The Left Banke


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1964-)
- Mike Brown (aka Mike Lookofsky) (RIP) -- keyboards
- George Cameron (RIP 2018) -- vocals, drums, guitar
- Steve Martin (aka Esteban Caro) (RIP 2020) -- vocals

 

 

George Cameron (guitar, drums, vocals), Tom Finn (bass, vocals, 196569, 1971-72, 1978, 2011-12), Steve Martin (lead vocals, guitar, 1965-69, 1971-72, 1978, 2015-present), Michael Brown (keyboards, vocals, 1965-67, 1969, 1971-72, 1978), Warren David-Schierhorst (drums, 1965), Jeff Winfield (guitar, vocals, 1965-67), Richard Brand (guitar, vocals, 1967), Tom Feher (keyboards, vocals, 1968-69)

  line up 1 (1964-)

- Rick Brand -- guitar, banjo, mandolin (replaced  Jeff Winfield) (1967-)
- Mike Brown (aka Mike Lookofsky) -- keyboards (1964-67)
- George Cameron -- vocals, drums, guitar (1964-)
- Warren David -- drums 
- Tom Finn -- bass (+78)
- Bobby Gree -- drums 
- George Hirsch -- guitar
- Steve Martin -- vocals (1964- +78)
- Mike McKeon -- guitar
- Bert Sommer -- vocals (1967)

 

  line up 3 (1978)

- George Cameron -- drums, percussion, backing vocals

- Tom Finn (RIP) -- vocals, bass, guitar

- Steve Martin -- vocals, guitar

 

  supporting musicians (1978)

- Michael Brown -- keyboards, synthesizers

- Charlie Cazalet --bass

 


 
   

 

- The Beckies (Mike Brown)
- Christopher and the Chaps (Mike Brown)

- Tom Feher (solo efforts)
- The Magic Plants (Tom Finn)
- Steve Martin (solo efforts)
- Montage (Mike Brown)

- The Outsiders (Charlie Cazalet)

- The Tony Roman Cinq (Charlie Cazalet)

- The Silver Byke (Charlie Cazalet)

- Bert Sommer (solo efforts)
- The Stories (Mike Brown)
  

 

 

 


 

Genre: pop

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina

Company: Smash

Catalog: SRS 67088

Year: 1967

Country/State: New York, New York

Grade (cover/record): VG / VG

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: not yet listed

Price: $25.00

Cost: $1.00

 

Michael Lookofsky (aka Michael Brown) began his professional musical career working as a keyboard player and assistant at his father's New York based World United studios. The job brought him into contact with engineering assistant Steve Martin, former Morticians drummer George Cameron and former Magic Plants bassist Tim Finn. Discovering a mutual love of popular music and harboring fantasies of becoming the next Beatles; the quartet began hanging around the studio, working on a mix of popular covers and original material. Brown's father producer Harry Lookofsky, took an interest in Martin's voice and the boys' ability to harmonize, eventually deciding to record some of their material. The band's breakthrough came when they recorded the song 'Walk Away Renee'. Written by a lovesick Brown, then lusting over Finn's girlfriend, the song featured an arresting harpsichord solo and Martin's borderline cloying vocals. Originally shopped around to dozens of companies, none expressed an interest in the song. Luckily for the band, having produced the song at his own expense, Lookofsky persisted in his efforts to market the song, eventually convinced Mercury's Smash subsidiary to pick up distribution rights. Released as a single, (b/w 'I Haven't Got the Nerve' Smash catalog number 2041) the track became a sudden and unexpected hit, cresting at # 5, turning the group into overnight stars. 

 

Braced by their initial success, in early 1967 the group returned to the studio to record the sound-alike follow-up single 'Pretty Ballerina' b/w 'Lazy Day' (Smash catalog number 2074). Like it's predecessor, the single became a top-40 hit. As was then normal marketing practice, hoping to capitalize on their initial successes, the group was rushed into the studio to record a supporting album. Unfortunately, with the exception of Brown, who was a classically trained keyboardist (and who had written most of the band's material), none of the other members had any musical training. As a result, they found themselves with very little to do in the recording process. Relegated to the sidelines, most of 1967's cleverly titled "Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina" was played by studio musicians including guitarist Hugh McCracken and drummer Al Rogers. Adding insult to injury, producer/manager Lookofsky booted guitarist Winfield, replacing him with former Spyders guitarist Rick Brand. Still, in contrast to most quickie albums, the collection proved a sterling debut. While hastily recorded with minimal investment and in the midst of a personnel upheaval which saw guitarist Winfield replaced by Rick Brand; Brown's sweet voice and uncanny commercial instincts (he wrote or co-wrote all but one track) carried the day. Exemplified by material such as 'I've Got Something On My Mind', 'Let Go of You' and 'I Haven't Got the Nerve' the album featured a highly enjoyable blend of top-40 pop and more ornate instrumentation. Labeled 'baroque' by the press (thanks to their use of harpsichords and classical influenced string arrangements), the album made for one of the year's freshest and most enjoyable debuts. Elsewhere, the feedback propelled 'Lazy Day' stood as the collection's oddest offering. Inexplicably, in spite of two top-20 singles, the set could do no better than # 67. Adding to the band's problems, shortly after the album's release a frustrated Brown quit to pursue solo interests (see separate entries). 

"Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Pretty Ballerina   (Michael Brown) - 2:35
2.) She May Call You up Tonight   (Michael Brown - Steve Martin) - 2:16
3.) Barterers and Their Wives   (Michael Brown - Tom Feher) - 3:18
4.) I've Got Something on My Mind   (Michael Brown - George Cameron - Steve Martin) - 2:47
5.) Let Go of You Girl   (Michael Brown - George Cameron - Steve Martin) - 2:51
6.) Evening Gown   (Michael Brown - Tom Feher) - 1:46


(side 2)

1.) Walk Away Renee   (Michael Brown - B. Calilli - T. Sansone) - 2:42
2.) What Do You Know?   (Michael Brown - Tom Feher) - 3:02
3.) Shadows Breaking over My Head   (Michael Brown - Steve Martin) - 2:35
4.) I Haven't Got the Nerve   (George Cameron - Steve Martin) - 2:10
5.) Lazy Day   (Michael Brown - Steve Martin) - 2:23

 

 


Genre: pop

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  The Left Banke Too

Company: Smash

Catalog: SRS 67113

Year: 1968

Country/State: New York, NY

Grade (cover/record): VG / VG

Comments: minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: not yet listed

Price: $80.00

Cost: $40.00

 

 

With Brown unwilling to tour, the band effectively splintered into two factions. Having had the foresight to retain rights to the 'Left Banke' name, Brown promptly recruited vocalist Bert Sommer, returning to the studio to record new material including the single 'Ivy Ivy' b/w 'And Suddenly' (Smash catalog number 2089). The single was immediately greeted by the other band members with threats of a lawsuit. In the meantime, fearing legal ramifications, radio stations simply refused to play any Left Banke material. With the rest of the band terminating their management arrangement with Lookofsky, a brief reconciliation with Brown resulted in the singles 'She May Call You Up Tonight' b/w 'Barterers and Wives' (Smash catalog number 2097) and 'Desiree' b/w 'I've Got Something On My Mind' (Smash catalog number 2119). 

 

 

With the singles bombing, the reconciliation quickly fell apart. 

With Brand and Brown again out of the picture (Brown reappeared at the creative helm of the band Montage (see separate entry), Cameron, Finn and Martin (with uncredited support from keyboard player Emmit Lake and backup singer Steve Talarico (aka Steve Tyler - check out his instantly recognizable shriek on 'Bryant Hotel') returned to the studio releasing 1968's "Left Banke Too". To be honest, the sophomore LP was kind of an orphan, offering up a mixture of previously released singles ('Desiree' and 'Goodbye Holly') and newly recorded material. With Tom Feher and Finn penning most of the new stuff, exemplified by tracks such as 'There's Gonna Be a Storm', 'Dark Is the Bark' and 'In the Morning Light' the sound wasn't a major departure from the debut. A mixture of delicate ballads and pseudo-psych influences, it may not have been as consistent as the debut, but had more than it's share of winning moments. Particularly good was the glistening pop numbers 'Desiree' (their last chart single) and 'Give the Man a Hand'. (Wonder how hard it was to get the trio to wear the period piece costumes shown on the back cover ...)  Smash tapped the album for a couple of instantly obscure singles:

 

- 1968's 'Goodbye Holly' b/w 'Sing Little Bird Sing' (Smash catalog number 2198)

- 1968's 'Give the Man a Hand' b/w 'Bryant Hotel' (Smash catalog number Smash 2209)

- 1969's 'Nice to See You' b/w 'There's Gonna Be a Storm' (Smash catalog number 2226)

 

The album failed to sell and within a couple of months the group was dropped from Smash's recording rooster. They struggled on for several months, playing small venues and clubs, before finally calling it quits at the end of the year. 

