Gandalf

Gandalf, known as The Rahgoos before changing their name for the LP

Gandalf, known as The Rahgoos before changing their name for the LP

From: Greenwood Lake, NY, USA

For a brief period in the late 1960s Capitol Records abandoned it’s staid corporate image to sign a series of surprisingly cutting edge bands. Among those acts benefiting from the company’s sudden and short lived willingness to experiment was Gandalf.

Gandalf showcased the talents of drummer Davy Bauer, keyboardist Frank Hubach, bassist Bob Muller, and lead guitarist Peter Sando. The group’s roots trace back to the Greenwood Lake, New York based Thunderbirds who morphed into The Rahgoos (great name that was actually inspired by the spaghetti sauce) and became staples on the New York City/Jersey Shore club circuit.

The Rahgoos appeared at various New York clubs throughout the ’60’s; such as “The Phone Booth”, Scott Muni’s “Rolling Stone”, “The Electric Circus”, Murray the K’s “World”, and the legendary “Night Owl Cafe” in Greenwich Village. It was there that they met songwriters Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon who brought the band to the attention of record producers Koppelman & Rubin. K&R signed the band and immediately started work on an album for their newly formed “Hot Biscuit Disc Company” label which was distributed through Capitol. K&R suggested various name changes which did not sit well with the group. However, they ultimately decided to forfeit their name and local fan recognition to appease K&R.  During a gig at the “Rolling Stone”, drummer Davey Bauer was passing the time reading Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” while the rest of the band went through the ritual of brainstorming a band name. Davey chimed in, “How about “GANDALF AND THE WIZARDS”.  Gandalf  stuck.

The album project was delayed after the Hot Biscuit label distribution deal with Capitol fell apart. In the interim, the band lost faith and also dissolved. Subsequently, K&R and Capitol parted ways with the agreement that two more LP’s would be released on the Capitol label, and GANDALF was one of them. It was finally released in early 1969, but without a band to support the collection, there was no incentive for Capitol to promote the album. That certainly goes a long way to explaining why it’s one of the rarer offerings in the Capitol catalog and the asking price for original copies. Shame they weren’t able to keep it together for a second release.   Two songs were penned by guitarist Peter Sando and one, “Can You Travel in the Dark Alone”, received a  flurry of FM play. The late Allison Steele, “The Nightbird”, on WNEW-FM New York, would introduce the song with a lengthy dose of her inimitable psychedelic poetry.

Musically the set offered up an interesting mixture of originals (both ‘Can You Travel The Dark Alone’ and ‘I Watch The Moon’ penned by Sando) and an eclectic group of covers including three Tim Hardin numbers and a stab atEden Ahbez’s ‘Nature Boy’. A quick word of warning here. If you were looking for something totally original and life changing, this probably wasn’t going to be your cup of tea. These guys were certainly talented, but as a band they lacked anything that you could point to as a unique sound. That wasn’t meant to be a criticism since they managed to take a host of obvious influences including nods to Byrds commerciality, H.P. Lovecraft-ish creepiness, and Zombies-styled angst and meld them into a consistently enjoyable set. The band also benefited from a pair of capable singers in Bob Muller and Peter Sando, and tight ensemble playing with special notice going to keyboardist Hubach. Curiously, the quartet’s out-and-out stabs at top-40 pop (‘Scarlet Ribbons’ and ‘Tiffany Rings’) were among the bigger disappointments. They were much better when left to their own devices – aka the two Sando originals.

Sando actually described the background behind some of the songs on his website. Hopefully he won’t mind that those comments are included below.

– You wouldn’t think an old chestnut like ‘Golden Earrings’ (originally sung by Murvyn Vye; Peggy Lee had a late 1950s hit with it as well) would lend itself to a heavy psychedelic update, but these guys somehow pulled it off, giving the song a weird, druggy aura that sounded a bit like something out of the H.P. Lovecraft catalog. Very nice. “I always was intrigued by the standards. My older sister Toni and I thumbed through a fake book and picked this one out to arrange for the band. It was from a movie with Marlena Deitricht and Ray Milland from 1947. The mystical gypsy lyric and minor key lent itself well to a psychedelic treatment. Garry and Alan loved it and I believe it sold K&R on the Rahgoos.” rating: **** stars

– Kicked along by an entrancing keyboard pattern, their cover of Tim Hardin’s ‘Hang On To A Dream’ had an even thicker lysergic atmosphere. The sudden shift from martial paced ballad to up-tempo segments was quite cool. Kudos to Frank Hubach for the tasty keyboard solo. “Never Too Far, Hang On To a Dream, You Upset The Grace of Living- Tim Hardin hung out at the Night Owl and was signed to K&R. He was most influential on my early songwriting with his economy of words and soulful folk style. These are three favorites. We attempted to do Hardin like the Byrds did Dylan.” rating: **** stars

