Formerly known as The Action, this Mod band from London’s Kentish Town were reputedly the best band George Martin signed to the EMI label in the mid-Sixties.
As the musical landscape changed towards the latter half of the decade though, so did The Action, adopting more of a ‘West Coast’ psychedelic approach to their music. However, their deal with EMI was terminated prior to their last planned single could be released.
They continued recording various demos under the new guise of Azoth, these only finally being released in 1985 by Castle, as a mini-album, ‘Action Speaks Louder Than Words.’
Months of hard touring resulted in them finally signing to the small independent Head label in 1969 at which time they took on the name Mighty Baby.
Their debut, eponymous album was recorded but as so often seemed to have happened, the label went bust before any formal UK release – although a deal had been signed with Chess Records in USA who did make some copies available.
Suffice to say, copies of this album are pretty rare and exchange hands for several hundred pounds.
The album itself is a mix of quiet folk infused psychedelic tracks mixed with blues rock and prog rock, the highlight being, for me, the opening track on side one: ‘Egyptian Tomb,’ with its distinctive ‘eastern’ psychedelic sound.
Mighty Baby sound a quintessentially British ‘hippie’ type band, featuring a flute and sax, but not averse to breaking out into heavy riffs and rocking, boogie interludes.
Counting ex-Savoy Brown guitarist Martin Stone and future Ace founder Alan King in their number, they could also turn their hand to some excellent blues numbers like the following, ‘I’ve Been Down So Long.’
Continuing with the hard gigging ethos that brought them to this point, Mighty Baby spent the next two years on the Festival circuit and playing numerous radio and studio sessions. (They were the closing act on the first day of the famous Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.)
1971 saw the culmination of all this hard work with the release of the band’s second, and final album, ‘A Jug Of Love.‘ By this time, several members had turned to the Muslim faith, and the album, being more tranquil and wistful than their debut seems to reflect their new outlook on life.
Despite the critical acclaim, the album failed to shift in any great number and in autumn 1971, the band were forced to call it a day.
Alan King – Guitar / Vocals Martin Stone – Lead Guitar / Slide Guitar Michael Evans – Bass Ian Whiteman – Flute / Organ / Sax / Piano / Percussion / Vocals Roger Powell – Drums
For those of us frequenting gigs, or ‘concerts’ as they were more often described in the ‘70s, there was always one main talking point on the bus journey back home – the mind-blowing ‘solo.’
In this short, occasional series, we’ll have a listen to some of my favourite, ‘less obvious ‘solos from the ‘70s.
So, let’s …kick out the jams, mofos, and start with the GUITAR!
It may have been a rehearsed and integral part of a song; a short impromptu guitar lick; a prolonged jam involving several players taking turns to lead; an awe inspiring drum solo; a smooth sax piece; a finger-blurring burst on the keyboards … whatever. It was generally the highlight of the show.
With particular regard to guitarists, regular visitors to this blog will fully expect me to include at least one example of Rory Gallagher’s searing, blues infused playing. But that would be just too obvious; so too would likes of Allen Collins and Gary Rossington sharing solos on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s‘Fee Bird.’ Or Jimmy Page on any one of a number of Led Zeppelin tracks. Or that Hendrix dude, when it comes to it.
The three I’ve highlighted below are indeed still particular favourites of mine, but for differing reasons. They are by what I’d consider under-appreciated artists in the ‘70s, though I’m sure they’ll be familiar to some. However, I’d say they are not of the ‘household names’ that would spring to mind when asked about the pantheon of great guitarists.
I’m not saying they’re ‘the best’ guitar solos in rock music, but I do regard all three as some of the most enjoyable.
Please feel free to suggest your own / debate the selection in the Comments section below, and / or post your own favourite on our Facebook Group Page.
OK – here we go:
#3: TEN YEARS AFTER: ‘I’m Going Home.’