"Left Banke Too" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Goodbye Holly   (Tom Feher) - 2:42
2.) There's Gonna Be a Storm   (Tom Finn) - 4:03
3.) Sing Little Bird Sing   (Tom Feher) - 3:04
4.) Nice To See You   (Tom Finn) - 2:39
5.) Give the Man a Hand   (Marvin Popocki) - 2:31


(side 2)

1.) Bryant Hotel   (Tom Feher) - 3:22
2.) Desiree   (M. Brown - Tom Feher) - 2:39
3.) Dark Is the Bark   (George Cameron - Tom Finn - Steve Martin) - 3:27
4.) In the Morning Light   (Tom Feher - Mike Brown) - 2:47
6.) My Friend Today   (Tom Finn) - 3:05

Over the next two years the band tried several comebacks. With Brown and Martin reuniting, the 1969 single 'Myrah' b/w 'Pedestal' (Smash catalog number 2243) went nowhere. Similarly, 1971 saw the reunited original lineup release the single 'Love Songs In the Night' (though it was inexplicably credited as a Martin solo effort). Again the results vanished without a trace; Brown then reappearing as a member of Stories and The Beckies (see separate entries).


 


Genre: pop

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  The History of The Left Banke

Company: Rhino

Catalog: RNLP-123

Year: 1985

Country/State: New York, NY

Grade (cover/record): VG / VG

Comments: included biographical insert

Available: SOLD

Catalog ID: SOLD

Price: SOLD

 

As far as compilations go 1985's "The History of the Left Banke" wasn't bad, though to be perfectly accurate it wasn't a true Left Banke efforts since it included a couple of post-Left Banke numbers.  The radio hits were here, as were some interesting 'B' sides, odds and ends ('Pedestal'), and the post-Left Banke material, including a pair of excellent Steve Martin solo tracks ('Love Songs In the Night' and ' Two By Two'), and two Stories selections ('I'm Coming Home' and 'Brother Louie').

 

"The History of the Left Banke" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Walk Away Renee   (Michael Brown - B. Calilli - T. Sansone) - 2:40

2.) Pretty Ballerina   (Michael Brown) - 2:32
3.) She May Call You up Tonight   (Michael Brown - Steve Martin) - 2:18
4.) Ivy, Ivy   (Michaal Brown - Tom Feher) - 2:32

5.) Desiree   (Michael Brown - Tom Feher) - 2:39

6.) Goodbye Holly (Tom Feher) - 2:47

7.) Foggy Waterfall   (Kaye - Koupersmith) - 5:10

 

(side 2)

1.) Love Songs In the Night   (Michael Brown) - 2:08

2.) Two By Two   (Michael Brown) - 3:02

3.) Myrah   (Michael Brown - Steve Martin) - 3:18

4.) Pedestal   (Kaye - Koupersmith) - 3:44

5.) And Suddenly   (Michael Brown - Bert Sommer) - 2:-07

6.) I'm Coming Home   (Michael Brown - Lloyd) - 2:37

7.) Brother Louie   (E. Brown - Tony White) - 3:55

 

 


Genre: pop

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Strangers On a Train

Company: Relix

Catalog: RRLP 2021

Year: 1988

Country/State: New York, NY

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: --

Price: $40.00

 

Ten years after the release of "The Left Bake Too" the original Left Banke band line-up of Michael Brown, George Cameron, Tim Finn and Steve Martin regrouped to start work on their third studio album.  After recording a couple of tracks the always volatile Brown quit, leaving the other three to continue the sessions with help from bassist Charlie Cazalat and producer Les Fradkin. While it was billed as a Left Banke reunion, without Brown's participating, the Left Banke tag was questionable.  

 

Still in the demo phase and under pressure to show they were still a commercial presence, the band agreed to float a single.  The problem was the tune was a non-original that none of the members liked:

 

- 1978's 'Queen of Paradise' b/w 'And One Day' (Camerica catalog number CS 0005)

 

 

 

 

 

When the single bombed, the trio decided to shelve the album and  the reunion fell apart.  Eight years later the Grateful Dead affiliated Relix label acquired rights to the master tapes.  Released as "Strangers On a Train" in the States, throughout the rest of the world the album carried the title "Voices Calling" (Bam Caruso catalog number KIRI 045).  Along with different cover art the non-US release sported a modified track order.

 

 

 

Against that backdrop you'd expect this project to be an unmitigated disaster.  While it failed to hit the Baroque-pop heights of the first two Left Banke albums, I'd tag it a valiant try.   demonstrated by the group-penned 'You Say' these guys clearly had the raw talent to do great things, but you got the feeling they were under-capitalized and lacked a clear vision for the project.  First the obvious topic.  With the possible exception of the Tom Finn ballad 'Lorraine' and the Beatle-esque 'I Can Fly' nothing here mimicked the unique sound the group initially conjured up. Of course that was never more than a pipe dream.  These sessions took place a decade after "Left Banke Too" was released.  Instead the end result was ten songs that were mostly unfinished demos.  Musically they bounced all over the musical spectrum.  The earlier single 'Queen of Paradise' represented the band at their worst - in this case exploring disco.  Elsewhere there were far too many ballads with tracks like 'Lorraine' and 'Only My Opinion' failing to make any long term impact.  The closer 'Yesterday's Gone' could have been mistaken for a Badfinger tune, while 'Heartbreaker' showed they'd been listing to late-'70s AOR.  That left a couple of decent power-pop tunes in the form of 'Hold On Tight' and 'You Say'.  I actually stumbled across something the late Tom Finn had written on YouTube that was the perfect summation for the album:

