Even in the one-hit wonder rich era of the 1970s, the King Harvest hit "Dancing In The Moonlight" was something memorable. It was recorded as a single by the band in 1972 and released as a single in France, but they couldn't interest a label in the song. The band disbanded six months later and more than year after the song was recorded, it was picked up Perception Records, a small label that mostly specialized in jazz and R&B releases.
"Dancing In The Moonlight" eventually went to #13 on the Billboard American Top 40 chart and #5 on Canada's RPM chart. The band recorded an album to accompany the single, but it peaked at #134 on the album charts. And after a follow-up album in 1974 (with a slightly different lineup), King Harvest was no more.
But this version of the song was actually the second time the song had been recorded.
It had been written in 1970 by Sean Kelly, who was a member of an upstate New York band named Boffalongo. He wrote the song while recovering from a vicious assault by a gang:
On a trip to St. Croix in 1969, I was the first victim of a vicious St. Croix gang who eventually murdered 8 American tourists. At that time, I suffered multiple facial fractures and wounds and was left for dead. While I was recovering, I wrote "Dancin In The Moonlight" in which I envisioned an alternate reality, the dream of a peaceful and joyful celebration of life. The song became a huge hit and was recorded by many musicians worldwide. "Dancin In The Moonlight" continues to be popular to this day.
In 1971 I ran a night club called "The Grass Shack" in St. Thomas Virgin Islands with Alex Brooks, Larry Hoppen, Bob Leinbach, Milton Jay, Wells Kelly, Paul Lisseck and Bobby Simone, the former road manager for the Mama's & The Papa's, and a host of other friends. After that, I joined a band named "Boffolongo" with Larry Hoppen (later of Orleans) and my brother Wells. My original version of "Dancin In The Moonlight" was on the Boffolongo album "Beyond Your Head" released in 1970, which featured my brother Wells on drums and Larry Hoppen on guitar and myself on lead vocal.
A year later, Wells Kelly was in Paris playing drums in King Harvest, along with former Boffalongo member Dave "Doc" Robinson, who was the band's lead vocalist, bassist, and keyboardist.
When King Harvest broke up, Wells Kelly went on to be a founding member of Orleans while Sean Kelly struggled with health problems:
Roughly a year later in 1973, while meditating with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at a teacher training course in Spain, I was notified that my old Cornell friends in the band "King Harvest" had a big hit with "Dancin in the moonlight". They invited me to join the group and tour in support of the hit record. Later that year we recorded an album that was never released until 2007 entitled "King Harvest: The Lost Tapes" featuring 5 songs that I wrote or co-wrote and on which I played and sang.
After having toured with King Harvest, I settled down in the Ithaca NY area in 1974. I had some less than successful low back surgery that took me out of commission for many years. I continued to write songs, frequently collaborating with my brother, Wells, who was a brilliant musician. Wells performed and recorded with many great musicians including "Al Kooper", "The Beach Boys", "Bonnie Raitt" and many others. He was a founding member of the group "Orleans" and played and recorded with them for years. During Wells's tenure with the band, I also co-wrote several songs for "Orleans". After his tragic death in 1984, I found it too painful to work on music and pursued other interests. I received a Masters degree in Social Work and Psychotherapy from Syracuse University. For many years, I have been employed as a social worker/psychotherapist.
The Boffalongo version of "Dancing In The Moonlight" is breezy and fun, but you can also see why it wasn't a hit. The King Harvest version is a bit more-stripped down and doesn't include as much jazzy doodling as the original version. But the original is worth hearing and it's a fun look at what might have been.
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