Top 11 Horn Rock Songs

Frank MastropoloCategories:Popular PostsTop 11

Rock Cellar Magazine

“That’s the big secret. Rock and roll ain’t nothing but jazz with a hard backbeat.”

– Keith Richards

  1. “Vehicle” by The Ides of March

The Ides of March reached No. 2 in 1970 with “Vehicle,” their one and only hit. Singer/songwriter Jim Peterik, who would go on to found Survivor, told AXS that the band started as a British Invasion wannabe. “There was a creeping influence of jazz-rock coming up. We loved that first Al Kooper-Blood, Sweat & Tears album. We lived and breathed it … We were just very excited about that horn-rock sound, and I wrote what I call a clarion call brass riff that became just an iconic lick. We had no idea how big this would be.”

David Clayton-Thomas, who replaced Kooper in BST, told Rock Cellar, “I think ‘Vehicle’ is one of the best records of the era. As a matter of fact I have relatives of mine that came up to me at the time and said, ‘Hey I heard your new record: “I’m the friendly stranger in the black sedan…” I said, ‘No, no, that wasn’t me. That wasn’t us.'”

  1. “Pick Up the Pieces” by Average White Band

Listeners are sometimes surprised to learn that Average White Band are a group of Scottish musicians who revere American funk and R&B. Their 1974 LP AWB and its single “Pick Up the Pieces” both reached No. 1. Saxophonist Molly Duncan told The Guardian how the band got its name. “A friend heard us jamming and said, ‘This is too much for the average white man.’ When we’d all stopped laughing, the name just stuck.”

Duncan argued against putting out “Pick Up the Pieces” as a single. “‘You’re completely mad,’ I said. ‘It’s a funk instrumental played by Scotsmen with no lyrics other than a shout.’ But that might be why it was a hit, and then became a standard – because it was different. That ‘Pick up the pieces’ shout just fitted: it’s about picking yourself up when things aren’t going well. We’d spent a lot of time making no money whatsoever, so it felt very relevant. And then everything took off. The funk fraternity would hear the record and love it, then come to see us and go, ‘Hey, you’re white!'”

“Pick Up the Pieces” by Average White Band

  1. “Kind of a Drag” by the Buckinghams

Despite their British-sounding name, the Buckinghams hail from Chicago. Starting with “Kind of a Drag,” the band had a string of hits in 1967-1968. The Buckinghams were pioneers of brass-rock. Al Kooper, who put together Blood Sweat & Tears in late-1967, told us that some of the studio work of the Buckinghams inspired him. James William Guercio later became the horn band’s producer; Guercio would later produce Chicago and the David Clayton-Thomas-era BST.

“It took us by surprise when ‘Kind Of A Drag’ took off the way it did,” guitarist Carl Giammarese told Classic Bands.  “We thought it was a great song. We thought we came up with a unique, very creative arrangement and recording of the song, but we didn’t know we had something that would be that successful. It took off so fast, it didn’t give us much time to think about it. But I think the songs that followed it, like ‘Don’t You Care,’ ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ and ‘Susan’ – I wasn’t surprised that they did so well and reached the Top 10, Top 20, ’cause they were great songs. I think they were recorded really well and we had a lot of momentum going with the exposure we were getting.”

“Kind of a Drag” by the Buckinghams

  1. “Get It On” by Chase

Veteran jazz trumpeter Bill Chase formed the nine-piece horn band Chase in 1970. The group was able to capitalize on the popularity of jazz-rock fusion bands like Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago when it released “Get It On,” a 1971 hit. In Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk and the Creation of Fusion, Chase described the line between the two genres.

“I can imagine how it must bug rock players, who try to get into jazz but can’t swing, to hear a jazz musician playing bad rock. I’ve heard a lot of rock groups that impressed me until they stepped outside the boundaries of rock and tried to play jazz. Then they lost it completely – their momentum, their audience, and my respect. Because they’re attempting something they’re not equipped to do. Jazz has to be deep-rooted. So if you’re playing jazz, it’s got to be good jazz, with good time, swing … everything. If you’re playing rock, it has to be good rock. So the group [Chase] is really a challenge. We have to be purists in both idioms yet be able to cross over.”

