Since the last tranche of Esoteric Climax Blues Band reissues were reviewed here we have had the sad news of Pete Haycock's death, and he now joins co-founder Colin Cooper in that great 12-bar line up in the sky. This series of reissues by Esoteric Recordings has provided a fitting if unintended tribute.
Gold Plated was, until many years later, both my entry and exit point where following the career of the Climax Blues Band was concerned. This was courtesy of the band's biggest hit Couldn't Get It Right which was released in the late autumn of 1976. A few weeks later the seismic shift of punk burst on to the U.K. scene and well-crafted blues funk was consigned to the dumper by those of us who were the right age at the right time and in the right place. This was a shame, because Gold Plated, the band's ninth album, was a set of finely crafted funky moves, of the kind favoured at the time by the likes of Kokomo and the Average White Band, with some well-seasoned blues chops never far below the surface.
If you look at the chart trajectory of their previous albums, you can see a slow but steady upwards progression in the States, albeit in the foothills of the chart mountain, and unfortunately no action to speak of back home. The band decided to popularise their take on the blues by stirring in the funky ingredients, and it worked, as Gold Plated turned out to be the high point in their career charts-wise, peaking at no. 27 in the U.S.A., and even making an appearance in the charts over here.
CBB came to the funk from their blues background, where the two bands I mentioned above had soul dancin' shoes. Dem blooze are still well represented on this highly polished record, produced once again by Mike Vernon. Although the record has a very sophisticated American sound, it was actually mostly recorded in the decidedly English setting of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. The band's U.S. label decided the record needed a hit and this turned out to be a song written in no time at all and included on the album without Vernon's participation, recorded separately in London. The off the cuff nature of "the hit" is apparent when listening to the album, but it remains irresistibly catchy to this day.
The album opens with the radio friendly Together and Free, and already fans of the band must have been taken aback by the change in the group's sound, but the usual high quality musicianship and writing meant that this was probably only a fleeting reservation. Mighty Fire combines the blues chops with the new-found funky dance moves with some panache, and many rugs are cut to the precise and at the same time loose-limbed Chasin' Change, which exemplifies the AWB comparison.
Despite its title, Berlin Blues is more of an R&B belter in the mould of the Allman Brothers than a straight blues workout. "The hit" we've already mulled over, and it is testament to its sharps hooks that it reached the dizzy heights of no.3 in the States and no.10 over here.
We have to wait until Rollin' Home for the first out-and-out blues number, and even that is not a traditional 12-bar, adding in some Stax soul for good measure. The guitar on this is quite magnificent by the way! Sav'ry Gravy is a slow funk shuffle, and the album concludes with Extra, which rolls out some more down home boogie for our delectation. The "gold plated" of the album name also refers to Pete Haycock's Veleno guitar, and great fun was had by the guitarist reflecting the spotlight back into the audience, no doubt!
The bonus tracks include a session for the John Peel show, and without the benefit of studio production embellishments the sheer professionalism of the band stands out. It cannot have been long after that session that punk took over, ironically given its first radio exposure by Peel, and the Climax Blues Band were never as high profile again, but that does not detract from a highly crafted and fun album.
by Roger Trenwith
1. Together And Free - 3:52
2. Mighty Fire - 4:49
3. Chasing Chase - 4:18
4. Berlin Blues - 3:27
5. Couldn't Get It Right - 3:17
6. Rollin' Home - 3:12
7. Sav'ry Gravy - 4:52
8. Extra - 3:37
9. Fat Mabellene (Single B Side) - 3:14
10.Together And Free (Single Edit) - 3:16
11.Chasin' Change (Extended Take) - 5:16
12.Shadow Man (Previously Unreleased) - 1:24
13.Couldn't Get It Right (BBC Radio One John Peel Session) - 3:11
14.Chasin' Change (BBC Radio One John Peel Session) - 4:41
15.Together And Free (BBC Radio One John Peel Session) - 3:58
16.Mighty Fire (BBC Radio One John Peel Session) - 5:06
All songs written by Climax Blues Band
Bonus Tracks 9-16
The Climax Blues Band
*Colin Cooper - Vocals, Alto, Tenor Saxes, Rhythm Guitra, Clarinet
*Pete Haycock - Vocals, Lead Guitar. Slide, Acoustic Guitars
*Richard Jones - Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
*Derek Holt - Vocals, Bass Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Electric Piano
*John Cuffley - Drums, Percussion
The Climax Long Hard Road
1969 The Climax Chicago Blues Band (2013 remaster and expanded)
1970 A Lot Of Bottle (2013 remaster and expanded)
1971 Tightly Knit (2013 remastered with bonus tracks)
1972 Climax Chicago - Rich Man (2013 bonus track remaster)
1973 Climax Blues Band - FM Live (2013 remaster)
1973-79 Climax Blues Band - Live Rare And Raw (2014 Release)
1974 Climax Blues Band - Sense Of Direction (2013 remaster and expanded)
Free Text II