Automatic Man was a late seventies jazz fusion offshoot band. It was one of the least known, and recorded only two albums, but the first album is perhaps one of the finest of the genre. The band varied from the fusion norm in two important ways. The first was they made vocal music with singing as important as the instrumental sections. The second was they choose to move toward the rock and funk edges of fusion.

Automatic Man consisted of four people. The self-titled debut album featured a stellar lineup: Keyboard player and singer Bayete Todd Cochran was the front man. San Francisco Bay area musician Doni Harvey played bass, Pat Thrall on guitar and ex-Santana percussionist Michael Shrieve on drums.

Bayete had taken Herbie Hancock's place in Julian Priester's band and had recorded on his album Love, Love as well as writing songs. Later on he would play with John Klemmer, Jeff Beck, Alphonso Johnson and Stanley Clarke. By 1973 he had recorded two albums on Prestige Records, Worlds Around the Sun and Seeking Other Beauty. The albums had projected his funk side, and interest in science fiction themes in in music, a side he carried on in Automatic Man.

Thrall and Shrieve arrived together. They had just come off touring with Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashita's band Go. Go was an alt band, similar to Jade Warrior in that the mixed spacey, ethereal music with hard, biting guitar driven rock. Go also featured German synthesist Klaus Schulze, Steve Winwood and guitar great Al DiMeola. The combination of Thrall and DiMeola proved particularly tasty for guitar lovers, as their styles are completely different. DiMeola is known for his fast, precise flamenco oriented lines. Pat Thrall is a tone and timing player, master of space and the volume control. He recalled that DiMeola constantly drilled him on his fundamentals, and admitted that Go was good for his technique. {Check out DiMeola's playing on Man of Leo and compare it to Thrall's solo work on Crossing the Line-- the contasting tunes highlight why Yamashita wanted both guitarists in his linup.} Thrall also had toured with LA blues-rocker Pat Travers-- check out his solo on the live version of Boom Boom, Out Go the Lights. Shrieve brought precise, latin influenced percussion to the band, while Thrall brought the all the power of a truly great rock guitarist. Later on Thrall would go on to form the Hughes/Thrall Band with exDeep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes. He played with Tina Turner and Patti Smyth and has played with Meat Loaf for years.

Doni Harvey began his musical career in classical music. His first instrument was the clarinet but switched to cello before taking up the string bass. By 1976 a studio musician who played bass with Phil Collins, Brand X, Bill Bruford and Steve Winwood. He even replaced the great Allan Holdsworth as the guitarist in Gong, which would be a tall order even for Steve Vai. Today he appears in the Bay Area with his trio Harvey as well as performing in the studio. With players like this Automatic Man truly deserved to be called a super group.

Their self-titled debut album Automatic Man was probably the band's high mark, in my opinion it was one of the finest albums of the fusion era, possibly equalling Return To Forever's classic Romantic Warrior. Unfortunately, it sold diddly, so copies are extremely rare today. Side A is the "funky" side, opening with Bayete's "Who's gonna be the one", a rather hot funk piece. and Doni Harvey's "My Pearl". Side B featured the spacey side, and was much harder, toward the acid end of jazz. Tunes like Bayete's "Interstellar Tracking Devices", "Atlantis Rising" and the title cut "Automatic Man" were very much in the spacerock genre. But this album just plain rocks! The rythmn section drives the band, Bayete shows real expressiveness on synth and Pat Thrall really, really burns it up. In my opinion, his solo on "Automatic Man" might be the greatest guitar solo ever played. Certainly it is the greatest solo no one ever heard.

Fine as their studio album was, Thrall later admitted the band had trouble pulling off their material live. Part of the problem was that Bayete's multi-keyboard style was very difficult to resolve given the Public Address technology of the era--- I remember seeing Little Feat back then and the PA consisted of two dozen Marshall Stacks-- great guitar amps but hardly PA equipment.

Harvey and Shrieve left after the first album, and were replaced by bassist Jerome Rimson and drummer Glenn Symmonds. The AMG All music guide said that Visitors was way up on the funk meter, and "much more accessable" than their first album, which they claim "asked to be taken on its own terms". I just don't think its as good, possibly a result of record company pressure. It didn't succeed commercially and the band broke up. But the players play on.

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