The Hard Ride represents the dying gasp of an underrated band. The 1910 Fruitgum Company had morphed several times since their inception in 1967. As the Jeckell & Hydes they enjoyed massive success in their hometown of Linden, New Jersey. They were talented garage rockers who could play the hits of the day whether it was the Beatles, Hendrix or the Vanilla Fudge while throwing in a few of their own compositions.
The nucleus of the band included Frank Jeckell (guitar, vocals), Mark Gutkowski (lead vocals, organ), Pat Karwan (guitar, vocals), and Floyd Marcus (drums). It seems almost incomprehensible considering this is the band that hit the big time with Simon Says. Sure, the song was based on a game intended for pre-school children but nonetheless it had a great wooly bully organ riff and the vocals were stoned perfection.
But by 1969, Mark Gutkoswski was the only original member left in the group. He was a great singer and a multi-instrumentalist and a superb songwriter. He was a gifted leader who insisted on excellence and set the bar high. Hard Ride is the culmination of Gutkowski's career as a rock & roll hit-maker and it stands today as a forgotten treasure - a eulogy for a great band that has been misplaced in time as something to be scorned or even vilified.
I stand here today to correct that misperception. I saw the 1910 Fruitgum Company in February and again in December of 1969 and the draconian changes carved out by Gutkowski were astonishing. In February the band had already made inroads to the new sounds that Gutkowski would hear in his head. By December, this new, more complex music was a reality. The band now had a funky horn section and an excellent B3 player. Gutkowski switched to bass and he shared vocals with the phenomenal Ritchie Gomez.
This is a review of The Hard Ride:
Don't Have to Run And Hide (2:58) (M. Gutkowski, T. Gutkowski). This is pure Gutkowski-bred rock & roll. Mark's voice is matured and soulful and his falsetto ooh's punctuate the end of each verse. The horn section is funked up and brings the energy level up a few notches. This is a classic rocker with a verse, middle and chorus structure. It should have been a top forty hit. A great song.
All These Things (2:38) (R. Gomez) is a Beatlesque ballad with a complex arrangement with prominent horns and several tempo changes. Gomez rich tenor provides just the right amount of angst and a pitch perfect reading of the lyrics. Gutkowski's thumping bass grooves stand out as the rhythmic center that gives the percussion an air-tight vice grip beat as the horns wash over the musical landscape
Beggars Epitaph (3:50) (M. Gutkowski, T. Gutkowski). This is Mark Gutkowski's swan song, a prayer for forgiveness. It uses a minor chord motif to cast a pale over the singer's plea. The song is driven by a frantic high chase beat with a scorching organ backdrop and E-string trills. The horn players, Roth and Cohen took a few tips from Chicago and BS&T and it's all for the better. Gutkowski sings that he sold his soul to the devil and pleads;
Help me lord - Now my time is almost here. I hear lord that you will forgive a man - If he's sincere - I've sold my soul to the devil Lord - This I won't deny - Oh god I don't want to die - Help me Lord - Help Me
The somewhat elusive lyrics appear to be a slam directed to Kasenetz & Katz, the architects of the bubblegum sound and their almost total control over the product created in their hit-making factories. It speaks to the dearth of artistic freedom of artists who sign their rights over to the Machiavellian image makers in the mansions on the hill
Eulogy (2:00) (1910 Fruitgum Company) is an up tempo blues with tongue firmly in cheek. It is brisk and saucy and a rockin' good time. The organist excels on this homegrown ditty. This is a fine example of unison singing - reminiscent of the Grateful Dead. It's a down home hootenanny with a great sense of humor. The lyrics tell the story: 'When I die / I want to be buried / In a pot garden / When I die / I want to be buried / In a pot garden / If you can't find a garden / Bury me in the grass
Selub (7:21) (T. Gutkowski, D. Christopher). A drum solo serves as a transition to some sweet/nasty and slow twelve bar blues. It has some tasty harp that is prominent throughout this little exercise in our homegrown heritage. The B3player Pat Soriano is back in the mix but the solos are funky and soulful like Felix Cavaliere on Come on Up or Lonely Too Long. Soriano is the lead singer on this song. He jumps in with screaming high pitched vocal like Dan McCafferty grousing all pissed and throaty after a night out on the prowl and needing a little hair of the dog. But you can' beat the guitarist who fills the void with those big full bodied notes and the fantastic interplay between the B3 and the slide guitar. Don Christopher's Mike Bloomfield-inspired guitar workout gives the vocal performance even greater power. It's a traditional bluesy heartbreak song merging love with raw boned eroticism. The lyrics tell part of the story: “Come on Home / All I want is you, child / Ain't nobody else gonna do / Come on home gal / All I want is you / YOU / I've never loved a woman / The way I get down to lovin' you / In the hotel room / Any way you want it
The Train (2:30) is another gem written by Ritchie Cordell, Jeff Katz, and Jerry Kasenetz. These are the masterminds of the bubblegum music that was all the rage in 1968. This is a well-constructed rock song with a bluesy organ and a top notch horn section and another great vocal performance by Mark Gutkowski. He was at the top of his game and was singing with more depth of expression. Like any good pop song The Train hints of a night of carnal pleasures and Dionysian excess. Hallelujah!
