Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pablo Cruise Find Buoyancy On The Charts

It’s true to say that for many years I was under the impression that the music artist Pablo Cruise was a man, not a band. But, as I discovered about ten years back, Pablo Cruise was indeed a band, with all the band like qualities associated with the term. Of course Pablo Cruise is not the only band in popular music history to feature a person’s name - think Jethro Tull (who were named after an actual person), or Danny Wilson (see earlier post), and not to mention Alice Cooper, who started life as the name of a band featuring singer Vincent Furnier, and ended up being the on-stage alter ego of Furnier himself. But I digest…oops sorry just had lunch…I mean digress.

Pablo Cruise were one of the more successful bands that exemplified the mellow, radio friendly, soft-rock sound offered up by a lot of U.S. West Coast bands in the mid to late 70s in particular. They churned out a string of well crafted albums and popular singles that became staples on the play lists of adult oriented rock FM radio. The San Francisco based band began life as a quartet in 1973. Dave Jenkins (vocals/guitar), Cory Lerios (keyboards/vocals) and Stephen Price (drums) were all ex of Stoneground, whilst Bud Cockrell (bass/vocals) had played with jazz-fusion band, It’s A Beautiful Day.

Pablo Cruise were signed up to A&M Records and released their eponymous debut album in 1975 (US#174). In addition to their smooth vocal harmonies, Pablo Cruise didn’t mind the odd instrumental track on their albums, and soon gained quite the reputation for their compositions and instrumental arrangements. The instrumental track ‘Ocean’s Breeze’ was the first Pablo Cruise track to gain significant airplay on commercial radio in the States. Their 1976 sophomore album ‘Life Line’ (US#139) offered up more of the same, and featured another FM radio favourite in ‘Zero To Sixty Five’. Despite not having scored any hit singles, Pablo Cruise had attracted a solid fan base, and managed to established a profile across the U.S. West Coast.

The breakthrough for Pablo Cruise came via their 1977 album ‘A Place In The Sun’ (US#19/ OZ#92). It was the archetypal 70s soft rock album, featuring a mix of jazz-rock, country-rock, instrumental trop-rock, with dashes of funk and R&B thrown in to the blend. The lead out single ‘Whatcha Gonna Do?’ sailed all the way to #6 in the U.S. for Pablo Cruise, giving new buoyancy to the band’s career. The two follow up singles ‘A Place In The Sun’ (US#42) and ‘Never Had A Love’ (US#87) further consolidated Pablo Cruise’s new found stature. The album also coincided with the replacement of Bud Cockrell on base with Bruce Day, formerly of Santana.

Pablo Cruise refined their smooth n’ cruising summer rock sound for their next album ‘Worlds Away’, released in the U.S. summer of ‘78. You can imagine thousands of people playing the album at summer pool/beach parties, or having it blaring through their car speakers as they cruised along the highway with the windows rolled down. ‘Love Will Find A Way’ evoked the feeling of summer better than most, and was soon sitting at #6 on the U.S. charts, soon after navigating its way to #8 in Australia. The album ‘Worlds Away’ scaled the charts to #6 Stateside and #7 in Australia (selling over a million copies worldwide within a year), and spawned the follow up hits ‘Don’t Want To Live Without It’ (US#21/OZ#76) and ‘I Go To Rio’ (US#46), which was a reworking of the 1977 Peter Allen hit.

The formula had worked on their previous two albums, so Pablo Cruise saw no reason to depart from the same smooth corporate-rock sound for their 1979 album ‘Part Of The Game’ (US#39/ OZ#53), aside from a misguided attempt to incorporate a bit of a disco edge on some of the tracks. However, there was only sufficient depth in quality for Pablo Cruise to score with one hit single in ‘I Want You Tonight’ (US#19/ OZ#43) in late ‘79.

1980 saw a couple of changes in the Pablo Cruise crew, with John Pierce replacing Day, and guitarist Angelo Rossi joining to expand the line-up to a five piece. The quintessential soft rock formula and slick production remained, but their 1981 album ‘Reflector’ (US#34/OZ#81) lacked the sharpness of their earlier work. The album did yield Pablo Cruise’s final voyages into the U.S. charts, with ‘Cool Love’ (US#13/OZ#91) and ‘Slip Away’ (US#75). Original drummer Steve Price then slipped away from the band’s line-up, replaced briefly by Donny Baldwin (ex-Elvin Bishop). Baldwin left to play with Jefferson Starship (there’s an Elvin Bishop connection - see earlier post), and he was replaced by David Perper. Guitarist Angelo Rossi left after only one album, with Stef Birnbaum taking his place.

Pablo Cruise released their final album for A&M in 1983, but ‘Out Of Our Hands’ became the first album by the group to miss the U.S. charts completely. The new wave movement was at full tilt, and easy listening rock no longer guaranteed airplay or record sales, in fact generally it decreased the chances of both markedly (though there were exceptions). Pablo Cruise’s music still loomed large as a soundtrack accompaniment for sporting broadcasts in the U.S. - ABC’s ‘Wide World Of Sports’ and NBC’s ‘Sportsworld’ to name just two. Their songs also cropped up on numerous motion picture soundtracks throughout the 80s and 90s, including ‘An Unmarried Woman’, ‘Dreamer’, and the surfing documentary ‘Free Ride’.

By the end of ‘84 the group had largely dissolved, though ‘85 saw the original four members attempt a comeback. By 1986 it was clear a new recording deal wasn’t going to happen, so Pablo Cruise sank into the has been waters that had already claimed so many from the 70s. Guitarist/vocalist Dave Jenkins joined ex-C.C.R. member Stu Cook and two ex-Doobie Brothers, John McFee and Keith Knudsen, in the country-rock ‘supergroup’ Southern Pacific. Keyboardist Cory Lerios earned a crust working on movie and TV scores, including the 90s cult TV show (or tragic accident) ‘Baywatch’.

In 1996 enough time had passed to mount a comeback as a nostalgia act. Dave Jenkins and Bud Cockrell revived Pablo Cruise, with two new members Kincaid Miller (keyboards) and Kevin Wells (drums). Over the next 7 or 8 years the quartet played the nostalgia circuit and reminded people of just how polished their sound was. Lerios and Price joined for a one off performance at Price’s 2004 wedding, which resulted in Jenkins, Lerios and Price opting to make it a longterm arrangement. Cockrell was otherwise inclined, so George Gabriel was brought in on bass (he had worked with Lerios for several years). Pablo Cruise are still a regular touring act, particularly in California.

The fact that Pablo Cruise didn’t rack up a single entry inside the British singles charts, further illustrates that the whole U.S. adult oriented rock genre of the 70s/80 simply didn’t translate very well to the British music scene.

As to what Pablo Cruise actually means - according to the band’s official website the standard answer to that question has always been “Pablo represents an honest, real, down to earth individual; and Cruise depicts his fun loving and easy going attitude towards life’ - more or less correlates with the band’s approach to music.

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