Automatic Man - Automatic Man

Year of Release: 1990
Label: Island Records
Catalog Number: 7057
Format: CD
Total Time: 48:23:00

What's this then? This isn't a progressive rock band is it? Yes, they are, absolutely. If a visionary assemblage of influences and the power of moving music forward, are progressive, and for the purposes of this review, I will say it is, then this is fine progressive rock, indeed. And no, in the sense of Automatic Man fitting into a pre-conceived sub-genre of progressive rock as understood now is concerned, then no, they are not a prog band, but they are much, much more than any label given them could describe. This San Francisco band had strong elements of spacey synthesizer driven progressive. Definitely. They could just as well be described as a hard rocking funk band as well. Both are true. Neither is accurate. No group I can think of so defies categorization as does Automatic Man.

They have similarities to Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Tubes, Santana, Return To Forever, and others whom I just can't put my finger on. They sound like all of them. But they sound like none of them. I have really tried to figure this one out, and I can't. I talked to someone once, who had heard of Automatic Man, and I was shocked. I'd never even spoken to anyone who had even heard of them before. Sure, he said, they sound just like Symphonic Slam. So, I listened to Symphonic Slam, and sure enough! They sound nothing like Symphonic Slam.

Is it obvious yet that this bugs me?

People have a strong desire, an urge, to categorize things, to put them in boxes. To place this with that and make order out of disorder. Music is one of those things we have to make sense of, to understand. How can some obscure band be so important?

Part of the answer is this. They sound like San Francisco. That much is true, unquestionably. There was a magical time and a sound that was tied to that particular time. This magic was the San Francisco bay area in the early to middle seventies. Such a particular place, and such a small window of time.

At least part of the magic of San Francisco at this time was a figment of my imagination. I grew up close to the Bay Area, and went to see bands play at Winterland or another Bill Graham venue a couple of times a week. San Francisco at that time had a huge rock music scene. There were well known bands of many types, all over the area. Every band of note from everywhere in the world came to play in Frisco, and it seemed, to me, to be the center of the musical world. In retrospect, the one type of group that San Francisco did not produce, at that time anyway, were progressive rock groups.

But, they did come close to the edge, of progressive rock that is.

Santana have been said to hover at the edges of prog., and I can attest that this group, Automatic Man and the other Santana spin off, Journey (DON'T SNICKER!), in their first year or two of existence, played some music that had great promise, and a sound that had progressive tendencies. Even the Tubes, dismissed and mostly forgotten, played progressive music in a sense, in that prog is a mixture of styles and a bold step towards the future. They, also in their first years, played a wild, bizarre mix of sounds and styles. How does a mix of Frank Zappa, Gong, pre-disco and Hard Rock seem? Is that progressive?

Back to Automatic Man -- sorry about the regional history lesson. I guess that you just have to hear them to understand, but that's unlikely, since their two albums, only the first of which has this magic that I speak of, are for the most part unavailable. But, there are a few copies of the vinyl LP around. This band's LPs have not been reissued on CD. Unfortunately, I can't give them to you in words, hard as I may try. I only hope that someone reading this will want to hear it for themselves, and hear in it what I hear.

This self-titled 1976 LP release begins and ends with what are Automatic Man's statements of their musical ethos. "Atlantis Rising Fanfare" and the LP's closer "Atlantis Rising Theme (Turning Of The Axis)" are both Mahavishnu styled rockers. Yes, Automatic Mans rocks throughout this album, whether closer in spirit to Mahavishnu Orchestra, or like the Ohio Players meeting Humble Pie on acid. And yes, there is a blatantly psychedelic take on life grooving along nicely on this first, and best, release from this here today, gone tomorrow group. A spiritual sermon from keyboardist, lead vocalist Bayete, aka Todd Cochrane, the lyrics on Automatic Man allow Bayete to preach about an Atlantian dream world of love, deep love, love of the world ? and oh yeah, love. The lyrics of the songs, nearly all written by the artist known mainly as Bayete, are not shallow or silly though. As with everything on this release, they have an undeniable messege and appeal, and the band always seemed to me to be a great approximation of what Yes would've sounded like if they were American, and Black. The Anglican church touch of Rick Wakeman, replaced with the gospel touch of Stevie Wonder? The style of Chris Squire exchanged with that of a funkmaster?

Hyperbole? Some, I guess, but they are very, very good at what they do. I think they were more than just another spin off group, and so many of them splintered off any band that had put out a couple of albums in the 70s. The influence of Santana is here as well. These four are all fantastic musicians , and there are lots of instances of virtuosity that could be cited from any one of the eleven cuts on this record. Every song is a joy to hear. After "Atlantis Rising Fanfare" comes what I think should be a 70s rock classic, "Comin' Through," and the first side of the LP ends with another awesome tune, "Geni-Geni." Side two is the more powerful side, every song good, every one memorable.

My two favorites from this group are cuts one and two from this side. "Right Back Down" and "There's A Way" are both full of heavy, yet soulful guitar and bass, Michael Shrieve's excellent, expressive drumming and Automatic Man's emphatic, powerful vocals.

The keyboards on these two songs, and all this album's numbers are spacey and fun, or mysterious and heavy when they need to be. Todd Cochrane has made a few soul and jazz recordings, none of which I've ever heard, but as Bayete, his hands are over this LP. On their second, inferior LP, Visitors, both bassist Donni Harvey and Shrieve, the drummer, of Santana and Woodstock fame, are gone. Bayete, and guitarist Pat Thrall, who had previously played with Stomo Yomashtu's Go, and would later fill in for Steve Howe in Asia, stayed with Automatic Man, but alas, it was not to be.

Bassist Donni Harvey brought the healthy dose of soul and funk to the table. And minus Shreive, their bona-fide star, the second album went nowhere, which sadly is also the story with this first fine album.

Released in 1976 by Island Records (ILPS 9397)

Atlantis Rising Fanfare (1:37) / Comin' Through (3:35) / My Pearl (3:41) / One And One (6:01) / Newspapers (3:59) / Geni-Geni (5:33) / Right Back Down (5:56) / There's A Way (5:15) / I.T.D.-Interstellar Tracking Devices (5:15) / Automatic Man (3:54) / Atlantis Rising Theme (3:17)

Michael Shrieve - drums, electronic percussion
Bayete - keyboards, synthesizers, vocals
Pat Thrall - guitars, vocals
Donni Harvey - bass, vocals

Automatic Man (1976)
Visitors (1977)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: March 22nd 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website:
Hits: 2247
Language: english


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