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Have a Cigar, Boys: Checking in with Kendell Kardt of Rig

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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)

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Kendell Kardt – “Have a Cigar (demo) (1971)

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posted by Kim Simpson

 

16 Responses to “Have a Cigar, Boys: Checking in with Kendell Kardt of Rig”

  1. gregory Says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve had this record for years and always wondered if there was more stuff out there.

  2. kathleen kelly Says:

    I was SO excited to see this as I knew kendell kardt’s songs, music and playing from the late 70s in Chicago. He was always so very talented and scores of other people have recorded and played his material–the most notable that I know of is Jim Post (”Reach Out in the Darkness”), who recorded for Capitol in the 60s, Fantasy in the 70s and then later for Flying Fish. Post recorded Kardt’s “Sister ‘Liza Bookman,” “Silver Engine,” and “Bicycle Wheel,” (my personal favorite). Let’s get a groundswell going for more Kendell Kardt music! I remember he did this gospel song that was a tribute to Marion Anderson–he could play in any number of genres. Like the most talented of musical artists, I think he was difficult to categorize and the pinheaded marketing guys never knew what to do with him! More Kendell Kardt music…..we want more, more, MORE I tell you! Thanks for finding him! kk

  3. Kim Says:

    Amen, Kathleen. Thanks for dropping by.
    Kim

  4. Barry Kellond Says:

    Thanks to Kim for maintaining this website of ‘oldies but goldies.’ I bought the Rig album in 1970 because I liked the artsy cover and the provocative lyrics and have kept it all these years as a collectors item. What a jewel of an album! Like others, I had wondered what happened to the band and was elated to learn that Kendell was alive and well and still making music. I’d love to hear more of Buddy Bolden, and the original Have A Cigar track brought back fond memories. I echo Kathleen’s comment… more Kendell Kardt music!

  5. debbie murray Says:

    I spoke to Kendell tonight and he’s the one that told me about this website. I met him at the Earl of Old Town back in 1974 when I went down there with a few of my girlfriends. We had fake id’s because we were all 18. I loved his music then and when I hear it now it takes me back to the mid-seventies when I used to hang out with Kendell on the weekends. Even though he moved from Chicago 30 some years ago we’ve managed to keep in touch all this time. Keep the music coming.

  6. Boneyard Media » Blog Archive » “Last Time Around” from the Rig LP Says:

    […] written plenty here about our man Kendell Kardt and his former group Rig. But let’s give a listen to the closing track on that lone Rig LP – “Last Time Around” by […]

  7. Boneyard Media » Blog Archive » The Archies + Rig = Smash Hit Says:

    […] play on those records, were – in the case of the Archies’ quintessential hit – the guys from RIG. Kendell, sitting at the Wurlitzer electric piano, remembers this comment from Mr. Barry clearest: […]

  8. Greg Says:

    A strange set of circumstances caused the name of this group to pop into my head, and luckily it was at a time in which I happened to be at the keyboard (and didn’t forget to do so, like so many times before). I looked on Google to see if there was anything about these guys — and here I am.

    The circumstance was that I was chasing down some information about The Who. I saw Rig open for them at the Berkeley Community Theater in June 1970. I was seated with my mates in the next-to-last row, which seemed a mile away from the stage (colosseum venues were yet a few years away). The program showed a picture of these guys, of whom I had never heard, and also said that The Who had just performed Tommy for the last time in concert at Carnegie Hall (they had just released “Live at Leeds”). Double bummer!!!

    The concert started, and Rig was GREAT! I had seen few concerts up to that point, but had been rather disappointed with opening acts. “Have a Cigar” was definitely catchy, and I remember it to today.

    The Who took the stage and performed most — if not all — of the songs from “Live at Leeds”. Townshend then took the mike and said that even though they had just performed “Tommy” for the last time in concert at Carnegie Hall, there had been a cover of one of their songs (by the Assembled Multitude) that had gotten some air play, so they felt obligated to at least perform “The Overture of Thomas Walker”, as Townsend put it. The crowd was ecstatic as the opening chords rang out, and cheered wildly at the conclusion of the song. Without breaking, The Who went into the next song, and the next, and the next — performing the entire album!!!

