Should you find yourself familiar with the name Sally Eaton, chances are you identify as one of the following: a fan of the original Broadway cast recording of Hair or Wiccan.
Should you find yourself familiar with the name Sally Eaton, chances are you identify as one of the following: a fan of the original Broadway cast recording of Hair or Wiccan. It is the result of the former that Eaton came to write and record Farewell American Tour, her sole album, for Paramount Records in 1970. Having originated the role of Jeanie both on- and off-Broadway, Eaton made a name for herself as a vocal talent. But before that, she had been a member of The Other Side of Silence, a professional theater company founded by Doric Wilson and largely responsible for the off-off-Broadway idea. These bits of information alone would make Eaton an interesting performer. That she later went on to become a Wiccan High Priestess and active participant in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn simply adds to the mystique.
Yet a glance at the back cover of Farewell American Tour would lessen the surprise of learning these bits of information. Taking up nearly a third of the rear is a giant horoscope chart, namely Eaton’s which she, according to the liner notes she penned herself, hopes will help listeners “try to figure [her] out.” In lieu of the usual promotional hype accompanying moldering dust jackets found on long-forgotten albums, Eaton’s self-penned notes lend further insight into her esoteric character. “If you are standing in your local record store,” she writes, “and you like the outrageous picture of me on the cover, you will probably like the stuff I write and sing as it is also outrageous.” All things being relative to time and place, much of Farewell American Tour was, is and remains fairly outrageous.
To be sure, she’s not off in her description of the album’s cover image. Adorned in a high, lacy Elizabethan collar and a far off (read: stoned) look on her face, she stands amidst cartoon stars beneath a title card that would not look out of place at your local outsider art exhibit. It’s certainly an intriguing façade and anyone prone to investigating further these types of album covers will likely not be disappointed. Indeed, Eaton’s an interesting character throughout the record. Sounding at times like a cross between Janis Joplin and Patti Smith, she shows off an array of vocal tics and tricks that range from throaty wailing to a spine-tingling squeal that would make James Brown take notice.
Furthermore, the fact that she wrote all her own material moves Farewell American Tour above the usual actor-turned-musician fare of the late-1960s and early ‘70s. That she provides an explanation for each song within her liner notes is all the more intriguing, given her rather cryptic approach: “I wrote as an exercise in legit,” (“This Time Next Autumn”); “Cost me blood to write.” (“Once Before You Go”); and “Was written about several people I knew who got pregnant cause they didn’t know any better and needed something to love” (“Charlotte”). Most telling, however, is her justification for the seven-and-a-half-minute psychedelic freak-out that closes the album. “Maybe My Love for You” is a wild ride that relies heavily on the era’s peace-and-love platitudes, hence her thinking of it as, “my idea of a nice commercial little pop single.”
Opening with the aforementioned, “masochistic love song” “Once Before You Go,” Farewell American Tour wastes no time in diving headlong into Eaton’s own world. Hers is a world predicated on the dramatic and a flair for the esoteric. Her heavy-handed delivery is at once cabaret and overwrought – Meatloaf before he got outta hell. It could just as easily serve as the triumphant climax to an off-off-Broadway musical as a profound, declarative opening statement of pop music purpose.
Musically the album is all across the map: “Sandy Brown” is a country-rock shuffle that devolves into vaudevillian schtick; “I Don’t Want to Need You Anymore” relies on a tabla groove, lending the track the requisite Eastern flair; “Flowers in the Air” is pure commercially-minded acid folk (the original title having been “Superpsychedlictrippyacid Technicolor/Flowers in the Air”) replete with searing guitars and droning sitars; “This Time Next Autumn” is a Carpenters-on-acid ballad that, as Eaton puts it, “Tony Bennett could really get off on.”
Very much a product of its time (“Can you dig red, baby, neon red/coming on strong/do you know what I mean?”), Farewell American Tour is nonetheless a rollicking, bizarre listen well worth searching out if you go for such things: “If this material turns you off, please put the album carefully back in the rack and buy something else,” Eaton advises the potential listener. “If you buy it, I think you will dig listening to it. I dug recording it.” Dig.