Stack Waddy “So Who The Hell Is Stack Waddy?” (Cherry Red Records, 2017)
Taking their name from a character in a Mad Magazine comic strip, singer John Knail, guitarist Mick Stott, bass player Stuart Banham and drummer Steve Revell formed Stack Waddy in late summer 1969 in Timperley, a suburban village, southwest of Manchester. Knail and Stott had been in a rhythm and blues band The Knails in 1965, while Stott and Banham later played in a power trio, New Religion, in 1968. Stack Waddy played the first Buxton Blues Festival, headlined by Fleetwood Mac, where they were spotted by DJ John Peel, as well as Zig Zag magazine’s Dave Neale. Taking the stage at 2 AM, the band jumped into their cover of Dale Hawkins’ “Suzie Q” impressing Peel sufficiently to sign the band to his recently created Dandelion Records label. Throughout 1969 Stack Waddy dazzled audiences with their mixture of primal rhythm and blues, drawing on the influences of Bo Diddley and Willie Dixon, and heavy psychedelic rock a la Cream and Hendrix. As with their recordings, begun in 1970, Stott’s delivery was filled with heavy doses of the overdrive on his amp/guitar combo and its raging tone was the signature of Stack Waddy’s intimidating sound, described by Zig Zag Magazine’s Dave Neale as a “lot of wonderful noise with a killer beat. They were loud and uncompromising!”
What an incredible, compelling story this box set tells. Stack Waddy left a legacy of two albums, their self-titled debut from 1971 and “Bugger Off” from 1972. “Stack Waddy” is comprised of ten tracks, all save two covers, despite the fact that the band had plenty of original material. From its opening, three and a half minute racing cover of Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner” which saw single release in selected nations, through the searing five minute plus rendition of “Bring It To Jerome” credited to Bo’s maraca shaker Jerome Green, Mick Stott’s blazing lead guitar is ever present, complemented by the Captain Beefheart/Howlin’ Wolf inspired grizzly, sneering vocals of John Knail. Only two band originals are included, the three minute, hard driving “Kentucky” which was released as the b-side of “Road Runner” with Stott’s guitar howling as loudly and rudely as Knail’s vocals, and the heavy psychedelic rocker “Mothballs.” Both originals are credited to their entire quartet and serve as proof that the band was quite capable of writing credible original material, a point made incredibly clear by the ten originals included on disc three of this box set, simply titled “Hunt The Stag.” But discussion of those tracks is to be found later in this review.
Released in the UK on Peel’s Dandelion label, Stack Waddy had a showcase for reps from Warner Records in the US. The band was, in typical fashion, pissed out of their minds, and opened their set with Knail taking the stage and proceeding to, how should one state this, take a long, obviously relaxed, leak, much to Peel’s chagrin and leading to the immediate exit of the Warner execs. By a sad twist of fate, Dandelion’s US distribution soon switched from CBS to Warner’s. The bottom line was no US distribution for either of the band’s albums. In typical Stack Waddy fashion, the band played an impressive set to the nearly empty house, and as with the recording sessions of the band’s debut album, the band members had sketchy memories of the event at best. Stott and Knail have virtually no recollections of the studio sessions for “Stack Waddy,” the showcase for the Warner execs, or the Paris recordings done for the BBC supporting Dion which are included on disc three. In fact, Knail doesn’t think he actually met Dion, although he admits he was in an alcohol induced black out and may have met the NY singer/songwriter who was making his transition from head of the doo wop outfit Dion and the Belmonts to that of a legitimate solo artist, perhaps best known for his composition “Abraham, Martin and John” which has been covered repeatedly over the years and was a large seller for Dion.
“Stack Waddy” includes a couple of other very memorable cover tunes. The band completely undid Ian Anderson’s “Love Story” rendering it unrecognizable as a Jethro Tull original, and an amazing six minute take on Van Morrison’s “Mystic Eyes” recorded originally by Them, and revisited by Stack Waddy following the release of their debut album. The second version was intended for single release, but in typical Stack Waddy form the track would go unreleased until now, Stott thinking it not up to band standards and Peel finding it too tame and slick. A sad decision, as the remade “Mystic Eyes” and its prospective b-side, the band original, “Ginny Jo” rock hard while being much more accessible and definitely having commercial prospects.
