DISCOGRAPHY: STUDIO ALBUMS
Featuring the current band members
Featuring the current band members
"The Groundhogs' debut album is a long way from the "classic" sound of the better-known Thank Christ for the Bomb/Split/Who Will Save the World? trilogy. Indeed, the mellow classic blues through which the band pursues its nine tracks offer the unsuspecting listener little more than a direct blast from the peak of the British blues boom past. Early Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, and Savoy Brown all haunted precisely the same corridors as Scratching the Surface, with only the occasional burst of fuzzed Tony McPhee guitar to distinguish the sonics from the rest of the pack.
That said, Scratching the Surface ranks among the finest albums to emerge out of that entire period, a moody shuffle that includes an epic recounting of the Chicago classic "Still a Fool" and which matches five solid McPhee originals with a pair of blistering contributions from outgoing harmonica whiz Steve Rye. In fact, his "Early in the Morning" and "You Don't Love Me" might well be the album's best numbers, a discrepancy that puts one in mind of another of the blues boom's hottest acts, Jethro Tull, and just how much they changed once a founding member (Mick Abrahams) departed. Again, if you arrive at Scratching the Surface in search of a fresh "Cherry Red" or "Status People," you'll probably be disappointed. But if you want to hear the blues sluicing straight out of the Southern England Delta, there are precious few better introductions." ~ Dave Thompson (AllMusic)
"Recorded during June of 1969 at Marquee Studios in London with Gary Collins and Colin Caldwell engineering, the trio of Groundhogs put the blues to rest on Blues Obituary in front of a castle on the Hogart-designed cover while six black and whites from photographer Zorin Matic grace the back in morbid Creepy or Eerie Magazine comic book fashion. Composed, written, and arranged by Tony "T.S." McPhee, there are seven tracks hovering from the around four- to seven-minute mark. The traditional "Natchez Burning," arranged by McPhee, fits in nicely with his originals while the longest track, the six-minute-and-50-second "Light Is the Day," features the most innovation -- a Ginger Baker-style tribal rant by drummer Ken Pustelnik allowing McPhee to lay down some muted slide work.
As the tempo on the final track elevates along with manic guitar runs by McPhee, the jamming creates a color separate from the rest of the disc while still in the same style. Vocals across the board are kept to a minimum. It is all about the sound, Cream without the flash, bandleader McPhee vocally emulating Alvin Lee (by way of Canned Heat's Alan Wilson) on the four-minute conclusion to side one that is "Mistreated." While Americans like Grand Funk's Mark Farner turned the format up a commercial notch, Funk's "Mean Mistreater" sporting the same sentiment while reaching a wider audience, the Groundhogs on this late-'60s album keep the blues purely in the underground. The pumping beat on "Mistreated" embraces the lead guitarist's vocal, which poses that eternal blues question: "what have I done that's wrong?" Blistering guitar on the opening track, "B.D.D.," sets the pace for this deep excursion into the musical depths further down than Canned Heat ever dared go. While "Daze of the Weak" starts off sludgy enough, it quickly moves like a train out of control, laying back only to explode again. "Times" get things back to more traditional roots on an album that breaks little new ground, and is as consistent as Savoy Brown when they got into their primo groove." ~ Joe Viglione (AllMusic)
"During the late 60’s/early 70’s there was a great number of Cream-influenced bands emerging from the UK blues and psychedelic rock scene. Most of these acts predictably failed to achieve the levels of success of those who had inspired them and were often criticized for treading ground already well trodden. Groundhogs were an exception to the rule in regards to the latter, having something of a creative streak in them that helped separate them from the pack and distance them from the Cream comparisons. Having released several moderately successful albums in the late 60’s, beginning with their aptly titled debut, Scratching the Surface, Groundhog’s breakthrough came in the form of their controversially titled fourth album, Thank Christ for the Bomb.
The album is a concept album based around the topic of “alienness”, a theme that bandleader, Tony McPhee, came up with after the band’s manager suggested the album title. Tony McPhee’s thought provoking lyrics were one of the things that made the band stand out from other similar bands emerging around the same period such as Mountain and the lesser-known Frijid Pink. Song writing isn’t the only thing McPhee has in his locker, he’s also an excellent blues guitarist and a more than adequate singer who’s voice sounds like a cross between that of Jack Bruce (Cream) and John Wetton (King Crimson, UK, Asia etc.). The rest of the band is made up of the rhythm section of Peter Cruikshank (bass) and Ken Pustelnik (drums) who’s playing combines brillantly with McPhee’s Hendrix-esque guitar playing.
