RJ Fox was one of the most phenomenally talented harmony groups to emerge in the heady climate of Marin County circa the early '70s. The acoustic trio made all the right artistic choices and had all the appropriate business connections, not to mention a backlog of haunting, exploratory songs. Unfortunately, that fact was lost on all but a select group of music insiders because the wealth of material that the combo recorded was never released commercially. Through an ill-fated turn of events -- the proverbial bad record industry dealings -- their music was left to languish in tape vaults until it finally saw proper (albeit limited) release more than 20 years after it was originally recorded. By that point it may have been too late for any sort belated success, but it at least shed light on some exceptional, criminally neglected music.
RJ Fox came together in Detroit at the twilight of the '60s when singer/songwriters Richard Hovey ("R"), Joel Siegel ("J"), and Sherry Fox ("Fox") formed a vocal trio inspired by acoustically and harmonically rich groups like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and America. They honed a gorgeous live mixture of labyrinthine melodies and arrangements and a highly involved vocal blend, as strong and unique in its way as that of their heroes, because they didn't realized that many of the harmonies they were emulating were achieved and perfected through series of overdubs. They eventually added bass player Marty Lewis and guitarist John Garlak to the band. In 1971, RJ Fox drove all the way from Michigan to San Francisco with the intention of auditioning for David Crosby. Upon their arrival, the band talked a security guard at Wally Heider's Studio, where Crosby was finishing up the mixing on his stoned solo masterpiece If I Could Only Remember My Name with engineer and producer Stephen Barncard at the time, into believing that Crosby was expecting them. One day Barncard arrived late for a session to see the group singing and playing in the studio and a grinning Crosby observing enraptured. He thought they were friends of Crosby, and Crosby thought they were a band Barncard was producing. Regardless, both were duly impressed, and RJ Fox signed on with the management team of Elliot Roberts and David Geffen, who immediately set out to find them a record deal. Ahmet Ertegun himself soon signed the band to Atlantic. They began recording their debut album, with help from Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann and Jefferson Airplane/New Riders of the Purple Sage drummer Spencer Dryden, with Barncard in the producer's seat. The album was finished in three weeks, but trouble had already begun brewing in discussions about royalties and advances that the band held with Dryden and Kreutzmann between takes. With the album in the can, members of RJ Fox began hanging out with then-manager of the Grateful Dead, John MacIntire, and he convinced them to allow him to renegotiate their contract. When confronted by MacIntire's demands, a furious and insulted Atlantic shelved the record.
Nevertheless, the band spent the next two years performing live and struggling in vain for another record deal, as well as recording a great deal of equally strong material. They experienced a high point in their career in 1972, when they were third on the bill at Winterland, opening for the New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Grateful Dead, all bands that Barncard was producing at the time. Things began coming apart, however, the following year. Sherry Fox quit momentarily and was replaced for a brief stint by Valerie Carter, only to return when Hovey and Carter quit to join the trio Howdy Moon, who released an album on A&M in 1973 to scant attention. Hovey then faded into rock obscurity, while Carter later went on to record two strong solo albums for CBS in the '70s, before becoming a backing singer for James Taylor. Siegel and Fox added drummer Carl Tassi, keyboard player Ted Tiepel, guitarist John Yeager, and bass player Kelly Bryan, who had earlier been in Grootna, and morphed into the band Oasis. Oasis released a self-titled, Barncard-produced album in 1973 to little fanfare, mostly due to its limited 500-LP pressing. When the album failed to generate much interest, the members finally went their separate ways. Lewis went on to become a producer of note. Bryan joined Jesse Colin Young's band. Fox went on to the unsuccessful Los Angeles trio, Indigo, before moving back to Michigan in the late '70s, backing Aretha Franklin and other artists, and becoming a successful commercial jingle singer. Siegel went back to school and became a clinical psychologist. With encouragement from Barncard, Siegel returned to the studio in 1994 and 1995 to begin work on a solo album, Sideshow, produced by Barncard and released in 1997 on Civil Defense Records to acclaim. Although it took on a harder-edged sound than his work with RJ Fox, the album did give Siegel a reason to reconvene the old vocal trio with Fox and Hovey to add to the album's characteristic harmony-rich sound. He began working on his second solo album in 2001.
The RJ Fox material did not see the light of day until it was reissued in 1993 by Black Bamboo Records as part of the 2-CD set Retrospective Dreams (which also included much of the Oasis album and some Siegel solo material from the same era), released in a limited edition of about 1000 CDs and 1000 cassettes. ~ Stanton Swihart, Rovi