Tuesday, November 24, 2015

TDATS #126: Into The Pit [US Metal 1976 - 79]


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Heavy metal continued to evolve in the mid-seventies with bands like Rush, Thin Lizzy, Scorpions, UFO, Judas Priest and Rainbow upping the ante on each record. All the facets of those cutting-edge bands can be found among the lesser-known and never-known US bands I have included on this volume; grand fantastical themes, guitar harmonies, galloping riffs and histrionic power metal vocals included. Included here are a few conversations I've had with band members of Alkana, Axxe, Squadran and Tyranny.

The UK, and also Germany, were responsible for many of the famous technically-accomplished and speedy metal bands in the latter-half 1970s, but it was happening everywhere else too. American underground metal was exploding in popularity, bands were getting heavier and more skilled, Van Halen broke through were Montrose didn't do so well. The world's focus didn't fall upon many of them, most would sign to regional record labels and only have local success.

Others only made private pressings for gigs and friends, destined to go no further than the shelves of local fans and later, those of avid record collectors. The efforts of reissue labels, and more recently the powers of internet exposure, have thankfully made it easy for everyone to now appreciate how good some of those records are!

If you are particularly interested in this one, you might like to check out the US A.O.R. metal volume Forced Landing (Vol91), or the NWOBHM-inspired volumes, Dreams & Screams (Vol121) and The New Order (Vol67).

TRACKS
01. Squadran - The Wall (1979)
       from the Fly Away 7"
02. Granmax - Mistress Of Eternity (1978)
       from album 'Kiss Heaven Goodbye'
03. Alkana - Paradise (1978)
       from album 'Welcome To My Paradise'
04. Asia - Law Of The Land (1978)
       from album 'Asia'
05. Blitz - Lady Lightning Fingers (1978)
       from the Blitz EP
06. Axxe - Through The Night (1978)
       from the Rock Away The City 7"
07. Impeccable - Traces Of Time (1978)
       from album 'Live On The Rox'
08. Dave Feinstein - Midnight Lady (1978)
       from the Midnight Lady 7"
09. Marcus - Gypsy Fever (1976)
       from album 'Marcus'
10. Midnight - Into The Pit (1977)
       from album 'Into The Night'
11. Tyranny - Rockit (1979)
       from the Tyranny / Infinity 7"
12. Infinity - She Ain't Comin' Back (1979)
       from the Tyranny / Infinity 7"
13. Constellation - You Don't Know (1978)
       from album 'Constellation'
14. Yesterday And Today - Dreams Of Egypt (1978)
       from album 'Struck Down'


Squadran

Squradran - Fly Away / The Wall 7"
Squadran opens up this set with a stunning track, "The Wall". The first time I heard it, from 1979, I was floored at how it presented a well-formed speed/thrash metal sound a few years before such things had appeared anywhere else, that I know of at least. Drummer Mike Gandia (links 1,2) was later in an unsigned New York band called Cathedral (link), which supported Aerosmith in 1984. He has been in many bands and a session drummer ever since, working with some of the best including Ozzy himself.

I managed to contact Mike recently and asked him about "The Wall", telling him it sounds like "Slayer in 1979" and asking him if he realised at the time that they were doing something very new.

He said this: "Ha Ha! We did that record in one session back when you had to actually play every part correctly. When we did that record no one had done that style yet and we had no clue that we stumbled into a new genre of music. We played locally and did very well but no one would sign the band because this style of music was not popular yet. We were told we had to be more commercial and we wanted no part of that so eventually we broke up and within two years Anthrax and Manowar were calling asking about me playing with them while I was on tour supporting Aerosmith, and Heavy Metal was born.

Squadran promo shot, 1984 lineup
(l-r) Eric Klaastad, Mike Gardia
Mike Ray, Keith Brazil
Squadran just missed the boat. We where ahead of our time. We were contacted by Ozzy to be his band after he was fired from Sabbath. We auditioned for him all day and he loved us but said we were too young and unknown for him. He needed known people. About a month later he found Randy Rhoads. We were always told we sound too much like Black Sabbath on speed. We had many slower songs also. We where all into Sabbath/Rainbow and Judas Priest before Priest was really famous.

