Zuider Zee


Band members                              Related acts

  line up 1 (1970-74)

- John Bonar -- bass, backing vocals  

- Kim Foreman -- keyboards, backing vocals 

- Richard Orange -- vocals, guitar 

- Gary Simon Bertrand (aka Simon the Pieman) -- drums,

   percussion

 

  line up 2 (1974-76)

- John Bonar -- bass, backing vocals

NEW - Robert Hall (RIP) -- drums, backing vocals (replaced 

  Gary Simon Bertrand)

- Kim Foreman  -- keyboards, backing vocals 

- Richard Orange -- vocals, guitar 

 

 


 

- The Dry Grins

- Orange and the Eggmen

- Richard Orange

- Richard Orange and the Zee

- The Rogues

- Thomas Edisun's Electric Light Bulb Band

- Zee

 

 

 

 


 

Genre: rock

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Zuider Zee

Company: Columbia

Catalog: PC-33816

Year: 1976

Country/State: Lafayette, Louisiana

Grade (cover/record): VG/VG+

Comments: cut top right corner; promo copy with timing strip on bottom (not shown in picture)

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4263

Price: $30.00

Cost: $1.00

 

During their six year existence, Zuider Zee (bassist John Bonar, drummer Gary Simon Bernard (replaced by the late Robert Hall), keyboardist Kim Foreman and singer/guitarist Richard Orange) stood as one of Memphis' more talented (if lesser known) contributions to mid-'70s power-pop.  Their lack of recognition wasn't a result of any absence of talent, rather seems to have been a reflection of the fact their affection for British pop and rock was at odds with contemporary tastes and what most of their Memphis competitors were playing.  A more mainstream name might have helped. Zuider Zee was hopelessly obscure to the American buying public and DJs struggled with how to pronounce the name.  Finally, poor management and their inability to find a label that shared their vision of pop perfection certainly didn't help things.   Regardless, simply on the basis of one obscure mid-'70s album, Zuider Zee  stands as a band that deserves far greater recognition than given.  Little known during their '70s heyday (though I remember them getting a pretty good review in a Rolling Stone article), today they're complete obscure.

 

Bertrand, Foreman and Orange originally came together in Lafayette, Louisiana, cutting their first record as members of Thomas Edisun's Electric Light Bulb Band.  By 1969 they'd picked up a mentor in the form of manager in Leland Russell, along with a new name.  Relocating to Memphis, the band added bassist John Bonar to the line-up and started playing local schools and clubs, though most of their touring energies were spent in the Midwest.  A 1973 showcase for Elektra failed to score a contract, but within a year they'd recruited a new drummer (Robert Hall) and signed with Columbia.

 

LP back cover left to right 

John Bonar - Robert Hall - Kim Foreman - Richard Orange

 

The quartet's self-titled 1975 debut teamed them with manager Leland Russell in the production role.  With Orange responsible for the majority of the eleven tracks, material such as 'Listen To the Words', 'Thank You' and 'Magic Fingers' featured a truly engaging set of UK-flavored power-pop.  Imagine the best of Badfinger's Pete Ham, or perhaps 10 C.C.'s Eric Stewart doing their best Paul McCartney impressions and you'll get a feel for the musical landscape.  While "Zuider Zee" may not have been the year's most original album, the set had more than it's share of pleasures, including the Rickenbacher-propelled rocker 'Zeebra', 'You're Not Thinking' and the slightly ominous Haunter of Darkness''.  Normally a Paul McCartney comparison serves as a creative kiss of death, but Orange was among the few guys who could actually pull it off (Emitt Rhodes also readily coming to mind).  Orange had a great voice which was particularly appealing on songs like the rocker 'Rubber Men' when he employed his raspy edge (imagine McCartney's vocal on 'Helter Skelter').  Skeptical of that description?  Close your eyes and check out Orange's truly uncanny McCartney-like deliveries on the rockers 'She-Swing' and 'The Breaks' (the latter sounding like something from "Band On the Run").   Band ballads like 'The Last Song of Its Kind' were certainly pretty and had top-40 potential, but didn't do as much for me. Still, a package full of great melodies and excellent guitar made this a pleasure for anyone who enjoyed Badfinger, The Raspberries, or Emitt Rhodes.  

 

From a marketing perspective having spent a fortune recording the LP Columbia's promotional and marketing scheme was curious.  Credit Columbia's art department with coming up wit one of the year's most unimaginative covers.  Inexplicably Columbia didn't even bother tapping the album for a single.   Tour support was lukewarm at best, the band opening for a staggering array of acts ranging from Caravan to The Tubes.  Coupled with a pseudo-glam image that may have been a tad fey for many mid-1970s American audiences and in an era of punk aggression and disco madness the album vanished without a trace.

 

"Zuider Zee" track listing:
(side 1).

