Garage/Psychedelic Rock U.S.A. 1960s (Tracks)
Clear Light ( Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.)
“Night Sounds Loud” (written by Lubahn) B5 track (closing track) included on the album “Clear Light”
Released on Electra Records (EKL-4011), on a gold/tan Elektra label, with a special inner sleeve showing a picture of the band in black and white. This Mono version of the release was housed in the Stereo version sleeve (sometimes with a sticker indicating mono). Therefore the back cover still shows the stereo cat.nr.: ”EKS-74011”.
Year of Release : 1967
It was also an A Side single (B’ Side single “How Many Days Have Passed?”), released on Elektra Records (EKSN 45027) in 1968
The Doors had just released their debut album, to no immediate acclaim, in January 1967 when their label, Elektra, signed another Los Angeles band, the Brain Train, with a mounting local buzz and a unique strength in the engine room: two drummers. It was, ironically, the beginning of the end. The group, soon renamed Clear Light, became an obsession for the Doors’ producer, Paul Rothchild; he became the new group’s producer and its fiercely controlling manager as well, to the point of bringing in a new singer for Clear Light’s Elektra debut and alienating pretty much everyone else. By September 1968, what was left of Clear Light went dark; a second LP was never finished.
But Clear Light, issued in October 1967, is an Elektra golden-era classic. It was nearly a hit, too. The band’s thoroughly gothic extension of folk singer Tom Paxton’s jaunty take on government surveillance, “Mr. Blue,” went into high rotation on free-form-FM radio, driven by the parallel, rolling doom of drummers Michael Ney and Dallas Taylor (also of Crosby, Stills & Nash). Clear Light also excelled at tighter dramas like “Black Roses” and “With All in Mind,” combining the demented-circus flair of L.A. psychedelia with the dirty-blues force of garage rock. This reissue of Clear Light is an expanded celebration with the single the band recorded as the Brain Train – the tracks that landed them the Elektra deal – and strong outtakes including the bracing fuzz-and-reverb B side “She’s Ready to Be Free,” featured in the 1967 film The President’s Analyst (an absurdist romp starring James Coburn as an acid-fried White House shrink that is worth seeing – and not just for Clear Light’s cameo performance).
Rothchild all but admitted on the back cover of Clear Light that he never truly captured what I imagine was the massive, live force of those two drummers: “To fully appreciate the spectacular sound of double drumming on Clear Light, play this record at high volume.” Turning it up helps a lot. You also hear everything else that made Clear Light special – for too short a time.
Clear Light was a folk-rock/psych-rock group from LA that released one LP off Elektra in 1967, famously known for including two drummers, one of them being Dallas Taylor of CSNY and Manassas fame. Paul Rothchild produced the LP, which explains why the recording sessions were fraught with tension and negativity. The group was masterminded by guitarist/vocalist Bob Seal, bass player Doug Lubahn, and lead vocalist Cliff De Young. Prior to Clear Light the band had been known as the Brain Train. Seal felt a name change was appropriate to coincide with the release of a newly recorded debut single, “Black Roses.” Seal decided on Clear Light, a concept he had come across in his readings of Eastern philosophy, a name also shared by a potent brand of LSD.
“Black Roses,” written by Wolfgang Dios, was released in September of 1967. It was a great hard charging folk-rock single with an acid tinged guitar solo that deserved to sell much better than it did. Black Roses appeared on the group’s only full length platter, released in late 1967. Many psych fans are divided when it comes to the Clear Light LP but I think it’s a good one. Maybe not a true classic on par with Love’s Forever Changes or Moby Grape’s debut but still a very good LP without any weak tracks. The band tries nearly everything within a 2 to 3 minute pop song context, loading the songs with good quirky ideas and great guitar solos (check out “Think Again”). Some tracks like “They Who Have Nothing” and the baroque “Ballad of Freddie & Larry” bear a strong Doors and Love influence, but this makes sense considering these were all Elektra groups. Other songs like the outstanding fuzz guitar psychedelia of “Sand” and the trippy “Night Sounds Loud” are more original and hinted at a strong future for the group. The former track features some great organ and spiraling acid guitar interplay. The album’s most famous track, a cover of Tom Paxton‘s “Mr. Blue,” sounds dated today with its spoken word dialogue, although, even this song is oddly appealing in its own way and definitely still considered a highlight.
Rothchild’s iron fist policy coupled with the lack of commercial success led to Clear Light’s demise, shortly after the release of this solid album. Not everyone will like this record because of its eccentric nature but it really is a crime that Clear Light was unable to release a followup to this debut. A very worthy release from a talented, accomplished California group.
1966, The Brain Train formed and was managed by Sunset Strip hipster Bud Mathis. They recorded one single – “Black Roses”, written by Wolfe Dios – before changing their name to Clear Light and signing to Elektra Records. Guitarist Bob Seal felt the name should be changed to coincide with the single. Clear Light shared its name with a potent form of LSD, although Seal states the name came from his studies of Eastern philosophy. The Doors’ producer Paul A. Rothchild took over management of the band.
