Dave Mason & Cass Elliott, Ballin’ Jack, P.F. Sloan: Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica CA

THE WORLD debut of Dave Mason’s new group, featuring Cass Elliot, was a noteworthy occasion in more ways than one. For second billed was Ballin’ Jack, a group showing considerable promise, and third act was the return of P.F. Sloan, composer of ‘Eve of Destruction’.

Sloan, whose reputation as a composer (many Grass Roots records, for instance) and guitarist (session work for most Dunhill groups), seems vastly overestimated, was onstage for only about five numbers. His own current material tends to ramble quite a bit, and his guitar playing was distinctly mediocre. He did, however, choose to sing ‘Spanish Is a Loving Tongue’, a nice leftover from the Folk Music era, and ‘Nervous Breakdown’, a really obscure but nice old Eddie Cochran number. Extra points for taste, then.

At the end of Sloan’s set, the requisite obnoxious disc jockey M.C. came out, shouting “The cat’s really got it back together — if you know what I mean.” In view of his performance, I’m not really sure that I do.

Ballin’ Jack, coming down from Seattle to hit the big time in L.A., may well do so. Columbia’s hype says that some groups refuse to share a bill with the group; that may or not be true, but they could probably headline a show pretty easily right now. Their set, again rather short, was met with a standing ovation… fairly common hereabouts, but a compliment nonetheless.

Tight and well-rehearsed, Ballin’ Jack consists of five musicians including two horn players (sax-flute-clarinet and trombone), a drummer whose orientation seems to be largely in the area of jazz, a guitarist of average ability and a dynamite bassist who also sings lead. Their main weakness seems to be in their material — all original, for the set played. About the only thing I can remember for sure is a Chicago-ish number that breaks out into a great Dixieland sort of thing. Ballin’ Jack seems to be the equal of any of the major bands using horns. The only other group I can think of to get an audience so stirred up is Buddy Miles. If they can just get some more powerful material, Ballin’ Jack may be The Next Big Thing.

Mason and Cass, though, may not be The Next Big Thing. Or not at the rate they’re going. Live, they sound pretty much the way you’d expect them to — like the Dave Mason album with Cass singing backgrounds and an occasional lead.

But Mason is one of the finest musicians and writers around, and his singing isn’t bad either. Cass Elliot has a tremendous voice which has been used almost criminally on such schlock as ‘New World Coming’. And the band (Brian Garofalo, bass and vocals; Russ Kunkel, drums; and Paul Harris, organ and electric piano) is certainly tops. This was their debut performance, and things can only get better. If, that is, they can stay together long enough to let things happen. They might not be The Next Big Thing but they could well be one of the most respected groups around. And make money too.

© Todd EverettPhonograph Record, February 1971

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