NOTES FOR FEVER TREE'S FEVER
TREE/ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE
produced so many diverse, unusual sounds and groups that it would be
hard to find any worthwhile psychedelic band that wasn't idiosyncratic
in some ways. Even among late-'60s psychedelic groups, however, Fever
Tree boasted attributes that set them aside from many of their peers on
several counts. There was their unusual heavy concentration of
classical and jazz influences within a rock framework, as well as their
use of numerous instruments other than the standard guitars, bass,
drums, and keyboards. There was also the use of a husband-wife team
that wasn't part of the group, Scott and Vivian Holtzman, who supplied
much of the material as well as handling management and production
duties. The Houston group did some recording both before and after
their first two albums, but those two records, Fever Tree and Another Time, Another Place—combined
here onto one CD—are considered their most essential and popular work.
Originally known as the Bostwick Vines, the group changed their name to
Fever Tree after hooking up with the Holtzmans, who had already written
some material on records by the New Christy Minstrels and Tex Ritter.
It wasn't the kind of resume one would expect to lead to involvement
with an emerging psychedelic rock combo, but Fever Tree proved adept at
interpreting and recording the Holtzmans' material for rock
arrangements, also getting involved in the writing as well. With the
lineup of singer Dennis Keller, guitarist Michael Knust, drummer John
Tuttle, bassist E.E. "Bud" Wolfe III, and rhythm
guitarist/keyboardist Don Lampton, they had some success in Houston
with singles on the Mainstream label. By the time they were ready to
record their first album, they'd signed to a new label, Uni, and
replaced Lampton with multi-instrumentalist Rob Landes, who handled
harp, flute, harpsichord, bass recorder, clavinette, and cello in
addition to piano and organ.
"I actually had played on the 45s that were
released before the first album," clarifies Landes today. "The original
keyboard player, Don Lampton, was pretty limited in his playing, and
Scott Holtzman and I had been friends for many years prior to Fever
Tree. [He] called me and asked me to play on 'Girl Don't Push Me' and
one or two of the other early singles. I think my classical background
affected the group's sound significantly. I would sneak in some Bach or
Ravel into some of the songs, and was always surprised when someone
would come up to us at concerts and mention specific things about the
classical tid-bits that I inserted."
As for the group dynamic, he adds, "I've always
maintained that the two strongest elements of Fever Tree were Dennis's
voice, and Mike's guitar. The rest of us added to those two dynamic
musical forces. I guess without tooting my own horn, the keyboards and
flute, etc. that I played would have been the next strongest influence.
Bud was a strong bass player, but usually laid back most of the time.
John was, by his own admission, never a really strong drummer, and we
used a studio drummer from time to time to 'sweeten' the drum tracks."
It was unusual for a group to work so closely with
outside figures such as the Holtzmans in the songwriting, but Landes
says the process worked well. "Scott and Vivian were involved in every
single aspect of Fever Tree, so it was easy to play and record their
material. We rehearsed at their house. There was a room that was set up
for us at all times. Scott was our manager as well as our producer, so
he, especially, was very involved in every song that we ever recorded.
He had great ideas and we loved his input. I think we stretched out our
musical ideas during the recording of the first album, simply because
we were in the studio for a long period of time, and we just had more
time to try more things." Though Fever
Tree would largely be recorded in Houston, some of it was done
in Los Angeles as well, and orchestral arrangements were added by Gene
Page and David Angel. Page was best known for his work on many soul
hits, including the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin'
Feelin'," while Angel will always be most famous for his contributions
to Love's Forever Changes,
now regarded as one of the greatest rock albums of all time.
Certainly the track that caught the most attention
on Fever Tree was "San
Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)," with its searing sustain
guitar and highly topical late-'60s subject. As it got a good amount of
airplay throughout the US, it comes as a surprise to learn that it only
made #91 in the national charts—the only national chart single the
group ever landed. The instrumental tag that brings the track to a
close, Landes reveals, "came about as an accident. During the recording
of it, we had finished several takes, and at the end of one, the song
began again, with the timpani from a previous take. So we just left it
as it played, and faded it."
Another cut on the LP, "The Sun Also Rises," seemed
to have some pop potential as well, with its arching upbeat melody,
sweeping strings, and jazzy piano passages. "I always loved 'The Sun
Also Rises' and had always wanted it released as a single," enthuses
Rob. "I don't know why it never was." One of his own favorites on the
record is "Come With Me (Rainsong)," "a song that Scott, Vivian and I
had written. The night we recorded that song a tremendous Houston
rainstorm came up, and somebody (probably Scott) had the idea to put a
mike outside and record the storm over the final take. You can hear the
cars driving down the street (incidentally, it is a street named
Broadway), and the thunder at the very end of the song actually
happened just as you hear it. We got word a year or so after the album
was released that Elvis loved that song, and wanted to record it. It
never, as far as we ever knew, happened. Pity."
