Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Chillum - 1971 - Chillum


01. Introduction By Brain Surgeons From The Royal Free Hospital
02. Brain Strain
03. Land Of A Thousand Dreams
04. Too Many Bananas
05. Yes! We Have No Pajamas
06. Promenade Des Anglaises
07. The Lone Commuter
08. Three Blind Mice
09. Celebration
10. This Is Not Romance

- Ken Elliott / keyboards, mellotron, organ, vocals
- Kieran O'Connor / drums
- Tony McGill / guitars
- George Hart / bass

Like an insane instrumental Canterbury band soundtracking the end of the world, `Chillum' is a difficult but hugely fascinating album that will easily divide listeners. Some will relish it's noisy tuneless chaos, thinking it was way ahead of it's time, others a total useless mess of bad ideas that will make them flee in terror for a safer listen! I fall somewhere right in the middle - one listen I'll find it an endlessly intriguing psychedelic knockout, the next time it'll drive me up the wall and I'll remove the album in disgust. Try not to be listening to the album too loud if you start to react negatively to it, as it may cause quite a violent reaction in you!
After a fairly rubbish comical introduction, the band charges head-first into the aptly titled `Brain Strain', a 21 minute side-long piece which may be the breaking point to a first time listener. A noisy and seemingly directionless freak-out, filled with a million musical ideas that occasionally work brilliantly, and other times fall a little flat, it does showcase some interesting and talented musicians. The endless extended fuzzy and scuzzy organ by Ken Elliot reminds me of a more unhinged and deranged version of Canterbury band Egg, and that sound dominates much of this track. Tony McGill's guitar work is frequently tuneless, bendy and shrill, but also quite imaginative. He comes across like a more deranged and sloppy Syd Barrett on the improv workouts on Pink Floyd's debut or the `Tonite Let's All Make Love In London' LP. George Hart's bass playing has a hypnotic and dreamy quality, frequently plodding and monotonous but also very fluid and loose. It's a bit of a stretch to say it helps the music really groove in places, because moments like that only last a few seconds before the next aimless direction kicks in. I feel Kieran O'Connor's drum-work and percussion really steals this piece. Frantic, fiery and lively, with the musician quickly adapting back and forth to the different directions and musical paths the album treads down. He really helps hold the piece together - as much as possible, anyway.

Side Two's all too brief `Land Of A Thousand Dreams' is a brief musical lullaby with restful Mellotron and pretty piano. It then segues into a very repetitive and mostly mundane percussion piece called `Too Many Bananas' that barely changes for it's four minute running time. The ten minute `Yes! We Have No Pajamas' is a very loose but oddly coherent workout. There's a real energetic groove to this one, with lots of knockout Hammond and pounding drum-work. Some very laid-back, almost bluesy guitar plays over some lively and melodic bass. Actually quite an upbeat piece, in a few brief moments it reminds me of a messier version of Focus. Probably for wary listeners, this track may be the best place to start with this album, but in some way it doesn't prepare you for the mind-breaking noise of the first side. `Promenade Des Anglaises' is a simple but lovely acoustic ditty with gentle percussion, some slight tasteful keys and Mellotron washes. A nice comedown to wrap the album on.

I really appreciate that the `Chillum' album is totally instrumental, as I found the previous band Second Hand's work was somewhat let down by comical vocals that were obviously hugely amusing to the band members themselves, but sabotaged their potentially interesting ideas to listeners. I do find that, for all it's chaos, noise and seemingly random arrangements, there's a very interesting and frequently exciting album here. The band seems to relish playing in such an unhinged and random fashion on the first side, while the second half shows their music is not completely devoid of a good tune or melody.

Second Hand - 1971 - Death May Be Your Santa Claus

Second Hand 
Death May Be Your Santa Claus

01. Death May Be Your Santa Claus (2:38)
02. Hangin' on an Eyelid (4:19)
03. Lucifer and the Egg (7:48)
04. Somethin' You Got (2:54)
05. Dip It Out of the Bog Fred (*) (1:37)
06. Baby R U Anudda Monster (*) (3:20)
07. Cyclops (6:29)
08. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (1:00)
09. Revelations Ch. 16, Vs. 9-12 (3:35)
10. Take to the Skies (2:03)
11. Death May Be Your Santa Claus (Reprise) (5:20)
12. Funeral (3:00)

- Ken Elliott / organ, mellotron, vocals, piano
- Kieran O'Connor / percussion, drums, noise, vibraphone, vocals
- George Hart / bass, vocals, violin
- Moggy Mead / guitar
- Rob Elliot / vocals

Guest musicians:
- Lol Coxhill / saxophone
- Tony McGill / guitar

 I read somewhere that SECOND HAND named their album "Death May Be Your Santa Claus" after hearing about the underground film with the same name which was made by none other than Frankie Dymon Jr who is on this site for his music. Man this is one strange album that touches on Avant-Garde, Symphonic and Psychedelic music. There is a strong Proto-Prog vibe here(tons of organ) and the singer Rob Elliott was a big fan of Arthur Brown's vocals which certainly is obvious at times. While listening to this I thought of bands like Captain Beefheart, GENTLE GIANT and Frank Zappa. Besides the usual instruments we get mellotron on four tracks along with violin and vibes. It's so cool that Lol Coxhill guests here playing some disturbing sax(haha). This is an original, one of a kind listening experience, I'll say that. It took many spins to absorb and appreciate what was going on here but it was well worth the time.

"Death May Be Your Santa Claus" has a drum/ organ intro as these bizarre vocals that are quite wild come in. I'm thinking Krautrock for some reason. Love when the mellotron and those Arthur Brown-like vocals take over as these two themes will be contrasted throughout. "Hangin' On An Eyelid" might be my favourite track. This is brighter at first with vibes, bass and drums standing out then it picks up and the vocals join in. So good! The mellotron really impresses me here as it comes and goes. Piano and drums standout before 4 minutes as the vibes return as well.

"Lucifer And The Egg" is an uptempo organ driven tune with bass and a steady beat as the vocals come and go. I really like the instrumental section from 2 1/2 minutes to 5 minutes with all that atmosphere as the organ, drums and bass lead as they seem to jam. It turns experimental after 5 minutes, very psychedelic and strange as spoken words join in. Pulsating organ and vocals later on. "Somethin' You Got" really reminds me of GENTLE GIANT both vocally and instrumentally. Another favourite. Some fuzz in this one as well beginning before 2 minutes. Crazy vocals and vocal expressions follow.

There are two bonus tracks and I don't usually comment on bonus material unless I'm impressed but they've put these two tracks in back to back right in the middle of this recording which I haven't seen very often. First is "Dip It Out Of The Bog Fred" which is really out there with nature sounds and a multitude of weird samples that come and go. Adventerous for sure. Dissonant sax late. The other bonus song is "Baby R U Anudder Monster" with those silly Zappa- like vocals. They are replaced though by vocals sounding much like Captain Beefheart. A zany tune in many ways.

"Cyclops" is a fantastic tune and it's my co-favourite along with the second track. This is darker with organ at first before this thick and dark atmosphere invades the soundscape. Organ returns along with marching styled drums. Man it sounds incredible after 2 1/2 minutes, like experimental Krautrock really. Some faint violin before 4 1/2 minutes then the organ proceeds to dominate as the drums shuffle with bass helping out as well. "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi" is a short haunting piece with a variety of sounds coming and going.

"Revelations Ch.16 Vs 9-12" features some cool sounding mellotron flute along with an experimental soundscape. It is quite majestic at times even though the subject matter from these versus is very bleak. "Take To The Skies" is another cool soundscape with an urgent rhythm with plenty of organ. "Death May Be Your Santa Claus(Reprise)" is longer and different sounding from the first track it's named after. Dramatic spoken words with a freaked out soundscape as mellotron also helps out. It kicks in before a minute to an uptempo groove. Mellotron flute later. "Funeral" ends it all and it's really orchestral sounding to start but it settles when the vocals join in. It picks up and it's quite catchy here as those orchestral sounds return.

