DPRP.netProg History • Lift

Lift

Prologue

Lift were a progressive band from the USA. Chances are you have never heard of them, but in 1990, US label Syn-Phonic released a CD (the very first CD on that label, actually) entitled Caverns Of Your Brain. It contains the band's first studio recordings, which were until then officially unreleased. A bootleg LP was released with the recordings, but the band didn't know anything about that at the time. Strange that this band, probably one of the finest progressive rock bands from the USA, didn't get more attention.

I have enjoyed the album for many years, and I still do. Although I have tried to contact the band in the past, I never succeeded, and remained without any further info about the band. Mid 2001, however, the original keyboard player contacted me. This was the chance for me to get more info, and to write something about their music. And that's what you're going to read right now. I will give you a brief history of the band, a review of that one and only CD, but a little more as well.

I hope you enjoy reading this article, and that, if you're interested, you are willing to find out more about this amazing band.

A Brief History

New Orleans Line-up

Chip GremillionNew Orleans, 1972. Keyboard player Chip Gremillion, bass player Cody Kelleher, and drummer Chip Grevemberg had worked in several bands playing different kinds of music. But their joining had the purpose of forming a progressive rock band from the South (of the USA that is).

In the first month after founding the band, Chris Young was added to the line-up on guitar and vocals. Chip Gremillion had also played in bands with Courtenay Hilton-Green before, when they lived in Pensacola, Florida. He kept calling Courtenay and sending him tapes until he was persuaded to relocate to New Orleans to join Lift. A month or so later, lead guitarist Richard Huxen joined; Chris Young left to pursue other interests, making the New Orleans line-up final.

Chip GrevembergBy playing live frequently, Lift built up quite a following, even among fellow musicians. Throughout 1973, the band got lots of support from audiences and music critics, and played many successful gigs at university events. A progressive rock band from the start, Lift would often begin their concerts with Genesis' Watcher Of The Skies, but also covered tunes from Led Zeppelin (which in many respects are progressive as well!), The Beatles, Uriah Heep, Yes, and King Crimson. They gradually started to introduce their own compositions when they were written.

Caverns Of Your Brain Sessions

Richard HuxenIn the late Summer of 1973, the band got to know radio DJ and producer Sonny Fox. Sonny decided to put the band in the studio as soon as possible. This happened in June of 1974 in Louisiana, where the band made their first recordings. The average age of the members was only nineteen.

They recorded four songs: Simplicity, Caverns, Buttercup Boogie, and Trippin' Over The Rainbow. These songs were all composed by keyboard player Chip Gremillion. Chris Young, who had left before the band went into the studio, wrote the lyrics to Simplicity, and also co-wrote the lyrics for Caverns with Chip Gremillion and Courtenay Hilton-Green.

jam session

Think of Genesis meeting Yes; as melodic as the first, less complex than the latter, and in a very energetic pace. The band was young, but full of ideas. The energy is present in all tracks, but it does not become as complicated or cold as Yes. It's still the melody that is most important.
Note that Simplicity and Caverns were always intended to be heard and experienced (also when the band played it live) as one long piece. The 1990 Syn-Phonic CD has a track index between them.

Cover Art

original cover art by Ellis BulockWith recording complete, Chip Gremillion called upon Pensacola friend and art student Ellis Bulock, who happened to be dating Chip's cousin. Ellis was a fan of Chip's playing. All the time Chip and Courtenay were in New Orleans, they kept in touch with Ellis. He heard an early performance of the band, and loved the music. Chip Gremillion: "When we recorded the tunes, being youthfully optimistic, we were confident we would get signed. I approached Ellis after the session to request he do the cover art. He was delighted. I explained to him we wanted an expression of someone 'blown away' to a higher place. He brilliantly recreated the 'Transitional moment' of Da Vinci's Christ on the cross and placed it within, thereby symbolizing access to the 'moment', through an elevator, sorry LIFT..."
The album was to be titled either Simplicity or simply Lift. Since the album was never released as intended, the cover art was never used.

Atlanta Line-up

Cody KelleherFor some reason, Sonny Fox thought it was a good idea for the band to move to Atlanta, Georgia. This was in the Fall of 1975. Nothing happened with the four recorded tracks, however. The band went to Philadelphia to record new versions of Simplicity and Tripping Over The Rainbow, plus a newly written instrumental song called To Undulate Rapidly. They drove from Atlanta to Philadelphia, mixed and recorded the songs, heard the results, and drove back to Atlanta, being promised the master tapes would be sent to them after a short while. This never happened, and to this day, none of the band members have ever heard about this recording session anymore.

Courtenay Hilton-GreenThe Philadelphia disappointment was one of several experienced by the group in a matter of the first months after moving to Atlanta. By the Spring of 1976, bassist Cody Kelleher and lead vocalist Courtenay Hilton-Green felt compelled to move on and pursue other opportunities. It took the band months before replacements were found. Laura "Poppy" Pate on (soprano) vocals replied to an advertisement, and although she said she was just checking the band out, she was part of the group as soon as she heard the music. It was Chip Grevemberg's meeting with bass player Tony Vaughan, and Mike Mitchell (guitars and Mellotron) that led them to re-inforce the band, making what now is known as the Atlanta line-up. This was November 1976.

