I WAS A 70’s SOUL BAND ARRANGER

(Photo courtesy of Mark Kaplan, Tenor Sax, seated, above right.)

From 1972 through 1975, I wrote the arrangements for a band that had been a long-time fixture on the Hartford, Connecticut Soul, R & B and Funk scene. They were know as The Fabulous Down Beats.

I can’t remember exactly how I got this arranging gig. It seemed to have just sort of happened. I may have answered an ad in the “alternative newspaper” The Hartford Advocate. Or a friend who was in the band may have suggested it. I’m not sure. After all, it was the early 70’s. Anyone who was young or youngish around that time knew that pretty much anything could happen with little explanation. It was all chance encounters with bad flare bell bottoms, itchy polyester suits and the ridiculous golf style shoes on steroids.

Often, in pop or soul bands, it was not uncommon to find nobody who could actually read music. They could be pretty successful too, without being “musically trained”. But in the case of the Fabulous Down Beats, manager Hy Steinberg always made sure there was someone who could not only read music, but who could lead the band in rehearsals. Of course, they would need the actual music parts to rehearse with. And that’s where I came in.

I was accompanying for modern dance classes in the daytime, and playing in music in clubs at night. Arranging for the Down Beats (at any time that suited me) was a good way to add to my income, which was always meager.

My method was simple. Back then, there were no digital players, and I had an old stereo. I would play the vinyl LP or 45 bit by bit, lifting the needle to write down the parts for guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, any horns, lead and background vocals. It was alot of work actually, and I did it all by ear. But the satisfaction of writing it down by hand, and the weekly pay, made it worthwhile.

I remember one tune in particular. It was “Can’t You See” by Tower Of Power, from the 1974 album “Back To Oakland”.

To hear “Can’t You See” click here: https://youtu.be/_4vYFn0A3Nk

I loved that album and that song, so I really wanted to make sure this band did all the parts justice. I lovingly wrote out each note of the guitar chord voicings, along with all the other charts.

When I delivered the charts to the band at their rehearsal studio in downtown Hartford, I remember the astonishment of my good friend Rich Doughty, who was the guitarist. He exclaimed “Wow, man I can’t believe this! He wrote out the exact notes I need to play – it’s so precise!” He then proceeded to nail that chicken scratch rhythm part on his guitar.

Who could know that in eleven years, I would be visiting a girlfriend in Oakland, that land of Tower of Power funk, and six years after that, be using horn player Lenny Pickett, one of Tower of Power’s early members, on several of my songs for my second major label album “Road To Freedom”?

Well, as I look back on it, as in the early 1970s, those things all seemed to just happen.

That’s how life works.

To hear former Tower of Power Lenny Pickett horn player on my 1991 song “Monday Morning” click here: https://youtu.be/p-DJd4r0hOM

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