Guitarist Alvin Lee formed The Jaybirds as a straight-up R&B trio in early Sixties, Nottingham, England. For a while they backed The Ivy League, and in 1966, like so many beat bands of the time, they spent some time developing and playing in Hamburg, Germany.
They became a popular live act and upon change of management in 1966, also changed their name to Ten Years After – reflecting their new start some ten years after Elvis Presley rose to prominence.
They had released three albums by the summer of 1969, and established a reputation as one of the UK’s most popular bands. However, in August of that year, Ten Years After, really hit the big time, when their appearance at the Woodstock Festival was filmed, highlighting Lee’s speed guitar prowess.
The video above has been edited, I’m sure, for I have a recording of the festival and this song runs to over nine minutes.
Ten Years After would record several more albums throughout the early / mid Seventies, and cement their reputation as possibly the best blues rock band in the country (in truth, second best to Rory Gallagher!) before disbanding in 1975.
I love this particular performance and solos because it’s almost proto-punk in nature, brash and frantic, yet encompasses some raw boogie and classic rock ‘n’roll too.
And yes, I guess I should come clean, there IS a resemblance to many a Rory performance here!
#2: ROY BUCHANAN: ‘Roy’s Bluz.’
I really can’t recall how I came to love the music of Roy Buchanan. I did buy his LP, ‘That’s What I Am Here For’ as a fifteen year old, back in 1973. I presume I must gone down the Blues rabbit hole, having discovered, yes you guessed, Rory Gallagher the year previous!
Roy Buchanan was born in 1939 and brought up in rural communities of both Arkansas and California, where he was heavily influenced by the gospel music of his local churches, and the music heard on his radio.
He would, at age nineteen, record with Dale Hawkins who himself leant heavily on the influences of Louisiana ‘swamp’ music and mixed the blues sound of the local black artists with the ‘new’ rock ‘n’ roll style being popularised by Elvis etc..
Although not widely successful in a commercial sense, Roy Buchanan was held in high regard by fellow musicians, and reportedly, after Brian Jones’s death in the summer of 1969, he was asked to join The Rolling Stones. (So was Rory Gallagher in case you were interested!)
He declined the offer, concerned that he’d become more embroiled in the drink and drugs culture that surrounded the greatest band in the world. He was also a famously shy man, and suffered some mental health issues. His voice was soft, and he had concerns about playing large venues and so never really became a ‘superstar’ as we’d now regard it.
Sadly, Roy Buchanan took his own life after being arrested following a drunken domestic dispute … though his cause of death remains questioned by his family.
As a lad, I was so enthralled by Roy Buchanan’s playing. I loved Blues music anyway, but his style just seemed so ‘clean’ and unassuming. Hey – I can’t play a note on any instrument. I don’t do the technical stuff. I just know what I like.
And I still love the music of Roy Buchanan – one of rock’s true unsung heroes.
#1: ALBERT LEE: ‘Luxury Liner.’
I could play this song on endless repeat! (The first video is from a performance by Emmylou Harris and The Hot Band on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1977.)
This particular track convinced me (a) I was in love with Emmylou Harris, and (b) that Albert Lee was at that point, the best guitarist I’d never heard of. I reckon he’s STILL the best many people have never heard of.
Albert Lee grew up in London and first gained recognition playing guitar for Chris Farlowe and his band, The Thunderbirds. He moved on to play with Heads, Hands & Feet for a while, before in 1974 moving to Los Angeles.
This was where he really found his feet, and more importantly, his hands. As a renowned session musician, his finger-picking style of play proved a perfect fit for the rock ‘n’ roll and country based music he’d be booked for. He played on three albums by The Crickets amongst others and for a period towards the end of the Seventies was hired to play with Eric Clapton – no competition there, in my book!
Albert Lee has played with the great and the good of Rock and Country over the years and was awarded Guitar Magazine’s ‘Best Country Guitarist; five times.
Why do I love Albert’s playing so much? Sheesh! Really ….?
(Here’s a later video of Albert playing the same song – kid’s still got it!)
