|Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank that Plank, Baby!'|
According to web research one of the musicians listed as A. N. Other on the album sleeve is none other than Jeff Beck, who was reportedly 'conned' into playing on the sessions. This has not been officially confirmed, so it could just be another apocryphal tale from the crazy world of rock...
I know, I know, the Beverly Hillbillies weren’t exactly the cutting edge of rock ‘n’ roll, but this ‘soundtrack’ from the venerable mid-1960’s tv sitcom has some unexpected delights. For starters, along with the tv show’s cast of Buddy Ebsen (Jed Clampett), Irene Ryan (Granny), Max Baer (Jethro) and Elly May (Donna Douglas) the musical accompaniment was by Nashville bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
Produced and originally released in 1965, this album was intended to capitalise on the huge international success of the Beverly Hillbillies. The exploits of the Clampett family in Bevery Hills entertained millions, especially in the way their folksy, unsophisticated but savy philosophy was a match for the city sharks of California. While this album was simply a merchandising opportunity for the tv production company, the cast and musicians had a ball recreating the show on vinyl. But the bonus factor was some prime bluegrass in The Ballad of Jed Clampett (which actually became a hit single!), Beverly Hills, Vittles and Critters, while a Broadway show tune backing was attached to the more mundane Lady Lessons and Birds and Bees.
It seemed a natural ‘fit’ to utilise country music to give the Clampetts their musical identity. And as they supposedly came from the backwoods of Tennessee, bluegrass was the natural choice. Flatt and Scruggs were one of the most popular country acts of the period, and holders of the flame when it came to the sound of true country music (the sort played on the cabin porch with a jug of cider by your foot), rather than the Nashville corporate version which was slick and sweet. Today, the Beverly Hillbillies are nothing more than a footnote in tv history, periodically dug out of the archives for a nostalgic re-run. And the album hasn’t aged well, some of the tracks sounding downright naive (and yes, naff) now. But the tracks featuring Flatt & Scruggs and the cast belting out the bluegrass songs still have the power to get your foot tapping and your voice singing along to lyrics you didn’t know you still remember.
The ‘super-session’ has long become defunct within the rock world, though even now there are still a few dying spasms launched onto an unsuspecting world periodically. Music From Free Creek comes from the early 70’s when such groupings of stellar names still happened just for the sheer fun of it - before the agents and managers got involved and started upping the ante in financial and publicity terms.
Free Creek is something of an enigma, in the twenty-five odd years that I’ve had this double LP I’ve yet to find any documentation in the rock reference literature regarding its genesis and aims. It seems to have just appeared in the racks and indeed vanished again quickly. (If you have any information on this album please contact me) What I can tell you is that Free Creek (subtitled ‘The Great Super-Session Rip-Off Chase') is a fine collaboration by over fifty top rock, country and jazz musicians and singers.
Here’s just a sample of those involved: Linda Ronstadt, Dr John, Bernie Leadon, Red Rhodes, Chris Wood, Todd Rundgren, Keith Emerson, Mitch Mitchell, Valerie Simpson, plus a few anonymous star names moonlighting from their recording contracts! And along with these are assorted members of The Byrds, Canned Heat, Buddy Rich Big Band, Woody Herman Band, Blood, Sweat & Tears, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Traffic, Flying Burrito Brothers, Michael Nesmith & The First National Band, Three Dog Night, Janis Joplin and Neil Diamond’s bands, plus many others.
The common factor is that all these musicians come from cutting edge backgrounds: groups and artists who had reputations for pushing back the envelope of rock, country-rock and jazz. This album is a vast masterclass bringing together stellar talent and fusing musical styles together. The early 70’s was a period of experimentation and this album is such an experiment. The opening track Cissy Strut is raunchy and tight r‘n’b instrumental that sets the template for over half the the album. Then there are the country ballads by Linda Ronstad: He Darked The Sun and Living Like A Fool, confirming her as one of the very best country rockers. And there are cool jazz rock tracks such as Lay Lady Lay featuring the duelling flautists Chris Wood and Joe Farrell.
Listened to with today’s ears Free Creek probably wouldn’t sound that groundbreaking, yet in the early 70’s musicians from differing disciplines were still trying to find common ground. On this album they found it in spades and it shows in the high quality musicianship displayed here. I suppose it’s a forlorn hope but I wish that Charisma would dig this album out of the archives, dust it down and release it on CD.