The Left Banke

The Left Banke was an American chamber-pop band from NYC that released the 1967 album Walk Away Renée / Pretty Ballerina on Mercury-subsidiary Smash Records, scoring hits with the two title-tracks. Amid some lineup turmoil, they scored a further hit with “Desiree” and completed the 1968 album The Left Banke Too. Between 1969 and 1976, keyboardist/songwriter Michael Brown reemerged at sporadic intervals in the bands Montage, Stories, and The Beckies.

Members: George Cameron (guitar, drums, vocals), Tom Finn (bass, vocals, 1965–69, 1971-72, 1978), Steve Martin (lead vocals, guitar, 1965-69, 1971-72, 1978), Michael Brown (keyboards, vocals, 1965-67, 1969, 1971-72, 1978), Warren David-Schierhorst (drums, 1965), Jeff Winfield (guitar, vocals, 1965-67), Richard Brand (guitar, vocals, 1967), Tom Feher (keyboards, vocals, 1968-69)

The Left Banke was formed in 1965 when keyboardist Michael Brown teamed with singer George Cameron, bassist Tom Finn, and drummer Warren David-Schierhorst. Brown was the son of jazz violinist Harry Lookofsky — a veteran of numerous sessions on Atlantic (Milt Jackson, Leo Wright), Impulse! (Jackie Paris, Freddie Hubbard), and Verve (Gil Evans, Sarah Vaughan) — who acted as the band’s manager.

Lookofsky ran World United Studio at 48th and Broadway in Manhattan, where sessions commenced for the first Left Banke album in late 1965. Shortly into the proceedings, Finn met Steve Martin Caro, a Spanish-born aspiring singer whose mother was the famed 1950s flamenco guitarist Sarita Heredia. Informed of the need for vocalists at World United, Martin came down to the studio, where Lookofsky made him the band’s singer. Cameron moved to drums, replacing the fired David-Schierhorst.

In July 1966, The Left Banke debuted with “Walk Away Renee” (b/w “I Haven’t Got the Nerve”), released on Smash, a subsidiary of Mercury Records. Brown co-composed the a-side with outside writers Tony Sansone and Bob Calilli. With its sweet string arrangement and melancholy lyrics about letting love go, the ballad soared on the Billboard Hot 100 (#5) and Cash Box Top 100 (#2). Its subject was Finn’s then-girlfriend, Renée Fladen, the subject of Brown’s affection. Cameron and Martin wrote the b-side, a skittery, uptempo number dominated by Brown’s harpsichord.

The Left Banke’s second single, “Pretty Ballerina” (b/w “Lazy Day”), followed its predecessor into the US Top 20 (Billboard #15, Cash Box #12). Brown wrote the a-side, a plaintive mid-tempo ballad with airy vocals and a light, circular piano motif. It was his second number inspired by Fladen. The frenetic b-side, marked with searing fuzz-tone and exuberant harmonies, is a Brown/Martin co-write.

In February 1967, their debut album, Walk Away Renée / Pretty Ballerina, appeared on Smash. It was recorded during the 13 prior months at World United and Mercury Studios and produced by Lookofsky. The 11 songs inlcude all prior singles sides, plus seven additional numbers: three written by Brown/Feher (“Barterers and Their Wives,” “Evening Gown,” “What Do You Know”), two by Brown/Martin (“She May Call You Up Tonight,” “Shadows Breaking Over My Head”), and two credited to Brown/Martin/Cameron (“I’ve Got Something on My Mind,” “Let Go of You Girl”).

In addition to the band, the album features multiple session players, including drummer Buddy Saltzman (Four Seasons) and guitarists Al Gorgoni (Herbie Mann, Carole Bayer Sager) and Hugh McCracken (Laura Nyro, Eugene McDaniels, Roberta Flack, Hall & Oates). Two guitarists, Jeff Winfield and Rick Brand, served successively as Left Banke members during the lengthy recording process.

After the painstaking round of final sessions that January, the band went on hold. To promote the album on tour, Brown assembled a proxy Left Banke with singer Bert Sommer, guitarist Michael McKean, and returning drummer David-Schierhorst.

Brown and Sommer wrote a new number, the jaunty piano-thumper “And Suddenly,” which they recorded with session musicians. Released on the back of the Brown/Feher composition “Ivy, Ivy” as the third Left Banke single, it prompted legal action from the official band, which urged fans to boycott the record.

After that debacle, Sommer launched a solo career. McKean later surfaced as a comedic actor (Laverne & Shirley, Dream On) and achieved rock fame with the 1984 mockumentary Spinal Tap. (A cover of “And Suddenly” by D.C. popsters the Cherry People, featuring a pre-Angel Punky Meadows, charted in 1968).

In June 1967, Brown and the Left Banke proper reconvened for the single “Desirée,” a Brown/Feher number with swelling strings and fold-out sequences. With its muted yet eager verses, ballooning chorus and striking cellos, the song helped spearhead the chamber-pop style. In 1976, Jersey art-rockers Fireballet recreated the song on their second album, Two, Too….

Soon after that single’s release, Brown quit the band.



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