The Clover Chronicle - liner notes by Nick Ralph (Dark Star Magazine):
If the obvious - that success in the rock music arena is totally unrelated to musical ability - ever needed to be proved, then Clover would be people’s exhibit number one. They have consistently produced a fine blend of instrumental and vocal qualities but have remained in almost total obscurity, known only to an appreciative clan of devotees. Their music, brimful with integrity and honesty, is a synthesis of many different styles, although the dominant influence on these early recordings is Country.
It all started back in the mid ‘60s when multi-talented John McFee from LA, who had played in various small bands around Otange County, met Alex Call and Mitch Howie at Tamalpais High School. Mitch, who hailed from Ross, California, and Alex, who was born in Washington D.C. and moved to California at a very early age, had been firm friends since they were about four years old and with John they formed The Tiny Hearing Aid Company. However, following a brush with the law, John McFee was sent back to LA to complete his education. After he graduated, he brought his brother Bob up to Mill Valley and The Tiny Hearing Aid Company continued.
Meanwhile, Johnny Ciambotti, majoring in Spanish at UCLA, had joined a bluegrass group, The Valley Boys, and been persuaded to take up the bass. The Valley Boys had also included song-writer Steve Gillette in their line-up and were house band, along with The Kentucky Colonels, at the Ash Grove, becoming quite well-known via their supporting spots to major attractions such as Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Hearing of the burgeoning music scene in San Francisco, Johnny went up the coast to check it out and liked what was going on. He quit The Valley Boys and moved up to San Francisco with his family, taking up a post as a mail sorter with the Post Office. There he met somebody getting a band together, became involved and they formed The Outfit.
The Outfit moved up to Muir Beach where they met The Tiny Hearing Aid Company, regularly jamming with them at the Muir Beach Tavern. Before long, Bob McFee left The Tiny Hearing Aid Company to join a band called Flying Circus and Johnny replaced him. They decided they needed a new name and eventually settled on Johnny Ciambotti’s suggestion of Clover because, they claim, they couldn’t make too many jokes about it. The Outfit’s rhythm guitarist, Cousin Robert, became Clover’s manager for a while. This transition to Clover was early in 1967 and they took to the boards for the first time on July 4th that year. The next couple of years were spent gigging around, taking in such venues as the Straight Theater on Haight Ashbury, the Avalon and the Fillmore. Then in 1969, prompted by a recommendation from Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy Records signed Clover, despite a late bid from Columbia Records, who even tried to buy the contract from Fantasy.
So Alex Call (rhythm guitar, lead vocals), Johnny Ciambotti (bass, vocals), John McFee (lead guitar, steel guitar, vocals) and Mitch Howie (drums) teamed up with Ed Bogas (producer, fiddle) to record "Clover". The album was recorded under primitive conditions - they had no mixing desk and mixed it through some old Sony pre-amps. Despite these difficulties, though, "Clover" is a fine record.
The second album, "Fourty Niner" was even better. At the time "Clover" was recorded, not only were the band new to the studio, but Ed Bogas also had very little experience, so it was inevitable that "Fourty Niner" would be better for that reason alone, but the material was more varied and showed a greater maturity. Both the albums were released in the UK through United Artists, but as they lost the distribution rights to Fantasy very shortly after the release of "Fourty Niner", it sank without trace.
Clover left Fantasy in 1971 and slipped back into obscurity with both albums becoming collectors’ items. They spent five long years in the wilderness, never coming up with the right record deal, lost Mitch Howie and expanded their line-up to a six-piece. The hiatus ended when in summer 1976 they came over to England to continue their career and benefit from a resurgence of interest. The line-up then was Alex Call, Johnny Ciambotti, John McFee, Huey Louis (harmonica, vocals), Sean Hopper (keyboards, vocals) and Mickey Shine (drums, vocals), still featuring "Lizard Rock’n’Roll Band" and "Chicken Butt" (the Clover anthem) in their live performances. This resurgence was mainly due to interst from the Brinsley Schwarz camp and their associates, the Brinsleys having been long-time fans of Clover and having performed several of their songs.
But Clover’s more recent exploits are another story. What we have here is a selection from those first two albums. Fantasy records, with co-operation from Clover, have taken the original recordings and re-mixed six tracks from each album. The tracks on side one are all from "Clover" and those on side two are from "Fourty Niner", each a good representation of the respective album. If you’ve seen Clover live, you may already be familiar with "Lizard Rock’n’Roll Band" and "Chicken Butt", the outstanding "Mr. Moon" was recently covered by Carlene Carter and if you’ve seen "Payday" (starring Rip Torn), you’ll have heard "Monopoly"; just four excellent examples from a cluster of gems.
It’s been far too long since these recordings were available and I’m glad that they’ve now been made available again and improved with up-to-date mixing facilities. Music that has as much pleasure as this to offer has no right to be languishing in the vaults.
Nick Ralph (Dark Star Magazine)
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