Squadran to this day gets respect from all over the world from Australia to Greece to England and Germany too. The single is still selling.

Thank you for your kind words and interest in my favorite band I have ever played with… I was only 20 years old then and now I've played with over 30 bands. It make's us feel good to know people still like us. Thank You!"

Squadran at Gildersleeves in NY (link)
(l-r) Eric Klaastad (bass), Mike (drums), Keith Brazil (vocals) and Randy Young (gtr)


Granmax


Granmax's "Mistress Of Eternity" has a great galloping pace with fantasy lyrics, and "Prince Of The Southern Ice" is also good, evoking wide vistas of ice-covered oceans and victorious princes. Lead singer Nick Christopher (aka Chaz Nikias) gives us his best power metal histrionics and in general "Kiss Heaven Goodbye" is a big step away from this Missouri four-pieces's boogie / hard rock debut LP, "A Ninth Alive" (1976), in my opinion an improvement. The band sounds more confident and more composed, the production is improved too.



Alkana

Alkana 1978
According to The Acid Archives, "Danney Alkana was formerly with Cock Robin, a California band that at times featured Misunderstood legend Glenn Ross Campbell. As something of a guitar maestro, he later had some success on the classical-inspired metal guitar circuit and released and album called "Rock the Bach" in 1999."

The Alkana album "Welcome To My Paradise" is an impressive array of inventive and textured hard rock / metal which can be as melodic and atmospheric as it can be fast and heavy. The production is great, Danney really let loose with his double-tracked guitars and his harmonised leads are all over it, but tracks like "Paradise" and "Montezuma's Sweet Revenge" are also speedy, chugging riff-fests. The rest of the band was singer Jack Rucker (later known as "Damien King I" in Warlord mk.1), Craig Williams (bass) and Don Mclaughlin (drums), they were based in San Bernardino, CA.

Q. Hi Danney. Why did you become a guitarist?

Danney: "I started playing piano at four years old, and I loved playing classical. After that, the Beatles came along, and I got heavy into drums and I kind of got lost in pop music. At age fourteen I was still a drummer but got into playing guitar. I was over at a friends house and I heard Jeff Beck's Truth album. I told my friend then and there I was going to get a guitar, there was just something about the album that I absolutely loved. I had a guitar within a week. I never forgot classical music. It's just something that's part of me, especially the Baroque era."


Q. How did you get Alkana band together?

Danney: "Craig Williams (bass) and I had played together in another band for two or three years. Don Mclaughlin (drums) we found 30 miles away from where we lived. The three of us rehearsed until we were tight and then put an ad in the paper for a singer and auditioned four or five before Jack Rucker joined".


Alkana rear cover
Q. The album sounds to me like impressively advanced heavy metal, more like the eighties than 1978. What would you say to that?

Danney: "The guitar riffs and the harmonized guitar parts I don't know where they came from to be honest. I had done a single perhaps five years before as a stand-in musician or better said studio musician. So when I got in the studio to do my own album I kind of felt like I should have free reign so I did whatever I felt. Why it sounds advanced for its time I don't know, it was just the mood I was in at the time."


Q. What bands in heavy metal and hard rock were you listening to at the time that might have been an influence to you?

Danney: "The bands I was listening to at the time were all English bands. Jeff Beck, Robin Trower, UFO, Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow."


Q. Seeing as the band is named after you, I guess you were the main ideas person/writer, is that correct?

Danney: "Yes that's correct, I wrote all the tunes on the album but the title track, I gave credit to Craig Williams who came up with the base line, and I wrote the music around it."


Q. How was the album received?

Danney: "The reception to Welcome to my Paradise was quite good. It had airplay in several cities in the US. I never knew the quantity of sales exactly. Obviously since we are playing to 3, 4 and 5000 seat venues and filling them every night I imagine it's sold fairly well. I was interviewed several times and enjoyed them all. Although it wasn't an interview I would have to say my favorite piece of press was for the time we played the swing auditorium which was a 10,000 seater. My father never saw me play but was so proud of the newspaper write up on the band he went out and bought several newspapers and sent me the clippings of the write up. I did have an extensive interview a few years ago from Greece, I think the interview lasted a good two hours but I don't know what happened to the write up."