Well if you want innovative and adventerous look no further than this album. It has to be heard to be believed. Not for the faint of heart. Great album!

Second Hand - 1968 - Reality

Second Hand 

01. A Fairy Tale
02. Rhubarb!
03. Denis James the Clown
04. Steam Tugs
05. Good Old '59 (We Are Slowly Gettin' Older)
06. The World Will End Yesterday
07. Denis James (Ode to D.J.)
08. Mainliner Reality
09. The Bath Song

CD Bonus Tracks:
10. The Bath Song
11. A Fairy Tale (Alternative Mix)
12. Steam Tugs (Alternative Mix)
13. James In The Basement
14. I Am Nearly There

- Ken Elliott / keyboards, vocals
- Kieran O'Connor / drums & percussion
- Nick South / bass
- Bobby Gibbons / guitar

Guest musician:
- Chris Williams / flute, cello, violin & saxophone

Is there an exact limit between Psychedelia and Prog Rock?

After listening "SECOND HAND", the only answer possible is no and that's the main reason why Proto Prog was created as a link between the two genres. Outside Prog Rock's petite universe it would be easier to describe what these guys were doing and that's why you will find them in almost every Psychedelia site or catalogue something that is not wrong but neither truth, "SECOND HAND" is somewhere in the grey area between both genres. The story of this British band starts around 1965 when the keyboardist Ken Elliot formed a band named THE NEXT COLLECTION but in 1968 they signed with Polydor Records and the label suggested them to change their name that could lead to a confusion (maybe mistaken with any compilation) so they chose MOVING FINGERS but this name was already taken, so as joke in reference to their used instruments they went with SECOND HAND.

The band was formed by the already-mentioned Ken Elliot playing keys and singing, Kieran O'Connor on drums, Bobby Gibbons on lead guitar, Nick South playing bass and they invited Chris Williams to add flute, cello, violin and saxophone in their debut album "Reality". This first release is clearly more oriented towards late Psychedelia but very advanced for the genre, anybody can feel the characteristic early-Prog sound, hidden somewhere. Despite being an excellent album, it never reached a great popularity in the charts, and stayed an undeservedly obscure and underrated gem from the late 60's.

They had to wait almost three years to release another album, but this was too much for Bobby Gibbons and Nick South who left the band, being replaced by George Hart (bass, violin and backing vocals), Moggy Mead on guitar and they recruited Ken's brother Rob as a new lead vocalist and a frontman, seeing that Ken was too busy working with his new mellotron and organ. With this line-up they left Polydor Records and joined the new Mushroom Records label with whom they release their second album "Death May Be Your Santa Claus". Now, this album is really weird as it is described not as Psych, Prog, Rock but all of them at the same time. Dark, obscure, excellent arrangements, with a clear influence of Arthur Brown, it's definitely a tremendous advance in SECOND HAND'S career but at the same time was the beginning of the end.

After some members quit, the band changed their name to CHILLUM (who knows why?) and released an eponymous album, which is also included in the discography of SECOND HAND but they eventually split after its release. Ken Elliot and Kieran O'Connor joined later to form a new band named "SEVENTH WAVE" with less success.

The debut album from Second Hand which was released in 1968 and called Reality is a pretty psychadelic experience. The music is heavily influenced by rock/ blues bands like Jimi Hendrix and Cream but in addition to that sound Ken Elliott´s vintage keyboards are a trademark in Second Hand´s sound. His voice is very strong and humourous. This music seems to be made while having lots of fun and probably under the influence of various drugs.

Most songs are fairly ordinary rock songs with a psychadelic touch while Mainliner Reality is a 15 minute long song with lots of string arrangements. The most progressive track on Reality for sure.

The musicianship is allright but a bit sloppy. The production is muddy and far from clean but I guess that´s the way the band thought it should be ( or maybe they just didn´t have enough money to buy themselves a better sound).

If your introduction to Second Hand was their second and most known album Death May Be Your Santa Claus this album probably won´t blow you away. But on the other hand if you liked Death May Be Your Santa Claus this is a a nice way to see how they started out. I´ll rate Reality 3 small stars. It´s a good psychadelic rock album with vintage keyboards and a great singer, but not much more than that. I´ll recommend that you start with Death May Be Your Santa Claus if you´re curious about Second Hand.

Killing Floor - 1970 - Out Of Uranus

Killing Floor 
Out Of Uranus

01. Out Of Uranus 4:41
02. Soon There Will Be Everything 3:54
03. Acid Bean 4:30
04. Where Nobody Ever Goes 5:28
05. Sun Keeps Shining 4:22
06. Call For The Politicians 2:20
07. Fido Castrol 4:38
08. Lost Alone 5:05
09. Son Of Wet 5:20
10. Milkman

*Bill Thorndycraft - Lead Vocals, Harp
*Mick Clarke - Lead Guitar
*Stuart McDonald - Vocals, Bass Guitar
*Bazz Smith - Drums

Guest Musicians
*Lou Martin - Piano
*Paul Spencer Mac - Violin, Special Effects

In the Summer of 1970 Killing Floor picked up one of those dream gigs that don't come along very often - a six week residency in the South of France! In the course of the holiday (sorry, engagement) yours truly got seriously sunburnt and the club went bust. However we all had a jolly good time, and more importantly, we were able to use the empty club each afternoon to rehearse for our new album, "Out of Uranus".

Where the hell did that name come from? Well as usual it was me and my big mouth - overhearing talk of a college band with that name I repeated it innocently at a band meeting. Immediately it was taken up as the name for the next album and I've had to live with it ever since. Well, it was at least memorable, and Bill wrote a pertinent lyric for the opening track of the album.

We were by now a four-piece band - Lou being involved in other projects. We had actually split completely a few months earlier, but drifted back together one by one. By now the British "Blues Boom" was all over and blues was not saleable in the U.K. Instead we'd travelled several times to Germany and Switzerland, playing mainly residencies with occasional club or festival dates.

For the new album we had a whole set of original new material which could roughly be described as progessive blues, veering towards the "heavy" side. Bands like Free and Led Zeppelin were waving the "heavy" banner pretty hard at the time - it seemed like the way to go.

So it was back to Pye studios near Marble Arch, this time the larger No.1 room. The sessions, as always, were late night all night affairs. Lou came in and played some piano on "Call For the Politicians" and we featured a mellotron and violin on "Soon There Will Be Everything".

The cover had already been designed for another "Penny Farthing" project, and was generously donated to our album - at once distinctive, memorable and completely tasteless!

"Politicians" was a single, and with Larry Page behind it there seemed a fair chance of success. Larry had been involved in chart hits for the Kinks and the Troggs in the sixties. "Politicians" did make it on to the Radio One playlist, and we heard it quite often on the radio. We even went up to the West End one afternoon and guested on the "Radio One Club", being interviewed by Annie Nightingale and getting screamed up by the young audience. We met Gilbert O'Sullivan in the dressing room, a friendly chap who looked quite normal until he slipped into his schoolboy stagegear. My greatest regret was leaving before the arrival of Ken Dodd.

But "Politicians" wasn't a hit and life carried on as normal. Later we found out that it had sold several thousand copies in Germany, but nobody told us at the time. We performed "Milkman" on BBC TV as the closing track of "Disco 2", a programme which was the fore-runner of The Old Grey Whistle Test. We mimed to the backing track while Bill sung live - Bazz thrashing away on the BBC plastic imitation cymbals.

