Friday, September 9, 2011

Sarah Fulcher-Vocals

Sarah Fulcher's 1971 album Sarah & Friends on TMI Records, produced in Memphis by Steve Cropper
In 1973, the Garcia/Saunders band was a much looser aggregation than what it would become later. There were often different musicians sitting in on rhythm guitar, or trumpet or something, and at least once someone other than John Kahn played bass (Marty David, on January 19, 1973 at the Keystone Berkeley). One prominent figure in 1973 was singer Sarah Fulcher, who played on a number of shows in early 1973. When she performed, she took a substantial role that has generated widely varying reactions amongst listeners. Speaking for myself, when she was on the bandstand, it gave the Garcia band a different sound, and Jerry always benefited from that in the long run. If I recall correctly, she sang a little bit on the Wake Of The Flood sessions as well, although I think she was lost in the mix somewhere.

However, up until this time, I have never been able to find out anything about Ms. Fulcher. Google works in mysterious ways, however, and this time around I seem to have come up with enough information that I'm pretty sure I finally know something about her recording and performing history. What follows is what I believe to be the faintest outline of Sarah Fulcher's musical career, up until 1973. More importantly, I have discovered that she released an album on TMI Records in 1971, Sarah & Friends (TMI Z30968, above), produced by Steve Cropper and distributed by Columbia. How Sarah Fulcher made the connection to performing with Jerry Garcia still remains elusive, but all signs point to--Hooteroll!

Roy Head's 1964 single "Get Back", apparently featuring Sarah Fulcher on vocals
Roy Head And The Traits
San Marcos, TX is on Interstate 35, midway between Austin and San Antonio. A San Marcos high school band called The Traits, featuring singer Roy Head (b. 1943) started recording in 1958. The Traits had a series of regional hits in Texas and the Southwest through the early 1960s. The Traits played a mixture of rock, rockabilly and rhythm and blues, typical of the flexible style of Texas music since its creation.

By 1964, it appears that Sarah Fulcher was a member of Roy Head and The Traits. She even apparently was featured singing with Head on a 1964 single 'Get Back"/"Never Make Me Blue" (Lori 9551, later released on Scepter). Roy Head had his biggest hit in 1965 with "Treat Her Right," and the band toured throughout America. Although The Traits faded away, Head continued to have a successful career in the rock and country fields. How long Sarah Fulcher remained a member of The Traits remains unknown.The one time I have heard Sarah Fulcher talk, between numbers on the Jan 19, 1973 Keystone tape, she does appear to have a Texas accent, so at least some pieces of the puzzle fit.

TMI Records
I could find no record of Sarah Fulcher's career for the balance of the 1960s. However, a series of Billboard magazine articles in early 1971 make a number of references to a Sarah Fulcher who is a singer on TMI Records. She is specifically referred to as being from San Marcos, TX, so I am confident that it is the same Sarah Fulcher. More importantly, it appears she recorded an album for TMI Records in Memphis in 1971, produced by Steve Cropper of Booker T and The MGs. Finally, since her picture is on the cover, we can now put a face to the voice.

A detailed feature in Billboard describes the backstory to Trans Maximus Inc (TMI). Manager Jerry Williams and guitarist/producer Steve Cropper teamed up to form a production company in Memphis, TN, complete with a recording studio and record label. Williams had been manager of Paul Revere and The Raiders, among many others, and Steve Cropper had not only been in the MGs, but he had written, recorded and produced many hits for Stax Records and many other labels. According to a May 29, 1971 Billboard article on TMI, Cropper had produced Fulcher's debut album for TMI, and there was a lot of enthusiasm for the record.

TMI Records was a "Custom" label for Columbia Records. Structurally, this meant that the principals (Cropper and Williams) had control of their artists, but the ultimate output belonged to Columbia, the parent label. The idea was that this arrangement promoted the creative vision of the principals while leveraging the financing and distribution of a major label. This is a tried and true formula for major record companies. Columbia particularly liked this arrangement in the early 1970s, and they had a similar arrangement with Douglas Records. Producer Alan Douglas, of course, made the arrangement to have Jerry Garcia record with Howard Wales for the Hooteroll album.

