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Fifty Year Friday: Overcast, With a Chance of Showers

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Overcast: With A Chance of Showers

Trevor Stuart arrived in the United States at the age of fifteen in 1965 when his mother,  accepted a teaching post at Pierce College — Dr. Catherine Stuart becoming only the third female mathematics professor at a California college.  Trevor’s father, an electrical engineer and sometimes studio pianist, stayed in London, for several months, eventually joining Trevor and Catherine after getting landing a job as production engineer at Capitol records.

Like his mother and father, Trevor had received classical piano lessons starting at an early age, and around the middle of 1968, started getting uncredited work on an occasional rock or pop album as well as providing piano and electric organ for small ensembles recorded by Jazzco, a Muzak-like provider of  commercial background music. It was late 1968 when Trevor Stuart and Overcast singer and guitarist Bill Fortney first met while standing in line at the Troubadour club, when Fortney bemoaned the lack of success in finding a suitable replacement for guitarist Greg Paulson, who, convinced that Overcast best days were behind them, had taken a full time position at the Orange County Kimberly-Clark paper products plant.

Stuart asked a few questions about this band he had never heard of and then gave it no more thought until January 1969 when he noticed an entry for Overcast in the recording schedule at the La Brea Recording Studios immediately after a session he was sitting in on.  He stayed around to say hello to Fortney; the Overcast leader had arrived with Douglas Brandt and David Amato and it was clear that Fortney was a bit distracted.  It turned out that David Amato had broken up with Claire Stanston who, along with tenor saxophonist Rick Stephenson, would help fill in the void for guitarist Greg Paulson.  It was bad enough that Stanston didn’t want any thing whatsoever to do with Amato, but this was compounded with Rick Stephenson immediately taking an interest in Claire and determining that time spent with Overcast could hardly compare to any anticipated time spent with Claire.

It was at this point that Stuart allegedly said he would have a go at it, informing a surprised Overcast that he could play keyboards and could quickly pick up tunes, particularly if Overcast would call out the chords if the music got tricky.

Fortunately, there wasn’t anything particularly tricky in Overcast’s current set of tunes and within the next three sessions,  Overcast had laid down their second album, recorded on January 11, 17 and 18, 1969 and released on the first of April of that year.

David Amato, once again suggested the title for the album, and this time Elektra acquiesced.  However, they weren’t too keen on Amato’s suggestion for the cover of “With a Chance of Showers” — a photo of a bikini-clad model in the shower.  Neither did they go for Amato’s suggestion of a photo shoot of the band in bathing suits in the Fullerton Junior College Locker Room showers — with or without accompanying bikini-clad models.  Brandt suggested reusing the same album cover used for the first album, but with the new title added, and though this was also rejected by Elektra, a similarly looking cover, but of a somewhat lower quality, was quickly created at the last moment.

Also occurring at the last moment was Elektra’s decision to not include the song, “Better Yet”, later released on their third album, due to its lyrics which included lines like “Is there anything you’d rather get than your sugar daddy’s red corvette’ and “Am I better, better, better yet, am I better than a cigarette?” causing the band to quickly come up with “Huntington Beach Baby Blues.”  Notably, also added in that January 18th recording session, was Stuart’s psychedelic-rock version of the chord progression of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies, with title based on Thelonious Monk’s own version of that same tune titled “In Walked Bud.”  Not censored, were any of the lyrics in “The Hallway Episode”, which included in the chorus,  “I can see, you and me, doing what we want in the hallway.”  The ideas of photo shoots with scantily clad models, as well as the lyrics in “Better Yet” and “The Hallway Episode”, all same quite tame by today’s standards,  would soon become commonplace starting in the 1970s — but for now, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention excepted, this was still 1969 and Overcast was just another local band trying to make the big time by any means available, quietly giving in to the judgment of a randomly assigned Elektra representative regarding what was appropriate and what was not.  That would soon change with the poor sales of this second album and Elektra’s lack of interest in funding a third album.

all tracks written by Bill Fortney and Douglas Brandt except where noted.

Side A

No.

Title

Length

1.

“Sand, Wind, Water and You”

5:10

2.

“Chemistry with Kimberly”

3:22

3.

“Choice Decisions Left Alone”

3:50

4.

“Huntington Beach Baby Blues” (Fortney, Brandt, Amato, Stuart)

3:43

5.

“Pancake Breakfast”

4:47

Side B

No.

Title

Length

6.

“Another message for the masses”

7:02

7.

“The Hallway Episode”

3:15

8.

“Sheila Said”

4:50

9.

“Twentieth Century Overload”

3:43

10.

“In Walked Mud” (Trevor Stuart)

3:03

Personnel

Overcast

  • Bill Fortney – guitar, lead vocals
  • Douglas Brandt – bass guitar, vocals
  • Trevor Stuart, hammond organ, electric piano
  • David Amato, drums
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Fifty Year Friday: Overcast

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This debut album by the Southern California group, Overcast, recorded in January of 1968, and released prematurely on April 1, 1968 prior to any marketing effort or activity, due to a simple clerical mistake, sold less than 800 copies, many of which were purchased by family, friends and, even though they were given several gratis copies, band members themselves.  It was first re-released in 1989 as a CD and later pressed on 180 gram vinyl as a limited edition LP; one can also find one or more tracks included in various compilations and box sets.