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – August 2022)
From the opening James Gang type riff to the short drum solo that brings an end to final track ‘Changes‘ some thirty-seven minutes later, this album is steeped in ’60s and ’70s hard rock / blues rock.
‘Onwards Into Poseidon’s Fangs” is the debut album from Sondershausen (Germany) power trio, Odysses.
It was always the intention they produce a jam-based, bluesey album, but as the writing and recording progressed, more psychedelic and hard rock elements almost organically emerged.
The result is an LP covering all bases of late ’60s to mid-’70s rock music.
Opening track, ‘The Curse,’ hinges around an infectious, simple riff, distinctive vocals and as in all other six tracks, a really tight rhythm section. It’s mid-paced, with a very pronounced bass line that drives the track forward. Guitarist Benjamin Kreibe gives the listener an early taste of his guitar proficiency with a short ‘wah wah’ solo towards the finish.
‘Stumbling Away’ is next up – again a very heavy bass to the fore.
And then the title track slots in – see top video. This is a truly epic track, further enhanced on the album by the keyboard playing of Marty Sennewald. The track falls into various stages and gives room for solos from both Marty and Benjamin. Nothing too indulgent – just perfect, with shades of Uriah Heep and Argent, perhaps. Word also for Vincent Muller on drums who holds everything together with steadfast and rolling beats.
This was the first song the three members wrote together as a band – setting quite high bar, I’d say! I love this track.
‘Sheria,’ seems to harbour some dark undertones mixed with a distinct psychedelic feel. This is followed by the three minute instrumental, ‘Fire.’ Rocking riffs with a sort of buzz-saw guitar hook and again, drums to the fore.
Penultimate track, ‘Egypt,‘ is a strange one – strange in a good way, that is. For all Odysses are predominately 60s and 70s Hard / Blues Rock influenced, the first half of this track make me think of Rage Against The Machine. The second half (and there are two distinct halves to this one) has a bouncy, jazz type bass, with siren like guitar sounding something a punk band like Buzzcocks may have come up with.
This leads to the final track, ‘Changes.‘ A great track this – a real slow, moody blues track. I definitely get the feel of Robin Trower on this one.
All in all, this is a terrific album. It doesn’t seek to change the wheel, but serves up a great variation of blues / hard rock styles. While Odysses‘ influences may be well declared, there is still a contemporary feel to their playing.
It will be interesting to see where they go from here.
Benjamin Kreibe – Vocals / Guitar / Theramin Vincent Muller – Drums Thomas Huhne – Drums
Jawless are a heavy rock / stoner /doom band from Bandung, Indonesia. Their debut album, ‘Warrizer’ was self released in February 2022 via Bandcamp.
‘Warrizer’ is the central character to the eight songs on this album, the lyrics throughout reflecting the troubled situation he perceives his life and indeed the world to be in.
Musically, ‘Warrizer‘ gets off to a storming start with ‘G.O.D.’Jawless are most definitely channeling their inner Black Sabbath on this one! It’s an epic track of almost eight minutes length, typically doom laden for the first half, then exploding into a frenzied second period. The vocals are pretty distinct too,sounding quite unfiltered and totally ‘live.’ By that I mean they have the resonance of a stage performance, and I can easily imagine this having been a band from the early ’70s belting the song out from a big Festival stage.
‘War Is Come’ is again down the mid-tempo route with big, stomping riffs and pounding drums. ‘Dark Muzzling‘ is the longest track, spanning almost eight minutes. It’s more of the same, really – atmospheric and heavy, with a lighter, final minute ‘outro.’
‘Deceptive Events’ starts out a little quieter but soon develops dark undertones. There is a danger here that for the first half of the six minutes duration, it becomes just an extension oft the two preceding tracks, but fortunately the pace picks up in the second stanza.
‘Bad Excursion‘ is one of my favourite tracks This may be because it has a bit of a ’70s vibe to it, with short, snappy guitar riffs and a more upbeat tempo. ‘Metaphorical Speech‘ is again more of a ‘rocker’ and, I think, what Jawless do best.