“Get It On” by Chase

  1. “What Is Hip?” by Tower Of Power

Oakland’s Tower of Power had their greatest success in 1973-1974 with funky hits like “What Is Hip?” and soulful ballads like “So Very Hard to Go” and “You’re Still a Young Man.” The band, which features five horn players, is known for its live performances. “The music’s very exciting to listen to or to watch,” saxophonist Emilio Castillo told the Central Valley Business Journal.  “It will make you want to move, get excited. But then on top of it all we put out a pretty energetic show. We’re all dancing around and involving the audience, bringing a whole lot of energy into it. And then we have really heart-wrenching love songs, slow ballads that we do that are always the highlight of the show because they just move people emotionally.”

Castillo described the band’s beginnings to The 13th Floor. “The sound coming out of San Francisco, during that time that we started, was famous for the psychedelic sound; and we were never that,” said Castillo. “Then they had run their course for about three or four years, and that’s when we came in and auditioned at the Fillmore Auditorium, and got signed by Bill Graham to our first record deal. They were ready for something different, by that point; and so, the East Bay started making its statement; and that was a more soulful type of thing.”

“What Is Hip?” by Tower of Power

  1. “One Fine Morning” by Lighthouse

Lighthouse was tremendously popular in its home country, Canada, but 1971’s “One Fine Morning” was its only U.S. hit. Founded by drummer Skip Prokop, Lighthouse featured jazz horns, classical strings and a rock rhythm section. “I think it was seven-and-a-half minutes long on the album, which really shocked everybody when all the stations jumped on it,” Prokop said in 2013. “And then the AM radio stations started calling the record company saying, we want an edited version of this so we can play it on AM radio ‘cause we’re getting tons of phone calls.

“We had 13 in the band, we had 5 in the road crew. You’re basically looking at 20 people that you’re moving around with a tractor-trailer, renting cars or at that time Ranch Wagons to go here and there after you land at the airport and then you’ve got 13, 14 people with a road manager touring with us as far as flights. The band was a travel agent’s dream.”

  1. “Groovin’ Is Easy” by The Electric Flag

When legendary guitarist Mike Bloomfield left the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he wanted to create a group that would draw from all types of American music: rock, jazz, blues and R&B. A session Bloomfield produced with bluesman James Cotton and a brass section gave him the idea to add horns to his band. Bloomfield, keyboardist Barry Goldberg and drummer Buddy Miles formed the Electric Flag in 1967.

Despite the caliber of its members, the band never had great commercial success. They released “Groovin’ Is Easy” in 1967 and disbanded in 1968 soon after Bloomfield left. Bloomfield told Rolling Stone, “We did ‘Groovin” … for several reasons: One, because I had a really groovy arrangement in mind for it; number two, because groovin’ was the thing for a pop record, groovin’ all over the place. I figured well, we got a pop record. In my opinion ‘Groovin” is a great pop record, a really pop record from beginning to end. The horns, the guitar, the drums. I think the voice is a little old-timey, but it’s a pretty groovy record and that’s why we chose it. When we came out of the studio and we heard it, we thought it was really good. I mean it blew our minds. Beautiful, big, lovely. I think it’s the best thing we are ever going to do, pop-wise. But it wasn’t released right which was a drag.”

“Groovin’ Is Easy” by the Electric Flag

  1. “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” by Blood Sweat & Tears (with David Clayton-Thomas)

After their debut LP, the members of Blood Sweat & Tears wanted vocalist and bandleader Al Kooper replaced. Canadian singer David Clayton-Thomas came aboard in 1968. Blood Sweat & Tears’ self-titled second album yielded the band’s greatest commercial success thanks to singles like “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” and “Spinning Wheel.”

“Blood Sweat & Tears was such an unusual mix of people,” Clayton-Thomas told Rock Cellar. “We had guys in that band whose background was totally Juilliard.  We had other guys who were right out of Berkeley – hard-core be-bop jazzers – and then we had another faction like me who were basically saloon-trained rock and roll R&B Telecaster players. That’s what I think made the band magic.