After a change in drummers, the band entered the studios for its follow up album, and while leaving an incredible number of band originals in the vaults, twelve tracks were finally compiled and released in 1972 under the rather offensive title, “Bugger Off.” The title fit the attitude of the band and the high octane music, which, as its predecessor, the LP was dominated by cover versions. Once again, Stott’s guitar and Knail’s growling vocals are to the fore. A fiery take of Frank Zappa’s “Willie The Pimp” sung by Knail with his usual Beefheart style vocals is a standout, and was released as a single, although only in selected nations, the UK and US not among them. John Groom’s driving drums push the beat on this uptempo rocker, another coulda shoulda woulda been situation. Among other highlights of “Bugger Off” is a cover of Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” that is incredibly close to the version released by The Rolling Stones for reasons known only to the band. A cover of Ron Davies’ “It Ain’t Easy” is included and predates the version included by David Bowie on his classic “Ziggy Stardust” album, although the version found here bears little resemblance to Bowie’s take. The band’s love of Captain Beefheart is again quite apparent, the zanily titled, five minute “Meat Pies ‘Ave Come But The Band’s Not Here Yet” is another pile driving rocker, with Stott attacking his guitar while drummer John Groom assaults his drum kit, Knail’s howling vocals somehow making their way over the top of the madness. Also of special note is the Canned Heat style boogie rocker, “Repossession Boogie” with Stott’s screaming guitar and Knail’s mouth harp dominating the mix. The album closes with a cover of the pop classic “The Girl From Ipanema” with no indication given as to why the band chose that particular tune to deconstruct and mock in a fashion only Stack Waddy was capable of. As with its predecessor “Bugger Off” made no impression on the charts, and even if it had, Peel and the band had completely lost interest by this point and the disbanding of the group was a done deal.
The third disc of “So Who The Hell Is Stack Waddy?” is a real treat and a complete shocker to anyone familiar with only the two LPs released by the band. Of the fourteen tracks included, ten are studio recordings, half of which are original compositions credited to the quartet. Why these recordings, originally intended as the follow up to “Stack Waddy” were abandoned is a mystery, but no surprise to anyone familiar with the Stack Waddy saga. Opening with a four minute plus scorching band original, “With One Leap Dan Was By Her Side, ‘Muriel’ He Breathed” which again finds Stott’s guitar dominating the mix, and the title and Knail’s vocals another reminder of the Beefheart connection, the makings of a much more accessible and commercially viable sophomore release is apparent. The previously mentioned, prospective b-side “Ginny Jo” is a pleasant, yes pleasant, three minute venture into a somehow commercially viable Beefheart vein. The four minute remade “Mystic Eyes” would indeed have been a great choice as the a-side for “Ginny Jo” complete with yet another amazing solo by Stott, who seemingly had an endless number of them available at will. The band even ventures into the Holland/Dozier/Holland catalog with a hot rocking version of “Leavin’ Here” complete with yet more roaring guitar from Stott. The five minute plus band original “Here Comes The Glimmer Man” allows Stott to showcase his mastery of the wah wah pedal and has a clean sound, something rare indeed among Stack Waddy’s repertoire. Four tracks recorded in Paris for the 1971 BBC show headlined by Dion are included and include a take on “Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut” which is also included in a studio version recorded and abandoned along with the other prospective tracks for the band’s sophomore LP included on disc three, both takes filled with typical Stott roaring guitar and growling Knail vocals. One other take of note is a live version of the Canned Heat/Savoy Brown tinged boogie rocker “Repossession Boogie” which was first released on “Bugger Off” and the six and a half minute live take serves as yet more evidence of the incredible talent/potential of Stack Waddy. One can only wonder what the band would have accomplished commercially and the esteem with which it would be held if they had only been the least bit interested in such things. Then again, perhaps that is the magic of Stack Waddy. It is up to the listener and historian to make that decision. The band itself was obviously completely disinterested in the answer to this question.
“So Who The Hell Is Stack Waddy” is not only an amazing documentation of a most talented lot who gave a shit less, but a real eye opener (thanks to disc three) of the commercial possibilities and accessible recording potential of the band. The box set is comprised of the three discs in mini-LP sleeves, tightly packed into a thin, cardboard slip case, and includes a 20 page full color booklet containing an informative essay by Nigel Cross, John Peel’s original liner notes for “Bugger Off,” an October 1972 piece by music historian John Tobler from Zig Zag Magazine, full track annotations and an incredible array of photos of the band, album and single art work and other related memorabilia. Truly a most impressive package and without question the definitive collection of Stack Waddy!
- Kevin Rathert
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