‘Restrained‘ continues the pace, with a slower mid-section that soon rises again for the final two minutes. Final track ‘The Throne of Tramp‘ sees a return to the Sabbath-esque doom heavy, head nod inducing sound.
All in all, while ‘Warrizer’ may not be exactly ground-breaking in its substance, it is an entertaining fifty minutes, with a good mix of doom inspired and plain, good, old fashioned heavy rock.
Know how you’ll be in the queue at the supermarket when it dawns, though you have no idea who they are, the person stood behind you is a sportsman / sportswoman of some fame? Or you’re at a gig and as they take to the stage, before even striking a note, you know the unknown support band are going to be great? Or you hear a band, previously unknown to you, in Bandcamp and realize within seconds they are class; top quality and playing just the sounds you like to hear?
What connects the three examples above, is they have ‘presence.’ There is an aura surrounding these people that sets them distinct to others in their field.
Such is the case with Paralyzed. a hard rock band from Bamberg, Germany.
You only have to look as far as the MUSIC PAST page on this very blog to see what kind of music excites me – and more to the point, excites me sufficiently to make more people aware… and write about it.
And all that helps explain what attracted me to this band the moment I clicked on their new album, ‘Heavy Road.’
I have to concede knowing very little about Paralyzed other that they formed in 2019, and have just released their second album, a follow-up to January 2021’s eponymous debut LP.
There was also an excellent value, seven track, thirty-four minutes long, EP release ‘Hidden Sun‘ back in the year of their formation, and a seven minute long digital single release, ‘This Woman’ in 2020. (Tracks from‘Heavy Road,’ ‘Paralyzed’and ”Hidden Sun‘ form the ‘live’ set that features at the end of this piece.)
‘Heavy Road’ comprises eight tracks over around forty minutes duration. It is pretty much rooted in a ’70s Rock feel, and thus, just my bag!
Album opener is ‘Devil’s Bride.’ From the opening vocal, there’s a very distinctive sense of Jim Morrison / Doors, which hooked me right away. It ‘modern’ terms, you’d say the riff, for the first three minutes of the seven and a half, is quite doom laden. The song then erupts in intensity and pace. Vocalist Michael Binder seems to morph into a Ian Astbury (The Cult) while executing a couple of searing guitar solos. A terrific start.
‘Orange Carpet,‘ has a real chugging riff. No nonsense hard rock, pure and simple. ‘Mayday’ is more of a mid-tempo, smokey, bluesy number, again with head-nod inducing riff. ‘Black Trees Pt 1‘ opens in dark mood; heavy blues at its finest – slightly rasping vocals over the top of moody, wah wah type guitar solos and deep, resounding bass lines.
‘Pilgrim Boots,‘ is the second track, after the opener, to breach the seven minute mark. Again, there is an undeniable Doors comparison to be made, but hey – that’s all pretty cool by me! Caterina Bohner’s organ work is more noticable on this one, and overall, the track has a vibrant, boogie feel to it.
‘Black Trees Pt 2‘ chugs away for three and a half minutes – all upbeat and again with a couple neat guitar solos thrown in. ‘Coal Mine’ is another slow burner. Building as it progresses, the bass line adopts a doom style feel, threatening; menacing. Michael’s vocal seem to become angrier and his guitar raging.
And then we’re at the album closer, ‘White Jar.‘ Straight off we’re into a short guitar solo, with the organ dancing in the background. More ‘wah wah’ guitar blends in mid-track alongside an almost funky bass line this time. A strong fnish!
I’ve made reference to Paralyzed being very ’70s rock inspired. And they are – or at least they sound that way. Yet – there is more to them than a band living in the past. They have incorporated modern elements into their music, but without going overboard in trying to be ‘different.’
Hard, driving rock will never die. And certainly not when the band producing it has such ‘presence.
One thing you sure won’t be on buying and listening to this album, is Paralyzed.
