Highway Robbery


Band members               Related acts

- Don Francisco -- vocals, drums

- Michael Stevens -- lead guitar, vocals

- John Livingston Tunison IV (aka Jan Tunison) -- vocals,

  bass

 

 

 

- Atlee (Don Francisco)

- Big Wha Koo (Don Francisco)

- The Boston Tea Party (Michael Stevens)

- Crowfoot (Don Francisco)

- Manitoba Hugger (John Livingston Tunison IV)

- Pan (Don Francisco)

- Wha Koo (Don Francisco)

 

 

 


 

Genre: rock

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  For Love or Money

Company: RCA Victor

Catalog: LSP-4735

Year: 1972

Country/State: US

Grade (cover/record): VG / VG+

Comments: small cut out notch bottom right edge

Available: 1

GEMM catalog ID: 4933

Price: $80.00

 

 

This album had been sitting in my 'to listen to' pile for years.  Anyhow, I got up early on a Sunday morning, went down to my work space, slapped on a pair of headphones and started playing the LP.  I was static the rest of the day.  Take my word, this is not a Sunday morning kind of album (and that's meant as a complement) ! 

 

After a stint with The Boston Tea Party lead guitarist Michael Stevens began looking for another project.  Perhaps inspired by Capitol Records' success with a power trio (e.g. Grand Funk Railroad), Stevens decided to build a hard rock trio. He eventually ended up with a line up consisting of singer/drummer Don Francisco who had previously been a member of the California-based Atlee and Crowfoot and bassist John Livingston Tunison IV had been in an outfit by the name of Manitoba Hugger (?).

 

Stevens and company attracted the attention of managers Robert Cavallo and Joseph Rufallo who'd turned acts like Little Feat and The Weather Report into big names.  The pair signed Highway Robbery to their management roster and quickly approached Bill Halverson about producing the band's debut album.  Signed by RCA Victor and teamed with Halverson in the production role, all hyperbole aside, these guys managed to write and record one of the great and overlooked hard rock albums of the 1970s.  At least to my ears 1972's "For Love or Money" is a impressive on a number of fronts.  With Stevens credited with writing all eight songs, the LP wasn't particularly original, but the band had good taste when it came to appropriating sounds.  In this case their recipe borrowed liberally from bands like early Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Free, Led Zep and even a little Grand Funk bombast.  Those ingredients were then mixed into something that managed to combine hard rock punch with a commercial sheen that was derivative, but still quite attractive.  With the exception of a pair of radio ready power ballads which were supposedly tacked on the album when RCA executives threatened to shelve the set for lack of commercial potential, this album simply didn't let up.  Propelled by Francisco's shrieking voice and Stevens' hyperactive guitar, tracks like 'Mystery Rider', 'Fifteen' and 'Lazy Woman' (the latter one of two songs with Tunison handling lead vocals), were simply killer slices of early-1970s metal that match up well with any of the band's better known competition.  Even more impressive, these songs were tuneful and occasionally even boasted lyrics that rose above the typical 'need-my-woman-now' standard you'd expect from long haired freaks.  At some risk to my rock credibility (big laugh), I'll even readily admit that the two commercial numbers 'All I Need (To Have Is You)' and 'Bells' were both actually pretty good.  

 

Now if all of that hype didn't capture your attention, how could you not be swayed by liner notes as sensitive and heart tugging as these:

 

Declaration: For love or money, Highway Robbery hereby dedicates itself to roar, to drive, to sensitive joy and, above all, the emission of the highest levels of energy rock. Let it be known that Michael Stevens – lead guitarist, vocalist, writer of all material contained herein, child of a gypsy commune – carries out this pledge in the true manner of his forebears. Further be it known that he is in allegiance with Don Francisco – drummer, lead singer and a New York native whose main influences have been traditional New Orleans-based bands such as Robert Parker & the Royals and Deacon John & the Ivories; and with John Livingston Tunison IV – bassman, vocalist and painter, whose first sound memories are of Muddy Waters and B.B. King. FOR LOVE OR MONEY: signed, sealed and created by the aforementioned Highway Robbery, in this age, on this day, in the name of storming, beautiful rock and roll.

