Happy the Man

Happy the Man was an American progressive rock band from the 1970's specializing in instrumental tracks with complex time signatures. They were one of the finest 70's American prog bands. Completely out of the american standards, Happy the Man combined lush melodies, great complex interplay and a slightly jazzy touch with occasional vocals. The band claims to be influenced by Genesis, Yes, and Gentle Giant although they really do not sound anything like any of those bands. Their first two albums, the self titled Happy the Man and Crafty Hands (almost entirely instrumental) are classic albums of the highest order. 

Early days

The group formed in 1973 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Guitarist Stanley Whitaker and bassist Rick Kennell first met in Germany in 1972. Whitaker, whose army officer father had left his native Missouri for Germany four years earlier, had formed Shady Grove, with fellow US expatriate, keyboardist David Bach, while Kennell had just been drafted and was stationed there, beginning a two-year stint in the army. The pair met when Kennell attended a Shady Grove gig in mid-1972, and discovering a shared love of British progressive rock, decided to form a band together. While the soon-to-be-graduate Whitaker was soon to return to the US, Kennell wasn't due back for a while, but he gave Whitaker the contacts of two former members of his teenage band Zelda, back in Fort Wayne, Indiana : drummer Mike Beck and singer/flautist Cliff Fortney, who both agreed to move to Virginia. Now a student at James Madison University, Whitaker met saxophonist/pianist Frank Wyatt in music theory class. Initially, David Bach was the main keyboard player, but sometime in 1973, Kit Watkins, the son of a James Madison University piano teacher, replaced him. When in January 1974 Kennell at last returned from Germany, the band, named Happy the Man by Whitaker's brother Ken inspired by Goethe's Faust, was finally complete. The band's early repertoire included a number of covers but they were soon outnumbered by original compositions, penned by Whitaker, Watkins, Fortney and Wyatt, with the latter providing the lion's share. In 1990, a compilation of demos from 1974–75, Beginnings, was released by Cuneiform Records in their Wayside Music Archive Series. It consisted of all previously unreleased compositions, some dating back to the original line-up with Fortney for in 1974, singer Fortney left and he was replaced by yet another old friend from Indiana, Dan Owen. In 1999, Cuneiform put out a second archive CD, Death's Crown, consisting mostly of the title track, a 40-minute suite penned by Wyatt and recorded in the band's rehearsal room in 1974, when Owen was in the band (the CD also includes an early version of "New York Dream's Suite", also with Owen on vocals). After Dan Owen left in early 1975, the band chose not to replace him and favor more instrumental material. Later that year they decided to move from Harrisonburg to Washington DC with the help of Dave Knapp. They soon signed a management deal with The Cellar Door, a popular venue, where the band would perform many times. On June 28, 1976, Peter Gabriel, who was looking for a backing band following his departure from Genesis, came down to the band’s house in Arlington for a try-out session, where he presented the band with some of his newly written material, notably the song "Slowburn", which they rehearsed. Eventually Gabriel decided against hiring Happy the Man, but this high-profile encounter proved useful in securing a five-year, multi-album deal with Arista Records.

Leave that kitten alone, Armone

Merlin of the high places

The Arista years (1976-78)

Happy the Man's self-titled debut LP was recorded at A&M Studios towards the end of 1976, with Ken Scott handling production duties, and released in 1977. It remains one of the most important albums in American progressive music. Two long, episodic instrumentals, Watkins' "Mr Mirror's Reflection On Dreams" and Wyatt's "New York Dream's Suite", are the obvious best pieces, but both Watkins and Wyatt contribute other gems, such as the opening piece, the spacey/orchestral "Starborne", which immediately establishes the trademark HTM sound, or Watkins' tone poem "Hidden Moods". Whitaker's tunes, such as "Stumpy Meets The Firecracker In Stencil Forest" with its jagged and bouncy melody line, allowed the band to venture into more rocking territory. The album included only two songs with vocals (with lyrics by Wyatt and singing by Whitaker), but they are among the weaker cuts. Much of 1977 was spent on the road. HTM’s management put them on tours supporting various artists, including Foreigner, Renaissance, Stomu Yamash’ta and the Jefferson Airplane offshoot Hot Tuna, with whom they performed to an audience of almost 10,000 at the Field House in Long Island.



In late 1977, drummer Mike Beck left the band, who was replaced by Ron Riddle, previously a member of an embryonic incarnation of The Cars. Riddle appeared on HTM's second and most acclaimed album, Crafty Hands, but although he was a full member for the duration of the process, even contributing the album's striking opening track, "Service With A Smile" (co-written with The Cars' keyboard player Greg Hawkes, in 1973), he left before he had played a single gig with HTM. The compositions and performance on the second effort were even more refined, and many tracks were instant classics; from the atmospheric "Morning Sun" and "Nossuri" to the upbeat "Steaming Pipes" and "I Forgot To Push It", and the more epic "Ibby It Is". Another highlight was "Open Book", an excerpt from the abandoned "Death's Crown" suite. This time only one track, "Wind Up Doll Day Wind", featured any vocals.

