars

5.) Tryin' To Stay Live   (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) - 2:50

Powered by his peerless piano, 'Tryin' To Stay Live' was one of Russell's funkier tunes.   Always loved the chirping backing vocals.   rating: *** stars


(side 2)

1.) ... Intro To Rita - 2:07

Hardly a song, rather a couple of minutes of studio chatter with Russell playing a couple of piano snippets for Rita Coolidge and Mark Benno.   The second of the two was the funkier version and after flipping a coin, became the intro to 'Straight Brother'.   rating: ** stars

2.) Straight Brother   (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) - 3:08

The highlight of 'Straight Brother' was hearing Russell and Benno harmonize.  Sadly, there wasn't much collaboration on this album.  Another one with lyrics guaranteed to leave you scratching your head.   Shelter tapped this as the US single.  It was also released in France.   rating: *** stars

3.) Learn How To Boogie   (Leon Russell - Marc Benno) - 2:40

Piano-propelled blues number that sounded like it had been recorded live in the studio.   Kind of dull and not exactly an album highlight.   rating; ** stars

4.) Ballad for a Soldier   (Leon Russell) - 4:24

Russell's commentary on My Lai ?  If so, it was surprisingly insightful backed by a rollicking piano and fuzz guitar powered melody.  rating: **** stars

5.) When You Wish Upon a Fag   (Leon Russell) - 4:10

Geez, a breezy anti-smoking song in 1971 ?  Unheard of ...   rating: **** stars

6.) Lady In Waiting   (Leon Russell) - 3:37

You wouldn't have expected a song that sounded like a waltz to be so enjoyable.   rating: *** stars



The singles were:



   US release

- 1971's 'Straight Brother' b/w 'Tryin' to Stay Live' (Shelter catalog number 7313) 


   French release

- 1971's 'Straight Brother' b/w 'Tryin' to Stay Live' (Shelter catalog number 6073 401) 


  Dutch release

- 1971's 'Sweet Chicago' b/w 'Tryin' to Stay Live' (Philips catalog number 6073 403)