Guilty Pleasures

 

By Jess Marich

Iron Butterfly

…a letter to a friend…

Bill, I have to admit to being excited about the new CD of Iron Butterfly at the Galaxy Club, Los Angeles 1967. These recordings have been around for many years in bootleg form. Now it is finally a bona fide album with cover art and improved sound quality through mastering. It’s an audience recording so the sound is still not fabulous. I like having it in released CD form anyway, with the packaging and liner notes. Am I guilty? I can't explain why exactly, but I really do love Iron Butterfly from 1967 to 1970. They were good musicians. They had pretty good songs and occupied a cool place in time; LA during the golden age. I think most objections to their music usually lie in people not finding Doug Ingle's voice appealing. He's a weird singer, right? But he's instantly identifiable, unlike anyone else really, and not out of tune or lacking in confidence in the awareness of how the recorded vocal is going to end up sounding. Ingle was the idea man, the band leader whose wagon they hitched onto. And, oh my! When you hear the vocals by Eric Braunn on those last two Iron Butterfly albums from 1975 - you really miss Doug Ingle!
 
Here's my order of rating the Iron Butterfly albums:
 
1. Ball - Hands down their best - If you go back and listen to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", the same level of warmth, of really good recording, is not there. They hit the jackpot with that 2nd LP, but in the long run, I like "Ball" better. "Ball" has better songs. If you took the title song (side two) away from their 2nd album, it's a collection of okay songs. "Ball" is definitely up a notch. Plus it has 3 songs that go all the way back to the Galaxy 1967. That’s cool. It wins because it's the best album by the most classic line-up.
 
2. Heavy - This one's the template for all that followed. Eric Braunn even made it his mission to emulate the sound of predecessor on guitar, Danny Weis. He bought the very guitar Weiss used and acquired the same kind of amps and paraphernalia. It's such a cool album. It's the only one the rootsy purists, Iron Butterfly haters, would even consider listening to. There is such an Atco Records LA 1967 thing about it. Dare I say you could go so far as to compare it to Buffalo
Springfield
? Or Love? Or even The Doors. And then Weiss and Bass player Jerry Penrod joined Paul Rothschild's "super group" for Elektra Records, Rhinoceros. Better than Vanilla Fudge...
 
3. In-A-Gadda-Da Vida - OK, okay. I know. Probably worse than "Stairway To Heaven" this is the stereotypical '60s indulgent track to ridicule. Well, it sold 30 freaking million copies, I think. Are you kidding me?! It MUST have something. I know I'm supposed to dislike it. But I don’t. It's the classic example of something… Something that sure as heaven doesn't exist today. I'm sorry. I like this stuff. But, yes, it's rougher around the edges than "Ball". And a 17 minute song, no matter how classic, is not something that makes me desire repeated listening. But it’s interesting how much they sound like the same group as the 1 st album with only two of the five original members remaining (only Ingle and drummer, Ron Bushy). Newcomers Lee Dorman on bass and Eric Braunn on guitar kept the sound intact. Dorman has to be seen as an upgrade.
 
4. Metamorphosis - This is the album to like. Are you kidding? Easily the best group of musicians who went by the name Iron Butterfly. Mike Pinera and El Rhino? Holy crap! They're real good musicians. It says something, further
proof, about the previous version(s) of IB that an album made by this line-up is not their best. You'd be so tempted to claim that, but "Ball" and even "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" are quintessentially something altogether new, found in
flower-power LSD 1967 LA. The idea, the template, is the main thing (as long as the musicians are at least pretty capable). This was graduation. A whole new level.
This album presented a re-invention of the group. As a result, though, it might have had less originality. Then they departed...the group broke up. We got Captain Beyond. We got "Son of Cactus"... and Doug Ingle disappeared.
5. Fillmore East – The 2011 2CD (Live in 1968) release on Rhino. It's a good recording of the classic line-up. And what makes it even more special is that it was before In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. It’s a missing link, in that it’s the new line-up performing the repertoire of the original group.
 
6. Galaxy Club 1967 - I am happy to have this as an existing album in the Iron Butterfly discography. It’s the beginning, an odd, esoteric, psychedelic Rock group in LA in the early days. Cool stuff. Sounds better than the previous bootleg versions.
 
7. Live in Sweden 1971 – Strange that two new Iron Butterfly CDs came out in 2014. This set contains two over 20 minute songs with three super rare tracks that were first released in 1967 as 45 rpm singles. The singles are eye openers. They feature the original lineup of IB and sound like artifacts from LA ’67. And that’s cool. The two extended live tracks are the finest live recordings the group did. They feature guitarists Mike Pinera and Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt with Ingle, Dormann and Bushy. It’s the coolest (2 guitar) version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" ever along with the extended "Butterfly Bleu".

8. Iron Butterfly Live – It’s nice to have one more album by the classic line-up. It is what it is. It came out during their run (1969) and sold real well. More than a year later than the Fillmore East concerts. A valid document. But I like the studio versions better and don't listen to this album.
 
9. Sun And Steel - I suppose this, the last Iron Butterfly album, has a very slight edge over "Scorching Beauty" (both are not good) because there are three songs not sung by Eric Braunn. On the other, Braunn sang all but two. I'm sorry - Eric played guitar well and I want to like him, but he was just awful as a lead singer. I can't make myself listen to his weird, tremolo freak out singing. Compared to this crap, Doug Ingle was a great vocalist.
 
10. Scorching Beauty - These last 2 albums mean nothing to me. I can't get into them. They're lost. They should have tried to be spooky weird. They should have found a real singer, preferably one who was also an organist. These were Eric Braunn's albums and he's a terrible singer. He was given the label deal, the opportunity to re-invent Iron Butterfly, and he failed. I mean, listen to Pink Floyd at the same point in time. Shouldn't Iron Butterfly circa 1975 be impressionistic, strange and trippy like that? The musicians were good enough. There was no "vision". That's what Doug Ingle brought to the table for 4 years. Isn't that crazy? The creative window can be so small.
 


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