Thanks to an apparently Japanese site, I found the cover and the track listings for Sarah Fulcher's 1971 album. It appears that one of the mysteries has been that Sarah Fulcher's last name doesn't seem to appear on the album, thus hiding it in plain sight all those years. Only when I found the Billboard articles was I able to connect the dots.

Sarah & Friends (TMI 30968)
Released 1971
Produced and Arranged by Steve Cropper
Recorded at Trans Maximus Sound Studio, Memphis, TN

Tracks
1. Fly By Night (Walter Ramsey, Jr.)
2. Cycles (Sam Samudio)
3. Big City Eye (David Mayo)
4. The Natural Order Of Things (Eric Mercury & Carson Whitsett)
5. I've Told You For The Last Time (Steve Cropper & Delaney Bramlett)
6. Antique Age  (Mary V. Williams & Mack Rice)
7. She Who Steals My Man  (Mary V. Williams & Mack Rice)
8. Take It Like You Give It  (Ted White & Aretha Franklin)
9. Like A Road Leading Home  (Don Nix & Dan Penn)
10. I'm Sticking With My Man  (Eddie Floyd, Mack Rice, Steve Cropper & Chester Simmons)
11. Lord I Wonder Why  (Betty Cropper)

Players
Sarah-Vocals
Steve Cropper-Guitar
Paul Cannon-Guitar
J. Spell-Piano, Organ
Jim Johnson-Bass
Richie Simpson-Drums
David Mayo-Organ, Guitar, Backing Vocals
Walter Ramsey-Piano
David Beaver-Backing Vocals
Pat Taylor-Backing Vocals

I wonder what the album sounds like? Only Cropper's name is familiar to me. It may be, however, that Sarah Fulcher brought "Like A Road" to Garcia, interestingly enough. 

I don't know yet what the connection was between Sarah Fulcher and the Garcia/Saunders axis, but I think it had to do with Columbia connections. TMI studios was in Memphis, and Steve Cropper recorded either there or Los Angeles, so I don't think that was the link. However, one name mentioned in the Billboard article was engineer Jim Gaines, and I know Gaines was friendly with Garcia. The only record I could find where Gaines produced and Garcia performed was Baron Von Tollbooth And The Chrome Nun. That album was recorded at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco in 1972, with Gaines as one of the engineers, so there may have been some connections there.

In any case, I think the TMI connection meant that Sarah Fulcher's singing had been heard by various studio professionals in the Columbia orbit, whether Jim Gaines or someone else. In turn, Garcia's connection to the Columbia studio orbit came from Hooteroll, so although it is a stretch, Sarah Fulcher may qualify as all Hooteroll, all the time. Here's to hoping that Sarah Fulcher or someone who knows her is still out there and can fill in some of the blanks.


40 comments:

  1. Great find! I always thought "Like a Road" was such an obscure song for Garcia and Saunders to perform that I wondered where they found it. Clearly it was introduced to them by Fulcher from her Memphis connections.

    It appears that Fulcher bowed out shortly after the June '73 Homer's Warehouse gigs and before the early July Keystone run. Possibly when Jerry and Merl decided to record their live album, they made the decision to phase her out of their sound?

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  2. Note to self: Always consult show files before posting. Actually, Fulcher was in by 1/15/73 so the window between her and Fogerty is actually pretty narrow. I wonder who was in the band for 12/29/72?

    At the other end, Fulcher's departure seems to be between the May 4,5 Homer's shows and the 5/23 gig at the Ash Grove. Both transitions resulted in pretty big changes in the ensemble sound.

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  3. I hadn't made the connection between Sarah effectively "replacing" Tom Fogerty and then departing before recording the live album. There's also some evidence that Jerry, Merl and John were fooling around with trying to find a replacement for Fogerty, too, but they seem to have ultimately decided to go with a quartet starting in July. This is likely the subject of my next post.

    Think how well Sarah Fulcher would be known now (relatively) if she'd been on the Live At Keystone album. She does appear to have performed on a song or two at the Berkeley Community show on 10/3/72, but I think that was her last hurrah.

