Tag Archives: hard rock

MAGI

Magi
MAGI: ‘Win or Lose.’ The lead / title track from the album.

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.

Jerry Wiggins
Steve Vanlaningham
Larry Stuzman

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!

MAGI

John Gaut – Vocals
Larry Stuzman – Guitar
Tom Stevens – Bass / Vocals
Steve Vanlaningham – Guitar
Jerry Wiggins – Drums

TITLEFORMATYEARLABELNOTES
Win Or Lose / Mama7″ single1976MagiHas sold @ £40 via Discogs
Win Or Lose LP1976Uncle Dirty’s Sound MachineHas sold for over £400 via Discogs

(** Information for this post was gleaned from the album’s insert notes by Jeremy Cargill of ‘Got Kinda Lost Records.’ **)

Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera

Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera.
Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera – debut (and only) LP
Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera debut single: ‘Flames.’

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.

Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera – ‘Air’.

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 -‘I Was Cool.

ELMER GANTRY’S VELVET OPERA

Elmer Gantry – Vocals
Colin Forster – Guitar
John Ford – Bass
Richard ‘Hud’ Hudson – Drums

TITLEFORMATYEARLABEL NOTES
Flames / Salisbury Plain7″ single1967Direction
Flames / What’s The Point Of Leaving7″ single1968Epic
Mary Jane 7″ single 1968CBS
Volcano7″ single1969Direction
Elmer Gantry’s Velvet OperaLP1968Direction

(** Information for this post was gleaned from the album’s insert notes by Mike Stax of Ugly Things Magazine.**)

hellmet

Leviathan were a respected psychedelic rock band from Brighton who, being one of the first British bands to be signed to the Elektra label, recorded three singles in 1969. They also recorded and album, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t released.

In autumn of that year, they split, and drummer Gary Murphy, perhaps a bit disillusioned at the non-release of the album, decided to take a break from the music business.

He was initially adamant, but having been approached by two very persistent ex-members of another Brighton band, The Motion, he eventually relented and agreed to play a jam session …. an that was it! He was hooked.

Hellmet were born.

A month or two later, while on a train journey and discussing just what direction their music should follow, they were overheard by one John Tobler, a respected music reviewer of the time and editor of the underground, Zig Zag magazine.

He took the band under his wing and wrote their first review, in his magazine. He also arranged gigs supporting likes of Groundhogs and Blodwyn Pig, and secured them a slot at the famed Marquee Club venue. All good, high exposure.

As a result of their gigging and growing reputation, they were then approached later in 1970 by local Brighton business who wanted to diversify and break into music management. It was they who financed the recording session at Orange Studios.

An album’s worth of tracks were laid down, but despite the master tapes being hawked around various record labels, no offer of a deal was forthcoming. The acetate, having passed through so many hands, was subsequently lost, and as with his previous band, Leviathan, drummer Gary Murphy had nothing to show for his commitment. The band folded.

(Lucky white heather, eh?)

As seems to happen with surprising regularity, the ‘masters’ somehow turned up fifty years later, and now the album has been made available by Seelie Court.

Musically, the five tracks cover several rock bases: ‘Hazy Shady Lady’ is a blues infused hard rocker; ‘Trust,’ has a Black Sabbath type riff and passes through a few mood and tempo changes, like all good prog tracks are require to do! At times, I’m reminded also of Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused.’ That type of song. ‘Judgement Day (Honest Religion)‘ is a rather sad melodic song about heroin addiction.

‘Sweet Bitch‘ is the first of only two tracks on side two. It’s another standard hard rocker, It’s fast and angry and I’d say my favourite on the album. Album closer ‘What is The Point (Of it All?) is another in the heavy rock mould, but with a jazzy interlude.

I have to say, I’m a bit confused though. The band name, album cover and especially the six paintings of Lucifer that adorn the inside of the gatefold sleeve, seem to contradict the image of the band (see above) and the music they produced.

