Bloodstone was a key group in creating the shift from the R&B and soul group concepts of the '50s and '60s to the funk and black rock ideas of the '70s and afterward.
The group began in Kansas City, while the original members were in high school, as an a cappella doo wop group, the Sinceres, around 1962. They evolved with the decade, and by 1968 were ensconced in Las Vegas, playing lounges like many other soul minor leaguers (Sonny Charles & the Checkmates, most notoriously). From there, they went to Los Angeles and did the unexpected: They learned to play instruments and became a band (like the Clash and Steely Dan, they never did settle on a permanent drummer).
In fact, Bloodstone was a very good funk-soul group using the Hendrix-derived licks of Charles Love and Willis Draffen against multiple percussion ideas to underpin a vocal blend that still owed its soul to gospel and doo wop. (If this makes you think of the Isley Brothers of "That Lady," you're on the right track.)
Bloodstone received no record company interest in L.A., however, so at the advice of its manager, the group relocated to London in 1971. There, they teamed up with Mike Vernon, founder of the Blue Horizon label, who'd made his bones producing an album with the great Chicago pianist Otis Spann; white blues acts like Fleetwood Mac and Savoy Brown; and early Euro-rock with Focus. Vernon took Bloodstone into the studio and by early 1973, its debut single, "Natural High," had cracked the R&B and pop Top Ten, becoming the group's defining song.
Vernon produced the first five Bloodstone albums, which garnered seven Top 20 R&B singles, almost all of which made the pop Top 40. The group was a big concert draw, and its album sold well, if not spectacularly. Somehow, all of this was parlayed into a 1975 film deal. [RoviLink="VW"]Train Ride to Hollywood is arguably the funniest picture of the whole '70s blaxploitation film boom, derived in equal parts from the Marx Brothers and such early spoofs as [RoviLink="VW"]The Palm Beach Story and [RoviLink="VW"]International House. Somehow, amidst the slapstick and the reefer jokes, Bloodstone wedges in a fairly complete history of black vocal harmony music from the Mills Brothers to the Coasters to their own bad selves. They do it even better on the soundtrack album. (All of the Vernon-produced Bloodstone albums contain versions of '50s and '60s oldies.)
The group then faded from popular view, despite a brief stint at Motown, until the early '80s, when it hooked up with the Isley Brothers' T-Neck and scored a commercially and artistically successful album, We Go a Long Way Back, produced by the Brothers. The title track returned them to the R&B Top Ten in 1982, but although several other T-Neck singles charted, the group's recording career essentially ended there. Nevertheless, this heartland group had made a significant mark and can lay fair claim to being one of the first to figure out its particular era's future. ~ Dave Marsh
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