Kronomyth 1.0: BOND, GRAHAM BOND. Rock and roll has produced some eccentric figures over the years; few loomed as large as Graham Bond. Roky Erickson and Don Van Vliet come to mind, although Bond’s demons appear to have got the best of him, and he died tragically young under the wheels of a train. But that was the end of the line. The Sound of 65 is the bright beginning, Bond and a matchless lineup of Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Dick Heckstall-Smith putting down pure magic on the magnetic tape. It’s tempting to look at The Graham Bond Organization as a launching point for Baker and Bruce but, truth be told, they’re the least interesting half of the band. Bond and Heckstall-Smith are amazing, and the organ and sax in tandem push what might have been merely proficient R&B into the realm of the profane. Other bands played R&B with sax and organ, none of Them (or the others) matched the intensity of Bond. Sure, there was something unspeakably cool about The Rolling Stones, but they didn’t take you to the same dark places as “Early In The Morning” (featuring some incredible backing vocals from Jack Bruce), “Hoochie Coochie” (check out how Bond slurs “seventh” with “sabbath” or his perverse pause after the word “come”), “Baby Make Love To Me” and “Got My Mojo Working.” You get the sense, listening to them now, that dark magick was afoot even then. In explaining the album’s lack of commercial success, some have suggested the band was too rough for jazz purists and too jazzy for the rest, but I don’t think that’s it. I would argue that the band was simply too intense for most listeners. Live, you couldn’t help but fall in love with the band’s energy. But was the world really hungry for white voodoo music in 1965? Apparently not. The record does try its hand at more commercial fare at the end, with a straight R&B number featuring Jack on vocals (“Half A Man”) and the surprisingly sweet “Tammy.” It’s too little, too late, and too much strange water has rushed over the bridge to change your mind about the band. In later years, the original elpee was expanded with bonus tracks, including the wonderful “Love Come Shining Through” and a cover of “Long Tall Shorty” that destroys The Kinks’ tepid version.
Kronomyth 2.0: MELLOTRON TIME. Graham and the band returned to the studio quickly to record a second album. Too quickly, apparently, since There’s A Bond Between Us is a pale imitation of the first. Where the The Sound of 65 was downright sinister-sounding in spots, a good half of TABBU is merely competent R&B played with no more and no less passion than Them or any other R-and-wanna-B act at the time. The record does include two really interesting “pop” songs: Jack Bruce’s “Hear Me Calling Your Name” and Bond’s “Baby Can It Be True?,” a cross between Tom Jones and Dracula that features one of the earliest appearances of the mellotron. An exciting version of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say?” and Ginger Baker’s exotic-sounding “Camels And Elephants” (which anticipates his Air Force by several years) are also highlights. But there was something about hearing Bond sing “Hoochie Coochie Man” that set your hairs on end, while I’m pretty sure I actually yawned during the opening instrumental, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” This would be the last official album from The Graham Bond ORGANisation, with a few singles following. (Those singles are appended to the 2009 remaster, and “You’ve Gotta Have Love Baby” from 1967 is an ear-opening experience.) The organization had a world of talent (Dick Heckstall-Smith might have been the best horn player in a rock band at the time), they just didn’t have a clear roadmap. There’s A Bond Between Us will appeal to completists and Cream aficionados I suppose (who share a similar supply chain problem), but I’d definitely start out with their first and then shell out for Solid Bond.
Kronomyth 2.1: AND SO, BEING YOUNG AND DIPT IN FOLLY, I FELL IN LOVE WITH MELANCHOLY. Only in the strange world of Graham Bond could this glum tale, in which a lost love has clearly crossed the Lethian divide, be re-cast as a plea for a lover’s return. Arranged by Ginger Baker, “St. James Infirmary” could be described as a playful dirge, as incongruous as that seems. It delivers on what you’d expect from the Organisation (passionate vocals, powerful playing), though it’s an odd choice for a single, and may have simply been a case of Columbia cashing in before the whole band skipped Bond. The B side in the UK, “Soul Tango,” is actually a tango; mumbled and muddled and stilted and hobbled, but still a tango. In the US, the earlier A side “Wade In The Water” was pressed into service as the flip. The UK single was later appended to the expanded version of Bond’s Love Is The Law. Oh, and in my travels through the Internet in search of the original authors for “Wade In The Water,” I came across this treasure trove of 45 rpm singles and fond remembrances, So Many Records, So Little Time. Surely, you have a little time to check it out.
