There have been two bands with the name The Charlatans.
1. An alternative rock band from the United Kingdom (1988-present)
2. A psychedelic rock band from the United States (1964-1969)
1. The Charlatans (known as The Charlatans UK in the U.S. to avoid confusion with the 60s group of the same name) were originally formed in the West Midlands/Northwich area of England in 1988 by bassist Martin Blunt, who recruited fellow West Midlanders Rob Collins (keyboards), Jon Brookes (drums), John Baker (also known as Day) (guitar), and vocalist Baz Ketley. Along with contemporaries such as the Happy Mondays, EMF, The Stone Roses, and others, the band is known as one of the most popular indie dance bands of the U.K., combining pop, electronica, funk, and other genres into an energetic stew. They're also notable as one of the few British rock bands of the early 90s to break through into the U.S., pesky name issues aside.
- Early Days and Initial Success (1990-91) -
Former Electric Crayons singer Tim Burgess (from Northwich) replaced Ketley before the release of The Charlatans debut single "Indian Rope" in 1990 on the band's own Dead Dead Good Records label. It proved an indie hit and the group soon found a major label, Beggars Banquet off-shoot Situation Two, in time for the release of The Only One I Know which reached the Top 10 in the UK singles chart. A further single, Then, and debut album Some Friendly, were released later that year to great commercial and critical acclaim.
- Line-up change / Elusive success (1991-94) -
Baker left the band after the 1991's Over Rising single, to be replaced by Mark Collins (no relation to Rob), who made his debut on another non-album single and video, Me. In Time.
Trying to capitalize on the earlier success of "The Only One I Know" the band brought in maverick producer Flood for their second album Between 10th And 11th. Named after the address of the New York Marquee, site of the group's first U.S. gig, the album failed to hit the top twenty in the UK. In a time where grunge was predominant in the music scene, The Charlatans took a more sophisticated path with this elaborate production and were considered voluntary outsiders from the mainstream of modern grunge rock tendencies of the early 90's. The album included the emblematic Weirdo but as a sign of the times it was poorly-received, both by critics and fans although it has subsequently recovered in recognition and praise.
The follow-up album, Up To Our Hips, which was hailed as a return to form, was a big success and reached number 8 in the UK albums chart.
- Mid-Nineties Resurgence / Death of keyboardist Rob Collins (1995-97) -
In 1995 the band's fourth self-titled album The Charlatans saw them become major UK stars again, topping the UK albums chart and spawning the top 20 single, Just When You're Thinking Things Over. Unfortunately, just as things seemed to be going well for the band, keyboard player Rob Collins was tragically killed in a car crash during the recording of fifth album Tellin' Stories on July 22, 1996. After much soul-searching the band decided to continue and Primal Scream and former Felt keyboardist Martin Duffy was drafted in for The Charlatans high-profile support slot with Oasis at their Knebworth gigs in the summer of 1996, until a permanent replacement for Collins could be found.
Tellin' Stories was released in 1997 featuring contributions from both Rob Collins and Duffy; and in the singles One to Another, North Country Boy and How High the group had their biggest UK hits to date, sounding more like a classic rock act now than ever before.
- New record label / New keyboard player (1998-2004) -
After releasing the career-spanning compilation Melting Pot the band's contract with Beggars Banquet was up, and they signed for Universal with Burgess stating that, although he and the band had enjoyed their time on the independent record label they had made next to no-money in the eight years since their first release. Relations with 'Beggars' remained strong however, and the band helped put together the DVD "Just Lookin' 1990 - 1997" showcasing all their promo videos and a selection of live recordings from that era and B-sides collection Songs From The Other Side, both of which were released in 2002.
Us And Us Only saw the start of a new era for The Charlatans. Their first release for Universal saw new keyboard player Tony Rogers make his Charlatans album debut (he had previously toured in support of "Tellin' Stories" and contributed to b-sides "Keep It to Yourself" and "Clean Up Kid" (from the How High single) and the band took on a slightly country sound, heavily influenced by Burgess's love of Bob Dylan. The soul influenced Wonderland followed in 2001, prooving Tim Burgees to be a very skilled singer into the art of falsetto, before the more 'traditionally Charlatans sounding' Up At The Lake was released in 2004.