Overall though, it’s been met with some excitement from collectors of prog rock albums and it’s great to see bands from all these years ago finally get recognition for their creativity.

HELLMET

Terry Aitken – Vocals
Stephen Day – Guitar
Ray Mellors -Bass
Gary Murphy – Drums

TITLEFORMATYEARLABELNOTES
Judgement DayLP1970*Seelie Court* Recorded in 1970 but only released in 2021 by Seelie Court.

sweet

The first single I ever bought was ‘Co Co’ by The Sweet, back in 1971. The second was ‘Alexander Graham Bell,’ by The Sweet. Over the years I gathered five of the band’s albums on vinyl and several compilations on CD.

You see, despite the stick I took at school, I was and am, proud to be called a Sweet fan. I guess I enjoyed being different.

Back in the early Seventies, my protestations that they were not simply a bubblegum pop band, and could rock it out with the best of them, fell on the deaf ears of Clapton and Zeppelin supporters. (Clapton fans must have been deaf, in my opinion, but that’s for another article!)

Bearing in mind Sweet have been around for over fifty-one years (with a couple years hiatus in the early ’80s) various line-up changes have been inevitable, not least due to the ill health and subsequent passing of Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker.

For a while two versions of the band existed; Andy Scott’s here in UK and Steve Priest’s in USA. Sadly, only Andy now remains of the original line-up – but he continues to uphold the ‘classic’ line-up’s legacy of of all those years ago.

Now though, with the very experienced touring musicians in Lee Small (bass) Bruce Bisland (drums) and Paul Manzi (lead vocals) Sweet have settled once again as a four-piece and continue to perform in front of sell-out crowds across Europe. In fact, their Covid-delayed ‘Hellraiser’ UK tour due to kick off towards the end of November.

In the spring of 2021, the new line-up released their ‘Isolation Boulevard‘ album – a re-recording of hits from the classic era of the band, together with an inventive cover of Hello‘s ‘New York Groove,’ and the December 2020 single, ‘Still Got The Rock.’ This is a really interesting album – all the songs are indeed very familiar, not straying too far from the original versions which is what you’d want to hear if going to a show. Yet is IS different. There is a deeper resonance, perhaps down to more advanced recording techniques but emphasized by Paul’s vocal delivery.

Naturally, many of the old hits will feature in the upcoming ‘Hellraiser’ UK tour and it was while rehearsing songs for the shows, that Andy decided what should become the new / current single.

During the rehearsals for Sweet’s forthcoming ‘Hellraiser’ tour in November and December 2021, we were trying out various songs from our back catalogue that could be added to the set list. As soon as I heard Paul Manzi and Lee Small’s vocals on the song ‘Everything,’ I knew that we needed to get it down and record it as our new single.” 

The song ‘Everything 2021′ is a totally new recording. It was originally featured on the album ‘Sweetlife‘ released back in 2002. “I think the new version is a far superior production,” says Andy. “It’s much closer to how I envisaged it when I co-wrote the song back in the day.”

Andy Scott
(Photo: Darren Griffiths)
Paul Manzi
(Photo: Darren Griffiths)

I agree. This new version has more ‘oomph.’ More ‘balls.’ Also, in Paul Manzi, Sweet have a specialist and focused singer. The earlier, 2002 version, was recorded with bass player Jeff Brown doubling up on vocals when then frontman Chad Brown unexpectedly left the band mid tour due to ill health.

The track has a kind of European / German rock sound to it, which is perhaps not so surprising considering the band seem to have spent so much time touring in that area over the years.

So, yeah – once a Sweet fan, always a Sweet fan. The musical landscape has shifted enormously during their life-span. They have seen disco, punk, post punk, grunge, indie, baggy, and many more genres emerge, overtake, then fade.

I’ve grown up with Sweet and while change is good and inevitable, life is sometimes even better for the comfort of constants.

The Glam may have faded ... but the Rock lives on!

(Just for old time’s sake! )