Scott Fagin


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1966-present)

- Scott Fagan -- vocals, guitar

 

  supporting musicians (1975)

- Ray Armando -- percussion

- Dick Frank -- guitar

- Lew Kahn -- trombine

- Art Kaplan -- sax, flute

- Bhen Lanzaroni - keyboards

- Roy Markowitz -- drums, percussion

- Vickie Sue Robinson -- backing vocals

- Warren Schatz -- backing vocals

- Satyavan Joe Shepard -- trumpet

- Suu Woods -- bass

- George Young -- sax

 

 

 

- The Brothers

 

 

 


 

Genre: pop

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  South Atlantic Blues

Company: ATCO

Catalog: SD 36-267
Year:
 1968

Country/State: New York, New York

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: --

Price: $50.00

 

I'm always on the lookout for obscure artists and I was overjoyed to find this one in a small Northern Virginia used record store.  While I'd never heard any of Scott Fagan's material, his "missing man" status was well known to me and this obscure 1968 album had long been on my "find-a-copy" list.

 

There's a ton of biographical information out there on Fagan, though most of it is incomplete; contradictory, or just wrong.  I'll hit the highlights to the extent I can make sense of it.  Fagan was born in New York City. When his parents divorced his jazz musician father Frankie Galvin stayed in NYC.  His professional dancer mother Lelia Kelly took Fagan, his three younger siblings and her sculpture boyfriend to live in a St. Thomas, Virgin Island arts colony.  When his mother's relationship with the sculpture broke down, the family fell on hard times, eventually moving to Puerto Rico, where they lived in abject poverty.  The younger siblings eventually moved back to NYC under the care of their father.  Scott split his time between his parents.  In 1964 he got on a job working on a ship that eventually ended up in New York City.  One of his mother's friends had given him a phone number of someone "in the music business."  With little  musical experience to show, Fagan called the number, auditioned for the famed Doc Pomus who, with partner Mort Shuman, signed him to a recording contract. The trio began writing together, placing material like 'Iím Gonna Cry Til My Tears Run Dry' with Irma Thomas and recording demo material for Fagan.  That led to a short-term contract with Big Top Records.  In 1966 a contract with Bert Berns and Mort Shuman saw him record a promo 45 for the Atlantic Records-based Bang Records  - the folk-rock, anti-war tune 'Give Love a Chance.'

 

- 1966's 'Give Love a Chance' b/w 'Tutsie' (Bang catalog number B530)

 

Released as a promo single, the single flopped, but he then caught the attention of Columbia which briefly signed him, recording a couple of demos that were shelved.  Manager Herb Gart brought Fagan to the attention of The Beatles' newly formed Apple Records, but label President Peter Asher passed on Fagan, electing to sign a young James Taylor instead.

 

 

 

Having finally found a mentor in former Verve Forecast manager/producer Jerry Schoenbaum, 1968 found Schoenbaum taking advantage of his new position with Atlantic's ATCO label to sign the 23 year old Fagan to a recording contract.  Teamed with producer Elmer Jared Gordon (best known for working with Buffy Sainte Marie and a host of Verve acts),1968's "South Atlantic Blues" featured a collection of ten Fagan originals; three tracks co-written with Joe Kookoolis (aka Silvio Martinez).  Featuring material he'd been working on over the prior four years, the collection was essentially a concept set, reflecting on his dysfunctional family, the effects of poverty and the mixture of joy and pain associated with his early years in the Virgin Islands.  The lyrics were frequently dense and full of references to the Virgin Islands - the liner notes even included a nod to steel pan percussionist Victor Brady.  One of the set's most intriguing facts came in the form of Fagan's unique voice.  He's always reminded me of a cross between Robin GIbb and early David Bowie.  Musically the set offered up a strange mixture of genres including folk-rock ('In My Head'), sensitive singer-songwriter ('Crying') and Caribbean influences (the calypso flavored 'The Carnival Is Ended').  That diversity made the set flow by quickly, but it was hard to categorize Fagan.  Lyrically it made for a tough set to get through.  Fagan's challenging life was on full display and  with his alcoholic mother living homeless on the streets in Florida while his four younger  siblings were in foster care, Fagan's made it clear he felt a lot of pressure to make some money to help his family. 

