Album review: COZY POWELL – The Polydor Years

COZY POWELL - The Polydor Years

Caroline International [Release date 25.08.17]

Drummer extraordinaire Cozy Powell is one of the biggest hitters in the hard rock word, making his name with Jeff Beck, Rainbow, Whitesnake, MSG, Black Sabbath, and Brian May; just before he died in 1998 he dabbled in metal with an album with Yngwie Malmsteen. Lesser known sessions include with Donovan, Stevie Wonder and Cinderalla.

Cozy also had a renowned solo career, getting to work with many big name, and his first three solo albums are featured here, with Over The Top getting a CD release outside of Japan for the first time.

Powell’s recording career started in Germany in 1967 with a single by The Sorcerers, and work with Young Blood, Big Bertha and The Ace Kefford Stand, before playing live with Tony Joe White at the Isle Of White festival. Two albums with Jeff Beck followed (and a third, of Motown covers, that was never released), and a number of sessions (including Chick Churchill and Donovan), before forming Bedlam.

Between 1973 and 1974 Cozy joined the RAK rosta for more session work and three solo singles, including the top 10 hit Dance With The Devil which featured bassist Suzi Quatro. After a few months away from the music industry, he joined Rainbow for their renowned Rainbow Rising LP, one of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore’s finest moments. Long Live Rock’n’Roll and Down To Earth followed, and between that last (more commercial) affair and his Rainbow swansong, the inaugural Donington festival, he recorded Over The Top, the first album here.

I first heard this album in the early 80s, having become an instant Cozy fan upon the first spin of Rainbow Rising. The album kicks off with a cover of Van Der Graaf Generator’s Theme One, and alongside Cozy are keyboard maestro Don Airey (who had played with Cozy in his 1974 solo band Hammer) and bassist Jack Bruce (both play on the entire album), and Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden. It’s a solid bright and thoroughly enjoyable number, melodic and Cozy’s drums do stand out.

Recorded and mixed live in the studio, the seven minute Killer features guitarist Gary Moore, who provides some fine shred on the album. The bass lines from Bruce are amazing. Heidi Goes To Down and El Sid (the latter featuring Marsden again) are both wonderful numbers, showcasing different styles; there’s a lot more than hard rock to these guys.

Sweet Poison is a big building number; Max Middleton on second keyboards and Dave ‘Clem’ Clempson on guitar, there’s no shortage of talent here. Clem also plays on The Loner (a track later covered by Gary Moore); it’s a bluesy number dedicated to Jeff Beck. The magnum opus is the title track, which kicks off with the Powell / Airey / Bruce trio rocking it up before a drum solo, and culminating in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, a track Cozy had been using as part of his drum solo on stage since his early days.

Post Rainbow and Cozy played on solo albums by Bernie Marsden, Jon Lord and Graham Bonnet (the latter featuring the hit single Night Games), joining MSG. 1981 saw the recording of Tilt, with an equally dazzling array of musicians, including David Sancious and John Cook.  Opener Cat Moves features both Jeff Beck and Jack Bruce, both on form here. Sunset is a slower number that showcases Gary Moore’s guitar, and also features Don Airey. Living A Lie features vocalist Frank Aiello (Hammer, Bedlam), one of the most wonderful, powerful and underrated rock singers around.

Whether fast or slow the work is blistering (in the case of The Blister, quite literally; high octane Powell Moore & Airey at their best). Funkier is The Right Side, featuring MSG bassist Chris Glen, as well as saxophonist Mel Collins and vocalist Kirby.

Like Over The Top, the album dips in to Jazz and Blues, it’s a combination of “This is what I can do” with having fun with friends, the latter shows too.

Post MSG, Cozy joined Whitesnake to tour the Saints And Sinners album before recording Slide It In, and 1983’s Octopus features much of Whitesnake (you can tell in the sound in places), both guitarist Mel Galley and bassist Colin Bomber Hodkinson feature prominently, as does keyboard legend Jon Lord. Don Airey plays on the album too, as does Gary Moore.

Up On The Downs opens in a rocking if bright and breezy fashion, and the orchestration comes in for Ron Goodwin’s 633 Squadron. This is really worth checking out, and it’s a number Cozy combined with the 1812 Overture in drum solos during his Whitesnake days. The title track centres largely around the drum and bass, quite a work-out. A filmscore cover in The Big Country is another big production with orchestra, thoroughly enjoyable.

Some fantastic instrumentals complete the album, and stand out and personal fave is The Rattler, co-written by David Coverdale. Oh how good were the friendships and music before handshakes weren’t honoured? But that’s another story.

Cozy would record two solo albums later in his career, play with ELP, have two stints with each of Brian May and Black Sabbath, and tour with Hammer too. Over 60 albums to his name and here his first three solo albums are presented nicely.

Over The Top does add some edits (the title track was cut in half for two b-sides, part 1 included only) and alternate versions subtract a guitar line or two, interesting but not essential. I don’t know if much else was available; the OGWT material would have been unavailable due to licence and I don’t know how much the heavily bootlegged (in Japan at least) “Work In Progress” material is different, the original tapes long since gone. The booklet in the box is good, and the Classic Rock sleevenotes do feature several quotes from my 1996 Record Collector interview.

Long overdue – there is a lot more Cozy out there I would love to see the label do in a similar manner.

With this the first release of Over The Top on CD in the UK, and it’s a decent package, more please.  *****

Review by Joe Geesin

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