Album review: GROUNDHOGS – United Artists Years 1972-1976

GROUNDHOGS - United Artists Years 1972-1976

EMI [Release date 20.05.13]

‘Split’ with its black and white glossy gatefold sleeve was a staple in the knowing rock fan’s early-1970s collection.  The Groundhogs, led by one-time John Lee Hooker sideman Tony ‘TS’ McPhee, were also a staple on the rock circuit at that time although never making the first division.

This 3-CD set is a companion to the earlier ‘The Liberty Years 1968-1972′ which charted the band’s transformation from  blues to  proto-heavy rockers.  But it was only with ‘Split’ that the band hit proverbial paydirt.  It is commemorated here with the inclusion of several tracks in a complete 1972 BBC In Concert.

This BBC concert (and one from 1974) have been available on CD before (save for four tracks), originally on Windsong and later on the abbreviated 2002 release ‘BBC Live In Concert’.

By 1972′s ‘Hogwash’ (the first with Clive Brooks on drums) the band had lost their earlier frenetic blues rock drive as they honed the sound to an altogether more refined and produced situation.  This is also evidenced in the “bonus” 7” edit of ‘Live A Little Lady’ from 1976′s ‘Crosscut Saw’.

This album and the same year’s penultimate UA release, ‘Black Diamond’, are also included here although they didn’t make any real impact at the time and perhaps even less so now on reinvestigation.

It seemed then that Groundhogs were sounding less like themselves and more like others as they evidently jostled with changing musical tastes.  In a similar way their contemporary Rory Gallagher was also facing an identity crisis at this time.

The band will still be remembered for their light that shone bright for a relatively short two or three year window at the dawn of the seventies.  And sadly,  like Tony McPhee’s ongoing health problems,  after several later reunions they never really recovered.

The collection (or its companion) is slightly confusing as ‘Who Will Save The World’ was actually a UA release in 1972.

Strangely, one of their most popular albums of this period – 1974′s ‘Solid’ – is not included (it was released on the WWA label) and the accompanying booklet is basic.  This collection should therefore not be considered the definitive statement for these years but is nevertheless a worthwhile, and affordable, introduction.  ***1/2

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

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