And When I Die, by Blood, Sweat and Tears

BST front cover

1968 was a landmark year for Blood Sweat & Tears, book-ended by the band’s first two albums and unfolding events that took the band through a critical transition. Less than a year after forming the band, founder, principal songwriter, keyboard player and singer Al Kooper was out of the band. Kooper played a pivotal role on the band’s debut album Child is Father to the Man, writing some of the album’s best songs: I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know and I Can’t Quit Her. The album was artistically but not commercially successful on its release.  The band was happy with the then-innovative concept of combining Jazz and Rock in a large band, mixing together a rock band with a jazzy horn section. However the rest of the band found one weakness – Al Kooper’s voice. They asked Kooper to give up his front man position but he declined. Maybe it was his need for full control, or his pursue of an A&R and producer role at Columbia. The band was left in a precarious state that would have dismantle most rock groups, but in a surprising turn of events they not only continued, but before the year’s end released a  second album, this time an artistic AND commercial success, an album that went on to sell four million copies. It was also the album that included one of the band’s best songs: And When I Die.


And When I Die was written by Laura Nyro at the age of 16 and released on her debut album in January 1967. Quite a heavy topic for a teenager to ruminate on, and I like the fact that the lyrics take a matter of fact view on it and perceive the eternal cycle of life:
And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born
In this world to carry on, to carry on
When asked by Scott Simon in a 1989 interview how such a subject matter came to her at that young age she said: “I think that teenagers are in touch with a very primal truth in life. Sometimes someone will say you were so young to write a song like that, yet I think that there is a folk wisdom in the song that a lot of teenagers have.”
Although a new artist on the scene, Nyro’s writing skills did not go unnoticed. Peter, Paul and Mary, who knew how to pick them, grabbed the song for a mere $5,000 and performed it on their 1966 album The Peter, Paul and Mary Album.

BS&T were in desperate need of a lead singer. While Al Kooper was quick to move on to his next project and worked on Supper Session with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills, the band started auditioning vocalists. One of them was Laura Nyro. Her second album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession was recently released on Columbia. Bobby Colomby, BS&T’s drummer: “I thought Eli and the Thirteenth Confession was fantastic – one of the best pop records I have ever heard. Somehow I got to meet Laura, and when we were looking for a lead singer, she was our first choice. She loved the idea. We even had a rehearsal together, at the Cafe Au Go Go. We played Eli’s Coming and maybe one other song, and it was fantastic. Her songwriting fit exactly what we did. I thought this was what we needed, and it would work because she was on the same label.” Indeed Nyro’s songs, never molded in the traditional verse/chorus structure and had jazz, rock, gospel, folk and cabaret all blended in, were a perfect fit for the band. But things did not pan out that way and we can only wonder what the band would have become with Nyro contributing more songs to its repertoire. In the late 60s  she wrote wonderful songs that others made into big hits, chiefly 5th Dimension, who covered Stoned Soul Picnic (No. 3 in the charts), Sweet Blindness (No. 13) and Wedding Bell Blues (No. 1). Meeting at the BS&T rehearsals, Nyro got romantically involved with bassist Jimmy Fielder and kept coming to the band’s rehearsals. Singer David Clayton-Thomas remembers: “She’d sit down at the piano and play us tunes like Stoney End and Stone Soul Picnic, And When I Die, He’s a Runner, Wedding Bell Blues. We all knew she was brilliantly talented as a writer. Within the band we had a great writer and we took advantage of it.”

Laura Nyro
Laura Nyro

Jimmy Fielder grew up in the west coast were he formed a trio with Tim Buckley and later played on Tim Buckley’s first two albums. There is a nice cover of Tim Buckley’s beautiful tune Morning Glory on BS&T’s debut album. In 1967 he had a short stint in Frank Zappa’s The Mothers of Invention playing a rhythm guitar on the album Absolutely Free, as the band already had Roy Estrada playing bass. About his period with Zappa he later said: “Frank was a brilliant musician, and he taught me a lot about modern classical composers, such as Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Hindemith. He was strictly anti-drug, so I learned that it was possible to make inventive music without being stoned.” For a few months in 1967 Fielder joined the Buffalo Springfield when bassist Bruce Palmer was deported to Canada following a drug bust. You can hear him on Everydays from the Buffalo Springfield Again album playing a fretless bass guitar.

