Junco Partners sprang from the same Newcastle music scene that launched Eric Burden and the Animals. Formed in 1964 (the name came from a famous blues song), the original line-up featured singers John Anderson and Ronnie Baker, guitarist Charles Harcourt, bassist David Sproat, keyboardist Peter Wallis, and drummer John Woods.
With The Animals breaking through to an international audience, Junco Partners seemed groomed for similar success. Immensely popular on the local club scene, in 1964 they packed up for Hamburg's infamous Star Club, but were turned back by German immigration officials who discovered they were too young to get work permits. That setback seemed momentary with the band signing a recording deal that saw the release of their debut single.
Even though it was an intriguing mix of blues and more pop-oriented moves (imagine a mash-up of The Animals and The Zombies), the single did little commercially (# 60 on the UK pop charts), and the band returned to the English circuit where they spent the next six years opening for name bands and serving as a touring unit for a stream of American blues acts, including Freddie King and Howlin' Wolf.
By the time the band got a chance to finally record an album the line-up had shrunk to former Jackson Heights alumnus Charles Harcourt on lead guitar and vocals, Sargeant on lead vocals and keyboards, Sproat on bass, and drummer Woods. Produced by Fritz Fryer, to my ears 1970's "Junco Partners" was one of those albums that didn't immediately hit you, rather crept up on you and simply wouldn't leave you alone (kinda' like a bad woman).
So here's what the band has to say about the collection: "The The Junco Partners Album was recorded in various big London studios for "Barclay" record label over a six week period in between touring in 1969 with Howlin Wolf, Freddie King and others. It was released in England, France and Germany after the band split up in 1970. At the time of recording, the band was a very slim four piece, renown for its dynamic live performances and gave its all to Bob Sargeant's songs. But truthfully we still didn't capture the essence of what we were when we started out, or what we are now - "A bloody good blues band". However it did awakened Bob Sargeant's recording and producing prowess - he went on to produce number 1's on both sides of the Atlantic, including more than twenty top 20 hits and on reflection the songs are not that bad either."
Judging by these ten tracks I'd say their opinion was a bit on the modest side. Anyone expecting to hear a standard collection of British guys doing lame blues covers was going to be in for a major surprise. While material like their cover of Joe Cocker's Change In Louise' and the Sargeant-penned 'Am I Blue' underscored their longstanding blues fixation, the album was far more diverse than expected with credible stabs at progressive, psych, and commercial rock.
Sargeant may not have been able to compete with the bluesy intensity of former lead singers John Anderson and Ronnie Baker, but he was actually quite good, occasionally sounding a bit like a gruffer Stevie Winwood and on tracks like 'Fly Me High' and 'Reprieve' he was magnificent. Guitarist Harcourt also handled vocals on a couple of tracks and was also a strong presence. As for the rest of the band, Harcourt was a real rarity - a rock guitarist who didn't play a single unnecessary chord, while the Sproat/Woods rhythm section was consistently superb - easy to see why American blues men wanted to work with them.
1. The Minotaur - 4:21
2. Fly Me High - 4:44
3. Change In Louise (Joe Crocker, Chris Stainton) - 3:50
4. Black Widow - 4:03
5. Help Me (Charles Harcourt) - 3:43
6. Natural Thoughts - 3:25
7. Am I Blue - 4:21
8. Reprieve - 3:45
9. In The Morning- 4:10
10. Death By Fire (P. Rowan) - 5:28
All songs by Robert Sargeant except where stated
*Charles Harcourt - Vocals, Guitar
*Robert Sargeant - Vocals, Keyboards
*David Sproat - Bass
*John Woods - Drums, Percussion