Saturday, July 5, 2008

Grab A Tissue Before You Start This Car

British rock sextet Sniff ‘n’ the Tears seemed to appear out of nowhere on world charts during 1979 with the hit single ‘Driver’s Seat’. The group’s line-up during that time was Paul Roberts (vocals), Loz Netto (guitar), Mick Dyche (guitar), Alan Fealdman (keyboards), Chris Birkin (bass) and drummer Luigi Salvoni. But the band had been motoring along in various incarnations since around 1973, honing their craft on the live circuit on and off over several years, with Paul Roberts the core presence throughout.

‘Driver’s Seat’ was a brilliant pop-rock song, tailor made for the burgeoning FM radio format. It was perhaps a little too
adult-rock for the U.K. market at that time and only managed to reach #42, but the Paul Roberts penned tune cruised up the American charts, eventually parking itself at #15 in mid ‘79. ‘Driver’s Seat’ ignited on the Australian charts shortly after and travelled all the way to #13 in early 1980. The song had started its long journey more than five years earlier, when writer Paul Roberts first struck upon a guitar riff in the middle of the night. He built a song around the original riff, which he disposed of because of its resemblance to an old OJ’s song, but the song remained. It was recorded as a demo and by 1977 it was presented as part of a package of demos to Chiswick records, leading to Sniff ‘n’ the Tears gaining a recording deal. Paul Roberts re-recorded the song, with original drummer (now also producer) Luigi Salvoni, and the newly recruited line-up which would constitute the newest mach of Sniff ‘n’ the Tears.

Given the quality of the tune itself and the sublime production and musicianship on ‘Driver’s Seat’ , big things were predicted for Sniff ‘n’ the Tears. Their debut album ‘Fickle Heart’ received rave reviews in the U.S., including being referred to as “the finest album by a newcomer this year” by Billboard Magazine reviewer Ed Harmison. Produced by drummer Luigi Salvoni, the original demos received a makeover by up and coming sound engineer Steve Lipson. Sniff ‘n’ the Tears signed with Atlantic Records in the U.S. and were now being taken care of by the former manager for Foreigner. The band supported Kenny Loggins and Kansas on major tours of the States. In between times several band members came and went in what would be the start of a revolving door line-up for the band, Paul Roberts remaining the only constant. With ‘Driver’s Seat’ a top 20 hit and ‘Fickle Heart’ moving steadily up the album charts (US#35,OZ#72), Sniff ‘n’ the Tears needed a strong follow up single to consolidate things. Unfortunately their second single ‘New Lines On Love’ didn’t make it off the starting line.

Sniff ‘n’ the Tears re-entered the recording studio in 1980 to lay down tracks for a new album, this time with Steve Lipson producing. ‘The Game’s Up’ again received positive reviews in the U.S. but sadly attracted as much attention for the controversial choice of the Paul Roberts painted cover-art (amended in certain markets) as it did for the music contained therein.

Things started to break down somewhat for the band thereafter. Disputes over producers and musical style conspired to sabotage Sniff ‘n’ the Tears third album ‘Love/Action’ in 1981. The final straw came with a cleanout of the playing roster on the band’s new U.S. label MCA - this included them being unceremoniously dumped. Though closing the door on future U.S. success, Sniff ‘n’ the Tears still enjoyed some support in selected European markets including Scandinavia, Spain and Greece. A f
inal 80s album ‘Ride Blue Divide’ was released in 1982 but following one final disastrous appearance on the German TV show ‘Musikladen’, the band drifted apart.

After recording a couple of solo albums in the mid 80s, Paul Roberts put together a revamped line-up of Sniff ‘n’ the Tears in support of the re-release of ‘Driver’s Seat’ across
parts of Europe. This led to them recording the 1992 album ‘No Damage Done’ which had limited release in Germany and Holland. In 2000 Roberts persuaded a couple of ‘Sniff’ alumni to contribute to some new tracks, resulting in the album ‘Underground’.

Vocalist Paul Roberts is still active in the recording biz, and recently self-released the CD ‘Slowdown’, which is a compile of his two solo albums released during the 1980s, ‘City Without Walls’ and ‘Kettle Drum Blues’, whilst continuing work on new tracks.
They may be remembered by many as ‘one hit wonders’, but like so many with that tag Sniff ‘n’ the Tears were much more substantive than that.

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