Michael Binder – Vocals / Lead Guitar Caterina Bohner – Organ / Rhythm Guitar Philipp Engelbrecht – Bass Florian Thiele – Drums
For the best part of fifty-two minutes, the power and maelstrom that is Man In The Woods raged around me. Yes, their new album, ‘Badlands ‘ runs to around fifty-two minutes – that’s a lot of bang for your buck, and I do mean ‘BANG.’
Formed in 2016, this four-piece heavy rock band from Isle of Man released their debut EP, ‘Badlands Part 1‘ in 2018. This consisted four tracks: ‘Icarus Landing‘; ‘Speedeater‘; ‘Toxicology,’ and ‘Angel of Gasoline.’
The intention was to write more tracks that would fit the narrative and release ‘Part 2’ at a later date. But of course, The World took a bit of a wrong turning and, well …
So now, with the additional five tracks written and recorded, the decision was taken to release both parts as one complete tale. Hence the longer than normal length of the new album.
In a sense, it was darkly ironic the pandemic and ensuing worldwide lockdown should delay the project. For the inspiration behind the music of Man In The Woods, is one of desolation; of depopulation; annihilation.
I hate to use the description ‘concept album’ because I think that may create an errant perception, but it is certainly ‘themed’ around the inspiration. in their own words:
” … the album looks at the apocalypse which starts with an alien invasion documented in ‘Signals, Saucers and Satellites.’ The album is not in order of events and we chose to order the tracks in regards to the sound rather than the story. In a way we have ended up with a Pulp Fiction, Citizen Kane narrative setup where sections of the story are not in order. But both those films and the concept is quite cool.
“So once the world has been pretty much depopulated by the invasion we look at individual stories within the same universe that don’t all link into one another but set a scene. If you imagine piecing together lots of letters written during WW1 in order to build up a picture of what people experienced, ‘Badlands’ does a similar thing. ‘Trenchfoot‘ is about the soldiers going to war; ‘Iron Strider‘ is about a lone vigilante type character, like Mad Max, who seeks revenge; ‘Angel of Gasoline‘ is about a priest who sacrifices himself after he believes God has left him. Over all each story hopefully leaves you feeling like it’s a shit environment to live.“
Musically, Man In The Woods have been tagged with just about every ‘heavy’ music related hashtag: ‘stoner,’ ‘doom,’ ‘psych,’ ‘rock,’ ‘desert rock,’ ‘sludge,’ …. it doesn’t really matter. I’ll probably do the same at the end of this piece! Truth is, ‘Badlands‘ really encapsulates them all at various points.
In a nutshell, the music throughout is typified by Marc’s gruff, rasping and growled vocals laying over the top of a heavy and, yes, at times, doom-laden bass line. Christian’s pounding a crushing drums permeate every track, while James and David provide the powerful guitar riffs that drive, rhythm and share some intricate solos.
Album opener is ‘Icarus Landing.‘
‘Speedeater,’ to me sounds a bit like a sped-up ‘stoner’ track, if that makes any sense. ‘The Abduction of Barney Hill‘ follows. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album. Here’s why:
‘Philosorapture’ maintains the intensity and pace with a buzzing guitar riff, while ‘Toxicology,‘ slows things down a little as the mood seems to darken with more of a rumbling backing. ‘Trenchfoot‘ as you imagine with it being about soldiers being called to war, is angry and totally psyched up; ‘Angel of Gasoline‘ is the shortest, and I believe, the first song the band wrote together. It’s pretty straight up heavy rock, and rages from start to finish.
I’ve so far omitted tracks #5 and # 9. These are the two longest on the album. The former, ‘Iron Strider,’ breaches the ten minute mark, while closer ‘Signals, Saucers, Satellites‘ is only about thirty seconds shy of that.
I did initially wonder about having such lengthy tracks on an album of this overall duration. I needn’t have worried – they are my two favourites of the nine! (‘Iron Strider‘ just shades it, actually.)
