Who will save the world? The mighty Groundhogs! - IN SEARCH OF SPACE #148

Three is the magic number as that obsequious fucking song keeps reminding us on the BBC whenever something shit is coming and associated with the number three. Three is a great number for members in a band though, because like Lego they stick beautifully together to form a ‘power trio’. Three people all doing different things but together channelling some quite primal power to reach insane levels of simple, effective and damn tasty riffage. You can imagine a triptych of skins, bass, axes and one of those cats putting double duty as the vox (or not) framed in different panels of a church window if the world were right. Bands seem to make the best music is a threepiece. Sleep, Blue Cheer, Jimi fucking Hendrix all hit that magic sweet spot, and so too did the Groundhogs, however briefly. England’s staggeringly successful answer to the three-piece power rock coming out of the US scenes in the seventies released god knows how many albums over forty years, but for three of those albums the Groundhogs were a three piece, and they are three of the most essential pieces of listening of the seventies.

Coming bloodied out of the lost battle of the sixties, the third world war, the underground rock and roll movement took a noticeable switch, look at the music of Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath, look at heavy metal cats of today compared to the hippies of yesteryear; it’s the same guys, but the spirit has changed. Rock and roll had fuelled the revolution of the last five years of the sixties, and as those last superb notes of Hendrix’s set echoed across the battlefield of Woodstock, people had to come to terms with the fact that we lost. For a few brief, beautiful and wonderful years it looked like good might triumph as had never occurred before. Rock and roll was the meat of that revolution. A universal code hipped by all the right people, telling everyone to love and be grateful, don’t hate and don’t grudge. For a while it looked like we had it, love, peace, acceptance and pleasure might succeed in the most important battle of history. Big money, society, the family, the church, the government, the downers and consumers won, it was a good try but you didn’t succeed, your little house in the suburbs is ready now. The free love revolution had been rejected and the third world war, a civil war, had been unanimously declared a victory by the downers. There was nothing else to say, the greatest decade in human history was over, and we failed to paint it black. That Godsent power trio Blue Cheer laid the groundwork for what was to follow, the elastic snap of all those wasted doped-up hours and fun. We might have lost the war, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be multitude battles to be fought over our very souls. The children of the love generation are still soldiers and they will never surrender. Things were going to get louder, things were going to get darker, things were going to become more metallic. Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath built the skeleton, and the seventies underground bands provided the ample muscle and the power trio was to be the main vessel. It was the birth of heavy metal, out of the ashes of the love revolution came something different, a new generation of bands, failed seekers who retained the long hair but lost the tolerance and the optimism. Now the downers and dopers wouldn’t have anything to fight against, they can just look across the highway, look at that darkened place where dwelt the young. All those people, tripping to those heavy psychedelic sounds, getting obscene pleasures from things normal people could never understand. WILD! By god, and without any laws to stop them!

A key player in this rock and roll reanimation was the Groundhogs triptych. For a few brief years (and a Rolling Stones support tour) the ‘Hogs functioned as a power trio, in the space of two years they laid down (appropriately) three of the heftiest and most spiritually handy things to have in your record collection. Nothing too heavy, but like with eating and drinking, you can’t go heavy every day. What the Groundhogs do is a country-infused type of American rock proto-metal the likes of which have never died out. A high energy prototype passed over for mass-production. And good thing too, the scarcity of comparable trips makes this one precious. While their contemporaries became more infused with ‘prog’ and made more and more heinously complex jams extending well into the twilight of an album, the ‘Hogs went the opposite way, crafting wild yet deliberate jams ranging from country to the likes of a prog rock jam but compressed into a five minute song. There are empty, basking busking jams all over Thank Christ for the Bomb and then there’s wild flurries of Blue Cheer drug hysteria sliding out of the speakers all through Split. No other three consecutive records by another band are able to ring exactly the same bell all the way through, and be of such huge meditative usefulness while also providing all the variety and consistent quality a growin’ boy needs.

Thank Christ for the Bomb

Produced by Martin Birch, late of Deep Purple In Rock (don’t you just wish that In Rock was the only album they ever made? I do), the title-cover combo of Thank Christ for the Bomb really set the tone. Acoustic mellow workouts that bulldoze surprisingly well. Like a documentary on war or large quantities of obscure spirits, you only notice how effective this trip is once it’s over and you’ve got to stagger home without the cooperation of your legs. It is introspective, the heaviness comes emotionally rather than sonically. The flawless thick twang of the guitar throughout is thoroughly groovy and lends Thank Christ for the Bomb the same awesome-cuz-it’s-heavy awesome-cause-it-ain’t spirit that defined Kyuss and the Bad Light, though predates both of those strictly-metal trips. It takes you and knocks you sideways like a subbuteo player and you’re left bouncing around for most of the album. Spiritually this is probably the least useful of the three trips so I don’t have too much more to say about it, except that the two nuke blasts at the end of Thank Christ for the Bomb are absolutely superb.

Split – “my body and mind are two things, not one”

Roll up, roll up, now I can just tell sir and Madame that this is the shit y’all came down here for. A hangover bad-acid trip of an album. Surrealistic guitars trip through darkened interiors, given room to move and flounce which they do with abandon. Side one is the mammoth 20-minute Split, the title track and a four part symphony to bad trips. Exploring exactly what it was like for frontman Tony McPhee to go through drug trips, hangovers, hanging under. It tracks with merciless rock telemetry like a terrain-following missile aiming to ring every bell in the room to connect exactly with what everyone’s bad trips feel like. The whole band are free-running all across the shop, it’s rock and roll parkour. Interviews at the time used to emphasise how the mad bassist, Pete Cruickshank and wild-man drummer Ken Pustelnik would experiment and writhe musically just as much as McPhee, so he’d return from sailing high in the rafters of the studio on solo mode like a bright seagull, and return to terra with absolutely no idea where the song was... Certainly a bass player and drummer who are supposed to form the safe helipad on which to touch down after all that blue-sky soloing and are too busy doing blue-sky soloing of their very own are people to be respected, that is definitely the power-trio model. It ain’t just power man and two supporting twats, oh no, these cats all got power, and together they are more than the sum of their parts. McPhee and his guitar go through all the things one goes through on a hungover morning, wonder, pain, bemusement, soul-sickness, visalgia. Even covering that moment of hangover low when you take up every religion on earth just to make your head stop spinning.

Who Will Save the World? The Mighty Groundhogs!

Down the country road, stuck somewhere in the ruralest place this turned-city slicker can fucking imagine lurks a grimy shed full of Englishmen who dream of nothing ‘cept re-doing the Easy Rider soundtrack. Having already thanked the world for the bomb and then tackling exactly what a hangover does to an otherwise fine upstanding head, the Groundhogs lyrically set the world to rights as superheroes, where all the colour is contrasted right up and all the subtleties can go hang, they even got Neal Adams (of comic book fame) to do the album art, so committed were they to this sonic vision. It certainly feels superheroic. These backwoods Alabama boys sounds feel sinewey and rough-hewn. The tone is more upbeat, more hopeful, they’re setting the world to rights with the power of music. Power trio seems like a great idea for a superhero tag-team actually. By this LP the band were over the peak and speeding downhill fast, there’s a dull guitar crescendo instrumental of Amazing Grace that ought’ve stayed on the cutting room floor. It was several months after this that Pustelnik closed the door on the band and this particularly intense and useful period of Groundhogs discography and history. Things would never quite reach these highs again, we ought to be thankful we got more or less three albumsworth of quality material on the lighter side of all the proto-metal that was dancing across the airwaves in those spectacular times.
Written under duress by Steven.

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