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Rockicks: Keep On Rockin’

Rockicks were a short lived, but highly respected outfit hailing from Los Angeles who released one album in 1977 titled Inside and then pretty much disappeared from whence they’d came. Evolving out of the band Rockits, who’d been formed by guitarist and vocalist Brian Naughton, the foursome who made up the initial line-up of the group had already paid their dues by the time their lone effort arrived. Naughton himself had previously formed and released an album with Rock Candy, before the guitarist joined Peanut Butter Conspiracy and then Grass Roots. With both of those outfits imploding not long after he was recruited, it was no surprise that the six-stringing singer was once again keen to start a band of his own.

Elsewhere, guitarist Jerry Zubal began his journey proper with Tea (alongside future Bob Seger tour manager Gary Gawinek), which then evolved into an outfit named 1776, who also released an album before the guitarist teamed up with Naughton. Prior to this, Rick Altschuler had previously met Zubal when the drummer’s then band leader Ruby Starr (of Black Oak Arkansas) shared a bill in Tolido with Tea. And bassist and singer Sammy Pate Jr also befriended Naughton after the former moved to LA from Detroit, where he spent time with The Atlanta Rhythm Section - and with all four musicians now in place Rockits and then subsequently Rockicks was born.

Inside arrived through the RSO label and landed squarely in the Southern, biker rock scene and along with every other recording the band laid down is now reissued through the guitar based label Grooveyard Records. Opening Inside cut, “Shakin’” spits out a fiery fret outburst with its Southern groove biting in deep as its rhythm burns brightly. It’s Pate behind the mic here, Rockicks one of those bands where the writer of the song sings it and it has to be said that combining with the backing vox from Zubal and Naughton, he’s mighty fine. Zubal leads from the front on the more countrified Captain Beyond like “Sweet Wealth”, the energy held within this band clear to hear, while it’s Naughton who takes vocal control on the rumble and slap of “Rock N’ Roll Band”, where the dirty bass work and gang vocals hint at what KISS might have sounded like if they’d bumped headlong into Aerosmith. The other five tracks from Indeed maintain the standard, “Keep On Rockin’” a powerful riffed fuelled explosion, “Ballad Of Sammy Lee” an almost Skynyrd like strut that certainly isn’t as balladic as its name suggests, whereas “Highway Gypsy” has a slightly more swampy, stoner sting.

Having had and then lost the opening slot at a show at The Roxy which helped propel Blondie and their subsequent opening act and Rockicks’ replacements, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, to fame, the writing was on the wall for the band, Inside failing to get the push or notice it clearly deserved. RSO passed on a proposed sophomore effort from the band, while a three track demo garnered the interest of MCA but found Rockicks baulking at the subsequent offer when it transpired the label saw the band as a backing outfit for a more established artist. Those three tracks, I’m guessing, appear here, disc one of this two disc set rounded out by two 1977 sessions totalling a further seven songs. The triumvirate of “Reach For The Sky”, “Taking It All The Way” and “Let It Roll” possibly even more potent than what landed on the Inside album - a forceful Blackfoot like interplay in evidence and suiting the Rockicks sound perfectly. The further four of “Ration Of Love”, “Hot And Cold”, “Takin’ My Time” and “She’s Coming Soon” change tack ever so slightly, the first two infusing a stronger country flavour, while the latter pairing ease back and remind of a laid back Wishbone Ash in places.

From there I’m really not sure of the circumstances that brought about any of the thirteen recordings that make up disc two here. The opening nine were recorded in 1977, so you’d have to guess they were intended to be the Rockicks second album. Unexpectedly, considering all nine seem to have been recorded around the same time, drummer Rick Altschuler only appears on the final cut, “By Your Side”, which is a gritty rocker that builds a deep, deep groove. It’s Tom Cherry who appears on the rest, and with the likes of “Fire In The Hole” being a steam-train of riffs, “High On The Mountain” a more considered and country led piece of funk and “Paid My Dues” a dancing surge of guitar goodness, that these recordings remain unknown until now seems just plain wrong.

