New songs, old team
The second album entitled „Rollin` On“ was released in 1976 with the same line-up as the first. Also the producer (Kenny Laguna) and the record company (MCA) remained the same.
Unlike the first album, it does not only consist of original compositions of the band leader. Two song were written by someone else. One of them should catapult the band a few degrees higher on the open career scale and take the band further than the many excellent original compositions ever did.
Two cover versions, two idols
The two cover versions both refer to the musical origins of Steve Gibbons. That’s why they shall be presented here in more detail:
Anyone can cover a well known song
First, „Tulane“ is a rather unknown number by Chuck Berry from the 1970s. Obviously Steve Gibbons prefers to leave it to other well-known Chuck Berry numbers, although this could be a good chance to get a hit, like
- „Carol“ and „Little Queenie“ covered by The Rolling Stones,
- „Rock ’n‘ roll music“ (Beatles),
- „Roll Over Beethoven“ (ELO) and
- „Back in the USA“ (Linda Ronstadt)
Steve Gibbons on the other hand covers rather hidden pearls like the Chuck Berry numbers „Tulane“ or (years later) „Jaguar and Thunderbird“.
Digression: „Tulane“ as a turning point in Chuck Berry’s career
With „Tulane“ the Steve Gibbons Band has chosen a rather unknown song, which marks a new beginning in Chuck Berry’s career.
„Back Home“ after imitating „the own grandchildren“
It was the single that was taken from the album „Back Home“, which was released after Berry’s return to his original record company, the legendary Chess Records. This also brought him back to his musical roots.
His previous album, which was released by Mercury, was praised by some critics at the time ( Lester Bangs: „The Master is back again, and this time he has come up with a record worthy of his reputation.“), but in retrospect was rather a helpless ingratiation with the spirit of the times.
The whole B-side of the album consists of the almost 19 minutes long piece „Concerto in ‚B Goode“, in which Chuck Berry tries to imitate the meanwhile hip guitar heroes with their endless interpolations. Chuck Berry, otherwise the master of the short, sparkling and clear licks, which get by with just a few notes and a few double stops, meanders through the piece like Jerry Garcia on cold turkey. And when Chuck Berry sends his guitar licks through the wah wah to the amp, it’s like Prince Ironheart fighting his enemies with a machine gun.
Remember: When grandpas imitate their own grandchildren, it’s only funny on the playground!
So Chuck Berry was „modernized“ at Mercury, but at the same time alienated.
Adressing an older audience
With the song „Tulane“, on the other hand, he musically returned to his original style – but breaks new ground in the lyrics.
The song begins with a guitar intro, which you know immediately that it is from Chuck Berry (because it almost sounds like the intros to previous Chuck Berry songs). Afterwards a complete short story is told in approx. 2:40 min. with a driving beat and rushed sounding vocals.
Its content is a concession to the spirit of the times and a new possible audience. Up to now, Berry’s songs were mostly about typical American teenage topics: Girls, boring schoolwork, cruising in a car and sometimes about getting married. Tulane“, on the other hand, is aimed at hippies: The song is about a pair of lovers who get caught by the police because of selling „the cream of the crop“ (probably drugs) in their shop.
Steve Gibbons as guide through early rock history
By recording Tulane, Gibbons also illuminates a lesser-known piece from the biography of Chuck Berry and thus becomes a guide to rock history for his own listeners. Anyone who has seen Gibbons live will know that he likes to take on this role when he plays cover versions.
„Tupelo Mississippi Flash: The qualities of Elvis go unrecognized
With the second cover version on this album, Steve Gibbons also pays tribute to one of his ideals from the first generation of rock gods and at the same time tells an (albeit fictional) anecdote from rock history. „Tupelo Mississippi Flash,“ penned by Jerry Reed is a sung short storyabout a truck driver from Tupelo Mississippi auditioning for a replacement talent scout who doesn’t realize that the man in front of him has what it takes to be a world star.
Own songs, which can be heard!
Also the own compositions contained on „Any Road Up“ can be heard. These are:
- „Wild Flowers“
- „Light Up Your Face“
- „Now You Know Me“
- „Mr. Jones“
- „ll The Well Runs Dry“
- „Cross Me Over The Road“
- „Till The Fire Burns Out“
- „Low Down Man“
- „Right Side of Heaven“
- „Please Don`t Say Goodbye“
Moderate tones predominate
Altogether also on this record (unlike the live performances) again the rather moderate tones predominate. The songs are damn well done pop songs, in which Steve Gibbon’s specific voice comes out well, but also the musicians can develop.