– The album’s second Tim Hardin cover, ‘Never Too Far’ sported some fantastic fuzzed-up Peter Sando lead guitar. One of the album’s most conventional rock tracks, it was also one of their best performances. rating: **** stars

– The first disappointment, the harpsichord-propelled ballad ‘Scarlet Ribbons’was pretty, but Bob Muller’s vocal sounded flat, uncomfortable, and was ultimately too touchy-feely for my tastes. “Scarlet Ribbons, by The Browns, spun wizardry of a divine nature and seemed to fit the mood. Frank’s baroque harpsicord (sp) and Bob’s gentle vocal made it happen.” rating: ** stars

– The album’s final Tim Hardin cover, ‘You Upset The Grace Of Living’ was another standout performance. Sando turned in one of his best vocals and the start-and-stop arrangement was catchy. rating: **** stars

– The first of two Sando originals, ‘Can You Travel In The Dark Alone’ was one of the standout performances. Boasting a gorgeous melody, dark and disturbing imagery, and some interesting instrumentation including great Hubach organ, electric sitar, a cool bass (anyone know how they got the unique sound) and vibes, the song was highly commercial. “Can You Travel In The Dark Alone- I wrote the lyric as a poem in Accounting class at FDU. It was originally called In The Dark Alone, but Don Rubin changed the title on his own accord. As it stands, it is too long and incorrect, as the song lyric is ”….could you travel..”. I have always loved lighthouses and especially Barnegat Light in New Jersey. The symbolism is obvious.” rating: ***** stars

– Even if they didn’t know who the hell Eden Ahbez was (they’d apparently heard the Nat King Cole cover), you had to give them a nod for covering such an offbeat song. Very nice droning take on the song with a fantastic Sadno fuzz guitar solo. “Nature Boy- It was a smash for Nat King Cole and seemed to be a perfect twin for Golden Earrings. The guitar solo was one take – just a practice. They never gave me a second shot.” rating: ***** stars

– Clearly selected for its commercial potential, ‘Tiffany Rings’ was also the second disappointment. To my ears it sounded like a bad Turtles castoff. “Me About You, Tiffany Rings – Garry and Alan were churning out hits for the Turtles and Three Dog Night. They played us all their songs and we picked these two laid back beauties.” rating: ** stars

– The second Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon cover, thanks to some powerhouse drumming from Davy Bauer and Sando’s heavily treated lead vocals, ‘Me About You’ was far better than ‘Tiffany Rings’. In fact this one rapidly grew on you if given a chance. Very nice. rating: **** stars

A killer up-tempo slice of hard rocking psych, ‘I Watch the Moon’ was easily the album’s standout performance. Written by Sando, it’s always struck me as being the song The Zombies were looking for … “I Watch The Moon – This was a song of loneliness and teenage angst that was like…. the Ronettes meet Procol Harum. I never liked the mix in the refrain- background vocals hanging out too far- not enough drums and bass. It still gets airplay!” rating: ***** stars

Capitol also tapped the album for a single:

– 1969’s ‘Golden Earrings’ b/w ‘Never Too Far’ (Capitol catalog number P-2400)

“Gandalf” track listing:

(side 1)
1.) Golden Earrings (J. Livingstone – V. Young)
2.) Hang On To A Dream (Tim Hardin)
3.) Never Too Far (Tim Hardin)
4.) Scarlet Ribbons (J. Begal – E. Danzig)
5.) You Upset The Grace Of Living (Tim Hardin)

(side 2)
1.) Can You Travel In The Dark Alone (Peter Sando)
2.) Nature Boy (Eden Ahbez)
3.) Tiffany Rings (Garry Bonner – Alan Gordon)
4.) Me About You (Garry Bonner – Alan Gordon)
5.) I Watch The Moon (Peter Sando)

The LP has been a favorite target for bootleggers including a picture disc version by the British bootleg label Radioactive. There have also been a couple of legitimate packages including a 1991 CD release by the British See For Miles label (catalog number SEE CD 326).

Bauer went on to play in Albert King’s touring band. He died in 2007.

Hubach also remained active in music, but on the business side of the house, working as a recording engineer supporting scores of acts, ranging from Alice Cooper, to Donnie Hathaway, and the late Frank Zappa.

Sando subsequently continued his ‘partnership’ with Bonner and Gordon, handling lead vocals on a pair of 1969 45s credited to The Barracuda:

– 1969’s ‘The Dance at St. Francis’ b/w ‘Lady Fingers’ (RCA catalog number 47-9660)

– 1969’s ‘Julie (The Song I Sing I For You)’ b/w Sleeping Out the Storm’ (RCA catalog number 47-9743)

He’s remained active in music playing with a number of East and West Coast bands, as well as recording some solo material.

~ Information courtesy BadCatRecords and http://www.petersando.com

Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1968 album Gandalf
Gandalf

  • Can You Travel In The Dark Alone
  • Golden Earings
  • You Upset The Grace Of Living