Who is J.D. Blackfoot? There isn’t a simple answer. Cleveland-born Benjamin Franklin Van Dervort changed his name to J.D. Blackfoot, but it originally was also the name of his band. It’s safe these days to think of ole Benny Van as J.D. And if you want to hear “the recollections of the amazing, sometimes miraculous events of J.D.'s life” from the man himself, he’s telling his story next April in Arnold, Missouri. He retired from musical performances in 2017. But in 1970, the first album under the J.D. Blackfoot name, The Ultimate Prophecy, was released on Mercury Records.
J. D. Blackfoot
The Ultimate Prophecy
Mercury - SR-61288
As was not uncommon at the time, the album credits are not much help in determining who does what on The Ultimate Prophecy. This was the tail end of the singles era where major labels, in particular, mainly thought of tours as promotional tools for LPs. Some of the credits are the touring band rather than the guys that recorded. Taking a cue from Jeff Beck’s 1969 album Beck-Ola, the front cover shows Rene Magritte’s 1952 painting The Sirens’ Song, while the back cover shows Magritte's Man In A Bowler Hat from 1964. As a fan of surrealist art, I love this cover. The European pressings had completely different art, however, with a Dick Horsman photo of a man in a Monk’s robe.
Although he was born in Cleveland, Blackfoot has many links to Columbus. He lived mostly in Columbus until his family moved to Tennessee when he was eight. After high school and his father’s sudden passing, he moved back to Columbus in 1965. In 1967, he joined the established Columbus band the Ebb Tides for a tour. He had aspirations to do his own thing, though, and after a short stint in the group Tree, recorded a demo with Ebb Tides/Tree drummer Dan Waldron that got him signed to Mercury as J.D. Blackfoot.
Mercury’s parent, Philips, released two of the demo tracks as a single in 1969. The echo-laden Who’s Nuts Alfred went to number one on WCOL’s August 25, 1969 local chart. Sounding like a slightly more conventional Captain Beefheart recording, the even more whacked-out B side, Epitaph For A Head, would appear on several psychedelic music compilations over the years.
At this point, the band J.D. Blackfoot was J.D. on lead vocals, Dan Waldron on drums, Jeff Whitlock on guitar, future Pure Prairie League member Craig Fuller on guitar and Kenny May on bass. Phil Stokes got the bass credit on the The Ultimate Prophecy but didn’t join the band until after the recording. Sterling Smith also joined after recording completed but is credited on (nonexistent) organ. Stokes would soon join Fuller in the first line-up of Pure Prairie League. Although J.D. would go on to play with a revolving cast of musicians, The Ultimate Prophecy is truly a band album. Fuller, Waldron and Whitlock all get several writing credits while Kenny May gets one.
Recorded at Mercury Sound Studio in New York over a weekend, The Ultimate Prophecy kicks off with Craig Fuller’s One Time Woman, which was also the single. It’s a catchy tune with jangly guitar and driving drums. The mix is a bit muddy, but it has the feel and energy of a live-in-the-studio performance. Dale Frashuer was hot on the heels of success as co-writer of the number one hit Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye and handled production duties. It appears this would be the only full-length album he’d produce.
The B side of the single, I've Never Seen You, was written by bassist Kenny May. Although his bass playing went uncredited, he at least got to keep the songwriting credit. It has a country-rock feel and a mellow vibe. Craig Fuller takes the uncredited lead vocal. The single was a hit in Ohio but didn’t gain much traction elsewhere. With Craig Fuller’s Angel, you distinctly hear the seeds of what would become Pure Prairie League. The tune would appear on their second album, Bustin’ Out, along with their biggest hit, Amie.
Side two is where we get The Ultimate Prophecy psychedelic magnum opus. Including spoken word sections and frenetic Mitch Mitchell-ish drums and fuzzed-out guitars, you hear hints of bands like H.P. Lovecraft, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, but also the prog bands like The Moody Blues. Including ruminations on the cycle of life, death and rebirth, it’s pretty heady stuff. It’s become something of a cult classic, which may have a lot to do with its obscurity, but the reputation is nonetheless deserved. If you’re not put off by ambitious, high-minded concepts in rock, or the spoken word sections of Moody Blues tunes, check it out. I was aware of it but didn’t give it a serious deep dive until picking up the vinyl at Lost Weekend a few weeks ago. I’ve been giving it heavy rotation ever since and it’s pretty mind-blowing stuff. Interesting and ambitious, to say the least.
J.D. would go on to form the Sisapa studio and record label. Craig Fuller would go on to co-found Pure Prairie League and sing with Little Feat. But those are stories for another day. The J.D. Blackfoot saga begins with The Ultimate Prophecy, and it's quite a journey.
Tracklist A1 One Time Woman
A3 We Can Try
B5 Pink Sun
Manufactured By – Mercury Record Productions, Inc.
Distributed By – Mercury Record Productions, Inc.
Pressed By – Philips Recording Company, Inc.
Bass – Phil Stokes
Drums – Dan Waldron
Engineer, Engineer [Re-Mix] – Warren Dewey
Lead Vocals – J. D. Blackfoot
Organ – Sterling Smith
Producer – Dale Frashuer