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Spooky Tooth

+ {The V.I.P.’s} + {Art}

The stamping ground for a myriad of passing musicians who, post-split(s), found fame in other rock-orientated bands: American-born singer GARY WRIGHT as a solo artist, guitarist Mick Jones with FOREIGNER and drummer Mike Kellie with new wave act The ONLY ONES. Nevertheless, the bluesy/prog-styled SPOOKY TOOTH would be known as the poor man’s TRAFFIC or HUMBLE PIE, with a thinly-veiled line drawn through 60s blue-eyed-soul stirrers The SPENCER DAVIS GROUP (in awe of WINWOOD). Never to venture close to a hit album (or single!) in homeland Britain, SPOOKY TOOTH extracted modest success Stateside where “Spooky Two” scraped a Top 50 place.
The roots of the ‘Tooth lay back in 1963 when Carlisle-born vocalist/pianist Mike Harrison (ex-Dakotas), rhythm guitarist Frank Kenyon, drummer Walter Johnstone and Scots-born lead guitarist Jimmy Henshaw abandoned their local Ramrods group to form The V.I.P.s, roping in
bassist Greg Ridley (also ex-Dakotas and ex-Dino & The Danubes). As time transpired, and with no hits for a string of singles from 1964’s `Don’t Keep Shouting At Me’ (for R.C.A.) to 1967’s `Straight Down To The Bottom’ (their second for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records; their first, `I Wanna Be Free’ featured pre-NICE organist Keith Emerson), the now London-based combo – who’d also shown up as The Vipps (in ’66) – let go Johnstone and Henshaw for respective replacements Mike Kellie and Luther Grosvenor.
Harrison, Ridley and the previous greenhorns switched their moniker to ART, just as Island were to unleash their Guy Stevens-produced debut LP, SUPERNATURAL FAIRY TALES (1967) {*6}. Hosting a heavy-weight re-vamp of BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD’s (“For What It’s Worth”) `What’s That Sound’ – an earlier single – and The YOUNG RASCALS’ `Come On Up’, period British psychedelia paved the way here for the progressive rock scene; the organic `African Thing’, the title track and the heavy `I Think I’m Going Weird’, star tracks all. Around the same time, all four musicians augmented Guy on his own splinter project, Haphash And The Multi Coloured Coat, a collective responsible for the wonderfully-titled `Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids’.
The addition of New Jersey-born former child-actor-turned-keyboardist/support singer Gary Wright, the all-new SPOOKY TOOTH released their own debut in June ’68: IT’S ALL ABOUT {*7}. In common with label-mates TRAFFIC, the quintet were produced by the legendary Jimmy Miller, unduly drawing the aforementioned comparisons with STEVE WINWOOD’s outfit. First out of the grooves, `Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking)’ – penned by JANIS IAN – was as impressive as the other two covers from BOB DYLAN (`Too Much Of Nothing’) and J.D. LOUDERMILK (`Tobacco Road’), but it was in the psychedelic/mod-ish soulfulness of singles `Sunshine Help Me’ and `Love Really Changed Me’, plus the vibrant `It’s All About A Roundabout’ and `It Hurts You So’ that showed promise; Stateside, it was released by Bell Records as the eponymous “Spooky Tooth”.
A sophomore set, SPOOKY TWO (1969) {*8} followed in much the same pattern, although it fared better commercially in the States where the band had inked a deal with A&M Records. The stand-out tracks were easily Wright’s `Better By You, Better Than Me’ (later borrowed by JUDAS PRIEST) and a 9-minute, high-pitched, hard-rock cover of Larry Weiss’ `Evil Woman’. Heavy blues or simply an imaginative group jumping on the bandwagon, Harrison’s SPOOKY TOOTH – captured best on `Waitin’ For The Wind’, `That Was Only Yesterday’ and the COCKER-esque `I’ve Got Enough Heartaches’ – raised the bar before they went rawk AWOL.
Just as that new decade approached and without the raucous Ridley to help guide them (he chose HUMBLE PIE as his immediate concern), SPOOKY TOOTH’s hard-edged heavy sound was compromised a little to incorporate pivotal Parisian avant-garde-ist PIERRE HENRY on the December 1969-released album, CEREMONY: An Electronic Mass {*6}; bassist Andy Leigh played his part before shooting off to MATTHEWS’ SOUTHERN COMFORT. A million miles away – and then some! – from their previous long-player, this ambitious concept took giant steps backwards for a group who looked to be heading skywards commercially. Still, if DEEP PURPLE could manage a similar feat by way “Concerto For Group And Orchestra”, then SPOOKY TOOTH could, right? Wrong!
