The Sapphire Thinkers
Band members Related acts
line-up 1 (1968-69)
- Tim Lee -- bass, backing vocals
Richmond -- lead vocals, keyboards, guitar
- Bill Richmond
Rating: 4 stars ****
Title: From Within
Catalog: H.B. 5003
Country/State: Woodland Hills, California
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: minor ring and edge wear; small crease along right edge; small punch out hole
Catalog ID: SOLD 5676
Price: SOLD $150.00
It doesn't happen very often, but here's an album that I instantly fell in love with ... I'll readily admit it won't appeal to everyone. Pop fans may find it too psychedelic for their tastes. Psych fans are liable to find it too pop oriented. What's the old saying? "You can't please all the people, all the time."
Unfortunately there's little to be found about The Sapphire Thinkers in either hardcopy or on-line reference works. So here's what little I've dug up with some speculative material to round out their slim biography. The band centered around brothers Bill and Stephen Richmond. Their father Bill Richmond Sr. was a professional musician who'd made a name for himself as a drummer touring in the 1940s and '50s with the likes of Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra. Later in life Richmond Sr. turned his focus to screenwriting. Bitten by the music bug, the Richmond brothers formed their own band Billy and the Kid. An online reference indicates they released a one-shot single for Decca, but I've never found a reference to it. By the mid-60s Bill was attending community college where he formed The Sapphire Thinkers with brother Stephen on drums, friend Tim Lee on bass, Chuck Spehek on lead guitar and Bill's wife Peggy on vocals and flute.
The band started playing parties and LA clubs, but attracted little attention. With help from Richmond Sr. in 1969 they decided to cut some of their own material. The sessions took place at Pasadena's Artisan Sound Recorders. Produced by Richard Kaye, the album was engineered by former Merry Prankster sound man Sandy Lehman-Haupt. Kaye arranged for a distribution deal with the newly formed Hobbit label which was a subsidiary of the L.A. based GRT Records
Curiously, at least one well known reference work compares The Sapphire Thinkers to Grace Slick and The Jefferson Airplane. While there's nothing wrong with being compared to such a stellar outfit, it doesn't really do this outfit a favor since it's not a particularly accurate comparison. With Bill Richmond credited with penning eleven of the twelve songs, 1969's "Sapphire Thinkers" reminds me of a heavily drugged out version of The Cowsills, The Mamas and the Papas, or perhaps a less eccentric, but heavily dosed version of The Free Design (the ballad 'Let Her Come In'). Like those groups, these folks had a penchant and talent for crafting gorgeous, highly commercial sunshine pop - though their version of this musical niche may have been assisted by the consumption of various illicit substances. Yes, I do believe those were mushrooms on the Kevin Leveque cover art. Complete with mesmerizing melodies and hypnotizing harmony vocals (both Bill and Peggy Richmond had great voices), songs such as 'Get Along Boy', 'Let Her Come In' and 'Please Understand' would have sounded great on top-40 radio. Even better was 'There's a Woman'. You just had to scratch your head and wonder how radio missed the song. The main difference with their better known competitors was that while catchy and commercial, tracks like 'I Feel A Bit Strange', 'Feel It From Within' and 'Blind with a Borrowed Light' had a distinctive psych edge. Propelled by some neat studio effects including harpsichord, pulsating organ, Peggy's occasional flute, droning vocals ('Please Understand'), and Spehek's fuzz guitar (check out his work on 'Blind with a Borrowed Light' and 'Doin’ Alright', or his equally impressive jazzy moves on 'From Within'), the album sported a definite acid fueled aura. But you could hum along to it. Fantastic through and through ...
Unfortunately their artistic timing was off by a year or two. By 1969 sunshine pop was passé with audience having moved on to the next musical fads. Adding to their problems as a small label Hobbit had minimal resources and after the promotional single vanished into a sea of indifference the label essentially stopped all supporting efforts. And that was it for the band.
I've sold five copies of this one over the years and not a single person has been disappointed !!! Unfortunately every time I sell a copy I regret it and end up buying a replacement copy.
