Ultimate Spinach was a psychedelic rock band from Boston, Massachusetts which was formed in 1967. The band was one of the most notable musical acts, in terms of style and national success, to emerge from the infamous "Bosstown Sound", the commercial stunt brought about to compete with the San Francisco Sound. During the group's existence, they released three albums, the debut being their most successful, and later considered an acid rock classic.
The band was formed in 1967, their origins from a band called the Underground Cinema, and the original lineup consisted of Ian Bruce-Douglas as a multi-instrumentalist and the lead vocalist, Barbara Hudson as vocalist, Keith Lahtenein on drums, Geoff Winthrop on rhythm guitar, and Richard Nese on bass guitar. They were discovered playing as the house band in a venue known as The Unicorn. The band was produced by Alan Lorber, mastermind of the "Bosstown Sound", which was expected to compete with the musicians in San Francisco. In September 1967, Lorber announced his plan to make Boston, in his own words, "a target city for the development of new artists from one geographical location." Lorber intiated his project with an article in Newsweek magazine in January 1968 that described the new east coast bands that were in the making, including Ultimate Spinach. The band was simultaneously featured along with other groups like Beacon Street Union and Orpheus to ring in the new musical epicenter Lorber had marketed. Although the hype of the "Bosstown Sound" was expected to be a success, for a brief period it actually was, the market eventually ended in disaster when the group's were nearly identical to the ones in San Francisco, much to the displeasure of their audience.
First album and intial success
Douglas was the self-designated leader of the band. He, alone, played several instruments including guitar, keyboards, harmonica, and sang lead for most of the group's songs. In addition to his instrumental responsibilities, Douglas also was the primary songwriter and liner note writer for their first two albums. As the band and its contemporaries were emerging on the scene, the band released their debut album, Ultimate Spinach, on January 6, 1968. The album, like the other bands' debuts, was distributed by MGM Records. A concept album derived in anti-war sentiment, the album was the group's most successful when it peaked at number 34 on the Billboard 200. The album utilized several varieties of guitar sounds and distortions including fuzz, echo, tremolo, feedback, volume control, and use of the wha-wha pedal. Those aspects showing resemblance to the bands on the west coast. In 2008, the album still retained its presence as a psychedelic classic when it was listed at #36 on Classic Rock magazine's "42 Greatest Psychedelic Albums". With the publicity backing them, the band toured with prominent musical acts like Big Brother and the Holding Company and The Youngbloods at notorious venues like the Filmore Auditorium. Later, however, the band was caught in controversary when it was thought the group plagarized Country Joe McDonald's composition, "The Masked Marauder". Following their recording and initial tour, Lahtenein left the group to by replaced Russell Levine, and also adding Priscilla DiDonato. The addition enabled the band to more closely resemble the overdubbed vocal harmonies in their debut album.
Later work and diminishing returns
Later in 1968, the band released their second album, Behold & See which again held the aspects of a concept piece. Prior to recording, more personnel changes took place with Jeff Baxter taking Winthrop's place, and DiDonato was replaced by Caryl Lee Britt. The album did not chart nearly as well, peaking at number 198. The publicity of the "Bosstown Sound" was quickly fading, as the marketing techniques were unfavorable by both critics and audiences alike. Another major weakness in the album was the lack of electric keyboards, a standout feature in their debut, and, without it, the group's complexity in the studio and live was hindered. The mimicking of the west coast sound, once seen as innovative, was then regarded as unappealing. Afterwards, Douglas exited and disbanded the group, leaving Hudson to continue on. Douglas, years later, looked back on the experience with a negative tone, saying, "...[Alan Lorber] is totally arrogant in claiming that he has some special insight into how my songs were supposed to sound. How the hell would he know? He never was interested in my vision of these songs. With all the grace and style of a bull in a china shop, he slapped those albums together - both the originals and the reissues - and marketed the hell out of them with no regard for artistic creativity or integrity, just maximum profit: his!". Lorber created a completely different lineup of Ultimate Spinach for their final album which needed to be produced due to contractual obligations. In 1969, their final album, Ultimate Spinach III, was released, but failed to chart. After Douglas departed, the band did not have a primary songwriter so the album was misguided and contained multiple styles from each band member. The band broke up soon after.
In the 1990s, Big Beat Records reissued all three of the band's albums to the UK. Their material also was featured on compilation albums related to the "Bosstown Sound", and, in 2001, The Very Best of the Ultimate Spinach was released. After years of bootlegging, a live performance by the band in 1967 at the Unicorn was officially released in 2014 to Europe, entitled Live at the Unicorn, July 1967.
- Ultimate Spinach (1968)
- Behold & See (1968)
- Ultimate Spinach III (1969)
- Sacrifice of the Moon: Instrumental Music of Ultimate Spinach (2006)
- Live at the Unicorn, July 1967 (2014)
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