Happy the Man
WGTB FM broadcast
01. Leave that Kitten Alone, Armone
02. Broken Waves
03. Open Book Without Words (Death’s Crown Part 3)
04. Stumpy Meets the Firecracker in Stencil Forest
05. Mr. Mirror’s Reflection on Dreams
Mike Beck: drums, percussion
Rick Kennell: bass
Kit Watkins: keyboards
Stanley Whitaker: guitar, vocal
Frank Wyatt: keyboard, saxophone, recorder, vocal
FM radio broadcast
Sorry, no artwork
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. The original lineup of the band was completed when Whitaker, now a student at James Madison University, met saxophonist/pianist Frank Wyatt. As Wyatt later recalled:
"Dr. George West was the instructor, and it was the first day of class. I remember there were, perhaps, 60 students in this very large room, and Dr. West was trying to feel out the class by playing two notes on the piano and seeing who could name the interval. At one point in the exercise, a voice shouted out "Dominant seventh… Hendrix!", and it was Stan. I made sure I met the skinny guy with long hair, and we became close friends right away."
This lineup didn't last long however; as Kit Watkins, the son of a JMU piano teacher, replaced Bach early on. When in January 1974 Kennell at last returned from Germany (early shows had been performed without him), the band, named Happy the Man by Whitaker's brother Ken (who was strongly influenced by Christianity), was finally able to operate.
The band's early repertoire included a number of covers - notably Genesis’s "Watcher of the Skies", King Crimson’s "21st Century Schizoid Man" and Van der Graaf Generator’s "Man-Erg" - but they were soon outnumbered by original compositions, penned by Fortney, Watkins, Whitaker, and Wyatt, with the latter providing the lion's share of new material. In 1975 they moved closer to Washington, DC, where they got the attention of DJs at WGTB (Georgetown University radio), who helped break the band in DC. The station played their music, aired their interview, announced and sponsored their concerts and kept them in front of listeners.
In 1974, another lineup change occurred as Fortney (who wished to maintain his flute study) was replaced by Dan Owen, yet another old friend from Indiana. However, Owen's tenure in the band was brief, and after he left in early 1975, the band chose not to replace him; instead opting to make their material more instrumental. Hiring a vocalist was often discussed but never reinstated. There was a deep resistance to giving the spotlight to a frontman; instead, Whitaker would handle all vocal duties over the course of the band's career.
Later that year they decided to move from Harrisonburg to Washington DC, which they accomplished 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. The Cellar Door became their management company and helped them get through to the labels, culminating in a showcase in NY in front of iconic American record producer Clive Davis in the summer of 1976. After the presentation, Clive made the comment: "Wow. I don’t really understand this music. It’s way above my head, but my head of A&R, Rick Chertoff says you guys are incredible, and we should sign you, So welcome to Arista."
On June 28, 1976, former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel, who wanted musicians for his solo 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, including the song "Slowburn", which they rehearsed. Eventually Gabriel decided against hiring HTM, but this high-profile encounter proved instrumental in securing a five-year, multi-album deal with Arista Records.