Silk


Band members                              Related acts

- Michael Stanley Gee -- vocals, bass, guitar
- Chris Johns -- guitar
- Courtney Johns -- drums
- Randy Sabo -- vocals, keyboards 

 

  supporting musicians:

- Harry Porter -- guitar

 

 

- Frenz (Randy Sabo)

- Rock City (Randy Sabo)

- Michael Stanley Band (Michael Gee)

- Tree Stumps (Michael Gee and Randy Sabo)


 

Genre: rock

Rating: ** (2 stars)

Title:  Smooth As Raw Silk

Company: ABC

Catalog: ABCS-694

Year: 1969

Country/State: Cleveland, Ohio

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4927

Price: $30.00

 

 

This short-lived Cleveland-based outfit is probably best known for having served as a springboard for singer/guitarist Michael Stanley Gee of future Michael Stanley band fame. 

 

Like half of the teenagers in the United States, by 1965 the combination of girls and money proved irresistible to the teenaged Gee, who started his career playing in a number of local groups including The Scepters.  By 1968 Gee was attending Hiram University and joined a late-inning version of Clevelabd's Beatles-inspired The Tree Stumps showcasing the talents of Gee, guitarist Chris Johns, drummer Courtney Johns, and keyboardist Randy Sabo.  Playing dances and local clubs won the band a cult following and released a couple of singles, but met with little financial reward and by 1969 the Stumps had morphed into Silk.  Silk did little and on the verge of calling it quits, a performance at a Cleveland club attracted the attention of producer Bill Szymczyk who'd been sent on the road by ABC Records to look for talent.  (The same trip saw him sign Joe Walsh and the James Gang to a contract.)


Signed to ABC, the band were teamed with producer Szymczyk (who also co-wrote several tracks).  The group's 1969 debut "Smooth As Raw Silk" served to showcase the band's broad and versatile repertoire.   Gee and Sabo split vocal duties and while both were professional, neither was overwhelming (Sabo actually struck me as the better of the two).  With all four members contributed the writing chores (a cover of Tim Rose's 'Long Haired Boy' and the country tune 'Custody' were the lone non-originals), the results found the band touching base on a wide array of genres ranging from country ('Custody'), to sensitive singer/songwriter moves, and even horn rock ('Not a Whole Lot I Can Do').  The results were never less than professional, but the lack of focus left you kind of wondering who these guys really were - at times it almost came off as a demo intended to show they could do it all.  The collection got off to a nice start with the effects laden 'Introduction' (dedicated to airline pilots everywhere) and the psych-rocker 'Foreign Trip'.  From that point on things became very hit or miss. Sporting some nice twin lead guitar work from Johns and guest guitarist Harry Porter 'Skito Blues' was an excellent rocker.  Almost as good was the raucous 'Come On Down Girl'.  At the other end of the spectrum taking on the then-taboo issue of divorce and children the C&W-flavored 'Custody' was easily the strangest song.  Coming in a close second, 'Scottish Thing' somehow managing to meld a trance feel with bagpipes.  The song was also interesting in that it was dedicated to Elektra's Jac Holtzman (even though the band was signed to ABC).   

 

- ' Introduction' started out with a sound collage; airline pilot, airplane engines reviving up ...  interesting way to start the album, but nothing in terms of musicality.    rating: * star

- Chris Johns displayed some nice electric guitar chops at the start of 'Foreign Trip' before the song abruptly shifted into a slightly lysergic rocker, complete with some uncredited freak-out horns..  Gee had a decent enough voice, but the real star here was guitarist  Johns.    rating: *** stars

- One of two covers, the band's version of Tim Rose's 'Long Haired Boy' was nice enough.  Propelled by Randy Sabo's Hammond organ and harpsichord flourishes, it had a very mid-'60s Baroque feel that you'll either love, of find cloying.   rating: ** stars

- Opening up with some tasty Gee bass and some Stax-styled horns, 'Not a Whole Lot I Can Do' found the band switching orientation with a killer slice of blue-eyed soul.  Showcasing how good Gee's voice could be, this track actually rocked out.  rating: **** stars

