Your Cart is empty
They weren't active for more than a couple of years - or at least not meaningfully - but for a short-time, this Greenwich Village blues and jam band were touted as New York's Grateful Dead. It didn't last for long, but they enjoyed a short but brilliant period in the mid-1960s that left one awesome album .
Danny Kalb, a young New York guitarist who had done session work for folk legends like Judy Collins and Pete Seeger, began drawing on backwoods blues as an inspiration. In 1964, he was one of the artists featured on an Elektra Records compilation called The Blues Project, which showcased mostly young, mostly white musicians playing black acoustic blues.
Turning electric, Kalb formed a band with fellow guitarist Steve Katz, who had been in The Even Dozen Jug Band with John Sebastian, who would go on to found the Lovin' Spoonful. Kalb and Katz added Andy Kulberg on bass and flute, Roy Blumenfeld on drums and Tommy Flanders on vocals. They took the name The Blues Project after the aforementioned sampler album.
They had a 1965 audition for Columbia Records which they failed. But while they might not have got a deal, they did attract an organ player: Al Kooper, immortalised for his organ part on 'Like A Rolling Stone'. They began gigging and soon got a deal with Verve Records.
They became regulars at the Caf� Au Go Go on Bleecker Street in the Village and recorded a live album there in November 1965. They played lengthy, improvisational workings of trad and blues songs - the sort of extended jam style that was sending the Dead, on the other side of the country, into the rock Premier League.
The debut album Live At The Caf� Au Go Go, with the songs truncated into more conventional lengths, didn't really do them justice. Vocalist Tommy Flanders left in early 1966 and was not replaced. However, they toured the US to promote the record and played at The Fillmore in San Francisco to wild acclaim. April 1966 was a thrilling time to be playing in a band in San Francisco, of course, and the Dead were among the many who were blown away by The Blues Project.
Returning East, they began work on the follow-up, Projections. This is a great record: drawing on the diverse musical backgrounds of the members, it takes in jazz, blues and psychedelica. Al Kooper, the group's most accomplished and established songwriter - he had written the smash 'This Diamond Ring' for Gary Lewis - took the writing reins.
The highlights of the record are the 11-minute 'Two Trains Running' and Kooper's 'Flute Thing'. Also recorded around the same time is the non-LP single 'No Time Like The Right Time'. It looked like The Blues Project were destined for great things. Projections is simply a stunning album. Sadly, it was their only stunning album.
But it all hit the buffers very quickly: Al Kooper wanted to add a horn section to the band, Danny Kalb didn't, and Kooper left. The bad acid got to Kalb and he disappeared for some months. An unworthy third album, Live At Town Hall, was released in summer 1967. The Blues Project, minus Kooper, played Monterey in June 1967, but Steve Katz left soon after, shortly followed by Kalb. A fourth and final LP, Planned Obsolescence, featuring drummer Roy Blumenfeld and bassist Andy Kulber, was The Blues Project in name only.
However, Kooper and Kaatz teamed up again in 1968 to form Blood, Sweat And Tears. The Blues Project, or a version thereof, reformed briefly in the early 1970s, and there have been sporadic, low-key reunions.
Overall, though, it is a story of what might have been. With Kooper's swirling, gospel organ and Kalb's blues-rooted, inventive guitar, they could have been a huge band. Truth be told, they probably lacked a top quality vocalist and frontman, but they briefly touched great heights and they left us with one of the great FM radio classics in Flute Thing, a song which perfectly captures those heady days when putting flowers in guns seemed like it really could change the world.
The last word should go to the owner of the Caf� Au Go Go, Howard Solomon, who saw The Blues Project as much as anyone.
"Danny Kalb is up there with the best of all blues legends. His work for me at Cafe Au Go Go was amazing. I've worked with the greatest of all time and he is at the top: Eric Clapton Mick Taylor, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall, Zappa were all greats, but Danny will emerge in the top five."