The circular story of Wax

Anthony Mark Happel

Beau Jones, recording with Wax.

Beau Jones, recording with Wax.

The amazing story of the Philadelphia-based band Wax is a fairly unbelievable tale about returning to your beginnings. In 1971, the band recorded an album that would not actually see the light of day for 40 years. The album was rediscovered when one of the band’s former managers, John Kalodner, found the “long-lost master tape of a demo session” in 2008.

In the fall of 2009 they learned that their friend and former Wax bass player, Beau Jones, had been diagnosed with brain cancer. The band reconnected with Beau and they decided to release the recording on Lightyear Entertainment, a label run by a longtime friend of the band. Beau passed away less than a year later.

The salient musical point is that this was not any ordinary Philly band. In addition to Beau Jones on bass, the would-be all-star line-up included lead singer David Kagan, who also co-founded Baby Grand, guitarist Rick Levy, who went on to play with Herman’s Hermits, Jay & The Americans, Tommy Roe and Bo Diddley, among others, keyboard player Rob Hyman who would later co-found the 80s band, The Hooters, and drummer Rick Chertoff, who would go on to write “Time After Time” with Cyndi Lauper, and become a Grammy-winning producer of Joan Osborne and Sophie B. Hawkins.

The release of Melted feels like a cathartic last testament by this band, for their friend, and for themselves. As if it was bottled up all these years waiting to pop, the album’s appearance must feel like a kind of ultimate vindication of their beginnings and their musical lives. It exists for all time as the alpha and omega of their story, and it’s a tangible tribute to their late friend.

Recorded live in the studio in May of 1971, there’s a lot going on throughout the album, from the boogie-blues of “On and On” to the general Bay Area freedom rock appeal of several other songs. At any given moment there might be a passage that seems to align itself with Traffic or Jefferson Airplane or Country Joe & The Fish, but they never hang around any of them longer than a few bars and they’re on to something else.

Their only real weakness was in the vocals, where they lack a virtuoso with crystalline pipes who could cover the entire range of their output, but the energy of the performances and the broad scope of the songs carry them quite a distance. And, in the end, the entire venture feels like a genuine DIY project from the roots up.

The nomadic tendencies play out to full affect on the ambitious ten-and-a-half minute long “Greasy Suite,” a case in point for the album that captures the whole shebang in one multi-part, hippie-esque tune. It may be a bit overly ambitious as it stumbles about to find itself at times, but it turns out to be much better than just passable. “It Don’t Matter At All” steals a little Humble Pie, and “Mr. Media” presages and predates the beginnings of the jam band movement by twenty years, and quite effectively, as if they had a way of knowing some of what was coming later.

A lot of musicians in the early 70s were tapped into the newfound freedom in rock and pop music that emerged in the late 60s. The album-oriented bands were taking over for the 7-inch singles set that had reigned for so long. Bands of every imaginable kind were shattering boundaries and exploding formulas and creating a mass, and a mess, of all kinds of sounds. These guys were/are a walking, talking page of text from the book of that period. This record closes the door on unfinished business and at the same time it opens a window to the origins of a unique creation. And so it goes… Find a copy of Wax's Melted and check out the band’s history at their website.

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