- The second cover, 'Custody' was a strange, straight-forward country tune.  With a then-daring lyric about divorce and child custody, it was definitely different.   I guess they were playing it straight ...  rating: ** stars

- Bouncing between Scottish folk influences and a rock-oriented mid-section, the combination of Gee's guitar and Sabo's Hammond made the psych-tinged  ballad 'Scottish Thing' modestly entertaining.  I'm still not sure what to make of the bagpipes that crept in at the end of the track.  rating: ** stars

- Easily the album's standout performance, ' Skito Blues' was a full fledged Hammond and guitar powered rocker with a propulsive melody and some nice multi-tracked Gee lead vocals.   Jones Ford's Theatre member Harry Porte added to the track's appeal by chimed in with some killer fuzz lead guitar.  rating: **** stars

- A lysegenic-tinged ballad complete with weird tape effects, 'Hours' found Gee and Sabo sharing lead vocals.  Sabo also contributed some unexpected jazzy keyboard moves.  rating: ** stars

- Gawd only know what they were thinking with the good-timey intro to 'Walk In My Mind' ...   when the song kicked into gear the pretty, heavily orchestrated ballad sounded a bit like something Jimmy Webb might have written for Glen Campbell.  One of the more commercial tracks on the album, bit kind of formulaic and not what I'd consider a highpoint.   rating: ** stars

- My pick for the album's other highlight, the haard rocker 'Come On Down Girl' has always reminded me of a good Steppenwolf rocker.  Very commercial with a great rockin' melody and some wonderful Sabo keyboards - ABC should have tapped it as a single.   rating: **** stars

- Perhaps the album's prettiest performance, the acoustic ballad 'For All Time' ended the set on another highlight.   Spare, but quite memorable.   rating: *** stars

 

It's a set I've listened to dozens of times over the years and while the collection had flashes of real talent, ultimately it wasn't consistent or original to make the cut.  Maddeningly inconsistent; almost sounding like a wedding band trying to show they could cover all sorts of musical genres ...  The album actually managed to hit the top-200 charts (peaking at # 191) but with little support from ABC (the company didn't even release a single),  the quartet subsequently called it quits. 

 

"Smooth As Raw Silk" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Introduction - 1:12
2.) Foreign Trip   (Chris Johns - Bill Szymczyk) - 4:07
3.) Long Haired Boy   (Tim Rose) - 3:38
4.) Not a Whole Lot I Can Do   (Michael Gee) - 3:07
5.) Custody   (Steve Karliski - Larry Kolber) - 2:19
6.) Scottish Thing   (Michael Gee - Richard Sabo) - 4:47

(side 2)

1.) Skito Blues   (Michael Gee - Richard Sabo - Chris Johns - Bill Szymczyk) - 4:34
2.) Hours   (Michael Gee - Richard Sabo) - 2:48
3.) Walk In My Mind   (Michael Gee) - 4:18
4.) Come On Down Girl   (Michael Gee - Richard Sabo - Bill Szymczyk) - 3:45
5.) For All Time   (Michael Gee) - 4:23

 

 

Sabo was briefly a member of the Cleveland band Frenz.

 

Gee went on to considerable success under the name Michael Stanley (aka The Michael Stanley Band).  For anyone interested, he has an extensive website at:

 

http://www.michaelstanley.com/Home_Page.html

 

Here's what Stanley's website has to say about the album:

 

Silk was actually on the verge of breaking up when they were offered a gig they couldn't refuse, and they figured they could at least go out on top. Bill Szymczyk was sent from New York to Cleveland to find talent. He found two groups, the James Gang (with Joe Walsh) and Silk (with Michael Gee). He was impressed enough from their live gig to offer a record contract, and the result was "Smooth As Raw ". In Tunes like "Not A Whole Lot I Can Do", "Walk In My Mind" and "Come On Down Girl" (the first tune that he ever heard on the radio), we get a glimpse of what was to come.

Although the album sounds a bit "dated" now, it still plays an important part in the musical legacy of Michael Stanley.


 

 


 

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