Band members Related acts
line-up 1 (1967-69)
- Gary Usher (RIP 1990) -- vocals, keyboards
supporting musicians (1969)
- Glenn Campbell (RIP) -- vocals, guitar
- Ron Edgar -- drums
- Mike Fennelly -- guitar
- Bruce Johnston -- vocals, guitar
- Doug Rhodes -- keyboards, guitar
- Sandy Salsbury -- vocals
- Joey Stec -- vocals
- The Ballroom (Curt Boettcher and Gary Usher)
- The Beach Boys (Glenn Campbell and Bruce Johnston)
- Curt Boettcher (solo efforts)
- California (Curt Boettcher and Gary Usher)
- California Music (Gary Usher)
- The Competitors (Gary Usher)
- Crabby Appleton (Mike Fennelly)
- The Customs (Gary Usher)
- The Devons (Gary Usher)
- The Four Speeds (Gary Usher)
- Mr. Gasser & the Weirdos
- The Ghouls (Gary Usher)
- The Go-Gos (Gary Usher)
- Goldebriars (Curt Boetcher)
- Millennium (Curt Boetcher)
- The Hondels (Gary Usher)
- Bruce Johnston (solo efforts)
- The Kickstands (Gary Usher)
- The Knights (Gary Usher)
- The Music Machine (Ron Edgar, Keith Olsen and
- The Neptunes (Gary Usher)
- The Pendletons (Gary Usher)
- The Revells (Gary Usher)
- The Road Runners (Gary Usher)
- Sandy Salsbury (solo efforts)
- The Silly Surfers (Gary Usher)
- Joey Stec (solo efforts)
- Summer's Children (Curt Boettcher)
- The Sunsets (Gary Usher)
- The Super Stocks (Gary Usher)
- The Timers (Gary Usher)
- Gary Usher (solo efforts)
- Gary User & the Twisters (Gary Usher)
- Gary Usher & the Usherettes (Gary Usher)
- The Weird-Ohs (Gary Usher)
- The Wheel Men (Gary Usher)
Rating: 5 stars *****
Title: Present Tense
Catalog: CS-9964 (stereo)
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: minor ring wear; demo stamp on back cover
Catalog ID: SOLD 5362
Price: SOLD $75.00
The late Gary Usher's a fascinating guy and someday I'm going to have to spend some time looking into his early career which includes slews of surf and drag racing themed releases. He's basically done everything - writer (including serving as an early Brian Wilson collaborator), producer, label owner and an artist in his own rite.
It may be little more than one of those music industry myths, but the story goes that Sagittarius traces its roots to 1967 and Usher's stint as a producer. Working with Chad and Jeremy he supposedly became frustrated with the duo's unwillingness to record outside material including a John Carter/The Ivy League song that he thought had more commercial potential than some of their original material. With Chad and Jeremy passing on 'My World Fell Down', Usher gather together some friends, including studio musicians Glen Campbell and Bruce Johnson and recorded the track himself. Credited to 'Sagittarius', Usher subsequently placed the song with Columbia Records which quickly released the song as a single - 'My World Fell Down' b/w 'Libra' (Columbia catalog number 4-34163). With Beach Boys sidekick Glen Campbell on lead vocals (Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher on backing vocals), the result was a wonderful slice of sunshine pop with a strange 'musique concrete' bridge. With the song hitting the top-100 Columbia subsequently asked Sagittarius/Usher to tour in support of the song. Discovering that Sagittarius was a studio entity, Columbia green-lighted a follow-up 45 'Hotel Indiscreet' b/w 'Virgo' (instrumental) (Columbia catalog number 4-44289) and a supporting album.
