Mason Proffit - “Wanted”
“Hear The Voice of Change”
Mason Proffit was the name of a group from the Chicago area. Formed in 1969, the band released their first album, titled “Wanted”, in early 1970 on a small independent record label called “Happy Tiger”, based in Century City (Los Angeles), California. The album is a classic example of the late 1960’s music scene in America, featuring a style of music that would soon be known as “country rock”. While the songs on the album themselves are not necessarily groundbreaking; (after all artists such as Bob Dylan and bands such as the Byrds ,with Gram Parsons, had already incorporated aspects of traditional American music into their repertoire), they were a brilliant combination of social commentary and great musicianship, in addition to being very listenable.
The band was a quintet, based around the two Talbot brothers, Terry (vocals, lead guitar, percussion), and John Michael (guitar, pedal steel, banjo, vocals). The brothers were terrifically talented, and in addition to the great lead vocals, guitar and banjo playing we hear on “Wanted”, we are also treated to their gorgeous vocal harmonies. The rest of the band was made up of Tim Ayres (bass), Rick Durant (keyboards) and Art Nash (drums). I contacted the younger of the two brothers, John Michael, and asked him some questions about the band and the record. He advised me Mason Proffit grew out a regional local band called “The Sounds Unlimited”. His brother Terry was also in the band, and they were popular in Indianapolis, and in the area in adjacent surrounding states. As John Michael explained to me, “We tried to land a record deal with our old friend, Bill Traut, in Chicago, and auditioned for him at “The Cellar” in Arlington, Illinois. He liked the band, but suggested that, due to our past experience in folk/bluegrass/and country music that we jump on board the newly emerging country rock scene.” (In passing, I should mention that Bill Traut was a legendary musician, record producer, manager and talent scout, well known in the Chicago area. He and Terry Talbot also produced “Wanted”). John Michael also told me how he became the band’s pedal steel player. “My brother, Terry, and I flipped a coin for who would learn how to play pedal steel guitar, and I lost the toss! So, I picked up the pedal steel guitar, and added my banjo, guitar, and dobro to the mix. I was a fairly accomplished banjo and guitar player. But the pedal was new to me. The dobro came naturally to me, and folks thought that I was pretty good. Terry was the principal songwriter, and I helped out with musical additions that fit it into to the country rock sound.” John Michael said that the band recorded a “demo”, and Dunwich Productions (a company started by Bill Traut and two record producers) shopped it around.
I asked John Michael about the socially conscious nature of many of the songs on “Wanted”. A number of topics such as Native American rights, racial inequality, the Vietnam War and the Generation Gap were covered. He said that “It was simply the consciousness of our times. I don’t think we were particularly unique in having those concerns. What made us unique was bridging social commentary (from the folk days) with the country rock idiom.”
I would highly recommend this record to anyone who likes great songs that are well performed, with excellent musicianship and high production values (in other words, good music). The lyrics are profound and timeless, and stand in stark contrast to the banality of so much of today’s modern popular music. As previously mentioned, the style (if it has to be defined), would best be thought of as “country rock”, or in today’s musical vernacular, “roots”. While other groups may have gone out to greater success performing this style, Mason Proffit should be considered sui generis.
Mason Proffit’s “Wanted” was not a big seller, but the band was very popular and well known as a great live act. While relatively rare, vinyl copies of “Wanted” can be located. The compact disc edition was released on Wounded Bird Records (catalogue number WOU 1009) in 2006. It might be a little more difficult to locate though. Fortunately, “Wanted” and the groups’ second release “Moving Towards Happiness” are available on iTunes, under the title “Come and Gone”. (Before their demise, the group was signed to Warners Brothers, who re-released their first two albums as a “two-fer” called “Come and Gone”).Mason Proffit went to release several more records before the band called it quits in 1973. They are all well worth listening to. The Talbot brothers have continued to make music the focus of their lives, and over the years have been very active in contemporary Christian music, where their talents have been very well received and recognized.