Seatrain recorded with George Martin in Marblehead
by Mary Reines
On a balmy summer day in 1971, a band called Seatrain performed to thousands at Crocker Park. It was a sunny afternoon on the Fourth of July, and the Marblehead Festival of Arts was in full swing. Marblehead Messenger editor William Kirtz noted that Seatrain was the most popular act of the Festival.
“They were literally hanging from tree trunks to hear Seatrain,” he wrote in the July 8, 1971 issue. “There was no jostling, no argument. The hip and the crew-cut, the knapsack and the baby-toters, all mingled in close quarters with no problem.”
According to the Messenger, police received phone calls from people complaining that the concert was too loud. It was the same year that the Newport Folk Festival had booked the Allman Brothers Band, drawing an overwhelming amount of fans and creating a frenzy of destruction in which intruders stormed the stage. Newport was cancelled that year, and some feared that the Marblehead Arts Festival would suffer the same fate. But Marblehead Arts Festival President Betsy Stead defended the organization.
“It’s insane to compare Newport, a four or five day jazz festival with our show,” Stead, a Beacon Street resident, told the Messenger. “It’s the only way to celebrate on the Fourth of July.
“There were people of all ages at Crocker Park,” she said. “The bulk wasn’t teenagers.”
That day, the six-piece roots rock band must have performed their hit song “13 Questions,” which reached number 49 on the Billboard charts. Their most popular track to this day, it was recorded on their second album, “Seatrain,” with the late Beatles producer Sir George Martin, who died on March 8 at age 90.
“Seatrain” was Martin’s first project after working with The Beatles. It was was recorded at Air Studios in London, an independent recording complex that Martin founded in 1969.
Richard Greene, Seatrain’s violinist, remembered the studio’s air-like quality.
“The main recording room, which was huge, was surrounded on all sides… by little thimbles, string-like things,” said Greene. “The room was actually floating… Whatever sounds were produced in the room would not be affected by solid or concrete walls.”
During the summer of ‘71, Seatrain, which at that time included Greene (violin, mandolin, vocals), Larry Atamanuik (drums, percussion), Peter Rowan (guitar, vocals), Lloyd Baskin (keyboard, vocals), Andy Kulberg (bass, flute, vocals) and Jim Roberts (lyrics, vocals), were in Marblehead to record their third album, “The Marblehead Messenger,” again with George Martin.
“He was very charming and articulate, very easy to get along with,” said Greene. “You have to have this easy going personality to be a producer… I liked him, personally, a great deal.”
Today, Atamanuik is astonished by the fact that he got to work with Martin. At the time, it was just business as usual.
“In my lifetime, I would have never thought I would ever have that chance,” said Atamanuik. “When you’re in it, you’re doing it as a project.”
It is unclear how the band ended up in Marblehead, all the way from Marin County California. Atamanuik said that they wanted to be on the East Coast, closer to many major colleges, closer to New York City where their managers were, and closer to Europe.
“It was easier to market ourselves from Boston,” said Atamanuik.
Atamanuik lived on Humphrey Street in Swampscott, a block away from the Surf Theater, which was torn down in the ‘80s, according to cinematreasures.org. Greene lived near Beacon Street in Marblehead. They practiced on the second floor of a building in the middle of downtown Marblehead.
“The Marblehead Messenger” was recorded in a house on the Neck that is referred to as “Seaweed Studios” in the album’s liner notes. Martin created a makeshift studio in the house, where he was spending the summer with his family.
“It was kind of a vacation for him,” said Atamanuik.
Neither Greene nor Atamanuik remember the house’s exact location, but Atamanuik recalled that the house didn’t seem too far from the causeway.
“It was just a big old house with rectangular rooms… nothing spectacular. It was like an old mansion, but very boxy, square shaped,” said Greene.
Both band members agreed that Martin was easygoing and unflappable.
“I think you could throw an elephant at him and he’d just go, ‘Oh I’ll just catch it,” said Atamanuik. “Very comfortable and easy to be with.”
“He was very charming and articulate, very easy to get along with,” said Greene.
Seatrain’s third album was inspired by Marblehead’s older weekly paper, The Marblehead Messenger, which was founded in 1871 and came out on Thursdays as the Marblehead Reporter does today. For the album cover, Seatrain used the Messenger’s masthead, which was designed by prominent artist Frederick Childe Hassam when he was 25, according to a Marblehead Magazine article.
“The sketch he sold to the Messenger is that panoramic view of the town of Marblehead which became so familiar to generations of townspeople over the years,” states the article.
“The work is described as ‘serious’ because until that time all that young Childe Hassam had sold were letterhead sketches for Lynn shoe factories. The budding artist was then at a wood engraver’s shop in his native Boston.”
In his career, Child Hassam went on to meet Degas, Mary Cassatt, Renoir, Picasso and Monet, and today his works are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the article.
“We saw a masthead of that newspaper, and we were sending a message from Marblehead with our music,” said Greene. “It seemed like a good idea.”
Their song, “Marblehead Messenger,” sounds like a folk rock sea shanty and features Kulberg’s expert flute playing and strong, uplifting harmonies. “Take a message to the sailors / take a message to the farms / take a message from your children / Lay down your arms,” are some of the lyrics. The song was written by Kulberg and Roberts.
Seatrain’s star seemed to be on the rise, but “The Marblehead Messenger” turned out to be a commercial flop. One music blogger and extreme Seatrain fan, who goes by jhendrix110, wrote of the album, “the songs aren’t quite as good [as the earlier songs]. The Kulberg/Roberts pairing seems to have gone in an odd direction,” and gave the album two and half stars.
Mason Daring, Marblehead resident and composer who worked with Greene, remarked on how it was received.
“It was a big disappointment to the music industry,” said Daring. “Musically, it was terrific, it just… somehow didn’t mesh.”
The band, with a new lineup, broke up after releasing one more album, “Watch,” in 1973.
But on July 4, 1971, the skies were sunny. Seatrain was playing a free concert with an ocean view and a massive crowd. According to a Messenger article, local club owner Lennie Sogoloff had scheduled a show for them at Stonehenge in Ipswich just after his club, Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike in Peabody, had burned.
“A smaller club, but one in which he feels the group’s folk rock appeal would be greatest,” the article said.
“The Marblehead Messenger” might be found at your local vinyl store. I found my copy for $6 at a record shop in Brattleboro, Vermont a few years ago. The album art, photos taken by Jim McGuire, features Seatrain posing along the North Shore coast. The back cover shows them standing on rocks with the Marblehead Lighthouse in the distance, just across the harbor.
“Oh you like Seatrain?” The record store clerk asked me.
“Oh, I’ve never heard of them, but that’s my hometown,” I replied.
If anyone has any information regarding the details of Seatrain and George Martin’s recording sessions, email Arts Editor Mary Reines at email@example.com.