Backwater (album)

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Backwater 1976.jpg
Studio album by Backwater
Released September 1976
Recorded March–August 1976
New London Recording, The Midnight's Voice
(Birmingham, Alabama)
Genre Jazz, jazz fusion
Length 37:06
Label Bongwater
Producer Tom Nist, Backwater
Backwater chronology
North of the Mason-Dixon and the Heart of Dixie
Singles from Backwater
  1. "Alto Ego"
    Released: 1976

Backwater is the debut studio album by American jazz band Backwater. Produced by Tom Nist and the band themselves, the album was released in September 1976. Largely recorded at New London Recording in the previous months, the five players worked as session musicians in exchange for studio time. The album is split into two halves, a studio side and a live side; the live side was recorded at Birmingham nightclub The Midnight's Voice.

The record proved successful, gaining airplay throughout the Southeast. In 1997, the album was remastered and released on compact disc.


Backwater was formed in Mobile, Alabama by Robby Catlin, Larry Hardin and Scott Pettersen. When the trio moved to Birmingham, they frequently played The Midnight's Voice, a nightclub on 22nd Avenue.[1] They later met and incorporated Trippe Thomason into the group on Rhodes piano, and Gerry Groom on guitar.[1] The group only owned one vehicle — a bread truck — and they lived together in a condemned home on the south side of the city.[2] Eight months after forming, the band decided to commit the music to vinyl and record their first album.[3] The band was largely inspired by artists such as Herbie Hancock, Weather Report and Mahavishnu.[4]

The album was recorded at New London Recording Studio in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood, between March and August 1976. The five musicians worked as "session men" at New London Recording in Homewood in exchange for studio time for themselves.[2] "It's weird, but when I first met these guys I knew something was going to happen; making this album just seemed to come naturally, as if it were inevitable," said producer Nist.[1]

The live side of the record was recorded during a performance at The Midnight's Voice on July 15, 1976. Musician Edgar Winter was in attendance, and jammed with the group on stage (although his performance was not recorded).[1]


"Alto Ego" was called a "lively instrumental piece" and was considered the biggest song from the album by radio airplay.[1] "Larry Hardin's sax lines burst out of the rhythm section with an exuberance reminiscent of players like Jr. Walker and King Curtis," wrote one reviewer.[5] "Love Is All I'm After," penned by Catlin, was described as an "impeccable, slick vocal worthy of Quincy Jones' Mellow Madness, and features lyrical fills by Hardin on tenor sax."[4] "Nailed to the Floor" was called a "driving tune that features the piercing lead guitar of Gerry Groom and Trippe Thomason's nimble-fingered electric piano lines."[5] "14th Ave. So." is a "swing-style" all-acoustic affair featuring Catlin on upright bass and Hardin on clarinet.[5][4] The song was named after the location of the home where the group lived while recording, a condemned two-story house.[1]

The album's only non-original song, a cover of Freddie Hubbard's "Sunflower," was called the album's showpiece: "Just over seven minutes long, the tune allows Hardin to develop subtle brooding lines framed by Thomason's almost liquid electric piano work. Here Hardin's notes are close to the earth, rich, while Thomason's seem to sparkle magically in the air."[5] "A Song for Don," also considered a relative hit from the album,[3] has been described as "a haunting, shimmering piece where Hardin's meditative alto brings to mind the rich soulfulness of tenorist Stanley Turrentine."[5] David A. Normand of the Azalea City News called it "the strongest tune on the record," comparing it favorably with Eddie Harris' "I Waited for You" from his album E.H. in the U.K.[4]

Release and reception[edit]

The album was released through the band's own record label, Bongwater Records. According to a 1976 interview, the group formed the label after receiving offers from labels who desired to change their sound.[1][3] Released amid the late 1970s hard rock boom, radio stations such as Mobile-based WABB were skeptical at first. "The local bands back then all seemed to have platform shoes, long hair, and sequined shirts, and they were either Boston/Aerosmith or Lynyrd Skynyrd imitators," recalled Mobile attorney Lee Stamp.[2] Nevertheless, Stamp found it "as sophisticated as anything coming out of New York or Los Angeles" and it was added it to the WABB play stack, where it sat for three years — an honor usually reserved for supergroups such as Fleetwood Mac.[2]

A.J. Wright of The Auburn Plainsman wrote of the review of the album upon its release, noting that while "Southern popular music is often typecast as refried boogie produced by a faceless series of Allman Brothers clones [...] The release of the first album by Birmingham's Backwater will soon change that false image."[5] David A. Normand of the Azalea City News wrote that "Backwater is a maturing young band not playing the same expected southern boogie as most of their peers," praising the album's "uncanny sense of sound and integrity of approach," calling it "swirling rainbows of sound, shimmering moods of music and rhythm."[4]

Encouraged, the band launched a mailing campaign to put copies of the album in the hands of radio stations coast to coast. The exposure helped Backwater land opening slots for B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, and Emmylou Harris.[2] The album was aired on radio stations in Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, New Orleans, and on WAPI-FM, WENN-FM and WERC-FM in Birmingham.[1] Medusa and most of the other major record stores in Birmingham stocked the record alongside "artistically designed" tees.[1]

In 1997, the group's four principal members reunited for one-off concert at Mobile's USA Saenger Theatre, sponsored by Catt's Sunday Jazz Brunch. In addition, the band's original debut, Backwater, was remastered and released on compact disc the same year.[2]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Robby Catlin, Larry Hardin, Trippe Thomason and Scott Pettersen, except where noted

Side one[edit]

  1. "Alto Ego" (Hardin) – 2:47
  2. "Love Is All I'm After" (Catlin) – 4:04
  3. "Nailed to the Floor" (Thomason) – 2:34
  4. "14th Ave. So." - 3:21
  5. "I Am Blind" (Thomason) - 3:57
  6. "Just Hangin' Around" - 3:07

Side two[edit]

  1. "Sunflower" (Freddie Hubbard) – 7:18
  2. "Pair O' Dice" – 2:50
  3. "Spanish Eyes" (Catlin/Pettersen) – 4:20
  4. "A Song for Don" (Hardin/Thomason) – 4:48




  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Stephanie Melonas (October 14, 1976). "Backwater — Best In Birmingham". The Kaleidoscope: 6. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Carol Cain (March 21, 1997). "Hot Mobile Band of '70s, Backwater Reunites for Show". Mobile Register. 
  3. ^ a b c Kim Roberts (November 11, 1976). "Backwater concert set". The Auburn Plainsman: A-14. 
  4. ^ a b c d e David A. Normand (January 13, 1977). "Backwater: Live And Vinyl". Azalea City News. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f A.J. Wright (November 11, 1976). "Jazz cooked up on disc". The Auburn Plainsman. 
  6. ^ ‹See Tfm›Backwater (liner notes). Backwater. US: Bongwater. 1976. 0001. 

External links[edit]