Although most of the material on the album was
generated by Fever Tree and the Holtzmans, there was also a medley of
the Beatles' "Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out," which had actually
comprised two sides of the same Beatles single in late 1965. There was
also a version of Buffalo Springfield's "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even
Sing" that must count as one of the earliest covers of a Neil Young
composition. "'Clancy' had been a favorite song of mine before we
recorded it," notes Landes. "If you listen closely to the track, you
can hear a 'backward piano' on it. I wrote down the piano line, and
then played it on another track, playing it backward, as they played
the lead track. When they played track forward, you can hear the piano
playing backward. I always wished the mix had brought that track out a
little bit stronger."
Much of the material on Fever Tree boasted multi-sectioned
structures and classical influences that not only reflected psychedelic
experimentation, but looked forward in some ways to progressive rock.
They continued to explore those directions on their second album, Another Time, Another Place, which
in the style of the day offered some quite lengthy tracks. A
seven-minute reworking of "Man Who Paints the Pictures" opened the
album, while a similarly extended number, "Jokes Are for Sad People,"
led off side two. "We were very aware of the variety of sounds that we
produced in the group," observes Landes. "We were all instrumental (no
pun intended) in bringing various things to the table musically. I was
already into jazz and, of course, classical. I had learned to play the
flute a few years before in order to play some jazz on it. I think
songs such as 'Jokes Are for Sad People' showed a strong jazz
influence. We were a little worried at one point, I think, that the
second album was too diverse. But I think in the end, it spoke for
itself, and ended up being a lot of people's favorite of the albums."
It out-performed the debut LP on the charts, too, reaching #83 where Fever Tree had peaked at #156.
There's a pronounced soul-influenced heavy rock feel
to some of the material on Another
Time, Another Place, especially in Dennis Keller's vocals.
Landes has proclaimed Vanilla Fudge—not thought of one of the biggest
names of '60s rock today, but a very popular group at the time—a
particularly strong influence on his organ style. "After the first year
of playing, I decided that the 'Beatle Organ' that I was playing was
too thin a sound for the intensity of the group's overall sound, and I
wanted to switch to a Hammond B-3," he remembers. "I had become a huge
fan of Vanilla Fudge, and loved the way they employed the Hammond B-3
sound into their albums. So, I bought a B-3, with two Leslie speakers,
and we began using it on the road. It never quite sounded right."
Rob continues, "So, I had heard that Vanilla Fudge
was playing at a club somewhere. I called the club manager, told him
who I was, and fortunately, he knew who I was, and I asked him where
the group was staying. He gave me their number, and I called the
keyboard player—I think it was Mark Stein—and asked him how they miked
the organ, and he told me how to do it. Passed the info along to our
set-up guys, and viola! It worked. The problem with miking Leslie
speakers is that they produce a lot of wind noise when they spin. So he
told us how to do it. I guess the B-3 was the biggest Vanilla Fudge
influence in the group."
Although, as Landes acknowledges, "Another Time was filled with a lot
more variety than the first album," it's not his favorite Fever Tree
record. "Frankly, except for a couple of songs, I was never that fond
of the second album. I don't think it compares to the first album. I
guess my two favorites are 'Jokes' and 'Peace of Mind.'" While most of
the material again originated with Fever Tree and the Holtzmans, "Grand
Candy Young Sweet" came from Frank Davis, while "Peace of Mind" was
sourced from, unexpectedly, Nick Woods, who had been in the New Christy
Minstrels. As for the other cover tune, Rob admits, "I always hated,
and still hate, the song 'Fever.' Even when Peggy Lee sang it, I never
liked it. I fought doing it on the album. I think Scott wanted to do it
simply because it referred to 'fever.'"
Considering how many instruments and how much
orchestration was involved in Fever Tree recordings, it seems like it
must have been quite a challenge to present the material in concert.
According to Landes, however, "We did a pretty good job on re-creating
our songs onstage. Of course, in those days, we didn't play with any
pre-recorded tracks, so it was impossible to duplicate everything. But
there was so much going on during our concerts. We performed with a
light show, and of course, the audiences were so stoned that they
probably thought they were hearing everything that was on the album!
The light shows that we had during our performances were actually
really good, and added a huge dimension to our concerts."
There were a couple more Fever Tree albums in the
early 1970s before the group broke up. Although there was a live
reunion with everyone except John Tuttle a few years later and "Dennis
and Mike talked about reforming the group and doing it all again, I was
not the least bit interested in doing that again," concludes Rob. "I
felt like it would be trying to re-create something that just would
never be the same. Mike tried several reincarnations of Fever Tree, but
none of them ever worked." Knust, sadly, died in 2003. Landes, however,
remains very much an active musician, putting his classical training to
use as the organist/artist-in-residence at St. Luke’s United Methodist
Church in Houston since 1996. In addition to his duties as organist, he
writes music for the choirs, and performs organ and piano concerts both
at St. Luke’s and around the country. -- Richie Unterberger
unless otherwise specified.
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