1.) Listen To the Words   (Richard Orange) - 2:27   rating: **** stars

The opening rocker 'Listen To the Words' was a perfect example of Zuider Zee's charms.  On this one Orange sounded like he was singing with a nasty sinus infection, but his dry, slightly ragged delivery grew on you and the man crafted such insidiously catchy songs ...   This one would have been a killer single.
2.) Rubber Man   (Richard Orange - Robert Hall) - 2:50  
rating: **** stars

'Rubber Man' saw Orange and company upping the rock quotient of their musical recipe.  Kicked along by a stunning wah wah guitar solo, the results were pretty awesome.
3.) The Last Song of Its Kind   (Richard Orange) - 3:40  
rating: *** stars

There's a whole cottage industry of artists who've mined Paul McCartney-styled pop as a musical career.  Judging by the stark ballad 'The Last Song of Its Kind', there were certainly worse inspirations.  This one would not have sounded out of place on McCartney's "Ram", or Wings' "Wild Life" though it was a touch too sentimental for my tastes.
4.) Zeebra   (Richard Orange) - 5:10  
rating: **** stars

The McCartney comparison was even more apparent on the poppy 'Zeebra' where Orange seeming went out of his way to roughen his vocal delivery to match the formers singing style.  I actually liked the jammy second half of the song just as much.
5.) You're Not Thinking   (Richard Orange) - 3:05  
rating: **** stars

The power-pop tune 'You're Not Thinking' was the kind of song that Eric Carmen and the Raspberries could only dream of writing.
6.) Haunter of Darkness   (Richard Orange) - 3:42  
rating: **** stars

The taunt rocker 'Haunter of Darkness' was one of my favorite performances.  Kicked along by Kim Foreman's bubbly synthesizers and keyboards, it was one of the few tracks that seemingly allowed the band to showcase their own musical personalities.  I'm not criticizing their affection for McCartney-styled pop, but it was nice to hear they were capable of far more.  This one should have been a single.

 

(side 2)

1.) She-Swing   (Richard Orange) - 2:33  rating: *** stars

A mash-up seemingly combining McCartney's love for English musical hall and pocket rockers, the Macca comparison was simply unavoidable on 'She Swing'.  Again, if you were going to be influenced by someone, you could have picked a worse inspiration.
2.) Thank You   (Richard Orange) - 3:21 
rating: **** stars

'Thank You' was a three minute lesson in how to craft a near perfect slice of power pop.  Infectious melody; killer vocals; awesome guitar, cute lyrics ... geez, Orange even managed to insert a pedal steel guitar solo.
3.) The Breaks   (Richard Orange) - 2:52  
rating: **** stars

Foreman's  synthesizer washes gave the rocker 'The Breaks' a momentary Styx flavor, but then Orange trotted out another McCartney styled vocal.   Interesting clash of styles.
4.) Magic Fingers   (Richard Orange) - 4:35  
rating: **** stars

Maybe it was just my ears, but the ballad 'Magic Fingers' didn't sound like Orange on opening lead vocals, though he was clearly featured on the chorus.  That musical change-up wasn't anything major and actually resulted in another personal favorite.  And no, I don't know if the song was about self pleasure, or some special woman.
5.) All That Is   (Richard Orange - Robert Hall - John Bonar - Kim Foreman) - 7:44   
rating: **** stars

'All That Is' opened up with some oddball sci-fi sound effects, cruising along a mildly progressive path before suddenly exploding into another glistening pop tune.  Judging by the elaborate orchestration, it sounded like Columbia had put the bulk of it's production advance into this one.  As the album's longest tune, this one gave the band members a chance to stretch out, in the process showcasing Orange's overlooked guitar chops.


The final career death knell came in December 1976 when bassist Bonar interrupted a group of thieves trying to steal the band's van.  Beaten and stabbed, he was lucky to survive the attack.  The band effectively collapsed when the other members refused to continue touring with a replacement while Bonar underwent extensive physical therapy. 

 

Orange, Hall, and Foreman eventually hit the road under the name "Richard Orange and the Zee" and then "Zee".   When road revenues dried up Orange refocused his efforts on song writing.  In 1978 he wrote and produced a single for Pay Taylor 'Fold Out Girl' b/w 'Disco City' (Bretone catalog number FR 051 A / B).  That was followed by a string of song placements, the best known being Cyndi Lauper who scored a pop hit with her cover of 'Hole In My Heart'.  He eventually moved to England and released a solo 45:

 

 'Supernatural' b/w 'Long Distance Love' (DJM catalog number DJS-10914).  Pressed on orange vinyl, the single never saw an American release.   

 

I've never seen, nor heard it, but there's also a 1989 UK 45 'One Wrong Move' b/w 'So Full of Tears' (EMI catalog number YAP 1).  

 

 

Orange has an interesting if somewhat cluttered website at:  http://www.richardorange.com/


 

 

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