The Youngbloods…taking a look back
Back when I was a vinyl junkie there was always a tattered piece of paper folded in my wallet that constituted my “want list” just in case I passed by a record store and needed to be reminded. By the time I quit collecting, the list was actually pretty short…but a few were elusive. A few months ago I stumbled upon one that was posted as a download on a blog that specializes in out of print sixties and seventies titles. I’ll admit that the thrill I felt was not unlike as if I’d found it sitting in a dusty bin of some old record store for a couple of bucks.
The object of my desire was released back in the early seventies on Raccoon Records, which was the record label formed by The Youngbloods…another early-Americana band that have always been a favorite of mine (along with the Lovin’ Spoonful, which I’ve mentioned a time or two here.). Formed in the mid-sixties out of the Northeast folk club circuit, the members were Jesse Colin Young, Jerry Corbitt, Joe Bauer and Lowell “Banana” Levinger. And it was in fact the latter gentleman’s project called Banana and The Bunch that I was able to cross off my list.
Most of y’all probably only know the Youngbloods through the hit song “Get Together”. Famous for it’s anthemic quality as well as the jangly guitar parts and “feel good” brotherhood lyrics, it still comes up often today on oldies radio and in film and television, as well as being a staple of many church services. My first intro to the band was not that particular title, but a song from their second album Earth Music which was released in 1967 on RCA .
“Sugar Babe” was written by Robin Remaily and today it still jumps out of my speakers with a crisp vocal by Young and a killer pedal steel part by Banana. For that time period it sounded to me like roots music on steroids, and included elements of blues, jug band, country, folk and rock. I played that album to death and their version of Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” was a standout track, along with “All My Dreams Blue”. Young’s voice was pure blue-eyed soul and Banana not only was an amazing picker with solid bluegrass credentials, but an incredible keyboard player who played magically on a Wurlitzer electric piano.
In 1969 Jerry Corbitt left the band for a solo career and the trio moved east to west, to northern California’s Marin County. Charlie Daniels produced what many consider one of the finest albums of the era: Elephant Mountain. While the most well known track may be “Darkness, Darkness”, the entire body is strong and rich with texture. Joe Bauer’s jazz style of percussion was the perfect compliment to Jesse and Banana’s mellow country-folk music and works especially well on “Ride the Wind”, “Sunlight” and “On Sir Francis Drake”.
A pretty funny tune started to show up on FM radio a year or two later that was a response to Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee”. A couple years in California had morphed the Youngbloods into more of a country-rock band and they cut Banana’s “Hippie From Olema”. Featured on the album Good and Dusty, it was a novelty song that bedded nicely with their blues and country sounds.
Well I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re ragged
We can’t think of anyone to hate
We don’t watch commercials in Olema
And we don’t buy the plastic crap they sell
We still wear our hair long like folks used to
And we bathe often therefore we don’t smell
We don’t throw our beer cans on the highway
We don’t slight a man because he’s black
We don’t spill our oil out in the ocean
‘Cause we love birds and fish too much for that
And I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re haggard
In Olema, California, Planet Earth
The band split up in 1972 after releasing their last studio album High On A Ridgetop and their last gig was September 1973. They also left us with a number of great live recordings. There’s one show in particular that was broadcast on KSAN and sounds like it was recorded yesterday in both the clarity and relevance. It was released a few years ago by Sundazed. The other two “official” live recordings are Rock Festival and Ride The Wind.
Jesse Colin Young released two solo albums before the Youngbloods (The Soul of a City Boy and Young Blood…the latter featuring John Sebastian from the Spoonful) that serve as excellent documentation of how the early-sixties folk scene made the transition into the late-sixties country-folk-rock sound that took us to alt-Americana. He continued to have a successful solo career after the band split up and his biggest sales achievement came with Song For Juli which hung on the charts for a year. The band reunited for gigs in the eighties a bit, and Jesse lived in Marin until 1995 when a wildfire destroyed his home and recording studio. With little left, he moved his family to Kona Hawaii where he still records and performs with that amazing vocal instrument he has been blessed with.
Jerry Corbitt..who I really didn’t write that much about here…has had a thirty-plus year career as writer, performer and independent producer. He was Jesse’s partner on the road prior to the full band. In addition to working with dozens of artists, he has built a nice portfolio of music that’s been used in film, television and commercials.
Lowell “Banana” Levinger is now 65 and still living in Marin. He spent twenty years working as a sideman for Mimi Farina, played keyboards for the band Zero until 1993, has done shows billed as Banana and the Bunch, and he recently started doing occasional gigs with David Nelson from the New Riders of The Purple Sage. There’s also a new CD release that you can check out while you’re there. He’s hoping to put together a tour to support it. He uses the moniker “Grandpa Banana” now and he both collects banjos and sells vintage instruments on what I found to be an amazing almost “museum-like” website to browse.
Regarding drummer Joe Bauer…others here may have more information, but I believe he passed away in 1982.
I found this video on youtube that I really wanted to share. It is from the old Hollywood Palace variety show and that’s Milton Berle presenting the band. (I love the audience shot.) They were a trio at this point and “Get Together” is done in about a minute before the go into “Sunlight”.
NOTE: The new format for posting blogs is driving me crazy…so if this video appears multiple times…don’t blame me. Just watch it over and over and over….