New York City, 1969
One day I was down in the Village hanging out at Izzy Young’s Folklore Center. Izzy asked me if Bill Keith and I would do a concert for him at the Washington Square Church. Bill had been playing the pedal steel guitar for two or three years by this time, and I had gotten back into country music through Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. We thought it might be fun to do a split concert — one half bluegrass and folk and the other half country. Bill suggested that Eric Weissberg could join us. He could play mandolin, and he and Bill could do a couple of double banjo things, and he could also play electric guitar . On the afternoon of the concert we went to the church to rehearse. The door opened and Richard Greene stuck his head in. Richard had played fiddle with Bill Monroe for nearly two years and was now in New York putting together a rock band called Seatrain with the bass player Andy Kulberg. “Where’s your fiddle?” I asked. “Right here” he said. “Why don’t you get it out and do this concert with us?” So he did.
…People seemed to like the musical mixture. It was one of those nights when everything jelled…
Afterward we headed uptown to a club called “St Paul’s Scene” to hear a new band from the West Coast called the Flying Burrito Brothers. Bill Keith and Richard knew Chris Hillman from the Los Angeles bluegrass scene ; Gram Parsons had been in Cambridge a few years earlier in a group called The International Submarine Band, so we were curious to hear them. As I was sitting there listening to them I said, “Gee, that’s sort of what we were just doing.” The thought popped into my mind that maybe some record label would be interested in us. As a result of working at the Newport Folk Festival I had gotten to know some people who worked for the various record labels, and I called up Andy Wickham at Reprise Records. Andy was English but loved the Everly Brothers and had just signed Doug Kershaw to the label. When I told him my idea, he was enthusiastic but said their roster was full. However, he went on to say that possibly Joe Smith at Warner Brothers would be interested. I didn’t know who Joe Smith was and thought that Andy was just putting me off in a nice way. The next day, much to my surprise, I got a call from Joe Smith. It turned out he was the head of Warner Brothers Records! He said, “We’re very excited about this band of yours!” If Joe was excited, I figured I was excited too.”What do you think about Erik Jacobsen producing?” Joe asked. Erik had produced our friend John Sebastian’s band The Lovin’ Spoonful, so he was definitely okay with me. “So,” Joe went on, “How much do you need”?” This was all so unexpected and fast, that I was totally unprepared. Without thinking, I said “$4,500.” “Great”, said Joe, “It’s a deal.” So The Blue Velvet Band came into being.
– from IN IT FOR THE LONG RUN by Jim Rooney
TRACK LIST with writer credit
When the record came out, no less a critic than Robert Christgau (Village Voice) said of this album:
“Warner Brothers rarely disappoints. This is an excellent bluegrass/country-western/folk record by some commercial folkies (ex-Kweskin, ex-Tarriers). Produced by Erik Jacobsen. Too safe and slick, but beautifully done. B+”
Although they were not newcomers to the music world, the greatest individual achievements of each of the four were yet to come.
The design, which includes a whimsical “music business” gameboard in the gatefold, was by Eric Von Schmidt (ably assisted by Rooney). Here is some of his other graphic work.
Blue Velvet Band: credits
- Gary Chester – Drums
- Richard Greene – Violin
- John Hammond, Jr. – Harmonica
- Erik Jacobsen – Producer
- Bill Keith – Banjo, Guitar (Steel)
- Andy Kulberg – Bass
- Pat Rebillot – Piano
- Jim Rooney – Guitar, Vocals
- Buddy Salzman – Drums
- Eric Weissberg – Guitar, Violin, Vocals