Sunday, November 27, 2011


What's that old saying "The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same?" Well, that would only be partly true about record collecting, but it would have a grain of truth in that the good records stay good and the horrible ones, well most of them stay horrible. I began digging through the 99 cent bin at the Princeton Record Exchange and the racks of records at the Cranbury Bookworm back 23 years ago when I was only 12 years old. That was how it began. I would gradually go to the somewhat pricier records and then the really big stuff a bit later on. Around the 1992-1995 period I was between the ages of 16 and 19- an age when you really become aware of a lot of things in life. It was then that I started getting serious about rare and obscure records/bands/artists and it was very much trial and error. What I am alluding to now is that Paul Major and his then partner Mike Ascherman who is bad vibes incarnate had a very opposite take than my other mentor/teacher/record guru Bill Paquin and this would lead me down the road of the overhyped and the justly praised. The overrated and the amazingly underrated. Paul and I met when Mike and I met. The two were inseparable partners for awhile and we met each other at a record show at the Marriott Hotel in Forestall Village (referred to by myself and my mum as the "deserted village"). Paul became my first mail order contact. Paul was at that time the biggest record dealer in the States and he had everything. Now, what I want to get at is that Paul, bless him, was somebody who would turn me onto some of the most obnoxious garbage in the world and also concur with me about some of the best music. It's a double edged sword. On one hand you have something as dreadful as Morgen- now an album approaching a ludicrous price tag that was always for God Knows what reason held in really high regard by most. Not Bill. After my reaction to the album when Paul hyped it and I went for it Bill said right out that Saint Steven is the masterpiece on ABC/Probe and Morgen is not even psychedelic at all (which it of course isn't- just a bad macho whining nothing hard rock record). On the other hand, there's Saint Steven- an undeniable masterstroke and an album good enough to be considered one of the best ever. Bill and I still talk about it. That goes to show you how much something can stick in your mind as a warning against hype machines. Some of my favourite records don't go for much and some go for prices that would freak nearly anyone at how high they are. Oftentimes an album like Rain on Project 3 and the also superb Blackwell on Astro (the only album on the label to my knowledge) which for me are two of the best anywhere I'd get laughed at about and then they'd go on to be valuable. It figures. I was always saying that American records were gonna stay at the same value except the underrated ones and that imports were the big deal- mainly British and German. I was laughed at, called a novice, and the whole thing ended up with me the one who was right. I can laugh at those people. Any dealer who tells you still that a $400 American record is going to be worth a thousand in a year is living squarely in the past. I learned the hard way with a lot of things. There's still a lot of pain for losing gems like Dog That Bit People and Arcadium in the summer of 1995- I call it the summer of bad timing. I've smashed rare records. I've traded records I never should have traded. It still goes on and has to stop. I've bought back records I once thought were nothing records only to discover they are masterful. It took me ages to acquire a love for the heavy German bands of the 1970s and now that is some of my most favourite music. It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of sticking it out.
  I discovered a bunch of European oddball imports in a store in far off Allentown PA called Double Decker this year and a lot really impressed me especially one called Song Of The Sad Times by a band called Decennium. I was sure I'd scored a monster with the quality of the music which is rural/country/jazzy tinged progressive rock with a few psych leanings and great vocals all through. On Ebay it sold for not much at all, but the great cover and small pressing still in my mind make it a monster. Don't be fooled by hype and price tags. I will agree that many high priced rarities are well worth it as I own them, but then I will have to also add to that one must be cautious.  There's a lot of great records that don't fetch more than the $25 to $40 range that beat most of the big enormously overpriced ones.
