Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Spur - Spur Points (Record Fiend Special Products, 2010)


This year's best reissue of rock music from the 1960s? My vote goes to Spur of the Moments, which collects selected recordings by the pioneering Midwestern garage-country-psych rock band Spur. Hailing from Belleville, Illinois (located in the southwest corner of the state near St. Louis), the group recorded a lone LP released in 1968, Spur of the Moment, in addition providing musical accompaniment to Father Pat Berkery on his celebrated Christian mind-expanding spoken word album from the following year, Prayers for a Noonday Church. Released last month by the Drag City label, Spur of the Moments (note the "s" at the end to distinguish it from its predecessor) features three songs from Spur of the Moment in addition to eight other tracks (recorded by Spur and an earlier garage band version of the group, the Unknowns) that had been available only on 45 or were previously unreleased. A decidedly mixed bag, the record has received mostly positive reviews from the likes of Pitchfork, Piccadilly Records, and the Washington City Paper, to name but a few. The recurring criticism of the band - albeit a minor one - seems to be that they lacked a distinctive sound and did not transcend their diverse influences. Indeed, Spur of the Moments does sometimes seem as if the songs had been performed by several different groups. Instead of this counting against Spur, however, it can be viewed as a positive so long as the listener is not expecting a musical reinvention of the wheel. Historically-speaking, the outfit is a first-rate representation of the kind of groups that were popping up all around smalltown USA during the mid to late 1960s, bands that had to be on top of the latest musical trends in order to entertain their audiences at high school dances, pocket-sized concert halls, and county fairs. Most of these aggregations were fortunate if they had only the ability to perform competent cover versions of the big hits of the day. As Spur of the Moments convincingly demonstrates, Spur was not only capable of performing imaginative reworkings of songs by other bands (be sure to check out their epic-length interpretation of "Tribal Gathering" on Moments, for example) but could also compose and perform their own compelling material. But don't just take my word for it; buy the album, and listen for yourself. In this musically uninteresting era in which we live, groups like this sound downright inspirational.

EARLY DAYS AS THE UNKNOWNS (L TO R): ED KALOTEK, LARRY
WILSON (?), STAN BRATZKE, & RICK WILLARD CIRCA 1966-1967

As with most reissue projects, not every worthwhile performance could be included on the final product. However, thanks to the assistance of Record Fiend team members Vinylplastic and the north star grassman as well as Spur's bassist-vocalist Rick Willard, I am pleased to present you with a release that is exclusive to this blog, a band-sanctioned collection of intriguing odds and ends that I have decided to call Spur Points, which can be listened to as a sort of companion piece to Spur of the Moments. In some respects, it is more comprehensive than that release since it consists of selections by both Spur-related earlier bands (Derrel & the Unfillable Prescription [how's that for a name?!] and the aforementioned Unknowns), live cuts, demos, and the remaining tracks from the Spur of the Moment LP. The source material includes acetates and scratchy old 45s, so the sound quality is not always the best. Be that as it may, the historical importance - not to mention the overall musical excellence - of the performances more than makes up for any sonic shortcomings. I'm guessing that most of these tracks were recorded between 1964 and 1970 or so, but it's possible that some of them are from slightly earlier or later dates. Additionally, there may be instances where I have given credit to the incorrect band on a particular song. In other words, it is possible that I've listed a particular performance as something by the Unknowns when it was, in fact, done by Spur...and vice versa. If that is the case and someone has the correct information, please pass it along to me so I can I set the record straight.

PUBLICITY PHOTO FROM THE LATE 1960s (CLOCKWISE FROM TOP RIGHT):
JIMMY FEY, STIX MAXWELL, STAN BRATZKE, ED KALOTEK, & RICK WILLARD

The first song was performed by Derrel & the Unfillable Prescription, a group that, as previously mentioned, included musicians who would later become Spur. "The Peoples' Cheer" is an organ-driven patriotic piece of garage rock, of which the band did not think very highly (see Rick Willard has to say about it below). The Unknowns' initial single, "You Want Me Too," reveals itself to be an appealing, jangly folk rocker with some really nice vocal harmonies. The first demonstration of the musicians' fixation with the Byrds, a respectable cover of "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," was featured as a B-side to one of their singles from 1966 or 1967, and spirited live versions of "The Wine Song" (a "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" variant?) and "Good Lovin'" provide examples of what they sounded like in concert during their formative years. "Baby's in Black" and "Mystery Train," both of which are probably among Spur's earliest recordings, respectively display the influence of the Beatles and Elvis on the group. Eight of the next nine tracks were included on Spur of the Moment and include another well-played cover ("River Deep"), a crazed medley of early rock classics complete with a whacked-out ending ("Rock Phase," with "Prelude" being a previously unreleased outtake), a bit of redneck gospel ("Turn to Jesus"), an extremely early example of drug-oriented country rock ("Don't Ever Trust a Woman with Your Dope," which was previously included on the 2001 comp Yee-Haw! The Other Side of Country)
, excellent minor-key folk rock ("Why Girl No. 2" and "Modern Error," with the latter being an updated take on "Modern Era," a 1966 single track by the Unknowns included on Spur of the Moments), and a couple of well-intentioned but not wholly successful attempts at broadening the band's musical horizons ("Tell Me, Tell Me" and "Stanley's Song"). The closing tracks are live recordings that further exhibit the musicians under the spell of the Byrds ("Mr. Spaceman" and the second and third parts of "Medley," which includes the relatively obscure "It Won't Be Wrong" and a revisitation of "Whole Lot Better") as well as, to a lesser degree, the Youngbloods ("Get Together," the first part of "Medley"). I'm not sure about the recording date for "Spaceman", but the longer track comes from a 1994 reunion concert (again, see Rick Willard's correspondence below.) The in-concert version of "Don't Ever Trust a Woman," however, does sound as if it dates from Spur's late-1960s prime.

