Clear Light's eponymous 1967 album is one of the jewels of Elektra Records' 1960s catalogue. A short-lived, much-loved Los Angeles aggregate, the band is best known for including sometime Doors bassist Doug Lubahn and future CSNY and Manassas drummer Dallas Taylor, but ClearLight's blend of quirky songwriting and psychedelic arrangement has helped make their record become a cult classic. Produced by Paul Rothchild (the Doors, Love), the record was intended to showcase the dynamic double-drumkit sound of the group. Previous reissues have sounded flat, but this definitive remaster gives the record the punch it deserves. A major bonus are several excellent, recently uncovered outtakes from the June 1967 sessions for 'Clear Light', which are featured alongside the non-LP side 'She's Ready To Be Free' (in both mono and stereo mixes) and a rare single by Clear Light precursors the Brain Train. In addition to the expanded contents and sonic upgrade, in-depth liner notes by Clear Light biographer Gray Newell and some rare illustrations help make this Big Beat release the last word on Clear Light's legacy.
Think Again: Ace Revisits, Expands Elektra Psych Rock Classic “Clear Light”
Clear Light only released one album, but the psychedelic rockers’ 1967 album remains a definitive statement of the genre as well as a highlight of the classic Elektra Records catalogue. Featuring future CSNY drummer Dallas Taylor, future Utopia keyboardist Ralph Schuckett and Doors session bassist Doug Lubahn, Clear Light left behind a small but vibrant discography of pure California rock. Ace’s Big Beat imprint has recently revisited the self-titled Clear Light in an impressive new edition adding eight bonus tracks, five of which are previously unreleased.
Like so many bands, Clear Light went through a number of transformations before coalescing, including stints as The Garnerfield Sanitarium and The Brain Train. Artists like The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, The Doors, Lowell George and “Mama” Cass Elliot figure into their story, recounted by official biographer Gray Newell in exemplary fashion for the new Big Beat release. The turning point came when Elektra Records signed The Brain Train – drummers Dallas Taylor and Michael Ney, bassist Doug Lubahn, guitarist Bob Seal, and guitarist-vocalist Robbie Robison – in January 1967 to join an illustrious roster already including The Doors and Arthur Lee’s Love. Newly rechristened as Clear Light, the band was ushered into the Sunset Sound studio in April 1967, with Doors veterans Paul Rothchild and Bruce Botnick, and earned a prime slot appearing in the Paramount film The President’s Analyst supporting Barry McGuire. The band was also persuaded to accept Rothchild as its manager.
Soon, singer-guitarist Robbie Robison departed, to be replaced by Cliff DeYoung on lead vocals and Ralph Schuckett on keyboards. Live appearances, including a contentious gig at New York club The Scene East, helped spread the underground word about Clear Light. In August, the band returned to Sunset Sound with its new members, and the earlier material was discarded. Happily, you can hear these early recordings on this expanded edition of Clear Light. These early tracks show a more harmony-pop approach than the band would later take, with “Dawn Lights the Way” and the shimmering “The Susan Years” having the lush style of a Bones Howe production for, say, The Association.
The sessions with Rothchild were strained, but the producer did bring in a couple of songs by other Elektra artists to supplement the band’s originals. Both Tom Paxton’s “Mr. Blue” and Steve Noonan and Greg Copeland’s “Street Singer” were wholly transformed by Clear Light. The band’s debut album was finally released in October 1967, showcasing the band’s heavy two-drummer sound courtesy of Taylor and Ney and a deft blend of hard rock, psychedelia, jazz, folk and pop. Van Dyke Parks can be heard adding a baroque touch of harpsichord on Ney’s “A Child’s Smile,” a brief yet memorable track on the 11-song LP. A twelfth cut, “Bye Bye Boogie Man,” was dropped from the LP reportedly at the behest of Elektra honcho Jac Holzman, but it’s among the bonus material here.
In early 1968, Rothchild maneuvered the replacement of Bob Seal, who had contributed three folk-rock-oriented tracks including the melodic “How Many Days Have Passed” to Clear Light in addition to co-writing three other tracks, with Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar. In February, Kootch joined Lubahn, Schuckett and Ney as session musicians for The Monkees’ immortal Head track “Porpoise Song,” giving Clear Light a bit of extracurricular immortality; the same month, the new line-up debuted onstage. The revised Clear Light line-up attempted to record a second album with producer Frazier Mohawk, but only two recordings were completed before the album was abandoned. The group continued to splinter amid personnel and creative squabbles over the course of the year, and by September, Clear Light broke up. Many of the members continued to have productive careers in music, however. Schuckett and Ney joined The Peanut Butter Conspiracy to record that band’s 1969 LP For Children of All Ages. Ney then briefly joined Kortchmar in Carole King’s The City, though he was replaced by Jim Gordon. Schuckett and Kortchmar also played together in Jo Mama, and backed King on her Writer LP. Schuckett would go on to join an early line-up of Utopia, Kortchmar became an in-demand session pro, and Taylor hooked up with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Though one might hear hints of Love, Buffalo Springfield or The Doors, Clear Light stands as a document of a truly original band. Ace’s reissue, produced by Alec Palao and remastered by Nick Robbins, features – in addition to the session outtake “Bye Bye Boogie Man” – two rare single sides from The Brain Train (“Me” and “Black Roses,” the latter which was re-recorded for the album), stereo and mono versions of the non-LP single “She’s Ready to Be Free,” and the early tracks “Dawn Lights the Way,” “The Susan Years” and “Eastern Valleys.” The 20-page color booklet boasts not only Newell’s copious notes but numerous memorabilia reproductions and photographs. Clear Light is available now from Big Beat Records, and can be ordered at the links below!
Clear Light, Clear Light (Elektra LP EKS-74011, 1967 – reissued Big Beat CDWIKD 330, 2016)
- Black Roses
- A Child’s Smile
- Street Singer
- The Ballad of Freddie and Larry
- With All in Mind
- Think Again
- They Who Have Nothing
- How Many Days Have Passed
- Night Sounds Loud
- Bye Bye Boogie Man
- She’s Ready to Be Free (Stereo Mix)
- Dawn Lights the Way
- The Susan Years
- Eastern Valleys
- Me – TheBrain Train (Titan single 1738, 1967)
- Black Roses – The Brain Train (Titan single 1738, 1967)
- She’s Ready to Be Free (Elektra single 45622, 1967)
Tracks 12-16 are previously unreleased
All tracks stereo except Tracks 17-19 are mono.
All tracks stereo except Tracks 17-19 are mono.