We now have the internet at our disposal- samples, youtube, and if you can get them downloads. Now nearly all record business is done through the internet. I can't say how much easier that's made things. I also can't say how miserably sad it is when you look at what it has done to the collecting world. There still are criminals on the net, but back in the old days there were more insane dealers than you could count on both hands 3 times. Anyone could print a list. I heard many horror stories and experienced my share, but I generally was given guidelines by Paul and Bill as to who not to deal with. That, though, is somewhat beside the point. What I want to bring up here is what the net has done to record stores. The internet and rising prices for rent have led to the almost complete destruction of the best and most economic way to find and buy rare vinyl- quality record shops. NYC used to be a mecca. There were great stores, wonderful places where you could find all kinds of things. Venus, It's Only Rock 'N Roll, Revolver, Midnight, later in years for me Second Coming, Shrine, Stooz. All those stores were so much fun. All of them are gone and in the case of Second Coming, Shrine, and Stooz they all went under within a year and a half. This isn't just happening in New York. The bad economy is making it harder for a lot of collectors like me to find things in stores when the shops keep on disappearing. Now it's the internet for nearly everything. It takes so much of the fun out. The computer by nature is impersonal, cold, technical. It has taken out the human element. The meeting and talking and bantering with friends in nice cozy shops full of quality LPS. All I can say about it is you just have to take it and try to accept that this way might be safer. I have bought most of my collection off the net, but not all. Still, it is both good and horrendous. I'm 35 now. I'm looking to slow buying records down to a halt for awhile because I buy too much, but now I could step into the position of someone who could educate willing record fiends. What you have to remember before anything else is that your own  taste comes first. You need to judge by what you like and not buy into peer pressure and hype. I was always someone who had my own way of looking at and listening to things. I don't care what people think of my taste because I know it's really good. I also have learned that you have to give things a chance, a few spins to know if its a good one or not. Unless it's absolutely great or absolutely unlistenable don't make your mind up the first time. Give it time and let it come to you if it isn't or play it more and more if you love it- which is advice I should listen to myself. It's been a long time since those early days of collecting when I hardly had anything to spend and I was making discoveries for really cheap. I would say that the 1988-1994 period was THE BEST for records. Everybody was dumping their vinyl and buying CDs. You could find anything. Now I just have to say that although they can take the fun out of it and make it more difficult not to spend a huge amount of money, they can't take away the quality of the music. And that's what it's down to. Quality and good music.
 That's what it always was and always will be- digging deep into great music and loving it. There's simply nothing else that can compare to the magic of the best music there is and I'd like to end with a big round of applause for all those who stick with it in the collecting world. Don't go too far, but it's definitely worth it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


For two years I've been in occasional touch with Pete French of Leafhound and he helped me through some hard times two years ago. Thanks Pete. I promised him a blog on Leafhound who reformed several years ago with Pete French the only original member and 3 young musicians stepping in for the rest of the group. This new, revitalized Leafhound released the poorly promoted, but astonishingly good Unleashed CD. If ever I needed proof this was something done from the heart and pure music of the soul not the cash register this confirmed my belief. Many bands who reform you wish would never have had that brilliant idea when they come out with a poorly conceived attempt at emulating the worst trends and trendiness sending rock to rot these days. Sometimes it works as in the case of Magnum who actually sounded a lot better than their albums before their early 90s split on Breath Of Life (2002) and Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow (2008), but usually we end up with crap put out by bands who think their already wholly stupid past makes them legendary- here I am talking about Amerikan garage/psych bands who think the world owes them a favour for their expensive and overrated record. However, it has bitten some really good bands too and none have made anything the quality of Leafhound. Unleashed may look like Heavy Metal, but it sounds straight out of the early 1970s tradition that sparked Leafhound's amazing Growers Of Mushroom.
Onto that album.. At a current value of 2500 to 3000 pounds Growers Of Mushroom is the most expensive British major label album and even before half the other highly prized masterpieces were going for huge $$$ it was already hugely expensive. Considering Decca did nothing to promote the band and released the album after they were history and Pete French had joined Atomic Rooster that's not surprising. I don't own the record. I own the Repertoire CD which has unusually good sound quality for that label and I'd like to find the album reissue to put up there with The Koobas, Pussy, and Kaleidoscope's Faintly Blowing for huge rarities beyond my price range.
