Behind The Hits: “Sweet Mary”
Today is Turntable Tuesday on CBS-FM. Let’s get the scoop on one of the 45”s I’m spinning today!
[lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Wadsworth Mansion[/lastfm] was the archetype of one-hit wonder bands. The act formed in Providence RI, and took their name from a landmark building in Middletown, CT.
In reality, there were two Wadsworth Mansion groups. The first recorded “Sweet Mary” and their eponymous LP for Sussex Records in late 1970. On board were the Jablecki brothers: Steve (who wrote the song) and Mike, along with John Pool and Wayne Gagnon. John played bass, Mike was the drummer, while Wayne and Steve provided guitar work and vocals. After the surprise Top Ten success of “Sweet Mary” (their only Top 100 hit), Steve and John hit the road to tour, with new drummer Charlie Flannery and lead guitarist Howie “Forrest” McDonald (both formerly with the group Pale Ryder). Together, they toured thirty-five states, opening for acts like [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Alice Cooper[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Edgar Winter[/lastfm], and appearing on American Bandstand and The Dating Game.
But Wadsworth Mansion’s career was literally washed away, as the rains came while the group was booked to play in Pennsylvania. The band was set up at the Colonel’s Club in scenic Edwardsville when angry floodwaters lashed the room. In a flash, their antique organ, amplifiers, speakers and all the rest of their stage equipment and gear were gone. The loss came to more than $15,000, not to mention the lost summer’s worth of scheduled engagements stretching from Newport to North Carolina. The Providence Evening Bulletin of July 8, 1972 carried a story of how the band didn’t qualify for small business relief, and was getting nowhere with whatever political machinery they had turned to. Worse, their record company had no incentive to put out any follow-up recordings (although they were already “in the can”), as there was no working band to tour in support of any new releases.
Yet, Sweet Mary, they weren’t coming home yet! Undaunted, and still hanging by the thread of their only hit, Wadsworth Mansion somehow got new instruments and another tour. All was going well until they were busted after a show in Louisiana for loitering on the street with some unsavory locals. That ill-fated event marked the last time the act played together as a group. Steve and Forrest packed it up, moved to Hollywood, and formed the band [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Slingshot[/lastfm]. Despite playing gigs at The Whiskey and The Starwood in LA, Slingshot did not propel them back to the charts.
Of all the members, blues guitarist [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Forrest McDonald[/lastfm] has had the most post-Wadsworth success. His musical career predates and eclipses their one-hit wonder status. Early on, at age 19, he was a member of the Boston Rock Symphony. Later in LA, he worked with Van Halen and Steve Perry of Journey. That association led to his first CD release in the ’90s: I Need You. Recording as the band [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Forrest[/lastfm], he released Under The Gun in 1998, on the strength of great and continuous reviews of his On Fire from the previous year. Along with his long-time partner and pianist Raymond Victor, he has played with [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]John Lee Hooker[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Bobby Womack[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Jimmy Reed[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Bobby Bland[/lastfm] and many other blues greats. Perhaps his most well-known appearance is on ”Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Bob Seger. McDonald supplied the guitar solo, which according to him had been recorded previously at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and later purchased by Seger to use in the song.
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