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NewsThe Amazing Journey of BLACK WIDOW

Posted on Sunday, April 08 2007 @ 18:23:23 CDT by Pete Pardo
Progressive Rock Anonymous writes:

The forthcoming Black Widow DVD (filmed in 1970 including the whole "Sacrifice" -era black magic show with the classic song "Come To The Sabbat") needs now only a title and an artwork.

The band has also some new songs written for their forthcoming album. Before that, let''s take a look at their story...

The band that became Pesky Gee! assembled in the Midlands town of Leicester in 1966, fronted by two vocalists - Kay Garret and black soul singer Basil Francis - with a supporting cast of Chris Dredge (guitar), Clive Jones (sax,flute), Alan Hornsby (brass), Bob Bond (bass) and Clive Box (drums,percussion). Like many young bands of the era, the original Pesky Gee! were primarily a soul outfit, playing the same circuit as other local names like Legay and Family. But the arrival of psychedelia in 1967 led to a musical realignment and a slightly revised Pesky Gee! line-up - Francis was replaced by Kip Trevor (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica) - willingly embraced the musical excesses of the new wave.

By the end of 1968 Pesky Gee! were starting to make some headway. After a gig in Worrington they were approached by songwriter Malcolm Rabbitt who told the group that he had written a song called "A Place Of Heartbreak" that would be ideal for them. Rabbitt introduced the band to London-based producer/manager Patrick Meehan Jnr., who in turn brokered a deal with the Pye label.

The group''s new progressive rock approach was evident on their debut single, issued by Pye in March 1969. The Vanilla Fudge track "Where Is My Mind?" and Rabbitt''s "A Place Of Heartbreak" were short songs that combined the melodic approach and commercial sensibilities of the traditional pop market with the more abrasive edge of the underground scene. But despite the quality of both sides, and the particularly potent vocal combination of Kip Trevor and the Julie Driscoll-like Kay Garret, the single failed to find favour with the public. Dredge (later in Ashton, Gardner and Dyke) and Hornsby left to be replaced by Jim Gannon (guitar, vibraphone, vocals) and Jess "Zoot" Taylor (organ, piano), both of whom had been members of the band called Broodley Hoo.

"Where Is My Mind" had been issued primarily as a taster for a forthcoming debut album and the first (and, as it turned out, the last) Pesky Gee! LP appeared in June 1969. The record company mistakenly christened the album "Exclamation Mark" because of "!" at the end of band''s name! Despite this farce, "Exclamation Mark" was a highly promising debut set. "Piece Of My Heart" was a fine rendition of the Erma Franklin classic (also successfully attempted by Janis Joplin) that enabled the band to revisit their soul roots. "Season Of The Witch" was a stroll through Donovan''s much-covered epic that featured an arrangement straight from Vanilla Fudge version. "Dharma For One" revealed the band''s debt to the 1968 UK blues rock boom in general and Jethro Tull in particular.

Despite such an impressive debut album the sales were not so impressive and Pesky Gee! were unceremoniously dumped by Pye after just a few months with the label. Bloodied but unbowed, Pesky Gee! underwent a change of name as well as a musical metamorphosis.

With the arrival of occult movement (the black magic novels of Dennis Wheatley were moving into bestsellers lists and Black Sabbath were beginning to make waves on the local Midlands scene) Pesky Gee! changed their name to Black Widow. It was the drummer Clive Box who suggested to his fellow band members that they take the occult themes that were all around and reinvent themselves accordingly. In November 1969 Black Widow travelled to D.T.Studios in Kettering, Northants, to record a bunch of songs that had been quickly written to fit the supernatural theme. The intended album''s concept was clearly evident from the chosen title: "Sacrifice". However, after making this demo session, their female singer and one of their strongest weapons, Kay Garret, left the band and her musical career behind though she later returned into studio to record a handful of demos for her aborted solo album (backed by Black Widow, a couple of tracks appeared on "Come To The Sabbat" 2CD anthology released by Sanctuary).

Those original "Sacrifice" sessions with Kay Garret have been released later as an album called "Return To The Sabbat".

At the beginning of 1970 CBS paid for Black Widow to return to the studio to remake "Sacrifice" with Kip Trevor now handling all lead vocals. "When Kay left, we really started to work on our live act", recalls Clive Jones. "I am sure CBS saw us live before deciding to sign us. Also, of course, Pat Meehan Snr was managing us and that must have helped us". CBS issued the album "Sacrifice" in March 1970. The songs remained the same but there were significant differences between the demo and released versions of "Sacrifice". Those new sessions included live strings, most notably on "Come To The Sabbat". Those strings were played by children from the London School of Music!

"Sacrifice" attracted significant attention amongst the underground fraternity, even reaching the UK album charts, where it peaked at the No 32 position in early April. Certainly its public profile was helped by the appearance of the band''s calling card "Come To The Sabbat" on the CBS double album sampler "Fill Your Head With Rock". "Come To The Sabbat" was also released as a single in most territories and it had some success except not that much in UK!

Choreographed by members of Leicester''s Phoenix Theatre Company, the highly theatrical Black Widow show centred on the female demon Astaroth, portrayed by a naked girl who was mock-sacrificed at the end of each performance after having simulated sex with Kip Trevor. The character of Lady Astaroth was occasionally played by Maxine, the wife of Alex Sanders, who advised the band on occult-related matters and even employed them on a film documentary. Clive Jones recalls: "Vicars would turn up at the shows, waving crosses and telling the crowds to beware of the evil dark magic of Black Widow! At the Lyceum in London we were told we could only do the show if the girl didn''t take her clothes off on stage. We had to agree beforehand but she still ended up naked and all hell broke loose. Someone from the audience managed to take a picture which appeared in one of the Sunday papers!".

