In 1973 following the disappearance of Jim Morrison the remaining members of The Doors came to England in an attempt to find a replacement front man. Several vocalists were auditioned including Kevin Coyne and Jess Roden. However, the hot favourite and choice of Jac Holzman, the Elektra record label founder, was Howard Werth the former vocalist of The Audience. Werth remained with the band for around a week rehearsing before Ray Manzarek called the whole thing off and returned to America and declared The Doors as no more.
John Densmore and Roddy Krieger though had been more impressed with Jess Roden than Werth anyway and decided to stay in London and form a new group, which they christened The Butts Band, with Roden, Roy Davies and Phil Chen.
The Butts Band were a mixture of styles encompassing rock, soul, blues, jazz funk and even a smattering of reggae and calypso. They recorded their self titled debut album in two distinct parts during 1973, one in England and one in Jamaica with the album hitting the streets later that year.
Side one of the original vinyl edition contained the tracks recorded in Kingston, Jamaica and are packed full of that laid back easy going feeling of life on the island. The opening track ‘I Won’t Be Alone Any More’ from the pen of Robby Kreiger is a mid paced rock track with some country and folk undertones as well as a jaunty west coast American style feel. A couple of tasteful solos and an easy vocal melody make the track a great launch into the album. An album which is as far removed from The Doors as you can imagine.
‘Baja Bus’ is something of a classic amongst musicians who play and appreciate a jazz funk soul type of rock and has claims to be the classic that all music of that ilk should be compared with. Jerky jazzy beats, great bass, drums and some guest conga work from Larry McDonald all help to create a great laid back groove that Roden positively shines over with his faultless vocal. Once again the solos and musical passages are tasteful and help to form the feel of the whole piece rather than being just there to massage the ego of the soloist.
Having waxed lyrical about ‘Baja Bus’ I am going to follow that by claiming the following track ‘Sweet Danger’, a Roden composition, as the highlight of the album. A wonderfully laid back bluesy soul track it features one of Roden’s best ever vocals, a sublime melody and some great instrumentation from the band. The dirty fuzzy sound of the main riff works perfectly in contrast with the careful picking of the jazz blues guitar solo. As a vehicle for Roden’s voice it is perfect but the musicians play their part from beginning to end in helping to create a track that should have been declared an all time classic.
The Jamaican influence comes to the fore in the final track of the first half of the album ‘Pop-A-Top’. Co-written by Roden and Chinese/Jamaican bassist Phil Chen it is absolutely dripping with Caribbean feel. The calypso style intro and the funky reggae guitar, courtesy of Chen, blends perfectly with the more straight up jazz funk of the rest of the band. Once again Roden’s vocal is straight out of the top drawer.
The second half of the album, which includes the tracks recorded in London starts with the funky soul number ‘Be With Me’. Despite being written by Robby Kreiger it has the feel of Roden’s later solo material. An easy laid back track with nice jazz undertones it has particularly pleasing laid back guitar and piano solos.
‘New Ways’ is a slightly faster more up-tempo rocker than any of the others on offer here and despite being above average it is probably the weakest track on the album, even with the addition of Mick Weaver’s Wurlitzer.
‘Love Your Brother’ gets us back to the more funky jazz feel and is something of a jazz funk soul fusion stomper. Ideal for Roden’s vocal style it also allows the musicians chance to shine with some great organ and guitar work. The solo jamming to fade is particularly impressive and gets you into a nice groove.
The final track on the album is a bit of an oddity as it is a live recording of the Leiber/Stoller track ‘Kansas City’. There is no information on the sleeve to suggest where it may have been recorded but the performance in certainly full of energy and quality. It is probably the closest thing on the album to The Doors and could go a long way to explaining why Deep Purple considered Roden as a suitable replacement for Ian Gillan in 1973.
“The Butts Band” was well received on its release and a low key tour and several TV appearances followed. However, Kreiger and Densmore had returned to America whilst Roden, Chen and Davies remained in London. This of course proved difficult logistically and the former Doors men jettisoned Roden, Chen and Davies the following year before making a second album. That was a great pity as it would have been very interesting to see how this line up would have developed. Roden of course went on to have a moderately successful solo career and is widely regarded as one of the finest singers of his or any generation, particularly in the eyes of his fellow musicians. Chen also continued to be in great demand as a session player and such is his contribution to this album that he can be forgiven for playing on Rod Stewart’s ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’.
The bottom line is that “The Butts Band” is something of a lost classic especially for people who like their rock music steeped in blues, full of soul, and with a huge helping of jazzy funk throughout. If you can track down a copy I can pretty much guarantee you won’t regret it.
© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM July 2012