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Blood, Sweat & Tears Turn Backs On Communism

The band causes riots behind the Iron Curtain, but maybe not anywhere else

Blood, Sweat & Tears

Blood, Sweat & Tears

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES – Just arrived from their recent State Department tour of Yugoslavia, Rumania and Poland, members of Blood, Sweat & Tears indicated at a press conference here they were so overwhelmed by Communist police tactics that only a book and feature length film could adequately express their shock.

“We went over there with the idea of just how much so-called Communist fascism is American propaganda,” said David Clayton-Thomas, the group’s pudgy-faced lead vocalist. “And I found that the propaganda is pretty damn close to the truth. It’s scary.”

It soon became clear from remarks by Clayton-Thomas, drummer Bobby Colomby and guitarist Steve Katz that the State Department got its money’s worth.

The tour resulted in several examples of Rumanian police brutality captured on film, a major riot during a concert in Bucharest, and the conversion to Americanism of at least nine persons – all members of Blood, Sweat & Tears.

The press conference, called by the people at National General Picture Corp. who filmed the tour, also revealed that: •

  • Clayton-Thomas triggered the Bucharest riot when, despite orders by the secret police, he tossed a gong into the audience.
  • •An earlier performance so provoked Bucharest authorities that they issued a strongly worded “manifesto” to the American Embassy listing numerous outlandish restrictions against the group and their music. •
  • A National General cameraman was beaten when he tried to photograph a large battalion of soldiers assembled outside the Bucharest concert hall. •
  • Long hair is strictly forbidden on Rumanian men, but the rules are more relaxed in Yugoslavia. •
  • The members of Blood, Sweat & Tears really do know how to improvise, according to Clayton-Thomas; it’s just that they do it “within a very literate and educated framework.” •
  • Steve Katz, who at first balked at the tour because he did not want to officially represent the United States, became disenchanted with Communism after discovering that “nobody can own a store except for the state.”

Of the 50 or so persons attending the press conference, no more than a dozen were bonafide members of the press. The others appeared to be friends, corporate plants and other groupies who often would interrupt discussions of communist theory with questions like, “Tell us about your latest album,” or “How will this tour affect your music in the future.”

Clayton-Thomas, Colomby and Katz were in good spirits and good health, although Katz had developed a large, chip-like growth on his shoulder which he apparently felt should be knocked off before the conference began.

After viewing a few grainy minutes of film shot during the tour, Katz decided to start things off, not with a bang, but a whimper.

“I’d like to say something first of all,” he said first of all. “As for myself I came here today because I wanted to see what the film was going to be like, you know, just a little bit of it, just for a fun thing.

“I knew it was going to be a press conference but I was under the impression that it was a press conference by National General, not by Blood, Sweat and Tears. I think we should clear that up right away . . . it’s not a Blood, Sweat and Tears press conference by any means.”

When that statement was largely ignored by newsmen, Katz persisted by reading a junk telegram issued in advance by National General publicists.

“It says in this telegram that ‘This tour had a profound effect on the thinking of a group of young Americans as regards the youth revolution in this country and its relationship to youth around the world.’

“Well, I’d like to ask my representative from National General just what that means. That’s taking a lot for granted.”

This was too much for Lou Rudolph, the film’s producer, who stepped forward and told Katz, “Well, Steve, I’m sorry that your manager did not inform you that this was a press conference . . . if you’re not happy, why don’t you, you know, split.” Katz immediately bolted from his chair, but groans and cries of “Hey, that’s jive, man,” from the audience forced him sheepishly back.

The news conference then proceeded fairly smoothly and included those excerpts:

Are the kids over there turning on?
Colomby: No. No. They’re completely afraid. They’re so terrified of the police. You see, here, if you get arrested, say for grass, you’re not gonna go to jail for a hundred years. You can usually get out of it, somehow, I don’t know, it hasn’t happened to me, but it can happen. But over there, there’s no trial. If anything goes wrong, they just pick you up. You can’t have long hair in Rumania. If you do, the cops will come and they’ll, you know, shave your head and they’ll beat you up.

Clayton-Thomas: There’s a thing here we call due process of law, for whatever it’s worth. In other words, if the government wants to get Abbie Hoffman, they gotta drag him into court, and it can go on for years and years, and he can make a fortune off the publicity, you know, and it can go on and on and on. There – no such thing. If the government wants somebody, he disappears.
If a Rumanian wants to leave the country, if he’s married he must leave his wife behind to insure he will come back. If a couple wants to leave, and they’re on government business, they must leave their children behind as wards of the state until they come back.

Was there any censorship over there?
Clayton-Thomas: Was there! Oh, God.

Colomby: We had a strange experience.

Clayton-Thomas: We played a concert in Bucharest. And the first night of the concert, the kids did something which had never happened in Rumania before. They leaped out of their seats, started screaming “USA,” peace signs, everything else. And the military got very, very panicky. And they brought in police, a couple of kids got very badly beaten up.
And they grabbed one kid who was running for an autograph, and instead of grabbing him, throwing him back into the crowd, they grabbed him and dragged him into a little room and started beating him and kicking him.
And Mal Klein, the president of National General, ran in and said, “now you want this on camera or not? If you don’t want it on camera, then stop.” And they stopped beating the kid and let him go.

Katz: ‘Course we found out the next day that he was a spy.

