October 6, 2007

tp Part 2 of an interview with Paul Sorvino, executive producer of “Top Priority – Anthology: 1974-76”, scheduled for official release on the Kittyhawk Productions label later this year:

Q: Before we continue on with the song selections you chose, tell us a little bit about the what happens with the CD from here on out. Obviously, you’re pleased with how everything turned out.

PS: Well, it’s still kind of hard to believe these 30+ year-old recordings are seeing the digital light of day. Once the original cassettes were transferred to disk, it was simply a matter of breaking the tracks – which upon transfer had several songs per track – down into individual songs. Then, several passes through the DART Digital CD Recording Studio software with help from you, Victor [grins], and then final tweaks and such by Doug Richard, who handled the final mixdown. After all, he was a part of the band at that time and had a sense of how it should sound. But I must say, because the original source cassettes were in pretty rough shape to begin with, there was only so much we could do.

Q: Did any of the other former Top Priority band members have input into the CD creation process?

PS: No, but it wasn’t due to any personal problems or issues with them, it was purely logistics – Mark and Jerry “Keys” Palma live in Massachusetts, Ken “The Cat” McDougal lives in Florida, and all of the digital transfer and recording work took place in Phoenix. But their spirit and enthusiasm for the project created an energy and excitement that made the whole process worthwhile.

Q: And the CD is due to be released when?

PS: Well, it’ll be tied to the formal launch of the Kittyhawk Productions website. I understand there will be CDs, T-shirts, your soon-to-be-published book [Ed. note: The Band That Never Changed Rock: A Definitive History of Top Priority, excerpts of which can be found starting here] and other collectibles available, plus sound clips and a band history. It’ll be exciting, I’m sure…

Q: Well, shall we complete our run-down of the songs found on the Anthology? “The Alleycat Song”…

PS: [Sighs] More wedding music to hully-gully by. The funny thing here is that the band sounds like they’re actually having a keen time of it – there’s some joyful and creative playing by Keys, Mark, and Doug throughout. But still, you’re left wondering when the bride and groom were going to get around to cutting the cake!

Q: “Hang On Sloopy”…

PS: More ‘garage band’ blandness by a band that had to have had better stuff in its repertoire. Is it well performed? Yes. Does the band sing their vocals on key? Yes. But one still has to wonder about the necessity of it all…

Q: “Daniel”…

PS: Unfortunately, yet another rather bland, mid-’70s selection. “The Cat”‘s vocal, while not dynamic, is nevertheless earnest, and the band actually does a nice job on it. It would have been nice to hear the band rock out a bit, but as I said earlier, that’s just not what they were at the time. One half expects some 70-year old grandmother in the audience to suddenly cry out, “don’t you boys ROCK?”

Q: “Michelle”…

PS: While this instrumental goes on a bit long for my taste, I understand the band’s selection and their intent of playing it – after all, the audience was eating at the time and this is the perfect kind of music for those occasions. I actually like the band’s performance here a lot – it has a nice, creative arrangement with some virtuoso finger-picking by The Cat towards the song’s close. Along with the prior track, a quiet gem.

Q: “Wipe Out”…

PS: My guess is that this surf classic was chosen to feature Mark’s drums, and the band absolutely nails it. The drums are perfect throughout, and listening to the song, you’d swear Dick Dale was about to show up with a group of bare-footed hodads and wahines any moment. Next to “You Ain’t Seen Nothing yet”, the band’s best cover in the collection.

Q: “Rhythmic Blues”…

PS: One of two original songs (with the track that follows) created as the band’s alter-ego, “Scat Jacobs and the Manhattans Featuring Sonny Williams”. It is unfortunate that the original tape had some serious problems, but we are fortunate to have what we have. This is a stunning piece of musicianship – the boys are totally into a 12-bar blues thing that transcends anything they had ever attempted before. Inventive, bluesy, and fun, with a walking Doug bass-line throughout, some creative wah guitar by The Cat, and funky piano fills from Keys, it is, in my view, the most interesting piece of work the band ever did. It’s a shame they didn’t explore the blues idiom a little more – perhaps they could have ended up in a place similar to The Doors and their “L.A. Woman” phase.

Q: “Rhythm and Blues, Part I”…

PS: Without a doubt, one of the strangest and most interesting tracks on the CD. What the band was trying to do here is anyone’s guess. It starts out as straight kind of three-chord garage tune in the spirit of The Beach Boys’ “Do It Again”, then transforms itself into a quasi-electric blues / jungle rhythm / African drums syncopated thing before ending without any kind of flourish. Absolutely avant-garde and very strange. It just makes one think what the band might have been capable of doing had they had more time to explore their own creative directions, but this was towards the end of the band’s creative run.

Q: “Tiny Bubbles”…

PS: No less an authority than “Keys” Palma has called their arrangement of this song “avant-garde”, and he’s right. Everything about this arrangement is tongue-in-cheek: a rave-up that the band swings it for all it’s worth: Doug’s bass frolics, Mark’s drums parody the “coolness” the band (actually, just Keys, Doug, and Mark here) is attempting to project, and Keys tosses in every piano cliche ever invented. It’s a bit long, but that’s just another part of the joke the band is in on – they can’t figure how to end it straight. Perhaps the most fun and entertaining track in the whole collection.

Q: “The Hustle”…

PS: In a word, bizarre. This track, obviously recorded at the same session as “Tiny Bubbles”, apparently seeks to answer the question, ‘what would a disco hit sound like if it was played to a swing beat?’. From what I understand, the band had gone up to Hampton Beach, NH one Sunday and saw an elderly group of musicians playing this song this exact way, and, the boys all being highly impressionable, decided to try it out for themselves. One can laugh at the track in all its zaniness and strangeness, but it says a lot about the band’s ingenuity and creativity to have even thought of attempting something this bizarre.

Q: “It’s OK”…

PS: Probably the last song the band ever put to tape. Supposedly, there was another tape with some original material on it, including a live version of “The Boucher Shuffle” (a homage to departed member “The Bouch”), and a bizarre recording called “The Sharecropper Song” (middle-class suburban white boy “Keys” attempting to sing the Delta blues), but these unfortunately appear to have been lost. At any rate, this cover of a minor Beach Boys hit in the summer of 1976 is played fairly straight. The recording is a bit muddy and the vocals are buried way down in the mix, but it does illustrate the band’s interest in The Beach Boys and some of their more obscure recordings that this incarnation of Top Priority enjoyed playing.

Q: Well Paul, it has been a pleasure working with you on this project, and I thank you for your time and perspective as these recordings are about to be unveiled to an entirely disinterested public.

PS: My pleasure as well. Thank you.

Filed in: Top Priority - News! by vcugini at 01:58 | Comments (0)
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