Saturday, June 09, 2007
BLO: Step Three
(that pic is kinda messed up, ain't it? i'll have to fix it later)
With the release of their third album (their second for the year 1975), the three members of BLO were riding high. Flush with success, the trio celebrated by featuring for the first time on one of their LP covers. Poised on the roof of a sleek red coupe, garbed in body-hugging synthetic fabric finery, they appear affluent, confident, and--an appellative one would hesitate before applying to the earthy Afro-hippies of Chapter One and Phase 2--pretty fucking fly. Their seating positions spell out the name of their band, left to right: B for Berkley, L for Laolu, O for...
Wait a minute... That's not Odumosu on the cover.
And it's not just the cover; a glance at the sleeve notes confirms that Mike Odumosu does not appear anywhere on this record. In his stead, we find Biddy Wright, the nimble multi-instrumentalist who around the same period was starting to work with the Lijadu Sisters, producing for them clean and lean funk, rock and reggae tracks remarkable for their precision-tooled craftsmanship and light tinge of camp.
A stylistic chameleon, Adeniyi "Biddy" Wright had cut his teeth as the leader of the popular Lagos highlife combo Wura Fadaka in the nineteen sixties before shifting base to London after the war. There, inspired by the Osibisa phenomenon, he formed an Afro-rock band called Akido, which he led on bass and vocals.
(Six Degrees of Ginger Baker Fun Fact! The band also featured Ghanaian percussionist Niimoi "Speedy" Acquaye, who had played in the original Air Force!)
Akido's self-titled 1972 album was produced by Ronnie Lane, the bassist of The Faces (being, of course, the legendary English lad-rock band whose lineup also included Rod Stewart and future Rolling Stone Ron Wood, not the Nigerian band of the same name).
Disenchanted with the effect Rod the Mod's growing idol status exerted upon the band's musical direction, Lane quit The Faces in 1973 and formed the country-rock outfit Slim Chance, in which Wright played bass.
(Many Ronnie Lane fan histories erroneously refer to the musician who replaced original Slim Chance bassist Chrissie Stewart as "Buddy Wright" or "Buddy White," but that is indeed Biddy Wright on Lane's Anymore for Anymore album even though he does not appear in the band photos.)
Wright--billed on Step Three as "Biddy O'Wright (get it? "O'Wright"? so it's still a B-L-O album?)--not only subs for Odumosu on bass, but also contributes alto and soprano sax and the horn arrangements, with his frequent collaborators Tunde Williams and Johny Wood handling trumpet and organ/piano respectively.
If Phase 2 edged more towards funkiness than the psychedelia of Chapter One, Step Three pretty much jettisons all the trappings of "rock" altogether. Berkley Jones, who in addition to playing 1st and 2nd guitars and Moog, writes all the songs (except for Akins' wonderfully loose-limbed "Gotta Get Me A Better Head"), has clearly been digging Sly Stone and blaxploitation funk, and it's reflected in the lyrics and arrangements.
While there's not a formal production credit listed on the album other than the "Guest engineer and producer" accorded to Keith Whiting, who remixed the album at Decca Studios, London after the raw tracks were recorded at Decca's Lagos facility, it's not hard to imagine Wright's involvement having a significant influence on the sound of this record. Consistent with Wright's light-fingered production style, it was by far the most relaxed of BLO's albums to date. Even the very title of the album exudes laidbackness. While Chapter One suggested solemn ceremony and Phase 2 rigorous procedural, Step Three connoted an informal, organic move in a natural direction. The trio is easygoing and spontaneous, cheerfully flubbing lines on the Cymande-influenced "Hypocrisy" and sounding like they're improvising lyrics as they go along on "Don't Pull This From Under Me"; despite the crispness of the production, there's a demo-like quality to the album (And, in fact, "Mind Walk" was re-recorded as "Move Up" on the following year's Phase IV.) (Update: You can listen to some snippets from that album here, btw)
But the question remains: Where was Mike Odumosu during the making of this record? I used to wonder that myself until last week, when a possible answer smacked me in the face while I was digging at Looney Tunes Records on Boylston Street.
There I was, going through the O's in the Soul section, wondering why I couldn't find a copy of the first Original Dr. Buzzard's Savannah Band album (maybe because the band was actually called "Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band," genius?) when I saw this LP that I hadn't seen in years:
Osibisa's 1976 Ojah Awake, with the band also making their cover debut in lieu of Roger Dean's proggy fantasyscapes.
See the dude in all red, next to the guy with the hat and boots? That's Mike Odumosu. (Hat and boots is Kiki Gyan, we will talk about him later.)
Can't hardly be mad at Odumosu for jumping at the chance to play with the biggest Afro-rock group of the day, can ya? Ojah Awake was coincidentally Osibisa's most successful album (yielding monster hits "The Coffee Song" and "Dance the Body Music") and also their last major smash. I'm not too versed in the band's history after this point, so I don't know for sure whether Odumosu's tenure with them was temporary or a more long-term arrangement. (Allmusic.com tells me that he remained with them through 1977 at least, but they get sketchy after that.)
However, I don't think Mike Odumosu ever fully returned to BLO. He appeared on the cover of Phase IV and received a vocal credit as well, but the bass duties on that album were fulfilled by Celestine Nyam, and by this time, BLO had found their new "O" anyway: velvet-voiced soul singer and keyboardist Otu Udofa, who went by the nom de disque Lemmy Jackson. At the time he met Berkley and Laolu, he was hustling session gigs in London; within the next five years, Lemmy Jackson would become the most important and influential producer in Nigerian pop music.
(Or did Jackson officially join the band on their sixth album, 1980's Bulky Backside? I don't know... He's on the cover of Phase IV, too. The chronology gets a bit confusing here... The Phases 1972-1982 sleeve features a collage of clippings from tabloids such as The Punch and Lagos Weekend, but they're not presented in any real timeline. What I can glean from the montage, though, is that apparently, after Phase IV--or maybe even after Step Three--BLO essentially broke up for a few years. During that time, Berkley and Laolu studied screenwriting and sound production in London, and then they met Lemmy Jackson, who encouraged them to put the band back together.)
(One fairly bizarre clipping has Berkley, Laolu and Lemmy returning to Lagos after a long absence, arriving at the Punch offices and attracting much attention due to their presence of their latest bandmember... Pamela Obermeyer. Yes, Rocky Horror Picture Show fans... I do mean that Pamela Obermeyer. For you RHPS virgins...
She's the Transylvanian with the afro and the skull & crossbones tiara. The only sista in the clip. You can't miss her.)
Oh well... One of these days, I'm gonna have to ask the very cool (and rather hot) Ms. May to ask her dad to clear up the exact sequence of events.
But hey, I've talked enough for now. Might as well give you the music.
>DOWNLOAD STEP THREE!<