 

['Strangers On a Train'] turned out to be the title track for our 3rd LP. This album, with the exception of 'And One Day', 'You Say' 'Queen of Paradise' -  they were all demos.  'Queen of Paradise' was done with a gun to our heads. Our backer insisted we do it.  So, that means, an album of 11 songs, 8 songs were demos. Done in local studios with a staff producer from our backer - publisher Victor Benedetto of CAM-USA. Anyway, with all due respect, I must say, Damn! With a group like us, there should have been a producer like ...... Alan Parsons

 

Ah, another case of what might have been.

 

"Strangers On a Train" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Hold On Tight   (Tom Finn) - 2:45   rating: **** stars

The good news if 'Hold On Tight' was a bright slice of power-pop.  Catchy and fun, the echoey refrain was super catchy.  The downside is the song sounded nothing like classic Left Banke.  I'll leave it up to you to decide how you feel about it.  I liked it.

2.) Heartbreaker   (Steve Martin - Tom Finn) - 3:29   rating: **** stars

Sporting a gorgeous melody and some lovely harmony vocals, 'Heartbreaker' came a little closer to the patented Left Banke sound, had the band continued on as a '80s AOR outfit.  I guess that's a little tough ...  This wasn't exactly Journey, or REO corporate rock.  Steve Martin turned in an awesome guitar solo.

3.) Lorraine   (Tom Finn) - 3:03  rating: ** stars

Finn's ballad was a bit precious and sharp, not helped by the needless over-orchestration.  

4.) You Say   (Steve Martin - Tom Finn - George Cameron) - 2:51   rating: **** stars

One of three group compositions, 'You Say' was a gorgeous ballad showcasing Martin's lovely voice and the trio's sweet vocal harmonies.  My opinion, it was one of the performances that came the closest to capturing the old Left Banke vulnerabilities.  Its the track I would have tapped as a single.

5.) And One Day   (Steve Martin - Tom Finn - George Cameron) - 3:22  rating: *** stars

Clearly ballads were their stock and trade and while 'And One Day' was nice, but at this point the album would have benefited from a change in direction.  The one thing it had going for it was a tasty slide guitar solo. The song was tapped as a British single:

 

 

 

 

- 1986's 'And One Day' b/w 'I Can Fly' (Bam Caruso catalog number NRIC 041)

 

(side 2)

1.) Queen of Paradise   (Shade Smith) - 2:57  rating: ** stars

'Queen of Paradise' was written and recorded by the New Zealand band The Rumour,   Who knows how The Left Banke members stumbled across the song, but their version sounded almost identical to the original.  Not to be overly critical, but having released it back in 1978 as a "teaser" single, the song's disco-tinged sound probably went a long way to explaining why it flopped as a single.  The song wasn't horrible but it lacked a rhythm that was catchy enough to please dancers, while original Left Banke fans were likely appalled by the group's apparent sell out move.

2.) Only My Opinion  (Tom Finn) - 4:30  rating: ** stars

'Only My Opinion' could easily have made it onto a country-rock album.  Matter of fact, it would not have sounded out of place on a mid-career Eagles album.  Yeah, that probably wasn't a good thing.

3.) Strangers On a Train   (Tom Finn) - 4:20  rating: *** stars

The title track was a mess, unable to decided whether it wanted to be a power ballad, or a slice of power-pop.  The end result was neither.  For his part Finn seemed to think he could power his way through the song and bring it all together.  Didn't happen.

4.) I Can Fly   (Tom Finn) - 4:10   rating: **** stars

'I Can Fly' was another track that vaguely recalled past glories with more than a touch of Beatles influences running through it.

5.) Yesterday's Love   (Steve Martin - Tom Finn - George Cameron) - 3:50  rating: *** stars

The third and final group composition, 'Yesterday's Love' could easily have been mistaken for a Badfinger tune.  

 

 

Sadly The Left Banke is one of those bands with a high mortality rate. In this  ase 100% of the original line-up is gone,.

 

- Michael Brown died in March 2015.  

- George Cameron died in June 2018

- Steve Martin passed in January 2020

- Having been in poor health for several years, Tom Finn died in June 2020.

 

 

 

 

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