Ned Doheny's self-titled debut LP appeared in 1973, the artist had
already been active in the Southern California singer-songwriter scene
for several years. In that respect, he shared similar roots with two
other acts that began their recording career for Asylum Records at
around the same time, Jackson Browne and the Eagles. Though Ned Doheny did not approach the
commercial success of the early-'70s releases by his labelmates, it was
the first of a long-running series of albums under his own name that
he's continuing to generate to this day, even if his association with
Asylum would prove short-lived.
Doheny—who'd done his first session as a guitar player for producer
Terry Melcher at the age of eighteen—nearly began his career as a
recording artist about five years earlier with Elektra Records. In the
late '60s, he, Jackson, and other young singer-songwriters had been
part of an Elektra venture that set them up in a rural Northern
Californian property, Paxton Lodge. The goals of the project have
varied according to different accounts, but included the possibility of
solo albums from Browne, Doheny, and other Paxton residents such as
Jack Wilce. Ideally, the artists would have played on each other's
records, or perhaps combine forces on the same record, as well as
helping out on recordings by other acts who came to Paxton to make
music or just draw creative inspiration. Ultimately, however, though
some material was recorded there, neither Browne nor Doheny would
release anything on Elektra.
"After Paxton conflated, I played on a jazz album with Charles Lloyd and toured with him briefly—we even played a concert at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary," remembers Ned. "I took a year of classical guitar from Fred Noad, which set the stage for the Ned Doheny album. Jackson and I continued to play together, but a general restlessness inspired me to drive my Land Rover across America and ship it to England. There I met Dave Mason, wrote a song on his living room floor, and was asked to join his band." Indeed, one of Doheny's songs, "On and On," would be included on the 1971 LP Dave Mason and Cass Elliot.
"We returned to the US," continues Doheny, "and Jackson introduced me to David Geffen. Things had gotten shaky with Mason and company and the songs for the Ned Doheny record were beginning to take shape so I became part of Asylum." Along with Browne and the Eagles, Ned was among the first signees to Geffen's new label. Its early-'70s roster—also including Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, and less high-selling but acclaimed singer-songwriters such as David Blue, Judee Sill, and John David Souther—quickly made the company a powerhouse in the industry, as well as a major repository of talent that was defining the Los Angeles rock of the era.
The core band on most of the tracks on Ned Doheny included his friend Gary Mallaber on drums (and some vibes) and keyboardist Jimmy Calleri, who was staying at Ned's house off and on; buddies from Buffalo, both had been in the band Raven. Mallaber, who played on several early-'70s Van Morrison albums, was the connection to David Parlatta, who played bass on most of the songs; another Buffalo transplant, Don Menza, added tenor sax to a few cuts. Doheny himself played all the guitars on the record, going solo acoustic for one selection, "It Calls for You."
While the songs were written shortly before the sessions, the most familiar one due to its inclusion on Mason and Elliot's LP would have been "On and On," here bolstered by harmony vocals from Graham Nash. "'On and On' was my first 'real' song, finished in a hotel room in New York while I waited to board the QE2 with my car," Ned notes. "By the time I got to England and met Dave, the song was done. He liked it and I wrote the second tune, 'Trust Me,' shortly thereafter." As for Nash's participation, "We were all hanging out at Asylum at the time and he was kind enough to oblige."
Co-producing the record with Doheny was John Haeny, who'd engineered many sessions for Elektra in the late 1960s and early 1970s for the likes of Judy Collins and Nico. "John was the voice in the control room," Ned says. "He made recommendations about takes and tone so that we could go on about our business without having to run back and forth constantly. He is a brilliant engineer. We did our very best and John recorded it beautifully." Adds Doheny, "I stood behind the songs. To us it sounded like something new and exciting and we all thought it would make us famous. The album could easily have been called, Postcards From Hollywood."
Upon its release, the album found praise in the July 19, 1973 Rolling Stone from future New York Times critic Stephen Holden. "Here is a debut album that is all of a piece, a sort of Southern California Astral Weeks, its material supremely laidback, acoustical jazz-rock that on first listening is pleasant, and after several more absorbing," he enthused. "Doheny possesses a high, almost frail tenor that is somewhat reminiscent of a Todd Rundgren without the hysteria. He phrases like a cool jazz man, seldom using his voice other than as the leading line above a tightly-coordinated instrumental texture. Though this approach de-emphasizes Doheny's wistfully appealing song lyrics to the point that they hardly count at all, it increases one's awareness of Doheny as a musical thinker of exceptional sophistication. Among the better-known contemporary singer/songwriters, only James Taylor shows a similar tendency toward such aristocratic reserve, but Doheny carries this reserve much farther." Concluded Holden: "The final impression Doheny leaves behind is one of prodigious musical intelligence combined with an attitude of serene resignation. It makes for a subtly intoxicating brew—good rainy day/Sunday afternoon listening."
Ned Doheny, however, did not benefit from nearly as much promotion as some other early Asylum albums. "Asylum wasn't really interested in the record," says Ned. "A great deal of money had already been spent getting Jackson up and running and the ongoing expenses of starting a new label took their toll. I wound up paying a large chunk of the album budget myself. David had his favorites."
Doheny moved to CBS a few years later for his next albums, Hard Candy and Prone, also going on to co-write Chaka Khan's R&B chart-topper "What Cha' Gonna Do for Me." While he hasn't issued an album since 1993's Between Two Worlds, as of this writing he's preparing his first album release in about fifteen years. This CD reissue restores his maiden effort to wide availability, giving Ned his due for his contribution to the Southern Californian singer-songwriter movement in its heyday. – Richie Unterberger
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