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will.” – The Law of Thelema.
Kronomyth 3.0: ALEISTER CHUMLEY. The story of Graham(e) Bond takes a decidedly dark turn after the demise of the Organisation. Goaded on by the dual demons of drugs and the particular madness that plagues all of us in one measure or another, Bond arrived at the conclusion that he was the illegitimate son of Aleister Crowley (a very debatable though not impossible claim) and began assuming the role of the bastard prince of darkness. The British record industry turned its back on Bond (admittedly, there existed a limited market for an overweight warlock) and so he moved to California to record his next album, Love Is The Law (so named for Crowley’s Law of Thelema). Recorded with drummer Hal Blaine and what I’m guessing is future wife Diane Stewart on vocals (don’t quote me on that), the record largely picks up where Bond left off, with scorching organ-based blues/jazz/rock songs such as “Strange Times, Sad Times,” “Moving Towards The Light” and “Our Love Will Come Shining Through” (which was written several years earlier). Despite some excellent performances from Bond and Blaine under what one suspects were less than ideal conditions, the material gets noticeably thin after the first few tracks. (“Crossroads of Time,” for example, is a mishmash of borrowed classical themes, “Hit The Road Jack” and summer of love sloganeering.) A handful of instrumentals attempt to fill the gaps, a doomed venture with only two musicians. Bond’s voice and vision remain unique, and he had few peers on the Hammond organ. You’ll hear that on this album, especially in the beginning. You’ll also witness the beginning of the Graham Bond Deterioration, as he struggles to channel those talents into consistently good music for thirty minutes. The Sound of 65 was a revelation. Love Is The Law is the revelation unravelling. Bond fans should get around to hearing this and the Magick albums eventually, but I’d point you to Solid Bond or Ginger Baker’s Air Force first. The expanded compact disc reissue is a bad match, adding early singles that now give you the before and after of a good thing.
Kronomyth 1.0: BAKER’S DOZEN. “During this set we’re going to do a few very, very strange numbers.” So begins one of the more interesting chapters in the storied career of Ginger Baker. At the end of 1969, with no future in sight for Blind Faith following Eric Clapton’s departure, Baker conscripted Steve Winwood and Rick Grech for his next project, a 10-piece jam band featuring Denny Laine, Graham Bond and Chris Wood. The group rehearsed new material plus some of Baker’s bits (“Toad,” “Do What You Like”) and mounted a brief tour, including a sold-out concert at the Royal Albert Hall. That show became the basis for Ginger Baker’s Air Force, a weighty and unwieldy double album with a vertically challenged cover and only eight songs, more than half of which clocked in at over 10 minutes. Surprisingly (or perhaps not, given the state of Creamania), the record entered the US and UK Top 40 and even generated a single in Laine’s “Man of Constant Sorrow.” In many ways, Ginger Baker’s Air Force is the quintessential expression of Baker’s muse, mixing rock, jazz and African music in a combustible live setting that covers its sins with showmanship. Given how much Baker was able to achieve in a trio setting, a ten-piece band might seem like overkill. And, of course, it is. That’s the whole idea, really. Baker wanted to play the sh*t out of these songs, and he does. Listening to these versions of “Toad” and “Do What You Like,” Baker’s excessive epics make perfect sense. They were designed as full sonic immersion experiences to be heard long, loud and live. Creation is a messy process, and Ginger Baker’s Air Force is a mess, yes, but also mesmerizing. Far more fun than any of Traffic’s live albums, at any rate.