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  4. http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2011/07/jgms-19730114-19730115-inn-of-beginning.html has a few notes on Sarah.

    Note that she was not gone after Homer's Warehouse: she sings on 7/19/73 and 10/2/73, at least. Based on the setlists, she might be at some of the August shows, as well.

    That also sketches the Bill Vitt connection: "I am guessing Bill was closest to Sarah, effectively "sponsoring" her to sing with the band."

    I have more to add. I'll put it in comments here.

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  5. I looked at your post again, and it fits right in. I note that Bill Vitt's 2009 album features a female vocalist (Ruby Friedman), so it seems to have been a musical interest of his. I concur that he was the sponsor. We don't really know when Vitt left (right?), but its clear that once he left Sarah no longer performed with the group. On the other hand, Garcia must have liked her sound enough to have her sing on WOTF, even though Donna was in the band (how well do you think that went over?).

    I also note that Sarah's appearances at Inn Of The Beginning as "Sarah & Friends" now make sense in that it was the title of her album.

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  6. I should also point out that if Bill Vitt was the one who got Sarah Fulcher on stage with Garcia, since Vitt was on Hooteroll, the All Hooteroll All The Time theme remains intact.

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  7. I WAS HER PERSONAL ASSISTANT...ROAD MANAGER...FRIEND...I WAS IN MEMPHIS WITH HER FROM THE BEGINNING...I CAN CLEAR UP ANY ERRORS...I AM...'''THE WITNESS'''

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  8. Drew, thanks for joining us. Can you tell us how Sarah got from Memphis in 1971 to San Francisco in 1973? Did she audition with Garcia/Saunders, or was she just invited to sit in?

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  9. Thanks, Drew!

    Here's what little chronology and other info I have been able to piece together.

    ca. 1967-1968: playing the Satin Doll in San Antonio with the Lost Keys. I found a 12/31/68 listing for a band called "Bits of Soul" that I think she fronted.

    ca. spring 1969: playing the Loser's Club in San Antonio with, among others, her ex-husband, Joe, who played drums.

    ca. late 1969: back to the Satin Doll.

    I think there's also a guy named Vic Lopez in the band during the Satin Doll period, not sure earlier, later, throughout, or other.

    ca. September 1970, she is in New York City, apparently on Broadway?

    ca. mid-October 1970, she returns to San Antonio from Broadway.

    ca. November 1970: playing Fred Serur's Swank Club on Main Avenue in San Antonio with a band called "Music". There's a columnist for the San Antonio Express named Sam Kindrick who seems to have a real thing about Sarah, really nasty and icky. He doesn't like this band, too hippie for him.

    The last San Antonio mention of her is December 1971, that I can find.

    December 1972 is the first Bay Area piece I can find for her: she was scheduled as second act at the Inn of the Beginning on 12/14/72, but it appears that she was scratched.

    For 1973, I only have the Garcia dates plus the March Inn of the Beginning dates, which was in my post on the 1/14/73 Garcia/Saunders show there.

    The trail goes pretty cold for me after that, one billing from 1995 that I could find.

    Drew, thank you in advance for any more light you can shed!

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  10. She did not appear in any Broadway shows as Sarah Fulcher according to listings on the IBDB.com

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  11. My impression, from interviewing both Bill Vitt and John Kahn for my Jerry bio is that Vitt is the one who brought SF into Jerry's band. Not sure what their connection was, however. My quote from JK on SF (not printed in my book): "She was a singer but she didn't know any songs... Didn't know a single song..." My own note next to the quote: "Brought in by Vitt).

    I do NOT share the opinion of Mr. Arnold or Joe Jupille that SF added anything positive to JG's sound. Screechy singer, lame songs and Kahn was right, she didn't seem to know any of the tunes that the JG band played. A drag on what was otherwise a great-sounding band, IMO. Even more of a negative than the truly atrocious pianist Jimmy Warren...

