Album Review: Green Bullfrog – Bullfrog (1971)


 

Music collecting is a funny old business and sometimes you get hold of something that remains totally unique and unequalled with a feel that is just never replicated anywhere. Thats the way with Green Bullfrog. Ever since I first laid my hands on a copy courtesy of the Trouser Press magazine reissue in 1980, which I seem to recall cost me a fortune as it had to be imported, I’ve been trying to find something that gives the same upbeat bluesy soul feel. Yes I know upbeat feel good blues doesn’t seem to make much sense but thats the way it comes across to me. A bunch of top quality musicians just having a blast and a party whilst someone happened to be taping it. Of course its not really as simple as that and Green Bullfrog was initially supposed to be a money making project just like any other recording. As producer and man behind the project Derek Lawrence said himself ” ..it was always intended to be released ….. I wasn’t into spending five grand just to entertain myself”. In fact the whole secrecy thing surrounding the albums existence is a bit of a myth really as the music press at the time published stories and photos of the recording sessions with proper names and everything. Beat Instrumental even did a feature on the project and eventually reviewed the album when it came out although they failed to connect it to their own previous story. This was quite possibly due to the fact that for contractual reasons the actual album cover ended up using pseudonyms. Although why people never put two and two together or kept their eyes open for it at the time I can’t begin to fathom. Some of the press reports I’ve seen even included the projected release date so there is not really much of an excuse !!

So who was, and just as importantly wasn’t, on Green Bullfrog then and where did the idea come from. To quote producer Derek Lawrence again .. “I have to tell you there has been more absolute cobblers written and reported about this one album than any other project I’ve ever done”. (Lets hope he doesn’t read this then and decide it’s a bit more !) According to Lawrence the initial idea was to put together the ultimate ‘house band’ to back Tony Dangerfield Lord Sutch’s bass player who Lawrence felt had a good enough voice to front a band. With that in mind Lawrence assembled Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Paice from Deep Purple on guitar and drums and Chas Hodges on bass and they laid down three tracks ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’, ‘Who Do You Love’ and ‘Makin Time’. However Dangerfield never quite nailed it and the project was aborted. Despite this Lawrence felt enough of a buzz had been created so set about finding new personnel from musicians he had worked with previously and admired. Big Jim Sullivan was an easy choice as he was everyone’s guitar hero at the time. Rumour has it that he virtually taught Blackmore how to play.

So first of all the was’s then with album cover nicknames: Ritchie Blackmore (Boots – because he was always wearing purple suede boots at the time), Big Jim Sullivan (The Boss – obviously), Albert Lee (Pinta – because his reply to any suggestion was “I’m only here to deliver the milk”), Rod Alexander (The Vicar) was a virtual unknown mate of Blackmore’s who was working in a music shop and delivered some strings but ended up staying to play rhythm guitar, Chas Hodges (Sleepy – because he was always asleep and was difficult to wake up), Tony Ashton (Bevy- becase he always had a crate of light ale under his organ), Matt Fisher (Sorry – because he was always apologising), Ian Paice (Speedy – because he was the fastest drummer around at the time) and Earl Jordan (Jordan) who was lead singer with the Les Humphries Singers and was brought in to add vocals after the departure of Dangerfield.

The people who were suggested as being on the album but weren’t were Jon Lord after the Trouser Press reissue liner notes stated ‘Lord knows the keyboard player is instantly recognisable’ and Roger Glover from Deep Purple after Blackmore mischeiviously made a comment about him being on it and the Trouser Press issue put the quote on the front cover “That was me, Albert Lee and Jim Sullivan. Ian Paice and Roger Glover were on it and anyone else who was around at the time”. Harvey Hinsley from Hot Chocolate claims to have been there too but no-one can recall if he was or not although as Lawrence himself states if he had have been there he would surely have played on it. It has also been suggested that Jeff Beck was on the album and once again I’ll quote the man Lawrence himself to end the argument once and for all ” …. the thing that really bugs me is all this Jeff Beck nonsense …. let me state quite catagorically once and for all that Beck is not on this album …. I’ve never even met the man …… the bit on ‘Bullfrog’ that everyone tries to tell me is him is Jim …”

The album itself was recorded live on a four track at Kingsway Recorders during two long sessions on April 20th and May 23rd 1970. One session not starting until the early hours of the morning as Blackmore and Paice had been doing a Purple gig earlier. The strings and horns were added on 4th January 1971 with Del Newman. Tracks wise it’s a mix of old standards, a Derek Lawrence penned slow blues and the classic million miles an hour (uncredited due to contractual reasons) Blackmore instrumental ‘Bullfrog’.

