It's a hard job to judge the historical significance of any band. Some used great studio skills to deliver a polished album to the world of music. Others shown more brightly feeding off the energy of a live audience. Despite five fine studio album releases, Pacific Gas and Electric is certainly in the latter category. In an era of Psychodelica, they steadfastly held to playing the Blues music they loved.
Casual fans will know them as a "One Hit Wonder", but those who knew their music knew PG&E to be the consummate live band, their delivery honed to a razor sharpness by years on the road and countless concerts. So it was in March of 1967 when Brent Block ended up at the house of guitarist Tom Marshall to get together for an informal jam session. Seems both young men, strangers to each other, were at the same party when Marshall overheard Block talk about his bass playing. Marshall invited Block to his home to see if there was any chemistry in their playing. What Block withheld from Marshall was the fact that he had only played bass once in his life. He certainly was a quick learner.
Musicians came and went. Charlie Allen was drummer, Guitarist Glenn Schwartz was a transplanted Ohioan. Canned Heat's drummer, Frank Cook, signed on as manager. He soon realized that Allen belonged out front, and took the drummer's seat for himself. Changes were afoot while recording the "Are You Ready" album in 1970. Tom Marshall had left the band he helped form. Glenn Schwartz announced he could no longer live the sinful life of a rockstar, returned to Ohio, and plied his skills with the All Saved Freak Band. Frank Cook handed his drumsticks to Ron Woods, and stayed on as manager. Brent Block went back to his natural guitar, and two talented midwesterners, guitarist Ken Utterback and bassist Frank Petricca signed on.
It was this lineup, Allen, Block, Utterback, Petricca and Woods, that toured in support of the band's biggest top 40 hit, Are You Ready. It was during this tour that they were asked to perform at the Federal Drug Rehabilitation Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Filmmaker Lawrence Schiller was there, making a documentary of the band's trip, and Columbia had tape rolling to record the two shows the band performed in Lexington, an indoor concert in the auditorium on the evening of August 8th, 1970, and an afternoon outdoor affair the following day.
When Schiller's film had trouble getting out of the box (it never went into national release, and was shown just twice in California before it was shelved), Columbia decided not to release the live album. This may have been a mistake, as it shows the raw energy and biting edge the band didn't display in the studio.
At long last, we finally get to hear the music that captivated so many fans and drove them to PG&E's live shows. Recorded in 1970 on analog tape machines, there's no studio enhancements, no electronic tricks, nothing to get in the way of the experience of sitting in the audience to hear one of the most talented "bands ever.
by Paul "Sabre" Sobieraj
1. Old Stop In "A" (Charlie Allen, Brent Block, Ken Utterback, Frank Petricca, Ron Woods) - 11:20
2. Are You Ready? (Charlie Allen, John Hill) - 6:25
3. Next Time You See Me (Earl Forest, William G. Harvey) - 2:38
4. Elvira (Frank Cook, Glenn Scwartz, Tom Marshall, Charlie Allen, Brent Block) - 3:16
5. 32-20 Blues (Robert Johnson) - 6:09
6. One More River To Cross (Daniel Moore) - 3:12
7. Motor City Is Burning (John Lee Hooker) - 12:40
8. Jelly Jelly (Trade Martin) - 16:30
Pacific Gas And Electric
*Charlie Allen - Vocals
*Brent Block - Guitar
*Frank Petricca - Bass
*Ken Utterback - Lead Guitar
*Ron Woods - Drums