Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath – the smoking Chicken was extra.

Black Sabbath – Live At California Jam – April 6, 1974 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

Black Sabbath this weekend via the infamous California Jam which took place just outside of Los Angeles, at the Ontario Motor Speedway on April 6, 1974. I remember this show very well – I remember most of the festival reasonably well. With the exception of the two-hour gap in my brain, via getting dosed in the hospitality tent backstage, it was wall-to-wall music featuring bands of just about every persuasion and level of hype (owing to a veritable army of TV cameras) from ELP, to Rare Earth – from Deep Purple to The Allman Brothers to Seals and Crofts, and just about everyone in between.

The promise and the promotion was an out-Woodstocking of Woodstock, and the theatrics from Emerson, Lake and Palmer that evening tried valiantly to live up to all the expectations, right down to Keith Emerson’s mid-air suspension and his knife assault on the Hammond – it was the end of the early 70s. It was also a sea of people, and ocean of alcohol and a tsunami of drugs from which a good time was had by all, except maybe those who were stuck in the middle, with no cover from the blazing sun and scorching temperatures.

Black Sabbath were just hitting their stride and were winding up their U.S. tour when they did this concert. A huge success in England and Europe since 1969, and wildly popular in the U.S. from 1970 on, they were slow in getting American critics on their side, who felt the band relied on just being loud and repetitive with not much else. And they were loud. But more important – the exposure they were getting, via the TV show Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, which aired large portions of the show, cemented their popularity with American audiences and expanded on it into mainstream territory.

Black Sabbath went on to become the penultimate Heavy Metal band, virtually defining what that genre was going to sound like in the years and decades to come. Their influence touched every aspect of Hard Rock during the 70s, and has become the basis for many bands to get started.

So if you missed California Jam in 1974 and, like me, had gaps in remembering parts of it – this may jog your memory a bit. If you have been curious about the formative years of Heavy Metal and wondered what Black Sabbath sounded like in concert, this is a good representation – although there are probably better sounding examples – live recordings are always a grab bag because so much of the work put into recording these concerts is done on the fly with no second takes. But then, that’s what makes them interesting and a valuable reference.

In any event, enjoy – I’ll remember to run something quiet and sedate next week.

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