The following article was originally published in James Madison College's (month's away from becoming a university) publication The Breeze on Friday, February 4, 1977, SideShow Travel Arts, People section. This article preceded the band's February 6, 1977 show at the university, located in Harrisonburg, VA (characterized as the band's home town).
Happy the Man 'for appreciators of music'
By Marshall Leavitt
Happy the Man's concert at Wilson this Sunday promises to be one of the most significant cultural events the Campus Program Board will offer us this year. It is a treat that no one who appreciates the value of excellent music should miss.
This concert will be filmed by WMAL and Gandalf Productions for a promo-type video presentation on the music of the Washington area.
Happy the Man, who last weekend performed four sell-out shows at D.C.'s Cellar Door, is very excited about Sunday's concert. The return to Harrisonburg is a momentous homecoming. Though catalogued as a Washington based band, Happy the Man has its roots in Harrisonburg.
The band returns trailing a long list of impressive credits ranging from a standing ovation from music magnate Clive Davis during a private audition, to a short recording session with Peter Gabriel, formerly of Genesis, and, most outstanding, their first album.
The album is on the Arista label and is produced (as an example of the groups supernal qualities) by one of the music industry's best, Ken Scott. Scott has produced albums for such artists as the Beatles, David Bowie, Elton John, and Stanley Clarke. The album is expected on the market by the end of March. Arista foresees a single release from the album, which is unusual for an album of it genre.
The music of Happy the Man is, at the least, difficult to describe. People who are familiar with their music invariably describe it as "Happy Music." Ken Scott attempted a definition: "It's closest to jazz-rock without the solos. There are tinges of Pink Floyd and Genesis with dashes of American Jazz-rock thrown in." The band considers this a good evaluation.
The musicians themselves constitute a rare blend of consistently startling musical Virtuosity and, perhaps more important, taste. Their musicianship is still more impressive when one considers their age. They are all in their early twenties. Their ability provoked the usually unexcitable "Washington Star" staff writer Charlie McCollum to headline an article, "Happy the Man: Catch 'Em Now, Tomorrow They'll Be Stars."
Most of the pieces revolve around the diverse and clever keyboard work of Kit Watkins and Frank Wyatt. They also play flute, saxophone, and recorder, (Watkins' father Dr. Lowell Watkins, is a professor in the Madison College music Department.)
The compositions are laced with the laser-precise guitar ability of Stanley Whitaker, who proved to be a more than adequate vocalist on the album. The music is then crystallized by the percussion-ballet of Mike Beck and the solid bass of Rick Kennell.
Happy the Man was founded in September 1973. From the beginning, even when their future was at nest ambiguous, the group never lost confidence in itself. After three years of inconclusive possibilities, Cellar Door Management and Arista espoused this faith.
It was Stu Fine that took the initial chance to present Happy to Clive Davis. But Fine, just as anyone who has heard their music, was certain of the group's ability. The band describes the audition as "weird."
"It was weird," said Whitaker. "We went up to New York and were taken to this underground studio in the middle of the city, There were only about 10 people there besides us and six of them were our tech crew. There was Clive (Davis), our lawyer, and some of Clive's yes-men. When we finished the first song everything was quiet. You could hear a pin drop."
"It was like that after every song. Until we finished the set. Then Clive stood up and applauded," added Kennell.
Arista and Cellar Door have been treating them "very nicely." The band members have been housed comfortably within some of the less savage perimeters of the D.C. megalopolis. They have helped Whitaker and Kennell finance their custom-built guitars from the young Luthier Paul Reed Smith. Smith as also built guitars for Al DiMeola ,Peter Frampton, and Ted Nugent.
The nicest treatment Happy received was the contracting of Ken Scott. to produce their album. If is rare that a and will have so eminent a producer engineer their first album.
The band describes working with Scott as "great, beautiful experience." "Ken relaxes you and makes you feel natural in a totally unnatural environment. But he wouldn't put up with any beef. He makes you play your best and want to play your best," Watkins said. "He's a strict teacher. And it's his whole family, too. They were all great."
At one point during the recording, Scott had Watkins re-do a flute solo 30 or 40 times before he would accept it. "Bu the biggest thrill was we didn't have to change our music," emphasized Wyatt. "We would do anything not to change our music."
A tour is developing, but they are waiting for the right agency to handle it. The tour tentatively will stop at colleges in New York, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.
Their manager, Bob Baker, prefers to have Happy booked at colleges initially instead of as opening acts for already established performers. Not only are the college bookings more lucrative, opening acts are treated with little respect and are purposely toned down to make the main act sound better. Working colleges will enable them to utilize their full potential.
Most prevalent in their minds now is find a permanent place to practice to create some new and more innovative music.
Although Happy the Man is not certain of the actual facts and figures that lie ahead, the confident musicians all agree they are on their way: "Things are moving quickly. We can't plan ahead much. We have too many responsibilities with our music. We can't plan ahead four weeks from now because in three weeks our whole situation might be different. Coping day to day is most important now."