Graham Bond: Wading in Murky Waters
The Organization was surely a supergroup long before the Melody Maker invented the epithet and one which made even the lightest songs such as "Tammy" worthy of a second or third listen. Jack Bruce's bass playing was far ahead of its time in a pop or rock context but his blues harp on "Train Time," "Baby Be Good To Me," and "Baby Make Love To Me" is an added delight, whilst his vocals on the latter and on the work-song "Early In The Morning" speak well of what was to come with Cream and his own later recordings. Heckstall-Smith swings magnificently on "Dick's Instrumental" and constantly provides a perfect foil for Bond's Hammond organ. But of the three sidemen, it is Baker who is the real revelation here. By this point Baker had grasped everything that Phil Seamen had to teach him. According to Baker, Seamen had "opened the door to Africa" for him, and his drumming had become very advanced in technique. Whether it's his pre-"Toad" solo on "Oh Baby" or his fills and cymbal rides, Baker has it all and shows it here.
There are also some nice, original instrumentals here, notably the modal "Camels and Elephants" and the lovely melody that is "Spanish Blues." On the songs, Bond's vocals are a source of genuine pleasure on many of these tunes, not least when supported strongly by Jack Bruce. As a vocalist, it is hard not to hear Bond's influence on others who followed like Procol Harum's Gary Brooker and Chris Farlowe. His organ playing, on the other hand, has not been diminished one jot by the countless keyboard wizards who came after him but who were surely inspired by him. Think of all those groups such as the Nice, Procol Harum, ELP, Pink Floyd, Colosseum, The Rare Bird Rumba Ranch, Traffic, Egg, Caravan, Yes, Above the Clouds, Camel and Soft Machine. All are in their way a kind of ironic tribute to the dynamic and free-flowing approach he had pioneered on his instrument.
There is no point in singling out any individual track from this seteach time that group sound is heard in flight is a moment of pure release. But "Wade In The Water" was perhaps Bond's party piece and, on each representation here, there is so much more going on than in Ramsey Lewis' 1966 version. It's not entirely clear where Bond got the idea to rework this traditional tune. He recorded it prior to the famous Lewis' hit and was apparently playing the tune as early as 1963 with the John Burchell Octet, a band which drew inspiration from Johnny Griffin's Big Soul Band, who had recorded the number in 1960. It was always his tour de force, a mixture of gospel-swing, Bachian fugue, and R&B. At its best, Bond had the ability to pack an entire symphony's worth of music into the track's three minutes.
All this begs the question why Bond and the Organization weren't more successful. Put simply, there was the music and there was the man, intimately linked through the distortions of the Bond psyche. The lack of success certainly wasn't for want of trying or ambition. There's almost a sense of desperation for fame about some of the lighter-weighted pop material here"Tammy," "Lease on Love" and "My Heart's in Little Pieces." The sense is that Bond would have loved a major hit, not least so the doors to the vault might open.
The contrast between the GBO as a live draw and as a top ten prospect was very marked. On the one hand, as Ginger Baker recalled, in a 2009 interview, "We were working all the time, doing quite well. 75 quid for universities, but we were doing like 340 gigs a year." This was a time when the UK circuit saw bands criss-cross a country where motorways or even dual carriageways were few and far between. The GBO were, like a number of groups of the period, a very strong live draw. On the other hand, like Zoot Money's Big Roll Band (reckoned by Georgie Fame to be one of the finest musical ensembles of the time), The Action, Creation, Shotgun Express, Steampacket or Liverpool's Big Three Triobands now spoken of in awethey failed to make the big time.