Crushed Butler

Every once in a while, when the School Machine has not given me enough to do, I will stroll one and a half hilly-but-pleasant suburban miles to the nearest public library, and seek to educate myself on something or other. More often than not, given my general state of mind, the “something or other” in question is at least tangentially related to the sort of nonsense that ends up on this blog. Yesterday, when I reached the library at approximately the same time as I finished the first disc of Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, I had put myself in a definite rock and roll mood, but as such moods often do, it lacked any specific direction.

Crushed Butler in 1970: Jesse Hector, Alan Butler, and Darryl Read

Blindly searching the rock and roll section, I happened to pick up what turned out to be an excellent book, Phil Strongman’s Pretty Vacant: A History of UK Punk, and proceded to discover yet another candidate for the endless “who started Punk?” debate: the explosive UK rockers, Crushed Butler.

Crushed Butler, it is important to note, were not of the brand of pure garage noise that one would expect to lead to the punk movement of groups like The Sex Pistols, X-Ray Spex, or The Buzzcocks. While yes, John Lydon was an Crushed Butler fan before he went Rotten, the group actually reminds me more of very early Black Sabbath, who released their first album while they were together– a fuzzy, messy guitar tone,  strong, riffy bass, drums that seem from the school of Ginger Baker or Mitch Mitchell, and prominent, gritty vocals. A full-on, reverb-heavy sound that pulls out all the stops. Indeed, in terms of both style and chronology, it appears that Crushed Butler is somewhat removed from the late-70s punk movement, definitely more akin to the heavy psychedelic and proto-metal of the late 60s that at least helped inspired  Punk with its sheer rawness, volume, and departure from the late-60s peace-and-love sensibility that many felt was rapidly turning to cliché.

Crushed Butler in 1969

The history of Crushed Butler is surprisingly difficult to find– the bio listed on the band’s own website leaves a lot to be desired, and further information tantalizingly sparse, apt to leave a researcher interested, but begging for more.

From what I can discern, the band was formed sometime around 1968. In the beginning, guitar and vocals were covered by Ray “Jesse” Hector, also a member of The Gorillas and of The Jesse Hector Sound. Hector was a constant member, remaining a part of Crushed Butler until their name change (to Tiger), personnel change (when Neil Christian of The Crusaders became their manager) and eventual disbandment in 1971. Bass was covered by Alan Butler at the beginning, but he had departed by 1971. A succession of  bassists after him included Stan Aldous, Arthur Anderson and Barry Wyles, who would later join Smile with future members of Queen. Actor-musician Darryl Read serves as drummer. In addition to a short stint later in Krayon Angels, he would go on to collaborate with Mickey Finn and Bill Legend of T. Rex, and record with Ray Manzarek, formerly of The Doors.

While Crushed Butler did not record any full-length albums in their short-but-influential existence, there are several recordings in existence from demo sessions throughout the band’s short life. They were eventually released as a collection, Uncrushed, in 1991. The best-known of their songs is probably the A-side of their 1969 single, the garagey  “It’s My Life,” a ferocious attack that sounds almost like an angrier, more distorted and less psychedelic Seeds, and heavily features Darryl Read’s steady barrage of drums, which propel the track relentlessly forward for its disappointingly short 2:16 running time.

Crushed Butler’s more heavy-psychedelic side is represented by the band’s extremely Black Sabbath-sounding “Love Is All Around Me,” recorded in 1970. Note, of course, that this similarity in sound might have something to do with the band’s involvement with Don Arden, who aside from managing The Small Faces and ELO was not only Black Sabbath’s manager, but also Ozzy Osbourne’s father-in-law. But no matter who influenced who, “Love Is All Around Me” is a great heavy psych song– driven by palpably aggressive unison riffing between guitar and bass and a song form complicated enough to be interesting, and simple enough to have an almost irresistible hook. In addition,  bluesy but inventive guitar lines provides a classic example of psychedelic guitar work.