“Green Bullfrog” opens with the rock and roll stomp of ‘My Baby Left Me’ and from the very outset the energy and quality is top notch. Its not just the guitars of Blackmore, Lee and Sullivan that hog the limelight either as although this is certainly a ‘guitar’ album the ivory tinklers get their moments in the sun, as does the bass of Chas Hodges. Ian Paice of course holds the thing together and drives it all along in the way only he can. Vocalist Earl Jordan is no passenger either as he delivers some energetic raspy blues soaked vocals simply dripping in soul and feeling. Why the bloke isn’t thought of more highly is beyond me. ‘Makin Time’ is a great blues rock stomper with a great riff whilst ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ features some great rock and roll piano to compliment the guitar. The instrumental ‘Bullfrog’ is for many the highlight of the album as Blackmore, Sullivan and Lee trade solos like gunslingers. This could be the fastest Blackmore has ever played. No lover of the guitar should miss out on hearing it as it is a truly wonderful peice of music. It has been featured on numerous Blackmore anthologies and retrospectives so shouldn’t be difficult to track down even if the original album is nigh on impossible to find. Apparently Blackmore just started playing it when Lawrence suggested they needed an instrumental and Sullivan came in underneath and Lee on top in perfect harmony. It is almost like they are racing or duelling at times. With the swirling organ and driving rhythm of the drums you could certainly imagine it as a Purple track. It certainly deserves its place up there as one of the top Blackmore tracks. ‘I Want You’ is possibly the weakest track on the album but is still no back number. A little slower than the majority of the album it still features some great riffy guitar with Blackmore sounding very like he did on the “Fireball” sessions. ‘I’m A Free Man’ has an almost soul motown feel to it in places in the vocal and Blackmore plays some great guitar again including a nice ‘picked’ Shuggie Otis type solo to which singer Jordan can be heard saying “thats mean Ritchie baby” before Blackmore launches into another fast rock solo. Absolutely brilliant stuff. Even with all the fantastic guitar on offer the personal highlight for me is ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’. This is for me the definative version and really highlights Earl Jordan’s vocal ability. The guitar solos are a little more understated but still straight out of the top drawer. Paice’s shuffle drumming is also vital to the overall feel of the song. The backing vocals are, for me anyway, the icing on the cake. Whenever I need cheering up on it goes and it never fails to do the trick. The final track ‘Loving You Is Good For Me Baby’ is a brooding blues from the pen of Derek Lawrence which I could imagine being recorded by Free. According to Lawrence he played the demo to Sullivan who complained “Oh no not another blues, lets make it interesting”. He then played it in 17:9 time without anyone batting an eyelid. A superb end to a truly wonderful album.

As for when it was released well thats another bone of contention. All the information I can glean from my copies (The 1980 Trouser Press vinyl edition with less than reliable sleeve notes and the 1991 CD release from which Lawrences quotes have been taken) suggest it was released in March. However whether it was 1971 or 1972 is unclear. The recording dates and Blackmore’s playing style suggest to me it was released in 1971 in America with a UK release the following year. I can’t see why MCA would have sat on it for over a year but can find no definative proof one way or the other. One thing that is for certain though is that is didn’t sell many copies. According to MCA it sold less than 500 copies and they have never recouped the $15,000 advance they gave Lawrence for the rights to it. Something which puzzled Lawrence as he claims that everyone he has ever met claims to have a copy !!

It is almost imposssible to find in any of its vinyl formats and if you do don’t expect to pick it up cheap. The Trouser Press 1980 issue was the last put out on vinyl but was hastily deleted after legal action was taken. It was eventually remastered for CD release in 1991 and three extra unused tracks ‘Ain’t Nobody Home’, ‘Louisiana Man’ and ‘Who Do You Love’ were included. Some of the original tracks were also extended and the running order was altered. If you like blues or rock music or are a fan of Blackmore, Deep Purple, Jim Sullivan or Albert Lee you really cannot afford not to hear this album. It remains one of my most played albums ……. and one last time especially for Derek Lawrence ……. Jeff Beck is not on it !!!

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM March 2011
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About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
This entry was posted in Album Reviews, Blues, Classic Rock, Deep Purple, Music, Music Reviews, Rock and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Album Review: Green Bullfrog – Bullfrog (1971)

  1. Rod vAlexander says:

    Hi Martin,
    Enjoyed reading you comments on Green Bullfrog. I tend to still be the mystery man of the Bullfrog sessions so thought you might like to hear from me. I first met Ritchie in the Star Club, Hamburg. Later in London we met up, & Ritchie invited me along to the 2nd Bullfrog night. I played guitar on My Baby Left Me, Laudie Miss Claudie, Makin’ Time,& a couple of others. I also did backing vocals on Makin Time & Walk A Mile In My Shoes. I seem to recall Erroll Brown helping out with the vocals too, but it was a long time ago!
    I released an album produced by Derek Lawrence with my band Jodo, then joined Blackwater Junction. I still write, play & produce. If anyone is interested check out http://www.trianglewritersuk.net
    Best Wishes, Rod Alexander.

    • Thanks Rod,

      Thanks for commenting and for talking about your part in the sessions. I have always loved the feel of the album and it must have been a blast to be there and a part of it. Good to know you are still making music too. Will have to track down those albums and maybe review them on here. I will repost this to my facebook page as i have a lot of music friends who would probably be interested to hear what you have to say.

      Cheers,
      Martin

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