Black Sabbath – California Jam 1974 Reel To Reel Soundboard (Zodiac 494)

California Jam 1974 Reel To Reel Soundboard (Zodiac 494) 

California Jam I, Ontario Motor Speedway, Ontario, CA – USA April 6, 1974 

(74:16) Tomorrow’s Dream, Sweet Leaf, Killing Yourself to Live, War Pigs, Snowblind, Sabbra Cadabra, Jam / Guitar Solo # 1, Sometimes I’m Happy, Drum Solo, Supernaut, Iron Man, Guitar Solo / Jam # 2, Sabbra Cadabra (reprise), Paranoid, Embryo / Children Of The Grave 

This new title from Zodiac is a companion piece to the excellent California Jam 1974 Reel To Reel Soundboard Recording (Darker Than Blue DTB 297/298) as it contains a new recording of Black Sabbath’s set at the first epic Cal Jam held in Ontario, California. Like the Deep Purple recording, this appeared out of nowhere and is an alternate soundboard recording, for those who bypassed my review of the Deep Purple title here is some extended information on the origins of the recording plus some interesting tidbits: 

This is a First Generation copy of a Reel to Reel Soundboard recorded with microphones placed at the stage amps. The equipment is unknown. This is NOT from the TV Broadcast or from a soundboard that the band may possess. It is an independent soundboard. I received this in early 1977. After further investigation, the Black Sabbath release was not official, but a bootleg release. I have never heard this bootleg but it could have been sourced from this tape which I believe I did circulate to a few people. I also noticed the unofficial copy had the the drum solo broken into two parts, this is where the tape flip occurred on my copy.

The Story of this Recording:

In early 1977, I was contacted by a Southern California tape trader who answered one of my AD’s in Trouser Press magazine. That person did not have anything to trade except the Cal Jam show from 1974 (which I attended). He had taped all the bands on a Reel to Reel recorder and separate microphones he had set up on the stage. He must have had a small mixer as well as the recordings picked up all that was played. There is no audience noise except when the band asked the crowd to make noise (which was very muted). The only band not recorded was ELP because he loaded the reel to reel tape upside down and nothing was recorded. He sent me the remaining bands on TDK-SA cassette tapes. Unfortunately, the recordings of Seals & Croft, Black Oak Arkansas & The Eagles were probably used for blank tapes as these band were not important to me at the time. The recording of Rare Earth and Earth, Wind and Fire were transferred to a TDK-D cassette as I needed the SA tape for other recordings. In spite of that, they still sound great.

Memories of the Event:

I attended the show with my friend Kevin and another fellow who drove us to the event. The decision to go was made around midnight and with about 4 hours sleep, we left from San Diego. Tickets were $10 or $15 on the day of the event. I ended up getting my ticket for $10 on the day of the show. The ticket belonged to the seller’s girlfriend who was in jail. While waiting in line, we heard Rare Earth starting their set. When we finally made it to a position several hundred feet in front of the center right PA. We found someone selling an ounce of hash for $10, so we split that between us all. Around the time Black Oak Arkansas started their set, it was time for a restroom break. The porta-poty’s were placed along the sides of the event field. In order to find my way back to my friends, I needed to triangulate our area. Most people had blankets set out with flag poles similar to a day at the beach. I memorized the flags, and left. It took the entire Black Oak set to get back to my general location. I found my position between the three flags and slowly scanned the ground all around me for maybe 5 to 7 minutes without finding my friends. As I was still looking, I felt Kevin tug on my pant leg and say “Aren’t you going to sit down?”. I hit the exact spot with a quarter million people all around me! Amazing. It was a really hot day and the event organizers handed out empty 1 gallon plastic jugs with the handle at the side (similar to milk containers). Everyone needed to fill them with water to keep hydrated. After Black Sabbath’s set was over, there was a long delay before Deep Purple took the stage. The sun was setting so without the need for water anymore, the crowd started tossing the semi-filled water containers in the air. This sprayed the water everywhere and watching this from the distance, the containers all reached about the same height. Then someone came on the PA and stated, that the show would be cancelled unless everyone stopped throwing the containers in the air. ELP played last. I had seen them only 6 weeks earlier in San Diego so I new the set they would play. So when the main set was done but not the encore, our group headed to fence in front of the stage. Most people were leaving at that point so it was pretty easy to get within arms reach of the fence. We needed to look upwards from that position to see the band. At the end we managed to find the car and make our way back to San Diego. What a show!!!

There have been several previous releases of Sabbath’s Cal Jam set, Metal Mess (Oh Boy 1-9016), Bagdad (German Records GR-032), Live USA (Imtrate IMT 900-098), Iron Man Vol 2 (Bananna BAN 053-B), Canadian Nightmare (Aulica A 120), Canabis Confusion (Chase The Dragon CTD 005), 1974 (No Label), California Jam 1974 (Top Gear TOP 26), and California Jam 1974 The Complete Master (Zodiac 343) all feature the first soundboard recording. I pulled out my trusty California Jam 1974 The Complete Master (Zodiac 343) title for this review. Much like the Deep Purple California Jam 1974 Reel To Reel Soundboard Recording (Darker Than Blue DTB 297/298) title this recording has a raw feel to it. Since this new version is a different mix it favors the vocals and guitar, the drums are more in the background and Geezer can be difficult to discern which makes this recording a bit thinner as it favors the highs. This new version also has a broader range of frequencies and much better dynamics and like the Purple recording, contains more between song chatter and tuning. Tony’s guitar drops out of the mix during Sweet Leaf from 3:17 to 3:25, on the original recording this was poorly edited, here we get the full dropout. There is also about 15 seconds more of the Drum solo (track 9), and about 30 seconds of tape before the Children Of The Grave encore. The audience is mixed very low in the mix on both recordings.

After listening to these two titles I find I prefer this new mix / alternate recording over the older version, it just has more life to it. It sounds good cranked up and if you add just a bit more bass, it really has a punch to it. The packaging is very similar to the older Zodiac title, both use live shots of the event much to my delight. The CD art is the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath cover and let’s not forget the numbered sticker. Great to have an alternate recording of this concert, now if the complete video would surface we could have the full experience.

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