Mama Lion was an American soul-rock band that released the 1972–73 albums Preserve Wildlife and Give It Everything I’ve Got on Family Productions. Singer Lynn Carey and bassist Neil Merryweather worked beforehand, both as a duo and with blues-rockers Ivar Avenue Reunion. The musicians (without Carey) cut two concurrent albums as Heavy Cruiser. Keyboardist James Newton Howard became an award-winning soundtrack composer.
Members: Lynn Carey (lead vocals), Neil Merryweather (bass, vocals), Rick Gaxiola (guitar, 1972), James Newton Howard (keyboards, vocals), Coffi Hall (drums, percussion), Alan Hurtz (guitar, 1973)
Merryweather assembled Mama Lion with Carey, his then-girlfriend, after their 1971 album as a duo, Vacuum Cleaner. They first worked together on the 1970 blues-rock album Ivar Avenue Reunion.
Merryweather (1945–2021) hailed from Toronto, where he played in string of local pop-rock acts during the mid-1960s (The Ookpiks, The Just Us, The Tripp). During 1967 and 1968, he went through shifting lineups of The Mynah Birds (with Rick James) and The Flying Circus (with Bruce Cockburn), though most of these efforts stalled at the demo stage. He first teamed with drummer Coffi Hall in the psych-rock band Heather Merryweather, which moved to Los Angeles and cut two 1969 albums on Capitol. In 1970, Merryweather teamed with different Canadian musicians for the Kent Records release Neil Merryweather, John Richardson and Boers.
Carey (b. 1946, Los Angeles) fronted C.K. Strong, a blues-rock-soul band that issued a self-titled album on Epic in 1969. She also sang for the character of Kelly McNamara (played by Dolly Read) in Russ Meyer’s 1970 satirical drama Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. In 1970, she formed Ivar Avenue Reunion with Merryweather and musicians on the Kent release. They issued a self-titled album on RCA, which fancied them as a duo. The couple obliged with the 1971 release Vacuum Cleaner, recorded as Merryweather & Carey with two lineups of musicians, one featuring Hall.
Dissatisfied with RCA’s practices, Merryweather conceived Mama Lion as a soul-rock band with Carey at the fore. He retained Hall and hired two young musicians: guitarist Rick Gaxiola and keyboardist James Newton Howard. They were part of the first group of signings (Billy Joel, Sleepy Hollow, Velvert Turner Group, Bloody Mary) to Family Productions, the newly established label of aspiring mogul Artie Ripp.
1972: Preserve Wildlife
Mama Lion debuted with Preserve Wildlife, released in 1972 on Family Productions (US) and Philips (abroad). It features three Carey/Merryweather co-writes (“Be Bad With Me,” “Mr. Invitation,” “It’s Only a Dream”) and two with input from Gaxiola (“Wildcat,” “Sister Sister (She Better Than a Man)”). They also cover songs by Bill Withers (“Ain’t No Sunshine”), The Temptations (“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”), and the Steve Winwood composition “Can’t Find My Way Home,” originally recorded by super-group Blind Faith on their 1969 self-titled album.
Preserve Wildlife aroused talk with its die cut gatefold cover, where a windowed view of starry-eyed Carey opens to a medium shot of her nursing a lion cub. Photographer Maria Del Ré captured the image, used on posters and magazine promo spreads. Carey parlayed this into a December 1972 feature in Penthouse. Japanese and New Zealand pressings (Philips) dispense with the window design and present the image of Carey on a single sleeve.
Designer Fred Marcellino (Boffalongo, Julian’s Treatment, Yma Sumac, Martha Velez) did the cover illustration under art director Bill Levy, who oversaw visuals for Glass Harp, McKendree Spring, Cal Tjader, and Archie Shepp (The Magic of Ju-Ju). The back-cover group shot is courtesy of Ed Caraeff, the photographer on albums by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Captain Beefheart, The Stooges (Fun House), and Frank Zappa (Hot Rats).
Ripp (credited as a co-writer on “Be Bad With Me” and “Sister Sister”) produced Preserve Wildlife with engineers Bob Hughes (Fleetwood Mac, Gotham, Rick Springfield, Paris) and Mike D. Stone (America, Buddy Miles, Joe Walsh, Captain Beyond). The same team (Ripp, Hughes, Stone) also recorded Billy Joel’s 1971 debut solo album Cold Spring Harbor, infamously mastered at the wrong speed.
In the UK, Australian, and select European markets, Philips issued “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” as a single, backed with “Mr. Invitation” and housed in a sleeve with the nursing image. Philips France issued “Mr. Invitation” as an a-side (b/w “It’s Only a Dream”). Family Productions issued “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (b/w the album-closer “Cry”) in a plain red sleeve (with bio) that opens to an alternate shot from the Del Ré photoshoot.
“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” appears on the Japanese Philips comp Rock Impact ’73 with cuts by Rod Stewart, Black Sabbath, and Lindisfarne. A namesake promo comp with the same artists substitutes “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Mr. Invitation.”
