Zephyr "Heartbeat" (1982)
The Colorado band Zephyr, founded by the wife-and-husband team of Candy Givens (vocals, harmonica) and David Givens (bass, guitar, synthesizer), are best remembered as the band that launched the career of the late Tommy Bolin, the highly regarded guitarist who later became a member of the James Gang, Deep Purple, and a solo artist before his death in 1976. Zephyr's self-titled debut album from 1969 mixed hard rock and blues in ways similar to the first Led Zeppelin album (released that same year). It's a fine album, to be sure, although Bolin's guitar work made a better initial impression than the contributions of frontwoman Givens, whose Janis Joplin-like wailing and blaring blues harmonica often sounded shrill on this album. The second album, Going Back To Colorado (1971), found the band moving toward less powerful hippie-era folk-rock, diminishing Bolin's guitar presence and putting more emphasis on Givens' vocals, which were considerably scaled down to better suit the material. Their third album Sunset Ride (1972) was recorded without Bolin, and the sound leaned toward less intense jazz and country styles. Givens finally seemed to find the right levels for her vocals, fitting them smoothly into this album's more laid-back grooves.
Most people think that Sunset Ride was the final Zephyr album, because there was a ten-year recording hiatus between that album and their fourth. Zephyr broke up in the mid-'70's, but reformed in 1980. Their largely overlooked fourth album, titled Heartbeat, was released in 1982 on an indie label called Red Sneakers Records. Heartbeat has been out of print for decades, and seemed likely for many years to remain in limbo. However, David Givens has said that he recently remastered the album, which makes a future reissue possible, though perhaps not definite.
For lovers of Zephyr's available oeuvre, the very existence of Heartbeat might seem like something from a strange dream: a little-heard Zephyr studio album recorded and released a whole ten years after Sunset Ride, and six years after the death of Tommy Bolin. But does it sound like a Zephyr album? Well…part of the time.
On Heartbeat, Zephyr are billed as a trio, consisting of Candy and David Givens and guitarist Eddie Turner (spelled Eddy in the credits). The three of them co-wrote all of the songs except the Gene Pitney cover “Half Heaven - Half Heartache”.
That Pitney cover, which has a sound reminiscent of the Phil Spector girl groups, is one example of the unexpected directions Zephyr took on Heartbeat. The album opens with a notably Zephyr-like blues number called “Don’t Come Back”, which Candy sings with an indignant neo-Joplin voice. But the next few tracks sound quite unlike the Zephyr of old. “That’s Right (Baby)”, “Love Comes Runnin’”, and “We Got The Love” lie in a relatively mellow r&b groove, with agreeably soulful vocals by Candy (and some male vocal accompaniment). “Dreamin’” is a smooth jazz-pop song that could almost pass for a Top 40 ballad from the period. The most surprising track of all is “Mad Dog”, with its Caribbean rhythms.
The last three tracks more closely resemble the early-‘70’s Zephyr sound. “I Know A Place”, “Secrets”, and the mildly psychedelic title track recall the more jazz-oriented songs on Going Back To Colorado and Sunset Ride.
The guitar work on this album invites little comparison to that of Tommy Bolin; it’s sophisticated without being showy, and Candy’s vocals are similarly controlled most of the time. The album’s main flaw is that much of it sounds under-produced; hopefully, modern remastering might fix this problem.
Heartbeat was a respectable return to recording for Zephyr, but it’s not an essential must-own. Fans of their other work will want to check it out if it is reissued; fanatics will want to search it out if it is not.
Sadly, Heartbeat did turn out to be the last Zephyr album. The band's final, tragic demise came in January of 1984, when Candy Givens drowned in a hot tub at the age of 37 while under the influence of alcohol and Quaaludes.
Zephyr “Heartbeat” (Red Sneakers RSR 1001) 1982
1. Don’t Come Back
2. That’s Right (Baby)
3. Mad Dog
5. Love Comes Runnin’
6. Half Heaven - Half Heartache
7. We Got The Love
8. I Know A Place