- The Sanctuary and Cooking Label (2005-present) -
The band released their ninth full-length album in April 2006, their first for new label Sanctuary Records. Titled Simpatico, the reggae and dub tinged album featured tracks like the fan favourite "NYC (There's No Need to Stop)", and first single Blackened Blue Eyes, that was produced by Jim Lowe. The single charted relatively well at number 28. The album charted in the top 10 in its first week, but soon after dropped out of the charts. Their follow-up to "Simpatico" was the career-spanning singles compilation entitled "Forever: The Singles", which was released on CD and DVD in November 2006.
Taking inspiration from Radiohead who pioneeered the modern concept of musicians making money from touring and merchandising and special versions, rather than the basic recording (to combat the proliferation of illegal downloads primarily but also with an eye on a new paradigm for music distribution), The Charlatans made their follow up album available for download with a minimal "honesty" charge. You Cross My Path was released on 12th May 2008, with a deluxe collectible version available to pre-order for fans, but with the basic album available free of charge. The album was reminiscent of New Order's style, with many of the songs driven by an insistent rhythmic bassline. The trademark Hammond organ patterns were still present and remain a constant.
Their latest (2010) is entitled Who We Touch. The eleventh album for the band, it was released on 6 September 2010 by Cooking Vinyl in a standard and 2-disc version which contains a second CD including early demos and alternative mixes of tracks off the standard album, plus some recordings that didn't make it on to the record. The album peaked at #21 in the UK album charts.
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2. The Charlatans were an influential psychedelic rock band that played a role in the development of the San Francisco music scene during the 1960s and are often cited by critics as being the first group to play in the style that became known as the San Francisco Sound. Exhibiting more pronounced jug band, country and blues influences than many bands from the same scene, The Charlatans’ rebellious attitude and distinctive, late 19th century fashions exerted a major influence on the Summer of Love in San Francisco. Their recorded output was small, with their first album, The Charlatans, not being released until 1969, some years after the band's heyday. The band is notable for featuring the first commercial appearance of Dan Hicks, later of Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks.
Formed in the summer of 1964, by amateur avant-garde musician George Hunter and music major Richard Olsen, the earliest line up of The Charlatans featured George Hunter (autoharp, vocals), Olsen (bass, vocals), Mike Wilhelm (lead guitar, vocals), Mike Ferguson (piano/keyboards, vocals), and Sam Linde (drums). Linde's drumming was felt to be substandard by the rest of the band and he was soon replaced by Dan Hicks (drums, vocals). The group was known for their style of dress, clothing themselves in late 19th century attire, as if they were Victorian dandies or Wild West gunslingers. This eye-catching choice of clothing was influential on the emerging hippie counter-culture, with young San Franciscans dressing in similarly late Victorian and early Edwardian era clothing.
In June 1965, the Charlatans began an extended residency at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, just across the border from Northern California. This six week stint at the Red Dog was important because band members Mike Ferguson and George Hunter produced a rock concert poster in advance of the residency to promote the performances. This poster—known as "The Seed"—is almost certainly the first psychedelic concert poster. By the end of the decade, psychedelic concert poster artwork by artists such as Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, and Victor Moscoso had become a mainstay of San Francisco's music scene. There were, in fact, two "Seed" posters, which look almost identical. They are differentiated by their dates. The first lists the band as playing between June 1 and 15, while the second states "Opening June 21".
Another reason that The Charlatans' extended stay at the Red Dog Saloon was important was that, immediately before their first performance at the club, the band members took LSD. As a result, The Charlatans are sometimes called the first acid rock band, although their sound is not representative of the feedback-drenched, improvisational music that would later come to define acid rock.
The Charlatans returned to San Francisco at the end of summer 1965 and, in September, were given the chance to audition for Autumn Records, a label headed by local DJ, Tom "Big Daddy" Donahue. Autumn didn't sign the band, partly due to conflicts between the group and Donahue over suitable material and partly due to lack of money; the label was on the verge of bankruptcy and was sold to Warner Bros. Records early the following year.
