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>FolkWax Spotlight On
The Goldebriars

by
Arthur Wood
November 1, 2006

Before The Tyme Was Right...

 

Part One - Formation & Album One

 

By Arthur Wood

 

First Goldebriars Photo (L to R): Sheri Holmberg, Ron Neilson (standing),
 Curt Boettcher, and Dotti Holmberg

 

A few years on from the great acoustic Folk music scare of the early 1960s, a number of musicians plugged-in and Folk Rock was born. Concurrently, and pretty much concentrated on America's West Coast, although the contributors came from all over North America, a number of musicians with a Folk music background also plugged in and leavened their songs with a Pop beat. For the sake of a better name, the concoction was dubbed "Sunshine Pop." Practitioners included the hit-making Mamas And Papas, Harper's Bazaar, Spanky & Our Gang, Sunshine Company, The Association, and more...

 

Prior to forming the Mamas And Papas, initially accompanied by Scott McKenzie and Dick Weissman, South Carolina-born John Phillips was leader of The Journeymen. Between 1961-1963 this New York-based Folk trio cut three albums for Capitol Records. The latter label was also home, for a time, to contemporaries The Kingston Trio. Even though both trios included songs composed by group members on their recordings, the vocal style utilized is lovingly referred to in traditional Folk circles in the U.K. as "hand on ear, woolly sweater." This earnest and urgent form of delivery - a marriage of the group's members singing in unison, aided by occasional solo voice - simply lacked vocal subtlety. By 1964 McKenzie and Phillips had fallen out while Weissman headed for academia, so Marshall Brickman and John's second wife, Holly Michelle Gilliam, performed as The Journeymen for a short time. When Brickman departed, Phillips recruited Denny Doherty from The Halifax Three/Mugwumps, but The New Journeyman never released any recordings. Following a sojourn in the Virgin Islands where Cass Elliot joined them, the quartet moved on to California. In October 1965, while aiding their old friend Barry McGuire (ex-New Christy Minstrels) record an album, the quartet met producer/label owner Lou Adler. According to legend, on the Islands, driven by John, the quartet had created/invented a more fluid, layered, harmony-rich vocal style. Adler obviously saw their potential and signed them to his Dunhill label. With their star in the ascendancy, Mamas And Papas entered the U.S. Pop Top Ten five times during 1966. The ensuing five years were something of a musical roller coaster ride, but that's a whole other story...

 

I have to admit that for me four decades of the Mamas And Papas recordings remain as fresh and vital as the day they were made. Furthermore, the harmony groups name-checked at the close of the opening paragraph all enjoyed chart success during the 1960s, but there was a parallel universe of Sunshine Pop groups who didn't. That's not to say the music they produced was any less valid. I have my CD collection set out alphabetically until you come to recordings by The Millennium. Many people consider The Millennium's Begin to be this musician's masterpiece. (Their debut album, Begin [1967], was reputed, at $100,000, to be the most expensive album Columbia had released up to that date.) Adjacent to The Millennium are almost two dozen discs that bear names such as Lee Mallory, Joey Stec, Dotti Holmberg, Sandy Salisbury, and Eternity's Children - a small sample of the recordings which this virtually unknown genius contributed to, either as songwriter, session producer, or session vocalist/musician. The genius I'm referring to is Eau Claire, Wisconsin-born Curtis Roy Boettcher [January 7, 1944 - June 14, 1987]. In addition to The Millennium and Boettcher's solo albums, my collection also boasts recordings by Curt's bands California Music, Sagittarius, and The Ballroom. Missing, until recently, were recordings by the Minneapolis quartet that launched Curt's recording career, the Goldebriars. Long out of print, Collectors' Choice Music recently reissued the Goldebriars [1964] and Straight Ahead! [1964] in the United States. A third album was begun, but only one 7" single from those sessions was released. More about that later...

