If youâ€™ve worked at a college radio station with a deep library of vinyl, you might have been tipped to Ron Nagleâ€™s 1970 album by a knowledgeable elder. Assuming it hadnâ€™t been stolen, of course. Or maybe a songwriting credit (Barbra! The Tubes!) or the music he made on 1979â€™s Durocs prompted you to ask questions. Questions that led you on a journey through used record stores, flea markets and collectorsâ€™ forums. Perhaps an indie record store clerk even shelved a copy of Edselâ€™s 1986 vinyl reissue behind the counter for you. But more likely, and like the many fans of Nagleâ€™s ceramics, youâ€™ve never heard (or even heard of) this album. And thatâ€™s a wrong thatâ€™s finally being righted forty-five years after the fact.
Nagleâ€™s one and only solo album was something of a lark, and was conceived at the intersection of his music and art careers. With his group the Mystery Trend having folded a few years earlier, he was focused full-time on ceramics. To help promote his first solo gallery show, he recorded the original â€œ61 Clay,â€ and when the recording made its way to San Franciscoâ€™s KSAN-FM it caught the ear of the stationâ€™s major domo, Tom Donahue. Donahue got Nagle signed to Warner Brothers, and stayed on to co-produce the album with the legendary Jack Nitzsche. Recorded in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, the result drew heavily on Nagleâ€™s Bay Area connections. In addition to his impressive vocals and keyboards, the album includes Beau Brummels Sal Valentino and Ron Elliott, Commander Codyâ€™s steel player Steve Davis, Stoneground guitarists John Blakeley and Tim Barnes, and soon-to-be Pablo Cruise founder David Jenkins. Â
Beyond the San Francisco connections, Nagle drew upon the talents of guitarist Ry Cooder, and legendary drummers Mickey Waller and George Rains. But even with all that talent on board, Nagle remains very much the star of the show. Launching his songs from biographical seeds, he sings of a childhood crush, his parents hyperbolic storytelling, and his marriages – the first dissolving in an ex-wifeâ€™s identity crisis, the second providing him the support to turn back alcohol problems. He adds a twist to the neighborhood bodega of â€œFrankâ€™s Store,â€ creating heartbreaking pathos with his vocal and Nitzscheâ€™s string arrangement. Nitzscheâ€™s production is spot-on throughout the album, ranging easily from ballads to guitar rockers to the steel-lined country rock of â€œSomethingâ€™s Gotta Give Now.â€ This is the mix of sounds that made the transition from â€˜60s jams to tighter â€˜70s songwriting so riveting.
So what happened? Why isnâ€™t this universally known as one of the eraâ€™s great rock albums? Reportedly, Nagleâ€™s reluctance to tour and FM radioâ€™s lack of support caused the album to disappear almost immediately. Looking at underground FM playlists from the era, itâ€™s hard to imagine how this failed to gain major turntable time, particularly with Warner Brothersâ€™ publicity machine and Tom Donahueâ€™s connections. But disappear it did, and despite two more attempts at stirring some commercial interest (the post-album tracks â€œBerberlangâ€ and â€œFrancineâ€), Nagleâ€™s music career moved out of the spotlight. Heâ€™d return with Scott Matthews in the Durocs and Profits, write with Barbra Streisand (â€œDonâ€™t Believe What You Readâ€) and the Tubes (â€œDonâ€™t Touch Me Thereâ€), produce, and create sound affects for film, but as a solo musical act, he never returned.
Omnivoreâ€™s reissue augments the albumâ€™s original eleven tracks with material mined from Nagleâ€™s vault, including two alternate mixes, a pair of period radios spots and a full disc of demos. The latter includes both material that was later re-recorded and Nagle originals that have otherwise gone unheard until now. Among the former is the original version of â€œ61 Clayâ€ and an early take on â€œSaving it All Up For Larryâ€ that differs markedly from the Durocs version. Of the fourteen demos, only â€œFrom the Collection of Dorothy Tateâ€ and â€œ61 Clayâ€ have been previously issues – the remaining dozen are heard here for the first time. As with the album tracks, Nagle drew heavily on his personal life, mining his relationships and emotions, and sharing his perspectives on the people he knew.
The production quality of the demos is surprisingly thoughtful and full, sounding more like outtakes than writerâ€™s samples. Omnivoreâ€™s deluxe reissue spans two full discs housed in a tri-fold digipack with a twenty-page booklet. Gene Scaluttiâ€™s liner notes include fresh interviews with Nagle, and provides details on each of the demos. The booklet also features lyrics to the original albumâ€™s eleven songs. Bad Rice has appeared on most-wanted-CD lists for decades, and itâ€™s hard to imagine a more fitting renewal than this lovingly crafted set. Though itâ€™s only February, this may be the set to beat for reissue of the year. [Â©2015 Hyperbolium]