By Richie Unterberger

Over the course of the 1960s, Judy Henske had gradually drifted from folk to pop to folk-rock and psychedelia. More than any of her other projects, the early-1970s LP Rosebud was very much a rock album, anchored by a functioning rock band rather than collaborators and session musicians. For the record was not a Henske solo release, but the work of an actual band called Rosebud, in which Henske was just one of five members, albeit a very important one.

    Another key member of Rosebud was Judy's husband of the time, Jerry Yester. After recording folk and folk-rock in the mid-'60s as part of the Modern Folk Quartet, Yester replaced Zal Yanovsky in the Lovin' Spoonful and produced albums by Tim Buckley and the Association, as well as teaming up with Henske to share co-billing  on the psychedelically eclectic late-1960s cult classic Farewell Aldebaran. That record's fertile imagination hadn't resulted in commercial success, yet one of its songs, the crunching blues-rocker "Snowblind," was vital to turning Henske and Yester toward a rockier full-band setup. "The only thing that had been played [on the radio] was 'Snowblind,'" explains Henske. "Jerry and I already had a lot of material, but we thought that expanding out of that Modern Folk Quartet kind of style -- beautiful harmonies and delicate constructions -- might be a good idea. I had a heavier idea of what I wanted to do, or something that could swing. So then along came Craig."

    Keyboardist Craig Doerge had first met Henske when he played in her backup band at a Cleveland gig in 1965. He'd subsequently moved to Hollywood to work as a studio player and songwriter. "I'd been on the lot of A&M Records, doing a lot of writing with Paul Williams and with Donna Weiss, who wrote [with Jackie DeShannon] 'Bette Davis Eyes,'" he remembers. "We were cranking out songs, very much in the West Coast Brill Building style of songwriting. Some of those songs were on the reel that I sent out to Judy."

    "We heard some of Craig's demo records and it really sounded good," picks up Henske. "Craig was a swinging piano player with a big rhythmic sound, and big left hand; he didn't even need a bass player. So we decided to form a band." The trio was expanded to a quintet with drummer John Seiter, who'd been in Spanky & Our Gang and the Turtles, and bassist David Vaught (who only made the back cover shot and not the front one of the group), though "the songs were all written by Jerry, Craig, and me," continues Judy. "We decided to be very democratic on assigning lead singing, so most of the lead singing went to Jerry and me, some to Craig, and one [song] to Johnny Seiter."

    The democracy was reflected in the album's diversity, with only a few of the songs (particularly the Henske-Yester compositions "Le Soleil," "Lullabye II (Summer Carol)," and "Lorelei") echoing the strange poetic wordplay and psychedelic-classical melodic whimsy of Farewell Aldebaran. At other points the sound was more in line with the burgeoning Los Angeles singer-songwriter movement of the early 1970s and country-rock, though the Henske-Doerge-penned "Flying to Morning" ventured into baroque orchestrated art-pop. "Salvation," another Henske-Doerge collaboration, unexpectedly became a hit in France for French pop star Johnny Hallyday, who recorded it as "Sauvez Moi" in Hollywood, with Doerge on piano. The translation did take some liberties by adding, in Doerge's words, an "extra thing about going onto the steps of the guillotine."

    Jerry Yester produced, his major role in shaping the recording praised by both Henske, who calls him "a wonderful thinker with strings and arranging," and Doerge, who hails his "terrific vocal arrangements. Jerry's very much a perfectionist on vocal parts, so we would sing that stuff ad nauseum. But it's the only way that the group could work, because they were complicated vocal charts. I personally had grave reservations about any band in which Judy's role as a lead singer was anything other than always outfront. In some ways, the democracy Jerry was looking for didn't serve Judy as a solo singer, because no matter how good Jerry or I might sing a song, it was immaterial if it meant Judy didn't sing the song. I think it was a time in Judy's life where she was raising [her daughter] and kind of happy to back off a little bit from being the wild and crazy solo Judy Henske, and willing to let her limelight be kind of tucked within a group." Yester, however, welcomed the chance to spread the vocals around, as "John Seiter was a fine singer, and Craig was a good parts singer. Judy and I loved parts singing, so we wanted to do as much of that as possible. It was a lot more rounded than just Judy and I."

    "'Lorelei' and 'Lullabye' are two of the finest pieces of music that I think Jerry ever wrote for a group," adds Doerge. "The realization of those records was great as well, 'cause he was taking four very different voices. Our bass player and drummer were not big singers, but we actually sounded pretty good. Jerry knew how to give parts to everybody so that they sounded as good as they could. Because he knew how to arrange for a vocal quartet, which is what this was." Craig also admired Yester's orchestral arrangements for tracks like "Flying to Morning," where "there was a small orchestra, but they sounded great. I think Jerry works with a small orchestra not unlike Claus Ogermann, another great arranger. He gets a lot out of fifteen players because he can't afford more." From time to time the sound was also filled out by top L.A. session players, with Mike Deasy playing guitar on "Salvation" and "Reno," Buddy Emmons pedal steel on "The Yum Yum Man," and Ray Brown and Barry Zweig bass and guitar respectively on "Roll Home Cheyenne."

    Yet after all the thoughtful craft that had gone into the group's formation and the album's recording, Henske says Rosebud played live just a couple of times (once at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles, and once in San Juan Capistrano) before splitting. Henske and Yester's marriage was breaking up, with Henske beginning a relationship with Craig Doerge, whom she's still married to, and with whom she still records and performs. Around the time Rosebud came out in 1971, Yester remembers running into Warners honcho Mo Ostin, "who said, 'Oh boy, we love the album, and we're going to give it a big push.' I said, 'Judy and I have broken up, Mo.' He said, 'Oh,' and drove off. And that was, I think, the last time I saw him. It was just horrible timing." With the band already dissolved, Rosebud's sole album enjoyed little promotion or commercial impact.

    "That busted up the band," confirms Doerge, who would go on to play on albums by Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and many others, also recording as a solo artist, while Henske largely retired from the music business until her 1999 release Loose in the World. "I think if Rosebud had stayed together, we'd probably have been as big as Fleetwood Mac. But we suffered some of the same problems they did. That's great that it is being re-released, because Jerry and I have talked about it in the last few years hoping that it would be. Jerry and I both think there's a lot of great material on there, and it's wonderful that it's going to have the chance to see the light of day now." -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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