Hammel, Varga & Hladík – V zelenej pamäti
from album “Na II. programe sna”, 1977, Opus 91160493
original LP sleeve (front/back)
Despite its name, this blog is not only about Czech music. When I started with the writing last year I simply didn’t find any elegant way to include the Slovaks directly into the title – although a blog called e.g. Funky Slow Vac would have surely promised some quite funny content… :) So I hope my Slovak readers or fans of Slovak music are not offended when I’m not bringing more of their favorite stuff. I began to dive more deeply into the matter only a few years ago and there has existed probably more Slovak funkiness than I’ll ever know.
One of my favorite Slovak artists of the 1970s is Pavol Hammel (1948), also known as the leader of Prúdy (The Jets), whom he founded as early as in 1963. In the late 60s and early 70s they were one of the top beat groups and Hammel became one of the busiest songwriters in the country. In fact, he was probably the most important figure on the rock side of pop music in Slovakia of the 1970s when “rock” was considered an evil word. Hammel recorded a couple of well received albums. Among them were the hippiesque Prúdy debut Zvonky zvonte (Ring Bells Ring) which holds the unofficial title “Slovak Sgt. Pepper”, the conceptual fairy-tale Šlehačková princezna (The Cream Princess), the successful pop album Hráč (The Player), or the more progressive Zelená pošta (The Green Mail) and Na II. programe sna (On The 2nd Channel Of A Dream).
The latter two LPs were recorded in collaboration with organist Marián Varga, yet another legend of Slovak rock, who used to be one of the early Prúdy members and who also played on their debut. In the seventies he gained international fame with his classical-rock combo Collegium Musicum. Another special guest was the Blue Effect leader Radim Hladík on guitar, thus both records were actually released as a Hammel/Varga/Hladík “supergroup”. And while Zelená pošta from 1972 sounded more like a Varga concept album, Na II. programe sna consists of 13 short and compact songs in a more typical Hammel manner. Nonetheless, both records can be stylistically positioned somewhere between Gentle Giant, ELP and – of course – Collegium Musicum.
V zelenej pamäti (In The Green Memory) seems to be quite a unique track in Hammel’s discography however – and for that matter also in Varga’s or Hladík’s one. I’m not aware of any other Hammel song with such strong latin rock influences. (And in fact, as far as I know, the only other Czechoslovak rock band who recorded a couple of latin rock songs in the 1970s were the František Ringo Čech Group featuring Jiří Schelinger with two pretty straight Santana cover versions. Soon to appear on Funky Czech-In, by the way!) So, this tune was cross-over world music before there even was world music: the East meets the West and the South; Slavic folk inspired melodies with a contemporary Chicano groove.
Besides Hammel, Varga and Hladík, among the featured musicians on the record were the Collegium Musicum drummer Dušan Hájek, the Prúdy bassist Ivan Belák or guitarist Tomáš Rédey. The special guest on this track only was Fedor Letňan on the Fender Rhodes piano who’s adding a lot to the song’s overall latinesque touch. The album lyrics have been written exclusively by one of the most popular Slovak lyricists, Kamil Peteraj.
Like many other Hammel or Varga albums, Na II. programe sna remains quite popular until these days and therefore it’s available on CD (a double CD with Zelená pošta). As for vinyl, you already know the usual sources…