The album opens with the stomping Strange Town, which is about the “alienness of a community” and finds McPhee delivering one his most Jack Bruce-esque vocal performaces accompanied by some of his most fiery guitar licks. The first track to deal with the subject of war, a topic quite central to the album’s theme, is the song Soldier, which the liner notes claim is about the “alienness of a country”. The song is one of the album’s catchiest tracks and manged to climb it’s way into the charts after the band performed it during one of John Peel’s radio sessions. It’s on the album’s centre piece, the seven minute title track, where the band really show what they’re capable of. The song starts off with McPhee singing about war through the years over a backdrop of acoustic guitars before the song transforms into a heavy pschedelic blues workout, which brings the song and side one of the original album to a crushing climax.
Another thing that distinguishes this album from those being released by other blues-based rock bands at the time is it’s consistency. Every track on the album is musically strong and lyrically important to the concept of the record. The only track that could be said to be rather forgetable, although the term less-memorable seems more appropriate, is Status People. The track is led by a slow, simple bass riff and never seems to get going as much as it threatens to. It does however pave the way nicely for the more upbeat Rich Man, Poor Man, which is an album highlight along with the title track and the superb album closer, Eccentric Man, arguably the heaviest track on the album.
Overall Thank Christ for the Bomb is an excellent blues rock album that will appeal to fans of bands such as Cream and Ten Years After as well as fans of more experimental bands like Uriah Heep and Jethro Tull." ~ JamieTwort (SputnikMusic.com)
"In the post-Hendrix fallout of the aimless, wandering early '70s, only the Groundhogs harnessed the fury of lost '60s Dream idealism in order to capture on record their very own pre-punk onslaught. Many of the British groups such as Juicy Lucy and Sandoz turned to the post-blues of Zappa and Beefheart for inspiration, but nowadays the results sound as contrived as their mentors; overly intellectual and, ultimately, stridently un-British. London squats of 1971 resounded to the fakery of bogus Delta blues singers, as though only a desert twang could infuse rock'n'roll with a truthful alienation. But, like the obscure genius of London's short-lived Third World War, Tony McPhee's Groundhogs proved that this need not be the case at all, and Split is the album that provided the main body of evidence. This album of paranoid delusion and post-drug trauma was seen by its author as a straight account of a real event. As he said at the time: "I seemed to lose my entire personality … I never talked to anyone, because nothing seemed to be worth saying … I don't reach any conclusions - it's just … what happened, that's all." Both musically and lyrically, Split speaks for a lost time, a nomad time when ideals took to the hoof and musicians stayed on the road rather than confront the fact that the '60s 'war' had been lost.
Unlike other contemporary bands, economy of notes was not part of the Groundhogs agenda. On Split, more than any other Groundhogs album, they played in a shamanic whirling that shattered and scattered the beat around in several directions at once. The frenzied drumming of Ken Pustelnik reduced the kit to the role of moronic streetgang defenseless against one lone Kung Fu hero. Stun-guitars wah-wah'd and ricochet'd at random against concrete walls, leaving passers by mortally wounded but deliriously happy. Even Pete Cruickshank's bass, that one remaining anchor, was no anchor at all, but a freebass undermining the entire structure. As McPhee explained in a Zigzag interview of the time: "[Ken] just wallops everything in sight and sometimes I lose him completely. Like I often come back in during a solo and can't work out where he is - so I just have to play a note and let it feed back until I can find my way back in. And Pete doesn't help either, because he's all over the place and he follows me rather than Ken … so when we fall apart, we really fall apart."
The brutal honesty of this quote showcases Tony McPhee's determination to follow his muse to the end. His singing is confused and compassionate, dazed and un-macho at a time of hoot'n'holler chest beating. And despite the wonder-fuelled strengths of Split's first side, each song is reduced to the anonymity of mere numbers: "Split 1", "Split 2", "Split 3" and "Split 4". Yet each is complete and each is anything but anonymous. The furious "Split 1" careers through its description of McPhee's "suicidal derangement" as he termed it with murderous bass and wah guitar interplaying. "Split 2" de-tunes itself into awesome/awful life with a chasm guitar riff that snare shatters into a tearing riff account of McPhee leaping out of bed in black hole terror, before the floor of the room gives way and he ends: "I must get help before I go insane". Ghost Hammond organ chords punctuate the ends of this piece. Song 3 is a chiming clean bell-tone blues which breaks off into formidable noise rock and tears the roof of the sucker, before "Split 4" sees the singer get "down on his knees and pray to the sun". The heathen one-chord flailing of this song is occasionally interrupted by more squeezy wah, but the highway blues riffs and car crash guitars see the track open out into a wide blue horizon'd escape, before McPhee's distorto-feedback bursts into flames like Barry Newman's Dodge Challenger at the end of Vanishing Point.
