The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Seventeen): Goodthunder

Hailing from the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, Goodthunder made music that was meant to be played loud. Clearly inspired by some of the blues-based and psychedelic hard rock groups of the day – Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, especially – the band featured some solid talent (guitarist David Hanson and keyboardist Wayne Cook stand out), but remained obscure during their brief existence. Of course they were not the only group at the time writing heavy, guitar-oriented songs, but Goodthunder displays a proficiency that makes one wonder what else they could have done had they enjoyed even a modicum of success. Here are some of the highlights from this obscure gem:

The album opens with the rollicking “I Can’t Get Thru to You,” a “radio-friendly” song as far as prog goes. Hanson’s guitar drives this brief but powerful piece.

“For a Breath” again showcases Hanson’s talents on the guitar, but Cook shines on the organ and Bill Rhodes impresses with a brief but solid bass solo.

David Hanson’s guitar continues to shine on “Home Again” and “P. O. W.” Both songs also feature impressive work from Cook on the keyboards.

The final song, “Barking at the Ants,” is by far the strongest and most progressive on the album. Although it opens with a catchy guitar riff courtesy of Hanson, it is Cook’s organ – reminiscent of the sound of the late Jon Lord – that takes center stage here.

Although Goodthunder did not make it very far in the music world, their sole album showcases quite a bit of potential. If you are in the mood for some obscure prog with a heavier edge to it, give them a shot.

Stay tuned for number eighteen!

Top Ten… or Top Thirteen?

For my personal Best of 2013 list, I have just posted (over the last few days) an alphabetical listing of my Top Ten:

Big Big Train: English Electric Part Two

Deep Purple: NOW What?!

Dream Theater: Dream Theater

Haken: The Mountain

Holy Grail: Ride the Void

Kingbathmat: Overcoming the Monster

Sound of Contact: Dimensionaut

Spock’s Beard: Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep

Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories

The Winery Dogs: The Winery Dogs

But, as promised, I am now going to add three more to the list, as three bonus additions, and thus make this a Top Thirteen list.

Why? Well, because this is the year 2013, and also because Black Sabbath released 13 this year (which also happened to be one of Mike Portnoy‘s favorites).

So, stay tuned for #11 on my Top Thirteen of 2013…

NOW What?! (Best of 2013 — Part 2)

Moving right along, right after Big Big Train at #1, we come to the #2 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list:

Deep Purple.

With the release of NOW What?! the band caught me by surprise. (Note that the first word of the album title is in “all caps,” which I think is particularly hilarious. But a lot of reviewers have missed out on that nice little tonal detail.) And what a fine surprise this album is.

I wasn’t expecting the album to be so good! In fact, I remember downloading it and listening to the first three tracks (“A Simple Song,” “Weirdistan,” and “Out of Hand”) thinking, “WHOA,” this is not too bad at all… and then, WHAM! Suddenly the next two tracks (“Hell to Pay,” and “Body Line”) totally blew me away. Why? Well, because it seemed as if the instrumental breaks were actually escalating in intensity as the album progressed. The wild organ freak-outs and the insanely great guitar playing were — yes! — veering off into prog-class warp drive territory.

And then, the unmistakably epic tracks “Above and Beyond” and “Uncommon Man” sealed the deal, with their instrumental and compositional prowess. Note that both of these tracks are fittingly dedicated to rock god Jon Lord, the Deep Purple founding member and super-talented classical composer who died in 2012. The latter track (“Uncommon Man”) invokes Aaron Copland’s classical epic, “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which progarchists will recall has also been previously transmuted into prog excellence by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

Let it be noticed by one and all: Steve Morse serves up some sweeeeeeeeet guitar work on this album. “Apres Vous” and “All the Time in the World” keep the album orbiting in the stratosphere of excellence.

Indeed, Flying Colors made it into my Top Ten list last year, instantly passing the prog litmus test with flying colors. So, I was sad that the supergroup had no studio album in 2013. (Hence I am looking forward to what will surely be one of the highlights of 2014.)