 

This certainly isn't the lost psych masterpiece some folks would have you believe, but if you are in the right mood, it's a challenging and fascinating collection.  Shame it wasn't promoted and he didn't get a chance to record a follow-up for the next seven years.

 

"South Atlantic Blues" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) In My Head (Scott Fagan) - 4:05 rating: **** stars

Damn ... opening with some nifty harpsichord, the ballad 'In My Head' showcased Fagan's weird, dry and clipped vocals on a song that couldn't make up its mind if it wanted to be an MOR-pop tune, or a Dylan-styled singer-songwriter effort.  Imagine early David Bowie when he still had ambitions of becoming the next Anthony Newly and you'll get an idea of Fagan's voice.  Add in the tasty Stax-styled horns and this was way cool.  Easily the album's standout performance, I've always wondered why ATCO didn't release it as a single?  YouTube has a performance of the song recorded during an October, 2016 appearance at Leeds Brundell Social Club.  Yeah, Fagan's aged a little over the ensuing five decades (haven't we all).  His voice certainly shows the years, but in spite of it all, there's a certain charm in hearing the live performance: Scott Fagan - 'In My Head' - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 11th October 2016 (youtube.com)

2.) Nickels And Dimes (Scott Fagan) -  2:14 rating: *** stars

Opening with a mild Baroque flavor and lots of harpsichord, before the horns kicked in and the tune started swinging, the heavily orchestrated 'Nickels And Dime' underscored Fagan's quivery vocal stylings.  Imagine an American Bowie and you'll get a feel for what he sounded like.  The lyrics certainly had an autobiographical feel.  

3.) Crying (Scott Fagan - Joe Kookoolis) -  4:23  rating: *** stars

A stark ballad with one of the album's prettiest melodies, 'Crying' was a clear reflection on some of Fagan's childhood and young adult challenges.  

4.) The Carnival Is Ended (Scott Fagan) -  4:00 rating: **** stars

Pulling out his huskier timbres, 'The Carnival Is Ended'  incorporated some of Fagan's Caribbean musical roots.  Complete with references to Virgin Island culture "Moko Joombies and Frange Pangis", the breezy, Calypso flavored track' was one of my favorite performances.  Steel drums and tasty horns ...  nice.

5.) South Atlantic Blues (Scott Fagan) -  4:52  rating: **** stars

The title track found Fagan settling down into singer/songwriter territory.  The melody was a little lacking, but the lyrics were dense and thought provoking - the tourist view of the Virgin Islands, versus the day-to-day reality of living on the islands.   Including a refrain name checking the capitol city Charlotte Amalie, this was one of Fagan's most personal performances - perhaps a reflection on his mother and the dreadful costs of alcoholism and poverty on families.   YouTube has a stunning 2016 performance recorded for the Dutch Public Broadcast Organization VPRO: Scott Fagan - South Atlantic Blues (live @Bimhuis Amsterdam) (youtube.com)

 

(side 2)
1.)
Nothing But Love (Scott Fagan - Joe Kookoolis) -  2:37 rating: ** stars

The bouncy  'Nothing But Love' was the album's most commercial offering.  The melody was clearly intended for airplay, but I've always I found Fagan's deliver a little ragged.

2.) Tenement Hall (Scott Fagan - Joe Kookoolis) -  4:43  rating: *** stars

For some reason I always thought J.J. Jackson had written this song - perhaps because he covered it on his "Best Little Soul Band In the World" LP.  Judging by 'Tenement Hall' I'm not sure blues was the best musical niche for Fagan's fragile voice.  The dark lyrics and discordant mid-section didn't exactly make this one fun to listen to.  YouTube has another clip recorded for Dutch Public Television: Scott Fagan - Tenement Hall (live @Bimhuis Amsterdam) (youtube.com)

3.) In Your Hands (Scott Fagan) -  3:15  rating: ** stars

Fagan accompanying himself with acoustic guitar, the ballad 'In Your Hands' spotlighted his wavery vocals and some lyrics that seemingly questioned organized religion.  

