Tom Rapp, Pearls Before Swine, and The Making of BalaklavaTom Rapp was unquestionably the most singularly unique singer/songwriter who ever lived. He employed intellectually complex concepts in popular music long before any other artist. After several years of being frustrated by the deceitful business of music, Tom Rapp re-educated himself and became a civil rights attorney.“Another Time” Tom Rapp’s hit single from One Nation Underground (his very first album) addresses the existential dilemma of why some humans survive when others die prematurely. Tom remarkably places the ancient Greek who is credited with attempting to divorce history from myth (Herodotus) on Balaklava, and the great American poet obsessed with death (Sarah Teasdale) on ONU. These conceits were incredibly grown-up for any artist in his early twenties! That Balaklava, his second album, is a musical essay on the very futility of war and the history of sound recording in the same breath, is even more remarkable. After recording these two “hit” recordings, and several less successful, but nonetheless amazing efforts, Tom “retired” to a life of a lawyer, dedicating his legal services to the unfortunate and under-represented members of mankind. Here is a great piece by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist mostly delineating his later career:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/features/rapp.htmThe story of One Nation Underground has been told by Tom & myself at length in the reissue notes for the album on Drag City.Here I will tell the story of Balaklava, my most produced project of all time, and unquestionably the crowning masterpiece of Pearls Before Swine and Tom Rapp.
I had made great progress in building up my studio on West 65th Street in NYC where Balaklava was recorded. I had added many microphones, outboard gear, and a very early Ampex 8 track 1” master recorder. We also had a collection of many exotic musical instruments and a great selection of sound effects available. This enabled a full studio production palette, and what I thought would be my most recognized & important work as an engineer/producer. Sadly, this was not to be the case. Balaklava was in our opinion totally successful, but the public did not agree, as ONU had sold at least 200,000 copies and sales of this second album were comparatively quite disappointing. (We never received any accounting or royalty payments from ESP Disk, but Bernard Stollman the owner, told me on several occasions that PBS sales financed his entire operation, and that all the ‘free jazz’ (also recorded mostly by myself and issued on ESP) wouldn’t have happened without the considerable economic success of One Nation Underground. Because ESP never followed up with proper publicity or promotion on ONU, the poor sales and airplay of Balaklava was hardly surprising.
Balaklava was primarily an anti-war statement, and secondarily an aural essay on the history of sound and recording. Often these premises are conjoined. Trumpeter Landfrey was perhaps the first great historical recording on Edison cylinder. The bugler’s actual name was Landfried. Well recorded on and clearly spoken, there is however some question whether it represents real truth, and if Landfrey actually played the bugle that led the charge of The Light Brigade. This addresses the nature of recording and its relation to physical representations of history & truth. Florence Nightingale’s speech represents the very opposite in early acoustic recordings, it is hard to decipher her message due to her eccentric reading and thick accent. But there is little doubt of her part in the battle of Balaklava as a nurse attending the wounded. The entire Crimean war was a disastrous military affair, and there was little reason to celebrate it except for “The Charge Of The Light Brigade”, the famous poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson. Insane and misguided though it undoubtedly was, it remains the last great British Calvary Charge.
THE SONGS“Translucent Carriages” is pure poetry set to music by Tom. It references Herodotus and features eerie uncredited female background vocals. True Psychedelia!“Images Of April” features a full chorus of pond creatures performing exquisitely at my direction. The synchronization of sound effects is uncanny- what a cocktail of mind-altering substances I must have ingested to achieve this mix!“There Was A Man” is Tom’s twist on the Messiah story. Poor, outcast, and ignored, the Man’s travails are mostly useless. It is the sole track unadorned on Balaklava. It seemed appropriate that I just captured Tom singing and playing his guitar as best I could.
“I Saw The World (Spinning Like A Toy)” is Tom’s outlook on the zeitgeist of the ‘60s in musical format. It features a glorious string orchestra arranged by my close friend and collaborator, Warren Smith. Again, I contributed the nature sounds.“Guardian Angels” was our attempt to avoid the cliched use of a string trio accompaniment by making the piece sound as if it was primitively recorded long ago. The trio musicians were African-American. Alas, the arranger & violist Selwart Clark and the cellist Kermit Moore have gone on to be actual angels. Sanford Allan, the only survivor & the violinist, was the first African- American to be a regular member of The New York Philharmonic.“Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, was the only cover song that Tom and I wanted to record. It is simply one of the greatest songs ever written. It features a unique double-bass marimba played by Warren Smith. This marimba was so tall it required Warren to stand on a platform to reach the keys!“Lepers And Roses” was arranged by another close friend and lifelong partner Al Schackman. Al was the guitarist for Nina Simone for her entire career. His electric guitar is accompanied by Bill Salter on acoustic bass, Warren Smith on vibraphone, and Joe Farrell on flute. Salter’s great bass performances and Farrell’s great reeds & flute playing are featured on many songs on Balaklava.
“Ring Thing” is Tom’s take on Tolkien’s hobbit stories. He is accompanied by Warren on wind chimes and a large orchestral gong. Bill Salter plays an amazing bowed bass. The bagpipe player was told to play anything he wished and just walk around the studio playing. He was wearing his NYPD uniform pants during the overdub and was understandably confused. His performance was perfect.Wayne Harley, Lee Crabtree, and Jim Bohannon also contributed many excellent musical efforts on Balaklava.
I recommend your reading American Troubadours by Mark Brend with foreword by Tom Rapp for further information on this period in American music history.
The remastering was greatly advanced by Joseph Miuccio who did the forensics on both Pearls Before Swine albums reissued on Drag City. His services cannot be overvalued as to the great sound on these projects.
A work way ahead of its time, I fervently hope this 50 year reissue and remastering of Balaklava will achieve what Tom Rapp and I intended in 1968.