Later years: 1966–1969
The failed Autumn Records audition proved to be only a minor setback as The Charlatans signed with Kama Sutra Records in early 1966. As home to the Lovin' Spoonful, one of the earliest folk rock bands to find international success, the group thought the label would be the ideal home for their music. However, after the band had recorded a number of songs for the record label and chosen to issue "Codine" as their debut single, the record company vetoed the release, due to the song's drug connotations. Ironically, the tune, penned by folk artist Buffy Sainte-Marie, spoke of the dangers of drugs, rather than promoting their use, but Kama Sutra was adamant and refused to release the song.
Instead, two other songs from the Kama Sutra sessions, "The Shadow Knows" and "32-20", were released by Kapp Records in 1966 as the band's first single, with some copies being housed in a very rare, promotional-only picture sleeve. Kapp Records failed to adequately promote the release and the single was a commercial flop. The remaining songs recorded for The Charlatans' debut album during the Kama Sutra sessions remained unreleased until they were officially issued for the first time by Big Beat Records in 1996, on The Amazing Charlatans album.
Mike Ferguson was fired from the Charlatans in 1967 and replaced by Patrick Gogerty. Additionally, Terry Wilson was brought in to take over as drummer after Dan Hicks moved to rhythm guitar, enabling him to sing his compositions as a front man for the group. Hicks eventually left the group in 1968 to form his own band, Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks and Gogerty was subsequently fired from the band.
Tensions between George Hunter and the rest of the band escalated throughout 1968 until Mike Wilhelm, Richard Olsen and Terry Wilson decided to disband the group, reforming soon afterward without inviting Hunter back into the band. The Charlatans recruited new member, Darrell DeVore (piano/keyboards, vocals), and soon secured a recording contract with Philips Records. The band released one album with Philips in 1969, titled simply The Charlatans. The album was a commercial failure, largely due to the band's sound being somewhat outdated by 1969.
Breakup and reunions
Following the release of The Charlatans, drummer Terry Wilson was forced to leave the band in order to begin serving a prison sentence for marijuana possession. The original quintet of Hunter, Olsen, Wilhelm, Ferguson and Hicks reunited briefly during the summer of 1969 but by the end of the year, The Charlatans had broken up for good.
After the breakup, Mike Wilhelm went on to front the band Loose Gravel from 1969 until 1976, before becoming a member of The Flamin' Groovies during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Richard Olsen became a producer at Pacific High Studios and latterly formed the swing group Richard Olsen & His Big Band. George Hunter founded the Globe Propaganda design company and his artwork appeared on many LP covers including Happy Trails (Quicksilver Messenger Service), Hallelujah (Canned Heat), and It's a Beautiful Day (It's a Beautiful Day). Mike Ferguson joined Lynne Hughes, a barmaid from the Red Dog Saloon, in the band Tongue and Groove.
In 1996, a documentary was released entitled The Life and Times of the Red Dog Saloon (also known as Rockin' at the Red Dog: The Dawn of Psychedelic Rock), in which the surviving members of the Charlatans (Ferguson died in 1979 from complications from diabetes) were interviewed about their heady days at the Red Dog. The following year, the Charlatans rehearsed for a series of top secret gigs at the legendary Sweetwater club in Mill Valley, followed by a series of reunion performances at the Fillmore. The band, composed of Hunter, Hicks, Wilhelm, and Olsen, were not heard from again until 2005, when they performed at a memorial concert for Family Dog founder Chet Helms in Golden Gate Park. The foursome returned to Golden Gate Park on September 2, 2007 for what would be their final performance to date, at a free concert commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco.
Despite their lackluster recording career, The Charlatans hold the distinction of being the first of the underground San Francisco bands of the 1960s and as such, their importance is felt by the dozens of successful Bay Area bands that emerged later in the decade, and by all the bands that those groups influenced.
The Charlatans (1969)
The Amazing Charlatans (1996)
The Charlatans (1979, released as a limited edition picture disc)
The Autumn Demo (1980)
Alabama Bound (1983)
The Charlatans/Alabama Bound (1992)
Singles "The Shadow Knows"/"32-20" (1966)
"High Coin"/"When I Go Sailin' By" (1969)
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