[Review] Pacific Gas and Electric (1969)

A more ambitious and eclectic album of electric blues/soul/jazz, now featuring horns.

Kronomyth 2.0: Bluesbusters and jazz crusaders.

The first PG&E album didn’t make them a household name, but it did catch the attention of Columbia Records, which led to this major-label debut. Pacific Gas and Electric cracked the US Top 100 and further solidified the band’s growing reputation as a leading dispenser of the electric blues. The album is also notable for the addition of a horn section that featured Wayne Henderson and Wilton Felder of The Jazz Crusaders. While the material is scattershot, the performances from Charlie Allen (who now sounds a lot like James Brown) and Glenn Schwartz are enough to carry the day.

The band’s eponymous second album is surprisingly eclectic. The electric blues remain their best source of energy, but soul, strings and even jazz are added to the mix this time. The record gets off to a strong start with the soul/funk-influenced Bluesbuster and the nicely arranged storytelling of Death Row #172. The rest of side one gets down to the business of the blues: Miss Lucy, My Women and a live performance of John Lee Hooker’s She’s Long and She’s Tall. Yes, the focus on sex can come across as single-minded sometimes, but Allen wouldn’t be the first man to take women as his muse.

Whether the band ran out of material or (more likely) thought it would be a good idea to give everyone in the band their share of the spotlight, the multipart PG&E Suite is a very mixed bag. Jazz is obviously Wayne Henderson’s bag, and he contributes The Young Rabbits as a framework for Frank Cook’s really long drum solo. That’s followed by Brent Block’s really short psychedelic excursion, Constitutional Strand, and two guitars’ worth of Tom Marshall on the unflatteringly titled Fat Tom. The suite closes with the bottleneck blues and aimless storytelling of Glenn Schwartz. Joe South’s song about Southern racism, Redneck, is the album’s parting shot.

I’d call Pacific Gas and Electric a partial victory. The first side of music passes by too quickly, the second side too slowly. And a second album is too soon to be getting into solo material; this wasn’t Emerson Lake and Palmer we were talking about. Still, when the band is “on,” they could belt out the electric blues with the best of them. As the band’s horniest album (its cover notwithstanding), Pacific Gas and Electric shows them willing to work outside the standard blues idiom to give the electric blues a more soulful edge. They’d lose the horns on the next album, Are You Ready, but continue to embrace new sounds including gospel.

Original elpee version

A1. Bluesbuster (Charlie Allen) (2:56)
A2. Death Row #172 (John Hill/Charlie Allen/Frank Cook) (3:59)
A3. Miss Lucy (Charlie Allen) (2:28)
A4. My Women (Charlie Allen/Tom Marshall) (5:38)
A5. She’s Long and She’s Tall (John Lee Hooker) (6:30)
B1. PG&E Suite (16:41)
The Young Rabbits (Wayne Henderson)
Constitutional Strand (Brent Block)
Fat Tom (Tom Marshall)
Boy Wonder (Glenn Schwartz)
B2. Redneck (Joe South) (3:32)

Original 8-track version
A1. Miss Lucy
A2. My Women
A3. Death Row #172 (part 1)
B1. Death Row #172 (conclusion)
B2. Bluesbuster
B3. She’s Long and She’s Tall
C1. The Young Rabbits
C2. Constitutional Strand
C3. Fat Tom
C4. Boy Wonder (part 1)
D1. Boy Wonder (conclusion)
D2. Redneck

The Players

Charlie Allen (vocals), Brent Block (bass guitar), Frank Cook (drums), Tom Marshall (rhythm guitar), Glenn Schwartz (lead guitar) with A.D. Brisbois (trumpet), Wilton Felder (tenor sax), Wayne Henderson (trombone), Freddy Hill (trumpet), John Hill (keyboard, horn arrangements). Produced by John Hill; recording engineered by Mark Friedman; direction by Danny Kresky.

The Pictures

Photography by Columbia Records Photo Studio: Don Hunstein, Fred Lombardi.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track in 1969 in the US (Columbia, CS 9900/18 10 0824). Reached #91 on the US charts.

  1. Re-packaged with Are You Ready on 2-for-1 compact disc in 1997 in the US (Sony Music Special Products, COL-5860).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 2017 in the Netherlands (Sony/Music on CD, MOCCD13427).

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