First I'll be honest and spell out my personal biases - as a big fan of sunshine pop I consider 1968's "Present Tense" to be one of those rare albums that lives up to the hype surrounding it and deserves to be considered a true lost classic. Usher recorded the album with a big assist from former Goldenbriars/Ballroom front man Curt Boettcher (the two reportedly met while Boettcher was recording an album with the band Ballroom and Usher was working in a neighboring studio with Brian Wilson) and a collection of studio friends including Campbell, Johnston, guitarist Mike Fennelly, and singer Joey Stec. As was standard marketing procedure the album offered up a mixture of the earlier singles (Columbia president Clive Davis demanded that they be included in drastically abridged versions - the experimental instrumental segments were deleted) and new studio material. If you had to categorize the collection it was probably best described as sunshine pop, though that's a misnomer given the set's cfoss-genre charms. Given their collective musical backgrounds which including working with such name acts as The Association (whose group harmonies were aptly mimicked throughout the set), The Beach Boys, and The Byrds, nobody should have been surprised to discover that Boettcher and Usher were capable of effortlessly penning insidiously catchy material. Simply try to escape the hook filled clutches of 'Song To the Magic Frog (Will You Ever Know)' or 'Would You Like To Go'. The album should have carried a warning sticker since virtually every one of the eleven tracks was hopelessly addictive. That said, the pair were also interested in pushing the musical boundaries via elaborate orchestration, sound effects, and occasional subtle acid influences. When those divergent elements came together (witness the raga flavored 'Glass' or the out and out psychedelic closer 'The Keeper of the Games' the results were truly memorable. Elsewhere while the liner notes lacked performance credits Boettcher apparently handled most of the vocals, while Usher's heavily treated voice was featured on 'Truth Is Not Real'. Elsewhere Columbia tapped the album for a series of three follow-on singles:
- 1968's 'Another Time' b/w 'Pisces' (instrumental) (Columbia catalog number 4-44398)
- 1968's 'Truth Is Not Real' b/w 'You Know I Found a Way' (Columbia catalog number 4-44503)
- 1968's 'Keeper of the Games' b/w 'I'm Not Living Here' (Columbia catalog number 4-44613)
Unfortunately with little promotional support the parent album did little commercially. (Anyone into sunshine pop or "Smile" era Beach Boys simply owes it to themselves to own this album. Again, a must-own classic.)
Tense" track listing:
1.) Another Time (Curt Boettcher) -
2.) Song To the Magic Frog (Will You Ever Know) (Curt Boettcher - M. O. Malley) -
3.) I Know I've Found a Way (Curt Boettcher - Lee Mallory) -
4.) The Keeper of the Games (Curt Boettcher) -
5.) Glass (L. Marks - E. Sheldon) -
6.) Would You Like To Go (Curt Boettcher - G. Alexander) -
2.) Hotel Indiscreet (Michael Z. Dordon - James A. Griffin) -
3.) I'm Not Living Here (Curt Boettcher) -
4.) Musty Dusty (Curt Boettcher) -
5.) Truth Is Not Real (Gary Usher) -
1997 saw the Sundazed label reissue the LP in CD format with seven bonus tracks (Sundazed catalog number SC 11053):
1.) Artificial Light (Of All the Living Lies)
2.) Get the Message
3.) Mass #586
4.) Love's Fatal Way
5.) Lonely Girl
6.) The Keep of the Games (demo version)
7.) Sister Marie
Usher had been involved with music as a songwriter since the early 1960s (including writing lyrics for some of Brian Wilson's earliest songs), and soon branched out into production work. After considerable success as a producer, he eventually became a staff producer for Columbia Records. It was at this position that, during 1967, he produced Chad & Jeremy. They had played him several songs, which he felt lacked any commercial potential. He had heard a demo around that time for a song called "My World Fell Down" (also recorded by the British pop group The Ivy League), and he played it for them, thinking that it was a sure-fire hit. They balked at the idea of covering the song, and Usher felt that he would do it himself. He brought in Los Angeles session musicians, as well as drafting friends such as Beach Boys touring alumni Glen Campbell (who did the lead vocal on the track) and Bruce Johnston and singer-turned-producer Terry Melcher for vocals. He finished the recording by adding a musique concrète bridge. He presented it to Columbia executives under the group name Sagittarius, named after his astrological sun sign. The single reached number 70 in the Billboard Hot 100. When there was pressure from Columbia for the group to tour, it was revealed that a group did not exist. Usher did, however, start working on an album for Columbia under the Sagittarius name. Most of this work was done in conjunction with Curt Boettcher. Usher had met Boettcher when he was working with a group that he led and produced called The Ballroom. They were signed to Warner Bros. Records, and they recorded an album which was not released at the time. Usher, however, was impressed enough by Boettcher's talents that he utilized him as a songwriter, musician, and producer (two of the album's tracks were the same recordings made for the unreleased Ballroom album, though they appeared in stereo) throughout the album. Prior to releasing an album, another single appeared, with the song "Hotel Indiscreet" as the A-side. The B-sides for some of the Sagittarius singles consisted of instrumentals that Usher had originally recorded for another studio project. As was the case with "My World Fell Down", the bridge featured an unrelated comedy bit by The Firesign Theatre, another Usher discovery, but unlike the previous single, it failed to chart. In 1968, the Present Tense album was released. Because Clive Davis disliked the usage of musique concrete in the two singles, Usher removed these segments from the album versions. The album version of "My World Fell Down" featured a few bars of additional music between the first and second verses, that did not appear in the single version, and both were mixed in stereo for the album. The single "Another Time" written and sung by Curt Boettcher was released from the album and charted in some markets.
