‘Spooky Tooth’. What a marvelous name for a progressive
rock band from the late sixties. Pity they could not have been a bit more
original with the name of their second album. ‘Spooky Two’ smacks far too
much of ‘Chicago 17’, but that is a small quibble when the standard of the
musicianship and songwriting on this album is truly masterful.
Four members of ‘Spooky Tooth’, Luther Grosvener, Mike
Kellie, Greg Ridley, and Mike Harrison, had been playing together for several
years in the area of Carlisle, England, since 1963. First as ‘The VIP’s’
they numbered Keith Emerson in their ranks, and then as ‘Art’, who released
one magical, Guy Stevens produced album called ‘Supernatural Fairy Tales’.
(Recently this album has been released again on CD and is well worth a listen.)
Then with a stroke of genius it was decided to add
singer/songwriter/keyboardist/American Gary Wright to the ranks, and ‘Art’
changed their moniker to ‘Spooky Tooth’.
After a year on the road, gigging almost every night on both
sides of the Atlantic, and having built up a strong live following, the road
toughened and much tighter ‘Spooky Tooth’ went back into the studio to
record their magnum opus ‘Spooky Two’ (1969). With Jimmy Miller in the
producer role, the unavailable Glyn Johns was replaced by Andrew Johns in the
engineer’s seat. (Andrew Johns was later to work on all the early ‘Led
Zeppelin albums’.) The resulting eight songs were to be more influential on
the world of rock music than anybody at the time would have dared imagine. Apart
from the cover ‘Evil Woman’, Gary Wright again had a hand in writing all the
songs; everyone a classic of its time.
‘Spooky Tooth’ had so many strengths within the band, it
is hard to name them all.
The groundbreaking lineup was in the classic rock format of
two keyboard players (used to dramatic effect live with a bank of keyboards on
each side of the stage surrounding the rest of the band), both of them in their
own contrasting styles, and both having a couple of the best two voices of their
decade. They were used to great effect almost as two separate instruments within
On lead guitar there was a young Luther Grosvenor, probably
the most underrated lead guitarist to ever come out of the British Isles. Merge
this in with the bass playing skills of Mr. Thunder himself, Greg Ridley, and
the drummer’s drummer Mike Kellie, and you have a very formidable lineup.
The one cover song, ‘Evil Woman’, was written by Larry
Wies (Larry also wrote ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ and ‘Bend me Shape me’),
which was already well known through its release by American blues and boogie
giants ‘Canned Heat’. However, the ‘Heat’ never did anything like this
with it, ‘Spooky’ turning it into a 9-minute epic of such intensity that it
strains your speakers. It allows the band to really show off their musical
As in all ‘Spooky Tooth’ material, there are soaring
vocals, great changes of pace, and the really dangerous sense of drama, but on
‘Evil Woman’ it is Luther Grosvenor, who for once gets his nose in front of
his two keyboards associates. He truly takes the reigns, making the song his
own, pulling out some of the most heavy and whacked out guitar licks ever put
down on tape.
There is also the double whammy of ‘That was Only
Yesterday’ and ‘Better By You, Better Than Me’, the latter of which was to
be at the center of a long court case after heavy metal band ‘Judas Priest’
covered the song and got taken to court by the parents of a young man, who had
committed suicide due to the songs lyrics. The case was finally thrown out of
court. The song is a bit like Leonard Cohen’s version of heavy rock, but I
think that was taking things a little too far.
‘Spooky Two’ is a must for any serious collector of rock
music, not only for the songs, but for its place in history. The following year
the ‘Spookies’ were to lose their minds and record an album with French
musical impressionist Pierre Henry, which was very pretentiously called
‘Ceremony An Electronic Mass’. The cover has a picture of a man having a
nail driven into his head by a hammer, which well describes the results. It was
released to wide spread critical ridicule (quite rightly) and the only thing
‘Mass’ about it was the public’s disbelief.
Greg Ridley had been horrified by the idea in the first
place, fleeing the ship before recording started, and joined up with Steve
Marriott, Peter Frampton, and Jerry Shirley to form Humble Pie, who he stayed
with throughout their Ten album career.
After the release of ‘Ceremony’ a disillusioned ‘Spooky
Tooth’ split up. Luther Grosvenor went onto ‘Stealers Wheel’ and then hit
the headlines recreated as Ariel Bender in Mott The Hoople. Gary Wright went
onto an incredibly successful solo career as ‘The Dreamweaver’. Mike
Harrison had a reasonably successful solo career. Actually he did rather well,
but pales a little in comparisons to his former keyboard partner. And Mike
Kellie went on to join Peter Frampton’s ‘Camel’, and then ‘The Only
The magic of the original ‘Spooky Tooth’ was in all five
people at the beginning, and no matter who or what they tried thereafter, they
could never recreate the magic of those first two albums.