Mike Harrison


Band members                              Related acts

- Mike Harrison -- vocals, keyboards harmonica

 

  supporting musicians (1971)

- Peter Batey -- bass, percussion
- Ian Herbert -- guitar, keyboards, backing vocals
- Kevin Iverson -- drums, percussion
- Frank Kenyon -- guitar, vocals 

 

  supporting musicians (1971) 

- Arthur Blecher -- sax

  supporting musicians (1972)

- Barry Beckett -- keyboards 
- Harrison Calloway -- trumpet
- Pete Carr -- lead guitar 
- Ronnie Eades -- sax 
- Luther Grosvenor -- guitar 
- Roger Hawkins -- bass
- David Hood -- bass 
- Clayton Ivey -- keyboards
- Jimmy Johnson -- guitar 
- Charles Rose -- trombone 
- Mike Stacey -- trumpet 

 

  supporting musicians (1975)
- Kenny Buttrey -- drums, percussion 
- Bob Cohen -- guitar
- Morgan Fisher -- keyboards 
- Luther Grosvenor -- guitar
- Mickey Jones -- guitar 
- Norbert Putnam -- bass

 

 

- Art

- The Hamburg Blues Band
- Spooky Tooth
- V.I.P.s 


 

Genre: rock

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Mike Harrison

Company: Island

Catalog: SMAS 9313

Year: 1971

Country/State: Carlisle, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; minor edge wear

Available: SOLD 

Catalog number: SOLD 6394

Price: SOLD $20.00

 

As a longtime Spooky Tooth fan, I've also thought Harrison was the band's often overlooked secret weapon.  Gary Wright usually took the Spooky Tooth spotlight, but his strained voice and chalk-on-a-blackboard falsetto was an acquired taste (that frequently didn't do much for my ears).  While Harrison had his own set of vocal limitations, he came off as authentic and handled more than his share of the band's classic tunes.

 

Following the release of 1970's aptly titled "The Last Puff", Spooky Tooth called it quits with singer Mike Harrison striking out in pursuit of a solo career.  Signed by Chris Blackwell's Island  Records (which had been Spooky Tooth's label), Harrison made his solo debut with the release of 1971's cleverly-titled "Mike Harrison".  Self-produced, the album found Harrison teamed with the band Junkyard Angel (who were from his hometown of Carlisle), showcasing the talents of bassist Peter Batey, guitarist/keyboard player Ian Herbert, drummer Kevin Iverson, and lead guitarist Frank Kenyon.  Anyone expecting to hear a pseudo-Spooky Tooth album was probably going to be disappointed by the collection.  Mind you, Harrison's voice was enough to ensure there were some comparisons to Spooky Tooth (check out the ballad 'Damian'), but the very fact Harrison kept things low keyed and somewhat un-commercial had a lot to do with making the album such a pleasure to hear.  None of the eight tracks was particularly flashy; the majority firmly in the mid-tempo folk-rock, blues-rock realm, but the performances were all energetic - you got the distinctive impression that Harrison and company were having a blast recording music for themselves.

 

back cover: left to right: Kevin Iverson (standing); Peter Batey (sitting), Frank Kenyon (standing),

 Ian Herbert (sitting)

 

"Mike Harrison" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Mother Nature   (Peter Batey) - 2:05

Penned by bassist Batey, 'Mother Nature' had an interesting folk-rock feel.  Kicked along by some pretty acoustic guitar and Batey's bass, the song actually sounded a bit like a Traffic tune.   It would have made an interesting direction for Spooky Tooth to pursue.   rating: *** stars

2.) Call It a Day   (Peter Batey - Mike Harrison - Ian Herbert - Kevin Iverson) - 6:29

Showcasing just how good Harrison's voice could be, 'Call It a Day' was a nifty keyboard-powered blues-rocker.  With one of those melodies that crept into your head and wouldn't leave, the other surprises came in the form of a pretty guitar solo (not sure if  Herbert or Kenyon was responsible for it), and the impressive harmony vocals.  Spooky Tooth seldom did as well in the harmony department.  The song ended with what sounded like a Catholic choir performing at a high mass.   rating: **** stars