Especially „Wild Flowers“ with its sparkling intro and its simple but catchy guitarlick would have done well, as well as „Till The Well Runs Dry“ in the slow dance round at the youth party or in the disco. If these songs had been recorded by Smokey (to which they would have fitted musically! Just free yourself from your musical prejudices for a few seconds and you will understand!), probably some more people would know these songs today.
More lively, but just as absolutely suitable for radio is „Now You Know Me“, which can shorten the morning waiting time at the traffic lights. Even more lively is „Please Don`t Say Goodbye“.
The album presents good song ideas, a distinctive voice and an experienced band. Others, with far less talent and commitment, have dropped one hit after another. The quality of these songs is demonstrated by the fact that some of them are still part of the live repertoire of the Steve Gibbons Band in its current incarnation, more than 40 years later.
Especially „Mr. Jones“, a more narrated than sung piece about strange substances and how to get hold of them unexpectedly, can still be heard at almost every concert of the band. („Till The Fire Burns Out“, on the other hand, seems to play no role in the live repertoire of the band. Really a pity!)
So it’s no wonder that the album not only received positive reviews right after its release, but that even today listeners „praise it to the sky“ on the Internet: Some examples of this:
- Great rare rock n roll from days gone by.
- Never seeming to get the vocal or songwriting credit he’s so clearly due – Birmingham’s STEVEGIBBONS is possessed of one of those ‚great‘ rock voices – Paul Rodgers, Frankie Miller and Dan McCafferty (to name but a few) are names that jump to mind. And when SG gets his larynx around a Rock ’n‘ Roll song especially – British magic will happ
- Like Dire Straits, the guitars tend to be bendable and fluid, the vocals a little grimy and unpolished, the production edgy and bright. But these are all pluses, especially on cuts like …'“, „Now You Know Me“ and „Till The Fire Burns Out“.
The hit single: With Chuck Berry song into the Top Twenty
Despite these qualities the LP „Rollin`On“ did not make it into the album charts.
They were luckier with the single that was released, which was to become the band’s biggest hit in terms of chart position, reaching number 12 in the British charts. (At SGB concerts, on the other hand, you get the impression that songs like „Mr. Jones“, „No Spittin` On The Bus“ or „Down In The Bunker“ are ahead in the audience favour).
The musical environment at that time
The Chuck Berry cover „Tulane“, which was chosen as a single, already seemed to be out of time in the then musical environment. However, the song had this in common with other numbers that had made it into the British top twenty at that time.
- In the week of August 6, 1977, Mr. Elvis from Tupelo Mississippi, who had just been mentioned, occupied the pool position with „Way Down“ (Elvis fans may forgive the question „Does anyone else know this today?
- And also Showaddywaddy were with „You Got What It Takes“ (4th place) neither avant-garde, nor punk or disco, but clearly backwards.
The rest of the songs represented in the charts, however, went into completely different musical directions:
- For example, number 2 occupied the Floaters with „Float On“. (The group sounds a bit like Barry White meets Hot Chocolate, which is rather typical for the time then in which rockers were not exactly welcomed with open arms).
- The same is valid for number three. The title „Angelo“ is probably forgotten by most people, but the name of the performers Brotherhood of Man has certainly been heard by some.
The more you remember the environment of that time, the more unlikely it seems to you that the Steve Gibbons Band could really place itself in the charts with a rock ’n‘ roll song in that environment.
- Fly (many people have probably long forgotten the band’s name) landed in 5th place with the song „Magic Space“ (A few pennies should drop here if you remember the video: a computer whistles laxly through its keyboard keys, while aseptic astronauts, just as sterile but very prominently displayed in the golden helmet visors, reflect a dancing female body in colorful underwear).
- Similarly lifeless was another number, which could place itself in front of the Steve Gibbons Band. The record cover thankfully showed the upper half of a skull as a warning. So you were warned when you heard „Oxygene Part IV“ by Jean-Michel Jarre.
So much for the songs that came before „Tulane“. It’s also interesting what could be placed behind it: At least that week, the Steve Gibbons Band was ahead of groups like
- „Boney M. (Ma Baker“ # 19)
- Smokey „(It’s Your Life“ # 20)
- Rita Cooolidge,
- Mink DeVille,
- Donna Summer and
- The Jam
were behind the band from Brum with their current singles this week. Even though Steve Gibbons might have wondered why it didn’t work out with any of his own songs: It must fill up well to be able to place yourself in front of all these illustrious names!
Hit as entrance ticket for TV shows
With a Top Twenty Hit in their pocket, the Steve Gibbons Band had also tickets for TV appearances in various shows in their hands.
This will be discussed in the next episode of the Steve Gibbons story.