"Out of Uranus" is an interesting and at times exciting record, although parts of it sound dated and can be clearly pegged to those "progressive" days of the early seventies. Listening to it again for the first time in many years I found it entertaining and enjoyable, and was struck by the wealth of ideas it contains. 
by Mick Clarke

Killing Floor - 1969 - Killing Floor

Killing Floor 
Killing Floor

01. Woman You Need Love 4:57
02. Nobody By My Side 5:03
03. Come Home Baby 4:09
04. Bedtime Blues 7:42
05. Sunday Morning 1:01
06. Try To Understand 2:40
07. My Mind Can Ride Easy 2:33
08. Wet 0:39
09. Keep On Walking 5:09
10. Forget It! 5:30
11. Lou's Blues 2:40
12. People Change Your Mind 8:40

Bass, Vocals – Stuart Mcdonald
Drums – Bas Smith
Guitar – Michael Stewart
Guitar - Mike Clarke
Keyboards – Lou Martin
Lead Vocals, Harp – Bill Thorndycraft

Killing Floor came together in 1968 when singer Bill Thorndycraft and guitarist Mick Clarke met up in a South London blues band. After one unsatisfactory gig with the band the two decided to form a new unit together..Bill suggested the name Killing Floor.

Bill had already met drummer Bazz Smith while touring in Germany, and ads in the "Melody Maker" music paper brought responses from bass player Stuart (Mac) McDonald and pianist Lou Martin.

The band rehearsed hard in various South London pubs and rehearsal rooms, learning a repertoire of Chicago blues standards, but adding their own rock influences. Their first live performance was at London's "Middle Earth" with Captain Beefheart, and soon the band was playing at all the blues clubs of the time, including appearances at London's Marquee club with The Nice and Yes. Favourite venues included the Blues Loft in High Wycombe where they literally brought the house down..the footstomping of the crowd bringing down the ceiling in the room below! 

The first album was released in 1969 on the Spark Label, a subsidiary of the Southern Music publishing group, and licensed in the USA by Sire Records. It got good reviews and airplay, and the band played sessions for John Peel, Johnny Walker, Alexis Korner and other national radio shows. 

The band was very much a part of the developing "blues boom" of the '60's which created many great bands. Free's Paul Kossof and Simon Kirke jammed with the band while waiting for their own tour to begin, and Robert Plant witnessed their version of "You Need Love" sometime before Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" was recorded. The band played concerts with Jethro Tull, Ten Years After and many other names of the time. 

In May 1969 the band was offered the chance of backing Texas blues legend Freddie King on his next U.K. tour. The package toured for three weeks, including concerts with Howlin' Wolf and Otis Spann. A further tour with Freddie followed a few weeks later, and a third tour was only called off after Freddie failed to receive his advance payment from the tour promoter. The band also backed up Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, the writer of some of Elvis Presley's early hits.

Towards the end of 1969 the frustrations of the music business proved too much and the band split, with various members finding new projects to follow. But after a while a four-piece Killing Floor came together again. Blues music at this time, having been the "in" thing for the last year was now moving out of fashion, and it was hard for Killing Floor to find work in the U.K. The answer was to go abroad, with frequent trips to Germany and Switzerland.

Khazad Doom - 2008 - Cherry Town

Khazad Doom 
Cherry Town

01. Cherry Town, The Song
02. Mrs. Murphy's Purple Grocery Store
03. Zany Zake The Blacksmith
04. Miss Crankhouse (The Old Bag)
05. Happy Go-lucky's Pool Hall gang
06. Lucky Lilah Lucky (Instrumental)
07. Luvva Is A Beautiful Thing.
08. Happy high Day's Here .
09. Chilly Penguin's Bar
10. Banker Beegee's Barracuda
11. Lilly Lime Lagoon
12. Cherry Town Epilogue (Instrumental)

This album was actually recorded by the pre-Khazad Doom incarnation called The Laymen in 1967, and remained unreleased until it's issue by Void. It contains somewhat crudely recorded, organ driven, concept style garage, with some pop/psych mat'l. The issue comes complete with a fairly hefty booklet detailing the back story behind the album and each track. A nice package for KD fans.

Khazad Doom - 1995 - Encore!

Khazad Doom 

Before Khazad Doom: The Laymen
01. Cherry Town 3:09
02. Love Which We Share Among Us 2:08
Early KD: Level 6 1/2
03. Hunters
  a. The Prelude 12:18
  b. In The Den 4:25
  c. The Golden Yellow Meadow 7:05
04. Narcissus 5:04
05. In This World 2:39
06. Nothing To Fear 2:44
07. Excerpt From Uncle Gilroy's Crazy Son 2:54
Later KD: Khazad Doom, The Album
08. Stanley's Visit To Kerkle Morff 12:24
09. Can't Find Love Alone 2:48
10. Dirrt 1:50
11. Paper Bus 4:01
12. Frozen Faces 3:35
After Khazad Doom
13. Come With Me 4:13

Bass, Vocals – Tom Sievers
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Steve Hilkin
Guitar, Vocals – Jack Eadon
Organ, Piano, Vocals – Al Yates

Tracks 3 to 7 originally released as LP " Level 6 1/2 " in 1970.
Tracks 1 & 2 recorded in 1968.
Tracks 3 to 7 recorded at Bud Pressner Music & Recording Service, Gary, IN, in 1970.
Tracks 8 to 12 recorded in 1970/71.
Track 13 recorded in 1978.

Limited edition of hand-numbered 600 copies. CD's also are signed by some band members.

Encore! is the official reissue of Khazad Doom's original recordings. Khazad Doom made a name for themselves in Morton Grove, Illinois, during the early 70's with their unique style of progressive rock music, metaphorical lyrics, and stage presence. Their music was driven by pumping bass lines, dynamic Hammond swells, and multi-dimensional guitar work. On top of that, three of the four musicians contributed to beautiful 3-part vocal harmonies, and counterpoint.

After Jack Eadon found out about the release of boot-legged versions of Level 6 1/2, he decided to release a remastered version of most of the band's recording(many recordings didn't survive storage) on CD. The first section of Encore! begins with two songs from an early version of Khazad Doom called The Laymen. These two songs are simplistic compared to what would be recorded by the band just a couple of years later. But their inclusion here is only meant to show the origins of Khazad Doom.

The second section of the CD shows a maturing band, with strong material from their first album Level 6 1/2. The album's highlight is a 23-minute trilogy called "The Hunters". Most of the music has a noticeable psychedelic-influence while also displaying early characteristics of a style of music later called "progressive rock"(developing themes, multiple parts, and a concept). Organist Steve "Al" Yates shines here with some tasty organ chops. "Narcissus" is the next song after the trilogy, and it's filled with some very beautiful 3-part vocal harmonies, and counterpoint. "In This World", considered to be Steve Yate's best composition ever, features violins which adds a symphonic, and serene, quality to the music. "Nothing But Fear" is a masterpiece of early progressive rock. The song has a symphonic, carnival, atmosphere to it with dramatic build-ups of piano, multiple guitars, and marching snare drum patterns. Level 6 1/2 is considered a classic , and the music more than proves that point.

A year later, Khazad Doom recorded their self-titled album. Unfortunately, this album was never released until now. If it was, the band could have received even more recognition as a maturing progressive rock band. The highlight here is the 12-minute piece entitled "Stanley's Visit To Kerkle Morff", which is also the longest piece on the album. Beatles-influenced vocals and melodies charm the listener, as the epic weaves in and out of its various sections, and "Stanley" travels to a surreal world. The band took 6-months to record the epic by ping-ponging between two reel-to-reels more than 20 times! There is alot going on here, and will offer the listener many surprises over time. 4 shorter songs, similar in style to "Level 6 1/2" era go on to finish-off the self-titled album.

Overall, "Encore!" is a very satisfying package that will satisfy fans of early 70's progressive rock. 

Throughout the sixties and early seventies, a rock ‘n’ roll band from suburban Morton Grove, Illinois performed in and around Chicago. Even though they remained together about the same time as the Beatles dominated American pop charts, Khazad Doom (pronounced Kah’ zud doom) never made it in the traditional sense. But artistically, over nine years, they forged a kind of music now called Progressive Rock. 