3.) Damian    (Mike Harrison - Ian Herbert) - 3:17

'Damian' was a stark, but very pretty ballad that, thanks to Harrison's voice, had a distinctive Spooky Tooth feel.  Harrison provided some of his prettiest keyboard work on the track.  Not sure why (maybe the subject matter), but the song's always made me think of John Lennon ...   rating: *** stars

4.) Pain   (Ian Herbert - Kevin Iverson - Frank Kenyon) - 3:27
Side one's most conventional and commercial offering, 'Pain' was a likeable rocker with a great start-and-stop melody, some tasty fuzz lead guitar, and one of Harrison's best vocals.  It would have made a nice single and, in fact, or hardcore collectors, there was apparently a Japanese single:

- 'Pain' b/w 'Mother Nature' (catalog number HIT-5010)    rating: **** stars

 

(side 2)

1.) Wait Until the Morning   (Griffin - Mike Harrison) - 4:22

 Initially 'Wait Until the Morning' didn't do a great deal for me.  Initially a keyboard dominated ballad, the song started out as a dirge, but gradually built up speed and energy and by the time it ended had become one of the standout performances.   rating: **** stars

2.) Lonely People   (Peter Batey) - 2:30

Perhaps the album's prettiest song, 'Lonely People' had everything going for it - nice melody; wonderful lead guitar, great harmonies ...  One of my favorite performances.   rating: **** stars

3.) Hard Headed Woman  (Cat Stevens) - 6:30

Harrison's cover of Cat Steven's 'Hard Headed Woman' was given a breezy hard rock edge with some great Herbert or Kenyon twin lead guitar.  The shift to slow blues came as a complete surprise, though it gave guest sax player Arthur Blecher a chance to turn in the album's most impressive solo.   Wonderful performance and may have been the album's standout performance.   rating: **** stars

4.) Here Comes the Queen   (Luther Grosvenor) - 2:30

Penned by Spooky Tooth cohort Luther Grosvenor, 'Here Comes the Queen' was a tasty blues-rocker that gave Harrison a chance to showcase his harmonica playing.  Nice lead guitar on this one ...   rating: *** stars

 

Easily the best of Harrison's solo album and well worth looking for.

 

 

 

 

 


Genre: rock

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Smokestack Lightening

Company: Island

Catalog: SW 9321

Year: 1972

Country/State: Carlisle, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring, edge and corner wear

Available: 1

Catalog number: 6395

Price: $10.00

 

Having recorded a wonderful solo debut with the local band Junkyard Angel, Mike Harrison's sophomore solo album saw him turning in a completely different direction.   Recorded at Muscle Shoals Studios, 1972's "Smokestack Lightning" was co-produced by Harrison and Island Records president Chris Blackwell.  Surrounding Harrison with an impressive cast of all-star studio players was apparently intended to open him up to a broader American market, but the results were decidedly mixed.. Harrison's voice remained in fine form, though he remained a singer of limited capabilities (an expansive vocal range wasn't one of those strengths). Moreover, on tracks such as "Paid My Dues" Harry Robinson's extensive string arrangements all but drown Harrison's lower register vocals. The other thing missing from this outing was original material.  Only one of the six tracks was a Harrison - 'Turn It Over' co-written with Luther Grosevnor.  Those criticisms aside, backing from Spooky Tooth alumnus Grosvenor (who turned in a couple of tasty guitar solos - check out 'I Wanna Be Free') and the cream of Muscle Shoals studio players (Barry Beckett, Clayton Ivey, Roger Hawkins, etc.) certainly helped salvage material such as 'Tears Behind My Eyes' and 'Turn It Over'. Harrison also proved fairly deft working with the blues - 'What a Price' and the title track (though clocking it at over 12 minutes, it was six minutes too long), were both impressive, sounding like something off one of the early Spooky Tooth LPs.  

