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Esoteric Label Rediscovers Lord Sutch’s “Heavy Friends” Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, John Bonham

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Lord Sutch - Heavy FriendsWhen Screaming Lord Sutch promised the presence of some “Heavy Friends,” he wasn’t messing around.  The cover of 1970’s Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends boasts some of the heaviest hitters in rock and roll: guitarists Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, drummer John Bonham, pianist Nicky Hopkins and Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding.  It’s recently been remastered and reissued by Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint, and certainly qualifies for release on a label called Esoteric!

David Edward Sutch (1940-1999) was a showman through and through, whether rocking-and-rolling in his horror-themed stage act or sending up politics as founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.  (And yes, the Monster Raving Loonies have actually won elections!)  Though he wasn’t much of a singer, “Screaming” Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow, made a splash with the Joe Meek-produced, banned-by-the-BBC single “Jack the Ripper” in 1963.  (His nickname was inspired by Screaming Jay Hawkins, and he wasn’t really an Earl…but no matter!)  That was the same year he stood in his first election, representing the National Teenage Party.  Always a colorful character, Sutch and his manager Reginald Calvert even formed a pirate radio station, inventively named “Radio Sutch.”  Sutch was known to emerge from a coffin onstage, and could be found offstage tooling around in his Union Jack-adorned Rolls Royce.

Until 1970, however, Sutch had never released an LP.  He called on some of his very famous friends to participate in sessions for the album that would become Heavy Friends, though most subsequently disowned it when Sutch emblazoned their names on the cover of the LP rather than allowing them the reportedly-promised anonymity.  Recorded at Hollywood’s Mystic Sound Studios in 1969, Heavy Friends has a loose, off-the-cuff feel, as if the recorders had been turned on during a late-night jam session.  Sutch resisted the temptation to record a batch of oldies, instead bringing self-described “modern rock ‘n’ roll with the real Zeppelin sound” to the table.  Though it’s debatable whether he quite achieved that, one couldn’t deny Sutch’s understated assertion that “John Bonham is a tremendous drummer.”  Jimmy Page ended up with a co-producer credit (“very nice of [Sutch],” he commented in 1970) and as co-writer of six of the album’s twelve songs.  Sutch and co. were joined by Daniel Edwards, Martin Kohl and Rick Brown on bass, Kent Henrey on guitar, and Carlo Little and Bob Metke on drums.

Malcolm Dome, in his new liner notes, persuasively makes the argument for this “oddball yet strangely charismatic” and “weird and effective” album, but reaction upon its release was hardly so kind.  Rolling Stone called it “absolutely terrible” and Page insisted the album was no more than a joke that “became ugly.”  But Heavy Friends today plays like a primal early exercise in what would become punk, with musical nods to blues-rock and rock-and-roll.   Sutch’s distinctive, if not particularly musical, vocals may not be to everyone’s tastes, but Beck’s guitar shines on “Gutty Guitar,” and Page and Bonham’s interplay on a number of tracks is particularly worthwhile.  In addition, tracks like “Union Jack Car” and “L-O-N-D-O-N” are offbeat but memorable and very much of the period.  Stripped-down, wild and woolly, and certainly original, Heavy Friends is certainly one of the strangest records to have been created by an all-star supergroup.  Page and Bonham appear on seven songs, with Beck on one track, and Hopkins and Redding on three each (Redding supplies the “Thumping Beat” on the song of the same name).

After the jump: more on Heavy Friends, including the track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 6, 2013 at 10:45