Navy towns are always great places for Rock bands. You get on-the-job-training working clubs where the only real requirement is to play loud. Hailing from San Diego, in the mid '60s, the Iron Butterfly were a five-man group with organist/vocalist/leader Doug Ingle, vocalist Darryl DeLoach, guitarist Danny Weiss, bassist Jerry Penrod and drummer Ron Bushy. They ventured to LA in '67 and after attracting a strong local following recorded their first LP "Heavy" for ATCO Records (a subsidiary of Atlantic). It was a very strong start that was almost the finish. Following the sessions, Weiss, Penrod and DeLoach left and ATCO wasn't sure they were going to release the album.
Ingle and Bushy decided to press on and held auditions, hiring bassist Lee Dorman and 17-year-old guitarist Erik Brann. This line-up hit the road. ATCO became convinced there really was an Iron Butterfly and released "Heavy," which went gold.
In early '68, the band entered a New York studio to work on their second album, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, (Ingle's intoxicated slur of "In the Garden of Eden")." The song started out as a short little number. But Iron Butterfly relied heavily on solos with the song becoming progressively longer - including Bushy's now famous drum solo. In the end, it clocked in at 17:05 - the whole second side of the album.
"Vida" became so big it not only overshadowed everything else on the record it obliterated just about everything the band did before or after. "Vida" first became an underground hit getting play on the emerging FM radio stations then surfaced into the mainstream. The album spent over two years on the Billboard charts. The band was credited with creating Heavy Metal.
Selling more than three million copies, "Vida" convinced Jimmy Page that his new group, Led Zeppelin, should go beyond acoustic Rock, ala Joni Mitchell, which they did.
The follow-up "Ball," didn't contain an epic track, but was able to ride "Vida's" success, going gold. The set featured the dark "In The Time Of Our Lives," the hippie peace/love song "Soul Experience" and the poppish "It Must Be Love."
"Metamorphosis" was powerful finish. Brann was out and replaced by two guitarists, Mike Pinera, formerly of Blues Image and Larry Rhinehart, a southern Rocker friend of the Allmans.
"Easy Rider," was a great chord driven Rock song while "New Day" and "Stone Believer" were rooted in riffs.
At this point, Ingle was burned out and announced he was quitting during the European tour (Yes was the opening act). Without the group's main songwriter and singer how could the band continue? It didn't, but in the mid 70's Brann got together with Bushy to revive the Iron Butterfly for two forgettable LPs.
The only interesting thing about this period was the disappearance of bassist Phil Kramer. After his forgettable Rock career with the Butterfly, Kramer entered the hi-tech world. On the way to the L.A. airport he vanished, causing all sorts of speculation - everything from corporate espionage to alien abduction. Years later Kramer and his van were found at the bottom of a ravine.
Liver cancer took the 55-year-old DeLoach in '02. The following year, Brann died of a heart attack as a result of complications from a birth defect that he had battled for years. Nine years later, Dorman died (12/21/12) of natural causes in his car at his home in the coastal town of Laguna Niguel, CA. Authorities speculated that Dorman may have been on his way to a doctor's appointment. He was 70.
1971 Evolution: The Best of Iron Butterfly
1975 Scorching Beauty
1976 Sun And Steel
1993 Light & Heavy: The Best Of Iron Butterfly
1995 In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida Deluxe Edition
If you know this group at all it's because of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." The 17-minute opus sold millions. It is an extremely well thought out and performed extended piece rather than an aimless jam. That and the catchy "Vida" guitar riff made the group famous. Next to Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" it's probably the most successful song ever written in D-minor. Following the song's verse and chorus (repeated twice in case you missed it), there's a fluid organ solo that gives way to a two part guitar solo, the first featuring the fuzz box and the second, the wah-wah peddle. Then there's the classic drum solo with African rhythms that's recorded out of phase to give it a unique sound. A haunting church-influenced organ solo (Ingle's father was a church organist), a "wailing souls" section where Brann scrapes the guitar strings and an "Arabian nights" solo lead back to the "Vida" riff and a repeat of the verse and chorus.
If anyone bothered to listen to the other songs on the record they would have found that "Termination" (written by Brann) and "Are You Happy" are strong Rockers.
While it's the most famous, "Vida" is not the Iron Butterfly's best album. That honor belongs to an earlier album with a far superior edition of the band. The original Iron Butterfly was a quintet. Darryl DeLoach shares lead-singing duties with organist/leader Doug Ingle. Having two strong vocalists opens up harmonic possibilities and adds variety. Also on board was the group's best guitarist, Danny Weiss. "Heavy" was the Iron Butterfly's maiden effort. "Unconscious Power" (a riff driven song very similar structurally to "Vida"), "Gentle As It May Seem" and "Stamped Ideas" are rave-up Rockers featuring Ingle's boogie keyboards and Weiss' riff slashing guitar. The only song that has the drone the Iron Butterfly later became known for is the hauntingly majestic "Iron Butterfly Theme." Again, both Ingle and Weiss play off each other until the whole thing crashes to an end. Along with the final chord on "Sgt. Peppers" this is one of the all-time best album endings.
For "Ball" the entire group contributes songs rather than just Ingle, but he still is the predominate writer. Generally, the songs on "Ball" are better than "Vida" but the group doesn't stray too far from its verse/chorus-long instrumental break-verse/chorus formula.
"Metamorphosis" has good songs like "Stone Believer" "New Day" and one great song "Easy Rider (Let The Wind Pay The Way)." The remainder is either OK, filler or worse, especially Mike Pinera's waste of time "Butterfly Bleu."
"Light and Heavy" gives a good reading of Iron Butterfly's career. "Rare Flight" is actually "Heavy" and "Ball" put together. The best way to get "Vida" is the Rhino set. In addition to the album, you get every version available - live, edited single and original. Great liner notes too.