Sometimes the musical memories are a long time coming and they never leave.

I jumped at the chance to review the Electric Flag compilation, 'Old Glory: The Best of Electric Flag'.

Back in 1968 I was a teenager trapped in boarding school, with precocious musical tastes. My musical education was partly thanks to having discovered Roger Eagle’s Magic Village club in Manchester (and all that followed from those connections), and partly thanks to a small group of friends I met up with on the far side of the world each summer holiday when I went to join my parents in Sarawak. I was aware of Mike Bloomfield thanks to my dad’s enthusiasm for Bob Dylan. I had my own copies of the Rock Machine compilations and a fancy portable battery-operated turntable bought in Singapore. The last holiday I spent in the Far East was in 1969 and there were certain records that were the soundtrack to it. 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' was one. Steve Miller Band’s 'Song for Our Ancestors' was another. The third was The Electric Flag’s "A Long Time Comin’".

Albums were listened to obsessively and intensely. Music wasn’t everywhere in those days. It was sought out and shared, given the attention it deserved. The order of tracks became etched into your memory. The songs became hard-wired into your psyche.

I didn’t have my own copy of "A Long Time Comin'". There were no cassettes back then. Their music haunted me, I yearned to hear it again, I talked about it, I fantasised about finding and buying a copy. Eventually in 1973 my boyfriend, who was a long distance lorry driver, visited a record shop in Bristol on his travels. He found a copy and bought it for me. Amazing. It didn’t disappoint when I heard it again. I still have that vinyl copy, with track listings and a photo of the band on the back, and a slightly psychedelic front cover with a fey-looking blonde in the centre, who in retrospect could have been me.

A lifetime later, I find myself listening with attention once more, and again, it doesn’t disappoint.

This was a meeting of master musicians, including Mike Bloomfield, Herbie Rich, Buddy Miles, Nick Gravenites, Marcus Doubleday and more. There’s even Richie Havens on sitar. The band was one of the original supergroups, short-lived but astounding while they lasted. They blend soul and psychedelia, political speech samples and subtle samba rythms, jazz and funk, all wrapped up in Chicago-style electric blues. Smooth vocals, lovelorn lyrics and a horn section, keyboards and guitar – it’s a sophisticated and soulful take on a quintessentially American genre of music.

There are great liner notes with the reissued CD. Mike Bloomfield is quoted:
“The Electric Flag is an American Music Band. American music is not necessarily music directly from America. I think of it as music you hear in the air, on the air, and in the streets; blues, soul, country, rock, religious music, traffic, crowds, street sounds and field sounds, the sound of people and silence.”

Back in the day I associated the band’s name with the politics of Vietnam, sparked by Jimi Hendrix’s version of 'The Star Spangled Banner' at Woodstock and the sampled quotes from Lyndon B Johnson. There’s a less obvious and more bizarre explanation for the name in the sleeve notes. Playing a high school gig, they saw a motorised flag pole which blew air through vents to keep the flag flying!

As well as tracks that first appeared on "A Long Time Comin’", this compilation includes some previously unreleased material. There is an experimental film score for ‘You Are What You Eat’. There are previously unissued versions of ‘See to Your Neighbour’ and ‘Sitting in Circles’. Their first live gig was the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and recordings of blues standard ‘Drinkin’ Wine ‘ and ‘The Night Time is the Right Time’ were captured there. It was at Monterey also that they encountered Otis Redding, whose blistering performance with Booker T and the MGs is the stuff of legend. ‘You Don’t Realize’ was dedicated "with great respect to Steve Cropper and Otis Redding" on the sleeve notes of "Long Time Comin’". There are also tracks from ‘The Electric Flag: An American Music Band’.

As a compilation it highlights the considerable talents of this group of musicians, not just in their arrangements, but their songwriting too. It’s a reminder of the timelessness of great music. It may be of its day but it hasn’t dated.

Track listing: Killing Floor, Groovin’ is Easy, She Should Have Just, Goin’ Down Slow, Texas, Sittin’ in Circles, You Don’t Realize, Movie Music – Improvisation, Another Country, Easy Rider, Soul Searchin’, See to Your Neighbour, With Time There Is Change, Nothing To Do, Hey Little Girl, Drinkin’ Wine, The Night Time Is the Right Time.









Related Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Electric_Flag


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