Side Two opens with their most famous song of all: "Cherry Red". Another sonic clatterwail in the Groundhogs' more-is-more/hit-everything methodology, the propellant bass and plate-spinning cymbals undermine ernie-ernie guitars and a vocal, which shifts from alpha male to soul castrato. McPhee's guitars swallow the rhythm section whole, then he undermines us all by becoming his own female backing singer.
The dark ages ballad that is "A Year in the Life" grubs around in the soil like low church bell-ringers on vacation from Black Sabbath's first album sleeve. Invention and dignity and mystery. "Junkman" is insane. A ramshackle Fall-type Steptoe & Sonic boom of a song, which veers into staccato Guru Guru stop-start, before collapsing into freeform slide-toilet bowl FX guitar for several minutes. Then we hit the last song of all, a blues standard called "Groundhog Blues", approached with the same attitude that inhabited their Blues Obituary album. Drums are here reduced to cardboard box/frontporch patterstomp like Beefheart's "China Pig", while McPhee's blues is a sorrow-drowning greysky of seagull guitars. Split falls to the ground in a massively underplayed style - as though Evel Knievel had chosen to mount a unicycle for the three-minute encore of his hour-long 1000cc show. That's confidence." ~ Julian Cope (HeadHeritage.co.uk)
“Who Will Save The World? The Mighty Groundhogs - was the fifth Groundhogs album released on Liberty/United Artists and it concluded the run of the classic trio comprising Tony McPhee, Pete Cruickshank and Ken Pustelnik (Pustelnik left several months after its early ‘72 release) and it was every inch a classic. Following in the established Groundhogs tradition of aggressive, rough hewn playing that nevertheless flowed evenly into a welter of swiftly executed time signatures zigzagging against the speed of sound, or then dropping off entirely as though seeking to disrupt the tempo only never does but kept the beat all at the same time, “Who Will Save The World?” was guided by the splintery SG Gibson guitar playing and songwriting of Tony (T.S.) McPhee.
Just as their previous album “Split” had focused on the psychological ills of the times so did “Who Will Save The World?” set about tackling the major problems facing the world under the guise of comic book super heroes whose abilities to vanquish overpopulation, war, pollution and other such sundry blights on humanity were only matched by their collective musical prowess. It says so when you flip over to the back cover and read the comic panels inked by no one less an artist than ‘The Nefarious’ Neal Adams of DC, Marvel fame:
”It is said in the hall of fame of super-heroes that the rock group GROUNDHOGS might even accomplish more with music than the superhero GROUNDHOGS will, with all their muscle...”
And accomplish they did: stating their case with four tracks per side that all shift in approach and feel ranging from bulky to transcendental, tragic to hopeful and when their slowburn fuses get lit at the drop of a hat, the combustive properties of Groundhogs in heat explode within thickets of clotted bloozy raves and roiling psychic turbulence stabbed by the forked, greased lightning of the counterpointing McPhee guitar throughout. It was also here where McPhee embarked in positioning keyboards to a higher capacity role, which only graced the proceedings in a fashion that wholly integral and complimentary to the proceedings and not just as vogue icing, either. For when the stark and foreboding mellotron piercings appear in the opening track “Earth Is Not Room Enough” a flanking gateway of clouds slowly closes in front of the only patch of blue sky and cuts off the last ray of sunlight forever. What this powerful middle passage snaked out from is a duel between McPhee’s quickly strummed get-up-and-gotcha guitar riff and contrasting riffs chipping away at the atomic centre that the elastic bass and drums plays as tight as possible. Wafting currents of filtered amplifier noise ushers in the mid-tempo death boogie, “Wages Of Peace.” The pace is overburdened by a sackful of trouble in a place where those dark, psychic clouds the mellotron summoned in the previous song have chosen to remain: reducing McPhee to lament defiantly through choking sulfur fumes that there are “so many ways to die...so invent some more” at the tyrannically overcast heavens (as) above, and the polluters (so) below. “Body In Mind” opens with a single guitar brazenly hacking out a saw-toothed riff that is jarring as hell and barges in out of nowhere while daring to go everywhere at once. McPhee gruffly spits out a couplet of hawk-eyed social observation “Greed takes place of trust/love gives way to lust” against an endless supply of multi-tracked guitar riffs that contrapuntally carry and force the melody down a whitewater river to hit every visibly jutting rock at top speed. Cruickshank and Pustelnik contribute to these raging rapids with flexible intensity, maintaining acutely aware to every melodic and rhythmic change. A trapdoor false ending opens, sending the track unpredictably and just as rudely back into the jerking, involuntary response of the opening riff. And with an assembled multitude of guitar tones to choose from what does McPhee do but switch between them all -- all over the place until one of the most complex moments of the album fades off into the howling beyond.
