The Family Tree
Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1968)
- Newman Davis - drums, percussion
- Mike Olsen (aka Lee Michaels) - keyboards
- Bob Segarini - vocals, guitar, keyboards
- Bill Whittington - bass, guitar
line up 2 (1968-70)
NEW - Jim DeCocq - keyboards (replaced Mike Olsen)
NEW - Mike Dure - guitar
- Bob Segarini - vocals, guitar, keyboards
NEW - Vann Slarter - drums (replaced Newman Davis)
NEW - Bill Troachim - bass, vocals (replaced Bill Whittington)
- The Broughs (Bob Segarini and Bill Whittington)
- The Dudes (Bob Segarini and Bill Trochim)
- Lee Michaels (solo efforts)
- Rosebud (Jim DeCocq)
- Roxy (Jim DeCocq and Bob Segarini)
- Bob Segarini (solo efforts)
- The Wackers (Bob Segarini and Bill Trochim)
Rating: **** ( 4 stars)
Title: Miss Butters
Company: RCA Victor
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: minor cover wear
Catalog ID: 4285
Long yotime fans of singer/guitarist Bob Segarini, I have to apologize as I only stumbled across this portion of his early career by accident.
The early-1960s found singer/multi-instrumentalist Segarini living in San Francisco. Along with bassist Bill Whittington, Segarini had been a member of The Brogues who managed to record a couple of enjoyable, ut obscure garage-band 45s before calling it quits in 1965. Having recruited drummer Newman Davis and keyboard player Mike Olsen (aka Lee Michaels) and now billing themselves as The Family Tree, the quartet attracted the attention of Randall Wood's Los Angeles-based Mira Records (best known for signing The Leaves).
Signed a recording contract, the band debuted with an enjoyable, if derivative (echoes of Donovan's 'Feel the Wind'), folk-rock single
- 1967's 'Prince of Dreams' b/w 'Live Your Own Life' (Mira catalog number 228).
The single attracted considerable local attention, leading Mira to finance further recording sessions for a planned LP. Unfortunately, Mira lost interest in the LP, subsequently shelving all of the recorded material.
Over the next year the band underwent a series of personnel changes that left Segarini as the only original member. Expanded to a five piece, by the time the group signed with RCA Victor, the line up consisted of Segarini, keyboardist Jim DeCocq, guitarist Michael Dure, drummer Vann Slatter and bassist Bill Trochim. The band debutted with an old-timey piano powered track backed by a Turtles-styled folk-rock "B" side:
- 1967's 'Do You Have The Time?' b/w 'Keepin' A Secret' (RCA Victor catalog number 9184)
While the single didn't generate a great deal of sales, RCA Victor committed to financing an album. Built on a series of Segarini-penned songs written and recorded during the earlier Mira sessions, 1968's Rick Jarrard produced "Miss Butters" was one of rock's first concept pieces. Initially the plotline wasn't obvious to me and it wasn't until years later I read Segarini's inspiration came from his kindergarten teacher Ms. Grady. Structured as a four part suite (shown on the track listing, the final section The Underture' didn't include any music), the collection followed her fictionalized life story from birth into a showbiz family; various personal traumas, broken relationships, heartache, life as a single, spinster school teacher and a lonely death. It certainly wasn't the happiest story you've ever come across. Regardless, tracks such as 'Mrs. McPheeny', 'Sideshow' and the ''Lesson Book Life' were full of wonderful melodies, gorgeous vocal harmonies and nifty production tricks, including channel separation ('Any Other Baby'), creamy Beach Boys-styled harmonies ('Melancholy Vaudeville Man') and even some 'Penny Lane' styled horns on Butter's Lament.' Lots of reviews draw comparisons to The Fab Four, but to my ears the late Harry Nilsson was a far better benchmark. The comparison was underscore by the fact the album was recorded at RCA Victor's Music Center of the World, Hollywood, California which happened to be where Nilsson recorded his second LP - 1968's "Aerial Ballet." Both albums were produced by Rick Jarrard, featured some of the same sessions players, shared the same arranger in George Tipton and had album covers designed by Dick Hendler. Nilsson even co-wrote 'Butter's Lament' with Sigarini. To my ears this is a Nilsson album in spirit, but with the addition of a distinct affection for mid-'60s English pop bands like The Idle Race and The Move. Sure, it may not be the year's most original offering, but most bands would have killed to release something half as good. Naturally the album quickly vanished into cutout bins and the band called it quits.
For audiophiles the album was released in mono and stereo mixes (the latter using the mono master tapes, The stereo mix was done by assistant engineer Dick Bogert without any input from the band. Segariti and company were apparently disappointed by the stereo release.