Chip Gremillion has this to say about the change in line-up: "It was an interesting musical jouney from Lift phase one to Lift phase two. I always felt the later material was better produced, performances were better, we were maturing as a group and for the first time really came totally into our own sound. The later version of Lift had potential to create a wider variety of musical statements."

Mike MitchellThe music became somewhat less energetic, but more melodic and diverse. Especially Mike Mitchell's songwriting brought in more Genesis influences.

The revived energy within the band led them to write five new compositions, and also completely re-arrange the songs from the Caverns sessions. Without playing any gigs, the band still got the respect from local musicians who frequented rehearsal sessions.

Laura "Poppy" PateEarly 1977 (Mike Mitchell remembers it was March or April), the band recorded one song in the studio: The Toast. The studio was a gospel studio and was completly unprepared to deal with the requirements of a progressive band. Also, at this time, the new line-up hadn't fully come together musically. Chip Gremillion now thinks they recorded this song too soon.
The Toast was the first song to be arranged, recorded, and produced, that was written by a member other than Chip Gremillion. Although Poppy had a great voice, the lyrical content made it unsuitable for her to sing. Tony Vaughn is on vocals, and Poppy sings in the background.

The Atlanta Session

Later that same year, November 1977, the band returned to the studio for what we now know was their last recording session. It is now called The Atlanta Session. Record producer Michael Stewart heard the band's music and was impressed. When he was in Atlanta to record local hard rock group Hydra, he gave Lift the chance to record some songs, at a place called Pyramid Eye.

Tony VaughnThree songs were recorded: Perspectives, The Waiting Room, and The Masque. Here we can hear Poppy's soprano voice in almost full glory.
In 1976, to fully utilze Poppy's range, Chip Gremillion scaled back and rearranged a 1975 suite he had composed entitled Inception and wrote the song Wind Psalm that really pushed her to her limits (which was E above high C on a B-3 organ...). Unfortunately, producer Stewart felt it was too "non-commercial" and due to time restrictions of the session, Wind Psalm was never recorded.

Caverns Of Your Brain, bootleg LPAround this time, in 1977, an LP was released (one series of 500 copies) with the four songs from the Caverns session, the recordings taken from safety copies, not the master tapes. The band never knew about this.

Working in the studio and having numerous rehearsal sessions gave the band a very tight live sound. Confidence grew, interest was raised with some record companies, and the musicians knew their breakthrough could not be far away. The band recorded a rehearsal session of a new song by Mike Mitchell called Reunion, plus re-arranged versions of Simplicity and Caverns, so they would fit Poppy's voice better. Only the lyrics of those two songs have remained unchanged - musically, these are two completely new songs. The quality of this rehearsal tape is, unfortunately, not good enough for a release.

With a professional photo sessions and an important concert booked (A&R representatives from four record labels were to attend), things were really looking bright. However, two weeks before the big day, Poppy informed the band she was leaving immediately, for personal reasons. The band had no other option than to cancel the gig. Shortly after that, Richard Huxen left the band.

Remaining members Chip Gremillion, Chip Grevemberg, Mike Mitchell, and Tony Vaughn invited several guest musicians to see if the band could continue once more. However, none of them suited the band. The four musicians did realize they had the power to write good music. Together, they composed six to seven songs, which according to Chip Gremillion were among the best the band ever wrote. But unfortunately, Lift officially disbanded in February 1979.

Releases

In 1990, Chip Gremillion was contacted by Greg Walker from Syn-Phonic Records. Greg told Chip he was interested in releasing the Caverns Of Your Brain LP on CD, but wanted to have the master tapes for doing so. It was only now that the band learned about the bootleg LP from 1977. This led to the release of a CD with the same title.
Chip asked Greg if he would use the original artwork by Ellis bulock, and Greg did. So finally the album was released as it was supposed to. Or not completely - the band always found the songs Simplicity and Caverns to be one long listening experience, while Greg put a track index between the two. Also, the band's intention was to call the album either Simplicity or just Lift, but Greg decided to use the bootleg LP title, probably for reference to a title some people might be familiar with.

In 1992, Syn-Phonic released a compilation double LP called Past - Present - Future with eight previously unreleased tracks by as many American bands. Lift got the opening track with Perspectives, from their 1976 Atlanta Session.

The Moment Of Hearing CDScheduled for mid February 2002 release was another CD by Lift on Syn-Phonic: The Moment Of Hearing will contain all studio recordings made by the band, ie. the Caverns session (re-mastered from the 1990 CD), plus The Toast (the first recording the band made in Atlanta; re-mastered from 15 i.p.s. stereo dub masters), the three songs from the Atlanta session (of which Perspectives was also released on the double compilation LP; re-mastered from 7.5 i.p.s. dub masters), and the 2001 instrumental MIDI rework of Wind Psalm by Chip Gremillion.

In the Forgotten Sons section, we usually review all the bands' releases, but you can read the review of The Moment of Hearing here yourself.

Epilogue

Chip now owns and runs a production company for cable programs and so-called 'infomercials'. Years after the disbanding of Lift, he started composing again, and recorded some tracks. He has remained in contact with Mike Mitchell, who works as a full time musician out of his Cedar Loft studio in Marietta, Georgia, and has never stopped making music. In 2001, Chip and Mike started re-working on additional Lift compositions as well as new material composed by Mike over the last decade. Let's hope this collaboration will lead to something...

Jerry van Kooten

DPRP.netProg History • Lift