All in all, with so few Crushed Butler songs available– all of seven, by my count (one of which I have not heard, as it is only available on the Uncrushed collection), I would recommend listening to every one. From the raspy psychedelic blues of “High School Dropout” to the terrifically primeval rock of “Factory Grime” and “Love Fighter,” the slow, crushing epic that makes its rather silly title seem like a mockery, Crushed Butler might have made even the staunchest of flower-power advocates wonder just how much raw aggression will be able to survive into the Age of Aquarius, and whether it will be enough to feed the utter intensity of this truly heavy music.

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Blodwyn Pig

It seems like while my generation has remembered a lot of music of the 1960s and 70s, the largest genre that has not retained too great a base of young fans is prog rock. You see teenagers with Pink Floyd shirts and Who posters all the time, but when’s the last time you saw one with a King Crimson shirt and a Yes poster on the wall, passionately air-fluting to Jethro Tull?

Well, you probably haven’t. Or at least, I haven’t. Although I manage to associate with a whole bunch of old rock nerds of approximately my age, very few of them have the patience or the stomach for prog rock. I’m not saying I do– not entirely, anyway. But in the right mood, I can really enjoy good prog, especially some of the more obscure (and in my opinion, less pretentious) stuff, especially from the late 60s and very early 70s, before the genre had largely departed from its roots in blues and psychedelic rock.

Jethro Tull’s debut album, This Was, with guitarist Mick Abrahams.

So what exactly is prog rock? For a start, the name is abbreviated from “progressive,” which was supposedly the idea. By fusing the vast majority of possible musical genres, and incorporating jazz, world, and classical influences, it seems that prog rockers hoped to further the very notion of popular (or unpopular) music itself with legendary technical proficiency and infamously long songs. Prog rock was about vision– more specifically, achieving musical vision. It can be interpreted as rock’s most introverted, fanciful side. Even lyrics often dealt with whimsical, fantastical themes, and intricate, dense instrumental passages separated prog even further from mainstream music.

Blodwyn Pig in 1969

Ironically, it is not precisely a prog idol I give you today, but instead, a prog  castaway. Blodwyn Pig came to be when Mick Abrahams departed Jethro Tull in 1968 after playing lead guitar on their debut album, This Was. Apparently, the split was due to both personal and musical differences. Although according to rumor (propagated by Circus Magazine), Abrahams’ split from the group was due to his refusal to work seven days a week, it appears to have been more as result of vocalist/flutist Ian Anderson’s increasing control over the musical direction of the band.

So, after his departure from Tull, Abrahams founded Blodwyn Pig. Jack Lancaster, who often played two woodwind instruments at once, but was officially the band’s saxophonist and an additional vocalist, would also become incredibly influential in terms of the band’s creative and musical development. Andy Pyle, who would later play with Savoy Brown, Wishbone Ash, and The Kinks, was on bass; Ron Berg, who would end up in an incarnation of Juicy Lucy played drums. Famous for their live shows, Blodwyn Pig were in the long run more of a cult success than a mainstream one, and while the two albums they made before breaking up in 1970 charted in the US and UK, the band has unfortunately fallen through the cracks for young fans in recent years despite several reunions through the 90s, and a body of excellent material.

These two songs, “See My Way” and “Dear Jill” might be the two best-known Blodwyn Pig songs. You might recognize “Dear Jill” from where it is used as background music in Almost Famous— a movie I have no doubt I will soon post about.

However, my favorite Blodwyn Pig songs (at least so far) are lesser-known. “Same Old Story” is a great, energetic track  more psychedelically influenced than a lot of their stuff. Then “Up and Coming” shows their bluesier side balanced with the technical mastery and complexity that distinguished them as prog rockers, whether they liked it or not.

In short, no matter your opinion (or lack thereof) of prog rock, you will not regret checking out Blodwyn Pig. A great band with a very interesting history, and some fantastic material that shows outstanding range, especially considering their extremely limited output. Three cheers for prog rockers– the ultimate nerds of classic rock. Whenever you can find the patience, you should make their lifetime’s worth of practicing scales count– you won’t regret giving them a listen.