 

What's instantly noticeable about the groups listed at the end of the opening paragraph is that compared with the Goldebriars only the Mamas And Papas consisted of two male and two female members. Spanky & Our Gang, Sunshine Company, and mixed-sex Folk groups like Peter Paul & Mary, The Seekers only featured a single female voice. In actual fact there was only three vocalists in the Goldebriars, but I would contend that it was the dynamic of two female voices - Sheri Holmberg sang alto and harmonies, Dotti Holmberg sang the high parts - merged with a male voice that made the Goldebriars so unique and ahead of their time. While the late John Phillips [d. 2001], leader, hit songwriter, and vocal arranger of Mamas And Papas is the often credited with being the lead architect of sunshine pop as I've already hinted, that's not strictly the case...

 

The Goldebriars' story begins in 1963, on a January evening in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Onstage that evening at Le Zoo Coffeehouse you would have found Curt Boettcher, Folksinger, the son of a career navy officer. Curt had spent a couple of his influential teenage years living in Iwakuni, Japan, and in late 1962, enrolled as a language major at the University of Minnesota. In his spare time Boettcher continued to dabble with his first love - music. Sheri and Dotti Holmberg happened to be in the audience that evening waiting for a ride home in their brother Gary's car. Harmony singing was not unknown to the Holmberg sisters, and by the end of the evening they had joined Boettcher onstage. Intrigued by the sound created by their voices the threesome decided to continue working together, and a couple of weeks later recruited Ron Neilson, a sixteen-year-old banjo playing acquaintance of the Holmbergs. Sheri had recently turned nineteen, Curt was eighteen, while Dotti was aged seventeen. As Dotti recalls in her liner notes to the Goldebriars reissue, by February the quartet had adopted that name because "'Gold' we thought meant something special and 'Briar' fit on with the Folksong era, so we added a silent 'e' to link them." From the outset Boettcher was the acknowledged group leader, vocalist, and rhythm guitarist; Ron played lead guitar; and while Sheri shook the occasional tambourine, the Holmberg girls simply sang and harmonized their hearts out.

 

The Goldebriars were soon booked to perform a fourteen-week residency at Le Zoo and there was even talk of an agreement that the club owner would manage the group. By the end of the residency Boettcher had abandoned his university studies, Sheri gave up her day job at a St. Paul insurance firm, and that summer Dotti graduated from high school. Once he began working with the group Ron continued his school studies as a remote student. Being paid for their Le Zoo performances was not always guaranteed and as Dotti relates in her CD-ROM book Whatever Happened To Jezebel? [2004] in the summer of 1963, to make ends meet they all took day jobs, "Sheri got a job in a seed company, Curt in a tractor factory, and myself in a flour company. We felt like starting our own agriculture department. Ron was working for his Dad." Having mentioned her name it seems appropriate to introduce Jezebel at this juncture. She was a two-and-a-half-foot-high, brown, fertility goddess, carved from a palm stump by native of the Marshall Islands. Ron's father had brought her home after serving in the Pacific during World War II. Adopted as their good luck mascot, Jezebel appeared on both their album covers and for a time accompanied them on concert appearances.    

 

The group's first touring vehicle was, according to Dotti, "an ugly, gray, 1951 Dodge," which the group christened "THE." The Goldebriars were introduced to their first real manager, John Haeny, by Judy Helgeland, a Le Zoo waitress and Mark Hollenquist. Hollenquist was a member of another Minneapolis Folk group, The Flinthill Singers, that Haeny already managed. When Haeny entered the picture Le Zoo's pretensions to managing the quartet quickly melted and in July 1963 Haeny's Contemporary Talent signed them to a management contract. Haeny contacted the Al Sheehan Booking Agency who began booking the group appearances at local charity events, benefits, and a variety of club venues in the Twin Cities. That fall Tom Peterson joined the group for a short time as a second male vocalist.

