Chris Robison and his Many Hand Band, released privately in 1973, was one of the world’s first records by an openly gay songwriter. Coming just a few years after the Stonewall Riots of 1969, Many Hand Band is a dazzling feat of musical daring. But Chris Robison is not just a pioneering gay musician, he is an all-pervasive presence in New York rock from the late 60s onwards, having played with everyone fron Elephant’s Memory and Steam to Kiss, the New York Dolls, John Phillips and Bob Dylan.
Not only that, Many Hand Band is a totally freewheeling and unique album, coalescing all the sensory overload of downtown New York City life in the early 70s. It touches on folk, psychedelia rock, Latin funk and more, all filtered through Robison’s sly and cheeky personality. There is no “woe is me” self-pity here, just an uplifting sense of fun and natural self-expression. Recorded almost totally by Chris himself late at night in a cut rate studio, Many Hand Band is one of the few remaining undiscovered classics from the period, gay or otherwise.
As friend Angie Bowie says, “Many Hand Band is a musical history of alternative sexualities... Chris’ bisexual stance and pretty pout invigorated rock’n'roll.”
It’s difficult to appreciate now, more than thirty-five years later, how daring and how ground- breaking songs like Looking For A Boy Tonight and Italian Boy were on their release. In the album’s comprehensive liner notes, filled with rare photos and a frank interview with Chris, he talks of RCA records turning him down because they didn’t want another “faggot” on their roster (aside from Lou Reed and David Bowie). Meanwhile he became a poster boy for the burgeoning gay lib movement, playing Washington Square Park with Bette Midler in front of thousands in 1973.
After Many Hand Band and its followup Manchild (to be released by Chapter Music in 2010) Chris would go on to play with pre-Kiss group Wicked Lester, as well as join the New York Dolls for their Japanese tour of 1975. His later band Stumblebunny toured Europe supporting the Hollies and wrote their later hit Stormy Waters. In the 1980s Chris turned his life around, settling down to get married and raise two children, who claimed none other than Peter Allen as their godfather.
Bonus tracks come from a rare single, released in 1974 on Buddah Records, featuring the all-time-shoulda-beena classic I’m Gonna Stay With My Baby Tonight, subsequently covered by Ronnie Spector and George McCrae, and a European hit for soul singer Tony Sherman.
It’s a wild and fascinating story, but Many Hand Band contains the seeds of it all - all the hedonism, passion and beauty of Chris Robison’s life condensed into one incredible record.