After their split in 1972, during the eighties, the band achieved cult status when their promo album LEVEL 6 1/2 was reissued and distributed throughout Europe. Just one copy of the original LEVEL 6 1/2 vinyl rides the top of collectors’ wish-lists and has traded for as much as $1,500 a copy! 

In 1995, the limited edition retrospective CD called ENCORE! was burnt from Khazad Doom’s original tapes. It includes much of the band’s decade of output. As one reviewer said: 

“This collection lovingly and reverently captures the spirit of their contemplative creations."
While the ENCORE! CD is now sold out, Jack Eadon's powerful sixties memoir, Got To Make It!

Khazad Doom - 1970 - Level 6 1/2

Khazad Doom 
Level 6 1/2

01. Excerpts From The Hunters, The Prelude
02. In This World
03. Nothing To Fear
04. Music
05. In The Den
06. The Golden Yellow Meadow
07. Narcissus
08. Excerpts From Uncle Gilroy's Crazy Son

Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals – Tom Sievers
Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals – Steve Hilkin
Lead Guitar, Producer – Jack Eadon
Lead Vocals, Organ, Piano – Al Yates

To the best of my knowledge, and according to the RYM database, there has yet to be a CD re-issue of this album. With that in mind and with regard to this review, I have to allow some latitudes. With the price of the original LP prohibitive and the fact that I junked vinyl decades ago means I have to rely on a needle-drop download to sample this album. The one I have obtained has appalling sound quality, I doubt I have any bootlegs that are this bad! I suspect that the original recording is pretty low-fidelity but there is a lot of distortion on this version. So, no comments regarding audio quality are taken into account when judging this release.

On to the music then. This is a really nice album, full of that late Sixties vibe with dreamy vocals and slow organ backed soundscapes. It sounds like a Hammond / Leslie combination and looking at their website confirms the former at least. It doesn't get too many prominent moments but is always there in the background. 

In terms of ability, these guys certainly had plenty of talent. There's loads of interesting sections and nice arrangements to hint of a future that ultimately never happened. There's a sort of Turtles, come Zager and Evans feel about the style of music employed, with strong lead and harmony vocals. It's definitely more Psychedelic than Progressive, although both would be accurate terms when describing the music. By 1970, many bands of a certain leaning were moving on from the psychedelia of the Sixties and moving into the newly formulated Progressive rock. This is a transitional period when the dominant generic influence could fall either way; looking forwards or looking back. This is right on the cusp, more usually found from albums a year or two earlier. That's by no means a criticism, on the contrary, that dichotomy is often a major factor in the charm of an album. This is certainly a case of period charm. 

A cracking album that deserves more exposure. It certainly deserves a good quality CD issue.

Jesse Davis - 1973 - Keep Me Comin'

Jesse Davis 
Keep Me Comin'

01. Big Dipper 3:04
02. She's A Pain 2:50
03. Where Am I Now (When I Need Me) 3:13
04. Natural Anthem 6:14
05. Who Pulled The Plug? 5:12
06. Ching, Ching China Boy 3:20
07. Bacon Fat 4:40
08. No Diga Mas 0:42
09. 6:00 Bugalu 6:00
10. Keep Me Comin' 4:32

Backing Vocals – Billy Davis, Carolyn Willis, Chris O'Dell, Johnny Angel, Julie Tillman, Oma Drake, Patti Daley, Russell Saunkeah
Baritone Saxophone – Howard Jones
Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet – Howard Thompson
Bass – Bob Glaub
Congas – Bobby Torres
Double Bass – Bill Plummer
Drums – Jim Keltner
Guitar, Vocals – Jesse Edwin Davis III
Harmonica – John Angelos
Percussion – Felix Falcon
Piano, Electric Piano, Clavinet – James Gordon
Tenor Saxophone – John Smith
Trombone – George Bohannon, Jacques Ellis
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Jerry Jumonville
Violin – Bobby Bruce

Originally issued in 1973 by Epic, Keep Me Comin' was Oklahoma guitar firebrand Jesse Ed Davis' (who began his career at 16 with Conway Twitty in 1964) third and last album for the label. It featured a killer band featuring drummer Jim Keltner, keyboardist Jim Gordon, and bassist Bob Glaub with a slew of side players featured in various places on horns (Clifford Scott, George Bohannon, Jerry Jumonville, and Howard Johnson among them), and backing vocals and notable cameos by Merry Clayton, Bonnie Bramlett, Leon Russell, and many others. The music walks a line between electrified blues ("Big Dipper"), Southern fried rocked up R&B ("She's a Pain" and "Where Am I Now"), greasy funk (Andre Williams' "Bacon Fat") freaky soul-jazz ("Natural Anthem" and "6:00 Bugalu"), country-rock ("Ching, Ching China Boy" -- a song about the racial epithets tossed his way when he was young -- and "Keep Me Comin'"). In other words, from all appearances it's an all over the place mess. Interestingly, that is exactly what most of the music press thought and it sank like a stone. Hearing it over 30 years later, there is an undeniable appeal to this music. Davis may have been self-destructive, but he was wildly adventurous musically, and he had the chops to pull it off. He could play with anyone, and his approach was deeply roadhouse blues and soul-jazz. His approach to funky was relaxed and natural, and nothing feels forced here at all. If anything, this may be the best of his studio records for Epic because the groove from track to track is constant, loose, and organic. "6:00 Bugalu" in particular is monstrously funky, the horn section is just popping, and the bassline is pure bad nasty! Davis' chunky rhythm fills and changes get underneath all tinny and nasty. His solo, with full-on phase shifter is economical, tight, and in the cut. There are certain production elements that don't date so well, but these are such minor considerations that they don't even matter. If anything, Keep Me Comin' is a record that really deserves to be reconsidered for its sheer musical merit. If anything, Davis' forgotten legacy, includes sessions with Russell, Bob Dylan, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, and John Trudell, to name a handful; he was George Harrison's guitarist at the Concert for Bangladesh as an ill Eric Clapton's replacement. Davis' work deserves to be reconsidered and this set is part of the evidence.

Jesse Ed Davis - 1972 - Ululu

Jesse Ed Davis 

01. Red Dirt Boogie, Brother 3:44
02. White Line Fever 3:03
03. Farther On Down The Road (You Will Accompany Me) 3:14
04. Sue Me, Sue You Blues 2:45
05. My Captain 3:23
06. Ululu 3:40
07. Oh! Susannah 2:45
08. Strawberry Wine 2:13
09. Make A Joyful Noise 3:51
10. Alcatraz 3:15

Bass – Donald "Duck" Dunn
Drums – Jim Keltner
Guitar, Vocals – Jesse Davis
Organ, Piano – Mac Rebennack

The term “musician’s musician” gets bandied about a lot, but in the case of the late Jesse Ed Davis, “guitar hero’s guitar hero” might be more accurate. His tasty slide on Taj Mahal’s rendition of “Statesboro Blues” provided the blueprint for the Allman Brothers’ later version; he recorded with three of the four Beatles and was in the house band for George Harrison’s Concert For Bangla Desh; when Eric Clapton wrote “Hello Old Friend” he deferred to Davis to supply the lyrical slide; and when a budding blues man named Pete Anderson heard Jesse Ed’s country licks on Taj’s souped-up take of “Six Days On The Road,” it set the course for his fruitful association with Dwight Yoakam.

After playing on Taj Mahal’s first three classic albums, Davis amassed a resume of sessions that included Albert and B.B. King, Harry Nilsson, Gene Clark, Leonard Cohen, Neil Diamond, Arlo Guthrie, and Rod Stewart, as well as standout solos on Bob Dylan’s “Watching The River Flow” and Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes.” Of the latter, guitarist David Grissom says, “The solos were a huge influence on me – such expressive playing and beautiful, pure tone. I love the way he built the solos and the way the band played with him.”

