Beginning life as Underground Cinema, the house band at Unicorn Coffee House (sharing bills at the time with J. Geils Band, Ill Wind and Streetchoir), Ultimate Spinach quickly bloomed into one of the leading lights of the ill-starred late-’60s Bosstown Sound campaign, and well as progenitors of two lost-classic psych rock albums still beloved by ‘heads in the know. Led by psychedelic visionary/multi-instrumentalist Ian Bruce-Douglas, in 1967 the band was picked up by Amphion Management and tied its fortunes to MGM and producer Alan Lorber, whose attempts to manufacture an east coast regional “scene” to compete with the organic Haight-Ashbury bands expanding minds in San Francisco resulted in the Bosstown Sound (whose ranks also included Orpheus, Beacon Street Union, Chamaeleon Church, Puff, Earth Opera and Ill Wind).
Critics sniffed at MGM and Lorber’s cynical marketing efforts, but Ultimate Spinach’s first two LPs nevertheless captured a potent strain of dark psychedelia. Their 1968 eponymous debut, a loose anti-war concept album, was a trippy mix of Geoff Winthrop’s fuzzed-out guitar rock, Baroque pop, theremin, sitars, wood flutes, and Bruce-Douglas’s keyboards and lysergic lyrics; it peaked at #34 on the Billboard 200 that spring. A follow-up released later that year, Behold and See, introduced a new line-up, including future Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers axeman Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, but continued to explore Bruce-Douglas’s acid-flecked, darkly satirical takes on American culture, though oddly, it lacked much of the organ-fueled flights that made the debut so striking.
Frustrated by intra-band turnover and strife, and at loggerheads with producer Lorber, Bruce-Douglas fired himself from the band shortly after Behold and See’s release. Lorber, however, owned the rights to the Ultimate Spinach name and created a new incarnation of the band for 1969’s self-titled album (now known as Ultimate Spinach III), fronted by ex-Lost and Chamaeleon Church member Ted Myers, which boasts very little of its predecessors’ psychedelic bent or Bruce-Douglas’s visions.
(by Stephen Haag)