The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Thirteen): Samurai

Originally known as Web, Samurai were another one of those unfortunate What if? bands that were lost in the shuffle of the early days of progressive rock.

Web released three albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the well-received but commercially unsuccessful I Spider (which is on my list of future reviews). By 1971, however, band leader and keyboardist Dave Lawson (later of Greenslade fame) changed the name to Samurai, hoping, perhaps, that the change of name might result in a change of fortune. Alas, that was not to be. Yet we do have their sole eponymous album as a result of that name change, and it’s a true hidden gem. Samurai features the talents of Lawson on vocals and keyboards, Don Fay and Tony Roberts on winds, Lennie Wright and Kenny Beveridge on percussion, Tony Edwards on guitars, and John Eaton on bass. Part of the Canterbury/jazz-fusion movement of the early ’70s, Samurai relied on drums and woodwinds to drive their unique sound, although the keys and guitars are given their chances to shine. Here are a few of the highlights from the album:

“Saving It Up For So Long,” the first track, could have made a good single. It opens with a jazzy guitar riff and drum beat, making it as close to radio-friendly as a progressive band was likely to get. The saxes, courtesy of Fay and Roberts, are also a nice touch.

Edwards is given another chance to showcase his talents on the fifth track, “Give a Little Love.” His riff is both catchy and distorted, giving the song an early King Crimson feel (think Lizard-era).

Lawson, whose nimble fingers on the keys anchor the sound of every song on the album, really shines forth on the last and longest track, “As I Dried the Tears Away.” His Hammond organ solo in the middle is especially satisfying to the ear.

If you are the type of fellow who enjoys a daily or weekly pilgrimage to the Canterbury sound, in particular to Soft Machine (Robert Wyatt era in particular), early King Crimson, or Caravan, this album will be a pleasant surprise for your wandering ears. Even those less inclined to walk that path will nevertheless appreciate the top-notch musicianship of this solid but under-appreciated album.

Stay tuned for number fourteen!