Category Archives: Rediscovering Great Bands

Poll: Which Band(s) From The Past Should You Revisit?

During our years of youth, we listened to plenty of music. But in an era where you had to have money to invest in your favorites, you were curtailed in experimenting. There was no internet to provide a sampling of any band you were even remotely interested in. you either had to be lucky to hear a full play via FM Radio, or to have a friend brave enough to spend the cash. I know, I had to leave many bands behind as a result. I heard a track somewhere (most likely radio, or an in-store play), and that piqued my interest. But, do I get the new Foghat? Or gamble on this unknown album? Fortunately for me, I was a wild gambler. But I couldn’t buy everything.

This brings me to this poll question: Are there any bands from the past that you had a small interest in, yet were unable to spend the cash to investigate a whole album? If so (and I’m sure there were), have you revisited them in the here and now?

But let’s ask the question like this:

What band or list of bands should you revisit from your past having been unable to fully investigate then?

I look forward to your answers as you may provide one I should investigate.

Rediscovering Great Bands: The Quick

The Quick Mondo DecoYou all know about The Runaways.  The Runaways were Kim Fowley’s gift to the world of rock.  It was his jail-bait and rock exploit, and it worked well, quite well, in fact.  Made up of Cherie Currie, Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Sandy West, and Jackie Fox (to start out with), The Runaways created some explosive albums, especially the first two.

The man behind the girls, Kim Fowley, is a character of LA, most notably the legendary Sunset Strip of the ’70s.  His influence in Rock and Roll then was somewhat elevated, and his assembly of The Runaways lent more credibility to him than might have been attributed otherwise.

Mercury Records enjoyed Fowley’s all-girl creation because of the excitable album sales.  They were also more than willing to let him try the same kind of magic with an all-boy band, a kind of counterpart to The Runaways.

Arriving in 1976, a mere year later than the girls, The Quick, also on Mercury Records released Mondo Deco.  But, unlike The Runaways, The Quick failed to gain the attention and was pretty much dead on arrival.  But what does that say about Mondo Deco, the band’s one album?  If you ask me, the album was overlooked…sadly overlooked.

The QuickThe band’s five members (Danny Wilde, Steve Hufsteter, Billy Bizeau, Ian Ainsworth,and Danny Benair) were solid musicians.  They produced a New Wave sound of power pop that simply played well.  Of them all, Steve Hufsteter, gained the most footing in Rock with his addition to The Cruzados.  The other members of the band went on to varying levels of success within the industry for that time.

I still wonder how this album didn’t gain too much ground.  With songs like the amazing “punked up” version of  Lennon/McCartney’s “It Won’t Be Long” (viewable below in a lip-synced TV promo clip ), and the album’s other similar songs, “Anybody”, “Hillary”, “Playtime”, “Ragdoll”, and any of the remaining five gems, there was ten songs to love.

Mondo Deco was likely off your radar.  And thus the reason for this article.  The Quick had excellent promise as a power pop band, but were greatly overshadowed partially because of their counterparts (The Runaways), but also because they never toured outside California, and then again, never too far away from their native LA.

Mondo Deco is not an easy album to find in either its original LP form or any of the several reissue CDs.  Not impossible,  just not easy.  A quick search on YouTube will at least take you to several studio versions from Mondo Deco.

I hope you’re interested if you hadn’t know about The Quick.  Then I’ve done my job for the day.

Rediscovering Great Bands: StarCastle – Unheralded Classic Band

SCBandSince I’m headed to Illinois, I thought it appropriate that I revisit a progressive band that originated in the Champaign/Urbana area that went by the name of Starcastle.  Starcastle began their career just as the ’70s were dawning, and enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity although many people this days would be hard-pressed to remember the band.

The first album, the excellent self-titled Starcastle, issued on Epic Records in 1976, and featured vocalist addition, Terry Luttrell (R.E.O. Speedwagon – 1st album).  The album, with its seven songs, including the epic “Lady of the Lake” that became an FM favorite, sold extremely well, well enough to give Epic Records the faith for a follow-up album.  Fountain of Lights (1977), a six track perfection was released a mere eleven months later underscoring the determination of the band to rise into the upper echelon of well-established Prog bands like Yes.

