New / old Glass Harp album shows band’s beginnings
Many Mahoning Valley rock fans in the late ’60s and early ’70s owned a copy of Glass Harp’s debut album, which was released in 1970 on Decca Records.
More than 50 years later, they now can own the band’s first recording sessions.
“Where Did My World Come From?” collects the nine songs the trio recorded in 1969 before the band was signed to Decca and before it shared stages with Traffic, Yes and Grand Funk Railroad.
In 1969 Glass Harp was playing dances at Christ Episcopal Church and Packard Music Hall in Warren and bars in Youngstown. Two years later it was opening for The Kinks at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
The tracks were transferred from the original masters, which were stored at Youngstown’s Peppermint Recording Studio, and released digitally late last year. LPs (on a choice of clear, “psychedelic psylver” or traditional black vinyl) and cassettes are available now on Peppermint Records through bandcamp.com and at local independent record stores. CDs should be available starting in February.
It’s the second physical release as part of an archival project led by music collectors and musicians Anthony LaMarca (The War on Drugs, The Building) and Dean Anshutz (Red Wanting Blue) and Peppermint Records owner Gary Rhamy to unearth and share forgotten gems from the Valley’s rich musical history.
Glass Harp — Phil Keaggy, guitar and vocals; John Sferra, drums and vocals; and Steve Markulin, bass and vocals — recorded the nine songs over four days between Feb. 13 and March 2, 1969, at United Audio, which was located at 10 Ellenwood Drive, Youngs-town. Markulin left the band shortly after these recordings to join his cousin in the Human Beinz.
Daniel Pecchio joined the band later that year and was part of Glass Harp when it signed to Decca. Keaggy, Sferra and Pecchio is the lineup that has reunited on occasion over the years, including a concert in 2000 at Powers Auditorium with the trio backed by the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra.
Two songs were released on a 7-inch single in ’69 with “Where Did My World Come From?” as the A side and “She Told Me” as the B side (collectors pay $100 or more for that original single today).
A third song, “High Flight,” is included on “Peppermint Presents … RAT RACE!,” the first release from LaMarca’s, Anshutz’s and Rhamy’s efforts. The other six tracks previously were available only on bootlegs sold and traded by collectors.
“For a lot of years, I had a hard time listening to that album, because I was little embarrassed by it,” Keaggy said. “Nowadays, I listen to it like I listen to my grandchildren and get a big laugh out of it. Listen to those kids. We were so young and naive and ambitious. We had great dreams.”
Keaggy, who’s gone on to a successful career as an instrumentalist and contemporary Christian artist, undersells his skills, which clearly were evident, even in those sessions that took place before his 18th birthday.
Mahoning Valley polka legend Del Sinchak sold Keaggy his first real guitar, letting him buy a 1960 Les Paul Standard on credit at age 14. Sinchak owned Duci Music at the time, and Keaggy would spend hours in the store playing the guitars there.
“He was unique in his style,” Sinchak said. “I’d heard a lot of guitar players, and he was just so talented. He could play almost anything.”
Sferra said Mike Bloomfield and The Electric Flag was a big influence on Keaggy at the time, which contributed to the bluesier sound of the trio, but there was no bigger influence on the band than The Beatles. Keaggy said he and Sferra met in the summer of ’65 and bonded by playing Beatles’ songs together.
Those 1969 sessions were produced by Graham Tregurtha, who had a British accent. In separate interviews, both Sferra and Keaggy referred to him as “our George Martin,” a reference to the Beatles’ producer, and along with seven original songs, the LP includes two Beatles’ covers, “What You’re Doing” and a seven-minute psychedelic blues take on “Eleanor Rigby.”
“That was totally inspired by Vanilla Fudge,” Sferra said of “Eleanor Rigby.” “It’s basically the same arrangement, but Vanilla Fudge’s is built around the organ. We didn’t have an organ; we had Phil.”
Both Keaggy and Sferra listed “Where Did My World Come From?,” “She Told Me” and “High Flight” as their favorite songs from the sessions, but when it came time to record their Decca debut, there were plenty of new songs to consider.
“I wasn’t into writing songs like I was later on,” Sferra said. “By the time Daniel came on board, I’d started to compose songs on my own. Phil was progressing and writing new stuff. Daniel had ideas too. We were very young and full of energy. It was all happening very rapidly … We didn’t go back and redo some of this stuff because there was so much music coming down the stream that it pushed the other stuff off.”
Unlike some of the master tapes recorded in the ’70s at Peppermint and used for “RAT RACE!,” Rhamy said the Glass Harp masters were in good shape and hadn’t deteriorated.
“They sounded good from the get-go,” Rhamy said. “I was really thrilled. This is some real history stuff that’s been out there in various forms, not good quality, and we were finally able to reproduce this album in the fidelity it was recorded in. That was the exciting part of it.”
Listening to those 1969 recordings today, Sferra said, “I was surprised how serious we were and the abilities we had. Listening to my drumming, I didn’t realize I was that into it. All the things I was doing, the beginnings of my style was there, how I approached the bass drum and the different rudiments I did on top. As the years went by, I was more mature and more economical with my energies, but oh yeah, that’s exactly where I came from.”
Keaggy believes they “kind of butchered” those Beatles songs, but he also drew an analogy to the Fab Four when talking about hearing those songs nearly 54 years later.
“It’s just a part of our history,” he said. “It’s like listening to the Beatles. They weren’t always as great as they became. They had their beginning days too. ‘Anthology Vol. 1’ would reveal that. I would not try to compare ourselves to the Beatles, but this was our beginning days.”