Clayton-Thomas: Yeah, everybody’s a spy. It’s ridiculous.

Katz: Everybody isn’t a spy, but everybody sort of informs. It’s their duty to inform.

Clayton-Thomas: So the next day the Embassy in Bucharest was delivered a list of demands. We called it the Bucharest Manifesto. And this was the censorship imposed upon us. [Clayton-Thomas reads from notes he took of the document]:
We must play more jazz – “jazz meter.” We must play less rhythm. Because in their minds, the rhythm, the strong, heavy rhythm, was inciting the kids to riot. Not the fact that they’d been repressed for so long that when they saw a glimpse of anything free, they just busted loose. They blamed us for it.

Katz: And as you probably know, we’re not the most outlandish rock group.

Clayton-Thomas: If the audience makes too much noise or jumps out of their seats, we’re to stop and walk off stage. No more than two encores. Reduce sound level, we had to turn the sound down. No throwing of musical instruments off the stage. ‘Cause I was chucking maracas and tambourines and stuff to the kids, you know? More moderate clothing. Now this was the manifesto that was delivered to us.
And that night, about every third seat in the front row was dotted with secret police. The big issue was the fact that during one tune called “Smiling Faces,” I fling this gong off the stage, you know. And it’s like this big suspense thing, and I wing the gong off the stage and the band takes off.
And as I picked up the gong, this secret policeman went [shakes his finger in admonishment] like that. And I went [swings his arm around like a discuss thrower], and off it went. And the crowd went crazy. And they turned dogs loose on the crowd, they brought in German Shepherds. Kids went through plate glass windows. It was a very, very bad scene. I got hysterical, screaming and yelling. It was very heavy.

How can you call the tour a success, then?
Clayton-Thomas: Well, if you had been there and seen kids, for the first time in their lives, doing something spontaneous. In other words, there was a seed sewn over there, I believe. Those people were prohibited, by the government, spontaneous outbursts.
So the next day we had a concert in Ploesti, Rumania, which was for Rumanian flood relief. It was a benefit concert. And we were informed on the afternoon of the concert that we were to be allowed to do no more concerts in Rumania. They canceled the concert and we left three days later.

Katz: The trip for me wasn’t a success up until Bucharest, when I saw these kids who are living over there, aside from just the main population, are really starved. . . . I went over not wanting to go on this trip, as a political protest. I went on the trip. I’m glad I did. Because to see what’s happening over there, it’s very hard to describe at a press conference. I guess the film will do it better. And a subsequent book.

What made you decide to go on the tour after your much-publicized hostility toward the idea?
Katz: What made me decide to go? Well . . . [turns to Colomby] . . . Do you know why I decided to go? I decided . . . I decided to go because I was a musician first, rather than a politician.

What do the kids think of the Beatles or the Stones or anyone like that?
Colomby: The most popular band over there is the Stones. They love the Rolling Stones. And I asked them about the Beatles, and most of the people that I spoke to said, “They used to be good, not so good anymore. We’re not that interested anymore.” Now it’s the Rolling Stones.

Clayton-Thomas: See, they’re very hungry for anything that’s really savage, you know, that really is down. They want this release because they can’t get this release.

What was the reaction of the State Department to the tour?
Clayton-Thomas: There was a man in Bucharest, the cultural attache there, a man by the name of Arthur Lewis, who was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. And he told us that we’d accomplished there what he’d been trying to do for five years – just to get through, just to get some type of reaction. You can not get reaction from those people, they’re terrified.
I went for a walk in the square one day (with a Bucharest woman), and Izzy, a cameraman, and a couple of other fellows were following us with a big 600 lens and a long distance microphone, listening to our conversation. And she made some astounding statements to me . . . she said things to me like, “You know, there’s microphones everywhere.” Her own father had spent seven years in political prison.
\And right halfway through this conversation, she spotted Izzy with the camera. And she panicked. You’ve never seen such panic. “No, no!” There is no microphones here! We are not watched! We are very free! We like it here!” And she was almost crying, she was in tears. “Who will see this film? Nobody, please don’t let anybody here what I said. Please!” She wanted to erase the film.
And as half the guys in this room are my witness, this girl was terrified. She said, “My family has been in prison for seven years,” and her younger brother had died in prison two weeks before, for speaking out politically in these countries.

* * *

Perhaps the one question that caused the most reaction among the three musicians concerned not the tour but the growing criticism that their music is too slick and inflexible. Clayton-Thomas jumped to the defense.

“Oh, God, I want to answer this guy,” he said as he prepared to unload his chest. “Listen, man, you’re so used to the concept, you know, of a jam session, the Alvin-Lee-Ten-Years-After-type jam session, where the rhythm section holds three chords and the guitar player goes crazy for an hour.

“This band, man, does more free blowing on the stage than practically any rock band that I know of. But we do it within, uh, within a very literate and educated framework.

“A lot of people say, well gee, it sounds so precise. Well that’s the way these guys play. I mean if you go to Juilliard for five or six years, you learn to play precisely.”

Clayton-Thomas invited the questioneer to attend their next concert, which just happened to be the following night at the Hollywood Bowl.

Critics at that concert seemed to agree that the band did indeed play precisely – precisely the way they played on their albums and at all their other concerts. In short, they said, the performance hardly caused a riot.


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