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Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: Lord Sutch | Lord Sutch And Heavy Friends

The U.K. rocker's debut is essential listening, even though it is quite terrible.


Go find 10 lists of the worst classic rock albums of all time and I’ll bet you this is on more than half of them. But I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit.

Lord Sutch And Heavy Friends is awesome — you just need to judge it in the proper context. This is not an album to take seriously. This is Jimmy Page, John Bonham, Jeff Beck, Nicky Hopkins and Noel Redding having fun with old mate David Sutch — aka Screaming Lord Sutch. He just took it too far and embarrassed them by presenting Lord Sutch And Heavy Friends as a proper album.

That doesn’t mean it’s not essential. It totally is, especially for Zeppelin fans. It was, afterall, “produced” by Jimmy Page and recorded in the weeks before Led Zeppelin II — the summer of 1969. In fact, it seems to be that this Sutch album is where Page first started working out how to get thunderous drum sounds by not only mic’ing the drums but the room as well. You’ll also hear all kinds of classic Page tone experiments with wah, slide and distortion.

Heavy Friends was recorded at two sessions — one in London and one in Hollywood. Page ran the Hollywood sessions, which were held at Doug Moody’s Mystic Studios. Jimmy liked the sounds at Mystic so much that he recorded two Zeppelin II tracks there later that summer — The Lemon Song and Moby Dick.

A British expat, Moody was a legend, basically the godfather of indie rock. He attended music festivals and clubs all over the world looking for groundbreaking new sounds and fearlessly embraced and recorded them. Moody helped The Beatles break through in America and is credited with the start of the girl-group explosion when he recorded The AngelsMy Boyfriend’s Back. Sutch was aware of him, and obviously gravitated towards him when he briefly relocated to California from London in 1969. Sutch had been doing what can best be described as novelty songs for the better part of a decade, including for another innovative legendary producer: Joe Meek.

(I’ll try to quickly sum up Meek: He was a pioneer of electronic music and wrote the instrumental hit Telstar, which suddenly put him in demand. But he wasn’t great at scouting talent, famously turning down The Beatles, David Bowie and Rod Stewart. Handsome and stylish, he was gay at a time when it was still illegal in Britain. He suffered from depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia which led to paranoia and delusions. Meek took his own life after killing his landlady in 1967. He was rather obsessed with trying to connect with the dead and during his active years he created some of the most wonderfully weird music of all time, usually about outer space, werewolves and vampires. Telstar was challenged for plagiarism by a French composer who believed Meek ripped it off from him. While that was contested, Meek didn’t receive royalties for it and died broke. Eventually a judge decided Meek was innocent, but royalties weren’t restored until three weeks after he died.)

Sutch, then called Screaming Lord Sutch, cut a single called Jack The Ripper with Meek in 1963. It was banned by the BBC.

There were other singles — All Black & Hairy is a personal favourite — but Sutch had yet to make an LP. And making a debut album was his top priority, so when he connected with his old mate Page in L.A., this is what he pestered and pestered him about.

Cornered after a Zeppelin gig, Page eventually relented and agreed to meet Sutch at Mystic Studio and help him out. For two months, Page did what refers to as backing tracks — lots of guitar and even lead guitar, but no solos. He brought along Zeppelin drummer Bonham. Page is credited with co-writing half the songs and producing the album — something which he was surprised to discover. The six tracks mostly recorded in L.A. featuring Page, Bonham, lead guitarist and bass player Deniel Edwards and Sutch on “vocals” — basically, yelling.

The other six songs were done mostly in London at Olympic Studios and sound considerably thinner. They do, however, also boast an impressive band: Beck and Hopkins on three songs, Redding on the three other songs, as well as Page and Bonham doing overdubs on a track featuring all of them together (Brightest Light). Amidst all of this is Carlo Little — Sutch’s drummer from the Meek days — who plays on the three Beck tracks. While Page oversaw the sessions in L.A., he mostly just tweaked the London ones.

So let’s wade in. It opens with three very Zeppelin-sounding, bombastic pounders — Wailing Sounds, Cause I Love You and Flashing Lights.

Wailing Sounds is clearly a first take — at least the drums are because it kind of falls off the beat at one point. The mix is not great — the kick is way off to the left and the horrid incomprehensible vocals are dead-centre. This track — like all the Page/Bonham ones — sounds great LOUD. Cause I Love You is a ripoff of All Day And All Of The Night, except there’s no question you’re listening to Page. (Poor Jimmy. He thought this was just “a bit of fun, a laugh.” He had no idea he was being railroaded into making an album with and for his goofball friend. Critics were baffled and unkind. It did hurt his reputation for a bit.) I really like Flashing Lights, the third song. The mix is quite good too. Page’s slide guitar is reminiscent of Travelling Riverside Blues, probably because Zeppelin recorded it just a few weeks later at the BBC.

Gutty Guitar is the first London track, featuring Beck and Hopkins. The mix is terrible, the drums sound like they’re next door. It does have a cool refrain riff, though. Two more London tracks round out the first side — Would You Believe and Smoke And Fire. The former is the worst song on the record. One could very easily imagine it being sung by Iggy Pop, though — in which case it would be legend. Smoke And Fire could be a Motörhead song. I wish it was.

Side 2 starts off with more Zeppelinesque stuff — the awesome Thumping Beat, which is basically drunk teenager lyrics on top of Killing Floor, and Union Jack Car, which influenced the album’s cover artwork. It’s Reelin’ & Rockin’ with different words.

Then two more London tracks — the greasy, bluesy One For You, Baby and L-O-N-D-O-N on which Sutch actually attempts a proper vocal. It’s not of the Tom Jones variety, but rather more like the kind of guttural and animated stuff he did on Jack The Ripper. Really, it sounds like a Lemmy impression. My patience for it runs out pretty quickly.

Brightest Light is next. It’s the one song which features parts from all the A-listers. It also happens to be the album’s sole ballad. The whole ordeal ends with the thumping L.A. track Baby, Come Back. Bonham is very restrained on this until the chorus comes in and it turns into You Really Got Me. Absolutely thundering on that bit. Page, meantime, just crawls into the closet with his wah pedal.

You’d think well-known musicians would give Sutch a wide berth after this, but within two years he had another “Heavy friends” album out. This time the album, called Hands Of Jack The Ripper, was live and boasted Ritchie Blackmore, Keith Moon, former Deep Purple bass player Nick Simper and — somehow, again — Noel Redding. Like the previous album, Sutch played a little fast and loose. He assembled the musicians for a concert and didn’t tell them he was recording it with the intention of making an album. They were all rather surprised to see it issued in 1972. As such, no pun intended, his sideshow musical collaborations were few and far between for the remainder of his life. He instead focused on sideshow politics, forming the Official Monster Raving Loony Party in 1982. He ran as a candidate in 42 elections between 1963 and 1997 — contesting the results of almost all of them. He only stopped when his beloved mother fell ill. Sutch was bipolar and suffered from depression. He killed himself by hanging on June 16, 1999 at his late mother’s house.

His debut album and many of his early singles are essential listening, even though they are quite terrible.


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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.

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