So when I started this blog one of the things that I wanted to do was introduce readers to musicians that they may never have heard. As a listener of music for over 50 years, there’s a myriad of musicians who have come and gone and today’s generation have no clue who they are.Sometimes at work, I comment on a musician who I think everyone knows, only to find out that the person I am talking to has no idea who I am talking about., So if I were to start a conversation about singer-songwriter David Ackles, I know that most of the folks at my work, young and not so young would have no clue about him. But from 1968 to 1973, Ackles produced four great albums, and while he was not commercially successful, his music did influence many artists who were succesful including: Elvis Costello, Elton John and Phil Collins, all of whom are self-declared fans of Ackles. After Ackles’ death Costello said, “It’s a mystery to me why his wonderful songs are not better known.” From Wikipedia:
David Thomas Ackles (February 27, 1937 – March 2, 1999) was an American singer-songwriter and child actor. He recorded four albums between 1968 and 1973…..
Describing Ackles’s style in 2003, critic Colin McElligatt wrote, “An unlikely clash of anachronistic show business and modern-day lyricism…deeply informs his recorded output. Alternately calling to mind Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin, Robbie Robertson, Tim Hardin, and Scott Walker, Ackles forged an utterly unique sound out of stray parts that comprise a whole that is as uncompromising as it is unrivaled.”……
The first David Ackles album that I bought was American Gothic as I remember it, I bought it because I has heard the great closing track “Montana Song” on Gene Shay’s folk show. Once again here’s what Wikipedia writes about the album:
American Gothic, released in 1972, was produced by Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin. Taupin and Ackles became acquainted when Ackles was selected to be the opening act for Elton John’s 1970 American debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Taupin said of Ackles’s style, “There was nothing quite like it. It’s been said so many times, but his stuff was sort of [like] Brecht and Weill, and theatrical. It was very different than what the other singer-songwriters of the time were doing. There was also a darkness to it, which I really, really loved, because that was the kind of material that I was drawn to.”
Though the album was recorded and mixed in about two weeks, Ackles worked for two years on its conception and “immensely complex” orchestral arrangements. Of Ackles’s four albums, it was the only one recorded in England rather than in America. He used musicians from the London Symphony and a Salvation Army band chorus (“‘The only trouble is, it’s not the same as the American Salvation Army, so they were elongating all their a’s, and he kept saying, “No no no, you’ve got to get rid of that accent”‘”). Elektra gave Ackles his biggest budget to date to complete the project and advertised it pre-release as “The Album of the Year.” The album was highly acclaimed by music critics in the US and UK: Melody Maker called it a classic and the influential British music critic Derek Jewell of The Sunday Times UK version described it as “the Sgt. Pepper of folk.” But sales were again disappointing; it reached only #167 on the US charts.
I had forgotten that Bernie Taupin had produced the album until I watched this YouTube video where Elton John and Elvis Costello discuss Ackles’ music.
Here is the title track from American Gothic. Give the song a listen, it’s a great story song with some vivid imagery, The kind of song that Ackles produced, oh so well! If you enjoy this song, check out “Waiting for the Moving Van” another of my favorites!