 

"Smokestack Lightning" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Tears Behind My Eyes   (Jimmy Stevens) - 4:13

'Tears Behind My Eyes' got the album off to a slow start.  A slow, bluesy ballad, the song was decent enough (with a really nice country-tinged guitar solo), but took forever to kick into gear and then was nearly swallowed by some ill conceived strings.  Harrison also didn't sound entirely comfortable with the song's key.  rating: ** stars

2.) Paid My Dues   (Jimmy Stevens) - 4:20

Covered an upbeat, bouncy keyboard-propelled melody, 'Paid My Dues' was one of the album's more commercial numbers.  Once again the problem with this one was the overwhelming orchestration.  Towards the middle of the track Harrison sounded like he was holding on for deal life.  The song would have been way better with a more stripped down arrangement.   rating: *** stars

3.) What a Price   (Domino - Maddux - Jussup) - 5:51

Normally I'm not a big fan of blues numbers, but 'What a Price' was one of those rare exception.  This was a standard blues number, but Harrison turned in a stunning vocal and some killer lead guitar (Grosvernor ?), simply added to the track's enjoyment.  One of the album's creative high points.   rating: **** stars

4.) I Wanna Be Free   (Joe Tex) - 4:12

A cover of Joe Tex's 'I Wanna Be Free' found Harrison showing a surprising funky side.  You weren't about to forget the Tex original, but this was a darn good cover and stands as my favorite performance.  The song also featured the album's best guitar solo.  Again, I'm not sure if it was Grosvenor, or studio musicians Pete Carr, or Jimmy Johnson.   rating: **** stars

 

(side 1)

1.) Turn It Over  (Mike Harrison - Luther Grosvenor) - 6:30

The album's lone original composition, 'Turn It Over' was an enjoyable blues-rocker.  Sporting a great barrelhouse piano solo and some funky Muscle Shoals horns this one was probably the album's best rocker.   rating: **** stars

2.) Smokestack  Lightening (Chester Burnett) - 12:29
I've always wondered why young, pale, English musicians have always felt the need to record classic slices of American blues ...  especially when most of the results are so disappointing.  Well, you can Harrison to that long list with his extended cover of Howlin' Wolf's 'Smokestack Lightening'.   Giving credit where due, Harrison's version wasn't bad, but stretching it out over twelve minutes probably wasn't necessary.  Harrison also got to showcase a bit of his harmonica skills.  Still, it you want to hear this tune, pull of the original.  Nothing can compete with the Howlin' Wolf version.  
rating: *** stars

To my ears the album was decent having a distinctive American-ized sound, but it didn't come close to the debut. Unfortunately, with sales proving non-existent, the following year Harrison and Gary Wright (to that point equally unsuccessful with his solo career) elected to reform Spooky Tooth. 



 

 

 


Genre: rock

Rating: ** (2 stars)

Title:  Rainbow Rider

Company: Island

Catalog: SW 9321

Year: 1975

Country/State: Carlisle, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG/VG+

Comments: minor ring, edge and corner wear

Available: 2

Catalog number: 6287

Price: $9.00

 

A reunited Spooky Tooth struggled on through two 'reunion' albums; 1973's "Witness" and the forgettable "The Mirror".  Following the band's collapse singer Mike Harrison promptly resumed his solo career with the release of 1975's "Rainbow Rider".  Released in the UK on the Goodear label, Island Records acquired US distribution rights where for some reason the company decided to slap different cover art on the album.  

 

 

    Goodear catalog number  7002

 

Produced by Chris Kimsey, the set found Harrison recording in Nashville with a mix of American and English studio musicians. Musically the set wasn't a major change from earlier efforts. Harrison's voice remained instantly recognizable with tracks such as "Maverick Woman Blues", "You and Me" and "I'll Keep It with Mine" offering an enjoyable set of R&B flavored rock.  Highlights included a weird cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and his collaboration with longtime buddy/former Spooky Tooth guitarist Luther Grosvenor on "Okay Lay Lady Lay" (the latter redeemed by some nifty voice box guitar work.).   