But this new Deep Purple album has both surprised and more than satisfied me in the meantime, by giving me many unexpected 2013 moments of Steve Morse guitar bliss. His synergy with Don Airey’s organ virtuosity on NOW What?! should make all prog-lovers sit up and take notice. The whole disc is a joy to listen to.

NOW What?! offers classic hard rock with the perfect twist; namely, prog-class musical virtuosity.

A Prog Awakening (Part 1)

I suppose it is inevitable that kids encounter music first through the filter of parents’ or siblings’ tastes. That was certainly true in my case. In the early 70s, the meagre set of records owned by my mum and stepdad was my only window onto the world of music. I remember several LPs by Elton John and Rod Stewart, the odd one or two by The Beatles and The Stones, also The Carpenters, John Denver, Mama Cass…

At some point, I began to assert my musical independence and sought out new sounds. At that time in the UK, the main channels for hearing new ‘popular music’ were Radio 1 and the TV show Top Of The Pops. Like most kids, I listened to ‘The Charts’ and had little awareness of anything else. Glam rock and disco had no appeal, but then punk and ‘New Wave’ came on the scene. Like many young people of that era, I found the energy and non-conformist attitude of these new genres incredibly exciting. For the first time in my life, I starting buying my own music: 7″ singles by The Clash, Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, Siouxsie & The Banshees…

Yet the signs were there that I would soon move on to other things. In amongst all that punk were singles by rock acts such as The Who, Queen and Nazareth. Further clues were to be found in my fascination with three albums from my stepdad’s otherwise middle-of-the-road collection. The first of these was a cassette of Pink Floyd’s seminal Dark Side Of The Moon. I forget when I first heard this, but it was before I started buying singles: probably 1975, certainly no later than 1976. I used to sit in the corner of the living room with headphones on, bewitched by the stereo sound effects as much as the epic qualities of the music. I hadn’t realised just how well-crafted music could be until that point.

The second of these intriguing albums was a Focus ‘greatest hits’ compilation – one of Polydor’s ‘Rock Flashback’ series. The cover was awful – fluorescent yellow with the band name spray-painted in green above a skewed, oddly-tinted band photo – but the music more than made up for that. There was so much to enjoy here: Jan Akkerman’s incredibly fluid and inventive guitar playing, Thijs van Leer’s unhinged, operatic performance on Hocus Pocus… In its own way, this was every bit as exciting as the punk that would very soon inspire me to start buying records. Focus remain a favourite of mine to this day, and Sylvia would almost certainly feature as one of my ‘Desert Island Discs’.

And the third of these influential albums? None other than Tangerine Dream’s Atem, completely unlike anything else in my stepdad’s collection. I suspect he saw it going cheap somewhere and bought it on the strength of the artwork. I doubt that he liked what he heard! He played the track Wahn for me, probably in the expectation that I would be shocked by its weirdness. I certainly found it challenging, but it was also strangely compelling. It was a tentative start to what would eventually become an infatuation with TD’s 1970s and 1980s material.

The transition period for me can be roughly dated as late 1978 to early 1979. Before that period, I was a chart-listening, single-buying slave to musical fashion who occasionally managed to reach beyond such superficiality and touch something deeper and more meaningful in music; after that period, I considered myself a serious music fan – album-focused, interested in seeking out new music for its own sake rather than its popularity, ready for the transcendent experiences of witnessing my favourite bands performing live.

That daunting leap from punk to prog was made via the convenient stepping stone of hard rock, principally in the form of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. The first rock album I owned was, in fact, Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same – a present from Christmas 1978, I think. I no longer recall the precise chronology of my musical discoveries, but I still remember all of the vinyl LPs that were added to my burgeoning collection over that period from Christmas ’78 to my fourteenth birthday in July ’79: the first post-Hackett Genesis album, And Then There Were Three; Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here; Paris by Supertramp; Mike Oldfield’s Exposed; and 2112 by Rush. The latter, in particular, had a profound effect on me. I think Side 1 of 2112 was probably my first encounter with a true prog epic. Rush have been one of my favourite bands ever since.

Coming up in Part 2: My own musical ‘Cambrian explosion’ of 1979-1981, and my first gigs…