Category Archives: Gene McDaniels

HAVE ONE DOUBT, THEY CALL IT TREASON

Formed in the mid ’60’s by a group of friends that often performed at the same cafes in L.A. (or as the above poster states, “Eight high-octane musicians who met and jammed in the great peanut butter octopus that is Los Angeles”), Sweetwater serves as a perfect icon for the word Hippie. Integrated musically as well as racially, over the course of three albums they created a potpourri of sound that if it were released today would most likely fall under the rubric of “freak folk.” Sweetwater toured with The Doors for much of ’68 and ’69 and were the second act to perform at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, coming on after Richie Havens.

In December of ’69, while recording their sophomore album for Reprise Records—Just For You—twenty-year-old lead singer Nancy (Nansi) Nevins was in a serious car accident. As a result she suffered severe brain trauma and damaged her vocal cords, putting her in a coma for weeks and necessitating physical therapy for years (Howitt, n.d.). Although she had participated in much of the recording process she was unable to perform in support of the album, and the band simply lost momentum.

Compared To What” ——–———Click To Listen

Albert Moore (flute/vocals)

Nancy Nevins (vocals/guitar)

August Burns (cello)

Alan Malarowitz (drums)

Elpidio Cobian (conga drums)

Alex Del Zoppo (keyboards)

Fred Herrera (bass)

Like It? Buy It.

The track I bring you today is “Compared To What” off of 1970’s Just For You, with lead vocals handled by flute player Albert Moore (The one depicted in an authentic Amish hat). Sweetwater’s Baroque-folk-jazz fusion works perfectly for Gene McDaniels’ anti-war anthem; McDaniels being a little remembered soul singer who passed away earlier this year on July 29, 2011. Disenchanted with the United States, particularly the escalating conflict in Vietnam and the state of race relations in the late 1960s, McDaniels took a brief sojourn from the Nation. During this period, in 1967, Mcdaniels wrote “Compared to What.” This “scathing critique of social realities in the United States” (Neal, 2011) was initially recorded and released as the opening track on Roberta Flack’s 1969 debut album, First Take. More recently John Legend and The Roots recorded the song for their 2010 album of cover songs, “Wake Up!”

However, I prefer Sweetwater’s more frenetic interpretation. The song begins by dragging the groove along as the flute and cello weave in and out seamlessly, before it all bursts into a souladelic freak-out of a man in pursuit of authenticity. Despite how busy the music may seem at times, and the number of chefs in this kitchen, each ingredient comes across as perfectly measured. Sweetwater have altered Mcdaniels’ lyrics somewhat, which I have reproduced below:

Compared to What

Well, I love this life, this life I love

A-Hangin’ on, with push and shove

Possession it is my motivation

And it’s hangin’ up the God-damn nation

And it Looks like I always end up in a rut

You know I’m Tryin’ to make it real

— compared to what? baby!

The President, well he’s got his war

Folks don’t know what it’s for

No one gives us rhyme or reason

If you have one doubt, they call it treason

And it looks like I always end up in a rut

I’m tryin’ to make it real —Try!

I’m tryin’ to make it real —Try!

compared to what? baby!

The President, he’s got his war

Folks don’t know what it’s for

No one gives us rhyme or reason

Have one doubt, they call it treason

I say we’re chicken fat, all without one gut.

We keep Tryin’—Try!

We keep Tryin’—Try!

Tryin’ Tryin’ Try!

Tryin’ to make it real

Don’t care if we die

Tryin’ to make it real

Just  keep on tryin

John he’s dead and gone and

Martin he didn’t have long and

Old folks putting us on and

I have got to be me

I have got to be myself

I cant be no one else

I gotta be for real

I just gotta try to be real

Make me real

I gotta be for real

Tryin’ to make it real

Gotta make it real

So real

And here’s a video of John Legend and The Roots soulful, yet more restrained rendition:

Ref:

Neal, M. A. (2003). Real, Compared to What: Anti-War Soul. Popmatters. Retrieved on

December 26th from http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/030328-iraq-neal

Getting Out Our Dreams and Sony Music Entertainment  (Creators). johnlegendVEVO

(Poster) (2010, Sep. 13). John Legend & The Roots – Compared To What (Live In

Studio) [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGth8iG90j0

Howitt, B. (n.d.) Sweet Water. Bernie’s Musical Views. Retrieved on December 26th

from http://berniehowitt.com/sweetwater.htm

McDaniels, G. (1967). Compared to What [recorded by Sweetwater] On Just For You.

[CD] Reprise. (1970)/Collector’s Choice. (2005)

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