In the early ’70s, Davis released three solo albums, Jesse Davis, Ululu, and Keep Me Comin’ – all now collectors items, with heavyweights like Leon Russell, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, and Gram Parsons returning the favor and accompanying him. The first two albums, recently issued on a single CD by Wounded Bird Records, offer even more evidence of Davis’ incredible versatility.

A full-blooded Kiowa Indian, Davis played in country star Conway Twitty’s band in his native Oklahoma before moving to Los Angeles and quickly picking up session work with fellow Oklahomans, backing Gary Lewis. J.J. Cale recalls, “All the guys I played with were from Tulsa, but Ed was from Oklahoma City. A singer named Jimmy [a.k.a. “Junior”] Markham started using Ed, and he became part of our clan. He was so good, people started using him. We were all just playing nightclubs in North Hollywood or West L.A. for $10 and all the beer you could drink. He had his white Telecaster, and he was one of the first guys to cop onto the slide guitar, like ‘Statesboro Blues.'”

When Taj Mahal’s band, the Rising Sons, broke up in ’67, producer/engineer Gordon Shyrock introduced the singer to an aggregation of Okies jamming at the Topanga Corral. With Rising Son Ry Cooder, Taj brought Davis, drummer Chuck Blackwell, and bassist Gary Gilmore into the studio to complete his self-titled debut. When Cooder departed for a solo career a year later, the quartet stayed in place and recorded Natch’l Blues.

“That was the one that really got me,” says Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. “When he played, it was always understated; you always wanted more.” Blackwell concurs: “That was the first time I ever heard a guitar player play like that. He played with real touch. He didn’t just bang it every time; sometimes he’d turn it up loud, and then he’d play real soft. Then if he sustained or punched, he could play a little harder – instead of full-out hard all the time. He controlled his dynamics with his touch, and he had a crying, haunting deal I just never heard. For melodic blues, he’s my favorite.”

Davis’ main setup was his white Tele through a tweed 4×10? Bassman with JBLs, although he’d sometimes use a Vibro Champ in the studio. As Mahal pointed out in his VG interview (October ’04), Jesse was one of the first guitarists to experiment with a Leslie. “He used it a little bit on Natch’l Blues and a little more on Giant Step. But he was not one for a lot of effects; he created most of the effects between his hands – like the volume knob with his little finger. He picked with a flatpick and two fingers.”

Of the Leslie sound, Hidalgo points out, “Jesse touched a lot of people. George Harrison had come to the U.S. and was hanging out with people like the Band and Jesse Ed, and then you see ‘Let It Be,’ and George is playing slide on a Tele through a Leslie. There was a connection there. Mike Halby, who I did Houndog with, knew Leon Russell and all the Okies, and he said that when Jesse would practice, all he would play was George Harrison solos.”

One of Davis’ most unusual gigs was when he became “the sixth Face” on tour. Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan explains, “In August, 1975, the Faces began rehearsals for what would become our last tour. Ronnie Wood had just come off a long Stones tour and, because Rod didn’t think he could handle being the sole guitarist again after playing with Keith [Richards], he took it on himself to hire another guitarist. Unfortunately for Rod, he brought in Jesse Ed Davis, who was not just a brilliant guitarist, but a character and a raver like Ronnie and me, and we warmed to him immediately. I knew his guitar playing from Taj Mahal’s albums and his slide guitar on John Lennon’s version of ‘Stand By Me.’ But having met this Native American, I discovered a gentle man who had a sly, rascally side that particularly appealed to Ronnie and me.

“Onstage, Jesse was brilliant at finding space amid the Faces thrashing and pumping to place his subtle guitar slides and licks,” Mac continues. “And backstage he was the perfect conspiratorial character to hang with – very amusing and easy going, and always up to something mischievous.”

In the late ’80s, Davis wrote and played the music for the poetry of Indian activist John Trudell; their band was called Graffiti Man. In February of ’87, the Graffiti band was playing L.A.’s Palomino club, and, thanks to some of Jesse’s old associates, it turned into one of the most star-studded jams in rock history, with Taj, Harrison, Dylan, and John Fogerty joining in.

After battling drug and alcohol problems most of his career, Davis died of an apparent overdose 16 months later, at age 43.

In 2002, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, permanently ensconced alongside guitar legends such as Barney Kessel, Lowell Fulson, Charlie Christian, and Elvin Bishop. The surviving three-fourths of the Natch’l Blues band (Taj, Blackwell, and Gilmore) reunited to perform at the ceremony.

As Gilmore sums up his friend and bandmate, “He was a fun-loving person, who loved to play music. That really was his life. He was great to play with in the band. He would come up with a lot of the arrangements, along with Taj, and the way he played was simple but with a lot of feeling. He didn’t overdo anything; his solos were more simple and soulful – the way I like to hear it.”
By Dan Forte
This article originally appeared in Vintage Guitar‘s August 2005 issue

Jesse Ed Davis was perhaps the most versatile session guitarist of the late '60s and early '70s. Whether it was blues, country, or rock, Davis' tasteful guitar playing was featured on albums by such giants as Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, John Lennon, and John Lee Hooker, among others. It is Davis' weeping slide heard on Clapton's "Hello Old Friend" (from No Reason to Cry), and on both Rock n' Roll and Walls & Bridges, it is Davis who supplied the bulk of the guitar work for ex-Beatle Lennon.

Born in Oklahoma, Davis first earned a degree in literature from the University of Oklahoma before beginning his musical career touring with Conway Twitty in the early '60s. Eventually the guitarist moved to California, joining bluesman Taj Mahal and playing guitar and piano on his first three albums. It was with Mahal that Davis was able to showcase his skill and range, playing slide, lead, and rhythm, country, and even jazz guitar during his three-year stint. 

The period backing Mahal was the closest Davis came to being in a band full-time, and after Mahal's 1969 album Giant Step, Davis began doing session work for such diverse acts as David Cassidy, Albert King, and Willie Nelson. In addition, he also released three solo albums featuring industry friends such as Leon Russell and Eric Clapton.

In and out of clinics, Davis disappeared from the music industry for a time, spending much of the '80s dealing with alcohol and drug addiction. Just before his death of a suspected drug overdose in 1988, Davis resurfaced playing in the Graffiti Band, which coupled his music with the poetry of American Indian activist John Trudell. The kind of expert, tasteful playing that Davis always brought to an album is sorely missed among the acts he worked with. 

His second album "Ululu" is far more a collector's record than an actual "turntable staple," it is a significant improvement from Davis' first solo outing. During the title track in particular, as well as a cover of Merle Haggard's "White Line Fever," Davis' voice achieves a ragged glory that makes the listener realize why sloppy rock & roll can be so much fun. Other standout moments include a version of the tune that Davis co-wrote with Taj Mahal, "Further on Down the Road," and the Davis-penned "Reno St. Incident." In all, it is the fun record that you would expect from a standout session player like Davis. 
by Steve Kurutz

Backing Taj Mahal in The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus, Jesse Ed Davis plays guitar like a stone cold badass. His face looks almost too at ease to be lucid and focused, yet his deliberate licks on the telecaster are perfectly understated and soulful. When the band drops out during “Ain’t That a Lot of Love,” Davis takes a coolly restrained solo that’s all punchy rock licks but the antithesis of gauche shredding. As he finishes with a climactic, wailing note, his facial expression barely hints at a smile of satisfaction. He’s a satisfying foil to Taj’s bombast. The Oklahoma born, Kiowa bred guitarist got his start playing with Conway Twitty, got famous playing with Taj, and racked up an impressive list of studio credits throughout his career. He was one of the most tasteful guitarists from that late ‘60s high period of electrified blues rock—not a rock star but a rock stylist.

His self-titled 1971 album is awash in celebrity talent comprised of who’s who cast of characters ranging from bonafide rock stars to fellow crack session players—Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Gram Parsons, Merry Clayton and Clydie King all make appearances. While Davis’ songwriting may not jump out — at times coming across like a vehicle for the next jam — the ace ensemble captures an impressive, swampy, Muscle-Shoals vibe that at times recalls Dr. John’s early Night Tripper material or Link Wray’s “Shack” recordings.