Within" track listing:
1.) Melancholy Baby (Ernie Burnett - George A. Norton) - 2:11 rating: *** stars
The album's lone cover, their remake of the old Ernie Burnett tune sounded nothing like the original. I've always been surprised by the The Free Design meets Vanilla Fudge mash-up. Still fascinating after all these years, though I could do without Bill Richmond's barrelhouse piano. Against the band's wishes, producer Kaye pushed for the track's release as a promotional single:
- 1969's 'Melancholy Baby' b/w 'Blues On You' (Hobbit catalog number HB-42002)
2.) I Feel A Bit Strange (Bill Richmond) - 2:42 rating: **** stars
Imagine The Cowsills dropping all pretenses related to being a pop entity and you'd get a feel for the sound of 'I Feel A Bit Strange.' The harmonies remained very poppy, but complete with studio effects, the melody had a distinctive acid tinge. Love it.
3.) Get Along Boy (Bill Richmond) - 1:57 rating: **** stars
Spehek's twangy guitar added a touch of country to their pop roots. Charming, though it took me a couple of spins to realize how good this one was.
4.) Blues On You (Bill Richmond) - 3:03 rating: *** stars
'Blues On You' showed the band could add a funky edge to their attack. Loved Bill's funky organ riff and Spehek's jazzy guitar solo was impressive, if somewhat abbreviated. The track reappeared as the "B" side on their 'Melancholy Baby' 45.
5.) From Within (Bill Richmond) - 2:23 rating: **** stars
A wonderful example of the band's mash-up of sunshine pop and psychedelic moves, 'From Within' was side one's standout performance. Featuring Bill Richmond treated lead vocals, acid tinged-harmony vocals, and Spehek's fuzz guitar, this track had everything needed for massive popular success.
6.) I Got To You (Bill Richmond) - 2:45 rating: *** stars
up with some pretty Spehek guitar, 'I
Got To You' sported some
blended group vocals. Unfortunately, the results sounded somewhat
muddy. The song also lacked a strong melody making it one of the more
I've always loved Spehek fuzz guitar and the droning keyboard riff the propelled the bouncy 'Not Another Night.' It's also one of those rare tunes where Peggy's flute solo managed to make the song even better. An awesome slice of sunshine-pop.
2.) Let Her Come In (Bill Richmond) - 2:17 rating: *** stars
My opinion, but the pretty ballad, 'Let Her Come In' was a bit too pop oriented for their own good. This one sure reminded me of The Free Design. I'll admit Stephen's drums sound great on this one.
3.) Please Understand (Bill Richmond) - 2:56 rating: **** stars
Opening up with a hypnotic "church organ" riff and showing off their lovely vocals, 'Please Understand' was another good example of the band's knack for mixing pop and psych influences.
4.) Blind With A Borrowed Light (Bill Richmond) - 2:30 rating: **** stars
Loved the song title - so '60s. Full of squealing Spehek fuzz guitar, 'Blind With A Borrowed Light' was one of the album's harder rocking tunes. It was the perfect song to have been featured in one of those '60s B flicks that had a strobe light filled concert scene.
5.) There Is A Woman (Bill Richmond) - 2:40 rating: **** stars
I'm guessing ' There Is A Woman' was autobiographical. The lyrics seem to be a reflection of Bill and Peggy's relationship which included dating in high school and marrying shortly afterwards when she became pregnant. The track had a great melody and and was another track where Peggy's flute added to the appeal. My only complaint on this one was Spehek's tasty fuzz guitar solo faded out way too early.
6.) Doin’ Alright (Bill Richmond) - 4:17 rating: **** stars
Starting out as the album's folk-iest tune, 'Doin' Alright' quickly morphed into a pounding West Coast-styled psych rocker showcasing Peggy's wonderful, multi-tracked voice, Stephen's taunt drums and some of Spehek's best fuzz guitar work. Best of all, Tim Lee got a moment in the spotlight with a great bass solo.
Richmond continued to write material and his wife continued to perform around Southern California, but The Sapphire Thinkers never recorded any follow-on material. I've only heard a couple of the tracks (you can find them on YouTube), but in 2007 Richmond released a self-financed collection "Wild and Wooly" (Grovlington catalog number 1679)
After they divorced Peggy turned her attention to working with children, teaching music and forming a children's choir.
Stephen became a history teacher.
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