 

After recording two Goldebriars demos at Gaiety Recording Haeny scored the quartet a recording deal with CBS. In late November the quartet headed for New York and took up residence at the Victoria Hotel on 7th Avenue at 51st Street. Columbia's studio was located on 30th Street in an old deconsecrated church. The first session took place on the evening of November 21, 1963. They continued recording till midday the following day when the news came through that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The group was back in the studio that night and the album was completed within a week. CBS house producer Bob Morgan worked with the Goldebriars on their debut album. It would appear that Morgan produced two final mixes, one without and one with overdubbed voices. In her book Dotti describes the latter as sounding like "a cherub choir." When Morgan offered Boettcher the choice he chose the overdubbed version.

 

Epic Records, a CBS subsidiary label, released the Goldebriars' self-titled recording early the following year. According to Ray McCarthy's interview with Boettcher that appeared in 1974 in ZigZag Magazine (U.K.),  "In the States the Goldebriars was released on the same date as Meet The Beatles." That would make the release date January 20, 1964, while Dotti clearly recalls that their debut disc appeared during early February 1964. Irrespective it's the impact of The Beatles' arrival in the U.S. and the promoted release of their albums and singles by Capitol Records that is the point here. Their recordings, previously released on Vee-Jay and other small U.S. record labels, met with little or no success. The Beatles' first U.S. visit began on February 7 and was preceded by their debut Capitol single "I Want To Hold Your Hand" reaching #1 Pop on February 1, while Meet The Beatles became the U.S. #1 album on February 15 and remained in that position for eleven weeks. British artists suddenly became America's favourite musical flavour for a time and the Goldebriars and countless other young homegrown acts suffered as a result.

 

Nothing, however, should detract from what was achieved in their chosen musical sub-genre by the Goldebriars on their self-titled debut outing. By way of introducing the quartet to America's listening public, Epic Records issued a radio station only EP, the GoldeBriars: Your Special Introduction To The GoldeBriars, that featured the group performing the traditional songs "He Was A Friend Of Mine," "Shenandoah," "A Mumblin' Word (He Never Said)," and "Old Time Religion." The label also commercially issued one single from the album featuring "Pretty Girls And Rolling Stones" (Boettcher, Neilson, D. Holmberg, S. Holmberg) b/w "Shenandoah" (traditional arranged) while the GoldeBriars (Index # BN 26087 stereo, LN 26087 mono) was a twelve-song collection. Haeny and Contemporary Talent parted company with the Goldebriars around the time that the album was released and Burt Block became their manager. 

 

The Goldebriars First Album

Click Cover For More Info

 

Unlike most reissue labels, to date Collectors' Choice has operated a policy of releasing albums in their original form (with no bonus or unreleased tracks). Employing the original (LP) artwork on the outside of the fold-over CD case insert, the inside of that insert generally contains a new, specially commissioned liner note by a (well-known) music journalist/writer. With the release of the two Goldebriars albums, that policy has altered rather radically. the GoldeBriars features twelve additional tracks, a mix of previously unheard songs and alternate takes. In addition to the aforementioned original (LP) artwork, Dotti Holmberg has penned a liner note for each release and each eight-page booklet also features all the song lyrics. The original twelve tracks on the GoldeBriars was composed of seven traditional tunes, a cover of Huddie Ledbetter's train song "Alabama Bound," and four songs that name-checked Curt as a contributing writer. Similarly, the bonus unreleased tracks feature seven traditional songs, plus two penned by Curt and one each by Richard Adler and Bob Goldstein. Just in case you're counting there are two versions of the Adler composition. Goldstein wasn't involved with the group till a few months after their debut was released and his song "I'm Gonna Marry You," listed in the credits as an alternate take, dates from the Straight Ahead! sessions.  

