Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Collector's Guide to Rare British Birds

Continuing in Wonderland this week, we're tracing the career of the multi-talented Ronnie Wood. This entry focuses on Ron's first band, the Birds (not the California band with a 'y', although they do figure into the British Birds' story).

The Birds were a hard-working, highly respected R&B outfit based in West London and were comprised of Ron on lead guitar, lead vocalist Ali MacKenzie, rhythm guitarist Tony Munroe, bassist Kim Gardner (who later joined the Creation with Ron) and drummer Pete McDaniel. By August of 1964, their reputation as a top live act with a devoted local following garnered them a spot on the BBC variety show, ABC of Britain, where they performed a Wood original, "You're on My Mind." Due to the success of this performance, the Birds secured a residency at London's 100 Club, which in turn lead to a recording contract with Decca Records. "You're on My Mind" served as the A-side of their first single, backed by Bo Diddley's "You Don't Love Me." Other singles followed, including a cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic "Leaving Here."

All appeared to be going well for the British Birds until it came to their attention that several Birds fans were being sold singles by an American group called the "Byrds" instead. Their manager, Leo de Clark, sought legal action but was unsuccessful in forcing the popular American group to change their band's name. By 1965, the Birds had left Decca for Reaction Records, but delays in single releases took a toll on the group's morale. In 1966, the Birds performed "That's All I Need," a Wood/Monroe original, in the B-movie The Deadly Bees, which is featured in the clip presented here. (I cribbed this clip from "garageman" on YouTube--credit where it is due!)

The Birds were truly a dynamic R&B group, on par with the Pretty Things and the Rolling Stones in terms of having an exciting, raw sound. Their singles certainly stand up today, and they deserved far greater success than they obtained at the time. For a comprehensive collection of all their recorded output, including demos and previously unissued tracks, please seek out The Collector's Guide to Rare British Birds CD compilation from 1999 on the Deram/Decca label. The scans above come from my copy of a rare French CD EP.

(Reference: The liner notes to The Collector's Guide to Rare British Birds, written by Terry Rawlings.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Our Music is Red - with Purple Flashes." - Eddie Phillips, 1966

One of the true cult bands of the Sixties, the Creation epitomized Mod in terms of image and music. Their Pop Art-influenced sound perfectly crystallized the progression from British beat to psychedelia in a form of music now termed "freakbeat." As evidenced in the clip above, the Creation's sound was explosive and original; their stage shows were as well, as their goal was to pioneer a "total sound culture." (In fact, during live performances, lead singer Kenny Pickett painted canvases and bikini-clad girls on stage.) Although the Creation recorded one album and a handful of singles, they have had an immense influence on subsequent musicians, especially uberfan Alan McGee who named his successful record label "Creation Records" (which in turn became home to Britpop legends Oasis).

The most popular line up of the Creation consisted of vocalist Kenny Pickett, bassist Bob Garner, drummer Jack Jones and innovative guitarist Eddie Phillips. Phillips utilized feedback and a violin bow on his guitar before Jimmy Page did the same with the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, yet he rarely receives the credit he is due. Shel Talmy, producer of both the Kinks and the Who, helped develop the Creation's sound in the studio after signing them to his own Planet label. "Making Time," their first single (and the song in the clip above), became widely known with its inclusion in the 1998 Wes Anderson film, Rushmore.

Tensions within the band led to many personnel changes, including the departures of Pickett and Phillips and the addition of Ronnie Wood. It was Wood's departure to join the Jeff Beck Group that proved fatal for the band. The classic Creation line up reunited for several London shows in the mid '90s, effectively healing past wounds. Sadly, Kenny Pickett passed away suddenly, cutting short the Creation's triumphant return.