Though the Climax Chicago Blues Band formed in Stafford, England, the band would likely have made any of the howling bluesmen from that storied Illinois city proud. Part of the vanguard of the British blues boom that also included the original Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and even Led Zeppelin, Cream and the Rolling Stones, the Climax Chicago Blues Band made its rip-roaring debut for Parlophone in 1969 and began a legacy which continues to this very day, albeit with a wholly different line-up than the one that founded the band all those many years ago. Esoteric Recordings, an imprint of the Cherry Red Group, has recently reissued the first three albums by the band in new expanded editions.
The self-titled The Climax Chicago Blues Band introduced the world to Colin Cooper (vocals/saxophones/harmonica), Pete Haycock (guitar/vocals), Arthur Wood (piano/organ/celeste/harmonium), Derek Holt (rhythm guitar/organ/bass), Richard Jones (bass) and George Newsome (drums). The sextet recorded its first album at Abbey Road under the auspices of budding producer Chris Thomas for George Martin's AIR production company. Geoff Emerick was among its engineers. CCBB was recorded in just two days and largely based on the group's well-honed live stage routine, blending original songs with covers including "Don't Start Me Talkin'" by Sonny Boy Williamson, "How Many More Years" by Howlin' Wolf and "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin. Williamson and Wolf, a.k.a. Chester Burnett, were leading lights of the Chess Records-fuelled blues scene in (where else?) Chicago. ("How Many More Years" would go onto inspire "How Many More Times" on Led Zeppelin's debut, earning Wolf a songwriting credit decades later.) And "The Entertainer" showed the versatile group's prescience; just a few years later, Marvin Hamlisch would reinvent the ragtime tune for his Academy Award-winning score to The Sting. The Climax Chicago Blues Band emphasizes the blues part of the blues-rock equation, though the heavier tracks like "And Lonely" certainly fit the bill for blues-rock. Esoteric's reissue premieres a full complement of seven bonus tracks including alternate takes of "Don't Start Me Talkin'," "You've Been Drinking" and "And Lonely" and outtakes of four other songs. Another Sonny Boy Williamson staple, "Checking On My Baby," and T-Bone Walker's torrid "Stormy Monday" are among the tracks originally left in the vault and rescued by producer Mark Powell for this release.
After the jump: we check out two more of Esoteric's Climax Blues Band reissues including track listings and order links!
Before the Climax Chicago Blues Band recorded its sophomore outing Play On later in 1969, there were a couple of key behind-the-scenes changes. Personnel-wise, Richard Jones left the band to be replaced by Anton Farmer. And name-wise, the group dropped "Chicago," reportedly at the urging of management affiliated with America's Chicago Transit Authority...who, in turn, would later drop the Transit Authority at the urging of the city government of Chicago! Play On picked up where its predecessor left off in one key way: Chris Thomas was once again manning the desk at Abbey Road. This time, though, the music was far more eclectic. Group composition "Mum's the Word," the original Side One closer, drew its influence not from Chicago blues but from "Also Sprach Zarathustra," and a stab at Ray Bryant's "Cubano Chant" channeled something like Santana. Touches of jazz, progressive rock and good ol' boogie-woogie mark Play On as among the rechristened Climax Blues Band's finest accomplishments, with six of its nine tracks co-written by the bandmates. It cracked the lower reaches of the U.S. Billboard chart at No. 197 and helped solidify the group's fame; Esoteric's reissue appends a non-LP single ("Like Uncle Charlie" b/w "Loving Machine"), an early mix of album opener "Flight" and the outtake "Dance of the Mountain King's Daughter."
1970's A Lot of Bottle found the band both pursuing and eschewing the more expansive direction introduced on Plays On. Still signed to AIR, the group was shifted to EMI's progressive-rock Harvest label, but the sound was once again more explicitly rooted in the blues, as on the debut record. Yet, like Plays On, A Lot of Bottle was almost entirely written by the group, making room only for Willie Dixon's "Seventh Son," and Muddy Waters' "Louisiana Blues." Chris Thomas returned, this time recording at AIR's own facility. A gentle acoustic opening song, "Country Hat," showed one direction the band might have pursued, while "Brief Case" emphasized the saxophone in its arrangement. "Alright Blue?" turns attention to the blues-drenched harmonica, and the Muddy Waters cover even takes in country influences. "Reap What I've Sowed" was heavy guitar rock complete with a majestic Haycock solo. Esoteric adds four previously unreleased tracks to the original album. "Spoonful" paid homage again to Willie Dixon's songbook, and three songs hailed from a 1971 show at London's Blow-Up Club: "Flight," Seventh Son" and "Reap What I've Sowed."
The Climax Blues Band had its commercial breakthrough with 1975's Stamp Album, and the central trio of Haycock, Cooper and Holt remained intact through 1983. Cooper stayed with the band until his death from cancer in 2008, but a new line-up continues to maintain the spirit of the original group. All three of Esoteric's reissues of the band's seminal early albums have been remastered by Ben Wiseman and annotated by Malcolm Dome. You can order this trio from the Climax Blues Band at the links below, and all titles are available now!
The Climax Chicago Blues Band, The Climax Chicago Blues Band (Parlophone PCS 7069, 1969 - reissued Esoteric ECLEC 2373, 2013)
- Mean Old World
- Going Down This Road
- You've Been Drinking
- Don't Start Me Talkin'
- Wee Baby Blues
- Twenty Past One
- A Stranger in Your Town
- How Many More Years
- Looking For My Baby
- And Lonely
- The Entertainer
- Checking On My Baby
- Arthur's Boogie
- Stormy Monday
- Don't Start Me Talkin' (Take One)
- Anybody's Boogie
- You've Been Drinking (Take One)
- And Lonely (Take One)
Tracks 13-19 are previously unreleased
The Climax Blues Band, Plays On (Parlophone PCS 7084, 1969 - reissued Esoteric ECLEC 2374, 2013)
- Hey Baby, Everything's Gonna Be All Right, Yeh Yeh Yeh
- Cubano Chant
- Little Girl
- Mum's the Word
- Twenty Past Two/Temptation Rag
- So Many Roads
- City Ways
- Crazy 'Bout My Baby
- Like Uncle Charlie
- Loving Machine
- Dance of the Mountain King's Daughter
- Flight (First Mix)
Tracks 10-11 from Parlophone single R-5809, 1969
Tracks 12-13 previously unreleased, recorded June 1969
The Climax Blues Band, A Lot of Bottle (Harvest SHSP 4009, 1970 - reissued Esoteric ECLEC 2375, 2013)
- Country Hat
- Every Day
- Reap What I've Sowed
- Brief Case
- Alright Blue? / Country Hat (Reprise)
- Seventh Son
- Please Don't Help Me
- Morning Noon and Night
- Long Lovin' Man
- Louisiana Blues
- Cut You Loose
- Flight (Live)
- Seventh Son (Live)
- Reap What I've Sowed (Live)
Track 12 previously unreleased, recorded 1970
Tracks 13-15 previously unreleased recordings from the Blow-Up Club, London, 1971