Friday, August 15, 2008

Shadows of Knight – Gloria and Back Door Men

Chicago’s 60’s group, the Shadows of Knight hit the big time with their superb, though cleaned-up, version of Van Morrison’s downright nasty tune, “Gloria”. This ubiquitous anthem is now known around the world and most people recognize this band’s take on it.

But, the band formed as a white-boy Chicago blues band. The flip to “Gloria” showcases this with plenty of originality in their terrific “Light Bulb Blues”. Tons of feedback guitar riffing (the Yardbirds were an obvious influence) and an off-time rhythm make a wild 60’s raver!

This debut record shows plenty of the tradition blues influences, though, such as their version of “I Got My Mojo Working”. Yes, these are lily-white white boys playing the blues, but there is something inherently attractive to their almost innocent take of these tunes. Maybe it’s because I was a lily-white Chicago-suburb teenager myself and I could relate to their versions.

But they proved that they could really write great songs when pressed, as is shown in “Dark Side”, a moody, tremeloed-guitar ballad. Jim Sohns gets to show off his fine singing and Warren Rogers take a cool, though short, lead break.

Back to covers of local bluesmen with a terrific version of “Boom Boom” with more riffin’ from Rogers and ravin’ from drummer Tom Schiffour. Side one of the album ended with a clean, though energetic run through of “Let it Rock”. No one would mistake these boys for black men, but they certainly put their hearts and souls into their music!

Credited to Bo Diddley (though I’ve never heard his version), “Oh Yea” steals the chord pattern from “I’m a Man” but the band adds more Yardbirds-styled rave-ups and uses plenty of dynamics – good bass playing from Joe Kelley, as well.

Fuzz guitars rule on the wild “It Always Happens That Way”, one of their most intense sounding tunes, with tons of rude-sounding guitar licks! Their take on “You Can’t Judge a Book” alone sounds like it influenced every 60’s styled r’n’b band from the 80’s – this could easily be mistaken for the Tell Tale Hearts! Super rhythm guitar mania throughout this tune!

They really show just how white they are in “Hootchie Coochie Man” – a fun romp, though hardly convincing. But then, they were – at best – just out of their teens, so you can forgive them! They took their version of “I Just Want to Make Love to You” from the Rolling Stones rollickin’ cover, though they added another rave-up ending, complete with Kelley’s bass solo spots and sheets of feedback. What an ending to the album!

But, if anything, I think their follow up album, Back Door Men, is even better. Still plenty of covers but some excellent originals, as well. Oddly, Kelley and Warren exchanged places for this album – I guess they were both versatile!

This opens with the truly incredible “Bad Little Woman”. This is a cover, though damned if I can remember who did this originally. I do like the Shads version better but that may be because I heard it first or maybe because they concentrate on dynamics a little more. In any case, this is moody as hell, and has an addition of an organ to the mix, but builds up into a shouter of crazed proportions! Fierce fuzz guitars crash and burn, as well – what a wild ride!

They follow this up with the equally wonderful (and original) “Gospel Zone”, a piece of genius white boy r’n’b. An insistent beat, accented by handclaps, augmented by feedback drenched guitars make this a truly unique bit of Bob Diddley-theft! Certainly one of their greatest moments!

There was no way that they could keep up that momentum, but the next song is a cool instrumental titled “The Behemoth”, influenced (to my ears, anyway) by the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”. Nice, though nowhere near as insane as the first two tunes. A fun showcase for Joe Kelley, though.

The band shows its sensitive side on “Three For Love”, a truly pretty, melodic pop song. This sounds almost like it could have come from pop-meisters, the Buckinghams – not unlikely, as they were another Chicago-based band.

I think that it was practically mandatory for all bands at the time to play “Hey Joe” and the Shads’ show an homage to the Leaves version here, though they add an extended instrumental break to make it their own.

“I’ll Make You Sorry” is a hip slice of r’n’b pop. I believe that The Hawk (who played keyboard on this record and I think later became the bassist) sings “Peepin’ and Hidin’” (“Baby, What You Want Me To Do”), the Jimmy Reed song, and again, sound like white teenagers, but Kelley does play some credible harmonica.

I’m not sure who did this first, but the Monkees also recorded “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day” as a pure pop tune. The Shads make this a harmonica-driven r’n’b jumper! Damn near a whole new song! They follow this with “New York Bullseye”, which is simply a blues jam. Nice enough, though not special.

But “High Blood Pressure” is rockin’ and a real mover and showcases Kelley’s guitar playing again. He’s highlighted once more in the closer, their upbeat take on “Spoonful”.

All in all, plenty of fun, white boy blues and r’n’b in the 60’s garage mold. The Shads were definitely one of my fave 60’s garage bands and these two albums show their versatility. The members went on to various projects and Sohns continued with a new line up and even had a minor hit with the fabulous “Shake”. He is still active today and plays around as the Shadows of Knight.