Jimmy Fielder
Jimmy Fielder

When Al Kooper left, the band lost not only its lead singer and main songwriter, but also its keyboard player. Kooper’s organ was prominently featured on the first album and played an important part in its sound. Dick Halligan, trombone player on the first album, has started to play the piano when he was a student at the Manhattan school of Music. He stepped into the keyboard player seat as well as arranging many of the horn section parts on various songs, including And When I die. Colomby: “Dick Halligan did the arrangement and played the piano solo, and he wanted to do an Aaron Copeland-esque suite kind of thing, a light-comedy version of  the tune.” To fill up the trombone chair, Dick Halligan called on his friend Jerry Hyman, who plays a trombone solo on God Bless The Child, the band’s interesting arrangement of the Billy Holiday classic.

Blood Sweat and Tears Horn Section
Al Kooper with Fred Lipsius Dick Halligan Jerry Weiss Randy Brecker

Along with Dick Halligan, alto sax player Fred Lipsius created most of the arrangements for the band. On the second album he arranged two of its three hits –
You’ve Made Me So Very Happy and Spinning Wheel for which he got a Grammy award. Spinning Wheel was written as a rock song by David Clayton-Thomas until Lipsius added a jazz touch to it that made it unique. A year later he and Colomby added their talents to Appaloosa‘s sole album. Al Kooper was not the only one who left the band in 1968. Trumpet players Jerry Weiss and Randy Brecker also decided to pursue other musical paths. Brecker joined the Horace Silver band together with brother Mike. He was replaced by Lew Soloff, who played in the Maynard Ferguson band, a group that was one of the inspirations that sparked the idea of BS&T in Al Kooper’s mind in 1967. Soloff will be forever remembered for the trumpet solo he plays on Spinning Wheel. That solo, per David Clayton-Thomas’ request, starts with two bars of the melody before Soloff takes off to improvisation land.

Fred Lipsius, Dave Bargeron, Chuck Winfield and Lew Soloff
Fred Lipsius, Dave Bargeron, Chuck Winfield and Lew Soloff

The most important ingredient in the second album’s success is David Clayton-Thomas, who before joining the band had a few R&B hits in Canada and decided to move to New York to break into the American music business. Colomby and Fielder heard him in a club and asked him to try their band, or what was left of it. Clayton-Thomas: “Blood Sweat & Tears was such an unusual mix of people.  We had guys in that band whose background was totally Juilliard.  We had other guys who were right out of Berkeley – hard-core be-bop jazzers – and then we had another faction like me who were basically saloon-trained rock and roll R&B Telecaster players.” The uniqueness of the band makeup did not escape the Canadian singer: “When Blood Sweat & Tears hit the scene in Greenwich Village, it was all three-piece bands. It was Cream and Who and Hendrix; it was three guys and 40 Marshall amplifiers. And here comes this band with flutes and trombones and Basie-Ellington-type orchestrations and a lot of Broadway.”

David Clayton Thomas Grammy Louis Armstrong
David Clayton Thomas and Louis Armstrong at the Grammys

The band walked into the CBS studio on 52nd St. in October 1968 and recorded the album within two weeks. The new band’s sound gelled through gigs they played the previous couple of months at the Cafe Au Go Go and they essentially performed their stage act in the studio. The studio was recently equipped with a 16-track tape recorder by Ampex, which allowed for more flexibility in overdubbing and mixing. The album was one of the first on the market to leverage that technology. The band had lots of fun recording the songs, as evident at the end of Spinning Wheel when the horn section bursts spontaneously into the 17th century Ach Du Lieber Augustine, ending with Halligan saying “That wasn’t too good” and laughter all around.

Booklet 04-05
Blood, Sweat and Tears album gatefold

The album was produced by James William Guercio who played a major role in the incorporation of horns into mainstream rock groups. He came from the west coast, where he was briefly a member of Zappa’s Mothers of Invention prior to the recording of Freak Out!. He became a staff producer for Columbia and worked with the Buckinghams, producing four top 10 singles with them. If you listen to their 1967 hit Don’t You Care, recorded with a hired horn section from the Chicago Symphony orchestra and released before BS&T debut album, it is remarkebly similar to BS&T’s sound. In 1968 Guercio was involved with the formation of another big name in the genre. He convinced the band The Big Thing to move from Chicago to Los Angeles and change their name to “The Chicago Transit Authority” and record an album for Columbia. The album was recorded in January 1969, only three months after BS&T’s second album. Shortly after the band shortened its name to  Chicago. Same label, same producer. The horn-fronted rock band genre sprang up like mushrooms after the rain and soon the radio started playing bands such as Colloseum, If, The Ides Of March, and The Spiral Starecase.

