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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Toe Fat - BBC Sessions (1969-70 uk, splendid hard bluesy rock, 2013 release)

Toe Fat - the improbable teaming of a slick, classy, 60's Soulster and three-quarters of an obscure Psychedelic/Blues outfit from the sticks - are one of those bands who invariably turn up in the middle of one of Pete Frame's Family Trees, the soile raison d'etre for their existence apparently being to act as the link between various seemingly disparate music and and groups. In Toe's case they provide the unlikely point of reference between Uriah Heep and Jethro Tull at one end of the spectrum, Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers somewhere near the center, and the Bee Gees and Chas & Dave at the other. And yet although they were highly regarded, their albums critically well-received, and they'd begun to make a significant commercial impact in the United States, the band was abruptly terminated when their American management pulled the financial rug from under them following a stock flotation. 

Consequently, Toe Fat have rather been consigned to the ranks rather more for their album sleeve artwork and the subsequent career paths of their members than for anything they achieved under their own steam. Furthermore, despite their relatively short life-span (although they cut two albums they were together little more than a year) their history is both convoluted and confusing, a 50% turnover in personnel allied to a curious staffing credit on their album sleeves having led to mucho conjecture as to exactly who did actually play in the band. And yet - as this CD readily confirms - with just a little kinder shake of the dice they could so easily have evolved into one of that elite half-dozen or so English bands who carved out spectacularly successful American careers, far outstripping their popularity back home in dear ol' Blighty.

Now, way back in the late sixties, as Rock music got bluesier, heavier, and more self-conscious, a great many working muse's adapted to the changing musical and social climate simply by growing their hair, sprouting bushy sidebeards and droopy moustaches (the full beard was optional), widening their flares, dressing down, and going back to playing much the same stuff they'd been playing five years earlier - but several megawatts louder (and frequently with longer, considerably more self-indulgent solos). And Cliff Bennett was pretty much a case-in-point: following his split with the Rebel Rousers in the Summer of 1968 he grew his barnet, cultivated the regulation mutton-chops, underwent sartorial refit, and duly went Heavy. He recruited Billy J. Kramer's former backing group The Dakotas - by that time down to a trio, comprising former Pirates Mick Green (gtr) & Frank "All By Myself" Farley (drums), together with original member Robin McDonald (bass) - and added a four-piece brass section: billed as the Cliff Bennett Band, they subsequently set about trying to become London's equivalent of Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Bennett surely needs no introduction: but briefly, he'd formed the first line-up of the Rebel Rousers in the West Drayton/Hayes area way back in 1958 - they took their name from Duane Eddy's hit - with a sound, style, and repertoire based firmly on roots R&R. However, during the 60's they had evolved into a powerful R&B-flavoured Soul outfit and become one of the most in-demand bands on the live circuit, far more popular than their meager three entries in the Guinness Book Of Hit Singles would suggest. Bennett and his Rebels eventually parted company in less than wholly amicable circumstances: he wanted to get into rather more contemporary material - specifically, to move in the same direction as Blood, Sweat & Tears - whereas his band preferred to stick to their tried-and-tested good-time formula. Hence the (inevitable) split. The lads stayed together, initially as the Roy Young Band, eventually shedding half their members and evolving into Black Claw. Finally, in 1973, they slimmed down further and became Chas & Dave.

Meanwhile, the Cliff Bennett Band were struggling to get the right balance. The brass section had been jettisoned fairly early on, and then Green and McDonald had quit in March '69 to take rather more lucrative positions in Englebert Humperdink's Las Vegas-based backing band. They were replaced by Ken Hensley (formerly with The Gods) and a bassist no-one quite remembers, but is believed to have been Paul Bass. The multi-talented Hensley had indeed proven to be a real find: although he'd joined simply as a guitarist, he was a powerful frontline singer in his own right, equally adept on both keyboards and guitar, and a songwriter of enormous potential. 

This revised line-up had really begun to gel, both live and as a recording unit. They cut one single for Parlophone, "Memphis Street"/"But I'm Wrong" (R5792), but had broken up by the time of its release, grinding to a sudden and rather ignominious halt in June '69 following an accident during the course of which a long-forgotten keyboards player rolled the band's van, which duly burned out. All their gear - which was uninsured, unfortunately - perished with said van, and in the absence of a record or management deal drummer Farley was ultimately forced to quit life on the road in order to take a proper day job. However, Bennett & Hensley elected to stick together and try to form a new band - and eventually, following a couple of false-starts elsewhere, they decided to recruit a pair of the latter's former colleagues, viz: the Gods' rhythm section of John Glasscock (bass) and Lee Kerslake (drums).

The Hensley/Glasscock/Kerslake axis were in fact quite an experienced unit, having (along with guitarist Joe Konas) just cut two albums for EMI - and furthermore, the Gods had a messy, rather convoluted history themselves. They'd originally formed in Hatfield in '65 when Hensley (kbds/voc) and the preciously gifted 17-year old Mick Taylor (gtr) had teamed up with the Glasscock brothers, John & Brian, on bass and drums respectively. 

