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"Ultimate Spinach is mind food."
Ian Bruce-Douglas

Spinach first album    Oh boy, here we are at the Ultimate Spinach. Their first album was reviled by the critics as phoney, now 40 years later it's getting some respect as an acid classic. Although even in 1968 Time Magazine did like the LP - CLICK for Time Magazine, May 1968 review. I always liked the songs and thought there was lots of content here. Upfront you have to know that the Spinach was the brainchild of Ian Bruce-Douglas the singer and player of some 10 instruments on the LP. Douglas wrote, "Ultimate Spinach is mind food." Ok, that explains it.
   Some of the lyrics that the critics spotlighted as phony were actually tongue in cheek or sarcastic barbs by Ian Bruce Douglas, ahead of his time condemning the hippie scene. It was very perceptive of Douglas to grasp what was going on while being in the middle of it.

The First Album
   There are three albums by the Spinach but in reality THIS is it . This is the one you must have. They never reached these heights again. There is something to hear every second. One of the Bosstown Sounds archetypical moments is the start of the album. You hear Ian's echoed voice, warning yet seductive and before you know it you're into the first song Ego Trip about your own misguided mind trip, don't you see? If you don't, leave NOW because you don't get it.
   The first self titled album from 1968 is full of over-the-top psychedelic lyrics while at the same time putting down the 'hippie' culture. Anti-war sentiment is a major theme also, not to forget paranoia, that was HUGE in the sixties. Musically this is a delight. Great engineering also. Crisp sounds and effective use of multiple tracks. There is a wide variety of guitar sounds using wha-wha, fuzz, echo, tremelo, feedback and volume control.
   Hip Death Goddess ...here it is, turn down the lights and seep into it.
   Sacrifice to the Moon is in four parts. I can remember having discussions on which one was our favorite.
   You have to read the liner notes by mastermind Ian Bruce-Douglas. They are a time capsule of hippie 1968 mind thought. As a matter of fact it would make a wonderful 60's throwback night. Put some colored bulbs in your lamps. Put on some tie dyed shirts. Have a copy of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran to quote from and spin the Ultimate Spinach and you are on a sixties mindtrip, baby.

ClassicRock.jpg - 40.36 K     This album is still well thought of by psych fans. In 2008 the English glossy magazine Classic Rock listed the 42 Greatest Psychedelic Albums. This album was Number 36, in there with Sgt Peppers, Axis Bold as Love, Disraeli Gears, etc. Here's what they had to say:
    "Leaders of the Boston psychedelic surge, Ultimate Spinach were re-crystallised from the not-quite-so hippy dippy Underground Cinema around multi-instrumentalist Ian Bruce-Douglas and singer Barbara Hudson. On their debut album they viewed the Renaissance musical landscape through rose-tinted spectacles and came up with elaborate suites like Ballad Of The Hip Death Goddess with its theremin solo and the folkbluesy Ego Trip, all bolstered by Hudson's ethereal vocals.
    The album sold well but the hippies were not enamoured with the crass marketing campaign to promote the so- called 'Bosstown Sound', and any attempts to reach out to the West Coast were scuppered after Country Joe McDonald sued them for supposedly having copied Section 43 in their Sacrifce Of The Moon."

The second album: Behold and See

Ultimate Spinach  Behold and See album.    It's very illuminating to put on the second album right after the first. Behold and See has all the elements of the debut album yet falls way short of it. It seems like the air has been taken out of group. Ian Bruce-Douglas can't be faulted. The songs are equal to the first album. It's the performance and the recording that kill the project. The rhythm section sound like they are slogging through 10 miles of muddy road to their death. The slow tempos become funereal at many points. The sparkle, the intensity, the righteous ranting are gone even though it was recorded in 1968, the same year as the first. The engineering sounds plain and rote even though some of the same people are at the soundboard. I cranked up the volume to give it a boot in the ass but even then it sounds anemic, there's hardly any bottom end and the bass is uninspiring at best.
   Time and again you can hear the familiar tonalities and riffs that made the first album great and you realize the missed opportunity here. The behind the scene story is that the group all turned on Douglas and they were not happy campers during the recording.
   Even with all that the Spinach fan will find plenty to like and Douglas comes off well. He's got the songs and the trippy lyrics and his playing is equal to the first album. His ideas are strewn though the LP. Only he could come out with the song title, The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse ! Great, four are not enough. Rewrite the bible then to get your point across. The album ends in a repeating chant of "insanity - reality - insanity - reality." Ian, come back, all is forgiven!

Spinach third album    Ultimate Spinach without Ian Bruce-Douglas is like San Francisco without the hills. The third album from 1969 is a different beast. Barbara Hudson is now the only connecting link to the first album/group. Ted Myers is added to bring the project along. He was the go-to guy during this period being in the Chameleon Church and Lost. This album is also noted as being Jeff Baxter's (of Steely Dan fame) debut recording effort. Jeff gets a 6:50 minute blues to rip through on side one.
   Must I go on? The album isn't bad, it's just not Spinach goddamn it and the cover SAYS Ultimate Spinach. There's a little psychedelic bent mixed with straight ahead rock and blues styles. It's all very good in it's way but it does not have the Ultimate Spinach magic.

