Ultimate Spinach was an American psychedelic rock band from Boston, Massachusetts which was formed in 1967. In terms of style and national recognition, the band was one of the most prominent musical acts to emerge from the "Bosstown Sound", which was a regional attempt to compete with the San Francisco Sound. During the group's existence, they released three albums, with their self-titled debut the most commercially successful.
The band originated as a group called the Underground Cinema, with a line-up consisting of Ian Bruce-Douglas as a multi-instrumentalist, Barbara Hudson as vocalist, Keith Lahtenein on drums, Geoff Winthrop on rhythm guitar, and Richard Nese on bass guitar. As Underground Cinema, the group served as house band in a club called the Unicorn and recorded demos which later appeared on New England Teen Scene: Unreleased! 1965-1968, in 1996. As Ultimate Spinach, the band was produced by Boston impresario Alan Lorber. 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 announced his project in a Newsweek magazine article in January 1968, in which he touted new bands which were emblematic of the movement, including Ultimate Spinach, Beacon Street Union and Orpheus. Although the hype of the "Bosstown Sound" anticipated much success, and for a brief period achieved some success, the scene eventually failed to register nationally because the groups were deemed too similar to bands in San Francisco.
First album and initial 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 based on anti-war sentiment, the album was Ultimate Spinach's most successful when it peaked at number 34 on the Billboard 200. The album utilized a variety of guitar sounds and distortions including fuzz, echo, tremolo, feedback, volume control, and use of the wah-wah pedal. Each of those aspects were similar to the typical West Coast psychedelic sound of the era. In 2008, the album still retained its presence as a psychedelic classic when it was listed at number 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 significant venues like the Filmore Auditorium. Following their recording and initial tour, Lahtenein left the group to by replaced Russell Levine. Priscilla DiDonato was also added to the lineup at this time. The addition enabled the band to more closely recreate 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 was conceived as a concept piece. Prior to recording, more personnel changes took place with Jeff Baxter taking Winthrop's position, 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 viewed unfavorably by 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 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 it 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 in the UK. Their material also was featured on compilation albums related to the "Bosstown Sound", and in 2001 The Very Best of Ultimate Spinach was released. After years of bootlegging, a live performance by the band in 1967 at the Unicorn was officially released in 2014 in 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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- Richie Unterberger. "Behold & See - Review". allmusic.com. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
- "The Ultimate Interview". connecthotel.com. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
- "Ultimate Spinach discography". discogs.com. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
- "Ultimate Spinach is Mind Food". punkblowfish.com. Retrieved April 1, 2015.