Illinois Entertainer, March 1978 Vol.2, No. 48, page 18:
Frisco’s Clover Is Still Alive And Playing The Field
by Cheryl Snyder
|“I got the paper and I read the news|
Bought a new pair of Rock and Roll shoes.
The streets are saying it’s a brand new scoop.
And all the kids on the block used to call me a fool…
It’s not the way it used to be…
I’m still alive… Managed to survive.”
Lyrics from “Still Alive” by Clover
Take five Bay Area, hometown boys and give them six years to perform, cut a few albums, tour with such names as Thin Lizzy, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Dave Mason and Gary Wright, do background vocals and arrange for Elvis Costello and Twiggy; throw in some session work with the Dead and Steve Miller, and you’ve got a rock and roll band that has seen it all, or at least most of it.
Clover originally formed six years ago when Alex Call and John McFee added Johnny Ciambotti. With Huey Louis and Sean Hopper, the group was almost complete. Their second album, Love On The Wire, was cut with Tony Braunagel in the drummer’s seat, but for the tour his place hast been taken by Kevin Wells, a session player from London.
Although Clover has travelled extensively in the United States and England, there is no doubt as to the origin of their sound; they are a West Coast band with all the simplicity and charisma that San Francisco is noted for. The music never stops rocking, the show is always moving, and you may get lost in the constant display of versatility that these musicians have under control. The guitars are clean and pure; simple, but effective. There is no competition in the music; Clover is just a band that has been together a long time, play extremely well with each other, and obviously enjoy it.
John McFee is well known on the West Coast as a highly respected pedal steel guitarist. His session work includes recording with such artists as Boz Scaggs, the Grateful Dead, Steve Miller and the Doobie Brothers. He is a mature musician, one not so interested in the tricks that gain the spotlight, but more in the workings of the various parts of composition for an overall, finished sound. His lead guitar parts are not showstoppers, but a blending of talent and the various facets that give credence to exciting arrangements. McFee’s slide work is well done, as are his violin and vocals. With all these talents, his lack of upstaging makes him appreciated as a well-rounded musician.
The vocal arrangements are worked around Alex Call, the predominant vocalist on Love On The Wire. The five part harmonies are sound and pleasurable, leaving room for the lyrics to come through. Call is the most prominent songwriter, having his name on all the Clover originals. He keeps the music flowing with changes that are smooth and vocals that fit exactly where they belong.
Ciambotti plays bass and adds to the harmonies. His sound is driving; his stage presence magnetic. Johnny provides an underlying wall or rock rhythm that sustains the changes found in Clover’s scores.
Keyboards are executed by Sean Hopper, who remains rather laid back on the album, but in live performance has a few surprises up his sleeve. At one point, he takes the front position with Huey Louis for a dance demonstration of the “Funky Chicken” (sic; “Chicken Funk”) – visual and fun. The combination of studio work and showmanship adds up to entertainment with a capital “E.” An a capella arrangement of “Chain Gang” calls for a bass voice reminiscent of the fifties harmonies, and Hopper carries this to the max.
Lastly, we come to Huey Louis, who does vocals and the harmonicas. Louis never stops moving, jumping and dancing as though he were the music. He wears a black lether belt with pouches falling down each hip holding all his harps. The precision with which he whips various harps in and out is boggling. The riffs just keep coming. On top of all that, he possesses an excellent lead voice.
Louis has some opinions, too. His deepest musical fantasy is to “play with King Curtis and the King Pins with Billy Preston on organ” to back him. He’d like “to see music return to the group concept as opposed to one or two superstars with people to back them.”
Further, Louis feels, “As Clover, we want to prove our music. We’ve got good songs and we give good performances that say something about our personality as a group. We want to bring everybody into our party. Our work is a gas; it’s funny, complicated, and serious. We draw from a wide range of sound, and, consequently, it’s a wide sound.”
Asked what his influences are Louis pointedly stated that “John McFee is my greatest influence and I am his.” He went on to talk about the West Coast: “The clubs (in the Midwest) are similar. California and Midwest music seems to be more physical, as opposed to the mental music of New York or London. This is the New Wave … it’s not down yet, but it’s here.”
Love On The Wire is a non-stop collection or rockin’ and rollin’ tunes. The cut released for airplay is “Hearts Under Fire”, but at this date, “Oh Senorita,” noted for its dual guitar harmonies and “Easy Love” have also been heard. One cut to listen for is “Still Alive,” which sums up where this band is at.
The songs on this album have one thing in common. They all come out of the rock and roll experience, and they’ve remained very upbeat and positive.
Although Clover previously released two other albums, they never went too far due to a lack of distribution. Fortunatley, Mickie Lowe (sic; Nick Lowe) and Jake Riviera saw them performing in the Bay Area and signed them to Phonogram in England. There they cut their first album on Mercury Records and went on tour for two months.
Clover then headed back to the studio to record their second album, Love On The Wire, in a remarkable ten day period. This was done so quickly to “achive a live sound … as good as you can … but keep it live … energetic.” This was definitely accomplished.
Clover is presently on tour throughout the United States presenting their music with a stage show that is energetic and exciting. They are highly visual; they move around and share the spotlight so every member is showcased. The music is entertaining, danceable and enjoyable for listening.
Six years seems like a long time for a good band to go unrecognized, but maybe they have finally proven their music. After all, they’re “still alive” and they have “managed to survive.”
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