What happened?
   Ian Bruce-Douglas had a web site for a while but it's gone now. I believe he lives in Florida now There are a few places on the web where he pops up. Give a look at this long and eye-opening interview with the always frank Ian Bruce-Douglas... Ian Bruce-Douglas Interview.
   Another Ian Bruce-Douglas Interview.
   Terrascope Interview of Ian.
   Another very good and by that I mean blunt and opinionated interview of Ian has been printed in a Greek psych magazine called TIME MAGAZINE - it's issue#3 from Autumn'08. There is no web version but the magazine has a myspace page.... http://www.myspace.com/timelordmichalis. In the interview he talks of 'lost recordings' of the Spinach that he has and that he plans on doing something with them soon!

Spinach Live at the Unicorn    For many years there has been a bootleg of the Ultimate Spinach doing a set at the Unicorn in 1967 floating around. In 2014 that has been released in Europe by Keyhole Records but released 'officially'? I don't know. But it sounds as good as it's going to and there is some interview material from Bruce in the liner notes.
   It begins with some not remarkable covers of Hey Joe and Get Together. Then a more interesting original pop song called I Don't Know Your Name. Then Funny Freak Parade done exactly like the LP which means that arrangement was all done up before the recording. The next track is not listed on the tracks on the liner notes it's a soft ballad which is nice enough. Track 6 and 7 are two more original soft pop songs. Follow Me shows Barbara Hudson singing back and forth with Ian and that's engaging. Then it's the pay off with Hip Death Goddess in full psychedelic mode and again with the arrangement the same as the recorded version. It's a kick to hear the soloing done live with fuzz and feedback along with the 12 string lines. They sound like a great psychedelic live band here. Ending the set is Mind Flowers the song from the second LP. It's a long psychedelic song, just great for Spinach fans. This is the real deal.
   I like the four never recorded pop tracks. This CD shows that for all the carping about the recording of the LPs, Funny Freak Parade, Mind Flowers and Hip Death Goddess are faithful recordings of the way The Spinach did the songs live. So where's the problem there?
    Also despite the long standing complaints about the band, they are very capable and sound like a tight unit. Barbara, who has been the target of jibes adds a tremendous amount of interest as she sings opposite to Bruce in several songs.
   If you care this is some worthy material and you know if you care.

   Another recording out there is the three songs by the Underground Cinema on New England Teen Scene- Unreleased 1965-1968. The Underground Cinema is Ian Bruce-Douglas and Skip Tull. Songs are Blackbird, Sunday Morning, Where Has The Time Gone. It's 12 string folk rock. Not bad but only worth searching out for the completests at this point.

Fist time on Billboard.

This is the first charting of the The Ultimate Spinach on the Billboard charts on Feb 24, 1968.

Spinach on the charts.

Billboard 3/23/1968
The LP is 5 weeks on the chart and the star indicates large upward mobility.
Also BSU is at number 128 and Orpheus at number 194.
Below is a chart from 5/18/68. Now they are 42 and 11 weeks on the chart. BSU is 77 and Orpheus is 119.

Ultimate Spinach

Ultimat Spinach on charts

The Ultimate Spinach at 88 on the Cashbox LP chart from 3/2/68.

Spinach

The Ultimate Spinach playing at Mother Blues in Chicago in Billboard 2/24/68.

Ultimate Spinach in California

The Ultimate Spinach on the bill with the Sunshine Company and Smokestack Lightnin' in Venice Beach CA. This is a newspaper ad from 1968.

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The Ultimate Spinach get reviewed in Billboard 8/31/1968
Hey, they like it!
Spinach Ad in the Berkeley Barb

The Ultimate Spinach ad that ran in 1968. This is from Nov in the Berkeley Barb. It still plays up the psych side of the music. Obviously there was still hope the Spinach would sell at this point.

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The Ultimate Spinach were a last minute addition to the April 21, 1968 concert at the Alexandria Roller Rink in Alexander, VA. They wern't mentioned in the newpaper ads and only this sign outside the rink alerted the crowd they were playing.
    See how everywhere the groups and the 'Boston Sound' were inexorably linked?

Spinach in Chicago.

The Billboard from 1968 shows bothThe Ultimate Spinach and Orpheus giging in Chicago.

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GO Magazine from February 23, 1968 promos the Ultimate Spinach It reads: "Turn over a new musical leaf with the first album by Ultimate Spinach. The boss group from Boston with he ultimate sound. Just open your mind and let it grow!." No article inside but they do review (negatively) Bagatelle and Eden's Children.

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There doesn't seem to be many promo pics of the group.

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A pic from a newspaper - 1968.

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Article from 1968.

Spinach ad

Ad for the second LP.

Ultimate Spinach

A rare Japanese version of Ego Trip/My Head is Reeling. This was on Ebay. Starting bid was $299.00.

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    This is the 45 by Ian Bruce-Douglas' post Spinach group Bloodlust. It was released in 1986. It was done in Florida where Ian made his home. It is synth driven. Titles:Lonely No More and Song for the Dead and the Dying

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Decades later AKARMA Records still is using the same graphics for a poster advertising their rerelease of the first album. .

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Copyright © 2006 Paul Lovell. All rights reserved.