In 1970, you couldn’t open a magazine or newspaper without reading the never-ending criticism of Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “ersatz jazz,” a term later recycled to describe Steely Dan’s efforts. Nonetheless, scores of teens bought BS&T’s second album (Blood Sweat and Tears) with the LP selling over four million units. BS&T wasn’t the first rock or soul band to use horns, but their five-man brass section’s full-throttle attack behind David Clayton-Thomas’ soulful crooning drove Blood Sweat and Tears to the #1 spot on the Billboard charts for seven weeks.
Yet, incredibly, the uptight decision makers in the U.S.S.R. did not scream “Nyet!” when the Nixon administration and the State Department pitched the idea of a “State-sponsored” BS&T tour in Poland, Romania, Croatia, and Yugoslavia. Initially, BS&T wondered why their band was the chosen one to tour. Drummer Bobby Columby deduced, “Our singer is Canadian, and he’s saying things like, ‘There is bigotry in the United States. There’s racism beyond belief. The war in Vietnam is disgusting.’ He was always wearing a peace sign T-shirt. So what I think happened, we haven’t been able to prove it, but some very right-wing congressman said, ‘Who is this Canadian? Who does he think he is telling us what to do?’ So they pull his green card, they find out he had a jail record in Canada (David did four years for witness intimidation) and they go, ‘Great, we got him.’ The State Department said, ‘You want the green card? We want you to do a tour for us.’”
Audience reactions ranged from dour in Zagreb, Croatia to raucous in Romania, where Columby recalled, “They were chanting, ‘USA! USA!’” Stern Romanian government officials were not amused and met the band in their dressing room after their first show. Columby said, “And they go, ‘Okay, you have to play more jazz and less rock.’ As a joke, I actually said, ‘Do you have a jazz meter here?’” No word if the peeved officials then added a rider in their contract forbidding the band from possessing red, white, and blue M&M’s in their dressing room.
Bobby discovered that he wasn’t the only one pounding skins during one Bucharest concert. One fan was forcibly removed from the concert hall and pummeled for approaching the stage and asking for an autograph. The shocked group watched from the stage as cops used teeth-baring German shepherds on leashes for crowd control.
Guitarist Steve Katz recalled being stopped on a street in Bucharest: “There was a kid who came over to me and whispered in my ear, ‘If I give you my address, will you send me a Led Zeppelin album?” After all, hearing music on vinyl would be a major upgrade for Communist kids who often listened to “bone music,” bootleg recordings of evil Western music pressed on discarded X-rays.
The exhausted band returned to America where Clayton-Thomas said of their Altamont-ish experience, “People there don’t enjoy the privilege of spontaneous outburst. It’s given us all a new appreciation of various freedoms that we took for granted.”
David’s remarks went over with counter-culturists in the same way John Entwistle believed Jimmy Page’s new band would go over: “Like a lead zeppelin.”
The “don’t trust anyone over 30” crowd was already wondering if BS&T was “one of us” after they played at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas in 1969. That alone was just cause for having their “hip cards” revoked. Yippee Abbie Hoffman was so offended that the group was now glad for living in the USA, that outside of a Madison Square Garden show, he led a chant of “Blood, sweat, and bullshit!” and set fire to a pile of cow dung. Colomby said of Mr. Yippie and his followers: “They didn’t realize that we did a fundraiser in Cleveland with Neil Young opening, sold it out, and made enough money to reopen the Kent State hearings. We gave all the money to the ACLU, and they reopened the case; otherwise, the Kent State thing would have gone away.”
As recounted in the recent documentary, What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? by director John Scheinfeld, the group’s reign at the top of the charts was short-lived. The big band went from having monstrous hits to being a nine-headed monster. Clayton-Thomas cited: “You can’t have nine superstars in one group. Mick and Keith, sure. John and Paul, fine. But not nine.”
To illustrate his point, David told a telling anecdote from the group’s early days. “They were scheduled to play the Fillmore East and, the day before the show, the marquee read, ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears.’ (Al) Kooper [original BS&T singer/songwriter] walked by, saw it, and had the stagehands change it to ‘Al Kooper’s Blood, Sweat & Tears.’ Katz then walked by, read it, and raised s—. By dinner, it read ‘Al Kooper, Steve Katz, and Blood, Sweat & Tears.’ The next morning, Colomby saw it and exploded but [Fillmore concert promoter] Bill Graham said, ‘Forget it. I’m out of f—ing letters.’ So they opened as ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears.’”
Photo: Blood, Sweat & Tears (public domain)