4.) Crystal Ball  (Scott Fagan - Mort Shuman) - 3:47   rating: ** stars

With a '50s feel, it wasn't a surprise to see 'Crystal Ball' had been co-written with Mort Shuman.  The horn-powered ballad wasn't  anything life-changing, but it was kind of neat to hear Fagan's Bowie-styled delivery.

5.) Madam-moiselle (Scott Fagan) -  4:38  rating: *** stars

'Madam-moiselle' was a heavy orchestrated ballad with sensitive singer-songwriter lyrics and another slice of those Robin Gibb-meets David Bowie vocals ...  Always liked the uncredited bass line on this one.

 

In spite of ATCO's high hopes for the album, little came of it.  Schoenbaum's ATCO contract was not renewed and left without a advocate on the ATCO staff, he was quickly dropped by the label.  The label released a promotional EP (ATCO catalog number (EP-ST-C-4533), but made no real effort to push the collection:

 

"Scott Fagan South Atlantic Blues" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) South Atlantic Blues (Scott Fagan) -  4:50

 

(side 2)
1.)
Nickels And Dimes (Scott Fagan) -  2:14

2.) Crystal  Ball  (Scott Fagan - Mort Shuman) - 3:47

 

 

 

Epic subsequently picked Fagan up, releasing a pair of obscure 45s:  

- 1969's 'Kings and Pawns' b/w 'Ashes'  (Epic catalog number 5-10570)

- 1969's 'I Am' b/w 'Where My Lover Has Gone (Epic catalog number 5-10619)

 

Fagan's attention next focused on collaborating with Kookoolis in writing what was one of the first rock operas.  Based on his music business experiences, Fagan's plotline centering on a group of young musicians who make it big, but pay a high price for their fame.  The story line did not cast the music industry in a particularly favorable light.  Starring the likes of Peter Allen, Barry Bostock, Nell Carter, Richard Gere, and Vicki Sue Robinson "Soon (A Rock Opera)" opened off-Broadway, before moving to Broadway in January 1971.  Critics were mixed in their reviews, but the show closed after a three day run and Fagan and Kookoolis found themselves essentially unemployable.   Almost 50 years later the "Soon" demo tapes were found in an attic.  There's a chance they'll be released as a Fagan album.

 

 

Fagan moved to Los Angeles where he attended UCLA working on a non-profit project to assist musicians with addiction issues.  Having battled alcoholism for years, he had a personal interest in the subject, designing and implementing a non-profit chemical dependency program for artists and individuals in the Music Business called BIZRAP.  Fagan returned to the Virgin Islands where he  took a series of blue collar jobs and drifted through a series of relationships that ultimately saw him father five children with two different women.  Songwriting partner Kookoolis also dropped out of music, moving to Southern California where he died in 1978.

 

For anyone interested, Fagan has a small website at:  jcornett.com//swf/swf.htm   

 

 

 

There's also an interesting link to the famed artist Jasper Johns.  Johns apparently found a copy of the album in a cutout bin and was so moved by the collection he created a series of three ink drawings and lithographs entitled "Scott Fagan Record."  Johns invited a slightly bewildered Fagan to a showing of the works.  Copies ended up in the permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MoMa and the Walker Center.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Genre: pop

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Many Sunny Places

Company: RCA Victor

Catalog: APL1-1185
Year:
 1975

Country/State: New York, New York

Grade (cover/record): NM/NM

Comments: sealed copy; punch hole top right corner

Available: 1

Catalog ID: --

Price: $18.00

 

The music business has a long memory which may explain why seven years passed between Scott Fagan's 1968 debut "South Atlantic Blues" and the release of a sophomore album.  And what a different those years made.  Whereas Fagan's debut was a critics' favorite (if a sales dud), 1975's "Many Sunny Places" was ignored by both critics and the buying public.  That shouldn't have come as a surprise in the wake of "Soon", Fagan's short-lived Broadway project which served as a searing commentary on the music business.