The band''s increased profile led to them playing at the August 1970 Isle Of Wight festival where they were sandwiched between The Groundhogs and Supertramp. The band had a good gig in front of their biggest audience ever but they didn''t do the black magic show on this occassion and also there had been some line-up changes within the band.

Pat Meehan was informed that a proposed US tour showcasing his two main acts, Black Sabbath and Black Widow, had been cancelled. "Charles Manson had just been arrested and tried for what were described at the time as black magic murders", Clive Jones recalls. "The powers-that-be in America wouldn''t allow us into the country, though Black Sabbath were admitted after they had disassociated themselves from Satanism. But I''m not sure exactly why we were kept out - were the Americans thinking about our safety or did they think that giving us a visa would be bad publicity for them?". It was at this juncture that Black Widow''s management suggested the band to move away from the occult imagery in the hope that this would lead into more positive publicity and potentially wider appeal. Kip Trevor and Jim Gannon agreed with the band''s management while Clive Jones and Clive Box favoured retaining their unique identity. Finally drummer Box was replaced by Romeo Challenger and Geoff Griffith came in for bassist Bob Bond and the band''s association with Alex Sanders was ended.

This new line-up recorded a stand-alone single, a version of Billy Boy Arnold''s blues classic "Wish You Would". A new album, "Black Widow", also appeared, overseen by the same studio team that had worked on the band''s debut set - Patrick Meehan Jnr. as producer, assisted by engineer (and future Queen soundman) Roy Thomas Baker. Curiously, however, this was actually the second version of this album to be recorded, as Clive Jones reveals. "We never heard the original version. Meehan told us that there were a fault on the recording but we din''t really believe this - the version of "Mary Clark" that appeared on the CBS "Rockbusters" album was taken from the original sessions though he explained that this was the only track that hadn''t been affected by the fault. Who knows, maybe a copy of the original, unheard "Black Widow" sessions has survived somewhere?".

The new songs like "The Gypsy", "Tears And Wine" and "Mary Clark" introcuced a band which was still capable of good songwriting and musicianship despite now entering the world of overcrowded British progressive rock scene. One of the album''s masterpieces is "Legend Of Creation" which gave space to some inspired soloing and that particular song also worked well in live situations. However, the album failed to to repeat the commercial success of their debut and Jim Gannon left the band at this point.

Black Widow continued to tour and record with John Culley, a former guitar player of Cressida, replacing Gannon. A third album entitled "Black Widow III" was recorded (Francis Monkman from Curved Air helped on some of the album''s keyboards). Sadly this set also failed to make commercial impact despite the quality of tracks like "King Of Hearts", "Accident" or the three-part-epic "The Battle".

The band had built up a following in Europe through extensive gigging (a live Black Widow album had been recorded at Montreaux, Switzerland, but the tapes were destroyed in the following week''s fire) but CBS were unimpressed by album sales figures and in mid-1972 Black Widow were unceremoniously dropped from the label''s roster.

Black Widow returned to D.T. Studios to cut a fourth LP in the summer/autumn of 1972. Sadly, however, they were unable to land a deal despite they were producing one of the finest works of their career. Tracks like "You''re So Wrong" suggested a new level of maturity, while the superb "Sleighride" - an all-year round Christmas song based around Prokofiev''s "Sleigh Bell Ride" melody, also utilised some three years later by Greg Lake for "I Believe In Father Christmas" - compared favourably with the kind of material that market leaders such as Yes ("We toured Italy with them - they were a big influence on us by this point", recalls Clive Jones) were producing around the same time. Nevertheless, the tapes from these sessions would be left unreleased until over 25 years later they saw the light of name under the title "Black Widow IV".

The band''s failure to find a label to release the album proved to be a final straw for Kip Trevor who left after its completion. The band recruited an American singer Rick E (his real name is Ric Prince) for a handful of demos including "Floating" and the thoughtful "Pictures In My Head" (these tracks are also heard on "Black Widow IV"). When they were unable to find a home for these tracks either Black Widow disbanded and and all the members went their separate ways.

The various members of Black Widow went on to enjoy mixed fortunes. Ric Prince was a singer for Twisted Sister before Dee Snider and Ric continues to have his singing career in America. Kip Trevor sang in sessions and became a successful music publisher. Romeo Challenger found his fame and fortune with being a drummer for Showaddywaddy while Jim Gannon had hits with mid-1970''s outfit Fox. Jim also recorded with Yellow Dog and nowadays he is a respected session musician continuing to play guitar in Australia. Geoff Griffith formed a band called Tibet (with Neil Stout) before recording with Moving Fingers in mid-1980''s (Moving Fingers had a hit song in certain countries). Clive Jones and Clive Box formed a crazy punk/heavy metal outfit Agony Bag which released a cult single in 1980 and also their other unreleased tracks have been released under the title "Feelmazumba". When Agony Bag disbanded Clive Jones became a songwriter for other artists and bands but he has continued to record himself as well. Clive has also recorded some new Agony Bag songs. His latest project has been his ambitious musical called "Metal Heart" which includes lots of special guests. Clive Jones has also collaborated with various musicians and bands.

In 2000 an Italian-based record company Black Widow Records released a Black Widow tribute album called "King Of The Witches" which included an introduction song done by Clive Jones himself. During last few years the interest towards Black Widow has continued to increase - an unreleased bootleg recording from Italy (1971) has been found and one of the greatest things have been that there has been found an unreleased concert film from 1970 which includes the whole black magic - era "Sacrifice" show! So there will be an amazing DVD release!

Geoff Griffith has been working hard on new Black Widow music and he wishes soon to enter the studio with Clive Jones and maybe with Romeo Challenger to continue the project to turn it into a proper, classic, black magic Black Widow concept album. For further news watch the site which is the site for forthcoming BLACK WIDOW news.

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