Lon & Derrek Van Eaton were an American vocal and multi-instrumentalist duo from Trenton, New Jersey, consisting of brothers Lon and Derrek Van Eaton. They are best known for their association with the Beatles through the brothers' brief stint on Apple Records, and for their subsequent session work in Los Angeles for producer Richard Perry. As well as recording their own albums, during the 1970s they appeared on releases by artists including George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Carly Simon, Martha Reeves and Art Garfunkel.
After being out of print for close to 40 years, their sole Apple album, Brother, containing the Harrison-produced single "Sweet Music", was reissued on RPM Records in June 2012.
Lon and Derrek Van Eaton began their professional musical career during the mid 1960s, as teenagers, in a popular Trenton band known as the Trees. The Trees released one single, on the local Bali-Hi label – "Don't Miss the Turn" backed with "Your Life", both sides of which were written and arranged by Lon Van Eaton. With Trees drummer Tim Case, they soon morphed into Jacobs Creek, a band signed to Columbia Records, for whom they released an eponymous studio album in 1969. Jacobs Creek also did well on the local music scene, playing at Andy Warhol's parties and opening for the Doors, but failed to make an impact elsewhere. After the band's break-up in March 1971, another of its members would go on to enjoy a degree of success in the music industry: lead guitarist Steve Burgh recorded and toured with artists such as David Bromberg, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Billy Joel, Steve Forbert, Phoebe Snow and Steve Goodman.
After Jacobs Creek, Lon and Derrek Van Eaton concentrated on songwriting and recorded a series of demos on a pair of standard tape machines at home, in their rented house on North Hermitage Avenue, Trenton. Led by younger brother Derrek's expressive voice, the Van Eatons sang and played all the instruments on the recordings, using various surfaces of the house to replicate drum sounds. They also made some professional recordings, at Bell Sound in New York. Their manager, Robin Garb, then forwarded six or seven of the songs on to various record company A&R departments, one of which was the New York office of the Beatles' Apple label, run by Allan Steckler. George Harrison listened to the tape and liked what he heard, as did John Lennon.
The brothers received a phone call from Harrison, inviting them to record for the label, and met the guitarist in New York in September 1971, while he and Phil Spector were assembling the live album from the recent Concert for Bangladesh. By 19 September, the Van Eatons and Garb were flying off to London, where they attended the launch party for the refurbished Apple Studio on Savile Row at the end of the month. They became the first act to record at the new facility, as well as the final signing on Apple Records. When the brothers first arrived in the UK and were driven to Harrison's home, Friar Park, the ex-Beatle was waiting for them out on his lawn, playing their song "Sweet Music" on his guitar.
With Harrison still sidetracked by record company, business and tax complications relating to his Bangladesh charity project, production on the planned Van Eaton album was entrusted to longtime Beatles associate Klaus Voormann. The latter worked with the siblings at Apple intermittently through to Christmas. Harrison did produce "Sweet Music", however, which he had earmarked as a debut single.
Working at Abbey Road Studios in early October, Harrison recruited a number of famous friends to play on "Sweet Music": Peter Frampton joined the Van Eatons on a third acoustic guitar, and Ringo Starr and Jim Gordon played drums. Lon then overdubbed electric piano and the song-closing tenor saxophone solo. The result is not unlike Harrison's own "Isn't It a Pity", from his All Things Must Pass album the year before – "a dreamy, utopian ballad", one New Jersey journalist would write of "Sweet Music" decades later. Author Robert Rodriguez describes it as "a fine Harrisonian-sounding single".
On some of the remaining, Voormann-produced tracks, Starr alternated with Andy Newmark on drums, while lead guitar was supplied by the Edison Electric Band's T.J. Tindall, another Trenton musician. Apple Studio's manager, Geoff Emerick, recalls of the extended sessions for the Van Eatons' debut album: "their problem was that they couldn't match the feel of the demonstration tape that had gotten them their record deal in the first place. It's actually a common enough occurrence – in recording studio parlance, it's a phenomenon known as 'chasing the demo.'" Thereafter John Mills took over as recording and mixing engineer.
