Sludge in the ’70s


Down with garage rock; I’ve decided that my Pebbles is The Seventies Sampler, a disc accompanying Canadian critic Martin Popoff’s latest book, The Collector’s Guide to Heavy Metal—Vol. I: The Seventies. Until now, if you wanted to pinpoint the style’s vinyl quality you’d take the 1978 “red cover” edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide and calculate the inverse of what the ninnies writing it thought: Anything receiving bullets or funny putdowns was a must. Popoff fills the hole, writing on the cannon fodder of heavy rock with enthusiasm as well as a historical sense most pop music journalists just plain lack.

The enclosed compilation CD taps so much authentic whomp that you’ve gotta fight the urge to empty your wallet on eBay. Central to Popoff’s documentation of minuscule sellers and Seventies Sampler‘s carting out of them is that metal success at the time was more a matter of luck and connections than cream rising to the top. Greasy album-ready hard rock bands, fit to shove at mass audiences, were your neighbors. But as the sampler makes clear, the band Cain, for instance, were just too complicated for their own good. They looked like Styx, but smashed Riot and Head East together in ways that told the listener: “fondness for bennies.” “Katy,” from their recently reissued 1975 album A Pound of Flesh—dig its revolting pink potted tongues cover—has some gump imploring his date to roll over for a box of chocolates.

Ramrod Texans, represented on the comp by the saber-flashing guitars and stud-bull ranting of Ultra, made their state the Japan of the continental U.S. Any sinking sludge band could relocate to San Antone and have their shattered morale restored by the crazed local enthusiasm for crash chords. What did Shrub and his gang listen to while still dancing on saloon tables and driving while blind? Remember the Alamo! It had to be something like Ultra’s “Mutants”—or even more specifically, Point Blank’s “Free Man,” a right-winger’s evangelism to beating senseless those with whom you disagree, eating pills ad libitum, and the outrage of too many taxes.

Sorcery, assessed by Popoff as fairly worthless, sprang for a vanity double LP, and still managed to write one dynamite gobbledygook number about spiders; Amulet, with yet another lunkhead name, made a riff on split personality, “Gemini,” sound good for your health. And Rust Belt-hardened ax blasts issue from bands shackled by entropy to Youngstown (Poobah) and DeKalb (Winterhawk).

The well of ’70s hard rock, for practical purposes, is bottomless. Popoff has dredged the mud for the likes of the Juan de la Cruz Band from the Philippines, said to have sung half their numbers in Tagalog. But why look for them when you can already have Heavy from Fresh Blueberry Pancake, a Pittsburgh trio who, quite naturally, failed in 1970. The guitarist loved his Octavia, an evil-sounding fuzztone, but was no Hendrix. The shriek of rectified electrons and a committed trudge were enough, though—butchers being what we who paid two bucks at the door wanted most of the time.

Related Story:

Chuck Eddy’s Licks column: Truth and Janey; Winterhawk; Survivor

Archive Highlights