Monday, January 26, 2009

Former Love Sculptor Reshapes Roots Rock For The Modern Era

1979 marked my final year in primary school, and though the year contained its share of good and bad experiences (as do most), music remained a comforting constant throughout. In the thirty years since passed, I’ve returned to the songs of that era time and again, sometimes for solace, sometimes to bask in the warm glow of fond memories, but perhaps most of all, because 1979 produced some of the best songs in popular music history, second only to 1982. Chic were shouting ‘Le Freak’, the mysterious M gave us ‘Pop Muzik’, E.L.O. delivered the sublime ‘Discovery’ album, Wings hatched their final offering ‘Back To The Egg’, Night heated up the charts with ‘Hot Summer Nights’, Art Garfunkel shone with ‘Bright Eyes’, Racey raced up the charts with ‘Some Girls’ - and if I were to continue listing every single song and artist from that year that etched a permanent place in my museum of recollections, I’d prattle on for hours. Suffice to say a good percentage of those artists, and their songs, have, and will, get their moment in the spotlight here at Retro Universe.

Today’s post shines the light on Dave Edmunds, whose pop-rock classic ‘Girls Talk’ was one of many stand out selections on 1979’s ‘Best Of’ jukebox. Born in 1944, Welshman Dave Edmunds grew up listening to the same rock and roll heroes of the 50s and 60s, that influenced so many of his generation, and inspired subsequent waves of popular music icons. As a teenager Edmunds taught himself guitar parts offered up by the best rock & roll/rockabilly guitarists of the era, including James Burton (from Rick Nelson’s band), Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore, and the legendary Chet Atkins (who played on many of the Everly Brothers songs). By the early 60s he was trying his hand on the professional circuit, honing his craft in British based blues-rock outfits including The Raiders, and The 99’ers (sounds like a football league grand final). In 1966 Edmunds joined The Image, and the following year he and drummer Tommy Riley evolved into the group The Human Beans, alongside bassist John Williams, releasing the single ‘Morning Dew’ in July ‘67. A change of name in 1968 saw Love Sculpture shaped from the collective musical building blocks of Edmunds (vocals/guitar), John Williams (bass), and new drummer Bob (drums). Love Sculpture struck upon the idea of taking light classical pieces, by the likes of composers Bizet and Khachaturian, and rock-a-fying them with a psychedelic edge, which resulted in their 1968 UK#5 hit ‘Sabre Dance’, featuring the brilliantly breakneck guitar work of Edmunds. Love Sculpture recorded two albums, ‘Blues Helping’ (1968) and ‘Forms And Feelings’ (1970), and undertook a six week tour of the U.S. during their two year tenure as a band. The band’s final line-up featured Edmunds, ex-Dream drummer Terry Williams, and ex-Joe Cocker guitarist Mickey Gee, with both Williams and Gee then going on to play for a period in the group Man.

Edmunds returned to his native Wales and set up the eight-track Rockfield Studio in Monmouthshire. Over the next few months Edmunds taught himself the production ropes, and worked at methodically recreating some of the sounds that first hooked him as a teenager, from the slap echo made famous by Sam Phillip’s Sun Records, through the Chess Records style, to Phil Spector’s signature ‘Wall of Sound’. Edmunds also returned to some of the songs of that era, for his earliest solo recordings. In late 1970 he released an updated version of the 1955 Smiley Lewis classic ‘I Hear You Knockin’ (US#2-R&B), which featured Edmunds’ delivering his vocals via a telephone line. The song didn’t just politely knock on the door of the British charts, but kicked the damn door in, when it debuted at #16 first week in. Within a month it had moved lock, stock and barrel to the #1 position, where it took out a six week lease from late November ‘70 to January ‘71. During the same period ‘I Hear You Knockin’ climbed rapidly up both U.S. and Australian charts, and peaked at #4 in both territories. It was formerly credited to Dave Edmunds’ Rockpile, the first time the ‘Rockpile’ brand appeared, and former Love Sculpture bassist John Williams was still in tow at that point.

‘I Hear You Knockin’ was later included on Edmunds’ 1972 album titled ‘Rockpile’ (OZ#22), the set featuring the drumming of Terry Williams, who had just come fresh from the Man album ‘Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day’, produced by Edmunds at his Rockfield Studio. Soon after Edmunds scored his second Australian top five hit with a cover of the Chuck Berry song ‘The Promised Land’. Edmunds then assumed sole responsibility for his output, literally, over the next couple of years, by producing and providing all the instrumentation himself. His one man band managed to recreate the Spector brand ‘Wall of Sound’ on the 1973 British top 10 hits ‘Baby, I Love You’ (UK#8/OZ#43 - originally recorded by The Ronettes), and ‘Born To Be With You’ (UK#5/OZ#96 - originally recorded by The Chordettes), while Edmunds the producer continued to garner a growing reputation, overseeing albums from Kingdom Come and Foghat (see future post). In 1974 Dave Edmunds appeared alongside David Essex and The Who’s Keith Moon in the rock music film vehicle ‘Stardust’, with Edmunds scoring, and playing on, a large part of the film’s soundtrack album. The same year he produced the final album for rock quintet Brinsley Schwarz (‘New Favourites Of Brinsley Schwarz’), a project that proved the catalyst for a fruitful working partnership between Edmunds and Brinsley bassist Nick Lowe.

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