Of the tons of obscure rock albums from the first psychedelic era in the late 1960s through early '70s, it's always a pleasant surprise when one jumps out as far ahead of the pack. Some recent pickups that I had high hopes for -- the second Giant Crab album Cool It ... Helios and St. John Green's self-titled debut -- turned out to be limp pop/horn rock and the usual intermittently entertaining Kim Fowley nonsense, respectively. That was a particular disappointment in the case of Giant Crab, as their first album is pretty good ... but I digress. One album I recently unearthed that is worth many repeated spins is the debut album from J.D. Blackfoot, which was both the nom de rock of Ohio native Benjamin Franklin Van Dervort and, at least briefly, a specific group.
The group's origins are with Columbus garage band The Ebb Tides, who released the intriguingly odd single "Spirits Ride the Wind"/"Seance" on the local Jar label. According to his online bio, Van Dervort had joined the band in time for a 1967 Midwest tour; he also has a writing credit on both sides of the single. After returning from the tour, he decided to form his own project, eventually coming up with the Blackfoot moniker. When he couldn't convince his Ebb Tides bandmates to join up -- at least initially -- Van Dervort added some initials to the proposed band name and took it for his own name and musical identity. More importantly, he found a manager and someone willing to finance a demo which led to a contract with Mercury Records.
Meanwhile, Blackfoot was helping out the The Tree -- a new version of The Ebb Tides, some members of which had also helped record his demo, as detailed on Buckeye Beat -- win a battle of the bands contest in Columbus. When that group's victory didn't lead to any recording contract offers, some of the players finally officially joined up for Blackfoot's new venture for Mercury. Also added to the group prior to recording the album was singer-songwriter Craig Fuller, later famous as a member of Pure Prairie League, American Flyer and a re-formed version of Little Feat.
Making all these membership shenanigans more confusing several decades down the road is the fact that the sleeve notes don't actually reflect who plays on the record. Phil Stokes is credited on bass, but joined after recording bassist Kenny May left the band. And it's obvious organist Sterling Smith is not on the album, since there's no organ! Another potentially confusing fact is that this group has no connection to the Southern rock band