Kronomyth 2.0: HORNY TOAD. Ginger Baker and Graham Bond released a second Air Force album, drafting some new members along the way but otherwise sticking to the flight plan of the first. Ginger Baker’s Air Force 2 features original members Denny Laine, Rick Grech and Harold McNair on a few tracks, including a cover of The Staple Singers’ “Let Me Ride” and the old Cream song, “Sweet Wine.” Although it was recorded in a studio, Ginger Baker’s Air Force 2 retains the same sweaty charisma as the first and feels like a live-in-the-studio production. Baker and Bond expanded the horn section for this album, adding Bud Beadle and Steve Gregory, which gives the record a jazzier tone. It’s an interesting hybrid: African percussions, jazz/soul horns, female lead singers, rock structures (most of the songs clock in around four minutes) and even a pop single of sorts in Denny Laine’s version of “I Don’t Want To Go On Without You.” Highlights include the bizarre “We Free Kings,” the unexpectedly wise “Do U No Hu Yor Phrendz R” and two blistering Bond performances, “Let Me Ride” and “12 Gates of the City.” Cream fans will also spot the familiar-looking “Toady,” which includes (surprise!) a drum solo from Baker. Despite the lineup changes, the two Air Force albums are of a piece; if you enjoy the one, you’ll like the other. Unfortunately, the album wasn’t promoted as well as the first, and the Air Force disbanded soon after. (You’re seeing a pattern here, aren’t you?) Also, the second album is short on material; strange, since the group recorded a lot of additional material, which turned up on international releases of Ginger Baker’s Air Force 2. I think they’ve since reconciled the songs on an expanded compact disc reissue; if not, someone really should, since the Air Force records are some of Baker’s tastiest experiments.
Kronomyth 5.0: GRAHAM BOND’S DARK FORCE. Love Is The Law was Evil Bond on a budget. Holy Magick is Evil Bond with a full band. The result sounds like Gong infiltrated by a Satanist cabal or Ginger Baker’s Air Force working for darker forces. At this stage in his life, Graham Bond was a better candidate for the looney bin than the record bin. I find it amazing that Bond could get a legitimate label (Mercury) and professional musicians (Rick Grech, Alex Dmochowski, Victor Brox) to tag along for his descent into madness. (In an odd twist, Brox appeared that same year as Caiaphas in Jesus Christ Superstar.) If you can ignore the fact that “Holy Magick Suite” is a Satanic ritual set to music, you might see it as an interesting continuation of Bond’s unique progressive blues/rock/jazz style. But you won’t be able to ignore that fact, because the whole purpose of this music is to usher in a new Age of Aquarius. Bond calls upon the dark angels of light, invokes the Qabalistic cross and perverts pieces of Christian liturgy (the suite closes with Christ’s final words, “It is finished”) in what must constitute some of the most profane music ever committed to vinyl. Side two features shorter songs that have a connection to the Tarot. “Return of Arthur” deals with Arthurian legend and the prophecy that Arthur will return as England’s savior. “The Magician” is actually something of a love song from Bond to Stewart and is not only the best track on here, but the only one that can be safely excised from the album’s Aquarian theme (that is, it works on two levels). The final two tracks are written by Diane Stewart and, while neither could be considered musically adventurous, they’re not bad, just a bit bland as invocations of evil go. I remember thinking holy crap the first time I heard this album—not because I was amazed, but because it was quasi-religious crap that, as a Christian, I found naturally offensive. I wish it had been otherwise with Bond; the man was supremely talented, but fundamentally tainted. Unable to separate his music from his mental and spiritual deterioration, I would pronounce Holy Magick one of the most depressing records on record.
Kronomyth x.x: PLEAS OF CLAP. In the early 1970s, a recording of the Graham Bond Organization’s concert at Klooks Kleek (a popular venue for live blues in London) began to turn up on European imports. Mixing board recordings can often sound very good; in this case, unfortunately, someone appears to have just stuck a blank tape in a portable player and pressed “record,” then stuffed it between two sofa cushions to give it some extra muffling. As an historical document, it’s nice to have an early recording of the band before their first album was released… say, in the Library of Congress. You wouldn’t want to pay ten bucks for this, though, since it’s the sort of thing you listen to once and file away to collect dust between your classic Graham Bond discs and vast collection of Boomtown Rats recordings. (Unless you don’t alphabetize your music collection or own any Boomtown Rats discs, in which case my heart weeps for you either way.) Half of the songs from this set never turned up on an official Bond album, and I’ll admit that it’s kind of cool to (barely) hear Jack Bruce play a bass solo on “Big Boss Man” or whip out his harmonica on “First Time I Met The Blues.” It’s a shame they didn’t do a better job of preserving this, since the performance is red hot: “What’d I Say,” “Spanish Blues” and “Wade In The Water” are already in near-perfect form. But it’s Bond fans who end up getting burned by the sub-bootleg quality of the recording. Note that later versions allude to some kind of digital remastering, which I can only imagine means that there’s more dynamic range between the muffled low notes and harshly distorted high notes.