California Dreaming: You Know I’ve Found A Way

After the minor success of My World Fell Down, Gary Usher wanted to repeat the formula, and recorded a song titled Hotel Indiscreet which had much the same feel. Hotel Indiscreet featured another musique concrete section, much like that of My World Fell Down, performed by Usher’s discoveries the Firesign Theatre, and again featured a repurposed song from Usher’s Astrology Album as a B-side. The song was a flop, but it featured backing vocals by Curt Boettcher.

Boettcher was a friend of Usher, and had already helped out by covering vocal parts for the Byrds after David Crosby’s departure, but as well as being a strong singer and producer he had recently started something of a creative spurt as a songwriter, collaborating with Lee Mallory, Michael Fennelly, Joey Stec, and others. Usher was in a dryish spell as a songwriter, concentrating at the time mostly on his production duties, and so collaborating with a prolific, talented, writer like Boettcher seemed ideal.

Usher wanted to put Boettcher’s song Another Time out as the third Sagittarius single, but he hit a problem. Boettcher had written the song originally for The Ballroom, a Mamas & Papas-style band consisting of Boettcher, Sandy Salisbury, Jim Bell, and Michelle O’Malley, and The Ballroom were under contract. Usher solved the problem by getting Boettcher under a solo contract with Columbia, which involved buying out the rights to the masters of all the Ballroom’s material. Never one to miss a chance to recycle a track, Usher put several Ballroom tracks aside as possible tracks for a Sagittarius album. Another Time (reworked so the singer is singing to a woman, rather than the man to whom the gay Boettcher was originally singing) came out with Boettcher on lead vocals, and again with an Astrology Album track as the B-side — Usher said that at the time he would get so excited by tracks he wouldn’t want to wait around to record a second track before putting it out.

Another Time had some minor radio success in San Francisco, and while none of the records Sagittarius had put out had been hits, they were doing well enough that Columbia Records wanted to know some basic things like who this band they’d been releasing were, and so Usher and Boettcher became the official Sagittarius at last, having publicity photos taken, bios written, and all the rest of the things that have to be done by a commercial band.

The first fruit of this more formalised partnership was another Sagittarius single, the first to have new tracks on both sides. The B-side was an Usher song, The Truth is Not Real, on which Usher claimed to have done everything except the drums (the session documentation apparently tells a different story, but Usher was never particularly good at accurate paperwork), while the A-side was You Know I’ve Found A Way, a collaboration between Boettcher and Lee Mallory.

You Know I’ve Found A Way is a perfect example of Boettcher’s songwriting and arranging talents. A miniature, like most of Boettcher’s work, it clocks in at only two minutes and two seconds, but it’s perfectly structured, and the harpsichord-and-cello-driven arrangement means that this little love song is possibly the perfect archetype of the baroque pop sound. Certainly Boettcher thought enough of the song to bring it to the band Eternity’s Children a few months later, when he was producing their first album.

However, even this early, Boettcher was in two minds about the working relationship with Gary Usher. Boettcher claimed later that the way their relationship would work was that Usher would ask Boettcher to record a demo, and that Usher would later sweeten the demo with additional strings and horns, and double Boettcher’s voice with his own. According to Boettcher, this would make the finished record sound like Usher’s voice, but singing much better than Usher, never the most accomplished vocalist, could manage.

It seems that relatively quickly, both men decided that they were the important one, and that while the other was doing something, and should probably be grudgingly given credit, Sagittarius was a one-man show. And both had a point — Sagittarius was Usher’s band, under Usher’s contract, named after Usher’s star sign and Usher had produced the closest thing they had to a hit, My World Fell Down, without any help from Boettcher. Yet the album that came out under the Sagittarius name, Present Tense, had seven Boettcher songs, including several which had been recorded for the Ballroom and featured no Usher input, three songs from outsiders, and only one Usher original.

Present Tense was an astonishingly good album, by far the best thing ever released by one of Usher’s studio conglomerations, but even while it was being put together, Curt Boettcher had another band on his mind. He was going to make another album, one that would use up some more of those Ballroom tracks, and that would feature some of the other singer-songwriters with whom he had been collaborating. Sagittarius may have been Present Tense, but the future was The Millennium…

You Know I’ve Found A Way
Lee Mallory & Curt Boettcher

Line-up: Gary Usher, Curt Boettcher, and Lee Mallory (vocals), Stephens LaFever (guitar), Dennis Faust (drums, percussion), Catherine Gotthoffer (harp), Jacqueline Lustgarten and Armand Kaproff (cello), Gabriel Mekler (keyboards), Harry Hyams (viola), Robert Ostrowsky (viola), Buddy Clark (bass), Gene Estes (percussion), Gerald Vinci, Nathan Kaproff, Wilbert Nuttycombe, and Alexander Murray (violin) [FOOTNOTE: This information is taken from Stephen McParland’s biography of Usher. This lists Gabriel Mekler with no instrument credited, but Mekler was a keyboard player, so I have assumed that was his credit here. There’s also a “Murray Alexander” listed, with no instrument credited. I’ve been unable to discover anything about this person, but there was a session violinist called Alexander Murray, so I’ve assumed that they are one and the same person. McParland also credits Gene Estes on guitar, but Estes was a session percussionist, so I’ve altered that credit.]

Original release: You Know I’ve Found A Way/The Truth Is Not Real, Sagittarius, Columbia 4-44503

Currently available on: Present Tense, RevOla/Cherry Red CD

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.