Are you ready? A little surprise

Having found myself with some time to kill on this sunny afternoon, I stopped by our local indie record store and did a little digging.

Just when I started getting that dread feeling of having seen all of their used vinyl on previous visits, I came across something I hadn’t seen before.

This record — a Pacific Gas & Electric greatest-hits comp — didn’t blow me away, but it looked like it had some interesting covers. Then I started asking myself the same question I’d asked myself the last time I pondered a record by Pacific Gas & Electric. Am I in the mood for old West Coast blues-rock jams?

Well, I decided to support my local indie record shop, and I took it home. After popping it on the turntable, I found it be quite different than what I expected. Quite pleasantly so, and not just because the vinyl grooves were almost pristine.

Turns out that Pacific Gas & Electric, which became PG&E, was more of a soul and R&B outfit than I thought. Or at least as represented on this 1973 record, which draws tunes from three LPs recorded for Columbia from 1969 to 1971.

Here’s proof:

“The Time Has Come (To Make Your Peace)” and “”Thank God For You Baby,” both from “PG&E,” 1971.

The first cut is an upbeat, gospel-tinged rocker with a great horn chart.

The second cut, which barely dented the charts in the winter and spring of 1972, compares favorably to the elegant Chicago and Philly soul love songs of the time.

These originals turned out to be more interesting than the covers of “When A Man Loves A Woman” and “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave.”

Pacific Gas & Electric, fronted by singer Charlie Allen, was racially mixed. That was quite something for the time. The liner notes tell this story:

“One night in Raleigh … several members of a rather uppity Southern audience objected to the presence of a black lead singer in a rock and roll band and pulled guns on the band. Their exit, had it been filmed, would have made excellent Clint Eastwood footage.”

That was April 25, 1970. As the band’s van drove away, some members of that uppity North Carolina audience fired their guns at it. Four shots hit the van, but no one was hurt.

PG&E was a five-piece band from its founding in Los Angeles in 1967 until 1971, when it became a nine-piece band and started to unravel. The end came in 1973, after PG&E released a Dunhill Records LP that features Allen and session musicians. Allen was 48 when he died in 1990.

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Filed under September 2011, Sounds

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