After this trio of apocalyptic vistas a glimmer of hope breaks through with “Music Is The Food Of Thought,” a solemn plateau that is the most reflective moment of the album: especially with its opening of some of the most gently plucked guitar introspective-ness outside of Jimi’s philosophically quiet riffing on “Castles Made Of Sand”. If motivation is the key, then responsibility is the lock and McPhee begins to open the door with the line “We need to trace the source of power and fuse it” just as a choir of dry mellotron chords stab out from behind as though in heralding the positive future expressed within -- not entirely out of reach, only one that requires conscious consideration and effort. Gentle and flutey mellotron melody courses through the background and with sad, lilting tones lays the piece to rest.
“Bog Roll Blues” rolls in lackadaisically with off-beat McPhee lyrics and skewered by a high-pitched slide guitar reminiscent of the same electrified-wire whining violin tones off the first High Tide album as it sits inside a public restroom stall on a miserable and damp Sunday afternoon. It’s as though the entire album is set in a world of eternal overcast, so naturally “Death Of The Sun” breaks in with shimmering, needling textures exquisitely finger-picked on 12-string. It bows out only for McPhee’s vocals which are near-strangulated with all the abusive compression laid upon it, weaving back in to sally forth glitteringly, shored up by further multi-tracked guitar parts that cross-hatch it all together.
A low foghorn harmonium begins pumping out an instrumental rendition of ”Amazing Grace” joined by a bombardment of multi-tracked, wringing of the belaboured McPhee guitar fretboard that pass through a battery of effects like a low-rent production of Jimi’s studio “Star Spangled Banner” multi-tracked extravaganza from “Rainbow Bridge” that somehow maintains the timeless feeling of that soul-searching anthem. It’s usually a radioactive no-man’s zone to tackle any tune of such wide renown (whether “Greensleeves” or “Bicycle Built For Two”) but McPhee’s vision extends itself powerfully into this traditional arrangement and makes it take flight with a strengthened sense of hope, however bruised.
The extended finale of “The Grey Maze” is a whirling, bloozy-asteroid stew of ampli-fried proportioned, and no trails of bread crumbs will help McPhee and his dynamic duo here as they’re plowing straight through the hedges of the vertigo-inducing labyrinth that is modern day life with all the disorientation of viewing four-second highlights of the past year’s news cross-cut with commercials for ten minutes. McPhee rumbles out “somewhere some light is getting through” and that’s when you realise he ain’t never givin’ up the ghost. With the vocals completed, it’s every man for hisself as all breaks loose in an ever-darkening social landscape as the band go whole ‘Hog with celebratory blast-off extemporisations that cut a serpentine path with everything from a 12 foot wide combine-harvester to electric tweezers.
Pustelnik’s most punishing percussion bashes away against the blaring blooziness of McPhee’s marvelous musical machinations and Cruickshank’s collectively crushing bass playing for the duration of the track. McPhee’s in the spotlight here and pulls out all the stops as solo upon solo upon every fractured detuned and feedback-ed moment soon demagnetises the improvisation’s compass into every direction at once. This causes massive detours, continual falling into hedges due to all the too-quickly banked turns, trips into gullies of frustration and causing progress to be momentarily slowed by several U-turns in tight cul-de-sacs. But they regroup back at a main junction to search for a better route leading to the exit, and then they’re roaring out confidently at top speed. It takes its time breaking down as seemingly no member will ever cease or desist from squalling; indeed, it takes several yanked flourishes to finally consummate this delirium and draw it to a close." ~ The Seth Man (HeadHeritage.co.uk)