Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

June 22, 2020

SKIP BATTIN, “Skip Battin’s Italian Dream” (Appaloosa Records, Italy, 2-cd set)

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SKIP BATTIN’S ITALIAN DREAM (Appaloosa Records, Italy, 2-cd set)

Includes Skip’s 2 Italian-only solo LP’s on Appaloosa, NAVIGATOR and DON’T GO CRAZY, and a wonderful Italian live concert with Skip and the man he replaced in the Byrds, John York, previously released only on an obscure CDR (see pic below).

The Skip Battin and John York line-ups of THE BYRDS are much under-rated, and in many ways are my favorite Byrds line-ups: ROGER McGUINN, CLARENCE WHITE, JOHN YORK or SKIP BATTIN, and GENE PARSONS.

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Skip Battin must be ranked among the most essential of the American musicians who flew the freak-flag of cosmic country-rock for decades, pretty much until his passing. He may not have been a “founder” a la Rick Nelson, Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds, Michael Nesmith, Gram Parsons, etc., but he was there soon after and was a member of three of the greatest bands of the genre: The Byrds, The New Riders Of The Purple Sage, and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Skip paid his dues for decades in support of the cosmic-cowboy ethos, and fortunately, in Italy he WAS viewed as an important figure and given the opportunity to tour and record. Which leads us to this special and fascinating 2-CD set. I reviewed this in Ugly Things a few years ago (the album came out in 2017), so here is that review, which I was tempted to dig up after playing both CD’s again tonight, in June 2020 on a hot and humid evening in South Texas….Skip Battin and Kim Fowley and John York are still working their magic through these 80’s recordings, decades later (and thankfully, Mr. York is still with us and making fine music!).

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SKIP BATTIN—Skip Battin’s Italian Dream (Appaloosa, Italy) 2-cd

     Skip Battin was the oldest member of the Byrds, the only Byrd to have had a significant hit prior to his becoming a Byrd (with Skip and Flip, Gary Paxton being Flip, from 1959), and the only Byrd to issue a solo album while still a member of the band (his 1972 SKIP album on Signpost Records). During his period as a Byrd, the band became a powerful and popular live unit, and people still talk with awe about the 20 minute live versions of “Eight Miles High” with a long duo section between bassist Skip and drummer Gene Parsons. Skip’s songwriting partnership with Kim Fowley found its way onto the final three Byrds albums and certainly brought a new angle to the late-Byrds sound and attitude.

     Post-Byrds, Skip played in the New Riders Of The Purple Sage (check out their Brujo album) and the Flying Burrito Brothers, as well as the later Byrds-related bands that included a grab bag of people involved in various Byrds line-ups.

     In the 1980’s, Skip found a new career for himself in Italy, playing in various bands that included a sampling of American country-rock pioneers (Sneaky Pete Kleinow, John York, Chris Darrow, etc.), learning Italian, and working extensively with Italian steel guitarist and guitarist Ricky Mantoan. The late-Byrds/Burritos/New Riders sound never lost its audience in Italy, and Skip was highly valued with his impressive pedigree in great bands. This led to two original Italian-only albums on the Appaloosa label, which never got much exposure in North America at the time (I remember seeing the blues LP’s on Appaloosa, but not the Battins).

     The two albums, “Navigator” (1981) and “Don’t Go Crazy” (1984), are included on the first disc of this package, and the second disc features a complete Skip Battin/John York concert, live in Bolzano, Italy, in 1988. The two studio albums were recorded in Los Angeles, feature a small group including Sneaky Pete, and offer many Fowley-Battin compositions, some new, some new versions of Byrds and solo Skip recordings (“Citizen Kane” sounds much better without the faux-Dixieland horns on the Byrds version). They sound a lot like modest demos, but Skip’s enthusiasm and the always-interesting material (Fowley lyrics are full of entertaining wordplay) help make the albums a joy to hear. Side two of the second album includes some songs partly in Italian (those are NOT Fowley co-writes!) and the second album has more of a country orientation. Anyone who enjoyed Skip’s 1972 solo album or his featured material with the Byrds (or the New Riders) should welcome these sides.

     However, the real surprise here is the complete Skip Battin/John York Italian concert (with Ricky Mantoan, as “Family Tree”). Playing for a small crowd (surely under 100, if not under 50), these two Byrds (ironically, Skip replaced John York, so they were never Byrds together!) sound completely relaxed and at home, doing a wide variety of Byrds/Burritos/Dylan material along with 50’s and country tunes. We should be thankful to Italian country-rock fans for caring enough to bring these two great artists to Italy and just letting them be themselves. Battin and York were probably not having people break down their doors in 1987 clamoring for duo concerts, so this beautiful show is quite special. York has always been fine in any band (his 2010 duo album with Kim Fowley “West Coast Confidential” is a masterpiece, among the best-ever work of either artist) or solo, and the two blend wonderfully. It must have been satisfying to be at that show.

     Those of us who value the late-period Byrds will treasure this two-CD set. Skip was a unique talent with a long and diverse career. Other than the Evergreen Blueshoes album on Amos, his post Skip and Flip, pre-Byrds career is not very well known (there were a number of still records issued on small labels). Let’s hope this Italian set is just the first step in a thorough Skip Battin reassessment. He deserves it.

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skip and kim

L-R, Gene Vincent, Kim Fowley, Rodney Bingenheimer, Skip Battin

The only photo of Skip and Kim together I could find online, and what a wonderful photo it is, taken during the sessions for Gene’s Fowley-produced LP for the Dandelion label, I’M BACK AND I’M PROUD, on which Skip played. This would have been immediately before Skip joined the Byrds, I’m guessing….

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