1976 was a momentous year in music. On one end of the spectrum, ABBA and WINGS delivered more sugar pops than Kellogg's. On the other, both the RAMONES and SEX PISTOLS were turning rock music on an ugly, though thrilling dime. On the brink of that punk insurgency, SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES were helping erect the tiers of alternative music. Frank Zappa was in a financial war against his former manager Herb Cohen. Rockers were falling all over the place, be it Alice Cooper, Keith Richards or Keith Moon. Peter Frampton, KISS, HEART and FLEETWOOD MAC were in the rock limelight more than they weren't. QUEEN was one album away from achieving immortality.
Amidst this tumultuous period of activity in rock music, POOBAH was kicking up their own fuss, louder and zanier than many of their peers. The legend of POOBAH is still unraveling for modern sludge junkies and would-be classic rock archeologists. From Youngstown, Ohio, Jim Gustafson and POOBAH sat outside of the bustling American rock market despite wielding considerable talent and volume in their own right. Yielding a little bit of CREAM, a little bit of BLUE CHEER and CANNED HEAT and tons of amplification, POOBAH's cult status is due to their occasional weirdness. Yet Jim Gustafson remains one of the best guitarists you've probably not yet heard. Gustafson, who has played at the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame more than any other guitarist to this point, has been working closely with the red-hot Ripple Music to bring POOBAH to the masses once again.
Ripple Music brought back POOBAH's bombastic 1972 debut album "Let Me In" a few years ago and now they reissue the band's bicentennial outing, "U.S. Rock", containing four extra tracks including a thunderous live version of "Steamroller", one of POOBAH's calling card tunes.
As POOBAH played with the likes of Alice Cooper, FOGHAT, ZZ TOP and JUDAS PRIEST throughout the Seventies, Gustafson found himself in scrambling mode to keep the band going after original members Phil Jones (who would reunite with Gustafson on the 1979 "Steamroller" album) and Glenn Wiseman took off during the height of the band's acclaim following "Let Me In".
For "U.S. Rock", Gustafson's POOBAH brigade consisted of Eric Wright on bass, Lori Powers on percussion and vocals (the latter shared with Gustafson) and Mike Fortino on drums. Still heavy on the fuzz, "U.S. Rock" marks a transition in sound for POOBAH, retaining raw edges of CREAM, at this time added with subtle dashes of LED ZEPPELIN, STEPPENWOLF, Ted Nugent and GRAND FUNK RAILROAD.
Jim Gustafson is a rowdy cat on "U.S. Rock" with his shrieking frets and pipes. Shrieking becomes more or less the modus operandi of the album. The backing vocal squeals of "Flesh Fantasies" are as batty as Bruce Wayne's undies, though the song's energetic thrust and tuneful groove more than compensate. Gustafson broils his solo here and on the following song, "Pulling Me Down".
The step-jive slide behind the flailing psychedelic organs on "Pulling Me Down" makes it a pretty funky number despite the over-the-top caterwauling. If all that isn't wacky enough for you, hang out for the k-k-k-kows and falsetto squawking on "Watch Me". At least the nattering eccentricity is rescued by a monster solo from Jim Gustafson.
Straying from the clubbing craziness of the opening numbers comes the jumpy and fun fifties nod, "Let's Rock" and the Nugent-meets-DEEP PURPLE pumper, "Thru These Eyes". Afterwards, "Crazy" pulls no punches with more madcap yelping and a goofy transition into a psych-blues jam with cracked laughter overtop. Once again, however, Jim Gustafson rakes and shreds while Mike Fortino rolls his skins to sheer delight. "Coast to Coast" keeps a tighter focus on strident funk and blues lines lying in good company with CANNED HEAT and ATOMIC ROOSTER. Later in the album, tiding synths and tight crooning take precedence on the dreamy "Right Out of the Night", perhaps serving as a conscience over all the bedlam beforehand.
Overseeing the re-master of "U.S. Rock" is Tony Reed of STONE AXE and MOS GENERATOR (mutual Ripple Music house acts), who helps Gustafson re-present these tracks with a preserved analog feel while giving them a crisp update. Of the four bonus songs, two ("Your Way My Way" and "Enjoy What You Have") are romance-plied kissing cousins of "Right Out of the Night" that ring of rough cut impressions of early JOURNEY. "Cold Blooded Lover" is marginally heavier as a BLUE ÖYSTER CULT (the poppier bits of them, that is) tamed rocker.
Quirky, yes, "U.S. Rock" was still full of bicentenary fireworks that might've caused a bigger stir with less cannonade on the mike. Nonetheless, this is a must-have album for distortion rock freaks. If you don't yet know the name POOBAH, then consider it a gimme password and let yourself in.