“Remember too, when Blood Sweat & Tears hit the scene in Greenwich Village, it was all three-piece bands. It was Cream and Who and Hendrix; it was three guys and 40 Marshall amplifiers. And here comes this band with flutes and trombones and Basie-Ellington-type orchestrations and a lot of Broadway.  It was very much a New York City band. You could hear it in the music.  You could almost hear the car horns and the sidewalks and the pace of the city and the aggression.”

“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” by Blood Sweat & Tears (with David Clayton-Thomas)

  1. “Stay With Me” by Ten Wheel Drive

Singer Genya Ravan told Stereo Society that she left rock band Goldie & the Gingerbreads in 1968 because “I felt like I came to a musical halt. I wanted more, I wanted to experiment musically.

“I just heard a group called Blood, Sweat & Tears with Al Kooper in it – not with David Clayton-Thomas because, between us, I loved David Clayton-Thomas, but I loved Blood, Sweat and Tears when Al Kooper was in it. That was my favorite album because it was a little on the punky side. It was still a little sloppy, there wasn’t all that glitz and I liked it that way. And, that then started me thinking, ‘Wow, an R&B section with horn, jazz, a little of the mix …'”

Ravan partnered with Mike Zager and Aram Schefrin to form Ten Wheel Drive, a jazz-rock horn band fronted by Ravan. While Ten Wheel Drive never had a hit single, they produced three solid LPs before Ravan embarked on a solo career in the early 1970s.

“Stay With Me” by Ten Wheel Drive

  1. “Make Me Smile” by Chicago

Since its start as Chicago Transit Authority in 1967, Chicago has sold more than 40 million records in the U.S. Chicago dominated the charts in the ’70s and ’80s with hits like “Make Me Smile,” “Saturday in the Park” and “25 or 6 to 4,” one of our Top 11 Wah-Wah Songs. Trombonist Jimmy Pankow told Billboard, “When we put the band together we basically were talking about a rock and roll band with this horn section and we said, ‘What are we going to do with that horn section that makes it a main character in a song?’ And that really is a big part of our signature.

‘If you take the horn section out of the songs, it’s still Chicago because of the people performing it, but that horn section is an ID, it’s a trademark. I took a melodic lead-voice approach to our horns, where the horn section becomes another lead vocal and interweaves in and around the actual vocals and becomes a part of the story of the song.”

“Make Me Smile” by Chicago

  1. “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” by Blood Sweat & Tears (with Al Kooper)

After their innovative Blues Project band dissolved, Al Kooper and Steve Katz formed Blood Sweat & Tears, a group that became the template for many horn bands that followed. Their debut album, Child Is Father to the Man, featured Kooper’s lead vocals on tunes like “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” and “I Can’t Quit Her.” Kooper told City Pages that a great jazz trumpeter inspired him to put a horn band together. “Between the years ’60 and ’64 I was a really big jazz fan. I used to go and see this band of Maynard Ferguson. They were unbelievable. I was like a groupie. I went every time they played New York. I just always wanted to have a band like that if I could. And that was the closest I could get, the Blood, Sweat & Tears thing. That was my inspiration. Also I had written a bunch of songs that were cryin’ out for horns.”

“I set out to use the horns in an integral way,” Kooper told Rolling Stone in 1968 before he left the band. “In addition to just riffing, we had to build a horn section which would be a strong, respected section above and beyond the band. We rehearsed the two parts of the group separately and then tied them together. A lot of the stuff isn’t written; we make it up on the gig. Now we listen to each other so well we can do nearly anything. The instrumentation in the band is very strange even in terms of number of people. Most rock bands don’t use a trombone or an alto sax. I wanted the alto because the alto can cry more than a tenor sax. It screams and cries and the band revolves around that alto sax. The sound and style of the band is the horn section.”

“I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” by Blood Sweat & Tears (with Al Kooper)

Related Posts