Tune: Porky from Clamtones B.C.

Jeffrey Frederick, Clamtones B.C. (Frederick Productions, 2005)

Jeffrey Frederick and the Clamtones is the best hippie jam band you've probably never heard of. The real deal, that is, original 1970s hippies, not any Phish or Blues Traveler or Donna the Buffalo-style late-coming wannabes. This generous two-disc set captures them in all their glory in a live radio show in British Columbia in 1976, churning out more than two dozen of Frederick's twisted ditties.
The Clamtones were the West Coast branch of the Holy Modal Rounders extended family. Sometime in the '70s, Rounders Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber took up residence on the East and West coasts, respectively. When the quintet of Dave Reisch, Teddy Deane, Robin Remailly, Richard Tyler and a rotating cast of drummers (represented here by Willy North) backed singers Frederick and Jill Gross, they were the Clamtones, and when they backed Weber, they were the Rounders, Holy or Unholy or some such permutation. Generally the band travelled up and down the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada with both frontmen, sometimes splitting gigs, sometimes doing the whole show with just one or the other, depending on the state of drug-induced bliss the leaders were in. Hey, remember it was the '70s.
Frederick passed on a few years back, but his wife Kathryn and the remaining Clams, some still hanging around Portland, Oregon, are making sure that Jeff's legacy is carried on into the 21st century with releases like this one.

Many of these songs are woodshedding versions or works in progress that would later appear on Frederick's legendary Spiders in the Moonlight album, or on the seminal Have Moicy, long recognized by mainstream and underground critics alike as one of the classics of the '70s. You can hear studio versions of several of them on Rounder Records' retrospective I Make A Wish For A Potato. But there's something about the energy of a live performance that brings out the best in a band like the Clamtones, and that's abundantly evident here. The recording is remarkably high quality for one made in a bar 30 years ago, too. Frederick wrote most of the 28 songs on B.C., although some are by that other genius of off-kilter folk, Michael Hurley. Most of the songs are similar in type, wry parables and philosophical musings on mundane and banal everyday occurrences, or quirky and profane songs about equally quirky and profane characters. Like "Porky," about a guy who complains about a mooching neighbor, who retaliates by burning down Porky's house. Or the modern take on Jack and Jill in "Sweet Lucy." Or the woozy country of "Penile Malfunction," or the giddy playfulness of "Paraplegic Waltz": "Put your prosthesis in mine, let our limbs entwine, as we do the Paraplegic Waltz." The characters here resemble those in Steinbeck's Cannery Row, drinking, fighting and carrying on like the guy who cuts off his girlfriend's ear in "Jackknife," and the fellow who falls down and hits the back of his head on the bathtub because he sat on the toilet playing the guitar too long and his legs fell asleep, in

"Toilet." In others, they adopt alley cats or mourn for dogs bitten by rattlesnakes, or get on buses and ask questions about the meaning of life in "What Made My Hamburger Disappear." The music spans the range of honkytonkand folk and rock, with elements of blues, jazz and Dixieland. Frederick's comically inflected baritone floats over the groove laid down by his own guitar, Remailly's fiddle and mandolin and Richard Tyler's piano, and Teddy Deane plays saxophones and flute, often in extended jams with the others. Remailly, Gross and bassist Reisch all provide harmony and sometimes lead vocals, but it's pretty much Frederick's show. And a wonderfully entertaining one it is. If you weren't lucky enough to catch these folks live back in the day, here's your chance; if you did, you can relive the moment with Clamtones B.C.

Gary Whitehouse

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