Q. What happened with Alkana, did you play live much or play with any other bands? Why did it split up?

Danney: We played several venues, most of them as headliners and a couple as the opening act. I left the band because we got tied up in a lawsuit when my manager hit the president of our department in the mouth trying to renegotiate a contract with MCA. This was quite discouraging for the rest of the band and myself and I decided if I moved on and made a new lineup things would get better. The lawsuit lasted for years but eventually in my new band Excalibur we were offered a contract with CBS London, but my co-writer & collaborator left the band. I felt at that time I wasn't going to allow anybody else to deny me my destiny so I quit the music business and joined the straight world and became a businessman.

True to his roots, when Danney delved back into music fourteen years after Excalibur, he used his multi-instrumental talents on a neo-classical record called "Rock the Bach" (link), for which he was personally congratulated and praised by Steve Vai.


Asia

Asia 1978
Not to be confused with the British "Asia", South Dakota's Asia made two LPs of heavy progressive rock and hard rock. They have an epic, regal quality to many of the songs, somewhat reminiscent of the kind of atmosphere conjured up by Led Zep's No Quarter or Kashmir for instance. They evolved from White Wing with members Michael English on vocals and multi-instrumentalist Mike Coates. Asia achieved some success playing the club circuit in the more urban areas of the upper Midwest. Their self-titled debut was recorded in two sessions at ASI studios in Minneapolis in 1978 and was privately released the same year.


Blitz

Blitz EP 1978
Blitz was an amateur Texas band playing heavy metal. They made a four track EP, sometimes in the style of the NWOBHM. The band was quite sloppy and the writing is not so great, but this is what you might expect from a debut self-made record that was probably designed to hand out at gigs etc. 'Lady Lightning Fingers' included here is quite obviously imitating a vocal section of Rob Halford's in Judas Priest's "Victim Of Changes", but it makes for an interesting listen as an example of such English metal having an influence in the US.


Axxe & Impeccable

Axxe - Rock Away The City /
Through The Night 7" (1978)
Another Texas band follows, Axxe, later named Impeccable. Featuring the guitar skills of Darren Welch, from the city of Lubbock. Members were Darren, Morris Payne (drums), Richard Rico (bass) and Don Allison (vox). Axxe went from 1977-79, and Impeccable a few years longer than that. Don wrote the lyrics, Darren wrote the music. The 1978 Axxe single has a decent slab of country-fried hard rock 'n' roll for the a-side, but the b-side "Through The Night" is where the metal action is, and what a great track it is. Darren's guitar dominates the whole thing, he has total mastery over rhythm and leads, it all flows so naturally and is complemented by Don Allison's intense high-pitched vocals. Here I have included the Axxe track, and an Impeccable track from the "Live On The Rox" LP.


Impeccable (l-r)
Morris Payne (d), Donnie Allison (v)
Richie Rico (b), Darren Welch (g)
Here's is what Darren told me recently. "The band formed in late 1976. Bassist Richard Rico, drummer Morris Payne and myself had been jamming in bedrooms, garages, storage units etc. We needed a vocalist and finally found a guy called Brent Haynie. He was actually a folkie into Neil Young, John Prine, Willis Allen Ramsey, Cat Stevens etc whereas we were listening to stuff like Sabbath, Zep, Deep Purple, Moxy, Wiggy Bits, Budgie, Scorpions, Hendrix, Johnny Winter, ZZ Top, Trapeze, Ted Nugent and Rush. That group was called Live Wire.

Haynie sang in a high register so he could sing a lot that stuff, but eventually his folk roots won out and he departed. A friend of a friend recommended Don Allison, so we contacted him and began jamming and writing, then performing. We changed the band name to Axxe, recording the single in a friend's living room and eventually, after doing several shows with Budgie, changing our name again to Impeccable, after the Budgie album. Impeccable released a live album, "Live on The Rox" in '78. You can download it on the net, or find it on Ebay. We were aged just 16 to 18. The guitar is horrendous! But it was what it was."

