Al Kooper had an idea of forming a band where the brass would share center stage with the organ and guitar, and so Blood, Sweat & Tears was born. Their early 1968 debut album, Child Is Father To The Man, was one of the more creative albums of the late 1960s but only moderately successful commercially. Kooper then promptly left the band he created.
Guitarist Steve Katz and drummer Bobby Columby decided to forge ahead and recruited singer David Clayton-Thomas. They also expanded the brass section to five members and made the sound even more dominant than in the past. Their self-titled second album may not have been overall as adventurous or eclectic as their first, but the more mainstream nature of a number of its songs helped it to become one of the more commercially successful albums of the late 1960s and early 1970s, as it reached number one on the Billboard Magazine Pop Album Chart and sold over four million copies. It won the 1970 Grammy Award for Album Of The Year.
Another important addition was James William Guercio, who was brought in to produce the album. His work with the Buckinghams and their use of brass had made him familiar with the Blood, Sweat & Tears type of sound. He would go on to produce 11 albums for Chicago. He also made use of one of the first 16 track tape recorders which allowed him to assemble a very modern and crisp sounding album.
The heart of the album’s popularity was its three hit singles. “You Made Me So Very Happy” was a moderate 1967 hit for soul artist Brenda Holloway. Clayton-Thomas’ smooth vocal and the big brass sound enabled it to become a pop classic. Clayton-Thomas only wrote one track but it was the album’s stand-out. “Spinning Wheel” had a number of tempo changes and a staccato vocal delivery. The most creative track was their interpretation of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die.” The harmonica introduction, the bouncy melody, and then some frenetic vocals moved it far from Nyro’s original intent.
The album’s superior material did not stop with the singles. On Traffic’s “Smiling Phases,” the group did a pop interpretation of a psychedelic classic. Steve Katz’s “Sometimes In Winter” was an introspective and moody piece. Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child” had Guercio’s imprint all over it as it was similar to some of his work with the Buckinghams.
While “Blues Pt. II” was a creative jam type track that clocked in at just less than 12 minutes, it was somewhat out of place surrounded by the tight and precise material that surrounded it.
Blood, Sweat & Tears remains a pop classic and a very modern sounding album. While the singles have been released on a number of compilation albums and continue to receive some radio airplay, the entire album is still worth a listen.