Following the departure of main culprit GARY WRIGHT (who formed his Wonderwheel), the ‘Tooth cracked under the pressure; the remnants of the band as “SPOOKY TOOTH featuring Mike Harrison” recording their apparent swansong set, THE LAST PUFF (1970) {*7}. Helped out short notice by JOE COCKER’S GREASE BAND alumni, Alan Spenner (bass), Henry McCulloch (guitar) and Chris Stainton (bass, keyboards, guitar) – the latter also the co-producer with label boss Chris Blackwell, the nature of the album was basically a covers disc featuring WRIGHT’s final contribution for now, `Wrong Time’ and JOE COCKER-associated fodder, `Something To Say’ and Stainton’s own title piece; the four main covers were from The BEATLES (`I Am The Walrus’), ELTON JOHN (`Son Of Your Father’), DAVID ACKLES (`Down River’) and Mike “Hill Street Blues” Post (`Nobody There At All’).
As the GREASE BAND alumni left, keyboardist John Hawken (ex-SWINGING BLUE JEANS) and bassist Steve Thompson would pave over the cracks until the ‘Tooth split autumn 1970; Kellie joined (Peter) FRAMPTON’S CAMEL; Thompson joined STONE THE CROWS, and Hawken went on to ILLUSION; Grosvenor released a solo LP, `Under Open Skies’ (1971) before joining STEALERS WHEEL; in mid’73, Luther became Ariel Bender and merged with MOTT THE HOOPLE; Harrison also went solo, instigating own band, Junkyard Angel, for Island Records sets: `Mike Harrison’ (1971) and `Smokestack Lightning’ (1972).
In 1973, frontmen Harrison and Wright re-formed SPOOKY TOOTH, enlisting guitarist Mick Jones, drummer Bryson Graham (both ex-Wonderwheel) and bassist Chris Stewart to replace Ian Herbert (from Junkyard Angels). With not a thought to “zero tolerance”, the er… tongue-in-cheek YOU BROKE MY HEART SO I BUSTED YOUR JAW {*5} was mainly down to Gary’s compositions – a little lighter, funkier and gospel-enhanced but for the two cracking bookend pieces: `Cotton Growing Man’ (a swipe at the slave traders of the last century!) and `Moriah’.
Mike Kellie reinstated when Bryson bailed, an all-too-different, softer and pliable SPOOKY TOOTH ended the year with another US Top 100 follow-up: WITNESS {*4}. Sadly, not inclusive of their re-tread of The BAND’s `The Weight’; in its place the light-weight `All Sewn Up’ (a flop 45) and `As Long As The World Keeps Turning’, further personnel extractions were on the cards. Dispensing with the longest-serving Harrison (who went solo again) and Stewart, former TIMEBOX “veteran” vocalist Mike Patto (alias Michael Thomas McCarthy) and bassist Keith Ellis (ex-VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR) gave SPOOKY TOOTH a much needed booster jag.
By the following May, Wright, Patto and Jones enlisted a returning Bryson Graham (for Kellie who would join The ONLY ONES) and bassist Val Burke. Signed to Good Earth (Antilles in the States), a further album THE MIRROR (1974) {*6} failed to re-kindle the spark of old, although in `Fantasy Satisfier’, `Two Time Love’ (both flop 45s) and `Hell Or High Water’, they could compete with rivals BAD COMPANY and the like.
A month later, SPOOKY TOOTH were no longer; GARY WRIGHT choosing the route of a successful FM-orientated solo career as classy single `The Dream Weaver’ nearly scaled the US charts. Patto, meanwhile, fronted his own band, BOXER, although sadly he was to die of throat cancer on 4 March 1979 (aged only 36); Bryson joined GIRL, but he too died on 6 December 1993 (aged 41).
SPOOKY TOOTH originals Harrison, Grosvenor, Ridley and Kellie duly decided to take another throw of the dice for “comeback” set, CROSS PURPOSE (1999) {*5}. Not a patch on their work from the late 60s, Ruf Records were impressed by three fresh cuts, `Sunshine’ (scribed by Karl Wallinger), `Kiss It Better’ and `How’, although it was an all-too-apparent case of the opening track: `That Was Only Yesterday’.
Without Ridley who passed away in 2003, for 2004 the remaining trio (Wright in for Grosvenor) played two concerts in Germany which found a bona fide release as NOMAD POETS (2007) {*6}. Along with guitarist Steve Farris (ex-MR. MISTER) and bassist Shem von Shroeck, 2008 was a productive year for SPOOKY TOOTH, in respect of concerts, but by the time of a reunion gig on 29 May 2009, a solo-thinking Kellie had made way for Tom Brechtlein. A footnote to the ‘Tooth’s long history was the sad news of Mike Harrison’s passing on the 25th March 2018; surely the final chapter of the Spooks.
© MC Strong 1994-2000/GRD // rev-up MCS Apr2028

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