Black Cat Bones
Barbed Wire Sandwich
Barbed Wire Sandwich is a heavy blues rock album released by Black Cat Bones in November 1969. The original vinyl version of the album is now highly sought after by collectors of rock and heavy blues music of the late 1960s and 1970s. The right place at the wrong time. That could be the epitaph on the gravestone of Black Cat Bones. Having acted as unofficial house band for a number of visiting US artists during the British Blues Boom of the mid to late Sixties and survived a potentially fatal line-up change into the bargain, they finally made it to vinyl rather late in the day. This, their first and only album, reached the racks in the last months of the Sixties, just as progressive rock was in the ascendancy.
Such imperfect timing may have adversely affected their chances of commercial success and consequently their number of column inches in the history of popular music, but in no way diminishes the excellence of their music.
That Black Cat Bones remains a known name is due to two musicians whose names remain stubbornly absent from the credits. Celebrated guitarist Paul Kossoff would go on to superstar status as a founder member of FREE, but started his musical career in earnest in these ranks. And though neither he nor drummer Simon Kirke appear on the album, Koss's featured replacement Rod Price, a player of no mean ability who would later take his axe-wielding skills to Stateside fame and fortune with Foghat.
Buy lets backtrack now to the events that led up to November 1969, when Barbed Wire Sandwich was released on Decca's progressive Nova lael. Though retaining semi-professional status for some time, Black Cat Bones had enough going for them to catch the eye of legendary Blues producer Mike Vernon. His patronage brought them their first recording session, backing Champion Jack Dupree for a Bue Horizon album, "When You Feel The Feeling You Was Feeling" meanwhile, they made a reputation in their own right touring Germany and Scandinavia. Kossoff and Kirke jumped ship, in 1968 after seeing singer Paul Rodgers fronting the similarly unrecorded Brown Sugar; hence by the time Black Cat Bones entered Tangerine and Decca Studios the following year with recording stardom in mind the existing nucleus of brothers Derek and Stu Brooks on rhythm guitar and bass respectively and vocalist Brian Short had been augmented by Phil Lenoir (drums) and Rod Price (lead guitar).
The album kicks off with Chauffer - a dead ringer in both pace and chord sequence for FREEs Walk in my Shadow from their debut, released moths before. And the well-worn blues metaphor of riding (Free rode ponies, Black Cat Bones a car such is progress)indicates the overtly sexual inclinations both shared. Elsewhere, there's a welcome touch of acousticity (on Four Women) to leaven the mixture - owners of well worn originals will thank heavens for non clicky CD here! but overall, the album very much reflects the electric blues of the stage set, as you'd expect for a band that played live so often.
It was producer David Hitchcock, who later guided the careers of Caravan, Camel, Genesis (circa Foxtrot) and more, to supply the studio expertise they needed to give Barbed Wire Sandwich respect, the band fading in and out around the barrelhouse piano of Robin Sylvester. This would have been impossible live, since the BKB's line up didn't feature keyboards (Sylvester was the sound engineer a Tangerine), so was clearly an attempt to diversify and use the studio to greatest advantage. Steve Milliner lends further ivory-tickling skills to Feelin Good and dont forget, FREE eventually added the keyboard talents of Rabbit Bundrick to give them a route to progress.
Talking of progression, the middle section of Save My Love For You, along with the other dramatic mood and/or tempo changes throughout the album suggest that the growth of progressive rock had not passed them by. Rod Price was quite different in approach to Kossoff, his fast, fluid style contrasting with the howling sustain of his predecessor - but he was clearly no slouch either, as he proved on the final track. The self-penned Good Lookin Woman is the one song on which Price tackled lead vocal. More importantly, its a guitar tour de force, fading out prematurely and leaving the listener wondering exactly what would have happened next.
Leaving the audience wanting more was just one of the lessons learned on the boards, so its hardly surprising that those who saw BKB live retain approving memories. One such spectator was Stuart Booth, now a publisher, who caught a show at Londons Marquee Club as the album was readied for release. 'They were a good live band who missed the boat' he recalls. 'The album came out long after other British blues bands' and sunk without trace, so no-one was interested. I was pleasantly pleased to see people still playing that sort of thing. I though it would all come around again - and, of course, it did.
Many years after witnessing Black Cat Bones at the Marquee, Booth had the pleasure of publishing Blues - Thbe British Connection, a definitive rundown of the scene by one Bob Brunning (to be reissued by Blandford as Blues In Britain: The History 1960s-1990s in February 1995). Brunning, as blues scholars may recall, was the original bass player with Fleetwood Mac, the man who deputised for John McVie until he could secure his release from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.
He enters the Black Cat Bones story, albeit tangentially, at this point - because when the album flopped and the band threatened to fall apart, it was a couple renegades from the Brunning Sunflower Blues Band, Pete French and Mick Halls, who were drafted in to make up the numbers after Price, Short and Lenoir left the ranks. (Short, incidentally, cut a hard to find solo album, Anything For a Laugh, for Transatlantic in 1971). With a new drummer, Black Cat Bones metamorphosed in Leaf Hound, Zeppelin-esque heavy rockers who, like their predecessors, produced one excellent album before disbanding. This was Growers Of Mushroom - and in 1994 it joined Barbed Wire Sandwich in the See For Miles catalogue.
So there endeth the story of Black Cat Bones, a band whose mere footnote in the annals of British rock seems a mite ungenerous, given their musical legacy. Even Bob Brunning only rated them a couple of sentences - but as Barbed Wire Sandwich will hopefully prove, music often speaks louder than words.. Mick St. Michael
- "Chauffeur" – 5:15 (Andy Stroud)
- "Death Valley Blues" – 3:52 (Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup)
- "Feelin' Good" – 4:58 (Anthony Newley, Leslie Bricusse)
- "Please Tell Me Baby" – 3:10 (Harrison D. Nelson Jr)
- "Coming Back" – 2:32 (Rod Price)
- "Save My Love" – 4:50 (Black Cat Bones)
- "Four Women" – 5:09 (Nina Simone)
- "Sylvester's Blues" – 3:45 (Price)
- "Good Lookin' Woman" – 7:16 (Price)
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