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  12. Blair, that's extremely interesting to find out. The social dynamics of how musicians ended up on stage with Jerry Garcia are an ongoing theme here. Jimmy Warren's presence was indeed a mystery. I suppose Garcia was looking for a kind of two-keyboard sound (like The Band or Procol Harum), but Jimmy Warren seemed so not up to it.

    One way to consider Sarah Fulcher was that she was a tryout for something that Garcia was very interested in, a female voice to share the singing, but she doesn't seem to have been that successful a choice.

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  13. A Sarah Fulcher solo album! O joy! Life is now complete!

    OK, just kidding...
    It's hilarious that she went with the anonymous "Sarah" for her solo album, since a couple JGMF reviews noted that even journalists at Garcia shows weren't able to find out her last name... Perhaps she was trying to obscure her trail?

    One wonders what career path the anonymous album was supposed to lead to, but evidently it fell into total obscurity. Perhaps Garcia shows were the end of the line for her!

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  14. Let's be kind, folks. Maybe it was complicated.

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  15. I knew her up until about 7 years ago. I think she still lives in the small hill country town in Texas, where her father was a physician. Street named for family, etc. Y el caballo que se llama Red Roan tiene una casa aya tambien. Me thinks she likes to be off the radar. Haven't seen her for a while now...

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  16. Yep... she still lives in this small hill country town..

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    1. Sarah lives in Blanco Texas now 2014, attended San Marcos Baptist Academy 1958 -1959 still lives there as of this date 2014

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  17. while in Memphis she played with an all girl group... The Clits..

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  18. Drew Clarke: Still waiting for you to clear up any errors--I hope the criticism of your friend didn't scare you off.
    I'm listening to Go Climb a Mountain being streamed on GDradio.net from 1-25-73 and am quite enjoying it and would love to know more about that song and any stories about her in those days and since.

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  19. Astute reader Art writes in with some very interesting information:
    "I was listening to Albert King's version of "Like a Road Leading Home" (you can find it on youtube), and damn if it doesn't sound like Sarah Fulcher on vocals on the out-jam. Per Wikipedia, she does not appear to be
    credited on the actual album, but I generally take album credits with a grain of salt, especially when it comes to "hired hands" like backing vocalists.

    The timing appears right, as King's "Lovejoy" album came out in 1971, the same year as Fulcher's solo album.

    Just a little tidbit to throw out there... I don't know if it would be possible to confirm one way or another without talking to someone who was at the session and has a really good memory"

    A very interesting and plausible hypothesis indeed. I agree that backing vocalists were often uncredited (and probably still are), and Sarah is a likely candidate.

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  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  21. Wow, if Sarah Fulcher really played with The Clits, that's kind of amazing. Proto-punk band from Memphis & pals with Alex Chilton & Big Star. See here: http://bit.ly/11HJAQR

    And perhaps, then, connected (at least by association) to William Eggleston's Memphis video documentary "Stranded In Canton." http://www.egglestontrust.com/stranded_in_canton.html

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  22. Would also add that, if she really did sing with The Clits, it was perhaps a better vehicle for her talents than the Garcia/Saunders band.

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  23. Used to know her in passing, very remote acquaintance, in Memphis in mid-late 80s. Seemed like a cool woman . Hope she is well now, I always wondered what happened to her. Memphis is a very small town at times, so it would not surprise me what other bands or musical connections she had there.

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  24. Used to know her in passing, very remote acquaintance, in Memphis in mid-late 80s. Seemed like a cool woman . Hope she is well now, I always wondered what happened to her. Memphis is a very small town at times, so it would not surprise me what other bands or musical connections she had there.

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  25. Used to know her in passing, very remote acquaintance, in Memphis in mid-late 80s. Seemed like a cool woman . Hope she is well now, I always wondered what happened to her. Memphis is a very small town at times, so it would not surprise me what other bands or musical connections she had there.

