By Richie Unterberger

Though it rose to prominence as an R&B, soul, and jazz label, by the late 1960s Atlantic Records was starting to make deep inroads into the new market for LP-oriented rock bands. There were Cream, Buffalo Springfield, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Yes, Vanilla Fudge, the Allman Brothers, and Iron Butterfly, but there were also a number of outfits that never rose to such a high commercial profile. Among that group were the Apple Pie Motherhood Band, who issued two albums on Atlantic mixing psychedelia and heavy blues-soul-rock with two fairly different lineups of personnel.

     The roots of the Apple Pie Motherhood Band lay in the Boston group C.C. & the Chasers, who became a house band of sorts at the Unicorn Coffeehouse. They also put out a single, "Put the Clock Back on the Wall"/"Two and Twenty," for the small Cori label. The tracks on the 45 were written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon of the New York band the Magicians; the pair would also write hits (such as "Happy Together," "She'd Rather Be with Me," "She's My Girl," and "You Know What I Mean") for the Turtles, and pen a song used on the Apple Pie Motherhood Band's debut LP.

    After C.C. & the Chasers changed their name to the Sacred Mushroom, they picked up a new keyboard player, Jef Labes, and relocated to New York City. "I joined the Sacred Mushroom after hearing them at the [Unicorn]," remembers Labes today. "I liked the high energy of the young drummer with the energized bass player, the lead guitar was outstanding, and the female singer, Anne Tanzey, [was] a powerhouse, kind of a Janis Joplin with a sweeter voice, but sultry dynamic energy.  We moved to NYC together in June of 1967 and became the house band at the Bitter End in the Village. Anne's connections got us signed to Marv Lagunoff as our manager, and he already had [jazz saxophone great] Eddie Harris on Atlantic, so we ended up there too. What a break; the place was like a laboratory of soul and hip music." Atlantic executive Ahmet Ertegun had reservations about their name, however, and the Sacred Mushroom became the Apple Pie Motherhood Band in honor of one of Labes's songs, "Long Live Apple Pie." "Ahmed thought the [Sacred] Mushroom name was too drug-related," Jef explains. "Sarcasm won the day."
    With Labes on keyboards, Tanzey on vocals, Ted Demos on lead guitar, Joe Castagno on rhythm guitar, Jack Bruno on drums, and Richard Barnaby on bass, the group recorded the debut single "Long Live Apple Pie"/"Flight Path." Felix Pappalardi, then hot with fellow Atlantic band Cream, was assigned to produce the 45. Though it didn't hit the national charts, it got a lot of airplay by DJ Dick Summer on Boston's WBZ, as well as airing on some of the alternative-minded radio outlets starting to spring up around the country. Before the self-titled The Apple Pie Motherhood Band album would be recorded and completed, however, there would be several adjustments made within the band's ranks.

    First, the production reins were assumed by Marvin Lagunoff, who according to Labes "did have some know-how, but was by far not a producer. Ted Demos and I took over most of the arranging/producing duties, with occasional contributions from all.  It was part of our democratic/hippie spirit." Confirms Demos, "Marvin's one of those nominal producers. He didn't really have any hands-on production. There was an engineer [Wiley C. Brooks] who was more of a hands-on producer. Marvin was just got the nominal credit for it. But it was kind of self-produced, really."

    Also, adds Labes, "Anne had become tired of rehearsals, although on several occasions she had brought along her then- boyfriend, just returned from recording in England, Jimi Hendrix. He sat in with us those times on a guitar or bass, simply turned upside down. It was an impressive show, but he was so mild in manner and so powerful in his playing,  it amounted to a major life lesson just being in the same room with him. The boys in the band ultimately voted Anne the prima donna award, and she angrily quit.  We were left with an album tuned to her voice."

    For a while, the group worked with another woman singer, Marilyn Lundquist, who can be heard singing background on two of LP's tracks, "Ice" (which she and Demos co-wrote) and "I'd Like to Know." "That was our attempt to replace Annie with a female singer, and it didn't really jell," says Ted. "We just ended up trying to do all the vocal tracks ourselves." Elaborates Labes, "We fell in love with Marilyn, but her med student boyfriend didn't like the idea of letting her go with us. He was correct in his suspicions. I truly hope they're still together."

    The resulting album mixed some heavy, extended jams and blues-rock—particularly on their opening cover of Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign"—and lighter psychedelia with some harmony pop influences. Though everyone in the band got involved with the songwriting, the largest share of the original material was penned by Labes. That included a different version of "Long Live Apple Pie," here retitled "Apple Pie." Like the 45 version, it was produced by Pappalardi, though it's the only track on the LP not bearing a Lagunoff production credit.

    "What we did was get involved in kind of a crash writing project to produce material for the album, and that's where the shorter tracks originated," remembers Demos. "Jeffrey was classically trained, and a writer and arranger. So we just did a lot of work with him, trying to kind of write things, and that's where all that stuff came from." Amplifies Labes, "I had been writing songs for several years at that point, and found it easy to create appropriate songs for the band. We sounded more like the energy of an East Coast version of what was up in San Francisco at that time."

    Also on the record were a couple off-the-beaten track covers of songs from outside songwriters. As Labes notes, "Both albums feature a combo of pop writing with stretched out soloing and improv, particularly the Bonner and Gordon tune  ['Contact'], which Ted Demos had picked up from meeting them in Boston, and they loved Anne's sound on the song. The saddest part of the story for me is the lamentable replacement of Anne's voice on the tracks of [the] album. The contrast between what that is, and what it was meant to be, is devastating."

    The other cover version on The Apple Pie Motherhood Band, "I'd Like to Know," was written by folk-rock singer-songwriter David Blue and included on his highly Bob Dylanesque self-titled debut LP in 1966, as well as on a single that year by the Magicians. "I had gotten hold of a couple of singles of theirs, from somebody who was involved with releasing an album on Columbia of their singles, which never happened, unfortunately," recalls Demos. "They were a fantastic band, but I loved that song, so we just covered it for the album."

    The Apple Pie Motherhood Band would get to record one more LP for Atlantic. But by that time, one more member from the original lineup would be gone, and three new musicians would be on board, as well as a new producer. The story's continued on that second album, Apple Pie, also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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