David LaFlamme (It’s a Beautiful Day) was born in New Britain, Connecticut, on May 4, 1941, the first of six children of Adelard and Norma (Winther) LaFlamme. His mother was from a Mormon family in Salt Lake City, and when he was eight years old, the family moved to Utah to be near her family. He spent his early years in Los Angeles, where his father was a Hollywood stunt double, before settling in Salt Lake City, where his father became a copper miner. David was about 5 when he got his first violin, a hand-me-down from an aunt back in Connecticut, whose daughter never took to the violin.
“I began fooling around with it on my own and taught myself to play ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’” he said in a 1998 interview. Formal training followed and in Salt Lake City in later years, he won a competition to perform as soloist with the Utah Symphony Orchestra.
After joining the Army — he was stationed at Fort Ord, near Monterey, Calif. — he suffered hearing damage from the firing of deafening ordnance. He ended up in Letterman military hospital in San Francisco, and from there put down roots in the city after his discharge in 1962. He found lodging in the same house as his future wife, Linda Rudman. “By the second day that I was there, she and I had already written a song together,” he said.
During the ensuing years he performed with a wide variety of notable San Francisco acts, such as Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Dino Valente (Love). In 1967, Mr. LaFlamme formed a band called Electric Chamber Orkustra, also known as the Orkustra, with Bobby Beausoleil, a young musician who played bouzouki and would later be convicted of murder as a follower of Charles Manson. He also created an early version of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.
But the times were the times, and in 1967, the year of the Summer of Love, he and his wife Linda, a keyboardist, formed It’s a Beautiful Day. The band bubbled up from the acid-rock cauldron of the Haight-Ashbury district, which also produced the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and other groups.
The band got its break in October 1968, when the promoter Bill Graham had them open for Cream in Oakland. It’s a Beautiful Day signed with Columbia Records soon after and the group’s eponymous LP was released by Columbia Records in 1969, containing their biggest hit, “White Bird”. The album was produced by David LaFlamme, who infused the psychedelic rock of the 1960s with the plaintive sounds of an electric violin. “White Bird,” encapsulated the hippie-era longing for freedom.
The LaFlammes wrote the song in 1967, when they were living in the attic of a Victorian house during a brief gig relocation to Seattle. The lyrics took shape on a drizzly winter day as they peered out a window at leaves blowing on the street below.
White bird – In a golden cage – On a winter’s day – In the rain
“We were like caged birds in that attic,” LaFlamme recalled. “We had no money, no transportation, the weather was miserable.” He later said the song, with its references to darkened skies and rage, was about the struggle between freedom and conformity. In an email, Linda LaFlamme said that she considered it a song of hope, and that the only rage they had felt was about the Seattle weather.
Still, the song, with its pleading chorus, “White bird must fly, or she will die,” seemed to echo the mounting disillusionment of 1969, as marmalade skies turned into storm clouds with the realities of drug addiction and social turmoil, as epitomized by the bloodshed at the Altamont rock festival that year.
“It was a very solemn period of music on that first album,” Mr. LaFlamme said in a 2003 interview published on the music website Exposé. “If I would have kept going that way,” he added, “I would have ended up like Jim Morrison, getting more and more into that personal torture trip.”
My personal favorite on that album was “Bombay Calling” and I didn’t realize until later that Deep Purple’s “Child in Time” was directly influenced by “Bombay Calling”. “Child in Time” was my favorite cover song to play in the band in those days. Here is Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan explaining how “Child in Time” came about.
Ian Gillan said in an interview in 2002: “There are two sides to that song – the musical side and the lyrical side. On the musical side, there used to be this song ‘Bombay Calling’ by a band called It’s A Beautiful Day. It was fresh and original, when Jon was one day playing it on his keyboard. It sounded good, and we thought we’d play around with it, change it a bit and do something new keeping that as a base. But then, I had never heard the original ‘Bombay Calling.’ So we created this song using the Cold War as the theme, and wrote the lines ‘Sweet child in time, you’ll see the line.’ That’s how the lyrical side came in. Then, Jon had the keyboard parts ready and Ritchie had the guitar parts ready. The song basically reflected the mood of the moment, and that’s why it became so popular.”
Ironically enough David LaFlamme later on admitted that he got the idea for the song during one of his house jams when saxophone player Vince Wallace started out the tune.
It’s a Beautiful Day’s second album, Marrying Maiden, was released the following year. It was their most successful showing on the charts, reaching number 28 in the U.S. and number 45 in the U.K. Funny enough their opening track Don & Dewey featured clearly the riff from Deep Purple’s 1968 release “Wring that Neck” on the album The Book of Taliesyn. Great humor in my opinion and also a strong indicator of how life has changed since those early days. Think how many times Zeppelin was taken to court for the opening riff on Stairway to Heaven. Randy California, the creator wouldn’t have cared a bit.
After two additional albums, Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime and Live at Carnegie Hall, LaFlamme left the group in 1972 over disputes regarding the direction and management of the band.
For a time he performed with the groups Edge City and Love Gun in the Bay Area before going solo.
In 1976, he released the album White Bird on Amherst Records. His remake of the song “White Bird” cracked the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 89 that same year. This was followed by the album Inside Out in 1978, also on Amherst Records. Both project releases were co-produced by David LaFlamme and Mitchell Froom.
After years of legal wrangling over ownership of the band’s name, LaFlamme resumed formal use of It’s a Beautiful Day when former mis-manager/leech Matthew Katz let the trademark of the name go un-renewed. From 2000, he performed with the reconstituted band, which included his second wife Linda LaFlamme (not the same person as his previous wife Linda LaFlamme) and original drummer Val Fuentes.
LaFlamme also appeared on the television shows Frasier, Ellen, and Wings, as a strolling violinist who stands right at the table in a restaurant, playing loudly or annoyingly.
It’s a Beautiful Day was included in the documentary film Fillmore, which covered the final days of the famed San Francisco music venue Fillmore West in 1971. The group split in 1973, but later re-formed with new membership, David LaFlamme remaining the only constant into the present era. He occasionally recorded under the group’s name for various labels, and also maintained a solo career, releasing several solo albums and working with other bands.
The band never found the commercial success of its hallowed San Francisco contemporaries. Its debut album, called simply “It’s a Beautiful Day” and released in 1969, climbed to No. 47 on the Billboard chart. “White Bird,” sung by David LaFlamme and Pattie Santos, did not manage to crack the Hot 100 singles chart, largely perhaps because of its running time: more than six minutes, twice the length of most AM radio hits. Even so, the song became an FM radio staple, and an artifact of its cultural moment.
LaFlamme released several albums over the years, including a solo album in the mid-1970s called “White Bird,” which included a disco-ready version of the original single. It actually outperformed the original, peaking at No. 89 on the Billboard Hot 100. LaFlamme said in 1998, “It was a very difficult period musically, because during that period disco music ruled the earth.” “It was really the day the music died,” he said.
David LaFlamme died on Aug. 6, 2023 in Santa Rosa, Calif. Shortly after his friend Dan Hickman. He was 82. His daughter Kira LaFlamme said the cause of his death, at a health care facility, was complications of Parkinson’s disease. In addition to his daughter Kira, from his first marriage, Mr. LaFlamme is survived by his third wife, Linda (Baker) LaFlamme, whom he married in 1982; his sisters, Gloria LaFlamme, Michelle Haag and Diane Petersen; his brothers, Lon and Dorian; another daughter, Alisha LaFlamme, from his marriage to Sharon Wilson, which ended in divorce in 1973; and six grandchildren.