“You Got What It Takes” b/w same,
Kama Sutra KA 548 (1972)
Did Mick Jagger really ruin Buzzy Linhart’s music career?
The way Buzzy remembers it, Mick sent out the word he wasn’t too pleased that the latest album by his band wasn’t getting as much radio attention as Pussycats Can Go Far by Buzzy Linhart.
In an instant, toadies moved throughout the industry to freeze out Pussycats from radio, retail, the media, and… pfffft… that was the last album Buzzy Linhart was allowed to make.
Of course, this being the recollection of the present-day Buzzy, who has suffered through professional, personal, and physical hardships like Job on a bad day, details may be, well, fuzzy.
No matter. Whether the 1974 album failed because of industry politics or a fickle public, it’s still a pop-rock classic.
“James Taylor calls it the greatest rock album of all time,” Buzzy beamed recently from his Berkeley pad. “He gave away more copies of this album as gifts than any other.”
Again, whether this is entirely accurate, “pop-rock classic” holds true for all four of his albums, which started with Buzzy on Philips in 1969. (True aficionados, however, know the man’s recording career more dramatically debuted as a member of The Seventh Sons, a Greenwich Village mainstay in the mid-’60s, with one rare, essential album released in 1968, 4 A.M. at Frank’s, on ESP Records).
Actually, Buzzy’s career began long before that and continued in another entirely different direction after his recording days. The subject of this latest Picture Sleeve Archive affords an overdue look at the interesting career of another of rock’s underappreciated journeymen. Buzzy Linhart never had hits on the popular level, but his success in several different areas is history. For example:
• Bill Cosby and his mid-’70s hit variety show, “Cos.” That was Buzzy as his sidekick and musical director.
• Jerry Paul & The Plebes, “Step Out,” Holiday Records, 1960. Yep, that was Buzzy playing piano and singing background in his first recording experience.
• Bette Midler singing “Friends,” over and over and over again. Yep, that’s Buzzy’s song.
• Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Yep, that’s Buzzy playing vibes with Buffy Sainte-Marie, Fred Neil, David Crosby, Mama Cass, Tim Hardin, Richie Havens. Who didn’t he know during those heady times?
When it came time for his third solo album, Buzzy, recorded for Kama Sutra in 1972, he enlisted the efforts of other friends, like Moogy Klingman on organ (co-writer of “Friends”), future Steely Dan/Doobie Brothers session man supreme Jeff “Skunk” Baxter on acoustic and electric guitars, and Ten Wheel Drive’s Luther Rix. In the engineer’s seat: Todd Rundgren.
Buzzy relates that Todd’s involvement was constrained by his schedule. He was probably the most-wanted producer and engineer of the era, an industry superstar. The recording sessions at the Record Plant were plagued with equipment breakdowns.
“A tweeter was broken in the right-hand speaker of studio B when we were mixing. All engineers thought they were losing their hearing. When we finally found out and fixed it, there was no more time to finish the record.”
With the final tapes having to be delivered in a matter of days, Rundgren was called in on the weekend to finish the record. Only problem: He had to fly out to England on another job at 4 a.m. on Sunday.
“He mixed so f**king fast. Fortunately he had a golden ear and a golden touch,” remembers Buzzy. “What a cheat!”
The resulting album, which included some stone classics like “Tornado” (co-written with Artie Traum), “Sing Joy — Tutti Frutti,” and “Tell Me True,” also included worthy covers of “Take Me To The Pilot” and — in a disputed choice as a single — “You Got What it Takes.”
Kama Sutra label head Neil Bogart chose “You Got What It Takes” as the album’s first single. Buzzy disagreed with that choice. Having first been heard as a massive hit for Marvin Johnson in 1958, the song was a perennial with well-known versions by the Dave Clark Five, Joe Tex, even Johnny Kidd & The Pirates. Although a charming, rather laid-back remake, the song didn’t have the dynamism of other tracks on the album.
“Bogart didn’t believe we could get airplay with a song that ended, only one that faded,” Buzzy said. This was pretty arcane reasoning, but you couldn’t argue with a label head.
“You Got What It Takes” was released to radio stations with a very nice promo-only picture sleeve, showing Buzzy lifting up his new wife, Jeannie, in front of the New York building they lived in at the time. All was happiness then, but it was soon to take a darker turn. Despite having glowing industry reviews on the sleeve’s back cover (raves from Record World, Cashbox, Billboard, etc.), the single disappeared. And with it, the whole album. The marriage didn’t go well, either.
After 1974’s final try for the pop limelight with Pussycats Can Go Far (and the possible Stones’ shutdown), Buzzy moved to movies (“Groove Tube,” “Rush It”) and television (“Cos,” “Fox And His Friends”), and continued songwriting. There was no lack of interest in his material. Folks as varied as Barry Manilow, Jake & The Family Jewels, LaBelle, John Sebastian and Mother’s Finest all performed his songs.
Jumping to today, Buzzy Linhart works out of his Berkeley house on various projects, including the imminent release of two CDs from the archives, Buzzy Linhart Live at Café Au-Go-Go, and the official reissue of his debut album from 1969, Buzzy. His Web site (http://www.buzzylinhart.com) is filled with all sorts of interesting history and trivia. Drop by and say hello. It’s good to stay in touch with friends.
Stephen M. H. Braitman is a writer and music appraiser in San Francisco. His Web site is http://www.musicappraisals.com.