Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Grease Band


One of my favorite all-time albums is the debut from the Grease Band on Shelter Records. Most people know the Grease Band as Joe Cocker's backing band at Woodstock, but they made their own albums which were rich and laden with great songs and fun performances.

I've rescued countless copies of the Grease Band's debut album from bargain bins across America and in Europe for many years. The dripping grease on the wallpaper on the back cover and the lovely rendering of hanged bodies on the inner sleeve are wonderful and dark.

Imagine my thrill to find the first two albums on iTunes recently. My cd of the first album bit the dust in Katrina, and I've not been doing a lot toward replacing physical cd's these days, what with the Holsapple economy being what it is. But $9.99 for two timeless records seemed like a worthy investment.

Principal members of the Grease Band were Henry McCullough, Alan Spenner, Neil Hubbard and Bruce Rowland, each with a pedigree the length of your arm. Henry was in Sweeney's Men, one of the first folk-rock groups in the British Isles. After his stint with Cocker, he played with Paul McCartney's Wings, contributing the fine solo on "My Love" among his many highlights there (I'm a sucker for "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" myself). Henry also wrote Nick Lowe's classic "Failed Christian". Spenner, who died in 1991, was a founder of British soul band Kokomo and played bass (like almost everyone apparently) with Roxy Music (Flesh and Blood). Hubbard, also in Kokomo, was another Roxy vet, as well as having been a member of the infamous Juicy Lucy. Bruce Rowland took over on drums with Fairport Convention after Dave Mattacks left. Lots of other semi-famous British musicians like Chris Stainton, the late Tommy Eyre and Kenny Slade passed through the ranks of the Grease Band as well.

There's a slop element to the playing on these albums that's undeniably attractive to me. Henry's guitar licks, assuming he's responsible for most of the leads, are weird, keening sallies into country and rock territory. I've never heard anyone else venture that far afield and keep pace with the songs. The arrangements are fun and loose. I recall somewhere reading a quote from reggae star Johnny Nash who claimed the only white band he could think of that played reggae correctly was the Grease Band. Interesting, since you'd be hard-pressed to find anything on these albums that qualifies as sounding like reggae. Maybe Johnny knew something we didn't.

Once upon a time, I was playing the piano in my family home along with the Grease Band's take on the old gospel number "Where Could I Go But to the Lord". The woman who worked as a maid for my family was also an evangelist preacher, and she was amazed to hear me playing a song she knew well from church. Once again, music is the tie that binds.

I'm not clear as to the ramifications of posting mp3's on this blog, so I think I'll just try and direct you, the listener, to a site where you can buy the albums for yourself. And I'll try to only recommend the stuff that completely blows me away, so that you can save your money for when Chinese Democracy finally hits the bins.

The music of the Grease Band has kept me company since I first heard "Laugh at the Judge" (sometimes entitled "Laughed at the Judge") one of those fine one-or-maybe-two-chord-tops songs that just wraps itself around you like a boa constrictor and squeezes your soul. I'm sure I'll still be finding copies of the albums at yard sales as long as there are albums at yard sales.