Powder — “Flowers”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — April 8, 2023


789) Powder — “Flowers”

Before Thomas and Richard Frost had a minor hit and created one of the great lost albums of the 1960s (see #209, 211, 247, 385, 595, 775), they had ignited Powder (as in gunpowder), the first and greatest U.S. Who-inspired mod band, and gave us another of the great lost albums of the 1960s. Notice a trend here? Anyway, the first Powder song I feature is definitely not power pop but the glorious ballad “Flowers” (that ended up in the ’69 Cher movie Chastity (with the vocals switched after a falling out with management). Got it?

Mark Deming gives us the story:

After the Beatles broke big in America in 1964, plenty of young American rockers began following the lead of their peers in the U.K., and very few did so with greater enthusiasm than Powder, a California-based combo whose explosive style was rooted in their enthusiasm for the Who, the Small Faces, the Creation . . . . [G]uitarist Richard Martin, aka Richard Frost, . . grew up in San Mateo, California, not far from San Francisco. Frost became a rock & roll fan at an early age, and had already played in a handful of local acts with his brother Thomas Martin (aka Tom Frost) when the British Invasion struck in 1964. The Frost Brothers formed a band called the Newcastle Five, whose jangly style was informed by the new British sounds and early folk-rock. The Newcastle Five were playing clubs in San Francisco when they were spotted by Ray Columbus, a rock & roll singer from New Zealand who had come to the United States in hopes of advancing his career.  Colombus invited the Newcastle Five to be his backing band, and the new combo took on a new name,  the Art Collection. . . . and released [with Columbus] a fine example of fuzztone proto-punk, “Kick Me,” in 1966 . . . Columbus didn’t stay with the group long, and as the first waves of the San Francisco psychedelic sound began to appear, the Frost Brothers relocated to Los Angeles in search of an audience for their louder, wilder sounds. . . . [They] caught a lucky break in 1967 when they were hired to be Sonny & Cher’s backing group for a nationwide tour. In addition to a well-paying road gig, th[is] . . . gave the[m] connections with Sonny Bono, who had launched his own music production concern, Progress Production Company, with producer Denis Pregnolato. . . . Progress signed them to a deal, and the group cut an album . . . with Bono and Pregnolato as producers, that they planned to lease to Atco Records. However, the deal went sour when Progress demanded the publishing rights to the songs, and the album was shelved. Powder soon broke up . . . .


Kieron Tyler talks more of their sound:

Crescendo follows crescendo, and power chord follows power chord. For The Who, “I Can see for Miles” was the apex of this style. But this is not The Who. Instead, it is a band from California called Powder whose shelved album from 1968 was crammed with thrilling, British-influenced gems. . . . [that] filtered a British sensibility through an American outlook. . . . Martin confirms that “we were Who fanatics and got hold of the My Generation album before it was released in the States. People used to think we were from Britain because of our stage attire.”


And Alec Palao provides a vivid description: “Rich and Tom read the British mags like Rave, dressed in dandified threads brought directly from Carnaby Street . . . dug the latest hip UK sounds on import-only singles and albums . . . . and were forever being asked by fans whether or not they were from England.” (liner notes to the Biff! Bang! Powder CD comp)

Oh, what could have been. Derek Anderson:

Sonny Bono pitched the potential album to the wrong man. Sonny choose to take Powder’s recording to Atlantic Records’ Ahmet Erteugen. However, he was better known for jazz, R&B and soul. Only later, would Atlantic Records become a rock label. . . . So, it’s no wonder . . . Erteugen didn’t show any interest . . . . Following the disappointment of the recording sessions, Sonny and Cher’s management team decided to concentrate on Chastity, a film starring Cher. Powder were meant to contribute some of the music. However, in early 1969, drummer Bill Schoppe quit . . . . decid[ing] to wander down the spiritual path that was proving popular in San Francisco. . . . Powder’s biggest mistake was turning down Mercury Records to sign for Sonny and Cher’s management team. That must have seemed like an opportunity of a lifetime. It proved not to be the case.


And Kieron Tyler:

All it’s possible to think is “how did a band this great, this melodic and this potent escape attention at the time?” . . . After looking at their contemporary context, it becomes clear why Powder didn’t attract widespread attention. They simply didn’t fit in. . . . Rich Martin (later Frost) declares “we revelled in not conforming to the San Francisco sound – it was a badge of honour and a bit of rebellion against what was popular.” . . . Powder played San Francisco but weren’t part of the ballroom scene. They were suburban and definitely not hippies. . . . Musically, the San Francisco narrative for 1967 was . . . dominated by lengthy songs, jamming and a general looseness. . . . The kinetic, sharp-edged Powder were something else. Their heads were filled with neon visions of a concise mod-pop rather than notions of soundtracking journeys to inner space.


Paleo tells us that “Flowers” was “[n]ot intended for the projected album . . . . [but e]armarked for the soundtrack of Sonny and Cher’s “message” movie Chastity . . . . [When] the album was shelved, ‘Flowers’ appeared on the soundtrack with Pregnolato’s voice dubbed over Rich’s”. (liner notes to the Biff! Bang! Powder CD comp)

Clint Hickman summarizes Chastity:

Go on a cross country adventure with Cher in her first dramatic film, Chastity. Chastity . . . is a lonely young girl who is hitchhiking across the country in hopes of finding someone to love her and make her forget her disturbed past. She does find love with a man whom she calls Andre . . . . Chastity feels that the relationship is getting too serious so she decides to run. She goes to Mexico where she starts working at a whorehouse, there she befriends the strange lesbian owner . . . . Chastity is looking for a mother figure in the woman, but the woman has different feelings for Chastity. She soon realizes that this is not the life for her and decides to return to Andre and try to start a new normal life. Things are good, but not for long as Chastity’s dark disturbed past will never let her feel loved by anyone.


Here is the version of “Flowers” with the switched vocals on the Chastity soundtrack:

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