Jo Baker - vocals, percussion; Tim Barnes - guitar, vocals; Terry Davis - bass; Sammy Piazza - drums; Annie Sampson - vocals, percussion; Fred Webb - piano, organ, vocals
Beginning as a trio from Walnut Creek in the mid-1960s and developing into an elaborate 11 piece traveling communal festival favorite by 1969, Stoneground boasted many great musicians as well as several of the most talented singers of the era, each with a distinctive voice and style. One of the hardest working bands, they took their soulful San Francisco groove around the world, packing countless nightclubs and becoming a ubiquitous presence at North American and European rock festivals. They continued releasing respected albums into the early 1970s, but like so many of their contemporaries, Stoneground was always a band best experienced live, and album sales of their studio recordings reflected this.
In 1974, when this Record Plant performance occurred, Stoneground had regrouped in a more compact form. Tim Barnes assumed the male lead vocal duties and soulful vocalist Annie Sampson remained as one of the female lead singers. They also recruited Jo Baker, the powerful female lead vocalist from the Elvin Bishop Group. Barnes and Sampson also brought in Terry Davis on bass and the talented pianist, Fred Webb to play keyboards. In the drum chair now sat Sammy Piazza, fresh off a several year stint with Hot Tuna. This new stripped down lineup had a rejuvenated sound, not quite as festive as the big band, but tighter and punchier and Baker and Sampson belt it out whether it's soul, rock, blues or rhythm and blues.
This performance, before an intimate audience but going out live over the Bay Area's KSAN radio, proves that Stoneground still had plenty to offer, especially for people looking to party and dance. Although a founder of the band, Tim Barnes was often obscured in the previous formations, but here he comes across as a fluid and engaging guitar player. His lead vocals are more of an acquired taste, but needless to say, Jo Baker and Annie Sampson pack a vocal wallop, trading off or sharing lead vocals on many of the best songs.
These performances are quite engaging, but a few highlights stand out, particularly a smokin' version of "Rock Bottom," containing Webb wailing on organ and one of Barnes' best solos of the set. This is the kind of high energy blues that Jo Baker excelled at in Bishop's band and she delivers the goods. Sampson is equally impressive on "Let's Leave This Town" and on the song she co-wrote with Webb, "There's A Road." Some of the most engaging songs have Sampson and Baker sharing the lead vocal duties, such as the gospel flavored "Do You Hear Me," the soulful rocker "Look My Way" and their energized cover of "Bo Diddley." This set also contains an early version of "I Got A Song," a highlight of their 1976 album Flat Out.
As previously mentioned, Stoneground was always best experienced live and this 1974 Record Plant set is probably the best surviving document of the band during this era. Fans of the larger previous lineups are in for a pleasant surprise and for those unfamiliar with the band, this is an accessible place to start. Longtime Jo Baker fans will also be delighted.