:: Outa Space ::
:: Avon Calling ::
:: Pert'n n'er But Not Plum ::
:: Josh'n Me ::
:: Request For Discharge ::
I buy records without rhyme or reason. I may have bought this because the cover reminded me vaguely of something else. Turns out Beck scanned part of this cover art for his Stereopathetic Soul Manure album. Something about the name Toby Rean and The Common People, "Outa Space" appealed to me too, plus the fact that the record was still sealed. When I listened to it, I realized the title song was a cover of the Billy Preston instrumental hit from the early 70s. It's a "white man funk" reading, to say the least.
The rest of the record is completely different though; a straight ahead country record, to be exact. Not a bad country record either. I like the fact that it sounds like it was recorded on a shoestring budget, as most things on the Crown label were. Kind of adds to it's charm, you know? But just who were Toby Rean and The Common People? Turns out I wasn't the only one who wanted to know.
A quick Google search led me to a message board on a site concerning itself with Bakersfield music. A woman named Amber who identified herself as Toby Rean's great niece was asking for information about her great uncle. She said that relatives had told her he used to play drums for Buck and Merle at such fabled Bakersfield haunts as the Blackboard and the Rainbow Gardens, but she knew little else and was wondering if anyone had any additional info. I wrote to her and asked if she was able to glean anything else about her great uncle Toby, and offered her a digitized version of the LP. During the course of my research, I found a site with a picture of Toby Rean's grave marker, so I asked Amber if she knew how he died at the age of 40. She replied that she would love a CD copy of the album, as she only owned it on 8-track(!). She didn't have much additional info, but said that he died of a brain tumor only a few years after this album was recorded. Apparently Toby and the CP used to entertain the troops - travelling to Asia as well as doing local USO shows. She says his records are considered collectible in Japan. How cool is that?
Anyway, I've been holding out writing this article while I wait for Amber get back to me with all kinds of interesting, personal information, but so far I haven't heard anything. Maybe I'll have an update someday, but in the mean time, let's go back to Bakersfield in the early 70s for a little local flavor. All of the songs featured here, with the exception of "Outa Space" of course, were written by Mr. Rean himself. "Avon Calling" is the classic country duet, but unfortunately no credit is given to the female voice (Amber's great Aunt, perhaps?). "Josh'n Me" and "Purt'n N'er But Not Plum" are good examples of the kind of country/novelty songs that were such a hit on Hee Haw at the time. And I'd love to know if Toby and the band ever performed "Request For Discharge" at their USO shows, because this is some pretty grim stuff, to say the least.
I love stumbling across something like this, and the fact that I haven't been able to learn much about the guy who made the record somehow makes it even better. It's a piece of someone's life, lived long ago in a place that seems far away, but really it wasn't that long ago, and it was pretty close to home when it comes right down to it. Did you know Toby Rean?