Graffiti


Band members                              Related acts

  line up 1 (1967-69)

- Steve Benderoth -- bass, keyboards 
- Richie Blakin -- drums, percussion 
- Jon St. John -- rhythm guitar 
- George Strunz -- lead guitar 
- Tony Taylor -- vocals 

 

 

- The Hangmen (Tony Taylor)

- Lenny and the Squigtones (as Dwight Knight) (Steve Benderoth)

- The Roaches (Tony aylor)


 

Genre:  rock

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Graffiti

Company: ABC

Catalog: ABCS 663

County/State: Washington, DC / New York

Year: 1968

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: bullet hole top left; gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog number: 134

Price: $75.00

Wish I knew more about this short-lived outfit ...  Singer Tony Taylor had previously been a late inning member of the Washington, D.C.-based band The Hangmen.  When The Hangmen collapsed, Taylor joined lead guitarist  George Strunz in The Button and relocated to New York City's Greenwich Village.   With the addition of multi-instrumentalist Steve Benderoth, drummer  Richie Blakin, and rhythm guitarist Jon St. John, they morphed into Graffiti, attracting the attention of ABC Records which signed them to a contract in 1968.

In spite of the fact this one's widely praised by critics and fans, I'll readily admit to initially being disappointed by the band's 1968 self-titled debut.  My mistake.  After listening to "Graffiti" a couple of times, I've become increasingly attached to the album.  Musically the set's kind of hard to accurately describe. Largely penned by bassist Benderoth (St. John, Strunz and Taylor also contributing material), the collection sported a distinctive psych feel to it.  For the curious, it came complete with odd time signatures, lots of fuzz and feedback guitar, Hammond organ, sound effects, and acres of stoned sounding lyrics.  Elsewhere, (thanks to producers Ed Kramer, Jay Senter and Bob Thiele), the weird stereo separation on tracks like "Girl On Fire" and "Jingle Jangle Woman" made it a cool album to listen to with quality headphones.   There's just something so '60s-cool about hearing a mix where the sound literally fades from one channel to the other.)  At the same time the set managed to incorporate Association-styled harmonies and progressive song structures (check out "New Life") into the mix.  When it all got mixed together it occasionally took a little time to acclimated to the results, but it paid back listeners willing to put in the time and energy.  And while a couple of folks have criticized comparisons to The Association, I'll stick by those comments - imagine that outfit recovering from a weeklong acid binge and you'd get a feel for tracks such as "The Capture of Me", the percussion and fuzz guitar propelled "Life Blood" and "Coldwater".  

 

"Graffiti" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Father Protector   (George Strunz - Steve Benderoth) - 4:11

'Father Protector' opened up with some unexpected Gypsy-styled acoustic guitars before morphing into a more mainstream fuzz guitar propelled country-rocker.  Taylor's husky voice seldom sounded as good as on this lead-off track, though the overall song would have been better if it had stuck closer to a central melody, rather than bouncing around between tow or three aural plotlines.   Still, a cool way to start the album.   rating: **** stars

2.) The Capture of Me   (Steve Benderoth - Jon St. John) - 9:34

'The Capture of Me' has always reminded me of a tripping version of The Association, with a dollop of David Crosby-styled jazzy influences added to the mix.   Originally this one didn't do a great deal for my ears, but over the years I've grown to appreciate it more and more and the song serves as a wonderful example of the band's great harmony vocals - CSN&Y didn't have anything on these guys !  Add to that George Strunz turned in a pair of blistering guitar solos.  Elsewhere, kudos to Steve Benderoth who displayed some wonderful bass work throughout the track.   rating: **** stars

3.) Life Blood   (Steve Benderoth)

Even more jazz-influenced, other than The Association-styled vocals and Richie Blakin's drumming, 'Life Blood' was the first disappointment.   This one simple didn't kick into gear until the fade out jam section and by then it was simply too late to make any difference ...   rating: ** stars

4.) Interlude # 1 (instrumental) 

