The original Patti Smith Group may not have been comprised of the greatest musicians, but what they lacked in musical ability, they more than made up for in energy and pure passion. This was a band of rock 'n' roll fans, and the two main players, Smith and guitarist Lenny Kaye, were former rock journalists who lived and breathed that music's current state of affairs and past history.
The band was more polished in the later King Biscuit Flower Hour shows that were recorded this year and into the mid-1980s, but none had the raw emotion of these multiple sets from the Cellar Door in January of 1976. This late show is longer than the earlier set, mainly because they did not have the restriction of another audience waiting outside to get in. After a set by NY poet/rocker Garland Jefferies, Smith and the band open with "Spanish Town" before heading into "Real Good Time Together" followed by a voided attempt to play the reggae song, "Slavery," (which they abandon after a minute and five seconds). The rest of set is pretty solid, and very rockin'
A compelling take on Lou Reed's "Pale Blue Eyes," is followed by "Pumping (My Heart)" is followed by Smith's aborted version of Dolly Parton's country classic, "Jolene," which she stops mid-way to announce: "Obviously, we don't know that song." But, it's all in good fun. She does a great version of "Birdland" that eventually becomes "Gloria," (originally a hit by Van Morrison's old band, "Them"). She closes with her acclaimed version of The Who's "My Generation."
Few women in rock have had as enormous an impact and influence as Patti Smith. The first of the art-punk poets, Smith burst onto the early New York punk scene in 1975 with a series of "music poetry happenings" staged at the legendary CBGB club between 1974 and 1976. A former college dropout who moved to Greenwich Village in the late 1960s where she developed her skills as a beat poet, Patti Smith eventually discovered that the energetic punk music scene of the mid-1970s could work as the perfect vehicle for her controversial poetry and singing style. Having worked initially with a music critic and record store clerk named Lenny Kaye, Smith eventually formed her own band with Kaye, keyboardist Richard Sohl, bassist Ivan Kral, and drummer Dee Jay Daugherty.
They found a home at CBGBs, and began to play there regularly. In 1976, just as The Sex Pistols were changing the face of modern music in the U.K., and as The Ramones were about to do the same stateside, Patti Smith won the attention of Arista Records prexy, Clive Davis. With punk bubbling just under the rock 'n' roll radar, Clive was looking to embrace it. The Patti Smith Group would be his first punk signing, and her debut album, Horses, remains one of the most important rock albums of all time. She became known for her electrifying live performances with her band, which often played classic rock covers as a backdrop for her avant-garde poetry.
Although Smith remained a cutting-edge artist, her work with the Patti Smith Group eventually became predictable and she dropped out of music in the 1980s to marry former MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith and raise a family. She has returned to touring and recording sporadically since marrying Smith in 1980, but her life took an unexpected twist when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1994. To help deal with her grief, she returned to writing and recording, and in 2004, returned to the road with a revamped version of the Patti Smith Group.