Me: I don't quite agree with the guitar being horrendous hehe. In fact for what it is, I think your and the band's playing is tremendous, and not only because you were so young at the time. Did you carry on with heavy metal after Impeccable?

Impeccable, Live at the Rox
Darren: "Thank you for being so complementary. The guitar was horrendous, but I hadn't been playing long and was discovering Jack Daniels & Coke during the live recording. So it is what it is. I didn't really play heavy metal again, I began writing for my own voice. More blues/rock/pop. It's still fairly heavy, but I don't think you could classify it as metal. Check out DWG Volume 1, heavy blues rock. There's even a thing or two on there a Metal Head can appreciate. Some pretty good guitar on that one. it's on cdbaby (link) or iTunes (link). It's got a cool version of Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic" as well as Johnny Winter's "Guess I'll Go Away" & "Rock Me Baby". Play it LOUD!".


David "Rock" Feinstein

David "Rock" Feinstein's career began after playing in blues rockers Elf, with his cousin Ronnie James Dio. In 1978 he recorded a single and started The Rods in 1980, an anthemic, greasy metal band that sounded like Motörhead slowed down a bit. His 1978 single is great, and 'Midnight Lady' is included here. Although the lyrics are a tad wishy-washy, they belie some fast chugging heavy metal. The Hammond organs, while perfectly fine within themselves, drag it back slightly towards early seventies hard rock.

Marcus

Marcus Malone
Marcus Malone is now a blues singer/guitarist/songwriter based in the UK, but long ago in a former life he started as singer in what is now regarded as an early US metal band, simply called Marcus on it's sole LP, which had no less than three guitarists. The one well-known hard rock name on the album (but only for two tracks) was bassist Tim Bogert, of Vanilla Fudge, Cactus etc. Even though the album gets favourable reviews in metal circles, and was chosen for the Kerrang-curated "Striktly For Konnoisseurs" comp, it's certainly not a typical metal album. It has some elements of prog and funk, and it's not aggressively heavy but it's very much driven by complex guitar interplay that displays many of the melodic qualities that heavy metal bands have, especially ones that have multiple guitarists that pride themselves in technical skill. I guess you could compare Marcus's relationship to metal as similar to that of Wishbone Ash. The other members involved do not appear to have had careers in hard rock before or after Marcus, but some did turn up in disco funk. Apparently drummer Dandy "Star" Holmes later played in the disco/AOR hybrid Sabu, named after Paul Sabu, also of the Kerrang-recommended Only Child.


Marcus - 2000 CD reissue, inside cover
Here is what Marcus Malone himself wrote for a CD reissue of the album in 2000: "The songs on this album were written, tried and tested for several years previous to 1975 in the night clubs, bars and eventually festivals of Detroit, Toleda and Chicago. We worked seven nights a week and loved every bit of it and had built up a massive following before being spotted by several record companies. The year 1975 was a very good year indeed - we left Detroit and headed for California, which was just like I pictured it - fast cars, gorgeous women and uncut drugs. Amidst a bureaucratic upheaval between the record company - United Artists, the management teams - West & East Coast- and a cast of legal eagles, we somehow managed to cut what was to become a classic cult metal album in America as well as Europe. I am happy to see the interest in the 'Marcus' resurrection for a new generation to discover and our die-hard followers to rediscover in digital format. I'm not one to dwell on the past - I can only say that it was great while it lasted and looks like its going to last a long time to come. This album is meant to be played at maximum volume that your speakers can handle. So get out that pipe or zig zags, a little incense - and enjoy".

Midnight

Midnight in 1976
Four Chicago teenagers formed Midnight. Dave Hill (organ, vocals), Frank Anastos (guitar), Scott Marquart (drums), and John Falstrom (bass), met while taking lessons at Melody Mart in Homewood, IL in 1974. Inspired by Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Deep Purple, eventually they began gigging at colleges and clubs in and around Chicago, even though they were still in high school at the time. Soon after graduating in the fall of 1977, they recorded their lone LP with no management or producer, at A-K Sound Recording Studio in Orland Park, IL.

