Historic Females Barbara Hudson: “Ultimate Spinach”

By Michael Matarazzo

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the first in a month-long series about noteworthy women in Everett, taken from vignettes written by former City Clerk Michael Matarazzo in his book ‘They Came from Everett.’ The histories of many female residents of Everett might surprise readers, as many of their stories have never been fully told. Matarazzo’s book is available at bookblues.com.

Arranger/Producer/Composer Alan Lorber had an impressive resume having worked with Phil Spector, Neil Sedaka, Gene Pitney, the Coasters, Connie Francis, Jackie Wilson, etc. He was also credited with creating the Mugwumps, a band that included Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty (future members of the Mamas and the Papas, John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky (future members of the Lovin’ Spoonful) and Jim Hendricks (who wrote Summer Rain for Johnny Rivers and Long Lonesome Highway for the cult classic TV show “Then Came Bronson”.

So when he decided to create a new sound to compete with the psychedelic San Francisco Sound, the music industry was intrigued.

In 1967, Lorber chose Boston as the city where he would launch this new venture. Lorber chose Boston because of its high concentration of college students and its music venues such as the Tea Party, the Psychedelic Supermarket, the Crosstown Bus, the Catacombs, and the Unicorn. By January of 1968, MGM Records was advertising the Bosstown Sound in Billboard magazine as “The Sound Heard Around the World; Boston!!” The shot that would be heard would resonate from three Boston bands that MGM was banking on – Beacon Street Union, Orpheus and Ultimate Spinach.

From the very beginning, the Bosstown Sound was met with skepticism and, in many cases, undeserved criticism. While the only “hit” that would be achieved by the aforementioned bands was I Can’t Find the Time to Tell You by Orpheus, it was Ultimate Spinach that was the most prominent of the bands.

Ultimate Spinach originated as a group called the Underground Cinema and included vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ian Bruce-Douglas, Keith Lahtenein on drums, Geoff Winthrop on rhythm guitar, and Richard Nese on bass guitar and vocalist-guitarist Everett’s own Barbara Hudson.

Barbara was born in Everett to Ralph (from whom she would hide her Fug’s albums) and Lillian (Krafton) Hudson and grew up on Malden Street. At Everett High School, she was active in the music-oriented activities like the Gilbert & Sullivan Society Choral Arts and the Glee Club. As a senior, she, along with Victoria Thistle and future State Librarian Stephen Fulchino were chosen to sing in the State Chorus after competing against other high school vocalists in a district and then state-wide competition.

Barbara was in love with music and singing and it was in the music industry that she saw her future. Even the class prophecy from the 1967 EHS yearbook listed her, along with her future husband Marty LaRossa, as among the “Crazy Musicians”.

While the musician label certainly fit, Barbara was anything but crazy. A relatively unassuming person off of the stage, Barbara thrived in front of an audience and her voice had a soothing and calming quality; much like her personality.

Barbara took advantage of any opportunity to sing before an audience and it was at an open mic night at the Unicorn that Barbara caught the attention of Ian-Bruce Douglas. Soon, Barbara and Douglas started a band called Underground Cinema with musicians that Douglas had never auditioned. After asking to Keith Lahtenein to join the band, Keith introduced him to Geoff Winthrop and Richard Nese and they were in the band. Underground Cinema became the house band at the Unicorn and shared the stage with local bands such as the J. Geills Band.

Shortly before the arrival of Alan Lorber, the band name was changed to Ultimate Spinach. The name was the result of what Douglas had seen staring back at him as he looked in the mirror during an LSD episode.

  Ultimate Spinach’s first self-titled album was released on January 6, 1968 and peaked at #34 on the Billboard Top 200. Barbara was just six months out of high school and less than two months past her eighteenth birthday when the whirlwind began. While Douglas did most of the lead singing on the album, Barbara’s eerily, soulful lead vocals on “Hip Death Goddess” captivated listeners and was considered by many, then and now, as the best song on the band’s best album.

The band would soon be touring and playing with such legendary acts as Jefferson Airplane, Vanilla Fudge, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Chambers Brothers and the Youngbloods while performing at venues like the iconic Fillmore West and New York’s Central Park.

All was not well in Spinachland however. Lorber and Douglas were constantly at each other over creative differences and control of the musical content. Douglas saw Ultimate Spinach as his creation, while Lorber saw it as a manufactured product over which he controlled its marketability. Douglas also had very little faith in the other band members and they, quite frankly, hated him. While Douglas was heavily into hallucinogens, the other guys were strictly beer drinkers and really not into the “hippie scene” at all.  This left the youngest member of the band, Barbara as the only unaligned, strictly sober and affable member of the band. With her limited role in Douglas’ vision for the band, however, her influence on the temperament of the band was also limited.

Things started to fall apart quickly with drummer Keith Lahtenein quitting after completion of the first album and being replaced by Russell Levine; who would soon become an adversary of Douglas, as well. When Douglas added additional female vocalists to their live shows in order to recreate the dubbing that had taken place during recording, the young Barbara did not use it as an excuse to join the mutiny or add to the band’s disfunction.  Even when Caryl Lee Britt was brought in to sing lead on the Behold and See album, Barbara somehow kept any reservations or complaints that she had to herself. While Britt may have had a more powerful voice than Barbara, some feel that her nasally sound did not fit the genre. Behold and See peaked at #198 on the Billboard Top 200 with Jeff Baxter (who would go on to the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan) replacing Geoff Winthrop.

The band was quickly falling apart and Douglas’ animosity toward Lorber hit a fever pitch after the release of the second album and he “fired” himself from the band.

With a contractual obligation to produced a third album, only one member of Ultimate Spinach remained – Barbara Hudson. Ultimate Spinach III was recorded with Jeff Baxter and Barbara on guitar and some members of the band Chameleon Church (a band that once included comedian Chevy Chase). The album never charted on the Billboard Top 200, but finally fans could hear Barbara’s sweet voice on Reasons. The band broke up shortly after the release of Ultimate Spinach III, but re-releases of their music have and continue to happen.

Ultimate Spinach released three albums in just under a three-year period. By the time it was all over, Barbara had not yet reached her twenty-first birthday

It is amazing that a young lady could experience all the good, bad and ugly of the music industry during a time of total turbulence in our country and in an atmosphere of rampant drug use and still maintain her personal integrity. Through all the chaos, Barbara Hudson stayed true to herself, her beliefs and kept her focus on her love for singing. While those around her fought, plotted and mutinied, Barbara has happy to be doing what she loved – performing.

In December 1973, Barbara married her classmate and fellow musician Marty LaRossa (the son of beloved Parlin Junior High civics teacher Joe LaRossa) and settled in Everett. One can only imagine what the right vehicle for her talent would have produced

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