So you'll probably want to know what makes Leafhound so special. It is several things. The tight ensemble playing isn't stiff and often goes into blazing leads and passionate riffing. The production is perfect for the heavy blues/prog rock sound that  they have. Also, it must be noted that Pete French's wailing vocals and intelligent lyrics, many of which are based on horror stories rather than the usual blues, are outstandingly good. The whole album just rocks and flows together in the way of the very best and most creative bands of that time. Self indulgent solos and overbearing "My Woman Done Left Me" lyrics are avoided for the entire album with instead the influences of Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix weaving through brilliant song after brilliant song of dynamic hard rock. Like most British heavy rock/early metal bands Leafhound had their roots in the blues with French coming from The Brunning Hall Sunflower Blues Band and Stu and Derek Brooks were in the band who would become Leafhound Black Cat Bones. The Black Cat Bones record Barbed Wire Sandwich stuck too much to the blues base and with both the Brooks brothers and French in the band they would become Leafhound- a band who had grown tired of playing the blues. Like Cream or Free or Zeppelin the blues influence is taken into the stratosphere and blown up then reassembled. While Free would stick a bit more to blues and R&B Leafhound are closer to Hendrix or Sabbath or Led Zeppelin yet they had their own sound. In fact, there are no imitations of those aforementioned bands present here regardless of what you may hear about the album.
On a personal note, I can remember back to when I was just a young boy and I thought that I was seriously into heavy metal. It turned out my musical taste had no room for the kind of bullshit coming out under that banner and I was firmly a classic hard rocker. I still love the bands like Diamond Head who stuck to an earthy base to build their molten hard metallic foundation on. Diamond Head and Leafhound have some similarities to each other and so do Leafhound and UFO. UFO were my favourite band. Hands down. Going back to their music now it's amazing how good it still sounds. And I can't forget The Scorpions. For me, and I'm not just talking about hard rock I'm talking about ALL MUSIC, for Rock to be Solid Rock it has to have a warm, passionate, emotional basis for all it may add to that. The 90s were completely devoid of this and the new millennium hasn't been much better. In actuality, the rot set in with Iron Maiden who are the most appalling band ever produced along with Metallica and Megadeth, Slayer, et all. When I was 12/13 the nastiest kid in school was an Iron Maiden freak and I hated them. I would go through 3 periods of Maiden Mania and I don't know why but guess I figured out what crap it was when I started to notice how the guitars sounded like they were made of tin foil, Bruce Dickinson is always off key and can't sing a note, and the lyrics are right wing fanatic Neo Nazi bullshit. The last and final falling out with Iron Maiden left me lividly angry with them and I've not recovered from it. That's beside the point, though. The point is Uriah Heep may indulge in many influences, but they keep and have kept a steady groove going only going astray the scant few times they depart from that groove. Leafhound never miss a beat, and when it comes to groove nobody has the kind of riffs and tasty leads these guys have. Check out the opening track "Freelance Fiend" or the slow to bludgeoning epic hard bluesy progressive all out brilliance of "Work My Body." Pete French is a fantastic singer and he still has The Voice. His strong, powerful, emotion filled vocals are just what Leafhound needed to complete this package of tough and heavy brilliance which is from the soul and made out of love. These guys were passionate about their music. In fact, if you are lucky enough to track down Unleashed you'll find out they way still are.
One of the most interesting things is how Growers Of Mushroom and Unleashed sound more deep and meaningful than most of their peers back in the 70s and most of the nonsense around today. Whilst Warhorse vocalist Ashley Holt was an off-pitched screamer and so is Ian Gillan of Deep Purple who Warhorse came out of (original Purple bass player Nick Simper formed Warhorse), and Horse are a whole lot of posing and hot air (and Satanic gibberish), the mistakes of the 3 aforementioned bands don't affect Leafhound at all. This is the best. It really is an intense and powerful work and hopefully despite the promotional problems and the need to find a new label Pete French who still sounds and looks great will keep plugging along. Find Growers Of Mushroom and Unleashed. You will blow your mind.