Graded on a Curve: The Kitchen Cinq, When the Rainbow Disappears: An Anthology 1965-1968

It’s not exactly a secret, but the musical history of the 1960s is loaded with bands. A few got famous, some are still remembered, and many more hang in the purgatory of obscurity. From Los Angeles via Amarillo, TX, The Kitchen Cinq fell short of stardom but they definitely haven’t been forgotten; helping to insure their placement in the cultural memory is the most recent volume in Light in the Attic’s Lee Hazelwood Archive Series, When the Rainbow Disappears: An Anthology 1965-68. Collecting their LHI sessions, rare material as The Illusions and The Y’alls, and superb notes by Alec Palao, it’s out now on compact disc and double vinyl.

When the Rainbow Disappears carefully compiles the output of a worthwhile outfit, with The Kitchen Cinq’s background also shedding light on one of the decade’s more idiosyncratic pop artists in Lee Hazelwood. The set’s liners detail the Cinq’s struggles as the inaugural act on Lee Hazelwood Industries, the story providing supporting roles to vocalist Suzi Jane Hokom and fellow Amarillo scenester and future songwriter of note J.D. Souther.

Consisting of Dale Gardner on lead vocals, Mark Creamer on lead guitar, Jim Parker on rhythm guitar, Dallas Smith on bass, and Johnny Stark on drums, The Kitchen Cinq’s early Amarillo days were spent as The Illusions. Taken from two sessions, the five glimpses of these origins are amongst When the Rainbow Disappears’ best attributes.

Divided between three originals and two covers, these entries simultaneously illuminate the infancy of The Kitchen Cinq and present the fruits of a perfectly sturdy mid-‘60s rock ‘n’ roll band. More to the point, they got work; The Illusions’ ’65 date offers “Young Boy,” a solid beat-combo-styled number from Parker with harmonica and appealing tandem vocals and a surprisingly non-rote cover of “Searchin’” by The Coasters that surely went down a storm during gigs.

The strategic covers extend to their garage-angled Baldwin organ-sporting ’66 recordings, as the Them cornerstone “Gloria” gets a spirited reading. More interesting is the growing assurance in the Stark/Creamer-written “Try” and Parker’s “Figareux Figareux,” an ambitious non-embarrassing excursion with creamer’s dad on flute.

No doubt The Illusions would’ve sounded boss on a Saturday night deep in the guts of ’65. Really, their main weakness was a generic name. The Kitchen Cinq is distinctively zany, but honestly it’s still no great shakes. However, the crummiest moniker these gents were ever briefly saddled with, courtesy of Amarillo R&R mover and shaker Ray Ruff, was The Y’alls, the group issuing one 45 under the unfortunate handle.

The byproduct of a more economical visit to Ruff’s 3-track studio, the influence of the Brit Invasion is palpable. The a-side is an echo-laden cover of The Beatles’ “Run for Your Life,” while the Stark/Creamer flip “Please Come Back to Me” ups the fuzz guitar; Palao mentions The Yardbirds, and that’s certainly observable, but the vocal harmonies suggest the impact of acts such as The Hollies and forecast movements westward.

It was through the relationship of Hazelwood and Texas transplant Tom Thacker that brought the unit to LA in ’66. They were promptly signed to LHI, renamed The Kitchen Cinq, and hooked up with Hazelwood’s singing partner Suzi Jane Hokom, her wish to work as producer being granted through the band’s debut for the label.

Based on “You’ll Be Sorry Someday,” she did a bang-up job. The increase in resources is immediately evident, the song’s robust sound spotlighting The Kitchen Cinq’s instrumental acumen (complete with surf-inclined guitar) and vocal dexterity in roughly equal measure, but perhaps the cut’s most curious aspect is a repeated “dead air” pause that might’ve limited its radio play. B-side rocker “Determination” finds those Texas roots showing as Gardner exclaims “Now get ‘em hoss!”

Before their single was even released The Kitchen Cinq had cut a full album; issued in April of ’67 as Everything But, it’s a highly likeable hodgepodge including redone Illusions material and a bunch of covers. Since few outside of Texas had heard The Illusions, the fresh readings of “Young Boy” and “Please Come Back to Me” make total sense, and the folk-rocking versions of Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” and Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Codeine” are more than adequate, especially the latter with its Lenny Bruce namedrop at the end.

“Last Chance to Turn Around” was waxed earlier by Gene Pitney, the Cinq’s take stripped down and rocking, but its “Still in Love with You Baby,” a gleaning from The Beau Brummels and “I Can’t Let Go,” a borrowing from The Hollies, that really highlight the ability to thrive under pressure. “If I Think…” is by LHI house writers, and it’s maybe the most polished tune from this period; “Need All the Help I Can Get,” a Hazelwood composition previously recorded by Hokom, kinda sounds like The Association crossed with Bobby Fuller.

Though it appeared in ’68, Palao identifies “Good Lovin’ (So Hard to Find)” b/w “For We Never Met” as deriving from the recordings that shaped Everything But. The brisk plug side was written by Souther (who later performed with the Cinq) and dates back to his Amarillo group the Cinders, and the flip is a Stark/Creamer collab seemingly designed for slow dancing. I like the duo’s “(Ellen’s Fancies) Ride the Wind” better; dating from November of ’66, it and “When the Rainbow Disappears” are progressive yet restrained.

Later recordings utilize the members on vocals only. Stark had left, replaced by Walter Sparman for shows, and the records weren’t selling; Hokom tapped arranger-producer Tandyn Almer (also writer of “Along Comes Mary”) and The Wrecking Crew to try a fresh approach. The resulting cover of Al Kooper’s “The Street Song” is a gem of ornately assembled ‘60s baroque pop, and if less bold, “I Want You” is nearly as strong an example of this tricky style.

Arranger Don Randi was involved in subsequent sessions. The uptempo “Wasn’t it You” bails on the baroque for the climes of inoffensive production pop (it’s a Goffin-King ditty best known by Petula Clark). While essentially a demo, “I Am You” improves the situation with regal horns at the close. And due to a change in distributors from Decca to ABC, December ‘67’s “Does Anybody Know” b/w “Dying Daffodil Incident” was issued as A Handful.

The result of another Randi outing, the energetic a-side is a pleasant surprise. There’s simply no way the flip’s going to live up to its title, but the mid-tempo brandishes an utterly mersh sitar and saunters around like a later Turtles single. Bluntly, it’s not bad for a band whose window of opportunity was rapidly closing, and Light in the Attic’s latest retrieval effort is unexpectedly cohesive.

The Texas stuff is exciting, the Everything But-era underscores versatility, and the late selections, if not as successful overall, don’t falter. Those pegging The Kitchen Cinq as a mere exponent of Lee Hazelwood’s floundering aspirations should find When the Rainbow Disappears: An Anthology 1965-68 an enlightening listen.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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