Twentieth Century Zoo


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1966-67) as The Bittersweets

- Paul Bennett (RIP) -- drums, percussion

- Allan Chitwood -- bass, backing vocals
- Greg Farley -- rhythm guitar
- Bob Sutko (RIP) -- vocals, harmonica 


  line up 2 (1967-69) as Twentieth Century Zoo

- Allan Chitwood -- bass, backing vocals
- Greg Farley -- rhythm guitar
- Paul 'Skip' Ladd -- lead guitar 
- Bob Sutko (RIP) -- vocals, harmonica 
- Randy Wells -- drums, percussion   
   

 

 

- The Bitter Sweets

- The Laser Beats (Paul Ladd)

- The Nightriders (Paul Ladd)

- Solid Ground (Randy Wells)

 

 


 

Genre: psych

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Thunder On a Clear Day

Company: Vault

Catalog: 122

Year: 1969

Country/State: Scottsdale, Arizona

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor edge and corner wear; vinyl is wonderful

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 6300

Price: $150.00

 

Not yet a mega-rarity, but still rather hard to find (particularly in decent shape), this Arizona band's sole album release stands as one of my favorite slices of mid-'60s psychedelia.  Unfortunately, this is another one of those outfits that I don't know much about ... anyone got more on the band's history? 

 

Drummer Allan Chitwood, lead guitarist Greg Farley, and singer Bob Sutko (along with drummer Paul Bennett) started their professional musical career as members of The Bitter Sweets.  Hitting the local club circuit where they opened for national acts like Blue Cheer, The Byrds and Canned Heat, the band picked up a local audience and a mentor in the form of Phoenix dj Tony Evans who over the 1966-67 timeframe helped them record a series of three singles for small local labels:

 

 

- 1966's 'Cry Your Eyes Out' b/w 'She Treats Me Bad' (Hype catalog number L-102)

- 1966's 'She Treats Me Bad' b/w 'Road To Rann' (Chari catalog number C-102)

- 1967's 'In the Night' b/w 'Another Chance' (Original Sound catalog number OC 70)

 

left to right: Bob Sutko - Paul Ladd - Randy Wells - Allan Chitwood - Greg Farley

 

After the release of the first 45 the band was wracked by a number of personnel changes - former Solid Ground drummer Randy Wells took over for Paul Bennett and ex-Laser Beats Paul Ladd was brought on board as lead guitarist.  In 1967 the band hightailed it for Los Angeles where they recorded their third single for Original Sound.  Like the other two singles, it did little nationally, though it did attract the attention of the bigger Vault label.  Learning there was a Washington DC based band going by the name The Bittersweets, the group switched monikers to the hipper sounding Twentieth Century Zoo (apparently inspired by a stoned female fan), where they released a pair of singles for Chari Ann Zelman's Caz label:

 

- 1967's  'You Don't Remember' b/w 'Clean Old Man' (Caz catalog number L-103) 

- 1968's  'Love In Your Face' b/w 'Tossing and Twisting' (Caz catalog number L-104) 

 

Signed by Vault, 1968's "Thunder On a Clear Day" was simply great - far better than most reviews would have you believe.  While at least a couple of reviewers have slapped a blues-rock label on the collection, that's not particularly accurate.  Sure, 'Bull Frog' and 'Blues with a Feeling - Jam' were conventional blues-rock numbers, but they were also full of squealing, feedback laced guitars.  Musically it was definitely a timepiece with the band dipping their collective toes into a mixture of blues-rock (the previously mentioned 'Bull Frog'), garage ('Love In Your Face'), and psych ('Quiet Before the Storm').  It certainly wasn't the most original thing you've heard, but with the exception of the extended closing number 'Blues with A Feeling', it was universally enjoyable.   Sutko had a suitably rugged voice that was quite good on the tougher numbers, while the Chitwood/Wells rhythm section kept things focused.  The left lead guitarist Ladd as the real standout.  Virtually every song benefited from his presence and  he continually managed to use fuzz effects with a subtlety unknown to most guitarists.    

Musically the first side featured relatively short and focused efforts ('Quiet Before the Storm' and 'Love In Your Face' . In contrast, flip side numbers such as 'It's All In My Head' and the previously mentioned 'Blues with A Feeling - Jam' found the band stretching out.  Complete with rather acid tinged lyrics ('It's All In My Head') and occasional freak out sound effects (check out the segment following 'You Don't Remember'), to my ears  this was a blast to hear !!!   Did it sell?   Nope.

