Ratings and Reviews
Inspired by the artistry and commercial success of several prog rock bands, Hands began as an idea between Michael Clay and Michael Barreyre. While still in high school, the two, inspired by new and experimental music, hatched the idea of a progressive rock band. The group would be a cross between Yes and the Soft Machine. Concurrently, Ernie Myers, John Rousseau, and Steve Parker were jamming together above the concession stand of a drive-in theater. The three also were active playing in front of live audiences. Meanwhile, Clay and Barreyre were joining with David Carlisle and Sonny Solell. The four began to rehearse in Clay's bedroom, honing cover tunes of Pink Floyd and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. Through a mutual friend in high school, the two groups of musicians began to blend. Rousseau, Clay, and Myers grouped together for a while but were soon disbanded when Myers moved to California. At that turn, Rousseau, Barreyre, Carlisle, Solell, and Clay formed Ibis and began to rehearse in Solell's den. The name Ibis came from "Flight of the Ibis," a song from the McDonald & Giles solo album. Ibis played a number of gigs in and about the Dallas area. Playing an eclectic cover list that included everything from King Crimson, Frank Zappa, and PFM to Johnny Winter and the Allman Brothers, Ibis grew accustomed to playing technically challenging material in clubs that were ill-suited to their unusual playlist. Still, Ibis managed to book a gig at Deb's Danceland which proved to be Carlisle's last with the band. At that point, Parker entered as the bass player. Although not a bass player at the time, Parker quickly adapted to the bass and lead-vocal duties.
The band changed its name from Ibis to Prism and continued to record and play gigs while incorporating more and more originals into the set list. Clay felt that the original compositions the band were starting to play with would benefit from having a string player in the band. Through a newspaper ad discovered by Rousseau, Paul Bunker joined the group. From that point, the band took on a completely different sound and a seriousness of purpose. Finally, citing artistic differences and an increasing reticence to work together, Barreyre was asked to leave the band. While that particular rift was brewing, Myers had returned from Los Angeles where he had met flutist and composer Skip Durbin, who was asked to join Prism. Solell retired from Prism and Durbin quickly joined, and the sound of the group changed again to a more melodic and flowing sort of sound. Myers' father came to a rehearsal one night with one of his associates. Hearing the sincerity and originality of the band, he invested a sum of money for the band to make a recording. Meanwhile, Rousseau had been busy making contact with the promoters of a Gentle Giant concert that was scheduled for the Dallas area. Through sheer persistence, Rousseau secured the opening spot for the Gentle Giant concert. Spurred on by the great reception they received playing the Gentle Giant gig, the band entered January Sound in fall of 1977 and recorded what would be, some 25 years later, the Hands CD.
1978 was a year of grueling practice and songwriting. The group had to endure another practice-room change, to a storefront warehouse in East Dallas, and, learning of the Canadian band of the same name on Arista Records, had to change their name. After a series of long discussions, they finally decided on Hands. The name seemed to sum up a great deal about the band; just a coordination of hands moving about to make music. The name actual predated many of the minimalist names that would appear throughout the early '80s.
During this period, the band courted Ken Scott, the seminal producer of slick pop/rock. Scott had just finished producing and sinking some of his own money into the band Happy the Man. Although Scott heard the music of Hands and enjoyed it, he was in no position to produce or recommend the band to any label. While Happy the Man, a great progressive rock band applauded to this day, were artistically a success, they did not have the sales to match their great music. Ken Scott could really do nothing. With the advent of music that was less and less sophisticated and the ubiquitous drone of disco plodding incessantly along, Hands found it harder and harder to maintain their goals and the ideals of their sound. In 1979, Michael Clay left the band. Undaunted, Hands continued with keyboard virtuoso Shanon Day. Day was a great player from a heavy rock band called Point Blank. He brought a meaty, Hammond B3 sound to the band and a greater rock sensibility. The band also added the vocals of Gary Stone. His high range and smooth vibrato gave the band vocal appeal.This lineup, consisting of Myers, Parker, Durbin, Day, Bunker, Rousseau, and Stone, went into Crystal Clear Sound for a marathon recording session. In record time, they recorded a tremendous amount of music, including epics such as Myers' "Mindgrind," "Antarctica," and Durbin's elegiac "New Skies." This material would later form the bulk of the CD Palm Mystery.
Hands played an inspired show at the Wintergarten Ballroom in 1980. It proved to be the last public appearance of the band in that form. The concert was well attended and expertly played. However, the years, changing public tastes, and the restless careers of the musicians themselves eventually pulled Hands apart.
Flashforward now to 1995. A longtime friend and relative of Steve Parker, Rich, was interested in progressive rock and progressive metal. Parker had given him some tapes of Hands early recordings from the '70s. Rich was in the process of starting Shroom Records. Shroom, in Rich's concept, would release quality material from progressive rock, hard rock, and psychedelic bands primarily located in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. So it was that Hands became Shroom's inaugural release. The CD sold well and established Hands as quasi-legends in the resurgent progressive rock scene of the '90s. Hands' popularity grew particularly well in Scandinavia and Europe. Two more CDs of the archival material were releases to wide acclaim; Prism Live and Palm Mystery. Hands, after so many years of anonymity, were finally being recognized for the progressive rock pioneers that they truly were. It was suggested, first by Shroom and then by Myers, that a reunion CD be produced. Since most of the original members of Hands were still alive and in relative good health, the consensus was, "why not?" In 1996, Myers and Clay began to write some songs in a style that was progressive but not a recounting of their earlier sound. That sound was gone and would never return. But the new songs began to take on life and, after several personnel changes and midstream alterations in recording technique, the CD Twenty Five Winters was finished in the fall of 2001. ~ Cesar Lanzarini
- Dallas, TX