If you tend to be of a scientific nature, you might support the Big Bang Theory as a good way of explaining the origins of the universe. Those of a more religious bent might put their belief in a creation story such as that found in the Old Testament: You know, the one where God begins with the pronouncement “Let there be light,” and carries on from there.
However, both accounts have difficulty explaining what there was in the instant before everything came into being. What was the intent, idea, or impulse that set the process in motion?
Looking into the origins of rock ‘n’ roll we find a similar problem. But being a more recent event than, let’s say, the birth of the stars, it’s a little easier to examine its beginnings. If one links the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll with the ascent of Elvis Presley’s career, then one can pretty much identify the impulse that caused that aforementioned rising star. That cosmic brainstorm would be found in the moment when Sam Phillips, owner/operator of Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, one day said to himself something along the lines of, “If I could find a white man who could sing black music, I could make a million dollars.”
He was right, of course; but if we take this for the original divine inspiration that created rock ‘n’ roll, the sad fact is that it was probably the last time in the pop music biz that any statement was made with such certainty. Since then, predicting the next big thing has always been a hit and miss affair.
Why do some artists make it big, and others just wink out of existence regardless of talent (or lack of it)? Really, if record companies, managers, and producers could pick a winner every time, they’d do it, and leave the rest to go back to the obscurity from whence they came.
It’s no secret that through the years, industry professionals have done a lot to attempt to exert control over the market. Still, it seems there’s always been some element of randomness that enters into the equation. Maybe it’s just that you have to have a sort of “critical mass” amount of product to throw at the wall in order to see what sticks, or at least to maximize your profit margins. That would explain why so many contenders end up in the cutout bins of history.
It follows then, that that there are probably many bands and solo acts with some degree of musical merit that didn’t deserve the public’s indifference. Here’s a very short list of some such artists, that, for whatever reason, most people have never heard or even heard of. But they just as easily could have been the next big thing. And if you believe in the Big Bounce Theory of the universe, or maybe reincarnation, they just might yet be superstars – the next time around.
SHARKS – FIRST WATER (1973): British blues rockers Free are often footnoted as a precursor to ’70s rock superstars Bad Company, which utilized the talents of vocalist Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke. As well, Free’s guitarist Paul Kossoff became known for his work as a solo artist and with the group Back Street Crawler before his passing in 1976.
But what ever happened to bassist Andy Fraser, who co-wrote most of Free’s material, including the classic rock radio staple “All Right Now?” Look no further than the first album by Sharks, featuring Steve Parsons on vocals and the perennially underrated Chris Spedding on guitar. The album is much more interesting than the standard blues rock plod, with some real melodic sense and interesting arrangements.
Despite this, the album never made much of an impact anywhere; Andy Fraser left soon after, and the band folded within a couple of years, leaving behind this document of what might have been.
LAKE – PARADISE ISLAND (1979): I remember as a teenager seeing a Lake album in the record store and wondering to myself, “What about Emerson and Palmer?” Two different outfits as it turned out.
Still, like most people I knew, I was never tempted to buy it: the soft, pastel album covers seemed to advertise Lake as some kind of soft rock outfit, and not to be taken seriously. But all in all, Lake was a decent band: good playing, tight harmonies and occasional prog leanings (think some sort of Yes lite).
Bands like Toto and Kansas already occupied that niche in the pop market, however, and any interest in Lake eventually dried up (pun intended).
HEAVY METAL KIDS – HIT THE RIGHT BUTTON (2003): This band often gets lumped in with the glam-rock phenomenon of the early ’70s, but they were much more than that. Great singing, songwriting and playing, but a tough sell to the public: not slick enough to be pop; not trashy enough to be punk; and (despite the name) not edgy enough to be metal.
Years later, the band reformed, with keyboardist Danny Peyronel taking over lead vocals in place of frontman Gary Holton, who died in 1985. The reunion album, Hit the Right Button, lives up to its title and delivers new songs that display all the unique qualities of the group’s original recordings, combined with some modern production values.
NEIL MERRYWEATHER – SPACE RANGERS (1974): Neil Merryweather’s musical resume runs too deep to sum up here, but it includes the Mynah Birds (after Neil Young left), Billy Joel, Steve Miller and Lita Ford, to name a few. He also found time to release some of his own work, either as part of a band or as a solo artist.
Space Rangers is one of his best solo albums, and is considered one of the best “space rock/psych rock” albums of its time. Here, record company indifference and lack of support contributed to the end of this era of Merryweather’s career, and he went on to other musical adventures.
CRY OF LOVE – DIAMONDS AND DEBRIS (1997): Guitarist Audley Freed might be familiar to fans of the Black Crowes, whom he played with for a while in the late ’90s/early 2000s, but before that he was an integral part of Cry of Love, a hard rockin’ blues based outfit from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Their debut, Brother, was well received, but their great second album Diamond & Debris inexplicably fell by the wayside, and that was the end of that. Too bad: New vocalist Robert Mason brings a different texture to Cry of Love that allows Freed to really open up his guitar playing as well.
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