The late 1960s/early 1970s were a musical godsend for fans of country music but looking for greater variety in their love of it (you can live on a diet of the likes of Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and the like for only so long). The emergence of country-rock was special for this listener, effectively starting with The Byrds’ ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ in 1968 and the emergence of The Eagles in 1970. I know that nowadays you have to pick and choose who you admit to liking The Eagles to! But their early stuff was magical. And then there was the Laurel Canyon set, a merry-go-round of residents, tenants and lovers that spawned some of the great songs in modern pop history, courtesy of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, The Mamas and Papas, Crosby, Stills and Nash etc.
The Eagles were visitors though not residents and a number of budding songwriters at the time also spent days there hoping to imbibe the songwriting stardust. Three such were Richard Stekol (at the time playing with a locally popular band called Honk), Jack Tempchin (a friend of The Eagles’ Glenn Frey and writer of ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’) and Jules Shear (later to find considerable success as leader of Jules and the Polar Bears, and as a solo artist). Stekol was the most competent instrumentalist but when the three got together to form a band, they needed a REALLY competent instrumentalist and that they found in Greg Leisz, one of the most outstanding guitarists of the last 50 years. Together they formed The Funky Kings, with Bill Bodine (session man and record producer) on bass and Frank Cotinola (later drummer with the Walter Trout Band) on drums.
And this album came to my attention via a sweaty little shop in one of the alleyways just off Charing Cross Road in London, in the basement of a women’s clothes shop, that regularly sold albums on import from the States, either before their UK release or if they were not scheduled to be released in the UK at all.
The self-titled album ‘Funky Kings’ was their only release (a second was recorded but never released) and highlights the burgeoning songwriting talents of the three writers, notably ‘Slow Dancing’ by Jack Tempchin, which became a big hit for Johnny Rivers, ‘Nothing Was Exchanged’, a rather good Jules Shear song which appeared on a later Shear album, but not as good as the outstanding ‘So Easy to Begin’ – “I’ve been so far away from you while standing by your side There were nights we were so in love, that lovin’ made us blind But that time is so far below us now, the memory’s so thin It’s So Easy To Begin, but it’s so hard to stop, this love”, which was covered nicely by Art Garfunkel.
The album should have been a success – they recruited one of the producers du jour, Paul A Rothchild (The Doors, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell etc) and the album is beautifully produced. Geoff Muldaur, Katy Moffatt, Mike Finnigan and Barry Beckett added their talents on a few tracks.
It followed on the success of the Eagles, which they hoped to capitalise on. But it flopped and the band members subsequently went on to other things. Tempchin made a few more albums, none of which really took off, but he was a successful songwriter. Shear developed his reputation with his Polar Bears ‘Got No Breeding’ album but after the group disbanded, he went on to release a number of high-quality albums. Stekol remained a singer-songwriter but without chart success. It is a very good album, in parts outstanding, but it followed a lot of Eagles manqué bands and was not a success.
The original US issue of this album, like many US albums, was pressed at a number of pressing plants. All pressings are widely available and will cost you under £5. There was no UK pressing but its release in Europe was facilitated by Dutch and German pressings both of which are usually priced at under £10. There have since been two CD reissues, both in Japan, firstly in 1996 and then a re-mastered version in 2016. These rare Japanese CDs go for more than the original albums with the 1996 one fetching anything up to £25 and the more recent re-master around £12. When albums were costing £5.99 in the seventies, I paid £7.99 for the import version.