The swirling, churning Sunset Strip
conjured many bands during the ’60s, some of whom went on to
international acclaim. While Clear Light never achieved that level of
fame, their story is all the more intriguing for it. Formed in 1966 as
Garnerfield Sanitarium and later the Brain Train, they were managed by
Strip fixture Bud Mathis. As the Brain Train, they recorded and released
one single before signing to Elektra Records and changing their name to
Clear Light. Once there, producer Paul Rothchild took over band
management and together with engineer Bruce Botnick, began work on the
band’s sole LP, released in 1967. Rothchild, known for producing the
afore-mentioned Love and The Doors, helped the band craft an album that
stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those of their peers.
The album’s gestation was difficult, according to accounts. Rothchild reportedly thought rhythm guitarist Robbie “The Werewolf” Robison was not up to the task and convinced the group to replace him with keyboard player Ralph Shuckett. Lead guitarist and vocalist Bob Seal contributed two memorable songs to the album, “They Who Have Nothing” and “With All in My Mind,” before he, too, was sacked post-LP at Rothchild’s urging. But in between losing guitarists, the group managed to record a classic psychedelic LP, full of chiming guitars dipped in fuzz, kaleidoscopic keyboards and bountiful beats from double drummers. The album’s stand-out track was their cover of Tom Paxton’s “Mr. Blue,” which they transformed from a folk song to a six minute plus paranoia-laden lament. A popular track on “underground FM” playlists, it was a showcase for lead vocalist Cliff De Young. The album met with little success upon release, reaching #126 on the Billboard album chart. Though it fared better in England, the group ground to a halt after furtive attempts at recording a second album.
This story has a very interesting postscript. After the breakup, several of the band members found successful ventures. Drummer Dallas Taylor became a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Manassas and the Stephen Stills Band. Bassist Doug Lubahn played bass on several Doors albums and went on to play with Billy Squier. Danny Kortchmar, Seal’s replacement, worked with Carole King, James Taylor and many others. Second drummer Michael Ney and keyboard player Shuckett became active session players. Vocalist Cliff De Young became a successful actor with a long list of movie and television credits that continues to this day. Rothchild continued his prolific career, producing Crosby, Stills & Nash, Janis Joplin and many others until his death in 1995. Botnick remained active as well, producing many ’70s artists before beginning a long-running affiliation with film composer Jerry Goldsmith, working with him on over 100 film scores.
Bringing the story back to 1967, Clear Light is a fascinating time capsule and a compelling audio experience. This Sundazed edition has been sourced from the original Elektra analog tapes for a superior listening experience and includes a bonus track, "She's Ready to be Free," the flip-side of their first Elektra single, "Black Roses."
1. Black Roses
3. A Child’s Smile
4. Street Singer
5. The Ballad Of Freddie & Larry
6. With All In Mind
7. Mr. Blue
8. Think Again
9. They Who Have Nothing
10. How Many Days Have Passed
11. Night Sounds Loud
12. She’s Ready To Be Free (bonus track)