Both, to the musically untrained ear at least,follow pretty much the same structure: with slow builds moving to heavy, steady paced mid sections, before picking up pace, bigger riffs and searing guitar towards the final two / three minutes.
In various guises and line-ups, Goliath were around for the best part of fifteen years. THIS Goliath, for there have been / were several bands to have used this name, originated in Terre Haut, Indiana during 1964 as The Checkmates.
Instigated by Peters brothers Steve (drums) an Bill (bass) the band had some local success and recorded their first single on Bogan Records. However, inordinate delays in pressing the record resulted in the band having moved on, changed name and changed personnel before the single became available.
It was in fact released under the name, Sounds of Sound.
With the introduction of guitarist David Graham, the band moved to a more to a psychedelic / Hendrix influenced sound and once again changed their name a again, this time to Goliath. They began working with agent / manager Irving Azoff (who would later represent likes of Christine Aquilera, Eagles and Jon Bon Jovi among many others) and gigs were booked across Mid-West America.
Unfortunately, this early incarnation of the band fell apart when drug and substance abuse got the better of ‘star’ guitar player Graham. However, with contractual obligations remaining unfulfilled with Azoff’s company, Steve and Bill Peters put together a new line-up, comprising former members of recently disbanded local groups, Kicks and the XL’s.
One final change, with Paul, ‘Doug’ Mason replacing Ted Bennet on Hammond Organ, and the line-up that would record this particular Goliath album.
Unfortunately, and details are scarce, this eponymous album, recorded in 1970 at the Allen-Martin Studios in Louisville, Kentucky never saw the light of day until it was re-mixed and re-mastered in 2009 by Jay Petach.
A second (effective ‘first’) album was released however in 1975. By then, Phelps (guitar) Egy (vocals) and Mason (keyboards) had moved to Atlanta to form Raven, leaving the brothers Peters to start from scratch, yet again.
They were still signed with Triangle Talent who had been pushing the band hard to record jingles and songs so that the rights could be sold. They did however, eventually relent and allow the band to record an album on their own Bridges label.
With only a few weeks to prepare, and a ‘new’ band to boot, the album is described by the Peters brothers as being nothing more that a patchwork of previously unfinished songs. Probably not the strongest of recommendations!
Although Steve and Bill did manage to keep the band going in some form or other throughout the ’70s, no more recordings were forthcoming.
For readers lacking the patience to sit through the whole album as displayed at the start of this post, I can say this:
in all honesty, it’s nothing ‘spectacular.’ But while there’s no immediate impact moments, it is a really enjoyable listen. The feel is of pared-back, hard, bluesy rock, Some songs vary like, ‘I Feel Like I’m Gonna Die’ retains the blues sound, but with more a ‘lounge / club’ inflection; ‘Its Your Land’ is pretty much Gospel influenced, while ‘In The Summertime’ to me at least, seems to have rubbed off on DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – certainly on the arrival of the chorus!
On other tracks, I’m reminded of early Uriah Heep (that’s probably down to the organ sound as much as anything) and overall, yeah, a good addition to my collection.
George ‘Charlie’ Egy – Vocals Steve Peters – Drums Bill Peters – Bass Paul ‘Doug’ Mason – Hammond B3 Organ George Phelps – Guitar
For every ’70s rock band that became stadium headliners, there must be hundreds of ‘would-have-beens / should-have-beens.’ Sadly Goshen, Indiana band Magi are one of the latter.
It’s scant consolation that forty-eight years following the release of their only LP, ‘Win or Lose,‘ they are receiving the more geographically widespread plaudits their hard-rock debut merited.
As was / is so often the case, it was a matter of either not being in the right place at the right time, or as happened with Magi, the wrong place at the wrong time.
Formed in 1973 from the backbone of another ‘local’ band, Skull, the name was changed to Magi, and their first four-song emo was laid down on tape. (Two of these early compositions would, three years later, appear on the ‘Win or Lose’ album.)
