Blood, Sweat & Tears Documentary Addresses Fan and Media Backlash

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A still from ‘What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?’

Blood, Sweat & Tears, known for such hits as “Spinning Wheel,” “And When I Die” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” are the subject of a new documentary, What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? The film is described as “the incredible never-before-told story about a top rock band that was unknowingly embroiled in a political rat’s nest involving the U.S. State Department, the Nixon White House and a controversial concert tour of Yugoslavia, Romania and Poland, countries that were behind what was then known as the Iron Curtain.”

When they returned from the June-July 1970 tour and visit, the band itself was caught in the crossfire from both the right and the left and the group suffered as a result. Suddenly, they were no longer hip and cool and lost support from fans, the media, concert bookers and the recording industry. As a result, they found themselves in the crosshairs of a polarized America–as divided then as it is now–and became an early victim of cancel culture. The feature-length film will be released theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on March 24, 2023, before expanding across North America and Canada via Abramorama. Watch the trailer below.

In 1969, the band played the legendary Woodstock Festival and in 1970 won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for its self-titled, second LP, besting The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Crosby, Stills and Nash’s debut, among others.

Weeks after returning from the Iron Curtain tour, Blood, Sweat & Tears played New York’s Madison Square Garden. Outside the venue, the leftist radical Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies (Youth International Party) led a protest against what they called “Blood, Sweat & Bullshit,” accusing them of being tools of the CIA, and urging people to boycott the band’s records and concerts.

A scene from ‘What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?’

Written, produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs. John Lennon, Chasing Trane, Who Is Harry Nilsson…?) and produced by Dave Harding (Herb Alpert Is…), the film was created with the full cooperation of Blood, Sweat & Tears. The documentary features never-before-seen film and photos of the band, as well as present-day interviews with then-Columbia Records president Clive Davis and five of the nine band members: lead singer David Clayton-Thomas, sax player and musical arranger Fred Lipsius, bass player Jim Fielder, drummer Bobby Colomby, and guitarist Steve Katz, who says, “We were blackmailed.”

“It has been fascinating for me to relive these incidents of some 50 years ago,” said Colomby, “through the footage, documentation and, incredibly, the live performance tapes John and his team discovered through some very deep and tireless digging. I believe the music we made then holds up today.”

The truth-is-stranger-than fiction film blends political intrigue, social commentary and a mystery involving one of the biggest rock bands of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Director John Scheinfeld adds, “Uncovering the details of the extraordinary story took us far and wide, and we were amazed by the unexpected twists and turns of the tale. We hope people will be as struck as we were by the political parallels and counterpoints between then and now.”

What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? features 53 minutes of never-before-seen footage shot during the Iron Curtain tour and never-before-seen footage of the opening song of BS&T’s set at Woodstock. The film’s soundtrack, featuring 10 recently discovered and remastered live performances from the band’s Iron Curtain concert tour, will be available via Omnivore Recordings on April 21. Click here for the documentary’s theatrical schedule.

Related: Our 2019 interview with David Clayton-Thomas

Best Classic Bands Staff

8 Comments so far

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  1. Mak
    #1 Mak 9 March, 2023, 10:14

    I never knew any of that. The band ended for me when Al Kooper was booted and Clayton-Thomas took over. They went from cutting edge to mor. The later band reminded me of Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdink. Nice music to while away time when riding in an elevator or shopping at A&P.

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    • JPC
      JPC 9 March, 2023, 11:51

      Totally agree Mak. I was also a big fan of of the short lived Blues Project, I Stand Alone, Super Session, and Live Adventures. As far as I’m concerned Al Kooper WAS BS&T.

      Reply this comment
  2. BMac
    #2 BMac 9 March, 2023, 12:36

    Really loved both the Kooper BS&T and the DCT BS&T, though Kooper’s version was far more subversive. Also, it’s probably not so coincidental that the blueprint for the band’s biggest selling album was laid out by Kooper, and produced by James Guercio.

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  3. Chunky Reese
    #3 Chunky Reese 9 March, 2023, 17:44

    Three of the tunes on their second album were promulgated by the first iteration of the band under Kooper-Katz-Colomby, et al – “Smiling Phases”, “More and More”, and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”. And they all appear in basically the same arrangements as what was performed on the bootleg “Psychedelic Supermarket” appearance & recording from Boston in February ’68. DCT had “Spinning Wheel” in his back pocket from his Canada days (and Freddy’s arrangement brought it to a whole other level). “And When I Die” was a Laura Nyro piece (she rehearsed with the band briefly and dated BS&T bassist Jim Fielder). Their use of Satie’s “Gymnopedies” is arguably brilliant, and mirrors the “Overture / Underture” concept from the first album. “Blues Part II” is a direct follow-on and answer to “Something’s Going On”, again from the first album. “Sometimes in Winter” is a sweet-yet-melancholy ballad contributed by Katz. And finally, “God Bless the Child” is an arrangement so impressive that – despite Billie’s recording from decades earlier – the song is now a standard and identified primarily with BS&T. As a band that was crunched for time after Clive told them to re-align and put something together after the implosion of the first lineup, I’ll take that kind of artistic contribution any day – especially over Kooper’s weak vocal offerings, not to mention his indulgences (“The Modern Adventures of Plato, Diogenes and Freud”?!? Please.) There are some good-to-great tracks on “Child is Father …” (and Randy’s trumpet work is near-perfect), but Kooper’s voice just wasn’t strong enough to front the type of evolutionary band that he wanted, which (in his own words) could knock you on your ass at 50 feet without amplification (see: inspiration from Maynard Ferguson). That’s why the Mach 1 band members asked Kooper to stay on – as composer, arranger, and keyboard player – just NOT as the the lead singer. But according to multiple historical sources, Al could never really play nice in a group setting if he wasn’t “in charge”. This documentary with the second lineup looks to be a wild ride – even if only for historical purposes in representing what the band experienced “over there”, but also as a time capsule of the Cold War period in general.

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    • MAK
      MAK 10 March, 2023, 07:31

      All true, but another analogy is early Elvis vs later Elvis. He sure could fill those Vegas venues but I’ll take the earlier stuff any day. Lucretia McEvil wasn’t really “that damn bad”

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  4. 122intheshade
    #4 122intheshade 9 March, 2023, 23:22

    Al has a podcast (currently over 100 shows) laying out the history he made before BS&T, through Skynyrd and beyond. Before there was Zelig, there was Kooper.

    Koopcasts are short and concise, and well worth the time of anyone wanting to explore pop and rock history. Find his terrific version of “Hey Jude” on the “Rare and Well Done” comp.

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    • Richard Poppe
      Richard Poppe 11 March, 2023, 12:02

      I repectfully disagree, both versions of that band had first call talent, people like Fred Lipsius and Lew Soloff.

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