Appaloosa — “Pascal’s Paradox”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — May 26, 2022


463) Appaloosa — “Pascal’s Paradox”

“Pascal’s Paradox”* is an absolutely gorgeous “folk-baroque” song off of Appaloosa’s sole album. The album is “chockfull of irresistible melodies and folk-baroque orchestration” with “romantic sensibilities” and “soul-searching lyrics”. ( Or, as RDTEN1 puts it:

While [singer, songwriter and guitarist John Parker] Compton’s lyrics were occasionally on the clunky and fey side, I’m sure female college aged English majors were sent into fits of delirium by the sensitivity and insight reflected in numbers like . . . “Pascals Paradox’ (how many times do you hear a song that references the artist Kandinsky?). . . . Admittedly the set’s arty and delicate feel coupled with those touchy-feely lyrics spelled instant obscurity, but what a way to go down in flames.

All Music Guide adds that:

[The album] bears the heavy scent of the ’60s coffeehouse scene, with overtones of jazz (there’s some nice saxophone work here) and Renaissance minstrel sounds (a la Steeleye Span) threaded through literate, melancholic singer-songwriter fare.

Compton himself remembers that:

When I was sixteen I attended a small boarding school in farm country in upstate New York and was fortunate to have a great English teacher who taught poetry brilliantly. I wrote the lyrics to . . . “Pascal’s Paradox” first as [a] poem[] for a poetry homework assignment and soon turned [it] into [a] song[]. . . . I wrote most of the songs for “Appaloosa” for my girlfriend at [the] . . . school. The inspiration for “Pascal’s Paradox” came about in a chemistry class while having the theory of Pascal’s Paradox explained and drawn on the blackboard.

As to Appaloosa and “folk-baroque”, Richie Unterberger relates:

Although the term somehow didn’t stick as part of standard rock criticism vocabulary, for a while in the late 1960s, there was a vogue of sorts for music that was described in the press as “folk-baroque[]” . . . . folk-oriented material with classical-influenced orchestration. . . . One of the most talented such acts was Appaloosa, whose self-titled 1969 LP matched . . . Compton’s thoughtful, melodic compositions to sympathetic arrangements featuring fellow band members Robin Batteau on violin, Eugene Rosov on cello, and David Reiser on electric bass. In both its combination of instruments and the absence of a drummer, it was a most unusual instrumental lineup for a rock band, even at a time when boundaries and restrictions were routinely bent. The core quartet were bolstered by top session players (including members of Blood, Sweat & Tears) and, above all, producer Al Kooper, who also added a lot of his own keyboards and guitar to the album.


As to Appaloosa’s history and how the band hooked up with Al Kooper, Joslyn Layne explains that:

Compton co-founded the acoustic band Appaloosa with violinist Robin Batteau in the late ’60s. Both musicians had been heavily influenced by the folk scene in their hometown, Cambridge, MA. . . . [and] began playing the coffeehouse circuit together. [Compton] showed up at producer Al Kooper’s Columbia Records office in late 1968, hoping to show him his songs. Uninterested, Kooper the kid [then 18] to come back some other time. But a little while later, Kooper came in on Compton and Batteau performing for the office secretaries. Finally won over, [he] recorded their demo,** and within a year the newly signed musicians had released an album, the self-titled debut from their group Appaloosa. . . . Appaloosa soon gave way to a duo project for Compton & Batteau, before the two musicians went their separate ways.

Compton adds that:

Robin and I had played the songs at coffeehouses for about a year before we recorded “Appaloosa.” . . . We recorded all of the songs as a live band, doing several takes and picking the best one. Bobby Columby (BS&T drummer) recorded with us on [some of the] songs . . . . It was such a thrill to watch Bobby play . . . . I fondly remember how Clive Davis, Columbia’s president at the time, was such a gentleman to us and was super-friendly and supportive. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a manager so we had no one to talk to Columbia. We were just teenagers and so naive and amazed to be in a big city. . . .

Playing the Filmore East was exciting. We opened for the Allman Brothers. I remember Gregg Allman saying to us when we walked past their dressing room, “Hey, where are your groupies?” . . . We also opened for the Young Rascals at Harvard Stadium on a beautiful autumn day and we opened for Van Morrison in Boston. Earlier, in 1968, Robin and I opened for Tim Hardin for his weeklong gig at the Jazz Workshop. I was scared to meet . . . Hardin in person, having personally seen him when I was younger throw a glass ashtray at someone in the audience after he asked everyone to be quiet. But [he] was a gentleman and invited us all out to dinner with him after the concerts.

* Joe Evans asks “[h]ave you ever wondered why the pressure exerted by a column of liquid has absolutely nothing to do with its volume or, for that matter, the geometric shape of its container?” ( Well, not really. But, in any event, Joe goes on:

It certainly seems that volume, and the additional weight it can contribute, should be a factor. But, according to Blaise Pascal, pressure depends upon the density and height of the liquid and is completely independent of its volume and the shape of the container. This “hydrostatic paradox” can be confusing . . . .

** Well, maybe, maybe not. Compton tells Richie Unterberger that “[m]eeting Al Kooper was just a fluke. We were playing for some secretaries at Columbia while waiting for an appointment. Al Kooper walked by and instantly asked us if we would like to make a demo tape that night.”

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