Jim Guercio
Jim Guercio

BS&T’s second album was released on December 11, 1968. The album was an instant favorite on the radio and produced three hits: You’ve Made Me So Very Happy, originally a B-side for Brenda Holloway on Motown, Spinning Wheel, written by David Clayton-Thomas, and And When I Die. Strangely, all three songs peaked at no. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. And When I Die achieved this feat on November 29, 1969, a week that saw no less than Three(!) songs written by Laura Nyro in the Top 10, none performed by her: And When I die by BS&T (#2), Wedding Bell Blues by 5th Dimension (#3) and Eli’s Coming by Three Dog Night (#10). BS&T’s album reached no. 1 on the Billboard chart in April 1969.
The commercial success got the band an appearance at the Woodstock festival, a fact that is lost on many music fans due to its omission from the original album and the subsequent movie. The band took the stage at 1:30 on Sunday night after Johnny Winter and before Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The band manager Bennett Glotzer insisted on getting paid by the festival organizers and when the request was denied, he demanded that the recording equipment be stopped. Only a short segment of the first song on the set survived.

Woodstock Tickets August 1969

The album’s success also sparked interest in the first album. After dismal sales of 40,000 copies on its release, the debut album sold an additional 500,000 and since then became a classic as well. The band’s rise to fame culminated in The 12th Annual Grammy Awards that were held on March 11, 1970. In a stellar year they were nominated for seven awards and took three of them for Album of the Year, Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist for Spinning Wheel and Best Contemporary Instrumental Performance for Variations on a Theme by Eric Satie.

Billboard top 10 LPs April 1969
Billboard top 10 LPs chart, April 1969

But not everyone was full of praise for the album. The notorious Rolling Stone reviewed the album on March 1, 1969 and found the ambitious arrangements and blending of styles hard to swallow. The band’s performance of And When I Die, so loved by Laura Nyro, got this Neanderthal perspective on music: “Laura Nyro’s And When I Die is over-arranged right into the ground. The verses are done in an imitation — Cowboy musical style (a la “Oklahoma”). These cute little items lead into choruses which are done in a smooth shuffle, except that the last line of the chorus is broken up. Following the first chorus we are given a piano solo in the spirit and style of the verses. After the second, we get a horn riff played over a Lawrence Welk styled effect of hoof-beats. The rest of the cut continues like this, all of it involving innumerable rhythm changes, various instrumental patterns, all of which accomplish nothing except to bury the song beneath layers of musical irrelevance and nonsense. It wasn’t a very good tune to begin with, and Peter, Paul and Mary did it better three years ago.” Priceless. Judge for yourself:

If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like these:

I’m not scared of dying
And I don’t really care
If it’s peace you find in dying,
Well, then let the time be near

If it’s peace you find in dying,
And if dying time is here,
Just bundle up my coffin cause
It’s cold way down there,
I hear that’s it’s cold way down there,
Yeah, crazy cold way down there

And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born
In this world to carry on, to carry on

Now troubles are many,
They’re as deep as a well
I can swear there ain’t no heaven
But I pray there ain’t no hell

Swear there ain’t no heaven
And pray there ain’t no hell,
But I’ll never know by living,
Only my dying will tell,
Only my dying will tell, yeah,
Only my dying will tell

And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born
In this world to carry on, to carry on

Give me my freedom for as long as I be
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me

All I ask of living is to have no chains on me,
And all I ask of dying is to go naturally,
Only want to go naturally

Here I go, ah

Here comes the devil, right behind
Look out children, here he come
Here he come

Don’t want to go by the devil,
Don’t want to go by the demon,
Don’t want to go by Satan,
Don’t want to die uneasy,
Just let me go naturally

And when I die and when I’m dead, dead and gone,
There’ll be one child born,
In our world to carry on, to carry on

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5 replies »

  1. AL KOOPER came up with the idea to cover this song, but he left the group before they recorded it. His replacement, David Clayton-Thomas, took over and sang lead on this track. “They had tried it with Al Kooper and they weren’t happy with it”

    • So who sang it? It seemed to be a really important point and then it’s sloughed to the side with an incredible mish-mash of other information.

      • Nevermind my question about the singer; I got my answer from the previous comment. The answer was hinted at in the article but never clearly stated.

  2. I enjoyed this article, as I have all the others I’ve read on your site. In general I like BS&T but I honestly think the Rolling Stone critic has a point about their version of And When I Die. I acknowledge the talent behind the arrangement, I enjoy the time signature shifts, but even considering Nyro herself may have liked the arrangement, it nonetheless does sound clunky to my ears. I can’t understand why the in-your-face Americana stage show approach was decided on, other than it was fun to play and showed the band had the chops to pull it off. But it utterly tramples the spirit of Laura Nyro’s original recording. Ultimately, matters of taste I guess. Thanks for the insight though.

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