Thursday, December 2, 2021

RAMzine Classic – Green Bullfrog reaches its 50 (and 30) year anniversary

When, in 1972, an album was released that featured artists named Boots, The Boss, The Vicar, Sleepy, Sorry, Pinta, Speedy, Bevy and Jordan, it unsurprisingly didn’t make a huge impact. Then in an interview in 1980, Ritchie Blackmore revealed he had appeared on it (he also wrongly said Jon Lord and Roger Glover were there too) and it was re-released and then deleted following legal action. The whole truth was revealed when it was issued again in 1991 on the Connoisseur label: the actual musicians were revealed as Boots – Ritchie Blackmore; The Boss – Big Jim Sullivan; The Vicar – Rod Alexander; Sleepy – Chas Hodges; Sorry – Matt Fisher; Pinta (as in pint a milk) – Albert Lee; Speedy – Ian Paice; Bevy – Tony Ashton; Jordan – Earl Jordan and it was produced by Derek Lawrence and engineered by Martin Birch… a stellar cast of musicians and yet it still didn’t get the attention it deserves. So, on the 30th anniversary of the CD and the 50th of the original issue, it is time to give Green Bullfrog due attention.

Who were these artists? Well Paice and Blackmore from Deep Purple of course; Chas Hodges may be better known as half of Chas and Dave, but was a skilled and in-demand session bassist for most of the 60s. Tony Ashton was a raconteur who was the principle in Ashton, Gardner and Dyke (all together now… ”Do The Resurrection Shuffle”); Albert Lee is the renowned and classy guitarist who played with many bands and has a successful solo career. Big Jim Sullivan is a ‘guitarists guitarist’ and actually taught Blackmore in his early days and was so in demand for session work, his guitar has appeared on over 750 hit singles and he’s worked with artists from Bowie to Zappa. Matt Fisher is best known as the keyboard player with Procol Harum but also produced artists like Robin Trower. Rod Alexander played rhythm guitar on a couple of tracks and I know him from the brilliant album Guts by ‘obscure’ British band, Jodo. Finally, Earl Jordan provided the vocals. He was a member of the Les Humphries (around the same time as John Lawton who passed away recently) and was much admired by Lawrence and you can hear why.

It all started as a whim of producer Derek Lawrence who gathered what was essentially a bunch of mates who he got together in Kingsway Studios and let rip on a set of blues-rock standards and one instrumental. 

That instrumental was called ‘Bullfrog’ and is an instru-mental wig-out that, on the sleeve is attributed to Derek because of those legal issues. It was actually a Blackmore riff that the rest piled in on… to brilliant effect. Purple fans will recognise the ‘Jam Stew’ or ‘John Stew’ track as it takes its cues from this. Just listen to the harmonies as they play together and the completely different styles as they solo and to top it off, Tony Ashton shows he knows his way around an overdriven Hammond too. A glorious seven minutes of instrumental wizardry and worth buying for this alone.

Elsewhere it tends toward the bluesier side of rock and shows how Blackmore was a master of this too, even if it rarely showed with Purple. 

My vinyl copy has eight tracks, but the CD reissue included a couple of ‘missed’ tracks and the highlights, apart from that superb instrumental are: ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’, the classic given a brilliant treatment with a genius solo from Blackmore – ‘I’m a Free Man’ with solos of sheer quality from Sullivan, Lee and Blackmore. ‘Lovin’ You Is Good For Me Baby’ is a great slow blues showing why Chas was in demand as a bassist as well as more superb guitar solos. ‘I Want You’ has even more guitars but just listen to Ian Paice playing such complex rhythms without ever losing time…amazing.

In fact, it’s easier to just say that if you love masterful guitar playing centred around blues-rock, then this is essential listening. It brings new dimensions to the blues-rock genre as the musicians seamlessly blend their different styles into a cohesive and professional whole… plus, you can tell they’re having a good time and you will too.

It isn’t listed as currently available, but CDs are still showing on the usual auction sites as well as some streaming sites; vinyl copies occasionally see the light of day but aren’t cheap.

Tom Dixon
North East born, South West domiciled music lover - mainly heavy rock & blues but not averse to other genres. I'm fortunate to have retired early & I can now take full advantage of the 40+ years I have spent collecting, listening, watching & playing (badly) & have enjoyed researching how blues in particular has shaped the music we know & love today. Now if only I could get my Strat & Musicman to sound in reality how they do in my head!

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