They gigged extensively throughout Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, playing University campus shows and festivals as well as clubs and smaller venues.
Their sound was solid. Hard rock at its heaviest. To match this, they built their own oversized speakers and lugged them around to shows, blowing the ears and minds of audiences!
By this stage,the gigging was onerous and bass player Larry Hertzler left the band to take up at college. He was replaced by Tom Stevens – who would later play with The Long Ryders.
Seeking to capitalize on the success of the stage performances, Magi decided the time was right to record their first album, Further demos were put together, extending the length of the tracks on their earlier effort and now including three songs that would eventually appear on the album: ‘Win or Lose’, ‘Every Time I’m With You‘ and ‘I Didn’t Ask You.’
Although all the songs had been written prior to Tom joining the band, the demos were very much a team effort, with Tom and drummer Jerry Wiggins contributing to the arrangements of the tracks principally put together by the two guitarists, Larry Stuzman and Steve Vanlaningham. Lyrics in the main, were composed by vocalist / frontman, John Gaut.
Attracted by the ‘offer’ of 40 hours recording time, with 1,000 LPs and 1,000 singles for $1000 at Kalamazoo, Michigan’s Uncle Dirty’s Sound Machine Studios, the band got down to recording their debut album in the first week of August 1976.
Unfortunately, they did not really hit it off with ‘Uncle Dirty’ aka Bryce Roberson and cutting to the chase, Magi were left somewhat disappointed by the finished, pressed LP.
Fans acknowledged the LP didn’t capture the band as they appeared in a ‘live’ environment, but fortunately having built up a substantial local following, the initial run of albums was sold out over the ensuing months.
Buoyed by the sales, local TV appearances followed and gained them further recognition with some high profile support slots followed -like with Brownsville Station, for example.
By now, they had outgrown their local scene – the High School shows were presumably going to bands more of that age – and Magi were playing city centre bars and clubs.
Then came blow #1: the drinking age reverted from 18 to 21 in 1978, changing the gig landscape drastically. Additionally, winter in the mid-West is pretty unforgiving for touring bands.
So when the offer came from Larry Stuzman’s uncle Danny (one of the first Contemporary Christian Music – CCM – artists signed to a major label in the early ’70s) to move out to California – they jumped at the chance.
Then came blow #2: uncle Danny was tad out of touch with the rock scene. Punk had taken over L.A. big time. Magi‘s music was already ‘dated’ and although they changed their name to The Charge and hastily wrote a few New Wave style songs, they couldn’t even bring in enough money to cover their rent. Day jobs had to be sought and their hopes and aspirations were evaporating fast in the Californian dust and heat.
One by one, the members gravitated back to their home State
The dream was over.
But, boy! What a legacy!
John Gaut – Vocals Larry Stuzman – Guitar Tom Stevens – Bass / Vocals Steve Vanlaningham – Guitar Jerry Wiggins – Drums
Five Proud Walkers were initially an R&B band from North London. Formed in 1963, they gigged around the city, establishing a good, strong, reputation and developing their sound to include some of the Jazz and Beat influences that were emerging around the capital.
When vocalist Terry Elliott left in early 1966, he was replaced by Dave Terry from The Impacts. Dave was more of a showman and the band’s stage show became much more theatrical and image conscious.
By the end of that year, the band were in demand not just within the London scene, but across the country. The decision was taken to pack in the day jobs and go full time professional band. Bass player John Treais couldn’t commit, and so left at this point, being replaced by John Ford.
It was now 1967. With their more extravagant stage show and appearance, and the music scene in general taking a more psychedelic turn, it was agreed a new era for the band merited a new name.
Guitarist Colin Forster explains: “It came out of the dress sense, really, with the clothing an the hair. John Ford worked in a shop in Carnaby Street, so he started getting some interesting clothing, so various things developed from that, like Regency styles of clothing. Elmer (Dave Terry) got this hat and cape and somebody said that he looked like Burt Lancaster in that movie ‘Elmer Gantry,’ and we just added ‘Velvet Opera.’ We never knew about the Velvet Underground, but velvet was ‘in’ an ‘Opera’ was the fact that we were doing an act on stage.”
