The Detroit of the 1960’s was, without question, one of the most musically dynamic locales on the planet. Dominated by phenomenally prolific Motown, the Detroit area was to become a thriving rock and roll metropolis over the mid to latter part of the decade. Counting such luminaries as the MC5, the Stooges, Ted Nugent, and Bob Seger as its own, the jewel of the Midwest showcased much of its talent at Russ Gibb’s Grande Ballroom. Whether as a support act or headliner, any band worth its weight had to play the Grande stage as a right of passage. The Grande was not merely a place to play, but rather the place to play, as it was the equivalent venue to either of Bill Graham’s two Fillmore auditoriums.
Such was the case with the Frost. Talented but short lived, the group was among the secondary tier of Detroiters who garnered a substantial regional following, yet never quite experienced breakthrough national acceptance. Anchored by Dick Wagner’s potent but highly underrated lead guitar work, the Frost boasted a hard rocking sound closely resembling vintage Grand Funk (also grown from Michigan roots). This is evident on The Best of the Frost, as the album captures much of the band’s live appeal by offering an outing from the Grande circa 1969. Coupled with informative liner notes by producer Samuel Charters, the new CD serves as an appropriate history lesson as to the Frost’s brief but memorable career.
Nine songs clocking in at nearly an hour’s time give listeners an ample dose of the Frost’s virtuoso power; Wagner deftly trades licks with fellow guitarist Don Hartman, while bassist Gordy Garris and drummer Bob Riggs lay down the bottom. The tracks “Rock and Roll Music”, “Sweet Lady Love”, “Black As Night”, and “Black Train” are spirited performances that display the Frost’s ability to tear through three- and four-minute songs with ease. Equally compelling are the tunes “Baby Once You Got It” and “Fifteen Hundred Miles”, which are built around Wagner’s precision playing (the latter recalling Leslie West’s brilliant work with Mountain).
What would a true ‘60s live set be without a bit of expansive jamming? Travel back thirty plus years to the Grande and listen to the slow burn of “Donny’s Blues” while envisioning the Frost smoldering on stage. Immerse yourself in the ten minute experimentation of “Take My Hand / Mystery Man”, complete with the ebb and flow of soaring guitars and harmonies set against the backdrop of rock steady rhythms. Revel in the cover version of the Animals’ “We Got to Get out of This Place”, a s17-minute epic of drum soloing and musical self-indulgence. For aficionados of vintage ‘60s rock, the trip back is well worth the time.
The Best of the Frost provides an interesting opportunity to revisit a place where talent and integrity were judged by a band’s skills on-stage. Long before the preening plasticity of video television, acts honed their craft in venues like the Grande Ballroom, developing identities through the music and mayhem they created. In the case of the Frost, it is unfortunate that a longer career did not follow, as the album clearly shows that this was a talented group that certainly had what it took to be a major contender. Fate may have relegated the band to modest anonymity in the annals of history, but fortunately, fans old and new now have a bit more genuine 1960’s Detroit rock and roll to enjoy.