StarCastleStarcastle (the album) began with the previously mentioned “Lady of the Lake”. It is a gorgeous composition that underscored the already impressive talents found in the band.  But it didn’t stop impressing there.  With six more gems, the album left a warm feeling in the hearts and souls of prog fans looking for more like Yes, Genesis, and ELP.

Fountains of Light yielded astonishingly perfect songs given that they released their debut not that long before.  Three standout tracks include the single issue, “Diamond Song (Deep Is The Light)”, “Dawning of the Day” (which SHOULD have been the single issue, as it is much better than “Diamond Song”), and the stupendous cruncher,  “Silver Winds”.  “Silver Winds”, edited, might have also made an excellent single.

StarCastleFountainsOfLightBoth of these multi-layered albums could be happily played beginning to end for the excellence in the grooves.  The band’s third LP, Citadel, released in 1978, while not as perfect as the previous releases, still did not disappoint in its eight tracks.  Its attempt at radio cuts were noticeable but the album was a noble blend of the past with an eye to a promising future.  In 1979, Starcastle released a different album than what fans were originally used to.  Real to Reel tanked, Epic dropped the band, and the band called it a day.  However, there were good songs to be found on Real to Reel, although it doesn’t factor well in what could be called the great trilogy (their first three), thereby giving it some distance from the trilogy, and becoming, instead, a hard-core fan’s addition.

CitadelIronically, Starcastle drew strong comparisons with Yes, which helped the band in their rising popularity.

The band reformed much later to record Song of Times (2007), an album that I liked extremely well (read review here).   Starcastle had a great career.  Unfortunately, the band was tugged from sea to shining sea, unable to continue the cataloging that should have been respectably large.  Nevertheless, the catalog left behind is remarkable.

I write this article for several reasons.  The first is to merely alert some of you who may not be aware of this band, and that the albums from this now defunct band are well worth your efforts in acquiring.  At least, anyway, their first three albums.  The second is to challenge those that know of the band to discuss what are their best albums, songs, cover art, etc.

For me, I say their shining moment was their great debut.  But others point to Fountains of Light.  What say you?

Rediscovering Great Bands – Focus

Back in 1971, a four-piece Dutch band by the name of Focus released a studio album by the name of Moving Waves (US. Moving Waves was released as Focus II elsewhere).  On that album, a resilient international hit was released.  The cleverly titled “Hocus Pocus” with its signature Akkerman guitar chord progressions, and its Leer-sung yodels, set a tone for the band that would prove to be impossible to reprise in future albums.

Focus’ first album, In And Out of Focus (US – 1970) became a coveted title after the band broke wide open with “Hocus Pocus”.  Naturally, if a band breaks after a few albums have been released, fans will want to explore backwards.  This was certainly the case with In And Out of Focus, which contained the lengthy (but oh so good) instrumental, “Focus”.  That album had its fans, especially after the band made their mark, but nothing like the hit song mentioned above.

  

I don’t want to spend too much time on “Hocus Pocus” but it deserves a bit of space.  The album version, six-plus minutes in length is a satisfying expansion of the three-plus minute radio edit, which, surprisingly was as artistic a cut as the full cut is on its own two feet.  What made “Hocus Pocus” interesting was not only Akkerman’s guitar but Thijs van Leer’s inventive and unusual vocals that made the song even more interesting than it already was.    And we will not discount the bass work of Martin Dresden or the energetic drumming of Hans Cleuver.  Together, this band clicked.

For sure, there are few who have not heard, at the very least, the radio-edit version of the song.  More interesting are the few cover versions by notable bands (Helloween, Marillion, and a few others) that fit well.

After Moving Waves, the band tried to maintain the promise of that album but failed largely to create something as earth shattering as “Hocus Pocus”.  Their progressive hit, “Sylvia” was a blissful track that has similarities to the aforementioned song, but even as good as it was, it did not capture the fancy of a large-scale audience.  Nevertheless, for several albums after Focus II, the band would produce worthy albums that would please fans of the band.

Focus was/is a solid performer in the world of progressive music.  Today, all of their albums stand as solid, timeless works that deserve more than a nostalgic period appreciation.  Focus was not afraid to create music that changed dramatically from album to album.

