When someone hears that Blood, Sweat & Tears are performing nearby — as they are at the Clyde Theatre next week — it’s easy to picture the band which conquered the early 1970s with hits like “Spinning Wheel,” “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” and “God Bless the Child.” While the setlist might be somewhat expected, the personnel on the stage is actually very unpredictable.
Gone are the days when David Clayton-Thomas or even Bo Bice held court front and center. Instead, Blood, Sweat & Tears is very much about the band and not the personnel. When Paul McCartney left, the Beatles were over. And even when Lionel Richie left the Commodores, they may have had a hit or two, but they were never the juggernaut that they were with Richie at the helm.
But with Blood, Sweat & Tears, it’s all about the music. And with one of the most fluid lineups in music history, it never seems to matter. It’s about the songs, not the men on stage. One of the constants for more than three decades has been manager Larry Dorr, who has kept Blood, Sweat & Tears moving since 1982. He sees the constant flow of talent as an asset to the group and its fans.
“Some bands you go to see have been doing the same show for 10, 20, 30, 40, maybe even 50 years,” Dorr said. “Sometimes they’re just going through the motions and the performance is a bit lackadaisical, and the audience isn’t very excited. But these guys are always fresh and happy to be up there playing together. I think the change keeps it fun, and the audience just loves the show.”
Dorr also points out that this isn’t a new approach for the group. Its first album featured the talents of Al Kooper who left shortly after, replaced by David Clayton-Thomas. Clayton-Thomas’ first album with the band, its second overall, is one of the most iconic in music history, featuring many of the songs that are most identifiable to this day. But as important as Thomas’ contributions were, he has left the band, returned and left again, having not performed with them in about 15 years.
During that time lead vocals have been shared by Tommy Bowes of Tower of Power and Thomas Connor. More recently, Bice had been at the helm, but he has also since left the fold. All in the original plan, said Dorr.
“This band has always been like that,” he said. “Most of the first band had gone their own way by the second album. Bobby Colomby, the original drummer who helped form the band, always said, ‘We just want the best musicians in the world.’ And that’s what we’ve been doing ever since.
“There are a couple of guys who play with us when they’re not touring with the Eagles and another trumpet player who joins us when he isn’t touring with Marc Anthony. Even Bo didn’t play all of the shows when he was with us. We’ve just always been able to have great musicians with us.”
The personnel may change, but the lineup never does: four rhythm players, four horns, and one lead singer.
Dorr thinks that Blood, Sweat & Tears keeps bringing audiences back time and time again because of the songs and the musicianship rather than to see a particular performer.
“I sit in the audience every single night, and I think the audience likes that they don’t see the same people all the time,” Dorr said. “They don’t mind that David Clayton-Thomas won’t be there or that Bo Bice won’t be there. And they come see us all over the world. This year alone we’ve been to Indonesia, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland — I’m not sure where we haven’t played at this point. Even the band itself is very international. When we needed a new drummer, we found a guy from New Zealand after seeing him on a YouTube video. We have guys from South America, and our musical director is from England.”
That man from England is Brad Mason, the band’s trumpet player for five years and its musical director for three. His talents as an arranger provided him with a smooth transition when the band’s previous musical director departed.
One of his jobs is the put together the setlist, and he too feels it’s important to not to put the same show together night after night.
“We’re very lucky to be in the position we are, with a great catalog of music to pull from,” Mason said. “I think it’s important to change the setlist so someone doesn’t see the same show twice, and we have five or six records to pull music from. There are definitely some that we’ll do every night. Obviously we have to do ‘Spinning Wheel,’ and we also do ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,’ ‘God Bless the Child,’ ‘Lucretia,’ ‘Hi-De-Ho.’ And we pretty much do every song from that second album because that record is just so strong. At one point there were three songs from that album that were on the charts at the same time, and that’s unheard of.”
For Mason, playing with and overseeing Blood, Sweat & Tears isn’t just another gig. It’s something he had long hoped for after a lifetime of serious fan appreciation. It’s for this reason — the passion that the many men who play for BS&T share — that the sum has always been greater than the individual components.
“I grew up in England and grew up listening to this music,” Mason said. “To get to come over here and play this music with them has been a dream come true.”