Creations of Simon (3:40) (J. Roth, R. Gomez, T. Gutkowski). The title is conceived as the evolution from Simon says. The song opens side two with some tasty wah wah guitar. The syncopated beat heats it up like a totally demented but sober Sly Stone. There are several tempo changes that display the skill of the band like switching from a 3 step waltz to some raw funk and soul train spew and then suddenly, out of nowhere a flute appears for a brief calming interlude followed by some brutal back door sax. The band is tight and…it works. This is bump and grind music for when you get down with your honey bunch. The guitarist stretches out, up and down the neck from the e-string to the bass, very fluid. Pat Soriano sings a few verses about being yourself, to be exactly who you are. Good advice.
Collections of Thoughts (5:08) (D. Christopher) opens with an insistent walking guitar riff, poppin' bass, organ washes and then horns. The unison vocals are compelling and recall power pop at its best - a touch of Beatles and a hint of Chicago. There are spot on signature changes, chunky, scratchy guitars and elusive spoken word backdrops ala Pink Floyd (“just to be part of it”; it's just too much” when you stand with me, it's exciting). Christopher has a great voice and his lyrics are almost Zenist, multiple truths and middle paths: “There's nowhere to sit / But where do I stand / I need her / The mirror reflects all the things…break it… left with reality
In the Beginning (1:30) (1910 Fruitgum Company). This snippet of an intro has Hendrix fuzztone with the music crashing in a fury of competing sounds. The synthesizer creates a mosaic of electronica that hints of the new age electro/dance/synth/trance movements that evoke a hypnotic effect. Without missing a quark or a squeal the music segues to…
The Thing (3:40) (M. Gutkowski, T. Gutkowski)
The Thing. It's a well-produced and engages the listener with a crisp sound - it pops! It has it all -fuzz guitar, a boppin' bass line, and a screaming B3. The horns color the musical landscape and give it some jazzy syncopation. Wah Wah guitar effects signals the horns to enter into the fray. In '69, this band of young musicians were on the cusp of discovery, stretching out and testing the limits and taking chances like a new band on the rise, not a fading bubblegum act that sings Simon Says to former fans that now dig Led Zeppelin or Foghat. They were making a statement.
Togetherly Alone (Five Movements) (5:30) (J Roth, T. Gutkowski) is an obscure dialectical reference that provides the scaffolding for this pocket symphony. The song is crafted as a minor chord lullaby with cascading organ trills that drench the musical backdrop in rich sepia toned colors, like an ancient Christie brand pipe organ. The tempo shifts and Ritchie Gomez lays down the vocal, Gomez is a flat out great singer. He can be a chameleon sounding like Paul or George but on this song his rich vocals resemble Tommy James from his Crystal Blue Persuasion era. He possesses great tone and pitch; a pure tenor. The tempo changes to a simple but powerful 4/4 marching beat each instrument joins in unison. The buzzing bass and synth lines give the song a psychedelic tone and the inverted chords, trumpeter's swan and classical guitar phrases give the song a rich baroque feel. Richie's vocals are exquisite;
The record ends with a mad professor's organ trill and a guitar crescendo. There is a false ending; Silence then 14 bars of an upbeat mid-tempo instrumental tip of the hat to Gary Brooker (Procol Harum) and one last goodbye.
The end of a great LP; an honest effort, a grand experiment!
Hard Ride is a great LP, an undiscovered treasure. Don't let the bubblegum label fool you. This LP is a major statement by a great band that never got its due. It's available on Amazon or Ebay.
Buy it now or die trying.