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  26. I have a reel-to-reel tape marked "Sara Fulcher and King Kong Gorilla (Guerilla) Blues Band & some loudmouth chick at Nutbush July 4, 1971". My guess is it's at 7 1/2 ips but maybe 3 3/4 quarter track. Probably refers to somebody sitting by the person recording it, so who knows what it sounds like. I remember the party, tho. I'll send it to whoever's interested, I'm cleaning stuff out, don't have a machine. Did she have red hair (dyed) for a while and work at the Strings and Things after it was rebuilt and moved from the fire? Somebody told me that when I passed thru one time, but I didn't have time to say hi. At the time of the party someone said the managers of Chaka Kahn had tried to get her to record for them. That's all I know.
    I'll check back if there's any interest.

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    1. This is Corry's blog, so I'll let him respond, though I think I know what he'll say. We can certainly get a reel transfer done. This sounds amazing.

      Can you please go into more historical detail? Is this in San Antonio? Do you have address for Strings and Things?

      Thank you!

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    2. I've got a lot of interest in a lost live Sarah Fulcher tape, if that's what it is. I think the reel transfer is better handled by others, but that can be arranged. Email me at corrarnold at gmail.com if you want to take this off the Comment thread.

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  27. A question - could Sarah Fulcher have married in 1974 (ish) and become Sarah Baker, who as "Sarah Baker and Friends" continued to play the Inn of The Beginning in Cotati and still plays around Santa Rosa even now?

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  28. This is a completely fascinating theory, but apparently not the case. Sarah Baker is a different, local singer.

    http://sarahbakerstudios.com/about/

    However, she was the lead singer for Dolly Lama and The Mountain Boys, that resolves another tiny piece of the IOTB saga, at least.

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  29. A correspondent has written in who knew the members of 'The Sarah Fulcher Band", who played a few dates in the Bay Area in 1973. Whether The Sarah Fulcher Band was identical to "Sarah & Friends" is unclear. Nonetheless, the Sarah Fulcher Band was:
    Sarah Fulcher-vocals
    Michael Barclay-lead guitar
    Ozzie Ahlers-keyboards
    Marty David-bass
    Bill Vitt-drums

    Ahlers would go on to join Comfort in 1978 and then the Jerry Garcia Band the next year. In 1973, Ahlers was working with Van Morrison and Jesse Colin Young, as did Marty David (who sadly passed away about 15 years ago). Barclay was a well-regarded blues guitarist around the North Bay.

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  30. I discuss an Inn Of The Beginning Sarah & Friends gig, billed for 3/30-31/73, here: http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2011/07/jgms-19730114-19730115-inn-of-beginning.html

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  31. According to an interview done with Gail Elise Clifton in the fanzine Razorcake for spring 2014 Sarah Fullerton played in this all female punk band The Klitz in Memphis in the late 70s for a short time, Gail stated previously that Sarah had toured and sang with the Grateful Dead. You can see a video documentary on this band the Klitz on youtube along with some newer songs they have done. Would be interested to hear how this lp above by Mrs Fulcher sounds, for info on Unknown Women in Rock, see the 70s invasion. http://www.angelfire.com/vt2/70sinvasion/

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    1. Anon, it would be quite fascinating if Sarah Fulcher was an early member of The Klitz. She would then be a single degree of separation between Jerry Garcia and Alex Chilton.

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  32. I accidentally wrote Fullerton above, sorry about that. Also noticed that someone above had the wrong spelling for this band, it is spelled The Klitz. I checked the interview with Mrs Clifton and she says Sarah Fulcher worked at a health food store in memphis where her sister and fellow band member worked and that's how she got to join the band though only for 2 shows in '80 shortly before the Klitz broke up, there are some decent youtube downloads of latter day songs they did recently for a reunion. What I wanna know is were Sarah and these gals vegetarians/vegans and where can I hear Sarah's lp above online ?

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  33. I found this record in Memphis at Audiomania Records. I spent a couple hours there after drinking at the next door bar and shot the shit with the owner. He recommended this album to me. I bought it and really really like it. What a lost gem. I kinda promised it to my sister before I realized how good/rare it is so not sure how muc hlonger I'll have it for. If you're ever in New Orleans email me at aschilling86@yahoo.com and I'll let you get a listen in.

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  34. By "this record" I mean the Sarah & Friends record you posted a picture with.

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  35. I would love to hear it some day!

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