I have never been a great proponent of 'country-rock.' Most of those L.A./Asylum Record/six-string gunslinger types that produced that dribble had little more on their boots than urban grime and crusty dog shit. I once let a friend drag me reluctantly to an Eagles performance that seemingly poked along for hours on end. Witnessing them play that night was almost nearly as exciting as watching paint peel, though not quite. Some, like Linda Ronstadt were good and at least extremely pleasant to look at, but those other Southern California 'desperadoes' and 'riverboat gamblers' where simply posturing, mustachioed charlatans. Not that I don't like country music, mind you. Hillbilly Jazz is primo. Country & Western? Great. Alt-Country? OK. Modern Country? Sucks. Johnny Cash? A genre in and of himself! One then might rightly wonder why I'd find a recording like Arthur Gee's 'City Cowboy' to be a worthy post, let alone within my record collection. After all, City Cowboy? What sort of oxymoron is that? And a cockamamie name like Gee-Whizz Band should have initially been cause to reflect. Yet despite these questionable attributes, I own not one, but two (yes, two!) Arthur Gee LP's; his eponymous debut and the above mentioned 'City Cowboy.' Why then the inclusion? The answer is simply that lyrics aside*, they're both intelligent and extraordinary musical exceptions to the hallmarks of garden variety 'country rock,' demonstrating that the genre could be so much more than just another Tequila sunrise at the Hotel California. Odd birds are these, as elements of folk, country, rock, bluegrass, jazz and even prog are scattered liberally across the proceedings, making them highly unusual entries in the 'country-rock' cannon.
Odder still is that Arthur Gee by all outward appearances was the archetypal hippie troubadour. Emigrating from Canada to the easy living of Denver, Colorado in the early-70's, he came to the attention of Robb Kunkel, Larry Ray and producer Bill Szymczyk who collectively founded the short-lived Tumbleweed Records; a label with "attractive sound; flawless yet organic, reflecting the overall good vibes" of the times. More an excessive horn of plenty for creating music than a record label proper, Tumbleweed released only a handful of albums in it's lifetime; Gee's being the first. Despite excessive amounts of money spent on drug consumption (at the unwitting expense of it's parent company ABC-Dunhill), Tumbleweed admittedly sank an equally appreciable amount into it's recording facilities in order to construct the highest quality in sound and production. This is one of the primary reasons I can still find 'City Cowboy' a satisfying listen today. Although produced by band member Marcus Damerst, the expertise of Szymczyk's hand (who ironically went on to work with the insufferable and previously mentioned Eagles of all people!) is evident throughout. The excellent website Acid Archives describes it this way, "upscale, intricate production typical of the label, with Arthur's atmospheric voice given an appropriate context that involves a full folk-rock setting plus bells, violin and even jew's harp. It's all quite appealing and held together by expensive and elaborate arrangements."
Another reason I've held onto my Arthur Gee records is the caliber of his band; a remarkably tight unit (under the circumstances) who pull off some intricate arrangements with great aplomb and sound like they're having fun in the process (no doubt, due to the circumstances). The Whizz Band featured Gee (guitar, harp & vocals), Marcus Damerst (guitars & vocals), Steven Van Gelder (banjo, fiddle, guitars, piano & vocals), Bill Alexander (keyboards & vocals), Richard Hathaway (bass & vocals) and Don Riggs (drums). Paul Beaver (synthesizer programming), Rex Williams and David Draper (additional vocals). The tracks are listed below and as a teaser, I've included 3 additional songs from Arthur's 1st self-titled LP.
Arthur Gee: vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica
Steven Van Gelder: vocals, banjo, fiddle, piano, electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Bill Alexander: vocals, piano, organ, moog synthesizer
Richard Hathaway: vocals, bass
Don Riggs: vocals, drums
David Draper: additional vocals
Rex Williams: additional vocals
Marcus Damerst: vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Produced and engineered by Marcus Damerst
Recorded at Jackson Sound, Denver; Walley Heider Studios, Los Angeles; Record Plant, Los Angeles, USA
Cover painting by Peter Croff
Photography by Chuck Swanson and Michael Bundy
Arthur Gee (tracks: A1, A2, A4 to B1, B3, B5 to B7)
B. Alexander (track: A3)
Bill Alexander (track: B2)
D. Riggs (track: A3)
R. Hathaway (track: A3)
Steven Van Gelder (track: B4)