Gas Mask was an American brass-rock band from N.Y.C. that released one album, Their First Album, on Tonsil Records in 1970.
Members: Bill Davidson (lead guitar), Richard Grando (winds), David Gross (saxophone), Nick Oliva (keyboards), Bobby Osborne (vocals), Enrico Rava (trumpet), James Strassburg (drums), Ray Brooks (bass, ?-1970), Lynn Welshman (trombone, 1970-?), Michael Moore (bass, 1970-?)
Gas Mask formed in New York City when Italian jazz trumpeter Enrico Rava teamed with reedist Richard Grando and saxophonist David Gross. The trio paired their talents with a five-piece rock band comprised of guitarist Bill Davidson, bassist Ray Brooks, drummer James Strassburg, keyboardist Nick Oliva, and singer Bobby Osborne.
Rava first recorded a decade earlier with titles on the Italian Cetra label. During the mid-1960s, he played on albums by Piero Umiliani and Steve Lacy. He also did a stint in Gato Barbieri‘s Italian quintet. After his appearance on the 1969 FMP release European Echoes by German trumpeter Manfred Schoof, Rava moved to Manhattan, where he caught wind of the burgeoning fusion of jazz and rock.
Osborne hailed from The Del-Aires, a surf-rock band from Paterson, NJ, that released four singles between 1961 and 1964 and appeared in the B-movie The Horror of Party Beach.
Grando played on 1969 albums by Earth Opera (The Great American Eagle Tragedy), Tom Paxton, and Steve Elliot. Just as Gas Mask got underway, he played on the 1970 Elektra release The American Revolution by David Peel & The Lower East Side.
Davidson played on the 1969 folk-rock album The Mother of Us All by the Steve Baron Quartet.
1970: Their First Album
Gas Mask signed to the short-lived NY label Tonsil Records and released their singular album, ironically titled Their First Album, in 1970. It features 10 songs: two by Gross (“The Immigrant,” “The I Ching Thing”) and eight by Oliva, including “If You Just Think of Me,” “Just Like That,” “Thank You My Dear,” and “Watch Myself Grow Tall.”
“If You Just Think of Me” rides on a shaky groove in Gm/Cm with percolating bass, rippling organ, and a darting sax riff. Osborne’s gruff, soulful vocals command the staccato, angular refrain and major-seventh chorus.
A subdued bass in B heralds “Just Like That,” where emotive, stretched-vowel vocals soar amid cascading organ keys and trumpet overlays. Midway, sax/trumpet tradeoffs are undercut with loose tom rolls.
“Thank You My Dear” enters on a tight, two-chord, half-step riff (F#/G) with a drum-pummeled, locked-horn pattern. It soon unfolds to an open-cadence chorus with cascading organ, bobbing bass, and Osborne’s sonorous croon. Midway, brass floodbursts collide with icy organ layers.
The band cuts loose on the two instrumentals. “The Immigrant” features a persistent bassline in E against an ascending brass/organ riff (C-D-E). It soon cuts to a mute trumpet solo.
“The I Ching Thing” begins with dark, faint, distant billowing sounds. One minute in, a shaky pattern in Cm/F forms with flute, muted trumpet, and chordal strikes. Things loosen in the middle with perforating flute, scaling bass, and roaming drums.
Their First Album was produced by Teo Macero, best known for his production work on jazz classics by Miles Davis (Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain, Miles In the Sky), Charles Mingus (Mingus Ah Um), and Thelonious Monk (Criss-Cross). Original copies are housed in a gatefold sleeve with a lyric/photo inner-spread. The label bears Tonsil’s distinct open-mouth trademark against a red background.
The Gask Mask album was one of three released on Tonsil, which otherwise only handled the acts Canada Goose, Great Jones, and a field recording by actor Robert Redford (The Language and Music of the Wolves), plus a single by Joey Dee and the New Starliters. In France, the album was released on Musidisc as Pop No End and credited just to Bobby Osborne with generic, psychedelic gogo girl cover art.
Rava played on the 1971 experimental big band release Escalator Over the Hill by Carla Bley and Paul Haines. He then launched his career as a bandleader, starting with the 1972 Fonit Cetra International release Il Giro Del Giorno In 80 Mondi.
Grando played on a string of 1971–73 folk and country albums, including titles by David Bromberg, The Quinaimes Band, and Cat Mother. In 1974, he served as a touring musician on David Bowie‘s Diamond Dogs tour, as documented on David Live.
Oliva played on 1972 albums by singer Genya Raven (formerly of fellow brass-rockers Ten Wheel Drive) and singer/songwriter D.R. Hooker.
Strassburg partook in the soul-funk octet Gotham, which issued the 1972 album Pass the Butter. As Jimmy Strassburg, he played on High On You, the 1975 debut solo album by Sly Stone. He then played on the 1977 albums Home In the Country by (ex-Gotham saxophonist) Pee Wee Ellis and Light’n Up, Please! by David Liebman. In 1983, he played on the jazz-pop album So Nobody Else Can Hear by Jimmy Cobb with Freddie Hubbard and Gregory Hines.
Brooks played on the 1973 release This Is Marva Josie, recorded with Earl “Fatha” Hines and His Orchestra. Gross resurfaced in the mid-1980s on a pair of Gramavision titles by jazz drummer Bob Moses.
- Their First Album (1970)
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