Spooky Tooth were one of Island Records' finest acts, yet never quite scaled the upper echelons of the late 60's / early 70's rock hierarchy. Always a band much loved by writers and fellow musicians, they lacked the commercial sucker punch that would've catapulted them to the toppermost of the poppermost. It didn't stop them making some corking records, however.
The Spooky Tooth story (for those of us who are into this sort of thing), if you want to wax analytical about it, provides the perfect paradigm of how various members of disparate 60's British Beat bands pooled their musical resources and mutated into a psychedelic / progressive outfit.
The story begins in summer 1963, in Carlisle and Aspatria, in Cumberland, in the far North-West of England. Jimmy Henshaw (guitar, keyboards), Walter Johnstone (drums), Frank Kenyan (guitar) and former export clerk Mike Harrison (vocals) formed a beat combo, and dubbed themselves The VIPs. Johnston and Kenyan had previously been in The Teenagers; not long after forming the band, The VIPs added Greg Ridley on bass, who had previously lined up with Dino & The Danubes, and The Dakotas and The Ramrods, together with Harrison. They scored a record deal with RCA, who put out their debut single, "She's So Good" / "Don't Keep Shouting At Me" in 1964, both sides being penned by Henshaw. The single is a great slice of sneery Brit R&B, and is now an ultra-rare collector's favourite. From 1965 to 1966 the band were a top club attraction in London, and gigged regularly at the Star Club in Hamburg, garnering a sizeable cult following,
The original VIP's line-up recorded three more singles ("Wintertime" as The Vipps for CBS, plus "I Wanna Be Free" / "Don't Let It Go" and "Straight Down To The Bottom" / "In A Dream" for Island, produced by Island stalwart Guy Stevens) before disbanding. Henshaw, Johnstone and Kenyan were replaced by Luther Grosvenor (guitar), Mike Kellie (drums), and Keith Emerson (keyboards). Emerson had previously been a member of Gary Farr & The T-Bones; this variant of The VIPs gigged for only three months, before Emerson upped and formed The Nice, with Brian "Blinky" Davidson, Lee Jackson and Davy O'List. The remaining quartet changed their name from the by then somewhat anachronistic VIPs, to simply Art-Worcester-born Grosvenor had played guitar for The Hellians, whose 1964 single, "Daydreaming Of You", released on Pye subsidiary Piccadilly, was produced by maverick West Coast genius / madman /charlatan Kim Fowley. The Hellians, if I may digress still further, boasted the nascent talents of both Dave Mason and Jim Capaldi, who would, of course, go on to form Island mainstays Traffic with Steve Winwood, and a young Poli Palmer, who latterly rattled the Joanna for Family. The Hellians in turn mutated into Deep Feeling.
Mike Kellie, originally from Birmingham, had drummed for second city band Locomotive, who also featured sax and flute player Chris Wood, who joined Traffic in 1967. There. See how incestuous this little scene was? Anyway, Locomotive would go on to enjoy a UK Top 30 hit with the ska-rhythmed "Rudi's 1? Love" (unusually enough, the band were very heavily ska and bluebeat driven), and in 1969 put out the awesome latterday psychedelic gem "Mr. Armageddon".
Art cut one album, "Supernatural Fairy Tales", also produced by Guy Stevens (and also available on Edsel), released in 1967. Beautifully housed in a Hapshash And The Coloured Coat-designed sleeve, its original Island Records catalogue number was, ironically enough, ILP 967. Hapshash And The Coloured Coat released an album on Liberty, in which Art featured as backing band on several tracks.
Art's line-up was swelled by the addition of American Gary Wright in October 1967, which initiated a name change - Art became Spooky Tooth.
Spooky Tooth's full-length debut has a tone similar to Traffic with its psychedelic take on the influential pop and soul music of the '60s. A few cover tunes including Janis Ian's "Society's Child" and the Nashville Teens' "Tobacco Road" are included, but original songs like the soulful ballad "It Hurts You So" and "Bubbles" (with its Beach Boys sensibility) are the real standouts. The cheery, psychedelic "It's All About a Roundabout" is the catchiest number by far. On this dreamy cut, vocalist/keyboardist Gary Wright demonstrates some sharp melodic and compositional instincts.
Although Spooky Tooth eventually became better-known for their straightforward blues-rock, the trippy pop of It's All About counts as a career highlight for the group. Fans of late-'60s British rock are definitely advised to check out this impressive release.
by Jason Anderson
1.Society's Child (Janis Ian) - 4:30
2.Love Really Changed Me (Gary Wright, Jimmy Miller, Luther Grosvenor) - 3:34
3.Here I Lived So Well (Gary Wright, Jimmy Miller, Luther Grosvenor, Mike Harrison) - 5:07
4.Too Much Of Nothing (Bob Dylan) - 3:57
5.Sunshine Help Me (Gary Wright) - 3:02
6.It's All About A Roundabout (Gary Wright, Jimmy Miller) - 2:44
7.Tobacco Road (John D. Loudermilk) -5:34
8.It Hurts You So (Gary Wright, Jimmy Miller) - 3:04
9.Forget It I Got It (Gary Wright, Jimmy Miller) - 3:26
10.Bubbles (Gary Wright, Luther Grosvenor) - 2:49
11.The Weight (Stereo Version) (Robbie Robertson) - 3:14
12.Sunshine Help Me (Gary Wright) - 2:59
13.Weird (Gary Wright, Jimmy Miller, Luther Grosvenor, Mike Harrison, Mike Kellie) - 3:59
14.Love Really Changed Me (Mono Version) (Gary Wright, Jimmy Miller, Luther Grosvenor) - 2:59
15.Luger's Groove (Peter Luger) - 3:34
16.The Weight (Robbie Robertson) - 3:07
17.Do Right People (Gary Wright) - 4:44
18.Bubbles (Mono Version) (Gary Wright, Luther Grosvenor) - 2:44
Original Album Tracks 1-10
Bonus Tracks 11-18
SHM 2010 version Bonus Tracks list
11.Sunshine Help Me (Mono Single Version) (Gary Wright) - 3:00
12.Weird (Mono Single Version) (Gary Wright, Jimmy Miller, Luther Grosvenor, Mike Harrison, Mike Kellie) - 4:01
13.Love Rally Changed Me (Mono Single Version) (Gary Wright, Jimmy Miller, Luther Grosvenor) - 3:01
14.Luger's Groove (Mono Single Version) (Peter Luger) - 3:35
15.Bubbles (Mono Single Version) (Gary Wright, Luther Grosvenor) - 2:43
The Spooky Tooth
*Gary Wright - Vocals, Organ, Keyboards
*Luther Grosvenor - Guitars
*Mike Harrison - Vocals, Keyboards, Harpsichord
*Mike Kellie - Drums And Percussion
*Greg Ridley - Bass, Guitar
1965-67 V.I.P's - The Complete V.I.P.S (2006 double disc remaster)
1966 The V.I.P's - Beat Crazy (2004 remaster extra tracks edition)
1966-68 Deep Feeling - Pretty Colours
1967 Art - Supernatural Fairy Tales (extra track issue)
1971 Mike Harrison - Mike Harrison
1971-72 Gary Wright - Extraction / Footprint
1974 Mott The Hoople - Hoople (2006 remaster and expanded)