Rig – Rig (1970)
Not long ago I found this album by a group called Rig at an east Texas thrift shop – I saw it was a Capitol release and recognized the name of Elliott Mazer (of Neil Young’s Harvest fame) who was listed as a co-producer. It had obviously been listened to many times over, and because I’m instantly drawn to mysterious records that appear to have served some kind of purpose to someone, I took it home.
What I heard was an appealing batch of early seventies Americana-rock songs dressed in piano and pedal steel and featuring lyrics that placed the album (released in 1970) right in step with an era that also gave us Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection, The Band LP, and Jesse Winchester’s debut. I especially responded to the songwriting of pianist/vocalist Kendell Kardt. At once evocative and playful, his songs had a way of sticking in my head. My favorite is “Have a Cigar” (give it a listen at the end of this post) which opens up the album and zeroes in on cigar-smoking as a time-honored ritual accompanying the act of conquest. You can take it literally or figuratively – it pleases either way, and musically, it’s got a latin-tinged instrumental refrain that’s hard not to love.
My curiosity got the best of me, so through a bit of sleuthing and good luck, I was able to get in touch with Kardt, who’s currently working as a professional pianist in the New Jersey/New York area (when we first talked on the phone he was driving to his regular rehearsal gig with the New Jersey Ballet Company). He was gracious enough to field my questions, and here are some of the things I found out: The group’s deal with Capitol happened after a label scout caught them at New York’s legendary Electric Circus. This happy turn of events got them into the good graces of promoter Bill Graham and landed them high profile spots at Fillmore East. The group’s core lineup at this point was Kardt, guitarist Artie Richards, and bassist Don Kerr (who wrote the album’s beautiful closer, “Last Time Around”). With its eye-catching cover art featuring the trio’s profiles, the final product has the look and feel of a true group effort.
But this “group” aspect was as much of a “too many cooks” hindrance as it was a help, Kardt feels, because the band members and producers weren’t able to agree on a unifying purpose during the recording sessions. A shame, he says, because the group did have a true essence that never translated over onto tape. And the label’s own vision of how Rig should sound hardly made things any easier. “Internal friction is finally what caused the band to fall apart,” says Kardt, who was presented with the option of working on a second Rig album with a line up of his own choosing, or going off on his own to make a solo album. He didn’t feel it was fair to appropriate the group’s name, so he chose the latter. (Kardt, incidentally, is still in touch with Richards, although neither of them have been able to locate Kerr.)
Capitol, then, recognizing Kardt’s own prolific songwriting talent as an asset, flew him to California to record a new set of songs as a solo album. Having access to members of the Grateful Dead and New Riders of the Purple Sage, Kardt was able to enlist their help and finished up the album to his liking. But in classic music biz fashion, particularly in the volatile early 70s, personnel changes and priority shifts led to the album’s unceremonious shelving. “It was that common situation where the artist is trying to accomplish something, but the business pressure makes it almost impossible,” he says.
By the early 80s, Kardt quit working as a solo performing songwriter in favor of the workhorse piano gigs he’s taking to this day. But ever the artist, Kardt does continue writing and recording in his home studio, even though he feels, as most any artist would, that “it really helps to get even the smallest sense that someone’s listening.” So add Kendell Kart’s LP to your list of Great Lost Albums to keep an eye out for, and let’s hope that that – along with other unreleased material from both his past and present – will see the light of day sometime soon. I, for one, will be listening.
(I’m posting two versions of “Have a Cigar” here. The first one is taken directly from the Rig LP, but the second one is a later demo version I’ve received from Kendell and which he’s given me permission to post. It’s a live take from 1971 that he recorded as a publishing demo for some of the artists Bill Graham was managing. I really love its spontaneous, energetic vibe. He was a solo artist at this point, so you can get a sense of how his other work might have sounded.)
Rig – “Have a Cigar” (1970)
Kendell Kardt – “Have a Cigar (demo) (1971)
posted by Kim Simpson