The California Earthquake

Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1  (1969)

- Mike Barrowman -- horns

- John Clarke -- horns

- Bill Conners -- lead guitar

- Jim Gordon (RIP) -- drums, percussion

- Brian Griffin -- organ, keyboards

- John Guerin (RIP 2004) -- drums, percussion

- Dennis Parker -- drums, percussion

- Joel Porter -- horns

- Don Roberts -- horns

- Roy Smith -- vocals

- Mayo Tiana -- horns




- Roy Smith (solo efforts)







Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Reformation

Company: United ARtists

Catalog: UAS-6801

Country/State: US

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: still in shrink wrap; opened; custom inner sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 8440

Price: $25.00


Best time to play:  When you've decided to skip Sunday morning services


The California Earthquake's lone 1969 album "Reformation" is interesting on a couple of levels.    It's not great, but it is mildly entertaining. On the personnel front, sporting eleven members, there were a couple of fairly well known players in the group.  Among them, the late Jim Gordon had played with a host of well known acts, including Delaney & Bonnie and Derek & the Dominos.  John Guerin had been a member of The Mothers of Invention and a long list of jazz-oriented outfits.


Co-produced by Tommy Oliver and Tony Scotti, musically the album came off as an aural collision between Blood Sweat & Tears and a group of dedicated proselytizers. These guys clearly had gobs of talent.  Lead singer Roy Smith had a big, growling voice that bore a mild resemblance to David Clayton Thomas, but with more soul than Clayton Thomas could ever muster.  He wasn't prominently featured, but when given a shot at the spotlight, lead guitarist Bill Conners consistently shined.  Check out his work on the opener 'In the Beginning'.  Less appealing to my ears were the combination of the band's heavy handed religious lyrics ('Who Is That Man' and The Bible Salesman') and intrusive horns.  I certainly won't criticize anyone's religious beliefs.  If one takes comfort in those beliefs and they help you be a better person, than those are all good things.  Trying to shove them down your neighbor's throat is something else.  So that made the intrusive horns and the occasional attempts to be cute my biggest complaints.  The discordant jazz instrumental 'Friday: 3 P.M.' and the barbershop quartet arrangement on 'Have You Read the Word' reflected the album's low points.  Far better were the rocker 'Let There Be Light' and the soulful 'Sally Go Down'.   Yeah, the title appeared a little racy for a religiously oriented collection.


"Reformation" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) In the Beginning (instrumental)  (Tommy Oliver - Tony Scotti - Brian Griffin) - 5:16  rating: *** stars

Opening up with a blast of fuzz guitar, 'In the Beginning' seemed promising.  Unfortunately, the horns kicked in and the tune wandered off into a pretty, but bland jazzy-tinged instrumental that sounded like it had been penned for some motivational training video.

2.) Let There Be Light   (Tommy Oliver - Tony Scotti - Jim Langford) - 4:13  rating: **** stars

In spite of the less-than-subtle lyrics and hyperactive horn charts, 'Let There Be Light' was easily the album's most commercial and enjoyable performance.  The track also served to showcase Smith's bear of a voice.  Yeah, for better or worse, he actually bore a passing resemblance to David Clayton Thomas. 

3.) Who Is That Man   (Jim Wolk) - 2:11  rating: ** stars

'Who Is That Man' shed any attempts at being subtle in terms of their beliefs.  It also she any attempt at being a rock band; the mix of Broadway show and jazz coming off like a group of Broadway performers who had gotten lost on the New York Subway.  

4.) Friday: 3 P.M. (instrumental)   (Brian Griffin) - 0:56  rating: ** stars

It was hard to tell where 'Who Is That Man' ended and the brief instrumental 'Friday: 3 P.M.' started.  Not that it mattered since I think this was the discordant jazzy segment that ended the tune.

5.) Put Your Hand In the Hand  (Gene MacLellan) - 2:16  rating: ** stars

Their cover of the spiritual 'Put Your Hand In the Hand' was another tune that sounded like it had been arranged for a Broadway show.  Total waste of Smith's talents.

6.) My God and I  (John Bucky Wilkin) - 4:06  rating: *** stars

'My God and I' was a step in the right direction, ending side one with a sweet, melodic and understated ballad.  Even better, Smith limited the over-singing and the horns were kept in check.  Brian Griffin's churchy organ fills were also a nice touch.  For some off reason, the song was tapped as a single several years after the band had collapsed:





 1971's 'My God and I' b/w 'My God and I' (United Artists catalog number UA-50708) 







(side 2)

1.) Have You Read the Word   (Tommy Oliver) - 1:08  rating: * star

Producer Oliver wrote it, so you can blame him for the major misfire 'Have You Read the Word' represented.   Why would anyone have thought it was a good idea to start side two with an old fashioned barbershop quartet arrangement?  It really wasn't.

2.) The Bible Salesman   (Chip Taylor - Billy Vera) - 3:08   rating: ** stars

Powered by Griffi's barrelhouse piano and Smith at his his most overpowering, 'The Bible Salesman' was another "old fashioned" tune.  Some folks find this style of music charming; I find it cloying.   

3.) Sally Go Down   (Tommy Oliver) - 3:23  rating: **** stars

If I had to pick a favorite performance, it would probably be 'Sally Go Down'.  The song had a nice Southern soul feel that made good use of Smith's chops and the horns were kept largely in check.

4.) Prelude To Suzanne (instrumental)  (Jimmy Langford - Brian Griffin) - 2:48  rating: *** stars

Decent enough film soundtrack segment.

5.) Suzanne (Leonard Cohen) - 3:57  rating: *** stars

Well, Smith's vocals ensured that this version was more commercial than Leonard Cohen's original.  Of course, most folks don't listen to Cohen for his vocal talents. Other than that, I've never figured out why they included the tune on the album.

6.) Reformation '71   (Tommy Oliver) - 3:32  rating: *** stars

'Reformation '71' featured the band at their "funkiest" ...  Given I'm about as middle aged and middle class as you can get, the lyrics made me smile.





For hardcore fans, there's also a non-LP single.  I don't know if it proceeded the album, or was released afterwards.  Interestingly, it did not feature Smith on lead vocals.


- 1969's 'What a Beautiful Feeling' b/w 'The First Day' (World Pacific catalog 77931)  # 133 on the US pop charts