‘What the Hell Occurred to Blood, Sweat & Tears?’: A Important Rock Doc

Think about an on-the-road live performance documentary shot within the anything-goes days of 1970 — a hurly-burly vérité jamboree like “Mad Canine & Englishmen” or “Elvis on Tour.” It’s in regards to the largest rock band on this planet. It encompasses 11 reveals in 26 days, with headlines and controversies and a movie crew out to seize all of it. We see the band members backstage, on planes, of their nightly lodgings, and onstage. The crowds are rapturous.

“What the Hell Occurred to Blood, Sweat & Tears?” is, in a method, that film. The band that’s on tour, the mighty however fraught Blood, Sweat & Tears, was filled with nice musicians who most individuals didn’t know by title. But as fronted by the intoxicating huskiness of lead singer David Clayton-Thomas, they emerged from the embers of the counterculture to develop into one of many first true supergroups. By the point their 1970 tour arrived, Blood, Sweat & Tears have been the preferred rock band in America, with a number-one album and a trio of hit singles that stay iconic: “And Once I Die,” “You’ve Made Me So Very Glad,” and the joyfully bombastic and lurchy ear worm that was “Spinning Wheel.”

But the story of what occurred to BS&T in 1970, because the band was coming off its second album (the one with all of the hits) and making ready to launch its third (which was peppered with terrific songs like “Lucretia MacEvil” and their disarmingly soulful cowl of “Fireplace and Rain”), stays a singular piece of rock historical past, even when hardly anybody is aware of about it. I didn’t learn about it, however now that I’ve seen the movie I’d name it important.

Because the documentary explains, David Clayton-Thomas was from Canada, the place he had grown up as a delinquent troublemaker. As a star, he nonetheless had traces of his wild methods; when he was arrested for allegedly threatening a girlfriend with a gun, the U.S. officers determined to disclaim him his inexperienced card. He was going to get kicked in another country — which meant, in a pop-music panorama much more America-centric than it’s now, that the band, in impact, can be completed.

Relatively than settle for this destiny, Blood, Sweat & Tears lower a deal. In an association brokered by the lawyer Larry Greenblatt, they agreed to develop into the primary rock band to play in international locations behind the Iron Curtain, in a cultural-exchange tour sponsored by the U.S. State Division. Why would a authorities headed by Richard Nixon make this provide, even because it was threatening to disclaim Clayton-Thomas his inexperienced card? It was a type of blackmail. The rationale that the State Division felt prefer it wanted Blood, Sweat & Tears — perhaps greater than the band wanted them — pertains to the particular place the group occupied.

In 1970, the revolution was nonetheless formally on. (All these middle-class youngsters hadn’t fairly realized but that they have been simply…middle-class youngsters. That might take till about 1971.) Rock ‘n’ roll was nonetheless the voice of the revolution, and the counterculture, enraged by the atrocities of Vietnam, despised something to do with the Nixon institution. To play ball with the State Division was to make a cope with the satan.

But the success of a band like Blood, Sweat & Tears was already flattening these sorts of perceptions. The band’s members have been in opposition to the struggle, however apart from the guitarist Steve Katz (who we see in a single clip sounding like Dustin Hoffman taking part in Tom Hayden), they weren’t actually political. Provided the prospect to salvage their success by spending June and July of 1970 touring Yugoslavia, Romania, and Poland, they thought, “Why not?”

The footage we see makes the case that there was truly a robust ethical cause to do the tour. The State Division, in its blunderbuss method, wished to open up a type of détente with the residents of Communist Japanese Europe. This type of alternate had truly begun in 1954, however with classical and jazz musicians. So why not rock ‘n’ roll — or extra to the purpose, a rock band that straddled classes in a method that might bridge the free West and the oppressed Japanese Bloc?

Blood, Sweat & Tears have been that band. They have been each hip and conservative, attractive and straight arrow, with a sound that fused barreling rock & roll and horn-fueled jazz-gone-Vegas showmanship. The band members, as we get to know them (the documentary options interviews with them as we speak, they usually look lots older however actually are the identical dudes), have been principally geeks, too into their roles as musical sidemen to be cool; a number of of them, just like the trombonist Dick Halligan, smoked pipes. And the presence of these horns, which represented its personal type of super-square revolution (Chicago, over the course of its CXXXVII albums, would full the post-revolutionary takeover), impressed no much less a paragon of mainstream America than Andy Williams to introduce the band on his selection present as “a musical group that may get by way of to virtually anyone.”

