Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation—

Released 1967 on CBS/Blue Horizon
The Seth Man, September 2004ce
Being the provenance of one of the pair of cover versions found on Black Sabbath’s British debut LP, “Warning” by Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation is a weird-ass anomaly in every way. Although the group were one of the first to record and be produced by Mike Vernon for his burgeoning Blue Horizon label, “Warning” relies little on standard blues conventions with an arrangement that is stripped down to the extreme -- with the drumming retracted to big and hollow tom toms thudding to add to the grave-digging velocity of the leaden bass while the intermittent sizzle and click of the hi-hat in the many spaces left unoccupied create a feel that is altogether jarring and decidedly non-bluesy. Recorded by Mike Vernon with a truly live-in-the-studio-late-night-ambience, this concise performance of “Warning” runs 3:17 in length. Which was about as brief as Sabbath’s jazz-blues/fuzz/whatever-the-fuck-it-is-exactly run-on improvisation on side two post-“Wicked World” (or “Evil Woman,” on the British version) wasn’t: clocking in at three times the length.1

Name checked in Jenny Fabian & Johnny Byrne’s “Groupie” novel under the cum de plume (sic) ‘Jubal Early Blowback’ (sic and furthermore: suc) Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation was a blues band formed by ex-John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Jeff Beck drummer Aynsley Dunbar in 1967. Vocalist/organist “Brox” (a.k.a. Victor Hickling), ex-Johnny Kidd & The Pirates guitarist John Morshead, and Keith Tillman on bass rounded out Dunbar’s group, so-named in ‘retaliation’ against Mayall’s pink slipping the Liverpudlian tub beater for conduct most un-blues-wailin’: ranging from being too precise to letting loose with one elongated drum solo too many.

On “Warning,” Brox’s vocals compare not unfavourably with Tom Jones projecting a Big Joe Williams megaphonic wail and holler down at Klook’s Kleek on three pints of brown ale wearing a roll neck sweater and goatee: thereby causing far easier access to the root lyric than the manner in which Ozzy would later barf them up out of his downwardly turned, tragedy mask-ed piehole all woefully slurred. This is nothing short of a revelation, because what I’ve been hearing through my lugholes and burning rock’n’roll brain since I was a lovelorn sixteen year old was not “I was WARNED ABOUT you, baby” but “I was BORN WITHOUT you, baby.” Fair enough, baby as the song’s called “Warning.” Always felt this track was titled thusly as though to create an atmosphere where although the word was nowhere to be found (and STILL isn’t in Sabbath’s, as far as I can hear) and therefore treated the piece to an even more cryptic and foreboding form than it already held: as though the warning in question was to be found right in the song itself and not in the thankfully nonexistent sing-a-long chorus. The imagery of nature turning restlessly shifting its paces in “Warning” is both simply and powerfully stated. Especially in the line “The sea began to shiver/And the wind began to moan” where the words correlate between a subjective cracking open of the world and that of sexual arousal of the most supine kind. Yep, “Warning” is a powerfully stark track and one that was completely out of step with most of the new blooz then pissing down all over the English Isles. It was probably what struck those four lads from Aston, the funky side of rough, unfashionable Birmingham, England just as powerfully.

“Cobwebs” on the flipside is another Retaliation original, although in reality a slow paced bit of bluesology from the darkened corners of the early British Blues Boom that bear the same emotional hallmarks as “Stormy Monday,” here channeled by Vernon’s own accomplished live situation recordings ala his work on Ten Years After’s “Spider In Your Web” off “Undead.” The ensemble work here is fine-tuned as Aynsley and the boys slow tempo it out for over five minutes with Brox vox all reverbed, his Hammond purrs relief in the background and everything’s set for a late night perusal and reflection of your inner lovelorn thoughts about your “cat-eyed woman.” Damn, I feel the knowing of that sentiment. Luckily, the lyrics don’t intrude all the much (cause there ain’t too many and that’s a natural fact) so you can let your thoughts just pass as they may. And all the while Morshead’s impeccably understated guitar lines are ably decorated by the skinsmanship of Aynsley D. put forth a vibe comfortably settled in like a fireside seat of late autumn evening.

  1. I’ve been wrestling with the exact song parameters on side two of “Black Sabbath” forever, mostly because the credits on the back of the US album had them arranged in the order of “Wicked World,” “A Bit Of Finger,” “Sleeping Village” and “Warning.” After the first track, it’s a blur on most occasions, but I always reckoned the listing was out of whack and lately I’ve come to the conclusion that “Sleeping Village” defines only the brief acoustic’n’jew’s harp dewy sunrise theme nearly a minute in length while the resulting twilight/dreamtime collision course of heaviosity that some time later manages to fall into the opening bass footfalls of doom that signal “Warning” is NOT “A Bit Of Finger.” It’s excellent whatever it is, but it would make more sense if “A Bit Of Finger” was the name of the unaccompanied guitar solo lodged in the mid-section of “Wicked World.” I wouldn’t be half surprised, and I only mention it because the goofed credit line of “Iommi-Osbourne-Butler-Ward” printed on the back sleeve of the US version of “Black Sabbath” was assigned to ALL tracks on the album. Later pressings of the record rectified the credit for “Warning” but only on the label as follows: ‘Dunbar-“Brox”-Moreshead-Hickling-Dmochowski.’ Once again, this is erroneous because “Brox” and Hickling are the same person while Keith Tillman was the bassist in Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation at the time and not Alex Dmochowski. The original single itself lists Dunbar as the sole songwriter, but the credits were changed once again for the Sabbath box set and to make the whole thing even more poetically perfect, the lyrics to “Warning” appear nowhere in the box set’s accompanying book. Why do I mention all this? Simple: My feelings are a little bit too strong... Just a little bit too strong.