 

"Soon" essentially turned Fagan toxic in the music business and unable to find a label to sign him, this follow-on project appeared to have been a self-financed endeavor. The liner notes thanked the Finnish Love Records label , New York's Trilogy Records and a long list of individuals for their financial support.  I guess today we'd call it a "crowd funding" project.  How RCA got involved in the project is a mystery to me.  Recorded at New York's Associated Recording Studios with Warren Schatz producing, Fagan was credited with most of the material which included three tracks co-written with long-time partner Joe Kookoolis, a needless cover of Van Morrison and Them's classic garage rocker 'Brown Eyed Girl' and an adaptation of the traditional Virgin Islands tune 'La Beiga Carousel.'  Fagan had returned to the Virgin Islands in the '70s and exemplified by tracks like 'La Beiga Carousel', 'When You Take It All Away' and 'Cherrigo' the music and culture of the islands had a big impact on this project. The big problem is these songs were so personal and had such a niche sound, it was impossible to figure out how Fagan, or RCA every thought this thing would sell.  I have to admit I found the whole thing a major disappointment.  As a fan of this debut I kept wondering if I'd missed something.  Was there a secret door somewhere that I was missing?  Well, after three of four spins I had to admit I just didn't like the album.  Maybe if I set it aside for another couple of years?

 

"Many Sunny Places" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Many Sunny Places (Scott Fagan) - 2:40 rating: ** stars

 Songs that featuring whistling don't do a great deal for me.  Similarly a song with lyrics that essentially feature a list of Caribbean and South American countries ...  It had a breezy melody, but I suspect a lot of high school kids could come up with something at least as clever.   

2.) Ghetto Fighter (Scott Fagan) - 2:59 rating: *** stars

Lyrically seemingly autobiographical, 'Ghetto Fighter' surrounded Fagan with a full rock arrangement.  I liked the song's rock flavor, but it also focused attention on Fagan's dry, clipped voice. I've heard far worse singers, but the years had clearly taken a toll on his voice.   Docked a star for the shrill female backing vocals.

3.) medley La Beiga Carousel (traditional) / Tutsi (Scott Fagan) - 5:02 rating: ** stars

Well it was nice of Fagan to acknowledge his Virgin Islands background, but this medley sounded like something you'd here at a tourist lounge.  Imagine Bill Murray's Nick the Lounge Singer character.   I thought the song title was actually "LaBega Carousel."  'Tutsi' had previously appeared as the "B: side to his 1966 debut on Bang Records 'Give Love a Chance.'

4.) When You Take It All Away (Scott Fagan - Warren Schatz) - 4:44 rating: *** stars

I guess 'When You Take It All Away' was Fagan's effort at blending rock and reggae.  Well the horns were nice and Stuart Wood's bass was darn funky ... 

 

(side 2)
1.)
Roll Out The Morning (Scott Fagan - Joe Kookoolis) - 2:13 rating: ** stars

The album's most overtly commercial song, 'Roll Out The Morning' had a pretty melody, but Fagan's breathless, labored vocals took much of the joy out of the performance.  The bleating backing vocals didn't help.

2.) Cherrigo (Scott Fagan - Joe Kookoolis) - 2:12 rating: ** stars

Breezy calypso flavored tune. Hotel lounge act ...

3.) Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison) - 3:15 rating: ** stars

To be honest, Fagan's shakey, vibrato-filled vocals just weren't a good fit for the Them classic.  Once again the shrill female backing singers didn't help.

4.) Archipelago Man (Scott Fagan) - 2:49 rating: ** stars

I just had to wonder who Fagan thought these Caribbean-tinged songs were going to appeal to in a rock market.  Yeah, it was charming in a quirky fashion - emphasis on quirky.  

5.) Please Be Well (Scott Fagan - Joe Kookoolis) - 4:35 rating: ** stars

The opening guitars have always reminded me of George Harrison's 'All Things Must Pass.'  Unfortunately things went downhill after that with Fagan belting out some vapid "positive outlook" lyrics over a forgettable melody.

 

 

Before dropping Fagan from its recording roster RCA released an instantly obscure non-LP 45:

 

 

- 1975's 'Surrender To the Sun' b/w 'Many Sunny Places' (RCA Victor catalog number JB 10678)

 

YouTube has a live performance of the song by a slightly older Fagan.  He actually sounds quite good:  Surrender To The Sun Scott Fagan (youtube.com)  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The song was featured in a forgotten Canadian "B" flick "Recommendations for Mercy" which was given the charming title "Teenage Psycho Killer" for the US market.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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