 

I feel tears rolling down my cheeks ... ROCK AND ROLL FOREVER !!!

 

By the way, for any fanatics out there RCA pulled a single from the album - 'All I Need' b/w 'Mystery Rider' (RCA catalog number 74-0782)

 

"For Love or Money" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Mystery Rider   (Michael Stevens) - 

2.) Fifteen   (Michael Stevens) - 

3.) All I Need (To Have Is You)   (Michael Stevens) - 

4.) Lazy Woman   (Michael Stevens) - 

 

(side 2)
1.) Bells   (Michael Stevens) - 

2.) Ain't Gonna Take No More   (Michael Stevens) - 

3.) I'll Do It All Again   (Michael Stevens) - 

4.) Promotion Man   (Michael Stevens) - 

 

Neither the single not the album did anything sales wise and in short order both their management company and RCA dropping them with the band subsequently calling it quits.  

 

Post Highway Robbery Francisco briefly played with The Beau Brummels' Ron Elliott and even backed Linda Ronstadt before joining Pan and then forming Big Wha-Koo with a couple of former Steely Dan sidemen.

 

As a footnote, I've never heard it but am told that the Collectables CD reissue has disappointing sound (so look for a vinyl original - hint, hint).

 

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FOR LOVE OR MONEY was recorded at a furious pace, played as hard as bleeding hands could allow and always at insane volumes, often causing engineer Richie Schmitt to run screaming from the control room. Beginning the proceedings with the incendiary “Ain’t Gonna Take No More”, Schmitt soon found himself unable to bring the soundboard under control as what began as a kind of Uncle Tommin’ Janis-meets-Garner slide blues erupted into a cacophonous jackhammer more akin to LED ZEPPELIN 2 played by Sir Lord Baltimore. With Francisco’s uncannily female banshee wailing off the Richter scale and Stevens’ shameless appropriation of the middle-8 from Jefferson Airplane’s “She Has Funny Cars”, the song then veered off into a double time “Psychotic Reaction” coda longfading with wailingly beautiful multi-tracked power chords - it was as uniquely disturbing a piece of sonic cut & paste as any young band had ever laid down. Next up was “Fifteen”, Stevens’ lament at his discovery at such a young age that adults generally knew shit. And what a lament this was. Imagine Sabs’ “Children of the Grave” played by The Litter during their EMERGE-period with the “School’s Out” riff thrown in every 32 bars. Speeds up, slows down, stops, starts; this motherfucking barrage of relentless yawp is a blow to the cosmic fundament make no mistake. And beats Alice’s “Eighteen” by three full years of incomprehension. T

he next libretto to be stapled to the Gates of Hell was “Mystery Rider”, the soon-to-be opening track; on which Halverson unleashed a “River Deep, Mountain High” sensibility of multiply-layered vocals that elevated the song into a euphoric initiation into the Underworld. As an opening track, its lyrics appeared to speak directly to the guardian gatekeeper of the album itself, endowing the work with an immediate mysticism. The song was a ride with the Red Man that would end all rides – a Spector soundalike Summum Bonum of Grand Funk’s gospel chorus’d SURVIVAL anthem “I Want Freedom”, created through a laborious and protracted process of harmony vocal multi-tracking, but ultimately still a sonic sinch to achieve for Bill Halverson after his labours with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Schmitt’s shattered hearing must’ve eased considerably when the quiet 6/8 blues of “I’ll Do It Over Again” commenced its squawking. But even with its inward-looking “Signed D.C.” self-reflection, the song held masterful surprises, as the superbly confident Don Francisco let forth lupine yelps of John Garneresque vocal mannerisms guaranteed to tear to shreds the remaining sensibilities of his captive audience, ie: their long-suffering engineer.