Photo by Ron Tunison
Besides buying records for the music obviously, I have always been fascinated with cover art (especially of the Blue Note Jazz, Hip Hop and Reggae). As I got into buying 45s, I was drawn to the labels. Of course I talked about Sussex earlier, but I’ve definitely been partial to Mainstream, Scram, Slam (a cool Jamaican label with a soccer ball on it), Tico, Studio One, and Stax (both the blue and yellow labels) among many others. This installment of Flea Market Funk, we’re gonna talk about Steed Records. At first glance, you might think it was a Country and Western label, I know I did. It might be because there is a horse rearing up on it’s hind legs, and the drab tannish label color, reminding me of some long lost Spaghetti Western. Whatever the case, I think it looks cool. It’s no Fungus label, but cool in it’s own way. Based out of New York City, this label operated from 1967-1971, and released records from artists such as Andy Kim, Robin MacNamara, and the Illusion, who we’re gonna get to shortly. Claiming to have “An Ear to the Future”, Steed was founded by Jeff Barry, a hopeful producer/ songwriter, who worked out a distribution deal with Dot Records, and aspired to churn out some hits. He even went as far as hiring a production team whose credits for songs were from the “Archie” cartoon. Steed proved that they really did not have an ear to the future. They had a couple of Top 20’s with Andy Kim, but the most interesting thing to come from Steed is indeed the Illusion.
Hailing from Long Island, NY, this quintet was part of the “Long Island Sound”. This sound included The Rascals, The Vagrants, Vanilla Fudge, and the Illusion, the so called “most successful of the unkown “psychedelic bands”. Opening for acts like The Allman Brothers, The Who, Chicago, Mitch Ryder, Savoy Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and even Jimi Hendrix, they had a minor Top 40 hit in 1970 with “Did You See Her Eyes”. The band disbanded shortly after.
“Don’t Push It” is a ball of psych-funk. Starting off with Rich Cerniglia’s screaming guitair and a solid bass line from bassist Chuck Adler, Illusion start at eleven, to quote one Nigel Tufnel. It’s a free for all after that, with some heavy organ action care of Mr. Mike Maniscalco, who also played rhytym guitar and sax. ( to me the organ sounds in the same time as the chorus to Van Halen’s “Show Your Love”, which was some seven years plus later. Who knows, maybe the boys were influenced a bit by the Long Island Sound.) This free for all snow balls with lyrics such as: ” I Love You Baby/But I Love Myself/Won’t Take It From You/Or No One Else”. This can only go one way, up, and way past eleven baby. A healthly drum break delivered by drummer Mike Ricciardella turns into an Iron Butterfly-like drum solo, and by the time singer John Vinci screams:’Don’t You Push It” one last time, the songs ends nicely with a quick drum fill. The Illusion released three records on Steed: “Illusion”, “Together (As A Way of Life”, and”If It’s So”. I’m not much of a psych head (although if you can check out Andy Votel’s “Vertigo Mixed” , I highly recommend it), but this band is funky as hell. They definitely have some funk and soul in them, and who knows where they would be if Jeff Barry hadn’t folded the label and gone Hollywood. Don’t sleep on this one kids. Keep diggin’!