Friday, June 13, 2014

40 Year Itch: Monkey on a Silver String

Before producing Gene Clark's legendary No Other, and after producing Loudon Wainwright III's "Dead Skunk", the eccentric Thomas Jefferson Kaye gathered his best musical friends to make an album that falls in that all so Californian intersection between Eagles twang and Steely Dan finesse. That album is First Grade.

  The Steely Dan force is big on this album, released just months after Pretzel Logic. Dan Producer Gary Katz helms the producer's seat while Walter Becker, Donald Fagen and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter play on some cuts. Most significantly all these years later: Becker and Fagen gave Kaye two of their unrecorded songs, "Jones" and "American Lovers". Dusty Springfield sings on the album. So does Richie Furay and future Eagle Timothy B. Schmit. All star albums were one of the great trends of 1974. Ringo and Ron Wood also made albums with  a surprising collection of  rock stars.

  The Becker Fagen tunes are the easy ones to find on YouTube but the album also contains some Kaye originals. It begins with the lines "My name is Thomas Jefferson Kaye and I was born in North Dakota" on a 1:11 tune called "Northern California" and ends with "One Man Band", a Kaye-penned tune that was a Top 20 hit for Three Dog Night. His choice is covers is impeccable. Listen to "All Cried Out" from Buddy Kaye and Philip Springer:

    First Grade is a grower. It ranked #10 on Robert "The Dean" Christgau's end of year list. Kaye lived the rock n roll lifestyle and died in 1994, two years after gathering another group of stars ( including Eric Clapton, Steve Miller and Joe Walsh) for a final album.

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