The single was released in America in advance of the album, on 6 March 1972 (as Apple 1845), but failed to attract much airplay or find any commercial success. Harrison was flummoxed by this, declaring in a telegram to Apple marketing staff: "What the !!!!! is the matter out there? 'Sweet Music' is a No. 1 Hit!" By late September (delayed until February 1973 in Britain), the parent album, Brother, had been issued, containing eleven songs written by the Van Eatons.
Typical of the Apple ethos for putting the artist first, Brother's album packaging was particularly lavish. The cover photo was taken by photographer Clive Arrowsmith and featured an unabashed Lon and Derrek, naked from the waist up. Turning his talents from producer to designer, Voormann also came up with a novelty zoetrope insert, which, when placed on a turntable, created moving images of the brothers appearing to play guitar and drums.
Brother soon met the same commercial fate as "Sweet Music", however. And this despite a glowing endorsement from Stephen Holden of Rolling Stone magazine, who declared: "This staggeringly impressive first album by the Van Eaton brothers ... displays more energy, good feeling, and sheer musical talent than any debut rock record I've heard this year. It's no wonder that Apple signed the brothers to a five-year contract simply on the basis of a homemade tape ..." In his review of the 2012 Brother reissue for AllMusic, Richie Unterberger notes the similarities of the Van Eatons' sound with that of Badfinger and Paul McCartney, and describes the album as "on the pleasantly innocuous side as a whole".
By the start of 1973, Apple Records was in the process of being wound down and it was clear that the label would never be able to honour the Van Eatons' original five-year deal. Having recently worked with producer Richard Perry on a Harry Nilsson session in London, Harrison recommended that the brothers relocate to LA and record with Perry's engineer, Bill Schnee.
The move ensured that the Van Eaton name remained in the spotlight, with both brothers being credited for percussion on Ringo Starr's US number 1 "Photograph". For the next two years, Richard Perry's projects kept the Van Eatons – Lon in particular – busy and making music with a number of top recording artists (though distinctly MOR in style compared to Apple's less glitzy roster). This session work included appearances on four more gold-selling albums of the early-to-mid 1970s, all produced by Perry: Andy Williams' Solitaire, Starr's Goodnight Vienna, Carly Simon's Playing Possum and Art Garfunkel's Breakaway. In addition, the brothers assisted Harrison on his Dark Horse album by providing the title track with backing vocals (Harrison's own singing voice having become ravaged by laryngitis, mid-sessions and pre-tour).
Having paid their dues in Hollywood for the previous two years, Lon and Derrek were finally given a chance to record their own album, for A&M Records. Who Do You Out Do was produced by Perry and Schnee, and contained contributions from a number of musicians who likewise had connections with ex-Beatles Harrison and Starr: Gary Wright, Chuck Findley, Jim Keltner, plus return appearances from Voormann and Jim Gordon. When released in early 1975 – and despite Perry's supposed Midas touch, the stellar cast, and a supporting tour with Voormann and Keltner – the Van Eatons' second album went the way of Brother and failed to chart at all. Two decades later, they would recall this period with A&M as "tough", citing, "Richard and Bill both ended up producing but the 'feel' was with Bill and the 'biz' was Richard. We couldn't choose one or the other so we compromised. Big mistake."
There was no second album with A&M Records, nor any other label in Los Angeles willing to bankroll the Van Eatons. Having developed considerably as a lead guitarist, Lon saw out the remaining years of the decade guesting on albums by Starr (Ringo's Rotogravure, Ringo the 4th and Bad Boy) and Harry Nilsson (…That's the Way It Is, Knnillssonn). He also appeared in Starr's TV special Ringo, which aired in April 1978. These projects found ever-dwindling audiences, however, as the fortunes of both Starr and Nilsson had spiralled dramatically since the Van Eaton brothers first met them in 1971.