"Miss Butters" track listing:
The Early Years
1.) Birthday/Dirgeday (Bob Segarini) - 1:20 rating: *** stars
Birth and early death of her father ("he'd died on his farm before he hot to hold his baby girl in his arms ..." You just knew life was going to be tough. Melodic and showcasing treated Beach Boys-styled harmonies, 'Birthday/Dirgeday' sounded like Harry Nilsson's impression of English twee-rock ... That's a theme that will come back time after time, come to think of it, this one could easily have been a Nilsson tune.
2.) Melancholy Vaudeville Man (Bob Segarini) - 1:55 rating: *** stars
Ah Dad's early life as a showbiz man. And he was so happy to have settled down. Shame how fate intervenes in the cruelest ways. The title had me envisioning something along the lines of The New Vaudeville Band's 'Winchester Cathedral.' Instead 'Melancholy Vaudeville Man' was another Nilsson-tinged pop ballad with one of the most abrupt endings you ever heard.
3.) Any Other Baby (Bob Segarini) - 3:26 rating: *** stars
'Any Other Baby' was a sweet, radio-friendly ballad showcasing the band's lovely vocals. Technically the stereo version was interesting for the channel separation with vocals popping from one channel to another.
4.) Sideshow (Bob Segarini) - 3:14 rating: **** stars
Complete with treated vocals, circus music touches, heavy orchestration and a totally unexpected Segarini guitar solo, 'Sideshow' found the band "toughening" up their sound, though this remained a pop tune. It also made for one of the album's most interesting performances.
5.) Mrs. McPheeny (Bob Segarini) - 3:31 rating: **** stars
Ah, the start of a career as a teacher ... Opening up with some old-timey Segarini barrelhouse piano, 'Mrs. McPheeny ' was bouncy tune that clashed with the disturbing lyrics. The track again served to underscore the Nilsson comparisons.
It Is Better To Have Loved
1.) Butter's Lament (Bob Segarini) - 2:16 rating: **** stars
'Butter's Lament' sported a glistening, bouncy melody; great Segarini lead vocal, lovely harmonies, and Sgt. Pepper-styled orchestration. The track was side one's most complete pop performance and had everything needed for radio success; except airplay. In spite of the album credits, the track was apparently co-written by Segarini and buddy Harry Nilsson; intended for inclusion of Nilsson's 1968 sophomore LP "Aerial Ballet." For whatever reason it wasn't included and didn't see the light of day until after Nilsson's death when it was included on the posthumous 2018 "Sessions 1967-1975 Rarities From The RCA Albums Collection." compilation. Nilsson's version was titled 'Miss Butter's Lament.' By the way The Family Tree version is the better version with a bouncier arrangement.
2.) Simple Life (Bob Segarini) - 3:33 rating: ** stars
An opportunity for a husband and family ... 'Simple Life' found the band returning to "big ballad and big statement" territory. The tune clearly furthered the plotline, but musically wasn't any great shakes.
1.) Slippin' Thru My Fingers (Bob Segarini) - 2:48 rating: **** stars
Crap boyfriend ditches her ... 'Slippin' Thru My Fingers' demonstrated these guys were comfortable with harder rocking material. Awesome Segarini lead guitar. RCA pulled an edited version of the track as a single:
- 1968's 'Slippin' Thru My Fingers' b/w 'Miss Butters' (RCA Victor catalog number 9565)
The Effect of It All
1.) Nine To Three (Bob Segarini) - 2:50 rating: **** stars
Time after time Segarini's guitar provides album highlights and that was certain the case on the weird instrumental 'Nine To Three.' I've never really figured out how this one fit into the plot line and it didn't sound anything like the rest of the collection.
2.) Lesson Book Life (Bob Segarini) - 1:56 rating: **** stars
Starting to look back on a life with missteps ... wow that strikes close to home. Pretty melody and great backwards fuzz guitar solo.
3.) Nickelodeon Music (Bob Segarini) - 2:00 rating: *** stars
'Nickelodeon Music' appeared to be an updated version of their second non-LP single 'Do You Have The Time.' This old-timey melody certainly recalled the Nilsson catalog as interpreted by someone like Spanky and Our Gang, or The Mamas and the Papas.
4.) Miss Butters (Bob Segarini) - 4:16 rating: **** stars
Sadly, the end of the line for Miss Butters ... Another sweet ballad from the perspective of a former student ... "we were instructed to write a card ..." Funny how a teacher can have such an effect on a student. Thank you Mr. Parton and Mr. Francis.
I'm guessing it was an outtake from the album, but RCA released one non-LP follow-up single
- 1968's 'He Spins Around' b/w 'She Had To Fly' (RCA Victor catalog number 9671), before dropping the band from the label's recording roster.
There's a 1970 single credited to The Family Tree, but it's a different outfit.
- 1970's 'Electric Kangaroo' b/w 'Terry Tommy' (Paula catalog number 329).
DeCocq and Segarini subsequently reappeared as members of Roxy. Segarini and Troachim reunited in The Wackers with Segarini going on to record a number of solo LPs.
Credited to Lee Michaels, original keyboardist Olsen also recorded a string of solo albums.
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