What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? (Soundtrack Review)

Original Soundtrack – What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears (Omnivore Recordings)

Long lost concert footage of the band playing behind the Iron Curtain finally surfaces

In the summer of 1970, Blood, Sweat & Tears became the first American rock band to play behind the Iron Curtain, doing a tour, sponsored by the State Department, of Yugoslavia, Romania, and Poland.  For the “why” behind how this strange series of concerts came to be, you’ll have to watch the brand-new documentary What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears.  But, whether or not you do, this fantastic music stands on its own. 

It’s a miracle we’re hearing any of these performances at all.  Long believed to be lost, these tapes were recently found, restored, and remixed, with the help of original drummer, Bobby Columby.  

What we hear is just plain phenomenal.  Blood, Sweat & Tears were not just good – they were great; capable of absolutely blowing the roof off a venue.  

The set opens with a furious take on Joe Cocker’s “Something’s Coming On,” featuring vocalist David Clayton Thomas matching Cocker, blow for blow, plus blaring horns, and wild drumming that suddenly stops about midway through, getting slow and jazzy, building with an extended organ solo (listen to the bass while this happens), and then ending BIG.  It’s a thrilling ride, and it’s only the first song.  

The fire turns down to a smolder on their rootsy take on “God Bless the Child” – Thomas is really a fabulous, evocative singer.  Of course, the tender mood shifts gears for impassioned solos from the horns, who all seem to be trying to outdo each other.  It must’ve been absolutely mind blowing to these Eastern European audiences to see this kind of unbridled energy coming from the stage – freedom encapsulated in the music.

All three of the band’s biggest hits are here in fine form – “Spinning Wheel” benefits from Jim Fielder’s inventive bass work, pianist Dick Halligan shines on “And When I Die,” while the horns hit hard on “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.”

Other surprises include guitarist Steve Katz’s tender, fragile vocal on “Sometimes in Winter,” Bobby Columby’s drumming on the highly reworked Traffic song “Smiling Phases,” and the show closer, the soul stomping “I Can’t Quit Her.”

For all of Blood, Sweat &Tears success on album, these performances are actually better – they’re grittier, heavier, punchier.  

Several bad decisions haunted the band, including choosing not to be filmed at Woodstock.  A tour sponsored by the U.S. Government in the wake of Vietnam War protests and the Kent State tragedy only hurt their credibility with the college kids.  But, the soundtrack to What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears shows that, however brief their moment was, BS&T were very, very good.