What you will likely find remarkable about this early live recording of the Patti Smith Group is the fact that she does so much talking. Recorded in the intimate Cellar Door club in Washington, DC, for the King Biscuit Flower Hour radio series, Smith waxes poetic to audience about nearly everything under the sun, including an interesting observation about performing in Washington during 1976.
"I guess the bicentennial spirit has really been hittin' me," she remarks to what was a small but enthusiastic audience. "I have been thinking about Hank Williams and Johnny Carson, and .... George Washington. George Washington … the father of our country died of syphilis; had no teeth; grew marijuana fields; he was a cool guy!….Look, the father of our country was a total fuck up!" Then, suddenly the opening notes of "Kimberly" kick in and she is back in the moment like a whirling dervish, shouting out line after line of her angst-ridden rock 'n' roll poetry.
Opening with "Real Good Time Together," she and the band run thru a set that is both well rehearsed and completely impromptu. From the bouncy reggae of "Redondo Beach" to her cover of Lou Reed's "Pale Blue Eyes," (written about the death of Hank Williams) which morphs into The Kingsmens' naughty '63 rocker, "Louie Louie," she offers up one gem after another. They close with a medley of "Birdland" and Them's "Gloria," before returning with a bombastic encore cover of The Who's "My Generation." Much of what the band played during this time were covers, but unlike most bands, Smith would take these songs and put them through a complete re-birth. They would emerge as if they were Patti Smith originals.
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 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.