Steaming pipes

I forgot to push it

Split and rebirth

The contract with Arista Records was dissolved after Crafty Hands failed to make any significant commercial impact. Undeterred, the band soldiered on, enlisting French drummer Coco Roussel, formerly of Heldon and Clearlight, as a new member in May 1978 and resuming live performances. Towards the end of 1978, new compositions were introduced in the live repertoire, and over the next few months enough material was assembled for a proposed third album to be entitled Labyrinth, which was demoed in February 1979 at the band house in Reston, Virginia. Sadly HTM failed to secure a new contract, and on May 27, 1979, Kit Watkins announced his departure to the British band Camel. After playing a final show at the James Madison University, the band dissolved, with Whitaker and Kennell immediately forming a new band, Vision, with original HTM keyboardist David Bach. Although the bulk of the new compositions would remain unreleased until 1983, Watkins recorded "Eye Of The Storm" on Camel's I Can See Your House From Here, and two more tracks, "Labyrinth" and "While Crome Yellow Shine", on his 1980 solo album Labyrinth, recorded with the assistance of ex-HTM drummer Coco Roussel. Watkins and Roussel gigged as a duo with backing tapes in 1980-81, and would go on to collaborate on their 1984 duo album In Time and Roussel's 1992 solo CD Reaching Beyond. The 1979 demo was released as 3rd-Better Late... in 1983 on Watkins’ own Azimuth label (the later CD reissue added two extra tracks from the same sessions, "Who's In Charge Here" and "Such A Warm Breeze"). The band continued to be a cult favorite in progressive rock circles even after they broke up, the interest in their music fueled by CD reissues and various archival releases. In 1999, the Arista albums were remastered by Watkins and reissued by One Way Records in the USA and Musea (with a two-part biography of the band) in Europe. Then, following several aborted attempts over the previous decade, the group reformed for NEARfest 2000 in their Crafty Hands line-up minus Watkins, replaced by keyboardist David Rosenthal, and with new drummer Joe Bergamini they released a new album in 2004: The Muse Awakens. Whitaker and Wyatt have released another album, Pedal Giant Animals since, and have formed a new band, Oblivion Sun. Although HTM never formally dissolved, they have been inactive for several years.

Contemporary insanity

Stepping through time

Studio albums

Happy the Man (1977):
1. Starborne (4:22) 
2. Stumpy Meets the Firecracker in Stencil Forest (4:16) 
3. Upon the Rainbow (Befrost) (4:42) 
4. Mr. Mirror's Reflection on Dreams (8:54) 
5. Carousel (4:06) 
6. Knee Bitten Nymphs in Limbo (5:22) 
7. On Time as a Helix of Precious Laughs (5:22) 
8. Hidden Moods (3:41) 
9. New York Dream's Suite (8:32)

Crafty Hands (1978):
1. Service With A Smile (2:45) 
2. Morning Sun (4:05) 
3. Ibby It Is (7:53) 
4. Steaming Pipes (5:25) 
5. Wind Up Doll Day Wind (7:09) 
6. Open Book (4:54) 
7. I Forgot To Push It (3:08) 
8. The Moon, I Sing (Nossuri) (6:18)

3rd-Better Late... (recorded in 1979, 1983):
1. Eye of the Storm (3:58) 
2. The Falcon (6:09) 
3. At the Edge of This Thought (5:16) 
4. While Chrome Yellow Shine (6:10) 
5. Who's In Charge Here? (5:39) 
6. Shadow Shaping (4:25) 
7. Run Into the Ground (5:02) 
8. Footwork (4:19) 
9. Labyrinth (7:29) 
10. Such A Warm Breeze (5:08)

Beginnings (unreleased early material, 1990):
1. Leave That Kitten Alone, Armone (9:16) 
2. Passion's Passing (8:40) 
3. Don't Look To The Running Sun (9:52) 
4. Gretchen's Garden (11:04) 
5. Partly The State (9:20) 
6. Broken Waves (5:49) 
7. Portrait Of A Waterfall (6:45)

Death's Crown (unreleased early material, 1999):
1. Death's Crown (38:00) 
2. New York Dream Suite (8:45) 
3. Merlin Of The High Places (7:10)

The Muse Awakens (2004):
1. Contemporary Insanity (3:24)
2. The Muse Awakes (5:36)
3. Stepping Through Time (6:31)
4. Maui Sunset (5:10)
5. Lunch At The Psychedelicatessen (4:59)
6. Slipstream (4:43)
7. Barking Spiders (4:11)
8. Adrift (4:04)
9. Shadowlites (3:52)
10. Kindred Spirits (5:26)
11. Il Quinto Mare (7:22)