PSYCHEDELIC SPUR (LEFT) IN CONCERT & JIMMY (RIGHT) DEMONSTRATES
THAT MORE THAN JUST CORN GROWS IN DOWNSTATE ILLINOIS

Spur are:

Stan Bratzke - vocals, electric and acoustic guitar
Jimmy Fey - vocals, six-string lead guitar
Ed Kalotek - keyboard, six-string and 12-string lead guitar
Stix Maxwell - drums and percussion
Rick Willard - vocals and bass


Addendum: Rick Willard was kind enough to drop me a line earlier this morning. He provided me with some information that corrects some mistakes I had made in the original version of this post:
In reviews of the Spur album I've noticed a lot of misconceptions and wrong info on our band. The biggest problem seems to be the difference between Spur and the Unknowns. They were, in fact, the same. Between 1965 and 1972 we had three different drummers, other than that, the lineup never differed. Larry Wilson was our drummer on our first three singles, "You Want Me Too", "Modern Era," and "All Over The World", all recorded as the Unknowns. Larry left the band amicably for personal reasons. We were fortunate to find another great drummer Stix Maxwell, who played on the original Spur of the Moment album and the Fr. Berkery album, Prayers for a Noonday Church. He was with us through 1969 and the first breakup of the band. In 1970, I moved to California for a year, then to Arizona for another year. In 1972, I returned to Illinois and we reformed the group, sans Stix Maxwell, who was gigging in Las Vegas. Our manager Ron Lipe had moved to Milwaukee and was managing Key/Charisma Recording studios. We picked up a drummer, Bill Eversole, and started making weekend trips to record. "Time Is Now," "We Don't Want to Know," "Help Me I'm Falling," and "Mr. Creep" were recorded during this time. The "Medley" you mentioned was actually done in 1994. It was our reunion concert and featured all original members except Ed Kalotek who had passed on. A long time friend, Randy Roberts, sat in for Ed on that occasion. The Unfillable Prescription was actually the entire Spur band whoring ourselves out as studio musicians to a songwriter of dubious distinction. We thought it was so lame, we didn't want to be associated with it, hence the name Unfillable Prescription was decided on. Sometimes we played places that were a bit of a downgrade because we needed the money. We used names such as "Doglips" or "The National Necrophilia Foundation" rather than "Spur." If you have any questions about the band or individual tracks, let me know. Thanks for your great review.

Peace,

Rick Willard

1. The Peoples' Cheer - Derrel & the Unfillable Prescription
2. You Want Me Too - The Unknowns
3. I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better - The Unknowns
4. The Wine Song (live) - The Unknowns (?)
5. Good Lovin' (live) - The Unknowns
6. Baby's in Black - Spur (?)
7. Mystery Train - Spur (?)
8. River Deep, Mountain High - Spur
9. Prelude to Rock Phase
- Spur
10. Rock Phase - Spur
11. Turn to Jesus - Spur
12. Don't Ever Trust a Woman with Your Dope
- Spur
13. Why Girl
No. 2 - Spur
14. Modern Error
- Spur
15. Tell Me, Tell Me
- Spur
16. Stanley's Song
- Spur
17. Medley: Get Together-It Won't Be Wrong-I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better (live)
- Spur
18. Mr. Spaceman (live)
- Spur
19. Don't Ever Trust a Woman with Your Dope
(live) - Spur

8 comments:

  1. thanks man, marvellous record. please, if you have more bands with some of country rock-byrds like this put them. "Thanks to Jesus" & "Don´t ever trust a woman with your dope" and next, i love them.
    Greetings and congratulations from Miguel, León, Spain, wonderful record man.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, Miguel,

    I am glad to hear that you liked this and appreciate the feedback. I have some albums by other psychedelic country rock bands that may be of interest to you and will post them in the future.

    RF

    ReplyDelete
  3. Please post more psychedelic country rock bands soon! Thanks for this.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Variously sourced

    MP3 @ 320 kbps

    URL:

    http://rapidshare.com/files/416068615/Spur_Points.zip.html

    or

    http://www.multiupload.com/IQYSOPL30W

    Password:

    record-fiend.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Truly awesome! I lost all my vinyl a few years ago (including this LP, on loan from a friend). Seems that hardly anyone remembers this, but "Never Trust A Woman..." deserves to be covered by every self-respecting garage band.

    Thanks much!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Finding this review was such a surprise, which has really made my night! My father Ed was in Spur, whom unfortunately passed shortly before I was born. Finding articles like this and being able to know him through his music is truly an amazing gift!

    Thanks for this review!

    ReplyDelete
  7. My pleasure, Ashley. Reading your comments made me very happy. Thanks for stopping by.

    RF

    ReplyDelete