Although it only reached number 70 in the national charts, Sagittarius' 1967 single "My World Fell Down" is one of the great experimental psychedelic pop gems of the era. Sounding very much like a lost Beach Boys classic from the "Good Vibrations"/SMiLE era, the record had beautiful California pop harmonies, exquisite symphonic orchestration, and a downright avant-garde middle section of carnival and bullfight noises. It was perhaps too weird to become the Top 40 smash it deserved to be, but in any case, Sagittarius would have had a difficult time launching a successful career, as the group didn't really exist. It was a studio project of noted producer Gary Usher, who wrote several great Beach Boys songs with Brian Wilson and produced classic albums by the Byrds. Present Tense Usher made the recordings that came out under the Sagittarius name in his spare time, with help from such prominent friends as Beach Boy Bruce Johnston and Glen Campbell (who sings lead on the "My World Fell Down" single). The most important of Usher's associates, however, was fellow songwriter/producer/singer Curt Boettcher, who has a cult following of his own for the sunshiny California pop with a touch of psychedelia that he produced during the era, especially as part of the Millennium. Boettcher wrote and sang much of the material that ended up on Sagittarius' 1968 Columbia album, Present Tense. Unlike the "My World Fell Down" single (included on the LP in a brutally edited version), the album wasn't reminiscent of the Beach Boys at their best and most progressive. It was California good-time pop with a mild dab of psychedelia, relentlessly and sometimes annoyingly cheerful, although immaculately crafted and produced, particularly in the layered harmony vocals. Not as commercial as the Association (with whom Boettcher also worked), it still had a lot more in common with the Turtles and the Mamas & the Papas than Pet Sounds or the Byrds. Although it only sold in the neighborhood of 40,000 to 50,000 copies, the record has a cult following, and has been reissued several times, usually with numerous bonus tracks.
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: Blue Marble
Country/State: Los Angeles, California
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: minor ring wear; promo copy
Catalog ID: 5363
In spite of his success working with bands like The Byrds, Chad and Jeremy, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy and others, increasingly unhappy with Columbia Records, in 1969 Gary Usher quit his job as a staff producer. Along with Curt Boetcher and Keith Olsen, the trio established their own Together label. One of their first projects was a sophomore Sagittarius LP.
Ah, talk about optimism. This is lifted from the LP liner notes:
Suspended with grace in a sea of black velvet hangs the blue marble. Slowly it revolves, warming its sides against a cosmic furnace. It is but an oasis in an empty desert of black sand, a garden in the infinite fertileness of time. It is bound by universal laws that are as mystifying and magnificent as its mountains and seas. Yet that which is on it, is bound by nothing except the will to say I am. As the universal constant strikes it with wave after wave it is all we see in the blue pacific as we lie under white spiraling clouds; in the sand playing marbles. - Gary Usher
Initially 1969's "Blue Marble" didn't strike me as being all that different from the group's debut LP. Sunny California pop, it's one of those album that you'll either love, or run screaming from. (I fall in the former category.) Still, time and multiple hearings underscored some significant differences from the debut. The biggest difference is this might as well have been a Gary Usher solo album. On the first album Millennium's Curt Boettcher was responsible for writing much of the material. This time out Gary Usher moved into the forefront. In addition to producing most of the set, Usher handled most of the lead vocals and was credited with writing most of the ten tracks. Unlike the debut, this time around partner/buddy Boettcher was only represented by one composition - the popish 'From You Unto Others'. He was also featured on two songs - the opening cover of 'In My Room' and 'Will You Ever See Me.' While material like 'Gladys' and 'Lend Me a Smile' was prime late-1960s sunshine pop, the other big difference was Usher's discovery of the Moog synthesizer. While a cutting edge effect in 1968, several decades down the road it made for a very dated sound. Occasionally sounding like a bad Atari game ('I Sing My Song'), Usher's ham fisted use of the instrument didn't exactly endear some of the songs (the opening of 'Cloud Talk'). So what were the highlights? Co-written with Brian Wilson, Usher's cover of 'In My Room' with Boettcher on lead vocals was sweet - not as good as The Beach Boys' original, but worth hearing. 'Will You Ever See Me' was a harmony rich country ballad for people who don't like country and the title track made for a surprisingly effective pro-environmental statement. Not as good as the debut, but still worth looking for. Unfortunately Tomorrow quickly ran into financial problems and with little promotional support, the LP quickly vanished.
