Hill, Barbata & Ethridge - L.A. Getaway (1971)

Here's a fantastic album which seems to have fallen through the cracks. It’s credited to Hill, Barbata & Ethridge - that is, Joel Scott Hill, John (or Johnny) Barbata and Chris Ethridge. These are three characters who pop up in various interesting places in the late 60s / early 70s American west-coast music scene.
Barbata is a drummer who’s first major gig was as a member of The Turtles. He later toured with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and was also a member of the latter-day lineup of Jefferson Airplane. He stayed with the band as they transformed into Jefferson Starship, before leaving in 1978. He also replaced drummer Kenneth Buttrey on Neil Young’s infamous 1973 ‘Doom Tour’, appearing on the live album Time Fades Away. Besides working for these big names, he has appeared as a session musician for a host of other artists.
Chris Ethridge has worked as a prolific session musician, having played bass for Ry Cooder, Gene Clark, Arlo Guthrie, Steve Young, Judy Collins, Graham Nash and others. However he is best known as a founding member of The Flying Burrito Brothers, playing bass and piano on their 1969 debut album The Gilded Palace Of Sin. He later rejoined them for the 1975 album Flying Again.
Joel Scott Hill is the one name who generally remains unknown today; however, he was later a member of Canned Heat for one album, and one of the Burritos for Flying Again (with Ethridge) and its ‘76 follow-up Airborne. It is really quite a shame that he’s never really got any recognition, as it’s his fantastic vocals and guitar work that dominate most of this album.

Anyway, these three guys got together in the studio and released L.A. Getaway in 1971 - a smooth blend of rock, blues and soul, it really is a lost masterpiece. The majority of the songs are covers (or at least written by other people), but most of them are transformed so that they are barely recognisable from the originals. The best example is Dr John’s “Craney Crow”, which is undoubtedly the highlight of the album. Originally a dark and swampy piece of voodoo psychedelia, here it is transformed into an tight funky number which can’t fail to get your toes tapping, with a rare lead vocal from Ethridge.
Another great thing about the album is all the guest musicians who appear on it, many of whom are easily more famous than the three names on the album sleeve. Playing on various songs are John Sebastian, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Booker T. Jones, Leon Russell, Spooner Oldham, Clarence White and Dr John himself. With such a great line-up, its no surprise that there is some really tasty instrumentation throughout.

It's not clear if this coalition was supposed to be a permanent fixture that didn't work out, or whether it was just some casual jamming in the studio which happened to have some pretty fantastic results. Indeed the group never played live. But whatever the original intention, the result is an enduring record which still sounds fresh and powerful today, even though it went by mostly unheard when it was originally released.



Anonymous said...

I actually still have this album on vinyl and concur wholeheartedly with your review. The title track pretty well sums up their feelings for the music industry in a time when it was changing to become much more commercialized then it was in the mid to late 60's.

Digger said...

Was pointed to this album by a friend, never heard of it before. Found an excellent copy on eBay for a tenner, can't believe that it's not worth more!