5 min
9 Sep

Rhead Brothers

Just wandering around the net one day – Discogs in particular – I stumbled upon this song Woman Of Soul by the Rhead Brothers (from the album Dedicate). One of those songs you put on repeat for a proper week only to find out their other stuff is great too. It sounded to me – and to others too apparently – as if I found a forgotten gem from the Laurel Canyon scene of the seventies. Also Steely Dan popped into mind. Now, I couldn’t be more wrong…what we’re dealing with here is British as tea my friend. Not too much – close to nothing – can be found about this lovely piece of music. Their Second album Black Shaheen was shelved by EMI at the time – we’re talking late seventies here – for no particular reason. As having talked to other artists from that era with similar stories, I’d say the big record labels were a bit confused back then – to put it lightly. Norwegian label Preservation Records did a reissue of the album in 2016, which was by the way recorded in the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. I figured we need to know more about the story behind the wonderfully smooth music of the Rhead Brothers and so I contacted them to hear them out. I spoke to John Rhead, who answered all my questions in this nice read.

Both Steve and I got into music at a young age. Being five years older than Steve I was first to own a guitar of any kind. It was a ‘starter’ acoustic instrument and virtually unplayable. I still remember doing major surgery on it in an attempt to reduce it to a semi acoustic…..with drastic consequences! I got my first electric for Christmas and the only criteria I gave my parents was that it had to look like Buddy Holly’s. It did but was a Vox rather than a Fender….not that I noticed at the time! Steve started with a better quality instrument from the outset and I still use that fact as an explanation (excuse) for his continued superiority on the instrument!!! (LOL) Undoubtedly, we owe our initial love of music to a neighbour named Phil Cuthbertson. He was a few years older and we would wait with no little anticipation for Phil to pass our house on his way back from work. In particular, we were looking for the trademark ‘pat’ on his sandwich bag which indicated to the initiated the presence of a new 45 single. An hour later, we were in his garage listening to the latest addition to his collection. It was, almost without exception either Buddy Holly or the Everly’s (occasionally Elvis or Eddie) and we loved it. I suppose this was where our love for American music began…..although I doubt that we knew it then. As time moved on we got more and more into music from the US. Not consciously but most of the music we were into emanated from that continent. Further influences on our musical direction came from two older cousins. One was an accomplished guitarist (Paul) with a great collection of LP’s top heavy with recordings by the likes of Big Bill Bronzy, Jackson Frank, Davy Graham. Bert Jansch, John Renbourne and Robert Johnson etc. Steve really got into these kind of players whereas the first of Paul’s records that blew me away was by Bob Dylan….his first album, hot off the press. No idea why….it just had that certain something. Our other cousin, Arthur, was into Jazz and R&B. He was a fine player who became the first keyboard player in Climax Chicago Blues band. That of course meant more American music….not that we were complaining. The first music we discovered for ourselves was probably the early stuff recorded by the Stones and Beatles. British yes…..but heavily influenced by American artists. At that time my preference was for the Stones but they were very definitely knocked into second place the day Mr. Tambourine Man hit the British airwaves. Already familiar with Dylan’s version the Byrds knocked us musically sideways …..and along with their musical offshoots (e.g CSN) and individual projects continued to do so until they were no more. It would be easier to say which musical path they didn’t take us down and Eight Miles High still gives us goosebumps! Of course we listened to other West Coast groups of the time but to our ears they were always light years behind the Byrds. Any band or artist (Joni in particular) involved with a former Byrd became compulsory listening and so we got into the latin jazz flavourings of Manassas and from there into recordings by Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Airto, George Duke and Santana etc. The Band also became a staple part of our musical diet and a back stage pass to see Steely Dan (with Mike McD) and Little Feat (in Manchester) meant yet more great music to digest. The above artists are what I laughingly call our day time listening because at night a local club schooled me in the musical delights of Motown and Stax artists and so Otis, Stevie, Marvin, Donny and Al became essential listening for both of us. All these influences were audible in the local bands we began playing in where set lists included Eight Miles High followed by Knock on Wood and Black Magic Woman.

So, these were some of our early influences and may go someway to explaining why our own music sounds the way it does. Dedicate came about via our friend John Darnley. Before signing with EMI we had had prolonged and frustrating contractual connections with WEA and Anchor Records. Neither company had furthered our ambition to record an album but both had delivered highly memorable moments in our stalling musical career. As Byrds fans we had read the liner notes on the Turn, Turn, Turn album endless times so were well aware of Derek Taylor, one time Beatles and Byrds P.R man. To cut a long story short, Derek signed us to WEA and it still ranks as one of the highlights of our adventures in the music industry. Suffice to say, we have yet to meet a person who knew Derek that didn’t love him, a highly gifted, generous and gentle man. Through him we met JD and although we parted company with him when we left for the fledgling Anchor Records he, unknown to ourselves, was keeping tabs on our progress. Sometime later, John Darnley left WEA, become an A&R man at EMI and within weeks of him suggesting we should join him there, planning for Dedicate was underway. Months later we were in Air studios alongside some of our favourite British musicians. The rest as they say……! Dedicate was one of the first EMI albums to be accepted by all its territories and was released worldwide in 77. How well did it do? Well, it became a Billboard breakout album in the States, became popular in Japan….but apart from that I honestly wouldn’t know. I’m not sure we even thought about it much as we were already contemplating a visit to Muscle Shoals and had no management company to keep us informed of business. Indeed, EMI sent us to the States to remedy that situation and we still remember sitting around a pool in LA and being asked how much we wanted to be stars! The answer we gave was obviously the wrong one as said management instantly abandoned any further questioning. Being stars did not figure high in our priorities, we had already recorded with musicians that we greatly admired and were about to head for Muscle Shoals to record with other great players. That was the dream and it was coming true. Naive? Probably! Anyway, several meetings later we departed the US with no management……. there was no meeting of minds! As for touring after Dedicate we did one brief tour of Holland (with an amazing band) the highlight being a night at the famed Paradiso and then the priority became album number two and Muscle Shoals. What happened with Black Shaheen? The truth is we can only guess. From Muscle Shoals EMI flew us down to Nashville for a holiday. We got back and did an EMI convention with some of the players from both albums and then headed for a holiday with the Muscle Shoals contingent for a week on a Scottish island. Where it went wrong after that only EMI know. There were a few issues with the first cut of BS and a few murmurs about lack of management and then both single and album (no idea how many were pressed) leaked out.