Long before Alice Cooper bought his first guillotine, David Edward Sutch, aka "Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow," was pushing the live rock spectacle envelope. Inspired by his musical hero Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Sutch employed onstage props like a coffin, from which he would emerge, along with skulls, daggers and the like. Together with his band the Savages, he released several early '60s horror-themed singles, like "Jack the Ripper," the first five being produced by fellow eccentric Joe Meek. The multi-faceted Sutch was also active in politics, forming the Official Monster Raving Looney Party on whose ticket he ran for over forty parliamentary elections, winning none but often garnering a respectable vote tally. A "Swinging London" social gadabout, he was "the guy who's all dressed up like a Un-i-yon Jack" in the Rolling Stone's "Get Off My Cloud." He also founded pirate radio station Radio Sutch and saw many of Britain's finest musicians pass through his band's ranks. By anyone's definition, Sutch was a genuinely unique character.
Sutch landed an album deal with Cotillion Records in 1969 and decamped to Mystic Studios in Hollywood, California in August of that year to commence recording. Enlisting friend and former band mate Jimmy Page as producer and session player, Sutch called in a lot of markers to get players for the album. In addition to Page, Jeff Beck, John Bonham, Nicky Hopkins, Noel Redding, Carlo Little, and Kent Henry all participated in the Mystic sessions, which could be accurately described as "loose." With most of the songs written by Sutch and Page, the whole affair sounds like an after-hours jam, with gritty guitar tones, stripped-down arrangements and a "one-take-and-out" mentality. Finishing the sessions in September, the finished album was released in February 1970 as Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends.
Reaction to the LP was swift and generally unpleasant. It was called "absolutely terrible" in Rolling Stone, stating that it made the musicians involved sound like "fouled parodies of themselves" and most other reviews ran along those lines. Some of the players claimed that they thought the sessions were a "demo project" and hurriedly disowned the album. Page himself said, "I just went down to have a laugh, playing some old rock 'n' roll, a bit of a send-up. The whole joke sort of reversed itself and became ugly." Likewise, fans that were lured in by the marquee names quickly discovered that this was NOTHING like Led Zeppelin. As fabulous as Sutch looked on the LP cover, posing with a Union Jack-emblazoned Rolls Royce, he couldn't have been smiling after seeing the public and critical reaction. Not surprisingly, the negative publicity and word-of-mouth stifled the album's sales.
Historical hindsight allows us to view the album through a different lens. True, the album was raw and Sutch's harsh vocals were a far cry from the polished tracks flowing from "underground FM" stations. But it is precisely this primal approach that has given this LP its lasting appeal. On his own albums of the time, Jeff Beck would have never recorded something so sonically nasty as "Gutty Guitar." And it's not a stretch to imagine that "L-O-N-D-O-N" could have been the flip side of the Sex Pistols "God Save The Queen." In truth, the brutally honest approach of Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends anticipated the punk movement by a full six years. Sutch instinctively discarded the pomp and circumstance that was beginning to weigh down contemporary rock and took it back to the basics. While mainstream audiences and reviewers may not have been ready for it in 1970, time has caught up sufficiently so that today's listener can fully appreciate this groundbreaking LP. After all, most folks weren't ready for The Velvet Underground in 1970, either. Sourced from original Cotillion analog tapes, this Sundazed edition of Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends puts you right in the middle of one of rock's wildest recordings. It's high time to revel in its abandon.