Little John – Up And Down (1970/2020)
FLAC (tracks) 24-bit/96 kHz | Time – 33:40 minutes | 775 MB | Genre: Rock
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Epic – Legacy
Our story is about the return of the Little John band to the place of its birth, the San Francisco Bay Area, with fresh ideas, fresh material and a host of different personalities who came together to work on our recording project.
John Hart, Ross Valory and Stephen “Stevie Keys” Roseman, aka, the ‘3 Amigos’, are musicians and lifelong friends, with individual and shared musical experience that spans several decades, at home and abroad.
We’re also surviving members of Little John, a San Francisco, East Bay horn rock band that made three albums on the Epic Records label, two of which were released and the third, is another story altogether.
It so happens that, while recording number three, Ross migrated over to the studio next door, hooked up with Greg Rollie and Neal Schon to create and make history with the San Francisco rock band, Journey. Luckily for Little John, we have Ross’ bass parts securely on tape.
It was Stevie Keys who never stopped believing in a reincarnation of the Little John band, in some form. He was not alone. The idea of a reunion also lived on in the hearts and minds of folks who knew our music and our history and who had a kind of nostalgia for what was and what could have been.
We should note that, Stevie Keys is a B3 playing keyboardist with deep roots in the City by the Bay, serving up rock and funk in such notable San Francisco bands as Cold Blood, the Mickey Thomas band and earlier, as you might suspect, Little John.
Stevie Keys was free of any commitments, Ross was taking time off between tours and John Hart, who who had moved away from the Bay Area to pursue a career in computing, returned to write songs and make some music.
Together again, the 3 Amigos decided to try to match the intensity of the original horn rock band, and take it into the studio to record.
Ross pitched the project to his friend, recording engineer Tom Size, who had recorded Journey’s Generations album. Tom was available and agreed to man the board, where today, given a little hindsight, we view him as our very own ‘Sir George Martin’.
What’s missing at this point is, the rest of the band.
Since they had been band mates in Cold Blood, Stevie Keys knew who had to lead our horn section and write the arrangements, Tower of Power alumnus, Mic Gillette.
At this time, John was writing songs exclusively for the album, bouncing ideas off of friend and guitar instructor, Mike Williams. Mike plays guitar in a very fine East Bay jazz ensemble, along with drum scholar and author, John Xepoleas and much sought after bassist, Marc Levine.
In need of a solid foundation, John asked Mike for help who immediately drafted his entire rhythm section.
Many of the songs we were working on needed extensions and colorful harmonies, beyond the range of the guitar.
Keyboardist, John R Burr, was a perfect match for us and, he was off the road where he’d been touring with Alison Brown for some time and working in the studios in Nashville. We proposed, he accepted. We got the best.
Rehearsals became more and more fun and the rhythm section was cooking, with Ross and Marc Levine trading the bass chores, as different songs demand a different touch.
We knew Mic would assemble a killer section, we just didn’t know how true this was until the first night we brought the horns in for a recording session and in walks Marc Russo (the Yellowjackets, Doobie Brothers, Tower of Power, Tommy Igoe) followed by Johnnie Bamont (Boz Scaggs, The Temptations, Huey Lewis and the News).
The original Little John band had a powerful male singer, but the consensus was that we would have had far greater variety in the vocals by adding more harmonies and spreading the lead vocals around to other singers in the band.
We were determined to close that gap this time around and that’s when Ross suggested we contact former Santana front man, Alex Ligertwood, to try to win him over to our side.
Before Santana, Alex sang lead with the Jeff Beck Group and with his fellow Scotsmen in the Average White Band before fronting Santana and his vocal style seemed to be well suited to John’s music and lyrics.
Before Alex decided to give it a go, we added background vocals to the tracks, two lovely ladies, Dawn Coburn and LeeAnn Christpoherson to spice things up. All of the voices blended well together and that gap in our vocal parts from years before? We think it’s gone.
In the summer, we hired a Calypso singer and performer, Anderson, “Mr. Impact”, Ward from the Caribbean island of Barbados, to take the lead on a reggae style song John wrote after making several trips to the tiny island nation and falling in love with the island life.
Island music is steel pans music and Tom, who has recorded Andy Narrel and his steel pan drums, also knew Andy’s equally talented brother, Jeff and was eager to record him. Jeff brought his pans into Tom’s studio, embellishing the the song with his bell-like tones and flowing lines. The authenticity of Anderson’s voice and Jeff’s pans, gave us the legitimacy we were looking for on this track.
One advantage we’ve had in recording over a lengthy period of time is that, musicians come to town from here and abroad and chances are you can snatch one or two to play on some tracks.
Along the way we managed to add British guitar sensation, Guthrie Govan to the roster, in addition to Mic’s former band mates from the Tower of Power, Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka and Tom Politzer, each knowing how to scorch and burn.
When we needed a very different stylist to take the lead on a ballad, we called on Dave Scott (formerly with Boz Skaggs) whom we knew to be a sensitive, but deeply swinging artist whose horn illustrates each musical phrase, perfectly. What he delivered absolutely blew our minds.
We have a lot of stylists in this band, not the least of which is Ross Valory. As Journey’s bass guitar player, his signature sound is unmistakable to millions of fans. As our friend and ‘third amigo’, his work with the LittleJohn Band is, once again, on exhibit.
1. Lonely Years (03:08)
2. Grey-Blue (02:50)
3. Up And Down (07:00)
4. Wood Grain Alcohol (04:09)
5. Bombay Calling (03:22)
6. Whirled Piece (04:15)
7. New Day/ It Appears To Be (08:54)