Music

The Groundhog's 'Blues Obituary' Gets a 2018 Makeover

Publicity photo via Bandcamp / Courtesy of Fire Records

They had the tunes, the skill and street credibility for miles. What the Groundhogs didn't have, was the ability to sell records outside of the UK.

Blues Obituary
The Groundhogs

Fire

12 October 2018

The Groundhogs got close, but they didn't get the cigar they deserved. These men of British blues had the credibility, the tunes and the musical prowess, but they lacked that mystical missing ingredient that would have propelled them into Yardbirds/Fleetwood Mac territory. It didn't help matters that their second studio album was called Blues Obituary. I mean – way to harsh our mellow, man… They persevered and racked up a handful of UK top 30 albums and continued to tour until 2009, when founder member and head 'hog Tony McPhee suffered a stroke which affected his ability to sing. A version of the band, now helmed by drummer Ken Pustelnik is playing the festival and biker bar circuit in Britain, but it's low-key stuff. Fortunately for the purists, the die-hards and their small but vociferous fan base, Fire Records have given Blues Obituary a wash 'n' brush up and it's out again - a mere 50 years since it first emerged, bleary eyed and denim-clad.

Despite the fact the album is meant to symbolise the burial of the blues, it's pretty darn bluesy. The album hinges around the 'hogs version of Howlin' Wolf's "Natchez Burning". Originally inspired by a blaze which started in the Rhythm Night Club in Natchez Mississippi , resulting in the death of 200 people, Howlin' Wolf's song is given a Chicago blues spin, with McPhee tuning in an exemplary performance on both guitar and vocals. For a band that wanted to get away from the blues, this seemed a rather odd way to do it.

Elsewhere, "Express Man" is a great example of their stock in trade – hard-hitting, riff-driven blues, that's about an inch away from the sound that propelled Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck into international arenas while the Groundhogs toiled away in town halls and ballrooms across Britain. Maybe that's the price you pay for authenticity, which the 'hogs had in spades, having played with John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, and Champion Jack Dupree. A couple of years after Blues Obituary, the band were hand picked by Mick Jagger to support the Stones on their 1971, UK tour. That exposure helped, but it hardly turned them into a household name.

The 2018 version of Blues Obituary is augmented with a couple of extra tracks - the 'a' and 'b' side of the first (and only) single from the album – "B.D.D" and its flip, "Gasoline". It was a flop everywhere, with the notable exception of Lebanon, where it reached the giddy heights of #1. Not a market one normally associates with grimy British blues rock, but every day's a school day… It's also pressed in a rather fetching blue vinyl for all you retro-futurists. Watching a lovely blue disc revolve on your Dansette may divert your attention from the album's rather eccentric production values.

In 1969, stereo was still a novelty and whoever mixed this record, pushed instruments into the far corners of the sonic spectrum, with the bass occupying the left hand channel, while the drums clatter around on the right. Vocals and guitars are scattered across both sides, resulting in a rather unbalanced sound, but if you're the bassist in a Groundhogs tribute band and you're trying to work out what Pete Cruikshank is playing – this album is a gift to you. In spite of that, the album sounds raw and live with minimal mechanical interference. What is recorded here is essentially what you would have got at a Groundhogs gig in 1969. That does mean that you get the dubious addition of a "freak-out" - "Light Was the Day" is almost seven minutes of tribal tom toms, pulsing bass and McPhee making the most of one chord. This maybe should have stayed on the stage, because in 2018 it tests the patience and dilutes the strength of the rest of the album.

If ever a band needed serious reappraisal, it's the Groundhogs. They plugged diligently away at their raw brand of blues, whilst the sexier Led Zeppelin, the more commercial Fleetwood Mac and the more Stateside-savvy Savoy Brown reaped the rewards. They should be up there with the big boys, but instead, they're a footnote, higher up the rankings than Jellybread, but nestling below Chicken Shack in the popularity stakes. Maybe this reissue will help. The 'hogs deserve it.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.