Midnight "Into The Night" (1976)
Dave, Frank, and John all contributed to the songwriting and then the band worked on the arrangements as a unit. Like Blitz before, the recordings have a rough edge and amateurish production, with a mixture of good to average songs. Dave used a Vox organ, and its thin sound was out of vogue by this time, giving the music a link back to '60s garage rock. The group self-released "Into the Night", pressing 500 copies in early 1978. A show at The Aragon in late '79 was one of their last and in 1980 they took a break from playing to write new material. Drummer Scott Marquart quit and the rest followed suit.

Drag City reissued the LP this year (link). I have used one of the most metallic sounding tracks from the LP, "Into The Pit". This song presents an interesting mixture of out-dated equipment like the Vox and a recording job which sounds like an amateurish attempt from an earlier time, while some the music itself has influence from more metallic sounds of the later-seventies.

Tyranny

Tyranny and Infinity were two bands helmed by guitarist Rob Griffin, who later started a cult metal band called Graven Image. Included here is both sides of a 7", one side by Tyranny and one labelled as played by "Infinity". According to the label, both written by Rob Griffin and Dave Chumchal. Thanks to O.P.M. Records for reissuing this 45 in 2005, and bringing it to the world's attention! Both sides are equally great heavy metal.

Here is what Rob Griffin has told me about this strange situation: ”Hi Rich, It was all Tyranny on the 45 (me) writing and producing the same band. It was just a label screw up at the pressing plant because we almost made some changes, and then made some changes (confusing). When the plant had the order we met a bass player who joined us briefly and we were considering a name change, however he turned out to be a flake and a con man who tried to steal our music, but we caught on and fired him.

We called the plant to have the label changed again going back to Tyranny, however the plant got it wrong and put the right label on one side and the wrong label on the other, and we decided to just release it anyway due to lack of funds to change it and no time, as we were playing live. So it was a mistake on many levels. The long version will be in a book someday as it is a great story! It in fact was Tyranny and me all done in the studio, the bass player in question was post-production and did nothing but screw us up - there you go!" Graven Image's facebook can be found here (link).

2009 Tyranny / Graven Image Reunion with Rob Griffin, "Rockit"


Constellation

Constellation LP (1978)
The penultimate track is from a real wildcard, a Tennessee band called Constellation. Many thanks to The Acid Archives (link) for what little information is known about the album, one of the most obscure appearing here for sure.

Originally from Chattanooga, the band featured a potential superstar in the form of 14 year old singer/guitarist Punkin Crye and brothers Buster and Mike Visage (bass and drums respectively). The trio attracted a loyal following on the local club scene, eventually capturing the attention of a small label called Pyramid, which signed them to a recording contract and financed their self-titled 1978 debut. 

Co-produced by Jack Bryson, Cathy Dover, Jim Stabile and the band, the resulting LP "Constellation" is an impressively hard-rocking effort; even more so given creative mainstay Crye wasn't even old enough to legally play in a nightclub. In addition to handling lead vocals (he sure didn't sound like a 14 year old) and lead guitar, Crye wrote or co-wrote all nine tracks. The track I chose here, "You Don't Know", is propulsive and has a ton of punk energy with sharp riffage.

The album did little commercially and the band promptly called it quits. Crye relocated to L.A. where he enjoyed minor success playing in a number of local metal bands. Unfortunately, Crye also picked up a nasty drug habit.  By the time he was in his early 20s he'd returned to Tennessee where he ended up homeless, living on the streets of Chattanooga.

Yesterday & Today

Oakland CA's Yesterday and Today have the last song in this volume. They are the most successful band appearing here, although after a start in the early seventies the commercial success didn't come until the mid-eighties, after their heaviest albums were behind them, in my opinion.

"Dreams Of Egypt" is from their second record, "Struck Down" (1978). To me this track has a very metallic guitar tone and playing style, which sounds really cool and precognizant of 1980s trends. I wonder if the combination of heavy metal and Egyptian mythology influenced Iron Maiden later on, or even the Death Metal band Nile? Well, I guess you'd have to ask them! Seeya on the next one, Rich.



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4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. thanks for listening and commenting Jose! I hope you dig what's to come

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  2. great collection of US traditional metal from the 70's.
    thanks,rich :)

    ReplyDelete