Marble" track listing:
1.) In My Room (Gary Usher - Brian Wilson) - 2:09 rating: **** stars
Growing up with the Beach Boys original it's hard to listen to covers, but I have to admit the Sagittarius version has it's charms. One of two cuts featuring Curt Boettcher on vocals, this track sounded like his voice had been sped up to make him sound like a young woman, but the basic melody remained charming and the orchestration gave the song an intriguing mid-career Beatles psych feel. AN odd way to start the album, but Together tapped it as the album's first single:
- 1968's 'In My Room' b/w the non-LP side 'Navajo Girl' (Together catalog number T-105) # 86 Billboard pop charts
2.) From You Unto Us (Curt Boettcher) - 1:47 rating: *** stars
Opening with a hokey melody, 'From You Unto Us' sounded like a slice of Nederpop (think along the lines of The George Baker Selection). I'll admit it was the cheesy Moog washes (that rattle headphones) that kept it interesting for me.
3.) Will You Ever See Me (Gary Usher) - 2:14 rating: *** stars
The second song to feature Curt Boettcher on vocals, 'Will You Ever See Me' was a country-tinged ballad. It's interesting from the perspective Usher had incorporating country-rock into The Byrds' albums he produced and you can get a taste of his inspirations on this tune. The song had originally been recorded by The Millennium, though it didn't appear on their 1968 album. To my ears the \ remake doesn't sound all that different from the original. It stands as a Sagittarius favorite for many folk and while the harmonies are lovely, the rest of the performance doesn't do a great deal for me.
Gladys (Gary Usher - Jeannie Piersol) - 2:46 rating:
5.) I Sing my Song (Michele O'Mally - Dena Adams) - 2:45 rating: ** stars
I'm a big pop-psych fan, but the ballad 'I Sing my Song' just didn't have a lot going for it. Sweet and harmless, it was the kind of music that wouldn't have upset mom and dad, or the grandparents. I've always wanted to hear co-writer O'Mally's 1969 album on ABC "Saturn Rings".
The title track opened up sounding like a bland Glen Campbell effort, but the pretty, slightly lysergic melody, harpsichord, weird guitar effects and interesting lyrics eventually caught my attention. Always wondered who handled lead vocals on this one.
2.) Lend Me a Smile (Gary Usher) - 3:11 rating: *** stars
A likeable pop ballad 'Lend Me a Smile' was a good example of Usher's fascination with Moog technology. I'm old enough to remember when this revolutionary instrument made it's debut and it still has a special place in my heart, but I have to admit it sound cheesy today.
3.) I Still Can See Your Face (Gary Usher) - 2:42 rating: ** stars
Harpsichord and Moog ... great sound, but when you pair it with a forgettable ballad like 'I Still Can See Your Face' the results are disappointing. Usher's choking vocals didn't help. The song also appeared as the "B" side to Sagittarius' final, non-LP ' I Guess the Lord Must Be In New York City' single.
4.) I See In You (Gary Usher) - 3:14 rating: *** stars
By the time 'I See In You' rolled around it just felt like the album didn't need yet another fragile ballad. Yeah the song was pretty and the vocals were sweet ... but c'mon guys how about shaking it up a little? Chuck Girard handled lead vocals on this one as well.
5.) Cloud Talk (Gary Usher) - 2:42 rating: ** stars
The Moog arrangement was irritating and combined with Usher's flat vocals 'Cloud Talk' ended the album on a disappointing note.
One final non-LP single and Sagittarius came to an end. Not sure why the felt a need to cover the Nilsson his. Their version was nowhere near as good.
- 1969's 'I Guess the Lord Must Be In New York City' b/w 'I Can Still See Your Face' (Together catalog number T-122)
In 2001 the British Poptones label reissued the LP in CD format (Poptones catalog number MC 5036). The CD included five bonus tracks:
1.) I Guess the Lord Must Be In New York City
2.) Navajo Girl
3.) In My Room (alternate version)
4.) I Can Still See Your Face (alternate version)
5.) Will You Ever See Me (alternate version)
Only 51, Usher died of lung cancer in 1990.
While being treated for a lung infection at Los Angeles County Hospital, Boettcher died in June 1987. He was only 43.
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