Listen to "Spinning Wheel"


While taking a leisurely walk with my wife, Setsuko, a few years ago, the sound of nearby cars honking their horns reminded me of the horn intro I had written for "Spinning Wheel". I told Setsuko, I was trying to imitate the chaotic sound of New York City traffic plus mimic King Curtis’ tenor sax style of repeating the same note with fast syncopated rhythms. To my wife’s surprise, I also mentioned that "Spinning Wheel" was the first arrangement I wrote for BS&T on my own after Al Kooper left the band. It was written in one afternoon at Bobby Colomby’s apartment in the Bronx. Producer Jim Guercio and Bobby and were at the piano with me for a while, but left me alone to work on the chart. When I came up with the D7(#9) chord horn introduction, I wondered if it was “OK” because it was so different from everything else being played in pop music.

Right after David Clayton-Thomas joined the band, we had a rehearsal at the Café A Go-Go in Greenwich Village (N.Y.C.). David and I showed up first. He got out his guitar and accompanied himself as he sang "Spinning Wheel". I was able to quickly hear the chords he was playing and joined in on the piano, using typical jazz voicings (#9ths and 13ths) against his more basic chords. My "Spinning Wheel" arrangement contains pretty much the same chord voicings I played with David that day. The original ending idea I had for the song was to have the band fade out with the horns repeating a carnival-flavored five-bar waltz-time figure I had written (oom-pa-pa/ oom-pa-pa/ baaaah/ oom-pa-pa/ oom-pa-pa). During the recording session, when we got to that ending part, the horns kept repeating my figure over and over, way beyond the point of a normal fade. That’s because no one in the engineer’s booth signaled us to stop. Trumpeter Alan Rubin, probably feeling that ‘enough is enough’, got the band to finally stop by playing the beginning phrase of "O du Lieber Augustin" (Oh! You Dear Augustin) - the famous song that everybody knows the melody to, but not necessarily the title or the words (which have been changed many times in different countries over the last few hundred years)! The "O du Lieber Augustin" melody was creatively and playfully mixed in with the ending of my arrangement as part of the production of that tune.

That year, B S & T was nominated for a number of Grammy Awards. Being kind of a shy person, I didn’t go to the Grammies. I would have found it hard to get up there in front of everybody and accept an award, should I win. I also didn’t believe that, at a certain high level of musical attainment, one group was really better or should be honored over another. That night, BS&T won various Grammy Awards, including ‘Best Arrangement Behind a Vocalist’- for my Spinning Wheel chart. Louis Armstrong was the presenter of my Award. David Clayton-Thomas accepted it 1on my behalf. All the BS&T members who attended had their picture taken with Satchmo, and it appeared in the New York Times the next day. So I missed out on that! The night of the Grammies, when I got back to my parent’s apartment, where I was staying at the time, I found a note on my pillow from my mother. It said, “You won a Grammy Award.” Years later, one of my cats accidentally knocked over and broke my Grammy. Later, when I moved into a new apartment, this same young, twinkle-eyed pussycat, perhaps a bit confused, mistook my BS&T scrapbook box for his kitty litter box and did his business in it, ruining all but a few articles. I had to throw away almost everything! I figured, at the time, this was probably a little test or lesson in detachment for me. Both episodes didn’t really bother me very much because I loved my cat more than my Grammy Award or write-ups!