This first line-up lasted a couple of years, but had drifted apart in June '67 when Taylor was lured away to join his hero John Mayall. Hensley - by now based in Hampshire - reformed the band later in the year with new members, who at various junctures included Konas (gtr), bassists Paul Newton (later in Spice and Uriah Heep), Greg Lake (ditto King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, etc.) & Glasscock, and Kerslake (drums) - but they were never really a stable unit. Nonetheless, in the Summer of '68 they secured a deal with EMI and cut the superb "Genesis" (Columbia SCX 6286), an album which stacks up surprisingly well to this day. However, although a prolific studio band, cutting a trio of singles and a second album "To Samuel A Son" (SCX 6372) - which eventually came out in February '70, many months after they'd ceased trading - the cracks were already showing, and they were destined to break up again within just a few months. Which is roughly where Bennett came in.

In retrospect, it seems clear that the death throes of the Gods and the birth pangs of Toe Fat must have overlapped considerably, as the former were very much an operational recording band - indeed, they were still in the process of cutting their second album - long after Hensley had "left" in March '69 and they'd begun working with Bennett sometime later that Summer. But whatever the circumstances, EMI house producer Jonathan Peel (no, not the deejay) seems to have been the catalyst in their finally getting together, and so eventually, with their new line-up in place - i.e. Bennett (voc/piano), Hensley (gtr/kbds/voc), Glasscock (bass/voc), and Kerslake (drums) - they were up and running.

Having decided on a major realignment in musical direction - based largely on the new bluesier material which Hensley was writing - and realizing that a more "progressive" moniker was required to go with their new, heavier style, someone came up with TOE FAT. Bennett seems to recall that he and co-manager John Gunnell dreamed it up over dinner one night (apparently, it was the most disgusting name they could think of!) Initially, their live appearances were rather low-key affairs as Bennett's identity was still being kept pretty much under wraps: however, they set out on the UK colleges, pubs and clubs' circuits where they duly broke in their new material, on the back of which they scored an American record deal with Rare Earth, Motown's white/Rock-oriented label. 
by Robert M. Corich,  
additional information by Roger Dopson 
thanks to Cliff Bennett, Frank Farley and Pete Frame  

1. Born To Be Wild (Mars Bonfire) - 3:23
2. Interview With Cliff Bennett - 1:01
3. Memphis Street (Neil Diamond) - 3:03
4. Im Yours And Im Hers (Johnny Winter) - 2:57
5. That's My Love For You (Cliff Bennett, Frank Allen, M. Roberts) - 3:53
6. Bad Side Of The Moon (Elton John, Bernie Taupin) - 3:28
7. I Done Told You (Jimmy Witherspoon) - 5:01
8. Turns Out Like The Rest (Cliff Bennett, Alan Kendall) - 2:16
9. Idol (Alan Kendall) - 3:26
10.Gone (Cliff Bennett, Alan Kendall) - 3:14
11.Three Times (Alan Kendall, Cliff Bennett) - 4:00
12.Midnight Sun (Alan Kendall, Cliff Bennett) - 3:21
13.A New Way (Alan Kendall, Cliff Bennett) - 9:05
14.We'll Be Travellin On (Alan Kendall, Cliff Bennett) - 6:10
15.I Love Everybody (Johnny Winter) - 4:03
16.There Will Be Changes (Alan Kendall, Cliff Bennett) - 6:40
17.Midnight Sun (Alan Kendall, Cliff Bennett) - 7:37
18.Come On Down To My Boat Baby (A-Side) (Jerry Goldstein, Wes Farrell) - 2:46
19.Garage Man (B-Side) (Ken Hensley) - 2:29
Tracks 1-4 recorded on 23rd July 1969
Tracks 5-8 recorded on 19th February 1970
Tracks 9-10 recorded on 14th April 1970
Tracks 11-13 recorded on 6th October 1970
Tracks 14-17 recorded live in Port Chester, NY on 5th December 1970 
Tracks 18-19 as The Gods

Toe Fat
*Ken Hensley - Guitar, Organ, Piano, Vocals
*Cliff Bennett - Lead Vocals, Piano
*Alan Kendall - Guitar (Tracks 5-17) 
*Lee Kerslake - Drums, Vocals (Tracks 1-10)
*Brian Glascock - Drums (Tracks 11-17) 
*John Glascock - Bass (Tracks 5-17)

The Gods
*Gregg Lake - Vocals, Bass
*John Konas - Guitar
*Lee Kerslake - Drums
*Ken Hensley - Guitar, Organ, Vocals

Related Acts
1968  The Gods - Genesis (2009 japan extra tracks remaster)
1969  The Gods - To Samuel A Son (2009 japan bonus track remaster)
1970  Head Machine - Orgasm (2006 digipak edition)
1971  National Head Band - Albert One (2008 remaster) 
1973  Ken Hensley - Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf (2010 remaster)