 

"Rainbow Rider" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Maverick Woman Blues   (Don Nix) - 3:42

Opening up with some blazing twin lead guitar (Bob Cohen and Micky Jones) and pounding keyboards (courtesy of Morgan Fisher), 'Maverick Woman Blues' was the album's toughest rocker and one of the most Spooky Tooth-styled numbers on the set.  At least to my ears Harrison even sounded a bit like Gary Wright on this one.   Nice way to start off the collection.   rating: **** stars

2.) You and Me   (Troy Seals - Will Jennings) - 2:40

Recording in Nashville I guess it was only natural that Harrison would fall prey to some country-rock/swamp rock influences.  Unfortunately, judging by the lame 'You and Me' the results were fairly formulaic with Harrison sounding about as funky as you'd expect for a long-haired English guy.  The fact of the matter was that no matter how hard he tried Harrison was never going to sound like Joe South.   rating: ** stars

3.) I'll Keep It with Mine   (Bob Dylan) - 4:19

Subjecting Bob Dylan's ' I'll Keep It with Mine' to a Spooky Tooth/Gary Wright-styled arrangement may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the keyboard-propelled arrangement never gathered much energy and the backing gospel church choir simply blew Harrison off the stage.  The song's highlight came in the form of the nifty lead guitar (though I'm not sure if it was Bob Cohen or Micky Jones).   rating: *** stars

4.) Like a Road (Leading Home)   (Don Nix - Don Penn) - 4:40

Harrison's gruff voice should have sounded quite impressive on a soul and blues-drenched ballad such as 'Like a Road (Leading Home)'.  For some reason it didn't happen -  the heavy orchestration might have had something to do with it (though the Stax-styled horns were great).  rating: ** stars

5.) We Can Work It Out   (John Lennon - Paul McCartney) - 3:24
There are times I really enjoy Harrison's strange, countrified cover of The Beatles 'We Can Work It Out' and then there are times I think it sucks the big one.  To his credit Harrison didn't tamper too much with the song's structure or melody and the mandolin and country guitar were actually fun, but the ersatz country twang was hard to stomach.    Guess I really didn't like it all that much.   rating: ** stars

 

(side 2)

1.) Okay Lay Lady Lay   (Mike Harrison - Luther Grosvenor) - 6:40

A driving blues-rocker, the highlights on 'Okay Lay Lady La' actually came in the form of Luther Grosvenor's voice box guitar solo.    rating: *** stars   

2.) Easy   (Aitkin - Brown - Mike Harrison) - 4:30

'Easy' was a pretty and rather commercial ballad, though once again the church choir all but blew Harrison off the stage.   rating: ** stars

3.) Somewhere Over the Rainbow   (E.W. Harburg - Harold Arlen) - 2:36

 I'm not even going to guess what Harrison was thinking when he decided to cover 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' ...  And yes, in case anyone cared, he stuck very close to the original arrangement.  Why Island would have tapped it as a single for the US and UK markets is a complete mystery to me.   rating: * star

4.) Friend   (Arthur Belcher - Mike Harrison) - 4:40

'Friend' was a breezy, slightly jazz-tinged ballad that actually benefited from Harrison's laid back and measured delivery.  One of the best performances on the album ...   rating: *** stars

 

The album was tapped for a series of singles throughout the world:

 

  US release

- 1975's 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' b/w 'Maverick Woman Blues' (Island catalog number IS 052)

 

  UK release

- 1975's 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' b/w 'Maverick Woman Blues' (Goodear catalog number EAR 603)

- 1975's 'We Can Work It Out' b/w 'Evil Woman' (Goodear catalog number EAR 611

 

  German release:

- 1975's ''Maverick Woman Blues'' b/w 'You and Me' (Goodear catalog number BF 18355)

 

Harrison was clearly a talented guy, but for the most part  it just didn't come through on this one.  Go ahead and dock the album half a star for the countrified Beatles cover ("We Can Work It Out") and the appalling cover photo - demerits for the big hair and bad belt !   Nope, it didn't sell squat ... 




 

 


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