So remember this was recorded din 1968 when instrumental interludes were all the rage ...   Regardless, 'Interlude # 1' was a surprisingly impressive slice of Booker T. and the MG's Stax-styled soul.   rating: *** stars

5.) Jingle Jangle Woman   (Steve Benderoth) - 4:06

Side one's most commercial offering, 'Jingle Jangle Woman' tried to meld Association-styled top-40 pop moves with some first-rate Strunz fuzz guitar (the split channeling was interesting to hear on quality speakers or headphones).   rating: *** stars

 

(side 2)
1.) New Life   (Steve Benderoth) - 2:48

Bouncing between Association-styled pop and some very tipped out moves, 'New Life' found the band operating at their most psych-ish.  Fascinating dichotomy.   rating: *** stars

2.) Girl On Fire   (Steve Benderoth) - 2:24

Full of phasing effects and sporting one of the album most straightforward and commercial tunes, 'Girl On Fire' was easily one of the album highlights.  Would have made a dandy single.   rating: **** stars

3.) Interlude # 2   (instrumental)  - 1:16

Showcasing the band's lovely harmony vocals, shame 'Interlude # 2' was just a song fragment since it was also quite commercial.   rating: *** stars

4.) Coldwater   (George Strunz - Ted Taylor) - 4:35

Opening up with what sounded like a bunch of Atari sound effects, 'Coldwater' shifted gears into what was a fairly pop oriented tune, before abruptly turning into an organ propelled slice of blues-rock, and then back to pop.  Simply too fragmented to make a lasting impression.   rating: ** stars

5.) Interlude # 3   (instrumental)  - 0:38

'Interlude # 3' featured a moment of outright experimentation that recalled someone recording a piece of sandpaper rubbing on wood.  rating: * stars

6.) Love In Spite   (George Stunz - Steve Benderoth) - 3:17

Another slice of Association-on-acid pop, 'Love In Spite' blended sweet harmonies with fuzz guitar, and another of the album's stronger melodies.   rating: **** stars

7.) Ugly Mascara   (Ronald Hovanacz) - 5:10

Too bad more of the collection didn't reflect the same focus found on the closer 'Ugly Mascara'.  A slinky, blues-rock number sporting some great vocals and more fine fuzz guitar from Strunz, this was easily the album's standout performance.   rating: **** stars

 

Needless to say, the set vanished without a trace.  As much as I enjoy the album, you can only imagine what the results would have been with a few more focused songs.  Shame they didn't get another shot.

There are also a pair of non-LP singles which are quite hard to locate:

1968's "He's Got the Knack" b/w "Love In Spite" (ABC catalog number 45-11123)

1969's "Do You Feel Sorry" b/w "Girl On Fire" (ABC catalog number 45-11182)

 

Unexpected got this email related to the band:

I was in the studio when this album was recorded and could probably answer most of your questions, assuming you have some. Like you, I think this album broke some barriers that have never again been confronted, and I still enjoy hearing it now and then. I even played some backup guitar on one cut, although I was not an official member of the band. For a number of years before this, I was Jorge Strunz's flamenco guitar duo partner ("George" Strunz later returned to his Costa Rican birth name "Jorge", which he also used during our time as a flamenco duo). If you check "Jorge Strunz" on Amazon, you should find his subsequent work with Caldera and in the duo Strunz and Farah. Jorge has established his own school of guitar based on a unique encyclopedic knowledge of the instrument gained through his self-imposed education in flamenco, classical, Latin American, rock, and "jazz" guitar. This album was recorded at the Record Plant in New York City, engineered by Eddie Kramer (of "Woodstock" fame and also Jimi Hendrix's preferred engineer) about the time that Jimi Hendrix was putting the final touches to his "Electric Ladyland" album. In fact we had the privilege of meeting Jimi a few times in the studio and engaging in illicit-drug activities with him. But you didn't hear that from me!

Regards,  John Flowler (December, 2014)

 

 

 

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