Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Rockets

Consider this.  The late 70s are not looked upon fondly as it once was.  While classic rock radio tends to favor AC DC or Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin to satisfy the advertisers, plenty of other bands were a part of the rise of album rock.   But in the late 70s there are bands that you never hear anymore.  Prism comes to mind, the Canadian rockers who made about five albums for Capitol, which would be unheard of in this day and age.  Duke Jupiter who bounced between Mercury, Coast To Coast and Motown,  Nantacket, who made three albums for Epic and one for RCA.  All pretty much gone from the radio,  on only remains on the minds of serious collectors looking for something other than Back In Black.

The Rockets, started out years ago as part of Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels, basically Jim McCarthy and Johnny Bee, one of the best unknown drummers ever.  His beats on Jenny Take A Ride and the obscure Turn On Your Lovelight  sounds like a freight train running down the track.  Later, Johnny Bee Bandzerak and McCarthy would reunite with Mitch Ryder for Detroit, the 1971 album for Paramount that featured a wild version of Rock And Roll.  MCA reissued that album on CD in the late 80s.  McCarthy also worked in Cactus, the offshoot of Vanilla Fudge with the late Rusty Day (Amboy Dukes) doing lead vocals but their hardline boogie has not aged very well.

The Rockets (no relation to the band that would become Crazy Horse and made one album for White Whale) is more straight line boogie rock related than the bombast of Cactus and finally came together around 1976 to create an album called Love Transfusion for Tortoise International/RCA records and produced by Don Davis (Robin Trower, Motown).  With Johnny Bee and Jim McCarthy being the main focus and songwriters (Johnny Bee was also lead vocalist for a while) they ended up getting Dave Gilbert as vocalist.  Gilbert, had that Midwestern growl of a vocal that gave The Rockets a distinct sound.  Picking up Donnie Dackus as keyboardist this is considered the classic lineup although various bass players would come and go.  Another key member would be Dennis Robbins to give a twin guitar attack.  Moving over to RSO they recorded Turn Up The Radio which would give them their biggest hit with a cover of Peter Green's Oh Well.  Ably produced by Johnny Sandlin (Allman Brothers, Elvin Bishop)  it's a good place to start if you want to hear what The Rockets were all about, music to dance to.  The followup album No Ballads was somewhat lesser, there were some cool songs (Desire, Takin It Back) and a cover of Sally Can't Dance and like the title says there was no ballads unlike the one off Turn Up The Radio (Lost Forever Left For Dreaming).

While it's considered that Turn Up The Radio is their bona fide classic, I like the two albums that they did for Elektra,  Back Talk and Rocket Roll.  Certainly Back Talk was a rebound from No Ballads, with the Title track and Can't Get Satisfied  and even Johnny Bee takes a vocal on a couple numbers. Better production came from Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, Graham Parker) on Back Talk.  Dennis Robbins would leave for a up and down career in country music, having a solo album for MCA in 1986 and co writing songs with a up and coming guitarist by the name of Warren Haynes, then Robbins recorded with Billy Hill for an album for Reprise before doing three albums for Giant Records.  Despite the oddball recording Glen Kolotin did on Rocket Roll, that record remains my favorite Rockets album.  The Detroit rock boogie is in full force on songs like Rock And Roll Girl and Rolling By The Record Machine. Somehow the record flopped, Elektra didn't pay much attention to the band and The Rockets would find themselves on Capitol for their final effort Live Rockets which had a minor hit with Open The Door To Your Heart.  Then the band broke up, and Dave Gilbert eventually would die in 1999 after years of heavy drinking from liver cancer.

Eventually, Johnny Bee and McCarthy decided to reform The Rockets with a new vocalist Jim Edwards but McCarty decided to return to Cactus and after a 4 song EP this decade, The Rockets have been silent once again. 

In some ways The Rockets  could have been a bit better known, perhaps fate didn't do them favors by bypassing Bruce Springsteen's Fire for a potential hit single and countless fights did split the band up. But between the grooves The Rockets did provide some classic Detroit rock and roll, to next to Bob Seger The Rockets were very good at what they did.  With the exception of Love Transfusion, the RSO and Elektra albums have been issued as 2 on 1 CD, although the Renaissance reissue suffers from a harsh midrange remaster.  Still, they should have done better and unfortunately the ongoing fights splintered the band up.  Still when they were on their music, they were just as good as anybody else and even if David Gilbert had major demons with drink and drugs, he was a damn good vocalist. But the world won't know their music outside of Oh Well.  This is where you the music collector comes in and seeks out their back catalog.

The Albums:

Love Transfusion (Tortoise 1977)  B+
The Rockets: Turn Up The Radio (RSO 1979) B+
No Ballads (RSO 1980) B-
Back Talk (Elektra 1981) B
Rocket Roll (Elektra 1982) A-
Live Rockets (Capitol 1983) B-

The Rockets/No Ballads (Renaissance 2009) B+
Back Talk/Rocket Roll (Wounded Bird 2005) A- 

No comments:

Post a Comment