Here's another trio of intriguing '70s refugees pulled from the obscurity of local thrift stores and bargain bins.
The Casablanca label had some massively popular acts -- Kiss, Donna Summer, The Village People, et al. -- but the discography also contains a lot of acts not so well remembered today. Heavyhands Band? Platypus? Skatt Bros.?? For a few years in the late '70s, the label certainly was not afraid to throw some of that disco cash at unknown acts for their shot at stardom. Today, many of the label's obscure releases are interesting time capsules of the era.
One of the better obscure Casablanca albums I've encountered is Trigger. As it turns out, though I hadn't seen this album before, the band was not necessarily all that obscure at the time. Trigger had been very popular on the club circuit in the New Jersey area for several years when the album came out, and self-released their debut LP in 1975. It was that album, passed along to an assistant engineer at the Record Plant, which eventually led to the contract with Casablanca. (For the full story, check out drummer and lead singer Derek Remington's entertaining and extensive history of the group).
The resulting album is distinctive because unlike many obscure '70s hard rock/power pop records on major labels, Trigger doesn't sound like a group just aiming for the latest trends when they got a crack at a major label release. There's no covers, no concessions to disco, no schlocky ballad moments -- just a group of tightly arranged, catchy original songs. All their years playing covers as a club band clearly served them well, and their influences are felt more than aped in most cases. Unfortunately the album didn't catch on at the time; a second album was recorded, but left unreleased by the label. This is an LP that any fans of power pop or hard rock should pick up if spotted in the used bins. Over the years, the album has deservedly acquired a cult following, and was even reissued on CD in the UK by Rock Candy Records. (Casablanca NBLP 7092, 1978)
Reuben Howell: Reuben Howell
I usually at least look at obscure Motown discs, but don't always pick up such albums from the '70s. Reuben Howell's debut LP piqued my interest, however, on seeing a producer and various playing credits for Clayton Ivey. Ivey, a longtime session keys player and songwriter who worked for both Fame and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, is one of those names fans of late '60s-early '70s soul records get familiar with from seeing it on a lot of records. By the time of this 1973 release, he had partnered with Terry Woodford as a production team for Motown, though judging by the credits on here they were likely still working out of Alabama; other players/singers include Pete Carr, Jeanie Greene, Jimmy Evans, Muscle Shoals Horns members, etc.
Reuben Howell himself was a blue-eyed soul singer, and even at the relatively late date of '73, is one of the earliest white male solo acts I can remember encountering on Motown. Musically, the album is solid if somewhat nondescript '70s soul, distinctive mostly for Howell's strong vocals. It never quite seems to decide whether it wants to sound like southern soul or Motown's northern groove, and occasionally drifts somwhat uncomfortably toward the lusher string-laden arrangements of contemporary Al Green albums. (Motown M771L, 1973)
My first thought: What is this flute doing on a Bloodrock record? That was when I realized I'd stumbled onto the "second "era of the group, which followed the departure of lead singer Jim Rutledge and lead guitarist Lee Pickens. Rutledge was replaced by singer/flautist Warren Ham, and Pickens wasn't replaced. Also missing from the earlier days of Bloodrock on Passage is the distinctive songwriting contributed by John Nitzinger, who had by then gained his own Capitol contract and formed a band.
Passage is not a bad record by any means, but as could be expected given the lineup changes this doesn't sound much like their earlier efforts. Heck, it sounds more like Styx than Bloodrock. The Ham-led group is much more in the keyboard prog realm, and has little of the fascinatingly dark creepiness whipped up by the classic lineup. When Ham & Co. occasionally do try and go that direction, the result is much more Dark Shadows than Texas Chainsaw Massacre. (Capitol SW-11109, 1972)