By Richie Unterberger

Bob Gibson had recorded several albums in the mid-to-late 1950s before joining Elektra Records, and would record several others on a sporadic basis in the quarter-century or so after his stint with the label ended in the mid-1960s. Arguably, however, the four LPs he issued on Elektra (one as part of a duo with Bob Camp, aka Hamilton Camp) are considered his best and certainly most influential recordings.

    The first of these, Ski Songs (also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music), was a somewhat misleading introduction to Gibson's folk repertoire, even if it was (according to Bob himself) the biggest-selling album of his entire career. For it was entirely dedicated to songs about skiing, evolving from a musical that Gibson had written, though ultimately it wasn't produced. In contrast its follow-up, the 1961 LP Yes I See, was far more reflective of his folk background and roots, its songs and tone generally covering far more serious territory than its predecessor. One thing it did have in common with Ski Songs, however, was Gibson's willingness to experiment with different kinds of full-bodied musical accompaniment and backup vocalists, at a time when many folk albums stuck rather stodgily to the acoustic guitar-and-voice format.

    Though Ski Songs had even gone as far as to include some low-key electric guitar, neither it nor Yes I See was anything as radical as pre-folk-rock. Nonetheless, it was unusual, for a folk LP on Elektra or one by any other noted solo artist of the early-'60s folk revival, to feature as many musicians as Yes I See did. Among those accompanying Gibson were Tommy Tedesco, one of the top Los Angeles session guitarists of the era, who in the 1960s would play on records by everyone from the Beach Boys and Judy Henske to the Monkees, the Fifth Dimension, Van Dyke Parks, Randy Newman, and Frank Zappa. Though not as famed, James E. Bond, Jr. played bass on innumerable jazz, folk, and rock sessions of the 1950s and 1960s.

    Other musicians listed on the original LP were Joseph Robert Gibbons, Herbert O. Brown, Eddie Lee Kendrix, Joe L. Clayton, and Nick Bonney. Though the specific nature of their contributions is not detailed, bongos and a piano can be heard as well as the expected stringed instruments, and it's likely Gibbons and Bonney pitched in on guitar. Perhaps the most imaginative additions were the backup vocals of Bessie Smith and the Gospel Pearls, a Los Angeles gospel quintet.

    While many early Elektra Records were recorded close to its New York base, this particular one was done in RCA studios in Hollywood. Apparently there was also some input from Bumps Blackwell, thanked in the liners "for his assistance in the preparation of this album." An A&R director for Specialty Records in the 1950s, Blackwell had played important roles in the early careers of Little Richard and Sam Cooke. Most of the liner notes, however, were not given to personnel listings, but to praise by Studs Terkel—today recognized as one of the premier oral historians of the United States, yet in the early 1960s primarily known as a Chicago radio personality.

    Though Elektra chief Jac Holzman and Mark Abramson are credited as production supervisors on the LP, Gibson maintained in his autobiography I Come for to Sing (co-written with Carole Bender) that he was really the producer. "Jac Holzman couldn't believe it because we spent $1,600 to produce it," he exclaimed. "He told me he was outraged! 'I spent $1,600 on this album!!' And I thought, 'Well, that's not so very much. You got all the instruments and those voices and everything'...I mean, the playing was hot. I love that album and it was one of the first times where a white guy sang with black women." Gibson also felt that "there's stuff on this album that people weren't doing until much later. It wasn't until the early '70s that this was a common format, but I did it ten years earlier."

    The twelve songs on Yes I See were a mixture of Gibson originals, traditional material, and contemporary songs by other writers. Some of the tunes Gibson himself wrote or made compositional contributions to would become among his most celebrated. None was more celebrated than the Gibson-Hamilton Camp collaboration "You Can Tell the World," which became the very first track on the first Simon & Garfunkel album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM. Another Gibson-Camp effort, "Well, Well, Well," likewise was honored with covers from top folk acts when Peter, Paul & Mary made it the closing song of their 1966 Peter, Paul and Mary LP, the Seekers doing their own interpretation of the number in the mid-1960s as well.

    On the title track of the album, as well as some other points, you can hear how Gibson's songwriting and vocal delivery were strong influences on the young Phil Ochs, who would in fact write a couple of the songs on his 1964 debut LP All the News Fit to Sing with Bob. Gibson himself would soon revive "Yes I See" as part of the "Civil War Trilogy" on the live album he recorded with Hamilton (then known as Bob) Camp in 1961, At the Gate of Horn. That record also included a version of "Daddy Roll 'Em," though Gibson put a solo recording on Yes I See. This rousing tune—influenced, like many of Bob's songs from the time, by gospel—would became one of his most popular numbers, the arrangement on the Yes I See album almost verging close to rock'n'roll with its dynamic soulful backup harmonies and driving bongos.

    Other songs of note on Yes I See included "Springhill Mine Disaster," written by two of the most noted songwriters on the British folk scene, Ewan MacColl and his American-born wife Peggy Seeger. "John Henry" and "Motherless Children" were revisitations of famous traditional songs, though Gibson added new words and music to his arrangement of the latter tune. More of Gibson's blues sensibilities came to the fore on "Trouble in Mind," covered by literally hundreds of blues, country, and pop singers before and since, from Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan. More Gibson-Camp collaborations were also heard on "By and By" and "Blues Around My Head (When the Sun Comes Up in the Morning)," neither of which would be reprised by the duo on the At the Gate of Horn album.

    Yes I Can See would soon be followed, and perhaps a little overshadowed, by At the Gate of Horn. Both that album and Gibson's final solo effort, 1964's Where I'm Bound, have also been reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music, the latter marking the singer's return to the straightforward solo folk he'd first presented on Elektra with the Yes I See LP. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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