At Angelika: “What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?”
March 27, 2023 @ 12:00pm
A new documentary from director John Scheinfeld answers the question its title poses: “What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?”
It’s hard to think of any artist besting The Beatles for the Album of the Year Grammy for any of their albums. In 1970, Blood, Sweat & Tears managed to do that, beating the Fab Four for the ultimate award when their self-titled second album topped “Abbey Road” for the honor.
Normally, that would create a surge in any band’s popularity. What happened next to Blood, Sweat and Tears, however, is something that even the most creative writer couldn’t possibly have envisioned. The question is the subject of director John Scheinfeld’s (“The U.S. vs. John Lennon,” “Who is Harry Nilsson…?”) latest documentary “What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?”
Scheinfeld heard from Bobby Colomby — Blood, Sweat & Tears’ drummer from that era — just before the pandemic hit. What Colomby revealed was so startling to Schienfeld that he knew he had found the subject matter for his next film.
“He started to tell me this story and it was just so interesting and compelling,” Scheinfeld says. “I had not heard anything about this before. The more I looked into it, the more I thought this was a story that needed to be told.”
In the summer of 1970, at the peak of their popularity, Blood, Sweat & Tears became the first American rock band to tour former Yugoslavia, Poland and Romania, all of which were still behind the Iron Curtain at the time. This seemed a very unusual choice given most musicians were anti-Vietnam and anti-Nixon and this tour was sponsored by the State Department (who had done similar tours with artists including Louis Armstrong). Blood, Sweat & Tears were borderline apolitical and the type of band, musically, both kids and their parents could enjoy.
“We never had a unified philosophy,” Colomby says. “We were concerned about the war in Vietnam, but it was not our marketing hook. At that time, there were bands that used that as their marketing hook and that wasn’t our thing. Our thing was just playing music and trying to be adventurous with the music. So we were kind of innocent.”
Unbeknownst to the band at the time, they were essentially blackmailed into the tour as the State Department threatened to take away lead singer’s David Clayton-Thomas’ green card (Thomas is Canadian).
“It was a quid pro quo,” says Colomby. “We had no option.”
Luckily for Scheinfeld, a documentary crew filmed the band during the tour. This sent Scheinfeld scouring multiple places for the footage.
“We cast a very wide net,” Scheinfeld says. “We looked at every independent storage facility in Los Angeles. We checked laboratories in New York. We checked government warehouses and archives in Washington and Virginia. [We found] nothing, nothing, nothing.”
Just as the search was looking completely futile, Scheinfeld received a call from a woman he had contacted at a storage facility who notice a reference to Blood, Sweat & Tears in their records.
“Sure enough, in a far corner where it had been since 1970, were two pristine prints of this short version of the documentary that had been intended for theaters. It was really great and it gave us the film.”
Utilizing that footage and having current interviews and firsthand accounts from those involved, the documentary issues a warning of how even the most popular bands can become political pawns in the right, or in this case, very wrong circumstances.
“What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?” screens at Angelika Film Center on March 29 at 7 p.m. You can get tickets here.
Angelika Film Center: 2911 District Ave. Fairfax, VA; angelikafilmcenter.com/mosaic // @angelikamosaic
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