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Atomic Rooster

A keyboard-heavy fusion of greasy hard rock and prog, the ever-changing ATOMIC ROOSTER (responsible for at least two early-70s classics in `Tomorrow Night’ and `Devil’s Answer’), were also the stamping ground for esteemed sticksman Carl Palmer, who then went AWOL and was half-inched for British supergroup, EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER. Both Palmer and maverick but troubled leader, Vincent Crane, had been fished from the “Fire” of 60s one-hit-wonders The CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN; the latter Hammond organist the only lasting ‘Rooster until their concluding episode in ’83.
ATOMIC ROOSTER came about in London on June 13, 1969. Vincent had stepped out of his “Crazy ARTHUR BROWN” duties (ironically from mental illness), teaming up with the equally wayward Carl Palmer and fresh vocalist/bassist/flautist Nick Graham (from ANDROMEDA), to employ a DEEP PURPLE-meets jazz-prog addition to the growing list of emerging turn-of-the-70s combos.
Signed to B&C Records (a branch of the Charisma stable), February 1970 saw the delivery of their eponymous Top 50 debut, ATOMIC ROOSTER {*7}. A strange brew of guitar-less cuts, of which `Friday The Thirteenth’ (a flop 45), the PROCOL HARUM-esque `Banstead’, `And So To Bed’ and JOHN MAYALL’s `Broken Wings’ stood out; subsequent but shelved US versions for Elektra Records involved 4th member addition John Cann on guitar!
Reeling from this executive decision by Crane, Graham almost immediately departed for SKIN ALLEY, while Palmer was poached by the aforementioned ELP that summer, his berth taken at first by Rick Parnell (son of orchestra leader Jack Parnell), and after a scheduled tour, by Paul Hammond; Cann emerged as both guitarist, equal-shares songwriter and lead singer for the trio’s sophomore effort, DEATH WALKS BEHIND YOU (1970) {*8}. Slow to take off (although it was soon in the Top 20), the record’s doom-laden heavy/progressive sound was highlighted by monster hit `Tomorrow Night’. Possibly sharing a Satanic allegiance with ‘Sabbath, the opening title track was a warning to others – ATOMIC ROOSTER had arrived from out of the shadows. Showing a wealth of instrumental prowess, `Vug’ was another star track from side one. Chugster-friendly and marking out a timeless territory, `Sleeping For Years’ and the 8-minute bruiser, `Gershatzer’, were mere heavy-prog fodder compared to the sombre piano-led delights of the heartfelt, `Nobody Else’ – worth the admission price alone.
The decision to add yet another 4th member, Pete French (from LEAFHOUND) on vocals, after the classy `Devil’s Answer’ hit the charts, alienated at least one member (its author Cann) who subsequently bailed and took with him Hammond to form HARD STUFF. A track understandably absent from their next Top 20 venture, IN HEARING OF ATOMIC ROOSTER (1971) {*6} – featuring all four alumni, the album suffered in its self-indulgent, funky-styled, bombastic barrage of sounds. Still, it showed that once again, Crane ruled the ‘Rooster. If one was to cherry-pick its best bits, one would look upon `Breakthrough’, `Break The Ice’ and `The Rock’, to see the band at their element.
ATOMIC ROOSTER went through yet further personnel upheaval soon afterwards, as VC found fresh but experienced cohorts lead out by veteran voxman CHRIS FARLOWE (a protégé of the Stones who’d had a hit in ’66 with `Out Of Time’). Also in this 1972 line-up was the aforementioned fill-in drummer Rick Parnell, although fans soon “flocked-off” to heavier climes and pastures when the then underrated MADE IN ENGLAND (1972) {*7} hit the shops. Also featuring Steve Bolton (guitar), Bill Smith (bass) and esteemed backing vocalists Liza Strike and Doris Troy (plus a full orchestra), ATOMIC ROOSTER – Mk.III, or thereabouts – melded something akin to The ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND sharing centre stage with DEEP PURPLE. Britons doing Southern-fried funk was always going to have its doubters, but in `Time Take My Life’ and `Stand By Me’ (the set’s opening double salvos), Crane and Co could at least stick their head about the parapet.
The same could not be said for follow-up set NICE‘N’GREASY (1973) {*5} – released as “Volume IV” in the States – a record that sacrificed Bolton and Smith for guitarist Johnny Mandella. Despite being genuine and hearty in its attempt to re-establish a lost cause (a 7-minute version of Jackie Avery’s `Voodoo In You’ was a nice touch), directionless hit singles could not be bought by way of `Save Me’ and `Can’t Find A Reason’. Crane abandoned the project to work again with ARTHUR BROWN, this time collaborating on 1980’s “Faster Than The Speed Of Light”.
Around the same time, Crane resurrected the ‘Rooster for the reconstituted NWOBHM scene; John Du Cann (who’d advised “Don’t Be A Dummy” to denim buyers) was re-installed as the group’s main singer and songwriter on “comeback” punk-y hard-rock set for E.M.I.: ATOMIC ROOSTER (1980) {*5}; Preston Heyman was their drummer. Although a million miles away from the band of the 70s, Du Cann at least brought some humour into dramatic ditties such as `Do You Know Who’s Looking For You’, `They Took Control Of You’ and `In The Shadows’.
1983’s HEADLINE NEWS {*2} was a sprawling mess of a set, and thankfully the epitaph of a once-great band. Crane put everything aside when he was duly invited to boost KEVIN ROWLAND & DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS on 1985’s “Don’t Stand Me Down” set (having already taken part in PETER GREEN’s Katmandu project), but after years of struggling with manic depression and a raft of other problems, Crane took his own life from an overdose of painkillers on 14th February 1989.
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD / rev-up MCS Aug2013

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