The Left Banke
The Left Banke in 1966
|Origin||New York, New York, U.S.|
The Left Banke is an American baroque pop band, formed in New York City in 1965. They are best remembered for their two US hit singles, "Walk Away Renée" and "Pretty Ballerina". The band often used what the music press referred to as "baroque" string arrangements, which led to their music being variously termed as "Bach-rock" or "baroque rock". The band's vocal harmonies borrowed from contemporaries such as The Beatles, The Zombies, and other British Invasion groups.
The Left Banke was formed in 1965 and consisted of keyboard player/songwriter Michael Brown, drummer/singer George Cameron, bass guitarist/singer Tom Finn, singer Steve Martin (who also used the name Steve Martin Caro), and drummer Warren David-Schierhorst. Brown's father, Harry Lookofsky, a well-known session violinist, ran a studio in New York and took an interest in the band's music, acting as producer, manager and publisher. After some initial recording sessions, David-Schierhorst was ousted, with Cameron switching to drums and Jeff Winfield on guitar. Brown's song, "Walk Away Renee", was sold to Smash Records, a subsidiary of Mercury Records, and became a huge hit in late 1966. The band's second single, "Pretty Ballerina", also written by Brown, charted in early 1967, and The Left Banke released an album entitled Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina, by which time, Rick Brand had replaced Winfield on guitar.
Tension between Brown and the rest of the band soon began to surface. When "Walk Away Renee" belatedly became a hit, the original band had been inactive. Brown decided to capitalize on the single's success by assembling a new version of The Left Banke for touring purposes, with Bert Sommer on lead vocals, original drummer Warren David, and (future member of Spinal Tap) Michael McKean on guitar. Brown also recorded a single, "Ivy, Ivy" b/w "And Suddenly" as The Left Banke, with Sommer and a group of session musicians. The remaining members of the band hired attorneys to issue a cease and desist order and urged their fan club to boycott the record, which led to confusion among radio stations over which "The Left Banke" to support. Radio and Smash Records ultimately removed their support from the single, which subsequently failed to make the Billboard Hot 100. The "New" Left Banke never performed live. "And Suddenly" was eventually recorded by a group called The Cherry People and became a minor hit. McKean would later find fame as an actor (Laverne & Shirley, This Is Spinal Tap, Better Call Saul).
In late 1967, the original group reunited and recorded more material, including the single "Desiree." Brown left the group permanently shortly thereafter and was replaced for touring purposes by Emmett Lake. Cameron, Finn and Martin continued to record and tour, with Tom Feher replacing Lake on keyboards and writing half of the band's new material. The songs recorded by various incarnations of the group in 1967 and 1968 were assembled into a second LP, The Left Banke Too, which was released in November 1968. This album featured backing vocals by a young Steven Tyler (who later became the lead singer of Aerosmith) on "Nice To See You", "My Friend Today" and "Dark Is The Bark". The band continued playing live in 1969, without Martin, but soon disbanded due to lack of success and financial problems. Later that same year, Brown and Martin reunited in the studio to record another single as The Left Banke; "Myrah" b/w "Pedestal", was their final single for Smash Records.
In 1971, Brown, Cameron, Finn and Martin reunited briefly to record two songs for the movie Hot Parts. The songs, "Love Songs in the Night" and "Two by Two", were released as a Steve Martin solo single on Buddah Records, despite featuring contributions from four founding members of The Left Banke. In 1972, producer Les Fradkin offered to produce the group for a project on Bell Records. Although these sessions were not released at the time, one of the songs, "I Could Make It Last Forever", composed by Fradkin and Diane Ellis, was released on Fradkin's Goin' Back solo CD in 2006. It was a rare recording since it featured Caro, Finn, Cameron and Brown, along with Brown's father, violinist Harry Lookofsky. Fradkin sang and played 12-string guitar on the sessions. In 1978, Martin, Cameron and Finn reunited as The Left Banke to record an album's worth of material which unfortunately was not released at the time. However, a single from these 1978 sessions, "Queen of Paradise" (b/w "And One Day"), was released in late 1978 with modest success. The album was eventually issued by Relix Records in 1986 under the title Strangers on a Train (Voices Calling in Europe). However, the album did little to restore the popularity of the group.
After leaving The Left Banke in 1967, Michael Brown helped form the band, Montage. Although Brown was never an official member of Montage, his presence is unmistakable in its music. The band released one self-titled album in 1969, which included a re-recording of The Left Banke song "Desiree", before Brown left. Brown's next project was the band Stories, featuring singer Ian Lloyd. The band had a hit in 1973 with "Brother Louie", which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. However, Brown had left the group after their 2nd album "About Us", but before the success of "Brother Louie". Brown's next project was with The Beckies, although the band achieved only modest success and Brown soon left.
In 1992, Mercury Records released a Left Banke compilation titled There's Gonna Be a Storm: The Complete Recordings 1966-1969. It was intended to bring together the band's entire recorded output from the years 1966 to 1969, although a 1969 outtake titled "Foggy Waterfall", which had previously appeared on two earlier compilations, was not included.
