Friday, February 29, 2008

It's a Beautiful Day (music)

David LaFlamme (Flute, Violin, Vocals), Linda LaFlamme (Organ, Piano, Celeste, Harpsichord, Keyboards), Pattie Santos (Percussion, Tambourine, Vocals), Hal Wagenet (Guitar, Vocals) Mitchell Holman (Bass) Val Fuentes (Drums, Vocals)

The violin never became fashionable as a lead instrument in a rock band. In a way, this is odd -- it works so well with an orchestra and classical music. But I can think of only a handful of rock violinists, and they are usually used only as fill, not a solo instrument. The list is short -- Don "Sugarcane" Harris, Richard Greene, Papa John Creach -- and David LaFlamme.

LaFlamme started as a classical musician and was a soloist with the Utah Symphony. With his wife Linda, he moved to San Francisco and started getting involved in the music scene there, sitting in with other groups. Eventually, he and Linda formed It's a Beautiful Day.

The name was one of the clunkiest in rock history; the opposite of short and snappy. It also caused confusion ("Is that the name of the song or the group?"), but it did sort of give the impression of the music the played. In 1969, they put out their self-titled album.
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It was a classic. The violin/keyboard combination gave them a unique sound, and guitarist Hal Wegenet could play hard rock and blues as needed. The album had only seven songs, but all were wonderful:

  • White Bird. This is their most famous track, one of the most beautiful melodies in rock, but with a strange sadness to it. Its beginning -- a pizzicato passage on the violin -- introduced a song that became an FM radio staple.
  • Hot Summer Day. A bit of an edge to it, in a minor key.
  • Wasted Union Blues. Starts with a nasty little guitar in a blues number about being strung out.
  • Girl with No Eyes. A tune even more beautiful than "White Bird," about a paradoxical poster on the wall.
  • Bombay Calling. An instrumental with an Indian feel, building from a short catchy riff to a rock tune.
  • Bulgaria. Mysterious dark song that's something like a religious rite.
  • Time Is. Fast paced song about the relativeness of time.

It's a fine album from start to finish and should have been the start of a great career.

Alas, the group ran into troubles. Linda left the group, probably due to a split up with David. She cowrote three of the songs with him, and was instrumental in her sound. As for why, well, when you're touring with a beautiful female singer (Pattie Santos) in a time when free love was in the air, it's possible that the reason was right there.

The group got a new keyboard player, but it wasn't the same. They released an album, Marrying Maiden. It was more country oriented, which is OK, but stopped focusing on David's violin (except for the best track on the album, the excellent "Don and Dewey"). Jerry Garcia sat in, but the result was exceedingly bland. The album did better than the debut, but probably because of people who were now hearing "White Bird" and being disappointed.

Disintegration followed. It got so bad that LaFlamme was kicked out of the group, which made no sense. After a couple of more so-so albums with a revolving door of musicians, It's a Beautiful Day was no more.

But they left one delightful album. And how many groups out there have names that are complete sentences?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice article, but in terms of rock violinists, you can't leave out David Cross (King Crimson) and Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music, UK, Tull, etc.)

Anonymous said...

I am fairly young in that I was only about 3 years old when "White Bird" was recorded. However this song sings to me about San Fran of that era as if I were there. It is so sad and utterly beautiful in one. I can't stop listening to it.

Anonymous said...

Love Riot was a Baltimore band in the 90's that was more Great But Never Made It that also featured violin as a lead instrument.
http://www.allmusic.com/artist/love-riot-mn0000836370
Bob

Arlene said...

I just want to say that I love every song on their self titled album I used to listen to it on a a scratched album I bought at a swap Meet but I still loved it anyway. Although I didn't know their bio at that time I started listening when I was about 16 about 9 years after the hit it is still the best and I love youtube for the great music and Patti you are awesome and your voice still Rocks!

Arlene said...

I just want to say that I love every song on their self titled album I used to listen to it on a a scratched album I bought at a swap Meet but I still loved it anyway. Although I didn't know their bio at that time I started listening when I was about 16 about 9 years after the hit it is still the best and I love youtube for the great music and Patti you are awesome and your voice still Rocks!

Anonymous said...

In the late 1970s I worked at a record store. At that time, none of the Its A Beautiful Day albums were available, because of the legal battles between the band and their first manager. Customers would walk in hoping to buy the first album, because their original copy had *worn out*. We had to tell them the sad news. Occasionally, our buying dept was able to obtain more expensive imports, but the supply was never enough.