Mama Lion played Rally ’72, a concert event on April 21–22, 1972, at Appalachian State University that also featured performances by Bloodrock, Cactus, Goose Creek Symphony, Gordon Lightfoot, and comedian George Carlin.
As promotions wrapped on Preserve Wildlife, the musicians (sans Carey) recorded a self-titled album as Heavy Cruiser, also released on Family Productions. Before sessions commenced on the second Mama Lion album, Gaxiola cleared out for another young guitarist, Alan Hurtz.
1973: Give It Everything I’ve Got
Mama Lion released their second album, Give It Everything I’ve Got, in 1973 on Family Productions (US) and Philips (France). Carey composed the album’s opening title-track and co-wrote four cuts with Merryweather: “Crazy Place,” “Dark Garden,” “Mama Never Told Me,” and “Life Is Just a Four Letter Word.” Howard and Merryweather co-wrote “I Wanna Be Your Woman” and the three collaborated on “Griffins.” Merryweather lone-wrote “From Bad to Worse.” Side two includes a cover of blues-rocker Chris Youlden’s “I’m Tired” and closes with the Leiber/Stroller composition “Saved,” a 1960 hit for LaVern Baker.
Give It Everything I’ve Got is one of the first albums recorded at Mama Jo’s studio in North Hollywood, the site of subsequent sessions by Chi Coltrane, Fanny, John Klemmer, Andraé Crouch and the Disciples, and Ambrosia (Ambrosia, Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled). Ripp produced the album with engineers Craig Davis and James E. Vickers, who also worked on the second Heavy Cruiser album (Lucky Dog) and the 1974 solo release by Howard.
“Dark Garden” features two musical guests: guitarist Bob Rose (Pat Martino, Roy Ayers, Stephanie Mills, Lori Lieberman) and double-bassist Ed Mikenas (Scarlet Rivera). (Rose played rhythm guitar on “Initiation,” the title track to the 1975 concept album by Todd Rundgren.)
Philips and FP issued “Give It Everything I’ve Got” as a single, backed with “Sister, Sister, (She Better Than a Man).” In Germany, “Give It” appeared as the b-side of “Saved.” The title song also appears on Rock Discotheque, a 1973 European Fontana comp with tracks by Heavy Cruiser, Nazareth, Status Quo, and the Spencer Davis Group.
Photographer Hank Dunning captured Carey alone for the cover of Give It Everything I’ve Got, which shows her lounged in a tufted velvet antique chair. The back shows her in the act of singing with a posture and lighting angle that, on first glance, resembles fire-eating. Dunning later notched photographic credits on mid-’70s soul albums by Loleatta Holloway, Double Exposure, Carol Williams, and Bunny Sigler.
Breakup and Later Activity
Mama Lion lined up a tour with Alice Cooper but the plan was scuttled by Ripp, who sent them to Europe where Carey got promoted over the band. Amid personal frictions that plagued the overseas dates, Merryweather broke from Carey, the musicians, and Ripp.
After the dissolution of Mama Lion and Heavy Cruiser, Merryweather cut demos with another aggrieved Ripp signee, Billy Joel. The two recorded some Joel originals, including one (“Piano Man”) that helped the singer land his contract with Columbia.
Merryweather formed a new backing band, the Space Rangers, which signed to Mercury and released the 1974/75 space rock albums Space Rangers and Kryptonite. He subsequently went into production and recorded sporadically over the next four decades.
Carey was absent from the scene until 1981, when she sang backing vocals (along with Kate Markowitz) on the album Docteur Livingstone by French singer Jean-François Roulot. The two women also sing with several others on the 1982 self-titled album by the Eric Burdon Band (aka The Comeback Soundtrack). In 1984, the pair sang on the album Commencez Sans Moi by chanson veteran Herbert Léonard.
Carey made her long-awaited solo debut with Good Times!, a jazz-pop album released in 1984 on self-press Big Blond. It features a large band of brass players, including ex-Auracle trumpeter Rick Braun. Her later activities in Russia (circa 1990) are chronicled in a 22-minute documentary film. In 2001, she released Mama Lion…Roars Back!, a 21-track mix of new originals, covers, and unreleased / songs from the Mama Lion vaults, including “Sing,” “Eagle Eye,” “Habit Room,” “Hidden In the Tracks of My Tears,” and “We Ain’t Yet – But We Gonna Be.”
Howard released an eponymous album of self-performed instrumentals in 1974 on Kama Sutra. In 1975, he began an on/off association with Elton John and played on albums by Melissa Manchester, Carly Simon, Leo Sayer, Kiki Dee, Olivia Newton-John, Valerie Carter, and numerous other artists. His score to the 1990 romantic comedy Pretty Woman led to a new career as a film composer.
Preserve Wildlife got its first proper CD reissue in 2010 as part of Universal Mexico’s “Serie Rock Power” series (Audience, Mandrill, The Nice, Bull Angus). In 2021, upstart Euro archivists Future Shock reissued the album on vinyl among an odd selection of titles by Rita Lee, Demian, James White & The Blacks (Off White), and Herbie Hancock.
- Preserve Wildlife (1972)
- Give It Everything I’ve Got (1973)
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