Track 10, “Jesse James”, however, jumps forward to 1991 and from what I can decipher, the latter day AOR-era Blackfoot slice of melodic rock, features Zubal, Naughton, Pate Jr and guitarist Phil Miserantino, with no drummer credited. Musically this and the 1992 recordings - the very Eliminator period ZZ Top like “Get The Lead Out” and the beefed up John Mellencamp of “Best Of Friends” - are a long way removed from the early output, but whatever the motivation behind these recordings, the results are excellent and it would have been good if something more had come of them. Leaving the 2005, ‘alternative version’ of “Consideration” (featuring Dan Crabtree on acoustic guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and backing vocals, while Jerry Zubal sings) to sit in a no man’s land between string laden, Moody Blues like 70s rock, Neil Young and something dangerously close to MOR. Again, this sounds like an entirely different band and even with a sumptuous Zubal guitar solo, in essence it is.

After Rockicks ended in 1978, the four went their separate ways, Zubal moving through a number of outfits - Catching Fire and Rock Anthem being the most recent. Pate Jr worked with Danny Spanos in the 80s, amongst others, while Rick Altschuler, who sadly died in 2004, left the music business entirely. Naughton too packed it in, turning to carpentry to earn a living in the film and television industry, where he was also a stagehand. However in 2004 he was back, this time with the Naughtones - flanked by his sons Corey and James - with the band winning industry awards for their first two albums, released in 2006 and 2008. Sadly, with things continuing to swing in the band’s favour, Naughton died of a heart attack in 2012, leaving a rather excellent musical legacy behind him.

This double CD collection, Keep On Rockin’ includes every recording Rockicks ever laid down and also features a 1977 radio ad from KMET-FM (Los Angeles) promoting one of the band’s shows in the area. With brief comment in the liner notes from Zubal, Pate Jr and Grooveyard Records label guru Joe Romagnola, my only minor gripe here is that there is no real historical information contained in the packaging. And with Rockicks still to this day pretty much anonymous, it does leave things without any real context (most of the information I’ve detailed here coming from an online article by RD Francis called ‘Sometimes you’re Kiss… and sometimes you’re Rockicks: Phantoms from the Rock ’n’ Roll Oblivion (HERE )). While it’s also worth mentioning that some of the recordings collected here come replete with tape-hiss, but then the majority of this excellent retrospective are demos from the mid 70s, so that’s to be expected.

The list of bands who coulda, woulda, shoulda is virtually endless, but, much though few of us have heard of them, Rockicks were undoubtedly one of their number who genuinely deserved so much more.


Track Listing
DISC ONE
1. SHAKIN'

2. SWEET WEALTH

3. ROCK N' ROLL BAND

4. KEEP ON ROCKIN'

5. CONSIDERATION

6. BALLAD OF SAMMY LEE

7. SEXY STEPPIN'

8. HIGHWAY GYPSY

9. REACH FOR THE SKY

10. TAKING IT ALL THE WAY

11. LET IT ROLL

12. RATION YOUR LOVE

13. HOT AND COLD

14. TAKIN' MY TIME

15. SHE'S COMING SOON


DISC TWO

1. DO OR DIE

2. FIRE IN THE HOLE

3. HERE'S TO THE FUTURE

4. TAKIN' MY TIME (ALTERNATE VERSION)

5. HIGH ON THE MOUNTAIN

6. HOT AND COLD (ALTERNATE VERSION)

7. HARD TO HANDLE

8. PAID MY DUES

9. BY YOUR SIDE

10. JESSE JAMES

11. GET THE LEAD OUT

12. BEST OF FRIENDS

13. CONSIDERATION (ALTERNATE VERSION)

14. RADIO AD-KMET-FM (1977)

Added: January 19th 2019
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: Rockicks @ The Grooveyard
Hits: 111
Language: english

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