Blood, Sweat & Tears have been so sq. that they received the Grammy for finest album, in 1970, over “Abbey Highway.” They have been so sq. that they performed at Woodstock however by no means made it into the film — although that was as a result of their supervisor resented the actual fact they weren’t being paid and ordered the cameras to cease filming. (This occurred to a couple different bands at Woodstock as effectively.) They have been so sq. that they have been the primary rock band to play at Caesars Palace, the place they broke Frank Sinatra’s attendance document.

The rock-‘n’-roll-ecstasy-meets-relax-the-’70s-are-here duality of Blood, Sweat & Tears was incarnated by the contradictory charisma of David Clayton-Thomas. He favored skin-tight shirts with tie-dye stripes and leather-based pants, however he was no hippie. Together with his longish receding hair and sultry eyebrows and trucker’s construct, he was like Joe Don Baker reborn as Elvis’s surly, sleazy bruiser brother, and he sang in an insinuating Mack-truck growl, like a wilder Tom Jones with a touch of Jim Jones. He was mesmerizing.

“What the Hell Occurred to Blood, Sweat & Tears?” is, in a humorous method, the squarest early-’70s live performance movie ever made, as a result of the band travels behind the Iron Curtain…and there’s no counterculture! It’s simply them performing in these dour international locations filled with outdated stone buildings. The Romania of Nicolae Ceaușescu is essentially the most repressive place they go to and, tellingly, essentially the most aware of their music. They’re shadowed by Communist brokers in darkish coats peering by way of holes in newspapers, in what one of many band members compares to a Peter Sellers film. However the regime is not any joke. When the live performance crowds get too fired up, the police arrive with German shepherds. However for the Romanians, seeing Blood, Sweat & Tears was nothing in need of a catharsis. “The sensation of freedom it exuded was extraordinary,” says one who was there. Says one other, “It was an indication for all of Romania that exterior the borders there’s life, and it’s a very free one.”

These are shifting statements, and nobody ought to have been cheering this on greater than the American counterculture. Blood, Sweat & Tears introduced a brand new spirit right into a repressive place, in a lot the best way that Frank Zappa was described, by Václav Havel, as having performed for Czechoslovakia. And BS&T received in hassle for spreading anarchy, particularly when Clayton-Thomas stored doing his gong drop (simply what it appears like) to kick off “Smiling Phases.”

However at the same time as this turned a real act of rebel, the truth that the band was working for the State Division — i.e., the Man — made them persona non grata among the many rock cognoscenti. The headline on David Felton’s Rolling Stone story was “BT&S Turns Again on Communism.” (Felton seems within the movie and principally admits that he was filled with it.) We see footage of an L.A. press convention after the group’s return, and the media is downright hostile, as if the band had develop into collaborators somewhat than artists opening up a door. At their first gig again, in Madison Sq. Backyard on July 25, 1970, Abbie Hoffman leads a Yippie protest, and the nice drummer Bobby Colomby recollects how he was assaulted by a bag of horse manure on stage. It was the final gasp of a sure insular ’60s righteousness.        

Searchingly directed by John Scheinfeld (“The U.S. vs. John Lennon”), “What the Hell Occurred to Blood, Sweat & Tears?” is a tasty and pressing piece of rock historical past, however in a wierd method the movie by no means comes near answering its personal query. Clive Davis, who first signed the band to Columbia, is available to testify, together with his typical eloquence, to what made BS&T particular, however even given the slagging off they received within the rock press it’s not as in the event that they vanished. They’d successful in 1971 with “Go Down Playing.” What actually did in Blood, Sweat & Tears wasn’t politics however Clayton-Thomas’s choice, in 1972, to go solo. The band wanted each little bit of his sweat and swagger. (By the point he rejoined them, in 1975, it was too late.) “What the Hell Occurred to Blood, Sweat & Tears?” tells a succulent story, but it surely additionally captures a second that was, maybe, destined to be not more than a second. Because the commentator David Wild observes, what goes up should come down.

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