Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Various Artists—
Chains And Black Exhaust


Released 2002 on Jones
The Seth Man, January 2004ce
“When things get too heavy, just call me helium: the lightest gas known to man.” -Jimi (interview, circa 1968)


“Chains And Black Exhaust” is probably the best funk rock compilation in the world -- and it doesn’t even have a song with the word ‘butter’ in the title, either. It is wild and untamed stuff, unlike the majority of various artists compilations of any genre and every track hits the nail on the head for people with long-unrequited Hendrix/Hazel fixations. All tracks are mainly on the same organic level of physical deepness as “Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow” as they usher your ass back into those days of blatantly uncomfortable intra-racial relations in the media and what seems like the top tier of the most forgotten yet memorable psychedelic funk, fuzztone soul and Jimi vamps taken to illogical extremes sifted out from a decade of flea market obscurities and distilled into one truly fine representation. The sleeve design sports exterior shots of what would appear to be biker gang social clubs that tie in neatly with the title (which initially threw many off the true trail of these tracks’ provenance, as though this collection was comprised of amateur recordings by black sickle men who pumped out psychedelic sex grooves during their off-road hours in the confines of those subterranean HQs like some soul brother equivalent of Davie Allan & The Arrows.) Although the album lists no titles or artists, this only increased the chatter of those in the know and inevitably forced to the surface 12 out of 16 titles (with the remaining four of dubious origin because where the hell else is a track called “Potted Shrimp” besides the classic “Trident Sessions” Stones bootleg, anyway?!) And out of this whole passel of gunked up funk only Curtis Knight, Hot Chocolate (don’t worry, it’s early head days with no marshmallows) and Black Merda I had previously even heard, let alone heard of. Which I admit isn’t saying much, but all I mean is that the usual suspects are in no way present and accounted for in this remarkable compilation.

The tracks are unvarnished and most of them are recorded live in the studio or with the absolute minimum of overdubs, and (most if not all) are taken from vinyl sources, but sound better for them because with music like this you need the bass with no sacrifices made at the altar of the great god Remixed/Remastered/WithBonusTracks/So We’ll Cut This Damn Thing With Half The Signal Strength And No Bass At All But The Liner Notes And Rare Photos Will Keep Them Too Busy To Notice Ever because you need to keep every inch of the original bottom of this kind of stuff intact and then some: because that’s where everything revolves and evolves into...nothing but THANG. And that THANG is by its nature so un-formulaic (formula being the very thing that started to eat away at funk’s outrageous promise of raw and organic expression even before successive waves of stylistic polish finished it off before even disco could) because everyone’s got their own THANG so it’s little wonder no two tracks bear any overwhelming resemblance to the others.

With the pronouncement “BLACKROCK” the album opens with the greatly named “Yeah Yeah” and the band is...Blackrock, natch. They play black rock, they ARE Blackrock and frankly, no Rock is any more Blacker except for what flows through the rest of this compilation like lava tearing flaming rivulets down the mountainside of soul. “Cynthy-Ruth” by Black Merda follows, a cut from their self-titled 1970 album on Chess. Heavily indebted to James Marshall Hendrix in both vocal delivery and wah-wah guitar, this lament of a lost lady is drawled-out coolly and thickly paced against a succession of punctuating ‘huh’s and ‘boo hoo’s. The instrumental “Mama, Here Comes The Preacher” by Doug Anderson follows, heavy on the high-pitched and spiky organ lines as wah-wah guitar and drums keep the groove nothing but together in the background. With track four comes the entrance of startlingly growling rhythm fuzz whose presence is always to the fore for this is “Showstopper” by Iron Knowledge, and it lives up to its name and then some. Whoa: this is a truly KILLER track and the guitar solo is, also. “Dancing In The Light” by Frankinsense cuts in, heavy on brittle, homegrown waka-jawaka as the rhythm section is tempo aware at all times as they cut impeccable grooves in the background of this well-executed instrumental. “Blind Man” by LA Carnival is a JB’s-styled brassy concoction with harmony vocals that allow for a blistering guitar solo to continue Hazel-like to it’s heart content and almost to the song’s fade as well while the almost “Rock And Roll Stew” feel of Preacher’s “Life Is A Gamble” features the sort of low baritone left in Zappa’s closet as it oozes out at the speed of burning candle. “I Believe I Found Myself” by Sir Stanley is a killer soul freak-out, with a ending guitar line that burns down the tail end of the track to even edge over Sir Stan’s impassioned vocal testimonials, thereby breaking the ancient soul tradition of not cutting loose over the frontman and creating a new one in the process. “Paper Man” by Jade displays moves similar to Funkadelic’s “Funky Dollar Bill” but only if Tiki Fulwood was using Bill Bruford’s cracking snare from “Red” and with a far more heaping fuzztone quotient at play. This track is so pummeling brutal an instrumental it shoulda been used for the soundtrack of the 1970 biker flick, “Black Angels.”

Track 12 is “Get High” by Gran Am and MAN: it is about as broken down and damaged a burnt-out wreck as a stripped car on blocks manned by those dudes of Gran Am thinking they’re heading down the road to Mexico to score a key of Icebag just so they can keep singing the chorus, “GET HIGH” (which are also 95% of the combined lyrics, refrain and title all at once) forevermore. But you know somethin’? I think they WERE on the road to somewhere -- Maybe only in their minds and their music, but these basement heads who were forced underground for too long by the oppression of the thoughts of all the goodies they’d never have, wound up deciding to make up some of their OWN kinda goodies for themselves, rooted in the newly laid foundations of electric rock.

The absolutely Parliafunkadelimental-infected thang of “What’s Good For The Goose” by Hot Chocolate is truly another classic but they all are on this thing of utmost THANG while the false-bottomed trick ending will always stop conversation and/or goof you out. “Who Am I?” by Tiny Tex & The J. Jones Connection is a supinely slow, drawn out groove with a booming bass and slowly wah-wah‘ed guitar. The repeating “Keep on pushin’...” in a proto-dub echo chamber makes a pact with all the shuffering and shmiling to never, ever forget one thing: a typical thing, a truthful thing and one damn thing everybody forgets at least sometimes or all the time: that under the skin we are all truly brothers and don’t let that keep you from responsabilitisin’ yourself and think for yourself and you don’t need me to tell you (I’m just testifying, dammit cause it’s a full moon and I gotta let loose sometimes like everybody else) so look inside your heart and listen to it because reality don’t go any further than that (And even if it doesn’t pretend it does just so you can accomplish something positive every day because even though the universe itself doesn’t depend on it it’ll make your heart beat a little faster that’s all I’m saying...) The closing “Corruption Is The Thing” by Creations Unlimited is instrumentally based around a singeing rotary wah-wah rhythm ringed with clattering cowbells and a living, thumping drum pattern to preempt all beatbox use forever (and the sooner the better.) And with a handsome handful of instrumentals thrown into the mix that I haven’t even mentioned, “Chains And Black Exhaust” is one mother of an album.