Recently, Focus released several albums to critical success including their latest, Focus X (2012).  With its release, and its self-contained brilliance, it bears a trip back a few decades to remember the brilliance that came before. If you haven’t heard it, and you’re a fan of the band from several decades back (especially if you enjoyed “Hocus Pocus”, then it cannot be recommended enough that you explore Focus X.  If you have done that (because you ARE a fan), then you should take a few steps back and revisit all that the band produced before.  You won’t regret a single moment! Not one!

What are your memories of Focus, “Hocus Pocus”, Jan Akkerman, or any other Focus-related observations (like “Sylvia”, Focus – Live at The Rainbow, etc.)

Rediscovering Great Bands: Family (1967-1973)

I have to admit I came late to Family.  It was 1972, and I was working in a record store and everyone started listening to “Bandstand” (my favourite of their albums).  I got hooked.  Naturally I wanted to go back and get the rest of their catalogue, starting with their first, Music in a Doll’s House (1968).

This heady collection of psychedelic songs, with influences of jazz, blues, soul, Beatles, and early Progressive Rock is a masterpiece.  Produced by Dave Mason of Traffic, it is so diverse, and so interesting, that it stands as a unique statement of the Sixties.  Family at this time was: Roger Chapman – vocals/sax/harmonica; John (Charlie) Whitney – guitar/steel guitar; Jim King – saxes/harmonica/vocals; Ric Grech – bass/violin/cello/vocals; and Rob Townsend – percussion.   Roger Chapman is my favourite vocalist.

Chapman sometimes went into Joe Cocker territory, then early Rod Stewart, but with more power than both.  He dominated as the lead vocalist, taking no prisoners.  Roger retired a couple of years backafter having a successful solo career since the late 70s.  (However, as seems to be the case these days, Family is mounting a reunion tour this fall – more on that later).  The song-writing team of Chapman/Whitney was a force too.  Through seven unique studio albums (eight if you count Old Songs New Songs, a partial comp) they composed nearly all the material. This same team produced another masterwork, Family Entertainment (1969).

After this, Ric Grech left to play bass with Blind Faith.  Jim King then left (or was ousted, depending on what you read) and a new bassist was brought in – John Weider – Bass/violin, from Eric Burdon and the Animals.  This lineup then went on to put out three albums: A Song for Me (1970),  Anyway (half live, half studio) (1970), and Old Songs New Songs (1971).

    

Weider then left and was replaced by John Wetton from Mogul Thrash on bass/vocals. Also added was a great keyboardist and vibe player, Poli Palmer. During Wetton’s relatively short stay, they made their two best albums in my opinion, Fearless (71) and Bandstand (72).

   

John Wetton’s presence and contributions cannot be over emphasized.  His higher register backing vocals complemented Roger Chapman’s guttural attack and his bass playing, as always, was heavier in the mix.  But as all things seemed to be in the world of Family, more departures occurred.  John Wetton left to join King Crimson (and later Asia) for my particular favourite KC period, and Poli Palmer left to join another band with, ironically, Ric Grech.  So now, Jim Cregan from Blossom Toes (later to Cockney Rebel) joined them on bass/guitar and Tony Ashton on keys (who later became part of Jon Lord’s solo outings).  This lineup cut the final Family album It’s Only a Movie (1973).

Epilogue: After Family broke up, Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney formed Streetwalkers, a more Blues-based hard rocking outfit and released a number of good, solid albums (Red Card is my favourite).  The first of those, originally released as Chapman Whitney Streetwalkers, could be called another Family album by virtue of the content and the way it fell in with the style of “It’s Only a Movie”.  It is now released for the first time on CD as “First Cut” in a slightly modified form.  That band folded and Roger kept going as a solo artist until, as I mentioned before, he “retired”.  His solo work has been far more Blues-based than either earlier bands and if you are into the electric Blues, then you would love his work.  Charlie Whitney still plays and records Bluesy rock and is very locally owned and operated.

Soon, this fall, a number of Family albums are being re-released with new remastering and bonus tracks – another reason that Family have reformed, sadly without Charlie Whitney – the word on the street is that Charlie and Roger had a falling out.  Family was a marginally successful band on this side of the Atlantic but now would be a good time to explore their powerful catalogue.

–Bob Metcalf