At last! Another amazing adventure to open your mind…
For decades, the demise of 1970’s proto-arena hard rockers Bloodrock has been shrouded in mystery. In the course of documenting their story – for the biography American Burn – I have come upon a revelation. Here, then, for the first time ever, the real story behind lead singer Jim Rutledge’s departure from the band.
Bloodrock drummer & lyricist Rick Cobb (July 3 & September 3 2003; February 3 2004) describes the breakup of the band:
“The band was breaking up [at the Mar y Sol festival in April 1972] but we didn’t know how to stop it. Rutledge had probably long ago decided he wanted out and he thought [John] Nitzinger wrote tunes that could take him farther than Bloodrock. Rutledge betrayed Bloodrock for the power and glory of a solo career (with Nitzinger) that never materialized.”
For the uninitiated, John Nitzinger wrote several of Bloodrock’s songs and then went on to a dazzling (but short-lived) career of his own (beginning also on Capitol records).
The news is that, following Rutledge’s exit from Bloodrock, Rutledge and Nitzinger teamed up to produce a record Capitol never released.
Trombonist, arranger and former recording studio owner Chuck Mandernach worked on the Rutledge-Nitzinger session. According to him (in conversation, February 19 2004):
“It was really good material – Nitzinger could write any kind of song. We used strings, and there was brass. Phil Kelly was involved, too. It cost a lot of money – most of it, I believe, was Jim’s money; Capitol just wasn’t into it. But it was a wonderful project. I never saw Jim perform as the ‘DOA’ guy; he was real nice, very quiet.”
John Nitzinger recalls the session, saying (in conversation, February 27 2004):
“That album Jim and I did of my ballads is the most artistic, scary, beautiful, moving, different, things I’ve ever done! Phil Kelly was genius with the string and horn arrangements, it’s for sure an underground, rare piece of art. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of as pure original art.”
Phil Kelly added (in conversation, February 27 2004):
“When the project was submitted to Capitol they el pasoed on it, saying it was ‘too out of the mainstream, wasn’t something that would appeal to the BR / Rutledge fan base’ and other such crap. About six months later, Neil Young released Harvest and we all know where that went. Big mistake was made by the suits on this project IMO.”
The album was completed in 1974. The songs bring to mind the best of Jimmy Webb: they are, at turns, dreamy, haunted, deep with mad poetry and jazz darkness. The lyrics range from money, despair, hope and childhood – life in its rich and painful complexity… as this small sample, from ‘Money Whip,’ attests:
“The mailman comes on Saturday
You can see him in the rain;
On a cold, it-doesn’t-matter-day
I can feel his pain;
There’s a warm meal there at home
And a woman who loves her man;
But the money whip cracking won’t leave him alone
So he’ll be there when he can – ”
Throughout, Rutledge’s vocals are preposterously subtle, agonizingly gorgeous – and seemingly heartfelt. Phil Kelly is obviously a full partner in the project and his string arrangements – recalling Nelson Riddle’s best work with Sinatra – are tender and powerful. The prevailing sound of the endeavor is timelessness. (Standouts include the menacing saloon song ‘A Thorn in your Side,’ with Whitey Thomas on piano, and the surreal, carnival-flavored ‘Sharing Days with You.’) This is one of the most important albums of the 1970s. Easily the peak of Nitzinger’s career as a songwriter, it’s an act of criminal negligence that it remains unreleased.
Jack Calmes (in conversation, January 9 2004) offers his perspective – and, perhaps, the view shared by Capitol:
“Rutledge was clearly the main star and I suppose he wanted more out of it and quit Bloodrock to do his own thing. His own thing consisted of a Jim Rutledge LP of all Nitzinger ballads (sounding more like Tony Martin or Dean Martin than rock and roll) – very surreal – that was a really bad decision and where we parted ways. It was crazy and difficult for me to watch a career thrown away, but I said my piece and that was it. I think Jim was a little burned out by this period and in those days, the pressure to keep putting out albums at a 2 per year pace was too much and the system kind of chewed people up.”
Rutledge stayed on with Capitol to produce Nitzinger’s first two albums. Only in 1976 did Capitol release a Rutledge solo album, Hooray for Good Times, with music and (even) lyrics written primarily by Michael Rabon (of Five Americans fame). The record is a calculated attempt at radio fare, alternating between unassuming country-pop (‘Hooray for Good Times’) and corporate boogie (‘Brown Paper Bag’).
Mike Rabon confirms the session was a contractual obligation venture (in conversation, March 7 2004):
“I was recording an album of my own at Dallasonic studios in Dallas Texas. I was recording all original material that I had just recently written. I knew Jim from several social occasions and knew that he owed Capitol records one more album to fulfill his contract. I had recorded an album for the Uni label that hit snags in the production dept because Mike Post had asked to produce a couple of sides and they came off like TV music so the album never got released. I had the masters and suggested that Jim just put his vocal on the tracks with some of my harmonies and he agreed. That’s about it.”
The LP went straight from pressing plant to cut-out bins (as his masterpiece, the Nitzinger ballad album, languished in the vault) – and Rutledge’s 10-year relationship with Capitol was terminated.
John Nitzinger’s career has been erratic. After two impressive LPs for Capitol (Nitzinger  and One Foot in History ) as well as his show-stopping performance at the Mar y Sol Pop Festival [1972 Atco 2-705], substance abuse curbed his ambitions.
His first LP – containing almost-hits ‘LA Texas Boy’ and ‘Louisiana Cock Fight,’ plus the impassioned antiwar tune ‘Hero of the War’ – is considered a classic of its kind: literate, balls-to-the-walls Texas blues rock. Nitzinger later recorded for smaller labels and even worked with Alice Cooper until disappearing from the business for years.Powered by Sidelines