My favourite guitarists are not gymnasts or show offs, they are not experts in technique, scales, modes or theory. Having said that Blues players usually have deep musical knowledge. Blues is a tradition and traditions have guide lines, rules or else the tradition is broken. But what makes this kind of player special is the injection of the present self, the original human being into the proven style of the past. Jimi Hendrix famously showed an astounded world how to reinvent an old medium using the same elements with a new sound, gifting us a mixture of control and chaos, technique and probing experimentation into the dark corners of the Blues digging out possibilities that no one else could muster.
I wonder at people that say I don’t like the Blues complaining that it merely regurgitates an area already covered. As if those three simple chords once used can only be inspiring the first time they are played. Well, I’m happy to report that that’s not how it is. In fact it takes more genius to make something simple sound fresh – innovation and inspiration isn’t all about searching for the lost chord. There’s reinvention and there’s also emotion – if Roy Buchanan doesn’t give you shivers, if Paul Kossoff doesn’t satisfy your soul, if Peter Green doesn’t move you, then I’m here to tell you what these guitarist do to me and if it isn’t penetrating and getting under your skin and having you itch without its fix, then you simply may not be addicted to a drug that I can’t do without.
Somehow Harvey Mandel is little known despite his ability, like the greats, to reinvent, stimulate and capture the magic on the fret board, take it and communicate it straight to the heart. A little history – born in Detroit, growing up in Chicago, he first appeared in 1966 with harmonica, guitar player and singer Charlie Musselwhite on the album, Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s Southside Band. The album is considered to be one of the first to combine Blues and Rock introducing a younger generation to a genre that would at certain points dominate the era. Mandel plays an inspired role in this ground breaking album and it is where he first recorded the song that would become the title of his debut album two years later, Duke Pearson’s, Cristo Redentor.
Next Mandel relocated to San Francisco, the centre of the happening scene in the second half of the sixties where he was signed to Phillips records due to influential radio station KSAN and its DJ, producer and Blues freak Abe Kesh. (Kesh was also responsible for launching the career of Blue Cheer). Mandel made three albums for Phillips Cristo Redentor (1968) Righteous (1969) and Games Guitars Play (1970). He then joined Canned Heat for about a year, playing on the album Future Blues that included the UK No.2 hit, Let’s Work Together. Mandel’s third gig with Canned Heat was at Woodstock. He then joined John Mayall along with Canned Heat’s bass player Larry Taylor. He stayed with Mayall for two years playing on USA Union (1970) and Back To The Roots (1971). He signed to Janus records and released Baby Batter (1971) and joined Don “Sugarcane” Harris’ Pure Food And Drug Act making one album, Choice Cuts in 1972. Also in 1972 he released Get Off In Chicago, a jam album released on the Ovation label recorded in three nights. Three more solo albums came out on Janus in the seventies, The Snake (1972) Shangrenade (1973) and Feel The Sound of Harvey Mandel (1974). A Best Of was released in 1975. In 1976 he auditioned for the Stones and played lead guitar on Hot Stuff and Memory Motel from Black And Blue – and then nothing for twenty years.
This probably explains his lack of exposure, missing presumed not important, Mandel was gone, journalists didn’t write about him, record companies didn’t sign him, TV shows didn’t feature him, the radio didn’t play his records. His music had become obsolete – but it never ever died. His first album is a grooving mix of controlled feedback and sustained and backwards guitars. He incorporates strings and eerie Star Trek voices, percussion and tasteful licks in an assortment of delicious sounds on one of the great instrumental guitar albums of the sixties that you missed. Impressive guests (see link below) accompany him throughout the album, (brass, organ, bass, drums steel guitar and more electric guitar). Mandel returned to releasing records in 1994 with Twist City and has had a higher profile since, rejoining Canned Heat in 2010 with whom he continues to perform live to this day.
Note – the CD version of this album starts with Side Two of the original vinyl album probably because Wade In The Water that orginally opened Side Two might be the best known song. This is very strange if you are used to hearing the album as originally intended, so consider listening to Tracks 6-10 first.
For an impressive list of album credits for Cristo Redentor go here:
For another nice review where the reviewer succinctly describes the album as “gently Psychedelic” go here:
The artwork was designed by Alton Kelley – This snippet from Discogs:
Died: 1st June 2008
“Graphic designer and illustrator whose psychedelic concert posters for artists like the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and Big Brother and the Holding Company helped define the visual style of the 1960’s counterculture. Part of the Family Dog multi-media collective, along with long-time collaborator Stanley Mouse”.