As par for the course, in coordinating the Rare Mod series of unreleased or hard to find sixties recordings, I routinely secure clearances with the musicians who played on them, record business stuff; a simple signature on an A4 sheet of paper, permission to release the track. Damian Jones, who sources much of the Rare Mod material, obtained an acetate of Hoochie Coochie Man, the intended debut single that was subsequently shelved, by highly respected sixties blues band The Artwoods; a big deal. I needed an Artwoods moniker quickly.
Damian found the phone number for Artwoods' guitarist Derek Griffiths; I called to discuss the track. Derek said he was happy for us to include Hoochie Coochie Man on our compilation, Rare Mod 4, as he reminisced about bands, the sixties and his reluctance to sort through several old boxes of junk at his partner’s insistence, a house move necessitating the clear out. I joked that I’d be interested in any old records or tapes that he might discover in his boxes. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘there’s a taped version of the Eddie Floyd track Big Bird, but that’s not sixties, its 1970.’ ‘Really,’ I said and booked a session in a mastering studio the following week with Derek and his cardboard box of treasure.
Seven days later, whilst pouring through twenty or so un-marked reel-to-reel tapes in the studio, with the Eddie Floyd track yet to materialise, I noticed a red tape box with blue biro pen scrawled across the back Artist - Satisfaction. Date - 28.4.71. ‘A jazz-rock album,’ Derek explained, ‘a cross between Blood Sweat And Tears and early Chicago but without organ. Hammond organ smothers the horns.’ The studio engineer carefully cued up the forty-year-old quarter-inch tape and pressed play. As we listened, arms goosed, neck hair bristled, we fell silent, it was a trip. Derek endeavoured to shed more light. ‘It’s a concept album, written on the road about the road, but it was never released,’ he said. ‘Do you like it?’
This album is a lost gem, a forgotten chapter from the British Rock Chronicles, a diamond in the rough. As the blues scene, hip bruised from the exaggerated swagger of the swinging sixties, limped into the vagaries of Prog-Rock, Satisfaction sought a loftier path, beautiful in its clarity. Three Ages Of Man marks the three influences fused within the group’s musical DNA. Strong and inventive jazz arrangements, a horn section at its creative peak. The acoustic testament of melodic song writing, hearts rinsed from the treadmill of touring. And finally, a solid rock ’n’ roll foundation that betrays the early blues roots of its players. This album is a journey that ends where it begins, tour madness, ecstatic melancholy and the soaring highs that thrill and counter the heady abstractions and repetition of life on the road.
History may come to thank Derek Griffiths’ partner, she who insisted that he clear out his box of old tapes. A lost concept album, from the combined talents of some of Britain’s most influential R&B musicians, might arguably elevate that cardboard box to Holy Grail status; only time will tell.
What became of the version of Big Bird? We found it in the same cardboard box; it’s also on Rare Mod 4.
Richard Searle (Acid Jazz Records)