Sprung on an unsuspecting America (and Halifax) the Hampton Grease Band’s, Music To Eat, sold so poorly when it was originally released in 1971 that it has the dubious distinction of being the second worst selling record in Columbia Records’ catalog. Only an instructional yoga album sold less.
In 1996 the
Deluxe Reissue of 1971 classic featuring Bruce Hampton and Glenn Phillips (with expanded liner notes)
was back “by popular demand” and once again most people ignored it. Well, that is, most people. I’ve bought it twice… so what does that say about my musical tastes?
1971 (and perhaps 1996) America simply wasn’t prepared a band with a lead singer who’s voice has been described as making
Beefheart sound like Pavarotti
whose stage shows and song lyrics were
more Dadaistic than Frank Zappa
and whose overall sound was likened to the
Grateful Dead circa Live Dead and the jamming versions of Zappa’s bands.
Being compared to Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa/The Mothers or the Grateful Dead meant that the Grease Band already had three strikes against them before they even stepped into the batters box; as Captain Beefheart and Zappa operated on the fringes of 60’s – 70’s popular music; while with the Dead there was no middle ground, you either loved them or hated them.
Formed in the late 1960’s, the original line-up of this Atlanta based blues-rock-oriented outfit consisted of Harold Kelling and Glenn Phillips on guitars, vocalist Bruce Hampton, bassist Charlie Phillips and drummer Mike Rodgers. Eventually Mike Holbrook replaced Charlie Phillips and Jerry Fieldings replaced Mike Rodgers.
The group developed their reputation playing at small “underground” clubs and as a supporting act for
psychedelic/progressive acts like the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Procol Harum, and the Allman Brothers.
but it was their live shows where
the band often betrayed the Zappa influence in their theatrical, sometimes confrontational stage show, in which Hampton would throw chairs at the audience, or sing while standing on a pizza.
The confrontational stage shows and the absurdist lyrics of their songs may have polarized their audiences but it also piqued the curiosity of Columbia Records.
Signed by the Allman Brothers manager Phil Walden to a contract the group quickly recorded two albums worth of material.
On the tapes the group presented Columbia Records half the songs approached the 20 minute mark, and many
lurched unpredictably between melodies and tempos…(but) none of (them) could be construed as having money-making potential.
Some songs lyrics came right off a can of spray paint, “Hendon,” or from an encyclopedia article, “Halifax” and all sung by a lead singer, Hampton,
whose amelodic rants cross-bred soapbox preachers with bleacher bums
Doing the only “logical” thing, Columbia released the album as a double album and unsure on how to market the album they marketed it as a comedy record thus contributing to its failure.
Shortly after the album’s release the band guitarist Harold Kelling left the group and
despite a well-received show at the Fillmore East with Frank Zappa, CBS dropped the group.
The band then signed with Zappa’s Bizarre/Straight label but nothing materialized from that association and the band would finally break up in 1973.
Group members, notably Bruce Hampton and Glenn Phillips still remain musically active. Hampton has recorded extensively with both The Aquarium Rescue Unit and The Codetalkers while Phillips has released close to a dozen instrumental records, several for the indie label SST. (I covered the music of Phillips in a October 2009 post and really should refresh those links.)
This is a difficult album to listen to, especially if you do it all at one sitting. I’d recommend starting with the album’s first song, “Halifax” (especially if you’re a fan of the Dead) and then skipping right to the last song “Hendon.” Listen to the rest as the mood strikes you, but I’ll leave that up to you.
Hampton Grease Band / Music To Eat (1971)
Total time: 57:13
1. Halifax (19:41)
2. Maria (5:33)
3. Six (19:31)
4. Evans (12:28)
Total time: 31:22
1. Lawton (7:50)
2. Hey Old Lady · Bert’s Song (3:22)
3. Hendon (20:10)
You can buy Music to Eat from the following Dealers
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