The Mamas & The Papas
Historic Performances Recorded at the Monterey International Pop Festival, 1971
A band that was all about vocal interplay must have had it tough at Monterey in June of 1967. It was the second ever big rock festival, the first being held just the week before, so the technical necessities of such an event were still being ironed out. The Mamas & The Papas do their best to hear each other and capture a bit of that harmonic magic that seemed so effortless in the studio, but due to the conditions that happened only intermittently throughout their 30-odd minute set. There are a couple of moments on “Straight Shooter” when Mama Cass cuts through the din and suddenly, for a couple of bars, they lock in and the goosebumps rise.
But I don’t really care about the vocals here, or on the Monterey album as a whole. As I said, it’s too often a mess, and the recording itself leaves a lot to be desired, even when you consider the state of mobile technology at the time. No, this is about the crack band of studio musicians who tear it up behind those famous singers. Doctor Eric Hord was on guitar, as he had been for the two albums The Mamas & The Papas had then released. Keyboardist Larry Knechtel and bassist Joe Osbourne were part of The Wrecking Crew, the collective name for the session musicians behind 100s of hits by The Mamas & The Papas, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, The Carpenters, The Monkees and more. The Monkees connection went further, for replacing The Wrecking Crew’s Hal Blaine on drums was Fast Eddie Hoh.
Fast Eddie Hoh was another Los Angeles session musician, who “ghost drummed” for The Monkees’ Mickey Dolenz on hits like “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Daydream Believer”. Listening to Fast Eddie take Hal Blaine’s rock solid studio line for “Straight Shooter” and jazz it up is a joy: that opening crash is a call to say, “I’m here, not Hal, get used to it”; his extra cymbal hits add a little stutter here and there, shuffling the rhythm without loosing the pulse; his fills are pure flair and all punch, pizazz where none is really expected; his occasional switching from snare to toms for the core beat a pleasure. If you focus on Fast Eddie the song flies by, carried boldly and solely by his exuberance.
The whole Monterey set is a pleasure not for the main attraction but for those storied session musicians cutting loose.