Motown’s Rare Earth imprint intended to bring the sound of rock to the home of The Supremes, The Miracles, Martha and The Vandellas, The Temptations, and Four Tops. The imprint was named after a white rock band from Detroit and its artists were both home-grown and licensed from other parties. In the latter category was Toe Fat, a U.K. psych-rock band built around the talents of Cliff Bennett, formerly of the beat group Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers. Both of Toe Fat’s albums – issued on Rare Earth in the U.S. and EMI in the U.K. – are newly collected on Bad Side of the Moon: An Anthology 1970-1972, a 2-CD set from Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint. It gives a welcome opportunity to reevaluate the music of the band that yielded two future members of Uriah Heep, one member of Jethro Tull, and a key collaborator of The Bee Gees.
Toe Fat’s self-titled debut arrived on Rare Earth in 1970 following albums from Rare Earth (the band), Love Sculpture, U.K. import The Pretty Things, Rustix, and Messengers. Cliff Bennett was encouraged by EMI, with whom he’d been under contract leading the Rebel Rousers, to form a band reflecting the heavier sound of rock at the turn of the decade. When Bennett learned that Motown was interested, as well, he set out to form the oddly-monikered Toe Fat. (Malcolm Dome’s liner notes reveal that “Bollocks” and “Shit Harry” were two other options, so maybe Toe Fat wasn’t such a bad name, after all.) The core line-up was poached from the ashes of band called The Gods: guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Ken Hensley, bassist John Glascock (incorrectly credited during his time in the band as John Konas), and drummer Lee Kerslake. Pianist-lead vocalist Bennett tapped Mox Gowland on flute and harmonica as a guest musician. Recording took place with producer Jonathan Peel at Abbey Road.
Bennett’s efforts to modernize his sound were largely successful; Toe Fat was steeped in blues, rock, and soul and wrapped up in a rather frightening Hipgnosis sleeve depicting toe people. (Two of the four nude toe people were too much for Motown and were incongruously replaced with a sheep.) Bennett penned most of the material on the eponymous LP, sometimes in collaboration with Hensley (uncredited due to publishing rights issues).
Some notable outside compositions were brought in, too, including Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Bad Side of the Moon.” Bennett tells Dome that he’d known John as a young fan of the Rebel Rousers, so he gladly accepted the chance to record the rising star’s song. (Elton’s rendition appeared as the B-side of his “Border Song” in 1970.) Bennett’s deep, resonant, and gutsy vocals – which at times resemble those of Blood, Sweat and Tears’ David Clayton-Thomas – were well-suited to the guitar-dominated heavy soul approach to material such as “Bad Side” and “(Ain’t That) Just Like Me,” the Hollies oldie-but-goodie. Ernie Shelby and Dick Cooper’s “Nobody” (introduced by Larry Williams and Johnny Watson with The Kaleidoscope and covered by Three Dog Night) showcased Hensley with ample soloing and scorching fuzz guitar.
But the album primarily consisted of melodic but aggressive Bennett originals including the strong opener, “That’s My Love for You,” the attractive midtempo harmony ballad “The Wherefors and the Why,” the Tull-esque “Just Like All the Rest” (with Mox Gowland in place of Ian Anderson on flute as well as bluesy harmonica), the powerfully-rocking “I Can’t Believe,” and boogieing “You Tried to Take It All.” Hensley’s riffs complemented and added an edge to Bennett’s straightforward, hook-laden songs.
Despite lackluster sales upon the album’s May 1970 release, Toe Fat was poised for success with an opening slot on Derek and the Dominos’ U.S. tour. But it wasn’t without drama. Before the tour, the band’s management fired Hensley and Kerslake, much to Bennett’s surprise. They landed in Uriah Heep and were replaced in Toe Fat by future Bee Gees band member Alan Kendall on guitar and John Glascock’s brother Brian on drums. Once the tour was completed, this line-up, again joined by Mox Gowland, reunited with Jonathan Peel at Abbey Road for the sophomore LP sought by Rare Earth. The simply-titled Two was more eclectic than its predecessor but for consistency’s sake was adorned with another creepy-crawly Hipgnosis cover.
The opening “Stick Heat” established Alan Kendall’s bona fides. With its spiky, abrasive guitar and foreboding atmosphere, the tune announced that Kendall was more than ready to pick up where Ken Hensley left off. He also took Hensley’s place as Bennett’s primary co-writer, albeit with full credit. The duo co-wrote seven of the eight songs on Two, with Kendall sole author of the moody prog instrumental “Indian Summer.” The eight songs veered from driving hard rock (“Since You’ve Been Gone,” “Idol,” “Three Time Loser”) to a straight blues workout (“There’ll Be Changes,” boasting uncredited guitar from Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green and harmonica from Mox Gowland) with psychedelia and prog flourishes laced throughout as on the slow-burning, two-part anthem “A New Way.” The band might not have settled on a firm direction, but they played in the manner of a tight-knit unit.
While singles had been issued from Toe Fat (“Bad Side of the Moon” in both the U.S. and U.K., and then a U.S. pressing with “Bad Side” relegated to the flip of “(Ain’t That) Just Like Me”)), neither Rare Earth in the U.S. nor EMI/Regal Zonophone in the U.K. released a 45 from Two. Before giving up the ghost, Toe Fat recorded one more single which was released in 1972 on the indie Chapter Two label. These have been included as bonus tracks on the second disc here. The A-side, “Brand New Band,” channeled a more rootsy sound, with barroom piano and a singalong chorus. “Can’t Live Without You,” on the B-side, also had a lighter sound than the two albums, pointing Toe Fat in a pub-rock vein.
Bassist John Glascock would join Jethro Tull in 1976, remaining with the band until his untimely death in 1979. Alan Kendall would form a crucial component of the Bee Gees’ band for two separate stints (1971-1980 and 1987-2001). Brian Glascock returned to session work for a number of high-profile artists including Dolly Parton and Heart’s Nancy Wilson. Cliff Bennett and Ken Hensley remained friends until Hensley’s death in 2020.
Esoteric’s collection is housed in a six-panel digipak containing a 20-page booklet. In Malcolm Dome’s notes, Bennett candidly and affectionately reflects on the band’s small but potent discography. Ben Wiseman has remastered all of the tracks here from master tapes other than the Chapter 1 sides which were sourced from a clean vinyl copy of the original single. Toe Fat has long been a mere footnote in the histories of Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, The Bee Gees, Elton John, and Motown/Rare Earth. Bad Side of the Moon: An Anthology 1970-1972 enjoyably places the music front and center. It’s due tomorrow (Friday, February 26) in the U.K. and next Friday (March 5) in North America!
CD 1: Toe Fat (Parlophone PCS 7097 (U.K.) / Rare Earth RS 511 (U.S.), 1970)
- That’s My Love for You
- Bad Side of the Moon
- The Wherefors and the Whys
- But I’m Wrong
- Just Like Me
- Just Like All the Rest
- I Can’t Believe
- Working Nights
- You Tried to Take It All
CD 2: Two (Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1015 (U.K.) / Rare Earth RS 525 (U.S.), 1971) plus bonus single
- Stick Heat
- Indian Summer
- There’ll Be Changes
- A New Way
- Since You’ve Been Gone
- Three Time Loser
- Midnight Sun
- Brand New Band (Chapter 1 single SCH-R-175-A, 1972)
- Can’t Live Without You (Chapter 1 single SCH-R-175-B, 1972)