Sunday, August 24, 2014


Douglas Fir began as the Portland, Oregon trio of Douglas A. Snider (drums, vocals), Tim Doyle (Hammond B-3), and Richie Moore (guitar) in the late-'60s. Originally known as the Sun Trio, they played the "meat market" bar circuit of the Pacific Northwest to pay for studio time while holding down day jobs (as logger and fire fighter, construction worker, and liquor delivery truck driver). They were befriended by Mike Carter and Russ Gorsline, recording engineers at local studios who appreciated the band's music so much that they helped front the trio studio time, even when they were unable to pay the bill. After laboring for two years on the recording project, Douglas Fir decided to take the plunge into the murky waters of the recording industry. Snider sold his car to buy a one-way ticket to Hollywood, and the band spent hours stalking the streets to play their tape for record companies. By luck or accident, Snider bumped into a man in the elevator of the Sunset Vine Towers, who turned out to be one of the hottest arrangers in town. The man introduced Douglas Fir to executives from MGM/Quad Records, and after the band played the executives their tape, a deal was immediately struck. The label paid off old studio bills, and Bruce Bye was added on bass to fill out the band's sound. MGM/Quad released a single, "Smokey Joe's," and it received substantial airplay, which allowed the band to begin a short tour. The tour and the deal ended abruptly, however, when the label folded, leaving the rare Hard Heartsingin' LP as Douglas Fir's sole effort.By the sound of Hard Heart Singin', Douglas Fir must have been a smoking little blues-rock combo. They may have existed purely as a bar band, but the Pacific Northwest dives where they honed their sound must have been some pretty trippy little establishments, as evidenced by the brooding, ominous, mildly psychedelic (depending on your definition of the genre) nature of their rock & roll. Everything about the music is coated in a dense, smothering atmosphere (in a good way), as if it is all emanating from a small box rather than the band at the front of the room. The recording displays the same ponderous, cloistered, roadhouse blues edge of the Doors, and they share some of the Band's interest in old-time ambience, evident in the wonderful, rolling Ray Charles piano of "Smokey Joe's," and the perfectly placed soul horn charts of "Moratorium Waltz." Richie Moore's guitar work entirely avoids showy ostentation like Robbie Robertson and occasionally matches the sustained tone of Randy California (although it is not generally as distinctive as either guitarist's talent). The songwriting -- nine originals plus a lulling Moody Blues-like cover of Donovan's "Jersey Thursday" -- is solid throughout. The ballads, which make up an uncommon majority of the album, veer into soft psych territory to a greater degree than the more propulsive songs. They are all very much above average -- particularly for an unknown band -- and often have a transfixing power, especially the engrossing title track and "Tom's Song." The rockers are more realistically situated somewhere between revved-up hard rock and progressive blues, all played with rollicking bar band energy and featuring exceptional playing from the trio and the fabulous pipes of drummer Doug Snider. His phrasing is so grounded in the soul aesthetic that the music fairly buzzes with wrenching emotion. His drumming, too, is wondrous, and his dexterous timekeeping spikes the music with a mystical, jazzy vibe on songs such as "I Didn't Try" and "21 Years," while Tim Doyle's Hammond B3 work is never less than sensational. It may be cliché to make such a statement in regard to a little-known band from the era, but Douglas Fir truly deserved a better shake from the music industry. Hard Heart Singin' is plenty resonant to stand next to the B list, if not the top-level hard rock albums of the era. ~ Stanton Swihart


1. Hard Heartsingin (D. T. Jay, D. A. Snider) - 4:23
2. Jersey Thursday (Donovan P. Leitch) - 2:18
3. I Didn't Try (D.T. Jay, R.L. Moore, D.A. Snider) - 3:40
4. Early In The Morning Rain (Jay, Moore, Snider) - 3:51
5. New Orleans Queen (Snider, Bye, Fetsch, Gorsline) - 3:17
6. Moratorium Waltz (Douglas A. Snider) - 3:05
7. Smokey Joe's (Bye/Fetsch, Moore, Snider) - 2:19
8. Comin' Back Home (Douglas A. Snider) - 3:52
9. Tom's Song (Fetsch, Ford, Snider) - 3:01
10.21 Years (Moore, Snider) - 2:54

Douglas Fir
*Richie Moore - Guitar
*Tim Doyle - Keyboards
*Douglas A. Snider - Drums, Vocals
*Bruce Bye - Bass


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