Tuesday, May 22, 2018

burying the Hatchet - the Seventies in the Nineties



At the first Lollapalooza, in the summer of '91, Butthole Surfers played. And during one particularly raging slab of groiny boogie heaviosity  -  whose precise rock-history coordinates  I couldn't quite establish - I turned to one in our party who might know such things.

"Who does this sound like?" I entreated.

"Molly Hatchet?" he shot back sharply, in a tone I later realised had been scornful (Butthole's rehab of pre-punk not appealing to his college rock sensibilities at all) and subtly ridiculing of my very desire to know.

Unfortunately this created in my mind the possibility that Molly Hatchet might actually be worth hearing.  A fallacy cleared up for me as soon as I got the $4 dollar copy of Flirtin' With Disaster home from the used record store and dropped the needle in the groove. Sounded so puny. Nothing like the Buttholes.



This was a time - 91, 92, 93 - when I was checking out a LOT of stuff from the heavy 'n' hard early 70s. The catalyst was in large part reading (and reviewing) two books that came out around the same time: Joe Carducci's Rock and the Pop Narcotic and Chuck Eddy's Stairway to Hell. Both books cracked open the crust on a whole unknown-to-me seam of mostly American (but occasionally U.K. - Budgie!) rock that filled in the considerable gaps in my pre-punk knowledge: all the secondary-level stuff surrounding the things I already knew and loved like Sabbath, Zep, Skynyrd, ZZ Top.

The third section of Carducci's book was particularly useful, with its decade by decade surveys of rock action in North America, UK, Europe and beyond. In the Seventies subsection, Joe's rapid-fire succession of incredibly pithy and cogent descriptions of obscure rock groups  nailed the essence of a band's sound and the scope of its generally minor but still worth-noting achievement in just one or two sentences (sometimes even a half-sentence!). That aroused the curiosity mightily. But Eddy's book - a guide to heavy metal greatness heavily biased towards the first half of the Seventies - also sent me off searching the used stores in my new half-the-year home town NYC and other U.S. cities I visited. And, in those days - with people still emptying vinyl collections in favor of CDs and ebay/Gemm/popsike/discogs yet to exist - I would find things going for $1 to $8.

The other factor that made it feel timely and urgent was that grunge was in the ascendant and bringing back a lot of the heavy 'n'  hard, boogie / raunch feel of the early Seventies.  An era exactly 20 years previous, which as is well established is the optimum time interval for revivalism and revisionism to set in and take off. So drawing the dots between Soundgarden / Alice in Chains / Kyuss (but not just MTV fodder - in the lo-fi zone there was the direction Royal Trux had headed by the time of Cats and Dogs and Thank You, and there'd also been Tad and Melvins) and the source music of the Seventies seemed educational, as well as appealing for the taste-boundary-transgressing buzz factor.

The very word "boogie" had a strange allure to me at that time - those six letters crystallised the essence of a bygone era. Exploring this forbidden zone was the next logical step in contravening postpunk / new wave aesthetics from what had been mooted and mounted during the bliss-rock / wig-out years (more late-Sixties aligned).

Found plenty of things I loved and still love on these Carducci/Eddy-informed expeditions into the dusty reaches of the rock past -  Budgie! Mountain! (well, just two tracks, and one of those largely because a section of it had served as a theme tune to Weekend World), James Gang (well, just one track really), Steppenwolf....












But in truth rather a lot of these platters I brought back got played just the once or twice.


















White Witch were a Lester Bangs enthusiasm - in his description, as reprinted in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, they sounded a bit like the Crazy World of Arthur Brown of the Southern USA. In fact I believe I bought one or both of their albums before the Carducci / Eddy phase, after reading about them in the anthology.  But they didn't quite live up to his evocations.

Another Bangs fave that was even more disappointing  - Black Oak Arkansas.





Southern Rock was probably the least productive of my explorations. Beyond Lynyrd, there's really not much to entice.

