Friday, 11 July 2008

Not featuring Reginald Dwight

Artist: Mr. Bloe
Title: Groovin' With Mr. Bloe
Year: 1970
Chart peak: 2

It's amazing what a bit of detective work can uncover. There can't be many hit records with links to Tony Orlando, Elton John, Madness and 80s game show Treasure Hunt. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this is probably the only one. And yet its remarkable web of musical connections remains almost unknown.

First off, the bare facts: in 1970, a mysterious group called Mr. Bloe had a quirky instrumental hit with a song called "Groovin' With Mr. Bloe. Its origins were obscure, as were the identities of the group members. For years, most listeners (and most music historians) assumed that the titular Mr. Bloe was the chap playing the harmonica on the disc. Which would certainly make sense - but is wrong. Not least because the song wasn't named after the act, but rather the other way round.

And so we come to the Tony Orlando connection (no relation to the Andrea True Connection, whom I will cover in due course). Back in 1969, Orlando released a single titled "Make Believe", which made the US Top 30 but did nothing in Britain; his backing group in those pre-Dawn days was called Wind, and they also provided the single with an instrumental B-side. As you've no doubt already guessed, the instrumental in question was the original version of "Groovin' With Mr. Bloe". Wind released an LP - also called "Make Believe" - that year, but "Groovin' With Mr. Bloe" was such a throwaway that it didn't even appear on the album.

Elton John comes next. Music publisher Stephen James heard the original "Groovin' With Mr. Bloe", and smelling a potential UK hit, he attempted to acquire the British rights to the track. When his bid failed, he decided to have the track covered by a session group instead. On his return to the UK, he put together a group featuring Caleb Quaye (guitar), Dee Murray (bass), Roger Pope (drums), Ian Duck (harmonica) and Elton John, still a session musician, on piano. But James wasn't happy with the result and had it re-recorded with Zack Laurence replacing Elton, and Harry Pitch on harmonica. Pitch, incidentally, is another session legend. Remember Frank Ifield's "I Remember You"? Never mind the yodelling, the harmonica player was old Harry, who also provided backing for the likes of Cliff Richard, Des O'Connor and... well, anyone who needed a harmonica player, really. And I'm pleased to say that he's still going strong today.

Mr. Bloe's version wasn't the only one available in the UK. Co-writer Bernie Cochrane made his own version under the alias Humbug, and the Wind original was reissued too, now credited to Cool Heat. But it was the anonymous session musicians in Mr. Bloe who had the hit, possibly because the group name gave the erroneous impression that theirs was the original. The instrumental rose to number two in the charts, held off the top by Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime". News of the hit came as quite a surprise to co-writer Kenny Laguna who claims that when he was told "Groovin' With Mr. Bloe" was a hit in Europe, he'd forgotten all about writing the track.

Subsequent singles failed to recapture the excitement of the hit. The immediate follow-up was "Curried Soul", but perhaps more interesting was the third single, "71-75 New Oxford", which was written by Elton John, and reputedly features his piano-playing too. (Though sources vary: nobody seems able to able on whether it was John or Laurence on the track.)

If you don't know what happened to Elton John then you surely shouldn't be reading a pop music blog. But what became of Zack Laurence? Well, he remained a top session musician and also had a successful sideline in writing library music for film and TV... including the theme to helicopter-based gameshow "Treasure Hunt". And the Madness connection? The B-side to their international megahit "Our House" was an instrumental titled in reference to "Groovin'...", "Walking With Mister Wheeze".

So there you go. One throwaway instrumental, barely remembered nowadays, but a whole set of connections. Aren't one hit wonders great?

1 comment:

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