And indeed Mac Rebbenack is credited with playing piano on Davis’ next solo LP, Ululu. Bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn is in the Ululu band too, and its sound is a bit tighter and more focused on Davis’ guitar playing. There are fewer originals and Davis shares a writing credit with Taj Mahal on “Farther On Down the Road (You Will Accompany Me),” but the highlight is his dusty take on Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever.” Here, he stuffs a rag in the muffler of Haggard’s truck—it’s less pokey, a straight-ahead roadhouse rollick.  When he asks in the opening line “I wonder just what makes a man keep pushing on?” Davis’ ragged, untamed voice sounds desperate, a little frantic. Like his guitar style, Davis’ voice sounds soulfully low-key. It’s easy to imagine coming from mouth of that straight-faced performer in the Rock and Roll Circus. The song is short, sweet, and Davis’ trebly slide guitar is featured prominently throughout, and, really, that’s what we want to hear.

Jesse Davis - 1970 - Jesse Davis!

Jesse Davis
Jesse Davis!

01. Reno Street Incident 4:10
02. Tulsa County 2:21
03. Washita Love Child 3:47
04. Every Night Is Saturday Night 7:11
05. You Belladonna You 6:29
06. Rock N Roll Gypsies 4:14
07. Golden Sun Goddess 4:48
08. Crazy Love 3:36

Backing Vocals – Bobby Jones, Clydie King, Gloria Jones, Gram Parsons, Maxine Willard, "The Magnificent" Merry Clayton, Nikki Barclay, Vanetta Fields
Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet – James Gordon
Bass – Billy Rich, Steve Thompson
Drums – Alan White, Bruce Rowland, Chuck "Brother" Blackwell, Steve Mitchell
Guitar – Eric Clapton, Joel Scott Hill
Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals – Jesse Edwin Davis III
Keyboards – Ben Sidran, John Simon, Larry Knechtel, Larry Pierce, Leon Russell
Percussion – Alan Yoshida, Jackie Lomax, Johnnie Ware, Pat Daley, Pete "Big Boy" Waddington, Sandy Konikoff
Tenor Saxophone – Frank Mayes
Tenor Saxophone [Solo] – Jerry Jumonville
Trombone, Trumpet – Darrell Leonard

Davis was born in Norman, Oklahoma. His father, Jesse Ed Davis II, was Comanche, and his mother's side was Kiowa. His father was an accomplished artist known for his "true Indian" painting style; his works were exhibited in the capitol in Oklahoma City.

Davis graduated from Northeast High School in 1962. He began his musical career in the late 1950s in Oklahoma City and surrounding cities with John Ware (later a drummer for Emmylou Harris), John Selk (later a bass player for Donovan), Jerry Fisher (later a vocalist with Blood, Sweat & Tears), Mike Boyle, Chris Frederickson, drummer Bill Maxwell (later with Andrae Crouch and Koinonia) and others.

Davis attended the University of Oklahoma but by the mid-1960s had quit school and went touring with Conway Twitty.

Davis eventually moved to California. For eight years, he lived in Marina del Rey, with his companion, Patti Daley, and her son, Billy. Through his friendship with Levon Helm, he became friends with Leon Russell, who introduced him to session work. Davis joined Taj Mahal and played guitar and piano on Mahal's first three albums. He played slide, lead and rhythm, country and even jazz during his three-year stint with Mahal, making an appearance with the band as a musical guest in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.

After Mahal's 1969 album Giant Step, Davis turned to session work for David Cassidy, Albert King, Willie Nelson and others. In 1970 he played on and produced Roger Tillison's only album for Atco Records, a division of Atlantic. Davis and Tillison - both Oklahoman - were joined at the Record Plant by Bobby Bruce (fiddle), Larry Knechtel (organ and harmonica), Stan Szelest (piano); Billy Rich (bass); Jim Keltner (drums) and Sandy Konikoff (percussion); Don Preston and Joey Cooper were vocal accompanists. Roger Tillison's Album was recorded live. This album was finally released on CD by Wounded Bird Records in 2008, with Davis playing electric guitar, bottleneck (slide) guitar and banjo. The Woody Guthrie song "Old Cracked Looking Glass" has become a standard for Oklahoma bands.

Davis recorded his first solo album when Atco Records signed a contract with him to record two albums with the label. The result of that engagement was the album Jesse Davis (1971), which featured backing vocals by Gram Parsons and performances by Leon Russell and Eric Clapton, among others. After guesting with Russell on Bob Dylan's single "Watching the River Flow", Davis went on to work with George Harrison, performing at the ex-Beatle's Concert for Bangla Desh extravaganza at Madison Square Garden, along with Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Russell, Keltner, Clapton and others.

Two more Davis solo albums followed: Ululu (1972), which included the original release of Harrison's "Sue Me, Sue You Blues", and Keep Me Comin (1973), occasionally listed as Keep On Coming. Around this time, Davis began playing with John Lennon, for whom he played lead guitar on the albums Walls and Bridges (1974) and Rock 'n' Roll (1975). In addition to his work with Lennon, Davis was a guest performer on other albums by former Beatles: Harrison's Extra Texture (1975) and Starr's Goodnight Vienna (1974) and Ringo's Rotogravure (1976).

Davis was close friends with Gene Clark. He played on and produced Clark's second solo album, White Light, in 1971 and provided lead guitar on Clark's album No Other in 1974. He also played on Leonard Cohen's Death of a Ladies' Man (1977), produced by Phil Spector.

Davis continued to work as a session player for the rest of the decade. He also performed with the Faces as second guitarist throughout their final US tour, in the late summer and fall of 1975. In addition to the artists listed above, Davis contributed to albums by Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Keith Moon, Jackson Browne (he played the solo on "Doctor My Eyes", from Browne's 1972 debut), Steve Miller, Guthrie Thomas, Harry Nilsson, Ry Cooder, Neil Diamond, Rick Danko, Van Dyke Parks and others.

In and out of clinics, Davis disappeared from the music industry for a time, spending much of the 1980s dealing with alcohol and drug addiction. Throughout the 10 years he was with Patti Daley, they never married. In the following years he married twice. While married to his second wife, he formed and played in the Graffiti Band, which coupled his music with the poetry of the Native American activist John Trudell. In the spring of 1987, the Graffiti Band performed with Taj Mahal at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, California. At this show, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and John Fogerty got up from the audience to join Davis and Mahal in an unrehearsed set which included Fogerty's "Proud Mary" and Dylan's "Watching the River Flow", as well as classics such as "Blue Suede Shoes", "Peggy Sue", "Honey Don't", "Matchbox" and "Gone, Gone, Gone".

While Jesse Ed Davis’ legacy has finally started to see the light of recognition, there is still a long way to go in establishing his rightful place in the pantheon of rock and roll legends. The Kiowa guitarist’s career encompassed work with everyone from Conway Twitty to John Lee Hooker to Bob Dylan, and his time served in the original Taj Mahal band would be highly influential on up-and-coming guitar slingers like Duane Allman (he being the inspiration for the latter’s taking up bottleneck-style guitar in the first place). Davis never really managed to establish himself as a commercially successful singer in his own right, but that did not prevent him from cutting a series of strong and invigorating records in the early 1970s, the first and foremost of these being Jesse Davis.