Take Wet Willie  - again, a personal touchstone for Bangs during the slack mid-70s, for similar reasons to why he loved Slade:  the people's rock, smokin' live band etc etc....



Got a mild tingle off the clavinet fonk of Elvin Bishop



Never got into the Allmans bar this: theme tune to Top Gear (and a girl's name I'm fond of)



Grinderswitch - the name seemed very promising. Little did I know I'd heard them already, countless times, tuning into the Peel show, where a tune of theirs was as the decidedly-not-postpunky intro theme.



The UK end of this zone I tapped into (and taped into) a little bit thanks to a Melody Maker reader I got friendly with and who lent me great wodges of vinyl. Big up ya chest Keith!





As well as old vinyl that I found or borrowed, the odd thing would turn up in the mail. For some reason Sony Columbia had me on their mailing list for box sets - the record industry was generous in those days, they could afford to be profligate I guess - and I actually received among many other inappropriate and unlikely things a box set of Jeff Beck. This Beck Bogert Appice track is just about the only thing on it I even slightly liked:



I also got an Aerosmith box - which I have a feeling I never even listened to all the way through, despite loving tunes like this.



During the later phase of this hard 'n' heavy catch-up / postpunk deconditioning project, Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused  - which ends with the kids heading out at dawn in their car to the big city to get tickets for Aerosmith - came out. With a great soundtrack almost entirely from this era. Played the shit out of that CD. Including this triffic tune:



Oh and this of course



Fond, vivid memories of playing this CD at  a friend's house in London just before we went out raving. Hearing this tune below stoned there and then is why I can never quite fully renounce the odious Nuge.



There's a fair few Carducci / Eddy heavy 'n' hard groups I never got to.

Could never face Montrose, on account of orrible Hagar being the singer.



Actually that's a good riff. But yeah, Sammy, can't go for that.

Never got to Bloodrock - not sure why (really like the name - and the record artwork alone ought to have pulled me over the line)







Nor this lot



Nor these fellows  - despite the lure of a Sweet cover



Actually flicking through Stairway, there's a lot I didn't get to from the first half of the Seventies - I guess combo of limited funds / diminishing returns setting in (and other rival interests - rave rave rave would have been demanding my dollars, as expensive imports).

Listening again to some of this stuff - where the samey-ness asserts itself - I'm freshly amazed at Carducci's diligence in wading through acres and acres of it and pinpointing the tiny differences in a band's attack and feel.

Budgie / Groundhogs / UFO / + a few others aside, the British end of it I got to later - in the 2000s, as a side thing to the prog explorations as blogged about then

Like this lot, who fascinate me



Supported by a lot of rock journalists in the Seventies, Man -  they liked and approved of the group's populist, down-to-earth, kicking out the jams vibe.

Generally, with a lot of these group, they did probably smoke stages and rock crowds (liberation through energy, post-Sixties overhang etc) but couldn't necessarily capture it on vinyl. The records are often under-produced.  Confined and airless; the texture palette tending towards brown and grey.

This whole era seems to be getting a smidgeon of hipster interest again, with things like the Brown Acid compilations - but typically for reissue projects, they seem to be going for the obscure, self-released and let's be honest third-division, rather than the hiding-in-plain-sight major label fare of the era (most of which is second division anyway).



See also this reissue project for "hard rock / hairy funk" from NW England - Man Chest Hair



Revisiting this long moment of Seventies-in-the-Nineties stirs some pleasant wistfulness about my days frequenting used record stores on a several-times-weekly basis.

Nowadays I frequent YouTube, which certainly serves some of the archival-dredging purpose and does provide regular "what the ????" epiphanies.

But there's something about finding the things cheap, after having gone through that physical and tactile process of sifting and rummaging...

Paying, in itself, creates a bigger libidinal pay-off.

And then you have the thing itself to drag home, with the cover and misconceived or bizarre artwork, the yellowing inner sleeve....


Further reading:

Me on the genealogy of boogie as a word and a feel

Me on beard rock (92 / 2009)

Woebot's e-book 100 Lost Rock Albums from the 1970s