On February 1, 1973, Blue Ash walked into Peppermint Productions, a local recording studio in their hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, and laid down the first tracks for one of the best records to surface from the first wave of powerpop bands. This was during a turn-of-the-decade surge of ‘60s-beat-inspired pop activity that saw bands like Blue Ash, along with the Flamin’ Groovies, Badfinger, Big Star, and fellow Ohioans the Raspberries rise up against the incoming tide of progressive rock groups.
Released in May of that year, Blue Ash’s debut and sole major label recording No More, No Less was a masterclass in combining a hard-rocking rhythmic punch to crisp three-part harmony vocals and soaring melodic lines in order to produce, in the words of the quartet’s founder/co-songwriter and bassist Frank Secich, a “three-minute burst of contagious excitement.” Critically lauded by rock magazines across the board on its release—even though sales were poor—mystifyingly this classic album has never been reissued on CD, left to languish, out of print for 30 years, in the vaults of Mercury Records. Thankfully, Collectors’ Choice have stepped in and rectified this gross injustice with the added bonus of insightful liner notes by Secich.
By the time Paul Nelson, the renowned rock critic and Mercury A&R man who famously signed the New York Dolls (he was soon to lose his job, possibly due to the lack of sales incurred by both the Dolls and Blue Ash), picked out Blue Ash’s demo from the box of unsolicited tapes on his office floor and swiftly headed for Youngstown to catch the band live, Blue Ash had been gigging relentlessly for three years. Since their public debut on October 3, 1969, at a local psychedelic club called the Freak Out, Secich, lead singer Jim Kendzor, co-songwriter/guitarist Bill “Cupid” Bartolin (who replaced original lead guitarist Bill Yendrek in 1970), and drummer David Evans had honed their skills playing a staggering 250 to 300 regional shows a year throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and, of course, Ohio. These guys were tight and ready for some studio action. No More, No Less was recorded and distributed in just over three months.
As with the other early powerpop groups, Blue Ash’s original material was heavily influenced by the music of the mid-‘60s British Invasion bands, especially the Beatles, the Kinks, and the Who. But, unlike Big Star or the Groovies, the Ohio quartet tempered their rock ‘n’ roll swagger with a distinct West Coast folk-rock flavor more reminiscent of the Byrds or Buffalo Springfield. This is most apparent on numbers like the mellow, harmony-filled country-folk of “Just Another Game” and the languid rolling beauty of “What Can I Do For You?”, which pleasantly summons up memories of the Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”. These softer songs allowed moments of quiet reflection before Evans let loose once more with another explosive Keith Moon-style run on the drums.
That’s not to say that there was never a melding of meaty pop and bouncy folk-rock. Take, for example, the lead-off track and the album’s initial single “Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)”, where Kendzor’s glam-rock shout is underpinned by glorious power chords as transcendent eastern-influenced guitar flourishes take flight. A similar treatment, although in a harder rock vein, is given to one of the album’s two covers (the other is a simmer-and-boil powerpop version of the Fab Four’s “Anytime at All”), an obscure, never-before-recorded Bob Dylan number provided for the band by Nelson called “Dusty Old Fairgrounds”, where a syncopated pummeling on the skins adds zing to the country-rock-spiced powerpop.
Interest among those with an ear for classic early ‘70s rock was renewed in Blue Ash when, in 2004, Not Lame Records released an excellent two-CD set of 44 previously unreleased demos and outtakes that spanned the original band’s entire career up until their break-up in 1979. The original group got back together just prior to the release and occasionally take to the stage. As of yet, the cult status of Blue Ash has yet to rival either Big Star or the Groovies. However, thanks to both Collectors’ Choice and Not Lame, it’s only a matter of time. They really are that good.
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