There had never been anything quite like them. They weren’t the cute mop-tops or acid-fueled freaks that had risen to fame in recent years. The members of Blood, Sweat & Tears were seasoned music professionals. The horn section (did I mention there was a horn section?!) was led by alto player Fred Lipsius, featured a young trumpeter named Randy Brecker, and came from a jazz place. Keyboard player Al Kooper and guitarist Steve Katz were late of a great New York City band called the Blues Project, but of course Kooper was best known for his immortal organ part on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” The Mothers of Invention and Buffalo Springfield were part of bass player Jim Fielder’s resumé.
When the band came together in 1967, Kooper made himself the leader because he didn’t want a repeat of what happened in the Blues Project, which was more of a democracy. At first the new band was a quartet, including drummer Bobby Colomby. They did a few gigs in that configuration before Lipsius joined a couple of months later and recruited three more horn players of his acquaintance. It was this group that recorded one of the greatest albums of the 1960s, Child Is Father to the Man.
Kooper was the main songwriter and vocalist for the band. He contributed seven of the album’s twelve tracks, including future classics like the R&B-flavored “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” and “My Days Are Numbered.” Katz’s more folk-influenced “Meagan’s Gypsy Eyes” and well-chosen covers of songs by Tim Buckley (“Morning Glory”), Harry Nilsson (“Without Her”), Randy Newman (“Just One Smile”), and Goffin-King (“So Much Love”) filled out the album.
The album was produced by Columbia Records staffer John Simon and released in February 1968. Later that year Simon produced the Band’s debut album, Music From Big Pink, and their second, self-titled album the following year. Very few producers have ever had a better run. Each track on Child Is Father to the Man was meticulously arranged, and the spirit of experimentation flows freely through the entire work. The horn arrangements have rarely been equaled in the annals of rock history. The most telling sign of all is that more than 40 years later this album doesn’t sound the least bit dated. From its opening “Overture” to its closing “Underture,” it remains one of the greatest listening experiences you can have.
Child Is Father to the Man peaked at #47 on Billboard‘s pop album chart, but the band was already wracked by artistic squabbles: Katz and Colomby wanted to hire another vocalist and have Kooper focus solely on songwriting and keyboards. Eventually, Kooper found himself forced out of the band he had founded. Trumpet players Randy Brecker and Jerry Weiss also left after the album was released.
Blood, Sweat & Tears went looking for a new singer. Laura Nyro and Stephen Stills were considered for the job, but in the end it was given to Canadian vocalist David Clayton Thomas. The band turned away from the innovation that had marked their first album and traveled down more of a pop road. There they found enormous commercial success, but they never again neared the artistic heights they had reached on their debut.