CYCLES: THE REPRISE COLLECTION
Sweetwater

Rhino Handmade RHM2 7702, 1999

Psychedelia was already dead by the time the Temptations invited us to the "Psychedelic Shack", but its replacement was already in place: a joyous sort of eclecticism which insisted that the delights of lyrically and instrumentally expanding one's musical vocabulary were at least a match for the delights of chemically expanding one's mind. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of these eclectics came from California. The San Francisco Bay area gave us It's a Beautiful Day; from Los Angeles came a remarkable band called Sweetwater. But the comparisons end there: while It's a Beautiful Day proved to be largely a solitary vision, Sweetwater was a true collaborative effort.

CD cover artEven by 1968, bands with seven members were still not common, and this band was almost defiantly unique. At the core were the founding members and composers: bassist Fred Herrera, singer Nancy Nevins (she spelled it "Nansi" then), flautist Albert Moore, and Alex Del Zoppo on keyboards. All four of them sang when needed. What's more, Sweetwater boasted a cellist, August Burns, and two percussionists - Alan Malarowitz on the kit, Elpidio (call him Pete) Cobian on congas. Blessed with good songs and great instrumental work, the band blossomed, appearing regularly in Los Angeles, on national TV shows, and scoring a gig at the Miami Pop Festival in the last week of 1968, where they fit in well with the festival's eclectic mix of performers, which included acts as diverse as Chuck Berry, Steppenwolf, Fleetwood Mac, and Jr. Walker and the All-Stars. Miami drew nearly 100,000 people, some of whom surely must have bought Sweetwater's eponymous album on Warner Bros.' Reprise label, released that fall. Now an established crowd-pleaser, Sweetwater was booked for the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in Bethel, New York in August 1969. They were, in fact, the first full band on stage at Yasgur's farm, playing three songs from that album. So why did you not see them in Michael Wadleigh's film Woodstock?

In December 1969, a drunk driver barrelling down the Ventura Freeway turned Nancy Nevins' Buick into a heap of slag. Nancy survived, barely, but her voice was wrecked, and her recovery was long and drawn out. Wadleigh cut Sweetwater's scenes from the film, which insured that they wouldn't appear on the subsequent soundtrack albums. The band managed to complete two more LPs (Just for You, 1970, and Melon, 1971) using some vocal tracks Nancy had recorded before the accident, but something was missing, and it wasn't just Nancy, and Sweetwater broke up.

Someone remembered, though, because in 1994, the organizers of Woodstock II came looking for Sweetwater. They didn't find them, but the following year, Nancy Nevins, Alex Del Zoppo and Fred Herrera reunited — three of the original seven members had passed away — adding drummer Mike Williams and, for the first time, a lead guitarist, Joe Bruley. In 1997, Nancy and actor/screenwriter Joe Graves collaborated on a movie script about the life and times of Sweetwater, which came to the attention of cable channel VH1, which acquired the rights, hired another writer, and produced Sweetwater: A True Rock Story, which premiered on August 15, 1999 — thirty years to the day after Sweetwater appeared at Woodstock. A day later,