 

- The opener 'Quiet Before the Storm' served as a perfect example of a beautiful, late-1960s lysergic soaked ballad.  With a haunting melody, assorted oddball sound effects, shimmering keyboards, a killer Paul Ladd fuzz guitar solo, mildly Indian flavored percussions and a stoned Bob Sutko lead vocal, this one was simply a blast.   rating: **** stars

- Powered by Ladd's snarling lead guitar  and Randy Wells' devastating drums, ' Rainbow' found the band diving headlong into straight-ahead hard rock.  Not the most original thing you've ever heard, but potent enough to kill most of the competition at 100 yards.   Go online and look for an interview with Ladd where he talks about recording the album at the same time the Lovin' Spoonful were in the studio.  The interview described an aural war-of-the-speakers between the two.  Guess who would have won that competition !!!   rating: **** stars

- While the opening train sound effects weren't necessary (but then this was the 1960s ...), 'Bull Frog' was an okay blues-rocker.  Sutko sounded pretty snotty (in a good way), but Ladd's screaming fuzz lead guitar once again provided the song's standout characteristic. In fact, the song got way better when it shifted gears from blues-rock to hard rock.  rating: *** stars

- Opening with the sound of breaking glass and some screaming fuzz guitar, 'Love In Your Face' found the band coming close to straight-ahead garage rock, though with a surprisingly commercial chorus.  Ladd again deserved kudos for turning in a tasty lead guitar.    rating: **** stars

- Another garage-rocker, 'You Don't Remember' differed a bit from the rest of the collection in that Ladd's fuzz guitar was accompanied by some nice, uncredited Doors-styled keyboards.  Probably the album's toughest rocker, it was one of my favorites; my only complaint being the track faded out just as it started to really cook.   rating: **** stars

- Ah, more sound effects - this time the sound of a fight and than an ambulance ...  In case you couldn't guess from the title, 'It's All In My Head' found the band returning to psych with impressive results.  Great trippy lyrics with more stellar Ladd lead guitar.   Yeah, the martial drumming segment may not have aged all that well, but it was brief and the Ladd's guitar really kicked in.   rating: **** stars

- The album's lone disappointment, 'Blues with A Feeling - Jam' was a stereotypical blues-rock jam that really didn't have a great deal going for it other than Ladd's fuzz lead guitar.  Clocking in at almost ten minutes certainly didn't help the song.   rating: ** stars

 

Much better than critics would have you believe !

"Thunder On a Clear Day" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Quiet Before the Storm   (Paul Ladd - Robert Sutko) - 4:21
2.) Rainbow   (Paul Ladd - Randy Wells - Robert Sutko) - 3:55
3.) Bull Frog   (M. Merrick) - 6:37
4.) Love In Your Face   (Greg Farley - Robert Sutko) - 3:15


(side 2)

1.) You Don't Remember   (Greg Farley - Robert Sutko) -2:38
2.) It's All In My Head   (H. Aceves) - 5:04
3.) Blues with A Feeling - Jam   (W. Jacobs) - 9:59

 

 

The band actually began recording material for a planned sophomore album, but Ladd and Sutko found themselves drafted into the Army effectively ending the group.  I've never heard it, but there's also a subsequently non-LP single:

 

- 1969's 'Only Thing That's Wrong' b/w 'Stallion of fate' (Vault catalog number V-961)

 

The album's seen a number of reissues over the years.

 

In 1999 Sundazed reissued the album on CD (catalog number SC 11063) and picture disc vinyl (re-mastered from the original tapes) with a bunch of bonus tracks including non-LP singles, demos, and some previously unreleased tracks:

 

1.) You Don't Remember (single version)

2.) Clean Old Man

3.) Love In Your Face (single version)

4.)Tossin' & Turnin'

5.) Only Thing That's Wrong

6.) Stallion Of Fire

7.) Country (previously unreleased)

8.) Hall Of The Mountain King (previously unreleased)

9.) 'Enchanted Park (previously unreleased)

 

 

Sundazed also released a three track vinyl EP (catalog number 145)

 

 

"You Don't Remember + 2" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) You Don't Remember

 

(side 2)

1.) Love In Your Face

2.) Tossin' and Turnin'

 

 

Though I don't know if it was a legitimate project, the British Radioactive label also reissued the original LP (without bonus material) in CD, vinyl, and vinyl picture disc formats.

 


 

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