In 1994, Michael Brown and his wife Yvonne Vitale produced and released an album titled On This Moment. Between 2001 and 2006, Brown hosted a series of recording sessions at his home studio with Ian Lloyd (vocals), Tom Finn (bass guitar/vocals), Jim McAllister (guitar), and Jon Ihle (drums).
In 2005, Alice Cooper included a cover version of "Pretty Ballerina" on his album Dirty Diamonds. In 2006, ex-member of The Bangles Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet, as Sid 'n' Susie, covered "She May Call You Up Tonight" for their first album Under the Covers, Vol. 1. In addition, Stuart Murdoch of the band Belle and Sebastian has cited The Left Banke as one of the early influences on the sound of the band.
Former guitarist Jeff Winfield died of complications from pneumonia on June 13, 2009, at age 60.
The previous touring version of The Left Banke featured one original member, George Cameron. Initially, Tom Finn and George Cameron reformed The Left Banke in March 2011, tapping New York City's Mike Fornatale (already a veteran of numerous other 60s band reunions, including The Monks and Moby Grape) to sing lead vocals in Steve Martin Caro's stead. The reunited group also featured new players: Paul Alves (lead guitar, backing vocals), Charly Cazalet (bass), Mickey Finn (keyboards), Rick Reil (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and second keyboardist/synth player Joe McGinty (replaced by John Spurney in 2012). They appeared live at Joe's Pub in New York City on March 5, 2011, and March 6, 2011, to sold-out audiences. In April 2011, Tom Finn revealed in a Facebook posting that he had reformed the group, with two shows planned for July in New York City.
In early 2011, Sundazed released reissues of the two Smash vinyl albums on CD and LP, utilizing the original running order and artwork.
In February 2012, Tom Finn notified the YouTube community that the Left Banke were in the process of creating a new record featuring contributions from co-founder Michael Brown.
On April 29, 2012, Brown joined the reunited Left Banke on stage at B.B. King's in New York City for a version of his "Pretty Ballerina." His performance was greeted with a standing ovation. Rick Brand, guitarist with the band in 1966-67 was also in attendance. Tom Finn sang a newly written song called "City Life" which showed a heavier rock version of the Left Banke with baroque string section intact. No new recordings begun in 2012 were ever released, and Brown died in 2015.
At the beginning of their reunion dates, the group was joined onstage by a two or three-piece string section and even a guest oboe player for one or two shows. Both Michael Brown and George Cameron were in touch with Steve Martin Caro, who wanted to rejoin the group, but was unable to tour in 2012 due to previous commitments.
On March 18, 2015, it was announced that original vocalist Steve Martin Caro officially rejoined the current touring version of The Left Banke. Photos on The Left Banke official Facebook and Twitter pages displayed Steve signing a contract. The 2015 tour featured co-headliner Ian Lloyd of Stories and featured Sam Kogon as vocalist.
In January 2018, it was announced on the official Facebook page operated by Steve Martin Caro and George Cameron that they were planning a tour. Several photos of Steve Martin Caro rehearsing with George Cameron and guitarist Sam Kogon were posted with a message which stated "it was Steve's first time behind the microphone in over 15 years. We went through and workshopped much of the Left Banke catalog."
Michael Brown died from heart disease on March 19, 2015, at age 65. Brown had been writing new material and planned to participate in the 2015 reunion of The Left Banke with Steve Martin Caro and George Cameron. Brown's funeral and memorial service was held on March 25th, 2015 at Fort Lee Gospel Church in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Justo George Cameron (born October 16, 1947 in Manhattan, New York) died of cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, New York, on June 24, 2018 at age 70.
Thomas Leo Feher died in August 2018.
|U.S. 200||Cash Box|
|February 1967||Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina||67||59|
|November 1968||The Left Banke Too||--||--|
|March 1986||Strangers on a Train (aka Voices Calling)||--||--|
|"—" denotes release did not chart or become certified.|
|Date||Single (A-side, B-side)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
|Label and number||Chart positions||Album|
|Billboard||Cash Box||RPM Magazine|
|July 1966||"Walk Away Renée"
b/w "I Haven't Got The Nerve"
|Smash 2041||5||2||3||Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina|
|December 1966||"Pretty Ballerina"
b/w "Lazy Day"
|March 1967||"Ivy Ivy"
b/w "And Suddenly"
|Smash 2089||119||106||--||Non-album tracks|
|May 1967||"She May Call You Up Tonight"
b/w "Barterers and Their Wives"
|Smash 2097||120||118||--||Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina|
b/w "I've Got Something On My Mind" (from Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina)
|Smash 2119||98||127||--||The Left Banke Too|
|June 1968||"Dark Is The Bark"
b/w "My Friend Today"
|November 1968||"Goodbye Holly"
b/w "Sing Little Bird Sing"
|February 1969||"Bryant Hotel"
b/w "Give The Man A Hand"
|May 1969||"Nice To See You"
b/w "There's Gonna Be A Storm"
|Smash 2243||--||--||--||Non-album tracks|
|March 1971||"Love Songs In The Night" +
b/w "Two By Two"
|1978||"Queen Of Paradise"
b/w "And One Day"
|Camerica 0005||--||--||--||Strangers On A Train|
|"—" Release did not chart or become certified.|
|"+" Release credited to Steve Martin.|