Not ornate, stately, or even faintly progressive by Procol Harum standards, Liquorice John Death’s Ain’t Nothin’ to Get Excited About brings “Whiskey Train”—the most volcanic rock cut that PH did outside “Simple Sister”—into focus as an Elvis cop plated with Brit heaviness and played by guys who plainly didn’t always want to be restricted to “In Held ‘Twas in I.”
John Death, then, was a garage-pure r&r band given a pass in Abbey Road to loosen up for Procol’s 1970 album Home. Having been known as the Paramounts prior to Harum stuffiness, John Death allowed Gary Brooker to slum as a rich man’s Little Richard. Drummer B.J. Wilson, by the evidence, did boogies and shuffles better than most Texans. And Robin Trower played a Les Paul—which still makes him Trower, only slightly thicker sounding, like a proto-metal B.B. King. Eighteen months later, the guitarist split to make more money in America, as a solo act playing barbiturate-flavored stuff far more like this than like A Salty Dog.
In any case, “Kansas City” and “Matchbox” show the band could do reverence and roots things louder than the Beatles and heavier than the Stones when they wanted to, if not as recklessly as the Who. Plus, “Brand New Cadillac” coined Clash-rock about eight years before there was a Joe Strummer.
The album cover was painted by a mentally ill fellow: Dave Mundy, furloughed from the nut hatch on afternoons by his good friends in the band. He gave them the odd name because it was more “rock and roll” than the Paramounts, then subsequently killed himself, and the boys wrote a song in his memory: “For Liquorice John,” which they put on Grand Hotel. Now there’s a sad but still quietly affirming story.