Once the session work dried up, Lon followed his younger brother and left LA. By 1985 he had established himself in Denver, Colorado, and soon set up a not-for-profit musical and film production company known as Imagine A Better World.
While still keeping his hand in as a musician, it was only in the summer of 1996 that he and Derrek reunited to record the song "Apple of My Eye", written by former label-mate Pete Ham, for the various artists compilation Come and Get It: A Tribute to Badfinger. Jack Rabid of AllMusic has written of that album: "a more loving tribute ... would be hard to imagine. All 22 artists exhibit the sort of reverence Badfinger once had for the Beatles!" This session soon led to further collaborations between the brothers, resulting in their Black & White album, which was released privately on 9 May 1998 and featured old friends Voormann and Starr, as well as former Wings drummer Denny Seiwell.
In 2005, Lon Van Eaton played on Les Fradkin's cover of "My Sweet Lord", recorded as a tribute to the late George Harrison. Five years later, in October 2010, Lon & Derrek Van Eaton's "Sweet Music" was included on the long-awaited compilation Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records. The Brother album was finally reissued on 25 June 2012, on the RPM label. Among its nine bonus tracks are the non-album B-side "Song of Songs", various demos and session outtakes, and a remix of "Sweet Music".
In 2012, Lon and Derrek released "Anthology 1968-2012 on their Imagine a Better World label. It featured 20 unreleased tracks and contributions from Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner, Klaus Voormann and Gary Wright.
22 September 1972 (US) (Apple SMAS 3390)
9 February 1973 (UK) (Apple SAPCOR 25)
produced by Klaus Voormann; except track 6, produced by George Harrison
- "Warm Woman" – 3:01
- "Sun Song" – 3:57
- "More Than Words" – 2:16
- "Hear My Cry" – 3:00
- "Without the Lord" – 1:37
- "Sweet Music" – 3:41
- "Help Us All" – 2:53
- "Maybe There's Another" – 2:42
- "Ring" – 2:24
- "Sunshine" – 3:48
- "Another Thought" – 3:41
Personnel:Lon Van Eaton – vocals, piano, electric and acoustic guitars, saxophone, drums, horn and string arrangements
Derrek Van Eaton – lead vocals, bass, flute, acoustic guitar, drums
T.J. Tindall – electric guitar (4, 9, 11)
Andy Newmark – drums (4, 7, 9)
Ringo Starr – drums (6, 11)
Alexis Guevara – congas (4, 9)
Peter Frampton – acoustic guitar (6)
Recording Engineers Geoff Emerick and John Mills
Jim Gordon – drums (6)
Mike Hugg – harmonium (6)
Richard Davis – standup bass (7)
Klaus Voormann – bass (11)
Recording Engineers Geoff Emerik and John Mills
February 1975 (US) (A&M SP 4507)
produced by Richard Perry; except tracks 1–4, produced by Richard Perry & Bill Schnee
- "Who Do You Out Do" – 3:18
- "You Lose" – 2:25
- "Do You Remember" – 3:41
- "Music Lover" – 3:12
- "Let It Grow" – 2:56
- "Wildfire" – 3:38
- "Dancing in the Dark" – 2:38
- "All You're Hungry for is Love" – 2:51
- "Baby It's You" – 3:38
- "The Harder You Pull ... The Tighter It Gets" – 3:52
Personnel:Lon Van Eaton – vocals, piano, electric and acoustic guitars, Moog synthesizer, clarinets, percussion, backing vocals
Derrek Van Eaton – lead vocals, bass, flute, acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocals
Klaus Voormann – bass
Jim Keltner – drums
Jim Gordon – drums
Gary Wright – piano
Tom Seufert – electric and acoustic guitars
Trevor Lawrence – saxophones
Chuck Findley – trumpet, trombone
Russ Turner – organ
David Beebe – drums
Richard Perry – percussion
Lynda Lawrence & friends – backing vocals
"Sweet Music" / "Song of Songs" (US: Apple 1845, released 6 March 1972)
"Warm Woman" / "More Than Words" (UK: Apple 46; released 9 March 1973)