(Dave Terry hadn’t actually planned on becoming ‘Elmer Gantry’ but as the frontman, people would just make the assumption. The band found it funny and would take the mickey, and so the name stuck.)
The band’s first single, ‘Flames,’ gained a lot of radio play and was a favourite of the young John Peel on his ‘Top Gear’ shows. Although it didn’t quite chart, the track was included on the CBS ‘sampler’ album, ‘The Rock Machine Turns You On,’ which also featured Bob Dylan, Moby Grape, Spirit, The Byrds and The Zombies.
Selling at half the price of a standard LP, the compilation reached the Album Chart Top 20, ensuring the band’s music was now being heard by a massive new audience.
Impetus created and momentum building, the band headed into the studio to produce an album of their own. The eponymous named debut is a fantastic mix of psych-pop, raga, soul, harder rock and Vaudeville, I don’t think I’d be far off saying Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera were like a proto Sensational Alex Harvey Band. They were also ‘punk’ before Punk formally announced itself nine years later.
Sadly, this would be the band’s only album release with this line-up, with guitarist Colin Forster leaving in April 1968, his place being taken by Paul Brett. They continued gigging but the chemistry had been upset and having been coerced by their label into recording a single ‘Volcano’ that did’t really meet the band’s profile, Elmer himself left.
Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera were no more, though Hudson, Ford and Brett added Johnny Joyce as singer / guitarist and recorded one album, ‘Ride a Hustler’s Dream‘ in 1969 as Velvet Opera.
Elmer himself formed the Elmer Gantry Band before joining the cast of ‘Hair,’ then in the Seventies joining the band Stretch and recording with the likes of Jon Lord, Cozy Powell and the Alan Parsons Project.
Hudson and Ford would go on to success with The Strawbs, before their #8 hit single, ‘Pick Up The Pieces‘ as Hudson-Ford. They also had another two top 40 singles and released several albums as a duo.
ELMER GANTRY’S VELVET OPERA
Elmer Gantry – Vocals Colin Forster – Guitar John Ford – Bass Richard ‘Hud’ Hudson – Drums
Stone Harbour were a duo from Ohio who typified the DIY ethos of rock’n’roll in 1974 with the original release of their now critically acclaimed album, ‘Emerges.‘
Aspiring songwriter and multi-instrumentalist writer, Ric Ballas owned a 4-track reel to reel recorder; singer songwriter Dave McCarty could also play a bit on drums. Additionally, he had ‘a pleasant voice’ and so between them, with all bases covered, they began to write collaborate in writing some music and recording.
Though their equipment was not exactly state of the art, they recorded a few songs to tape – more or less all in one take, with the occasional over-dub.
These recordings were taken to the Peppermint Productions studio in Youngstown, Ohio where they were mixed down to two-track. The aim was these tracks would form a demo that the lads could hawk around to impress and recruit others to join their band.
Most players didn’t have reel-to reel facilities, however, so Ric decided to have five hundred copies of the resultant tracks transferred onto vinyl – this was the minimum run amount.
With their very limited budget now blown, Ric sketched a few picture, had it reproduced five hundred times and then pasted them to cardboard jackets.
And that was about it. A full, live and touring band did come about. They played to mixed responses and after a couple of years, disbanded. (A follow-up album was partially recorded, but the studio was destroyed by fire, and the master tape with it.)
But as happens so often with these ‘lost’ LPs, somebody somewhere is impressed, word gets around, and original copies become sought after treasures. A copy of this sold on Discogs for over £1000 last year!
The music is varied in nature, ranging from folky psychedelia to rock-out proto grunge style. It’s pretty lo-fi in nature, but has a real innocent charm about it.
The album has been re-leased, most recently by Geurssen Records’ Out-Sider imprint. Definitely one to check out.