Man, sometimes you find the craziest things.
OK, stay with me on this one. I’d been on a tear recently, trying to get all my vinyl cataloged into a mobile database so I know what I have, what I don’t have, and hopefully stop buying so many doubles (unlikely). So there I was, somewhere in the "I" section, entering data, when I came across some record I’d never seen before. I mean NEVER. Not something I’d ever bought (or remembered anyways), nothing I'd ever touched or even laid my eyes on. The record didn’t even have a cover, it just came in a slick printed inner sleeve showing some bearded guys looking rather disco with balloons. To this day, I have no idea who those guys are, because that wasn’t the album inside.
I tossed the record to the side, figuring I’d put it on for a quick listen then throw it in the trash, but when I pulled the record out, it wasn’t the disco dudes on the record, but some other band called Illinois Speed Press. Fine. Never heard of em. Still don’t know where this came from or how it managed to occupy valuable shelf space in my collection. Regardless, I dropped it onto the turntable and the opening song “Overture” started playing. And it was a mess. Some random chaotic noise masquerading as music being clever. One of the things I hate about some psychedelic rock is people so stoned they think they’re being clever. Still, I wasn't impressed and I honestly don’t even know why I let the needle play onto the next cut.
But man, am I glad I did.
Holy crap! What’s this? Heavy shit came roaring out of the speakers. And I mean heavy! Huge fuzzed-out guitar licks over a thunderous bass and smashing drum kit. Searing dual guitar leads tear through the riffs like electric fire while a downright soulful voice brings it all home. This song grabbed me by the ear and refused to let me walk out of the room. “Get in the Wind” is the song and it’s a killer early protometal assault of distorted blues riffs and a mean and nasty attitude. Ok, now the band had my attention.
A little research turned out to be eye opening. Turns out the album was the 1969 debut album from Chicago-based power rockers, Illinois Speed Press, a band that made huge waves on the local scene in the late ‘60’s, finally signing to Columbia for this album and 1970’s, Duet. After slogging away in obscurity for a spell, the band’s fortunes changed when they brought in the twin guitar attack of Alabama-born Paul Cotton and native Chicago-son Kal David. Their twin guitar prowess combined with their resolutely disparate musical influences of David’s rock and R&B tendencies with Cotton’s more country-flavored tastes. Toss this in with some very heavy, near-metal distorted blues and we got ourselves one powerful, unexpected winner of an album.
This all comes to head with David’s “Hard Luck Story” an extended blues workout with crisscrossing leads of massive fuzz guitar fury. This ain’t Zeppelin blues, this is fuzzed and heavy and scorching in a massive downtempo, near doomy vibe. The descending main blues riff is so dark it’s nearly frightening. And that lead guitar work. It sears through the mix. A definite treat.
The radical dynamic of the “other” pillar becomes clear on the next cut, Cotton’s “Here Today,” a rollicking country-rock number with a sing-along melody, some tasty acoustic guitar work, and a banjo? These are roads Cotton would explore to a lifetime of success with his next band, Poco, where he stepped in to replace the recently-departed Jim Messina. But before I make too much of the country-side of Cotton, it needs to be mentioned that he wrote the killer “Get in the Wind” which is as rock and heavy as the album gets. So the man knew how to rock also. I understand that Poco later reworked that song in a much different, country-vibed version on a Poco album, but I haven't heard it.
But back to this album. After the country-ish “Here Today,” the band blows the roof off with a massively fuzzed out R&B-blues rendition of keyboardist Mike Anthony’s, “Pay The Price.” Again, another freak out of distorto-guitar madness over a raging beat. Reminds me of the best of early-Neil Young’s blazing guitar work over Stills in Buffalo Springfield. Same kind of fuzzed out guitar tone.
And all that is just side one. Side two had just as many surprises with Cotton’s Buffalo Springfield-flavored "P.N.S. (When You Come Around), to Anthony’s pure rock freakouts “Be a Woman,” and “Beauty” and David’s tender “Sky Song” and not-so-tender Hendrix-ian “Free Ride.”
Three songwriters, three totally different styles. Yes, it makes for a slightly schizophrenic listen, but to my ears, it all hangs together remarkably well. It also holds onto everything I dig so much about the 1969-1973 time period—all the rules were falling apart and bands could really stretch out, get heavy, bring it down, whatever.
Illinois Speed Press however couldn’t keep it together. The creative tension that makes this debut such a cool listen couldn’t hang in balance. Apparently, their second album Duet, takes on much more of the Paul Cotton country-rock leanings with David’s blues rock falling to the wayside then came the eventual split. Cotton, as we already said, made his mark with Poco where he still plays. Kal David went on to form the Fabulous Rhinestones with former Electric Flag bassist Harvey Brooks (an album I just found in the $1 bin) before he performed with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
But I don’t know about all that. All I know is that this album that I intended for a “quick listen” before tossing it into the trash has become one of my favorite "finds" so far this year. I dig the contrast of styles, each one done to perfection, all meshed together. The lighter (but no less intense) country-rock fusing right into the driving fuzzed out blues assault. Early protometal mixed with a country flavor. Cool stuff. If you dig Buffalo Springfield, early fuzzy-protometal blues, or any of the bands I mentioned, you should look for this cool gem.
So cool that I had to go out and find another copy of the record just so I could get the album cover. Found one on eBay for $6.
Can’t wait til it arrives and Illinois Speed Press can take its rightful place in my record collection.
Now all I have to do is figure out who in the hell those disco dudes with the balloons are.