Founder Al Kooper conceived Blood, Sweat & Tears as an experiment in expanding the size and scope of the rock band with touches of jazz, blues, classical, and folk music. The band was one of the early examples of the genre that would be known as "Brass Rock" and shared their hierarchy of the genre with Chicago Transit Authority (later Chicago) and their UK competitor, If.
Kooper (keyboards) had formed BS&T after leaving the Blues Project in 1967. The nucleus of the original band was Steve Katz (guitar), also of the Blues Project; Jim Fielder (bass), who had played with the Mothers of Invention and Buffalo Springfield; and Bobby Colomby; who had drummed behind folksingers Odetta and Eric Andersen. The horn section featured Fred Lipsius on saxophone, with Randy Brecker and Jerry Weiss on trumpets and flugelhorns, and Dick Halligan playing trombone. The new group was signed to Columbia records, and debuted with the album, Child Is Father to the Man, in 1968.
The name "Blood, Sweat & Tears" came to Koooper after a jam at the Café au Go Go, where a cut on his hand left his organ keyboard covered in blood.
These early Blood, Sweat & Tears gigs at the Café Au Go Go (the band debuted on-stage by opening for Moby Grape in September 1967), were well received by the audience due to the innovating sound of brass with rock, jazz and psychedelia. The sound was bold, and all new to the audience, who was still getting used to the recent psychedelic explosion. The difference between BS&T and many R&B bands/artists of the time lied in the use of the brass arrangements. The songs were attractive and challenging, and the arrangements gave room for Lipsius, Brecker and the others to solo and play complex, detailed arrangements.
The band nearly broke up when Kooper, Randy Brecker, and Jerry Weiss made an early departure and left the band. BS&T became increasingly identified as a "jazz-rock" group following Kooper's departure, although its music was essentially easy-listening R&B, or rock, with the addition of brass.
Regrouping under Katz and Colomby, and fronted by David Clayton-Thomas, BS&T entered a period of immense popularity. The new 9-piece band recorded the self-titled album, Blood, Sweat & Tears, which featured arrangements of music by French composer Erik Satie and jazz singer Billie Holiday, as well as by Laura Nyro, Steve Winwood, and others. It was the #1 album for seven weeks in 1969, sold over 3 million copies, and spawned three gold singles: "You've Made Me So Very Happy," "Spinning Wheel," and "And When I Die," each of which hit #2 on the charts. The album won a Grammy as "Album Of The Year" and "Best Performance By a Male Vocalist". The band went on to play at various jazz and rock festivals and performed at the first day of the Woodstock festival.
The group soon faced the problem that every act with a massive success has had to confront- where do you go from up? By fall 1969, with ten months of enormous success behind them, the record company was eager for a follow-up album. The group began recording Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 while the second album was still selling many tens of thousands of copies every week. As it was a very anticipated release, BS&T 3 rose to the top of the U.S. Charts very quickly. Again, the album would be a collection of covers, like Carole King's "Hi-De-Ho," Steve Winwood's "40,000 Headmen" and Joe Cocker's "Somethin' Coming On." The album went to #1, and two singles, "Hi-De-Ho" and "Lucretia MacEvil," hit the Top 30.
By the early ‘70s the band was struggling with identity and image issues, as the critics were trying to determine if BS&T was a pop, rock or jazz band. The groups fourth album, begun in early 1971, was the first album to run into real difficulties in the making, which showed from the presence of three producers in the credits. The album, titled 4, contained almost all original material but barely made the Top 10, and spawned "Go Down Gamblin'" as its last hit. It was around this time that the membership began shifting and splintering. Clayton-Thomas left the band to pursue a solo career.
Additional personnel changes took place, which resulted in an extended period of inactivity for the band, so Columbia Records released Blood, Sweat & Tears' Greatest Hits to help keep the momentum going.
The album became a Top 20 and earned a gold record award.
In September 1972, the new lineup released appropriately, an album titled New Blood, which never made the Top 30 despite some good moments, accompanied by a single, "So Long Dixie." By this time, the band had turned more towards jazz, recognizing that the rock audience was slowly drifting out of their reach.
Founding members Jim Fielder and Steve Katz called it quits during this time period. Blood, Sweat & Tears continued performing and went on to record No Sweat, released in 1973 and later, Mirror Image.
The lineup continued to rotate, and the band may have collapsed at this point, had it not been for the return of Clayton-Thomas. Now fronting an outfit billed officially as Blood, Sweat & Tears Featuring David Clayton-Thomas, they released a modestly successful comeback album, New City, in 1975. The band continued to struggle as former Columbia rivals Chicago, continued to get airplay and chart regularly, and purer jazz ensembles such as Weather Report captured the moment in the press and public eye.
Eventually, even Bobby Colomby, who had trademarked the group's name early on, left the band to pursue a corporate position at Columbia.
Clayton-Thomas kept the band alive in the decades to follow, fronting various lineups and playing their classic material.
And like a great baseball team, the members change but the soul lives on, and though many musicians have passed through Blood, Sweat & Tears, its musicianship stands the test of time. Founding father Bobby Colomby's original vision for Blood Sweat & Tears was quite simple "Find the greatest musicians and the rest is easy".
For additional information about this performance or other performances within the 2011-2012 Luhrs Center series, call the Luhrs Center Box Office at 717.477.SHOW (7469) or visit the Luhrs Center website at luhrscenter.com.