Davis has surrounded himself with a real who’s-who of rock and roll musicians here, including Eric Clapton, Joel Scott Hill, Gram Parsons and the oddly-omnipresent Leon Russell. This is a hearty American brew; it’s only too bad that the liner notes do not include a track by track breakdown of who is playing what on which songs. Davis’ voice may be an acquired taste – being slightly nasally and, yes, sometimes a little pitchy – but it also has a lot of character, and its hard not to give the guy a break; in the end, whatever vocal limitations the cat may be accused of are more than made up for by his exemplary musicianship. In his guitar playing I have noticed that Davis exhibits a certain degree of Curtis Mayfield influence (similar to that of Woodstock-era Robbie Robertson) in his ability to always serve the song and the rhythm; that is, until it comes time to let loose into a sharp and jagged solo, such as that which leaps out from the end of the otherwise lethargic “Reno Street Incident” – an original composition which was also recorded by Southwind’s Jim Pulte. The expansive horn arrangement on “Every Day Is Saturday Night” falls somewhere between Memphis boogie-woogie and red dirt dixieland, with Davis’ sharp staccato guitar leaping and swerving through the collective improvisation until its gleeful collapse. Make a joyful noise, indeed.

Perhaps the most memorable number here is “You Belladonna You,” which not only manages to lock into a serious groove, but also boasts an inescapable vocal hook. The extended jam at the end is the reason I harbor such ill will towards “the fade-out” on rock and roll records: is this not where the real magic happens? On the other hand, the oddest moment on the record comes with “Golden Sun Goddess,” which is an uncharacteristic detour into Los Angeles yacht rock replete with groovy electric sitars and a lava lamp vocal choir. It sounds like the album’s closest thing to a hit single, though its Steely Dan-isms are pretty jarring. Pretty much everywhere else Davis leans on an earthy, deadpan charm that betrays his deep Oklahoma roots. “Redheaded woman wants me to get a haircut,” Davis grumbles at the end of Pamela Polland’s “Tulsa County” before cracking, “man, I can’t get no haircut. Redhead? That’s a redneck.” Alright, so the Byrds may have cut the definitive take on this one, but they never let themselves have this much fun in the studio. Davis may be criticized for relying so heavily on other people’s material for his own albums, but his takes on these songs are always individualistic, and anyways, the guy’s got some good taste.

Jesse Davis has been reissued both individually and as a set with the follow up release, 1972’s Ululu, but somehow both are currently out-of-print and demanding ridiculously high prices. Your best bet is to keep an eye out for some original vinyl or else sucking it up and purchasing a digital copy, which may in fact be the most affordable choice at the moment though it does entail missing out on the righteous jacket artwork.

Iron Claw - 2011 - A Different Game

Iron Claw 
A Different Game

01. What Love Left
02. Saga
03. The Traveler
04. A Different Game
05. Angel Woman
06. Southern Skies
07. Falling Down
08. It's Easy
09. My Way Down
10. Love Is Blind
11. Targets
12. See Them Fall
13. Closing In

Jimmy Ronnie (guitar)
Gordon Brown (lead vocals)
Alex Wilson (bass)
Billy Lyall (Mellotron, piano, saxophone, percussion)
Ian McDougall (drums, percussion)

There are not many bands who have remained as intact as Iron Claw have across 40 years. With the exception of their vocalist Gordon Brown, the band have retained three out of four of the original members. Having never released an album until Rockadrome released an anthology of all the band’s recordings in 2008, they were for many a band that some may have seen ploughing the circuit across the late 60s and 70s, while for many others the lack of any releases will make them appear as something new and fresh. Given the press pack provided with promo CD, the impression I certainly had was that it was going to prove to be a rare gem, rather than disappearing in the general direction of sappy hard rock with a distinctive AOR feel to it, I expected to be hearing something which signalled a rekindled desire to make up for lost time.

Now lets face it many bands who were around in the heyday of hard rock who continue to exist now have not matured well, they have become nothing more than one of those bands who play in the corner of seedy pubs parodying their more successful peers by churning out endless covers. It would however be a mistake to think that Iron Claw are doing the same, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that what they are doing is good, because for the most part it’s not. But I’m wondering why, the talent has not dulled with age, the music promises something greater than its parts, and yet what they have produced in A Different Game is the worst kind of early 80s hard rock.

Along with their hair they have managed to siphon off and dispense with out and out good ol’ 70s style rock outs and in its place have installed the kind of perm hair rock I hated when I was a kid and beyond, Def Leppard, G’n’R, late Scorpions. All of these elements are here, and because of that it has already become dated even before its actual release date. Now of course you can anticipate that I’m not a fan of those bands in their later manifestations, bar GnR who were always fuckin shit, and if you are a fan then you should check this band out because you may love them. Believe me when I say I wanted to love this band too, but this isn’t what I would term blues laden rock as described on their release sheet, no sirreee, this is smoochy pap with a capital P-A-P.

But hey without further ado lets venture into the songs because this is one house of horrors you are unlikely to survive. To be honest, I have attempted again and again to try and get through all 13 tracks but have as yet to achieve this goal. Usually in the company of others the kind of remarks I have received go along the lines of “when will this torture cease?” Sorry to say it’s not quite over yet. What Love Left kicks off proceedings, for me it’s a highlight of the whole album. This was the direction they should have pursued. It’s raw, slightly over compressed, but hey it really is a good full bore rock song. Some serious shredding is making itself present, the vocals soar and the lyrics are perhaps typical of this style, which is of course fine.

From here on it starts to go down hill rapidly. Saga dives in with that G’n’R riff, but hey it could have been present on any Scorpion or Def Leppard album post amputation. The Traveller has exactly the same vibe, happy rock riffs accompanied with a super cheesy chorus. I can’t take it, it is already becoming a painful road and yep their right when they say it’s the road to hell. A Different Game introduces a more ballad feel to the proceedings, reverbed harmonies wash in, and then of course those god awful riffs. Bollox, I can’t listen to the whole thing, readers you get the general idea. If you like cheap refurbished, bleached, sanitised, compressed, shoulder padded 80s shit then you need to check this out. It’s retro but not as I love it. On the upside guitarist Jimmy Ronnie is the saving grace in the band. He has mastered his instrument and it is a joy to listen to him working his magic, just a shame it has to be over such tosh. I leave you with one more example, a lyrical extract from Angel Woman, “she’s my baby and I love her so, I pray to God she won’t ever go”, and yes this is the ultimate downside: the lyrics. Junior school lyrics ransacked stripped back and then written in crayon. Seems somehow wrong that men in the 50s if not 60s are writing songs like this, the only thing missing was singing about Yardbird school girls and then we could have got the child protection services involved.

Iron Claw - 2009 - Iron Claw (1970-1974)

Iron Claw 
Iron Claw

01. Clawstrophobia
02. Mist Eye
03. Sabotage
04. Crossrocker
05. Skullcrusher
06. Let It Grow
07. Rock Band Blues
08. Pavement Artist
09. Strait Jacket
10. Gonna Be Free
11. Loving You
12. Lightning
13. All I Really Need
14. Knock 'Em Dead
15. Winter
16. Devils

Jimmy Ronnie (guitar)
Wullie Davidson (lead vocals, flute, harmonica)
Alex Wilson (bass)
Billy Lyall (Mellotron, piano, saxophone, percussion)
Ian McDougall (drums, percussion)

Recorded between 1970-1974. Gategold jacket comes with lyric insert + an 11x17 poster. This version is pressed on traditional black.

The band was started in the summer of 1969 in the town of Dumfries, Scotland by founder member Alex Wilson who recruited Jimmy Ronnie (guitar) and Ian McDougall (drums). They were joined by singer Mike Waller in early 1970. Wilson, the group's bass guitarist, decided to form a band after seeing a Led Zeppelin concert in 1969 and the band's name was eventually chosen by Wilson from a lyric from King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man". Wilson and McDougall's attendance at Black Sabbath's performance at Dumfries (which Wilson recorded, representing Sabbath's earliest live recording), convinced them to not only cover their entire first album and single live, but to consciously construct their sound around them. The band had originally performed covers by blues rock artists such as Free, Johnny Winter, Ten Years After, and Taste but soon began writing and performing original compositions.