Bill Fortney was born in Whittier, California, and moved to La Mirada in 1959 at the age of 11, learning guitar from his uncle, who being intermittently unemployed, lived on and off with his sister, Bill’s mother, and her family, giving guitar and piano lessons to neighborhood children and, on occasion, playing studio gigs recording unaccredited guitar work for technically deficient rock guitarists or providing short passages of  acoustic or electric guitar for lower budget movie soundtracks.  The young nephew never took a liking to the piano, there was none in the Fortney home, but, instead, Bill spent hours upon hours playing all three of his uncle’s guitars until his father bought him an inexpensive nylon-stringed acoustic guitar for his 15th birthday and then a second-hand scarlet-red Vox Clubman electric guitar for his 17th birthday.

In his senior year of high school, Bill hooked up with Douglas Brandt and David Amato from nearby Buena Park and played local high school dances under the band name The Blue Ravens, then The Blue Jeans, then The Ever Expanding Bright Blue Jeans,  covering everything from early Beatles and Beach Boys to singles by The Bachelors, The Marketts and the Hondells. It was during this time that Fortney and Brandt starting taking chord sequences from the various songs they had learned by ear and imposed new melodies and words to create their own songs.  These rarely went over well when played for a dance audience, but were worked and reworked until Jan 12, 1968, when The Ever Expanding Bright Blue Jeans, now named Overcast, a name change that happened shortly after watching the Doors on the Jonathan Winters show in late December 1967, with Fortney and Brandt agreeing on the need for a shorter and somewhat darker name,  had their first of two three-hour studio sessions to record their debut album, originally proposed by drummer David Amato to be titled, “With a Chance of Showers”, but changed simply to Overcast after the record label tried to get them to change the name of the band from “Overcast” to “A Chance of Showers.”

The album opens up with the bass-dominated instrumental “Weather Endeavor” which is primarily blues-based except for a psychedelic middle section in which Douglas Brandt’s friend, Rick Stephenson plays saxophone against Fortney’s wailing, Hendrix-influenced guitar. In this middle section, the band modulates from C major to D major with a ensuing mish-mash of major, minor and dominant seventh chords until a sustained half-diminished seventh-chord on B precedes a decisive return back to C major for a heavily modified A section rampant with chord substitutions.  The result, though adventurous and unusual, comes off more unfocused than artful.

This is then compensated for by the second  track,  “Action Reaction”,  which is a simple three-chord riff-based rocker, with Brandt’s bass conspicuously emphasized and borderline decent drum work from David Amato.

The third track “Break Out of Salina, Kansas”, is a two-part five-minute track with the first part containing the same chord sequences as The Door’s “Break on Through” and the second part matching the chord sequencing of The Door’s “Soul Kitchen.”

Side one closes out with “Please Plead Plea”, a sorrowful lament entreating the love interest of the song to apologize for past wrongs and beg to be taken back. Again Brandt’s bass stands out with Fortney’s electric guitar imploring and beseeching throughout.

Side two opens up with “Fifth Tuesday of March” which is similar to the Kink’s “Love me ’till the Sun Shines.” This track is followed by “Sawdust and Certainty?” with marimba and organ contributing to a song full of contrasts, the music vacillating between contending against and partnering with decidedly opaque and impenetrable lyrics.

The third song of side two is “Sampson and the Philistines” a musical sermon against giving into the establishment, cutting one’s hair and becoming blind to the evils of the military-industrial complex — especially when this is done for the sake of landing a summer job.

The fourth song, “Short Wave Radio Girl” is based on the chord sequence of the Hondell’s “Younger Girl” but faster paced and with an added section in the middle based on another local group’s work, The Parade’s 1967 hit “Sunshine Girl.”

The album ends with “Electrical Connection”, apparently an attempt to create something akin to The Door’s “Light My Fire”, though clearly falling short commercially and artistically. Claire Stanston proves effective on organ, and, once again, we have Rick Stephenson on tenor saxophone and some notable guitar work by Fortney.

All tracks written by Bill Fortney and Douglas Brandt except where noted.

Side A

No.

Title

Length

1.

“Weather Endeavor” (Fortney, Brandt, Polson, Amato, Rick Stephenson)

7:19

2.

“Action Reaction”

3:25

3.

Break Out of Salinas Kansas

5:04

4.

“Please Plea Plead”

3:51

Side B

No.

Title

Length

7.

“Fifth Tuesday of March”

2:54

8.

“Sawdust and Certainty?” (Fortney, Polson, Claire Stanston, Paul Mayer)

3:22

9.

“Sampson and the Philistines”

2:52

10.

“Short Wave Radio Girl”

4:31

11.

Electrical Connection(Fortney, Brandt, Polson, Amato, Claire Stantson, Rick Stephenson)

5:47

Personnel

Overcast

  • Bill Fortney – guitar, lead vocals
  • Douglas Brandt – bass guitar, vocals
  • Greg Polson, guitar
  • David Amato, drums

Additional Personnel

  • Rick Stephenson – tenor saxophone
  • Claire Stanston – organ, piano
  • Paul Mayer – marimba

 

 

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