Seatrain – four years as a band – five different lineups – five different drummers – five different guitarists – one original and consistent member throughout and just four albums – a short-lived tumultuous band experience for sure, but certainly a memorable one. Some bands end up in a totally different place from whence they started—think Fleetwood Mac, Blood Sweat & Tears, and Renaissance—each of which evolved and transformed over a span of 20 plus years. You could add Seatrain to that list but more to the point here is that they accelerated that evolution in just four short years. All iterations of the band were quite different yet musically exceptional in their own unique way—an amalgam of classical, folk, blues, bluegrass, jazz, and rock. Considered one of America’s greatest lost bands, co-founded in 1969 by bassist/flautist Andy Kulberg and drummer Roy Blumenfeld, previously members of The Blues Project. By the time they folded up the tent in 1973, the only original remaining member was Kulberg.
After settling in Marin County, California, Roy and Andy met up with and invited guitarist/vocalist John Gregory, ex-Kweskin Jug Band violinist Richard Greene, sax player Don Kretmar and vocalist/lyricist Jim Roberts to join the initial lineup. A perhaps lesser-known fact is that when this initial lineup of musicians began working on their debut album, Kulberg and Blumenfeld were still under contract with Verve Forecast to produce one more album under The Blues Project name, hence the album titled Planned Obsolescence was in effect the first Seatrain lineup. Although not considered an official Seatrain release, die hard fans will consider this to be their recording debut.
The actual debut album by the first Seatrain lineup was released in 1969 on the A&M label and was self-titled as separate words Sea Train—featuring eight self-penned tracks of jazz-fusion influenced rock and folk jams with fiddle and flute prominently featured interweaving with Gregory’s gently delivered vocals making it a striking departure from the original recording under the Blues Project name. Kulberg and Roberts formed one songwriting team and Roberts and Gregory another, indicating that remarkable and creative compositional ideas were developing within the group. Things however were far from settled as membership changes were about to quickly begin. In fact, together for less than one year, after releasing just one album, the band abruptly broke up—likely fueled by the album’s failure to grab audience attention.
Then later in 1969 we find the second and short-lived Seatrain lineup formed by Kulberg and Greene adding drummer Bobby Moses, guitarist Teddy Irwin and vocalist Reed Shepherd along with original saxophonist/bassist Don Kretmar. This lineup also quickly evolved where drummer Billy Williams replaced Bobby Moses and guitarist Elliot Randall replaced Teddy Irwin. Even this was not to last.
Soon after, Billy and Elliot left, so did original member Don Kretmar, initiating a search for replacements all over again. One of the first to join up with this third iteration of Seatrain was Wayland, MA native and local bluegrass king ex-Earth Opera guitarist Peter Rowan. Next to join were Canadian drummer Larry Atamanuik and keyboardist/vocalist Lloyd Baskin. At this point lyricist Jim Roberts was invited back into the fold. And, not so insignificant, was a name change—from Sea Train to Seatrain, which became the title of the second album—produced by none other than George Martin. This was a decidedly different and more commercial sounding album compared to the first, due significantly to the stellar production but also to the maturing songwriting talents of the Kulberg/Roberts team plus additional creative songwriting from the newest addition Peter Rowan. Considered one of the group’s most accomplished albums of their career and despite the album track “13 Questions” achieving success as a single by reaching 49 on the Billboard top 100, the success of the overall 1970 album was never to be realized.
With the Kulberg/Roberts songwriting team in full gear along with another George Martin Production, the band released its third album – Marblehead Messenger – so titled as the band had by then relocated from their origins in Marin, CA to Marblehead, MA where in 1971 George Martin rented a house in Marblehead Neck on Ocean Avenue while working with the band at a nearby studio only referred to as Seaweed Studios in the album’s liner notes. [Ed: would love to fact find this with a former Seatrain member] Feeling they now had a stable and firm band lineup, where critics referred to it as the defining moment in the band’s career, it nonetheless joined the ranks of the two previous releases and was deemed a commercial failure, although today it’s considered a hidden gem by dedicated followers and fans.
Seatrain toured the UK in support of Marblehead Messenger and was well received there but that glory was not to last. In 1972 three more members of the band departed – founding member and fiddler extraordinaire Richard Greene, guitarist/singer Peter Rowan, and drummer Larry Atamanuik creating significant voids to be filled and so the search began once again. Enter drummer Julio Coronado, keyboardist Bill Elliott, and guitarist/vocalist Peter Walsh. This was the fifth and final lineup of Seatrain, leaving Andy Kulberg as the only remaining original member. Lloyd Baskin and Peter Walsh shared lead vocals while a bevy of session musicians were invited in to contribute, adding a string section, a tuba, an oboe, and banjo to the mix. The resulting album, and the final for Seatrain, was titled Watch and was produced by jazz bassist Buell Neidlinger, (b. 3/2/1936, d. 3/16/2018), a New England native hailing from Westport, CT who also contributed bass on the album.
Sounding yet different from any of the previous three recordings, it shared one unfortunate and common element – another commercial disappointment – spelling the end of Seatrain as a commercially viable musical entity. At this point, Seatrain split up for the final time and eventually slipped within the annals of obscurity and cult status. Here was a band that had just about every element necessary for ultimate success – uber talented musicians, superb songwriters, and world-class producers. What they lacked throughout their four years as a band was consistency and stability – five different lineups – five different drummers – five different guitarists – keeping them a safe distance from what could have been (or should have been) star status but rewarding us nonetheless with their brief but impactful recorded history as one of the greatest lost bands. Sadly, founding member Andy Kulberg passed away from lymphoma on January 28, 2002, at age 57. On October 18, 2007, he was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame.
(by Karl Sharicz)