The core members of Clear Light were Bob Seal, lead guitarist and vocals, Robbie “The Werewolf” Robison, rhythm guitar and vocals, Doug Lubahn bass and vocals, Dallas Taylor drums, and Michael Ney on an atypical second set of drums. The original line-up was featured in the 1967 motion picture The President’s Analyst, with Barry McGuire cast as their leader and vocalist. They soon added Cliff De Young on lead vocals and this is the version of the band seen on their only album cover. However, sometime during the recording process, often described as “brutal”, Paul Rothchild was not happy with Robison’s guitar playing skills and pressured the group to remove him – he was replaced by keyboard player Ralph Schuckett.
In what has been called the band’s finest hour, drunken customers in a Park Avenue club heckled them so brutally that Ralph Schuckett, the usually gentle organist, hurled a few choice words back at them. The band walked off the stage, retired to the Albert Hotel, and woke up in the morning to find that they had become underground heroes …
Paul Rothchild then pressured the other members of the band to fire Bob Seal”. Seal was replaced by ex-Fug Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar; Cliff De Young was soon to follow, and after having started work on a second album the group disbanded in 1968.
- Black Roses – (Clear Light, Wolfgang Dios) – this has most of the psychedelic motifs: urgent vocals, trippy guitars, change of pace interludes and it is very catchy.
- Sand – (Douglas Lubahn) – this is in the style i associate with English pschedelica. A thumping back beat , dark obscure lyrics, jazzy organ, a strident vocal, and an overall sense of doom. Bob Seal does lead vocal here.
- A Child’s Smile – (Clear Light, Michael Ney) – a gentle psych lullaby.
- Street Singer – (Greg Copeland, Steve Noonan) – released by singer songwriter Greg Noonan on his self-titled album for Elektra (1968). “Street Singer” here it sounds like proto slow grind metal ( a little like early Black Sabbath). Certainly it is a heavy psych track. The doom is heavy (and obvious): “The old organ grinder has just gone insane and his monkey lies dead, choked to death on its chain”)
- The Ballad of Freddie and Larry – (Cliff De Young, Ralph Schuckett) – another heavy one.
- With All in Mind – (Bob Seal) – a bit more optimistic in tone and quite catchy though still heavy handed, musically and lyrically. Bob Seal does lead vocal here.
- Mr. Blue – (Tom Paxton) – Originally (?) released by folk singer songwriter Tom Paxton on his fourth album “Morning Again” from 1968. A theatrical piece which isn’t great but is certainly memorable.
- Think Again – (Clear Light, Douglas Lubahn) – light sunshine psych (though still quite dark by those standards)
- They Who Have Nothing – (Bob Seal) – more gentle psych with guitar breaks, harmonised vocals and many asides. A little like contemporaries the Nazz.
- How Many Days Have Passed – (Bob Seal) – folkie psych. The questioning (and accusatory) lyrics are perfect for the time.
- Night Sounds Loud – (Douglas Lubahn) – another great example of a psych number with typically obscure lyrics and oxymoronic words … “night sounds loud”.
- Personnel: Bass Guitar – Douglas Lubahn / Drums – Dallas Taylor / Drums, Percussion – Michael Ney / Guitar – Bob Seal / Lead Vocals – Cliff De Young / Organ, Piano, Celesta – Ralph Schuckett / Producer – Paul A. Rothchild
- Cliff de Young left the band to do acting. He was in the Broadway productions of “Hair” (1972) and (starred in) “Sticks and Bones”. He starred in the made for television movies, “The Night That Panicked America”(1975), “The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case”(1976),”The 3,000 Mile Chase “(1977) and the unsuccessful TV series “Sunshine” (1975) as well as doing leads, “Shock Treatment” (1981) and supports in feature films including “Blue Collar”(1978), “The Hunger”(1983), “Reckless” (1984), “Protocol” (1984), “Flight of the Navigator”(1986), “F/X” (1986), “Glory”(1989), “The Craft” (1996) and “Road to Nowhere” (2010). He released a self-titled solo album on MCA in 1973.
1. Black Roses (Clear Light, Dios) – 2:09
2. Sand (Douglas Lubahn) – 2:38
3. A Child’s Smile (Clear Light, Michael Ney) – 1:37
4. Street Singer (Greg Copeland, Steve Noonan) – 3:17
5. The Ballad Of Freddie And Larry (Cliff De Young, Ralph Schuckett) – 1:56
6. She’s Ready To Be Free (Clear Light) – 1:58
7. With All In Mind (Bob Seal) – 2:58
8. Mr. Blue (Tom Paxton) – 6:25
9. Think Again (Clear Light, Douglas Lubahn) – 1:37
10.They Who Have Nothing (Bob Seal) – 2:34
11.How Many Days Have Passed (Bob Seal) – 2:24
12.Night Sounds Loud (Douglas Lubahn) – 2:26
Clear Light :
Cliff De Young – Vocals
Bob Seal – Guitar, Vocals
Douglas Lubahn – Bass
Ralph Schuckett – Keyboards
Dallas Taylor – Drums
Michael Ney – Drums
As I stand here in this wonderland
I see you flying
Fleeing from the burning rain
From a silver cloud shimmering… the echoing world of unreality
Creeps into my racing mind… and the cloud fluctuates
My voice explodes into distant rumbling thunder… splashed in among the colors of thought
The illusive light of knowledge ever closer
And the cloud fluctuates evenly
Now slowly fading my cities in the sky
Until once again that cloud… floats by… by
Clear Light – “Clear Light” Album cover photo (front)
Clear Light – “Night Sounds Loud” Single photo (A’ Side)