    Being so close to the back wall, which were made of concrete, my ears were ringing numb into the next day, but I’ll never forget the rapture of my first experience with Rig and The Who (ironic, given Townshend’s own struggle these days with tinnitus). BTW — I still have the program, 40 years later.

  9. Kim Says:

    Hi Greg – thanks a million for this! A few things:
    –Coincidentally enough, I’ll have Kendell Kardt with me on my “International Folk Bazaar” radio show tomorrow (Thursday, Sep. 9) which starts at 11 AM central time. You can hear a live stream at koop.org.
    –Kendell’s told me quite a bit about that particular gig, which also made quite an impression on him (who was possibly standing close behind you during the Who portion), so it’s especially interesting for me to also hear an audience member’s take on the same show.
    –Does your program have any info about Rig? If it does, would you be able to scan any of it and send it to ksimpson3 at gmail dot com for possible posting here? There’s a real dearth of Rig ephemera out there…
    Thanks again,
    Kim

  10. elalancito Says:

    Wow! Another who has discovered this very underrated album. My favorites are “Sister Liza Bookman,” “Please Stick Around” along with the mentioned “Have a Cigar.” Why doesn’t anyone put this in a digital format? When they are finished with Rig, they can then work on another 1970 album “American Dream,” which is produced by Todd Rundgren. It too has many sleeper songs. There are so many good albums that never made it to CD. What a pity!

  11. zebra Says:

    Wow! I remember hearing Have a Cigar live when Rigg opened for Hot Tuna @ the Fillmore over 40 years ago.I never bought the record but from time to time I would hear it in my head.This is the first time I’ve heard the recording since then & I still remember how it goes. That’s the sign of a great song!

  12. Boneyard Media » Blog Archive » Rig ad in Billboard (1970) Says:

    […] page Rig ad from the May 23, 1970 issue (p. 73) (click to […]

  13. Arthur Richards aka Hoot Jupiter Says:

    I was one of the members of Rig. Imagine my surprize to stumble on to this. In the beginning we use to rehearse in loft (mid 30’s in Manhattan I believe) belonging to Julius Watkins, a jazz french horn player best know for his work with Gil Evans. One day I went up there and at the piano was none other then Gil Evans jamming with Julius. I was awe struck being the big fan that I was. I really wasn’t a great rock’n’roll guitarist; heart just not in it. I wanted to play jazz but wasn’t much good at that either. But I was very familiar with Gil Evans. Such a great arranger and composer not the least of which was Sketches of Spain with Miles Davis.
    Arthur Richards-Rig
    aka Hoot Jupiter at Facebook and HootJupiter.com
    Look out for my new CD, son to be released called “Bury Me With My iPod”

  14. Kim Says:

    Many thanks for this, Arthur (or Artie, as Kendell has always referred to you). It’s also a pleasure getting up to speed with your current musical activities, so thanks for that info… k

  15. pat Says:

    Hey, this is pretty cool-the guitarist from the album just posted before me? Anyway, I’m a retired guy up in Canada-played in a few rock bands, did some recordings in the 70s and 80’s. I bought the Rig album in a cutout bin when I was ,oh probably 17 or so-still in High School I believe. Just laying in bed waking up this morning-and that song Sister Liza Bookman popped out of nowhere into my head-(I was writing a song myself yesterday-maybe it’s connected somehow). Anyway, it was pretty cool to find this thread after a google search. BTW, Arthur/Artie-I think you’re pretty good,myself-I’d forgotten the Have a Cigar song. Pretty nice little jazzy break,imo. And I’ve been playing for over forty years myself.

  16. Ric Sternberg Says:

    Reply to Artie Richards. I remember when the guys in the band (Rig, of course) chipped in and bought you a pedal-steel for your birthday. Somewhere in my stash of old pix I might even have a photograph from then. Good days! BTW, I too would love to get in touch with Don Kerr if anybody knows how. I’ve searched for him with no luck. He’s not even on Facebook (what are the odds of that?)

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