Bloodstone -1974 – Riddle Of The Sphinx
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Intro Review by AMG Main Review by RDTEN1
Rip & Research by Mr.Moo Posting and additional info’s by Nikos
Bloodstone was a key group in creating the shift from the R&B and soul group concepts of the ’50s and ’60s to the funk and black rock ideas of the ’70s and afterward. Bloodstone was a very good funk-soul group using the Hendrix-derived licks of Charles Love and Willis Draffen against multiple percussion ideas to underpin a vocal blend that still owed its soul to gospel and doo wop. Bloodstone received no record company interest in L.A., however, so at the advice of its manager, the group relocated to London in 1971. There, they teamed up with Mike Vernon, founder of the Blue Horizon label, who’d made his bones producing an album with the great Chicago pianist Otis Spann; white blues acts like Fleetwood Mac and Savoy Brown; and early Euro-rock with Focus. Vernon took Bloodstone into the studio and by early 1973, its debut single, “Natural High,” had cracked the R&B and pop Top Ten, becoming the group’s defining song.
Vernon produced the first five Bloodstone albums, which garnered seven Top 20 R&B singles, almost all of which made the pop Top 40. The group was a big concert draw, and its album sold well, if not spectacularly. Somehow, all of this was parlayed into a 1975 film deal. Train Ride to Hollywood is arguably the funniest picture of the whole ’70s blaxploitation film boom, derived in equal parts from the Marx Brothers and such early spoofs as The Palm Beach Story and International House. Somehow, amidst the slapstick and the reefer jokes, Bloodstone wedges in a fairly complete history of black vocal harmony music from the Mills Brothers to the Coasters to their own bad selves. They do it even better on the soundtrack album. (All of the Vernon-produced Bloodstone albums contain versions of ’50s and ’60s oldies.)
The group then faded from popular view, despite a brief stint at Motown, until the early ’80s, when it hooked up with the Isley Brothers’ T-Neck and scored a commercially and artistically successful album, “We Go a Long Way Back”, produced by the Brothers. The title track returned them to the R&B Top Ten in 1982, but although several other T-Neck singles charted, the group’s recording career essentially ended there. Nevertheless, this heartland group had made a significant mark and can lay fair claim to being one of the first to figure out its particular era’s future.
A1 For The First Time 5:11
ii.) Proposed the Sphinx
iii.) For the First Time
A2 I Just Learned To Walk 3:08
A3 Sign For Me Dad 3:24
A4 My Little Lady 3:19
A5 Something’s Missing 4:51
A6 A Time For Reflection 1:06
B1 This World Is Funky 2:59
B2 Young Times Old Times 4:29
B3 Wasted Time (Theme From “Riddle Of The Sphinx”) 3:44
B4 Nobody But You 2:34
B5 Save Me 7:34
i.) Save Me
iii.) The Still
I’m not sure why, but in the mid-1970s a slew of soul bands hopped aboard the Egyptian themed bandwagon – among those acts; Bloodstone.
Produced by Mike Vernon (best known for his work with English blues-rockers like Savoy Brown), 1975’s “Riddle of the Sphinx” found the band down to a quartet featuring guitarist Willis Draffen Jr., singer Charles Love, bassist Charles McCormick, and percussionist Harold ‘Ivory’ WIlliams. I’ve listened to this album dozens of times and I’m pretty sure it was intended as a concept piece. That belief’s underscored by the Egyptian themes, Mike Vernon’s strategically placed spoken word segments (‘Introduction’, ‘Something’s Missing’, and ‘Save Me’), and the fact the songs seem to chronologically lay out the different phases of life; (childhood – ‘I Just Learned To Walk’, teen years – ‘Sign for Me Dad), 20s – ‘My Little Lady’, etc.. It all served to give the collection a concept feel, but I’ll be darned if I have a clue as to what the detailed theme, or plotline was. I’m sure someone out there will enlighten me … Irregardless, the results made for a decent additional to the Bloodstone catalog. And that’s one of the things I’ve always liked about Bloodstone – their willingness to try different things without seeming to take themselves too seriously. You’d be hard pressed to come up with another band as willing and capable of trying out as many genres as Bloodtstone did on this one.
– Geez, for a moment I thought I’d put on an Alan Parsons Project album by mistake … ‘For the First Time‘ was a three part medley. ‘Introduction‘ and ‘Proposed the Sphinx’ featured a weird spoken word segment that led to the title track ballad. Mildly pretty (the electric sitar was a nice touch), but also a bit on the tuneless and slightly on the shrill side, ‘For the First Time‘ wasn’t any special.
– An up-tempo rocker with a mild ’50s feel, to my ears ‘I Just Learned To Walk‘ sounded like a Dr. John tune … seriously! Fun and totally unexpected on this album …
– Kicked along by some nice Moog and Charles McCormick’s bass, ‘Sign for Me Dad‘ found the band dipping their collective toes into hardcore Ohio Players/Sly and the Family Stones-styled funk. The result was side one’s best performance.
– ‘My Little Lady‘ demonstrated the band could take on breezy pop with a shimmering melody that sounded more than a little bit like a great Phillip Bailey and Earth, Wind and Fire track. The song sported a wonderful hook which is probably why it was tapped as a single.
– Starting out with a brief spoken word segment, ‘Something’s Missing‘ morphed into a decent bluesy ballad. The song was kicked along by some nice Delfonics-styled electric sitar.
– The lone non-original, the instrumental ‘Reflection‘ sounded like a piece of music written for a film score. That might have something to do with the fact arranger Pip Williams wrote it. Pretty, but forgettable.
– Coupled with some surprisingly activist lyrics, ‘This World Is Funky‘ found the band going back to Sly-styled funk.
– ‘Young Times Old Times‘ started out sounding like a Gospel revival and then shifted gears into an old school ballad that served to showcase the band’s wonderful harmony vocals.
– Starting out with another Vernon spoken word segment, the group-penned ‘ Wasted Time (Theme from “Riddle of the Sphinx)’ was my pick for standout performance. With one of those dark and haunting melodies that you can’t shake out of your head, this one sounded a bit like a classic Eddie Kendricks tune. The song also featured a killer lead guitar solo.
– Another pretty adult contemporary ballad, I’ve always been surprised that ‘Nobody But You‘ wasn’t tapped as a single
– Another medley, after the brief spoken word opening, for a split second ‘Save Me‘ reminded me of Shocking Blue’s ‘Venus’ (blame the guitar lick), but then it turned into an uplifting song of redemption that recalled something out of Marvin Gaye’s catalog. The ‘save me’ chorus was guaranteed to drill into your head …
– ‘Epilog‘ sounded like a brief except from a church service and showcased Keith Grant and the St. Mary Magdelan Church organ.
– And as you probably guessed, ‘The Still‘ was the silence found in the runoff groove. Three singles spun off the LP:
– 1975’s ‘My Little Lady‘ b/w ‘Loving You Is Just a Pasttime‘ (London catalog number 5N 1061)
– 1975’s ‘Give Me Your Heart‘ b/w ‘Something’s Missing‘ (London catalog number 5N 1062)
– 1976’s ‘Do You Wanna Do a Thing‘ b/w ‘Save Me‘ (London catalog number 5N 1064)
Not for everyone, but soul fans and Bloodstone fans should get a kick out of it.
You can also enjoy my favorite Bloodstone LP “Unreal” on our back pages here