 

Folk music is a source rich with train songs and the GoldeBriars the reissue opens with "Railroad Boy" originally included "Linin' Track" and now features the outtakes "Freight Train Blues" and "Sunshine Special." Dylan was known to perform "He Was A Friend of Mine" during the early 1960s and the Byrds (finally) covered it on Turn! Turn! Turn! [1965], albeit using lyrics that McGuinn is said to have written on the eve of JFK's assassination, while the Goldebriars version is underpinned by a gently loping guitar driven melody. Towards the close of the Boettcher/Neilson original "Come Walk Me Out," there are melodic and lyrical references to "Morning Dew," a song Tim Rose recorded as a solo artist circa 1967. The question arises...what was his source? It's obvious why the bubbly, effervescent group original "Pretty Girls And Rolling Stones" was chosen as the single, while Boettcher's voice intertwines beautifully with the Holmberg sisters on the energetic Eastertide spiritual number "A Mumblin' Word (He Never Said)" - both cuts are templates for the plethora of harmony rich, sunshine Pop songs that would appear a couple of years down the road. As for a slower-paced template, their interpretation of the traditional "Shenandoah" is most certainly one of those. Pursuing further a quasi-religious theme, "Old Time Religion" was also a track on the 1964 album, while the previously unreleased Boettcher original "Noah" proves that he was well familiar with the requirements of the genre, musically and lyrically.

 

No sixties Folk recording would be complete without "We Shall Overcome," although the Goldebriars' interpretation is a previously unreleased track. The song was featured on Joan Baez's late 1963 release In Concert Vol.2. In fact if you trace the evolution of the song it's directly related to "No More Auction Block," the original track #10 on the Goldebriars. Both interpretations of Adler's "Nothing More To Look Forward To" are previously unreleased and this Calypso-style number originated from the composer's 1961 musical Kwamina, which he set in Africa. Credited as a group composition, "Voyager's Lament," the final track on their debut album, also melodically references "Plaisir D'Amour," a song Baez covered on Joan Baez, Vol. 2 [1961]. Coming full circle and back where we stated, the latter Baez collection also included "Railroad Boy."   

 

To be continued...

 

Arthur Wood is a founding editor of FolkWax. You may contact Arthur at folkwax@visnat.com.

 

 

Real Sounds From the Work Place

 

The following are the Top Five most often listened-to recordings in the FolkWax office this week, November 2, 2006 (in no particular order):

 

1.  Tony Furtado - Thirteen (Funzalo Records) Release: Jaunary 23

2.  Peter Joseph Burtt - Sunken Forest (Ten to Twelve Productions)

3.  Andy Statman - Fast Flatbush Blues (Shefa Records)

4.  George Nostrand - Radio Songs (self-produced)

5.  Ben Bowen King - Sidewalk Saints (Talking Taco)

 

 

 

 

This Week in FolkWax:

 

Steve Gillette

 

- In the E-zine: The FolkWax Spotlight is on Steve Gillette. Arthur Wood takes an in-depth look at this unique American singer-songwriter, complete with interviews and background information...a must-read for all Gillette fans new and old.

- On our News Page: Music Publisher Buddy Killen Passes; Songwriter Marijohn Wilkin Passes; Tillman Franks Passes; Voting Opens For Scottish Music Awards; Bungendore Bush Ballad Finalists; Americana Playlist; and much more Facts For Folks!

- On our Front Porch feature page: The FolkWax Spotlight is on the Goldebriars. Arthur Wood takes a closer look at this Folk group on the heels of Collectors' Choice reissues of their classic albums the Goldebriars and Straight Ahead!.

- On the Pickin' 'n' Grinnin' page: Arthur Wood reviews Martha Tilston's Of Milkmaids & Architects and David Olney's Lenora; Kerry Dexter reviews The Missing Gift by Anna Massie, Jenn Butterworth, and Mairearad Green; Adam Harris reviews Chris Thile's How To Grow A Woman From The Ground; plus reviews of Ellis Paul's Essentials and Sherry Austin's Drive On Back.

- One Year Ago Today In FolkWax: FolkWax was "Sittin' In With Billy Joe Shaver." Adam Harris sat down with one of the great American songwriters and discussed Shaver's autobiography, personal losses, music, and his CD The Real Deal.

- Don't forget to play the Folklore Trivia Game: Remember, everyone who plays is in the drawing for the prize! This week's prize: a Folk Ten-Pack! The vault has been tapped once again and we are giving away a ton of cool CDs. Play today for your chance at ten CDs!




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