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Lee Michaels - Space and First Takes (1972)


Lee Eugene Michaels (born Michael Olsen, November 24, 1945, Los Angeles, California) is a rock musician who performs vocals and accompanies himself on organ, piano, or guitar. He is best known for his energetic virtuosity on the Hammond organ, peaking in 1971 with his Top 10 pop hit single, "Do You Know What I Mean".

Michaels began his career with The Sentinals, a San Luis Obispo, California-based surf group that included drummer Johny Barbata (later of The Turtles, Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship). Michaels joined Barbata in the Strangers, a group led by guitarist Joel Scott Hill. Michaels later moved to San Francisco, where he joined an early version of The Family Tree, a band led by Bob Segarini. In 1967, he signed a contract with A&M Records, releasing his debut album, Carnival of Life, later that year. As a session musician, he played with Jimi Hendrix, among others.

Michaels' choice of the Hammond organ as his primary instrument was unusual for the time, as was his bare-bones stage and studio accompaniment: Usually just a single drummer, most often a musician known as "Frosty" (Bartholomew Eugene Smith-Frost) a member of Sweathog, or with Joel Larson of The Grass Roots. This unorthodox approach attracted a following in San Francisco, and some critical notice (Sounds reported that he had been called "the ultimate power organist"), but Michaels did not achieve real commercial success until the release of his fifth album.

Album 5th (1971) produced a surprise US Top 10 hit (#6 in the fall of 1971), "Do You Know What I Mean", an autobiographical homage to the loss of a girlfriend, and a Top 40 follow-up, a cover version of the Motown standard, "Can I Get a Witness" (#39). Michaels recorded two more albums for A&M before signing a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1973. His Columbia recordings failed to generate much interest, and Michaels went into semi-retirement from the music industry by the end of the decade. (wikipedia)

Lee Michaels: Organ, Bass, Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Joel Christie: Bass
Keith Knudsen: Drums
Drake Levin: Guitar


This album is a fascinating hybrid of psychedelia and mainstream hard rock, incorporating elements of both. Consisting of two short numbers (clocking in a under five minutes) and a pair of extended tracks running a quarter-hour each, it stands apart from most of the extended art rock jams of its era by virtue of its consistent, driving beat and the emphasis on crunchy guitar sounds (courtesy of ex-Paul Revere & the Raiders ax-man Drake Levin and Michaels himself). The title track and "Hold On to Freedom" seem like a lot of empty posturing, although the playing and production on "Space and First Takes" have enough of a psychedelic edge that its 16-minute length is mostly a virtue. "First Names" is slightly shorter, and intense enough across 14 minutes to pull the listener in even deeper and more successfully. --- Bruce Eder


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