In 1971 Wilson had to replace Mike Waller (when he left because he wanted to play guitar) and so two new members (Wullie Davidson, vocals / harmonica / flute and Donald McLachlan, guitar) were recruited by Wilson and this changed the sound of the band to a more structured twin harmony guitar direction. However in October 1971 when new recording sessions were looming, Donald McLachlan was asked to leave the band as Jimmy Ronnie was unhappy with his presence in the band. After the recording sessions drummer Ian McDougall left in May 1972 and was replaced by Neil Cockayne. The group finally broke up in 1974. In 1993 Iron Claw performed one reunion show for charity. In the late 1990s a German "bootleg" CD of some of the early recordings surfaced. In 2009 sixteen recorded songs from the early 1970s were remastered and officially released on CD by Rockadrome Records.

In response to the critical success of the Rockadrome album the band reformed in 2010 and began working on an album of new and unreleased material. New vocalist Gordon Brown was recruited by the three remaining members of the band to finish the album; Alex Wilson (bass), Jimmy Ronnie (guitar) and Ian McDougall (drums).

The resulting highly acclaimed CD, "A Different Game" was released internationally by Ripple Music in October 2011. In November 2011 Gordon Brown parted company with the band and following his departure Gary Hair was chosen to take over from Brown as vocalist. In March 2013 the band went their separate ways again.

A product of its time and environment in every conceivable way, Iron Claw is a now-obscure heavy rock group that was launched by a Led Zeppelin concert, which took its name from the first couplet of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man." They adopted the same earth-shaking primal stomp as Black Sabbath, but simply lacked the individuality and sheer talent common to all of those rock icons.

Hailing from the Scottish town of Dumfries, Iron Claw was founded in the summer of 1969 by bassist/vocalist Alex Wilson (he of the Led Zeppelin gig epiphany), guitarist Jimmy Ronnie, and drummer Ian McDougall, who initiated their trajectory by performing as a covers band tackling the heavy blues standards of the era, including popular numbers by Free, Taste, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, and many others. But it was a second revelation experienced by Wilson later that year, when a nascent Black Sabbath brought their sonic solar eclipse to the band's neck of the woods (The Dumfries Youth Club, to be precise), that would set Iron Claw on the intended stylistic left-hand path which came to be known as heavy metal. So after bidding a definitive adieu to their power trio ambitions, the threesome welcomed singer Mike Waller into the fold and, by the spring of 1970, had effectively become the world's first Black Sabbath tribute band by incorporating that group's entire first album into their set! However, during rehearsals, Iron Claw immediately began composing original material in the image of their heroes, bringing the year to a close with a couple of demo recording sessions whose fruits the band proudly presented to the members of Black Sabbath at their next Newcastle concert -- only to later receive veiled threats of legal action from the metal godfathers' management because of the glaring similarities. Message received, Wilson took advantage of the fact that vocalist Waller had just given notice to replace him with two new members -- Wullie Davidson (vocals, harmonica, flute) and Donald McLachlan (second guitar) -- and take Iron Claw's sound in a different direction, marked by escalating art rock pretensions (think Wishbone Ash, Barclay James Harvest, Gentle Giant). Around this time, an interested label also gave Iron Claw access to a recording studio for the purpose of recording new demos, but the end results captured in the winter of 1971/1972 were often rounded out by ancillary studio musicians, became virtually impossible to reproduce in a live setting, and were ultimately unattractive to their would-be corporate suitors, in any case. And so Iron Claw, left to its own devices once again, continued to struggle along in fits and starts, next losing drummer McDougall in mid-1972 (he was replaced by one Neil Cockayne) and then gradually expanding their jams to dangerous thresholds of indulgence over the ensuing years until finally reaching a breaking point in 1974. Absolute obscurity followed, and although the group came together for a one-off reunion show in 1993, the only reason Iron Claw's existence is even remembered is because a selection of their best 16 demos was assembled for release on CD in 2009 by Rockadrome Records.

Scotland's Iron Claw never made it past the unsigned, demo-recording stage of their career, but the group nevertheless persisted for half a decade through unimaginable adversity, numerous personnel swaps, and a few creative about faces, enough to leave a mark on a memory bank or two and see their largely unheard oeuvre released on CD -- this CD -- 40 years after their creation. Not bad for a band accused of ripping off Black Sabbath before attempting, even if unsuccessfully, to find their muse elsewhere. Sure enough, the first five demos showcased here totally and shamelessly appropriate the essence of early Sabbath; whether it's the rough-and-tumble warped jazz and heavy blues inflections of "Clawstrophobia" and "Mist Eye," the lead-footed brontosaurus plod of "Skullcrusher," or the brutish gallop and extended soloing of "Crossrocker" and "Sabotage" (maybe the only idea that Iron Claw had before Sabbath!). All of these were recorded in late 1970 and fairly reek of all the proto-metal tricks pioneered on (and clearly copped from) the Sabs' eponymous debut and timeless sophomore salvo, Paranoid, but the last three are still rather good in their own right. They are certainly better than what issued after the band's subsequent metamorphosis, which began in tentative fashion (see the very rough 1971 demo "Let it Grow") amid rumors of legal action by the Sabbath organization, and proceeded in 1972 with the addition of a second guitar to complement competent but not always memorable hard rockers like "Rock Band Blues" and "Lightning," the shred-tastic "Straight Jacket," and the Rolling Stones-inspired groovers "Gonna Be Free" and "Knock ‘Em Dead." This change in personnel (Iron Claw Marks II and III, if you will) also delivered a new, flute and harmonica-wielding frontman and mounting studio trickery that saw Mellotron tacked on to "Pavement Artist," saxophone to "Loving You," and strings to "All I Really Need" -- all without great success. So it's not at all surprising to hear further evidence of Iron Claw's imminent demise in the ponderous and unfocused prog rock jamming displayed by this collection's final two cuts, "Winter" and "Devils" (both from 1973), featuring prominent synthesizers along with all the other accessories that had come before. Not pretty. And that final descent into overblown mediocrity would nail the lid on Iron Claw's coffin for good, leaving a not-so-good-looking corpse for future generations to uncover, beyond the first half of this career retrospective, which should interest some proto-metal crate-diggers nonetheless.

Iron Claw - 1996 - Dismorphophobia

Iron Claw 

01. Claustrophobia
02. Let It Grow
03. Gonna Be Free
04. Lightning
05. Pavement Artist
06. Loving You
07. All I Really Need
08. Take Me Back
09. Knock 'Em Dead
10. Winter
11. Strait-Jacket
12. Rock Band Blues
13. Real Mean Rocker
14. Spider's Web

Jimmy Ronnie (guitars)
Wullie Davidson (lead vocals, flute, harmonica)
Alex Wilson (bass)
Billy Lyall (mellotron, piano, saxophone, percussion)
Ian McDougall (drums, percussion)

Track 1 recorded 1970, Track 2-9 recorded 1971, track 10 recorded 1973, tracks 11-14 recorded in 1972

Odd, interesting story these guys- basically we are dealing with The Other Black Sabbath.  Some kids who happened to see Sabbath play a really early gig in '69 (actually taped it- earliest recorded Black Sabbath gig, though it doesn't circulate) and had their lives changed to the point where they immediately became basically a Black Sabbath cover band, going around playing things like "Walpurgis" before it was even rewritten into "War Pigs".  Considering Sabbath weren't exactly conquering the world at this point in time, I'd call them extremely ahead of the curve on this.

Iron Claw themselves probably sound much better now than they did back at the time- during their lifetime they never did manage to put out any official output, probably due to their really pretty derivative nature.  Mostly when I listen to second-tier hard rock bands from this era one can tell why they didn't quite cut it- a tendency to Heep-like material and/or third-rate blues-rock.

Forty years hence, questions of "originality" aren't really quite so important.  Nobody is listening to early 1970s hard rock hoping to hear something novel, I sincerely hope.  If Iron Claw are derivative, they're derivative of the best: Zep, Sabbath, early Crimson, and if the sound quality is rather poorer (to be honest this tends to be a plus in my book) the playing is, to borrow a song title not on this comp, skullcrushing.  Recommended.