Praise The Load
03. Brandenburg #3
04. Dave's 'A' Song
05. The Betrayal
06. The William Tell Overture
07. Sit Down (bonus track)
08. She Calls My Name
- Sterling Smith / keyboards
- Dave Hessler / guitar, bass
- Tommy Smith / drums, percussion
This powerful Columbus, Ohio trio was formed in 1973 by bassist/guitarist Dave Hessler (OSIRIS, THE DANGER BROTHERS) and brothers Sterling (keyboards) and Tommy (drums) Smith. In time, Hessler built himself a double-neck guitar with a bass on the bottom and six strings on top, while Sterling acquired a Minimoog synth, allowing him to switch from bass to synth. Doing mostly American prog with classical influences, they gigged locally for a couple of years and became part owners of Owl Studios and Owl Records, allowing them to record their first LP at their own pace in 1976, "Praise the Load". Their second effort, "Load Have Mercy", recorded a year later, was quickly shelved and wasn't to be released until it appeared on CD in 1996. They then relocated to Los Angeles, spent the next two years working as session musicians (mostly with The BEACH BOYS) and by 1979, they called it quits and returned to their native Ohio.
"Praise the Load" offers a mix of conventional rock numbers with classical influences, featuring nicely crafted keyboard parts and complex themes in the tradition of KING CRIMSON, YES, ELP and REFUGEE. After 18 months of carefully remixing multi-track tapes of new material, the superior "Load Have Mercy" came out, a much more personal album showing less of their influences. Also classically inspired, it contains lots of dynamic interplay between the trio; Tommy Smith, in particular, is a percussive powerhouse while Hessler treats the listener to some aggressive, earbending solos.
Their second album in particular is a true sonic workout for any sound system and is highly recommended, especially if you're into classic ELP, REFUGEE, THE NICE or TRACE.
This album strikes me as a collection of semi-serious musings by a couple of seventies Midwest suburbia kids who either spent a lot of their free time at the Lowry Organ & Piano store in their local mall, or maybe snuck some time in on their church’s Wurlitzer after services. The seventies Midwest suburbia types is pretty much accurate; not sure where they cut their musical teeth. In any case they undoubtedly listened to a lot of seventies keyboard music back then, and I suspect they had some classical training as well.
This is a pretty entertaining record, although getting your hands on the original vinyl release would be pretty difficult. Fortunately the album was reissued on CD in the nineties, and that one isn’t very hard to find. There are basically two types of tracks here – keyboard-crazed instrumentals, and keyboard-crazed instrumentals with vocals. The lineup is a trio consisting of brothers Tom and Sterling Smith, plus guitarist Dave Hessler. Apparently Sterling Smith has subsequently made a career of session work, no surprise since his keyboard skills are readily apparent all over this album. The other two have appeared as part of “America’s Favorite Party Band” the Danger Brothers for the past quarter-century. So they’ve managed to make a living in the industry, albeit not playing this type of music. But they have this and one other early recording and their memories, which is nice I suppose.
The opening track “Fandango” is an eleven minute instrumental featuring what sounds like acoustic guitar, slightly syncopated and lively drumming, and a whole cornucopia of Hammond and synth keyboard passages that are pretty entertaining and kind of impressive for the skill of Sterling Smith’s fast fingers if nothing else.
“Flyaway” features more detailed keyboard work and electric guitar, well done except for the harmonized and uncredited vocals which are quite dated-sounding and kind of pithy in their lyrics. This one sounds like a hundred different forgotten seventies bands, but wouldn’t have been too bad on the radio back then.
“Brandenburg #3” is another instrumental, mostly keyboards, and quite a bit shorter than “Fandango” but with the same kind of lively tempo. Smith seems to favor string synths, which is okay since he plays them quite well.
The Hammond and some electric piano are featured on “Dave’s ‘A’ Song”, and this is the one that reminds me of those Lowry organ showrooms in the malls back in the seventies. Peppy tempo, light and lively progressions, but not a whole lot of substance. This clocks a little over seven minutes but actually seems a lot longer than that.
There’s a short blast of the “William Tell Overture” included which is almost all organ, with a few synth flourishes for good measure. Heck, why not?
The longest and probably most ambitious track is “The Betrayal”, an eleven minute blend of funky bass, light guitar, and almost jazzy drum work. Again the featured instruments are the various keyboards, although they are a bit more subdued here. I think this is some kind of religious-themed song, but the lyrics are a little hard to follow since they almost seem like an afterthought added once the instrumental tracks had been laid down. Again the vocals are very dated, but wouldn’t have been out of place thirty years ago when this was recorded.
There’s two ‘bonus’ tracks on the CD version, which is probably the only version anyone who doesn’t already own this is likely to find. Both are pretty good. “Sit Down” reminds me a bit of “Fandango” with its twangy guitar, off-beat drumming, and Wurlitzer-like keyboards. The lyrics are just silly, which probably explains why this one didn’t make the original release.
“She Calls My Name” sounds like a cross between the Nice and the Beach Boys circa the mid-seventies. Not a bad song, but nothing special.
Like I said, this is a pretty entertaining album, and the keyboard work is excellent. This isn’t an essential piece of progressive history or anything, but makes for a decent novelty piece on a symphonic rock collection. For American prog fans this one probably gets an extra star for its decidedly Styx-meets-Church-lady keyboard passages.