THE STRANGE STORY OF THE EMERSON BROTHERS (2012): The family that plays together

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Donnie and Joe Emerson: Baby
THE STRANGE STORY OF THE EMERSON BROTHERS (2012): The family that plays together

Ignore, if you can, the odd and laughable album cover and consider this: Few famiiies could claim to have supported their kids' musical aspirations the way Don Emerson did in the late Seventies for his boys Donnie and Joe.

Back then Don Snr owned 1600 acres around the tiny town of Fruitland, a five hour drive from Seattle. Today, because he took out mortgages (at 18 percent interest!) to support the boys, the family has just 65.

But they also have one of the most remarkable stories in rock. One of great aspiration and potential, of an exceptional album in a weirdly inappropriate cover, a gifted 17-year old singer-songwriter and a father who made sure the boys had every opportunity.

And then some.

That album Dreamin' Wild -- crazily appropriate title, if not artwork -- came out in '79 on the Emerson's own Enterprise and Co label and bridges blue-eyed soul, light white-boy funk and dreamy pop. And more remarkable than its timeless quality are the circumstances behind it.

When father Don sensed his boys' ambition he did what any self-respecting dad might do. He built them a fully kitted out recording studio in this remote rural place where the nearest town had only a service station. He also bought equipment, TEAC 8-track machines and a Moog syntheseier.

Father Don didn't play music (he also preferred country to what his boys were doing) but as a farmer-cum-logger he had the skills to get the studio constructed, and land enough to mortgage.

And then he went one step further: He started to build the boys Camp Jammin', a fully serviced concert venue which had a proper backstage area, mezzanine floor, lighting rig, a concession area and a 300-capacity space.

No greater love hath no man than to mortgage the farm for the dream of his children.

DonnieblogAnd young Donnie (right) dreamed large. A multi-instrumentalist (guitars, synth, bass, vocals), he had no real idea what was going on in the wider world of music other than what he heard on the radio, and out of that fashioned a sound which reached towards classic Seventies stadium rock, disco, soul with a touch of funk and pure pop.

He was still in high school when they recorded their sole album and so his songs were about those timeless things like lost love -- and his high voice had a fragile and slightly hurt quality. It suited the slightly melancholy lyrics which were wrapped up in pop and blue-eyed soul.

JoeblogWith older brother Joe (right) on drums and two school friends doing background vocals in a couple of places, they completed their debut album, got dressed up like Vegas-era Elvis( because that was what real big stars looked like) and then started to hand-deliver their record to stores.

They never made it as far as Seattle but a few turned up in Spokane. And that was that.

Although Joe managed to persuade a Spokane television show to do something on them -- billing them as The Rock and Roll Farmers, which was true, they still did chores around the farm -- the album failed to take off.

And might have well been forgotten until vinyl collector and blogger Jack Fleischer discovered a copy in a Spokane thrift store (stil sealed) and started spreading the word through his site Out of the Bubbling Dusk.

joe_1Enter the reissue label Light in the Attic who picked it up for reissue (LitA distributed in New Zealand through Southbound).

For the rest of the story and what happened to Joe and Donnie (right, in 2011) you need to read the extensive liner notes on the reissue which has been given remaster treament and comes with old and recent photos of the brothers and their family.

There are gorgeous songs on the album, notably the dreamy Baby which is pitch perfect as a young man full of love and yearning. The gloriously slow Love Is is a thoughtful ballad with a folk touch which considers the nature of love and life; and Don't Go Lovin' Nobody Else is one of those post break-up songs where the teenage Donnie wears his shattered heart on his sleeve.

Pitched somewhere between David Gates (Bread), Robert Palmer and a Beach Boys' b-side, Donnie sounds like a great talent about to flower, but which went cut short simply by his physical isolation.

If the instrumental Feels Like the Sun -- think Endless Summer meets a disco soundtrack -- feels overlong at six and a half minutes then follow the advice on the sleeve: "Sing or play a musical instrument along with the boys on this song."

Yes, there is something naive and cute about the cover of the Emerson's sole album. But the music?

That's a whole other thing again.

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Your Comments

Dee - Aug 15, 2014

What a gem of a story, I just love everything about it - the raw talent, sheer naivety, the father's recognition of passion and clearly the love and support of both parents, the fact that despite the album going virtually nowhere and doing nothing, they remained and are still musicians and can laugh about that now. And I love that thanks to the efforts of initially one man, years later it all takes on a(nother) life of its own . The song never ends, indeed.

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