Bert Sommer - The Road To Travel 1968 (2006 Rev-Ola) Flac
Bert Sommer is often referred to as the lost star
from Woodstock. Those who have only seen the documentary film, or heard
the two sets released from the 1969 festival can be forgiven, however,
if they are utterly unfamiliar with his name. Sommer was one of a tiny
handful of performers who played the festival but never accrued career
success, much less fame and fortune, coming out of it. Sommer was born
in 1949, and grew up on Long Island. He was drawn to folk music as well
as to pop and rock, and became part of the orbit of musicians that
coalesced around that New York suburb's music scene. He was a natural
musician who was self-taught on the guitar and piano, and who also wrote
songs. By his mid-teens, he had become close to Michael Brown, later of the Left Banke, with whom he frequently performed in the early years. But he also traveled in circles that included Leslie West's much harder rocking band the Vagrants, for whom he wrote several songs.
His first moment of potential fame as a performer came amid the tumultuous first year or so the Left Banke's fame, when Sommer replaced original lead singer Steve Martin
on the single "And Suddenly." But the original lineup was back together
soon after that, and that single -- which, thanks to the controversy
(including a lawsuit) over the lineup and the use of the name, was never
on any of their albums -- was more of a curio in their output than one
of its highlights. Sommer was drawn to acting, as well, and by 1968 he
had landed the role of "Woof" in the musical Hair, replacing Steve Curry,
who had originated the role -- with his frizzed-out Afro, wide, open
features, and gentle, cheerful demeanor, he seemed the epitome of genial
hippie-dom in the prime days of the counter-culture.
He also landed a recording contract with Capitol Records in 1968 which led to the recording of an album, The Road to Travel, with Artie Kornfeld. That release, like so many other folk-cum-singer/songwriter recordings tried by Capitol in those years (records by Jake Holmes and Hilton Valentine come to mind), died on the vine. But his relationship with Kornfeld,
who later became one of the prime movers behind the Woodstock Festival,
seemed to pay off with interest on August 15, 1969 when Sommer took the
stage in front of several hundred thousand people to perform.
Based on the recorded evidence, his performance was a
match for much of the rest of the music displayed that day and that
weekend. Sommer performed 10 songs at Woodstock, and the audience
enjoyed what he did, though through a combination of technical
malfunctions and record-company politics, until 2009 he was never
included in any of the commercial releases, on film or record, to come
out of the event. Warner Bros. ended up grabbing the rights to
everything out of Woodstock, and Sommer, as a Capitol artist, would
never gain a spot even on either of the album sets, not even on Woodstock 2, which was used to tie up loose ends (he was aced out of the movie on technical grounds, and by the time Woodstock 2 appeared, he -- unlike his fellow hippie/folkie Melanie -- had faded into obscurity, so he lost out twice).
Artie Kornfeld recorded him a second time on his own Eleuthera Records, but Inside Bert Sommer
never sold. Sommer seemed to take all of this in stride, and during the
mid-'70s returned to acting, this time on television as part of the
Kroft Supershow. He cut more music later in the decade, and subsequently
moved to upstate New York, where he continued to perform and write
songs until his death, from a chronic respiratory illness, in 1990. He
has retained a cult following across the decades, similar to other
prematurely departed singer/songwriters of his era, such as Tim Hardin and Tim Buckley.
In 2009, as part of the releases to mark the 40th anniversary of
Woodstock, the first official release of Sommer's performance at the
festival could be heard on the six-CD Woodstock: 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur's Farm. (allmusic.com)
Bert Sommer was a gifted musician with great voice and his marvelous songwriting skills. I don't understand until today why he don't rose to fame. To stay at the example of Woodstock: If i see which average performers (i'm serious) rose to lifelong fame, the more i can't understand the deafness of audiences. I highly recommend this guy and his music.