In Praise Of Spooky Tooth

In Praise Of Spooky Tooth
Authored By John Nicholson

While they were only around from 1968 - 1974, I’ve always thought The Tooth have been undervalued in the history of British rock and were influential in their approach.

Formed out of the ashes of a good psychedelic band called Art when Island’s Chris Blackwell introduced Gary Wright to the ex-Art boys. 

Their debut, It's All About, was released in June 1968 on Island Records and was produced by the already legendary Jimmy Miller, who was also the man twiddling knobs for Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith.

That first album was a unique blend of heavy over-amped guitar, with Beatle-ish harmonies and folk influences from Janis Ian and Bob Dylan’s songs. They do a tremendously overblown almost Vanilla Fudge-type version of Tobacco Road. It flopped though. It’ll cost you up to £150 for a first press - and I used to have one -  but it was sold in the great collection sale of 1989. Boo. 

The second album, Spooky Two (March 1969), also produced by Miller, was critically acclaimed but like the debut, didn’t sell which is why a first pressing is valued at up to £100. It was the last album with the original lineup"Better by You, Better than Me", was later covered by Judas Priest on their release Stained Class (1978).

Greg Ridley joined Humble Pie in 1969 and was replaced by Andy Leigh for the album Ceremony (December 1969). THis was far more proggy.  The experimental nature of Ceremony received mixed reviews and despite the project being Gary Wright’s idea, the album is considered by him to have ended the band's career. The record is described by another as being "one of the great screw-ups in rock history". As Wright describes it, "...We did a project that wasn't our album. It was with this French electronic music composer named Pierre Henry. We just told the label, 'You know this is his album, not our album. We'll play on it just like musicians.' And then when the album was finished, they said, 'Oh no no — it's great. We're gonna release this as your next album.' We said, 'You can't do that. It doesn't have anything to do with the direction of Spooky Two and it will ruin our career.' And that's exactly what happened."

All of which very much has the ring of truth about it. I actually like the record. It is weird and predates progressive electronic music by a few years.

Wright left the band following the release of the album. Mike Harrison, Luther Grosvenor and Kellie remained and recorded The Last Puff (July 1970) with members of Joe Cocker's Grease Band. This is another different but really good record.

In the autumn of 1970 the band embarked on a European tour that was undertaken with a line-up of Harrison, Grosvenor, Kellie, keyboardist John Hawken (ex-Nashville Teens) and bassist Steve Thompson. After this, the group disbanded, though Harrison and Wright reformed Spooky Tooth in September 1972 with a different line-up.

You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw was the first album by the reunited band, released in May 1973 on Island Records. Grosvenor did not rejoin the band, as he had teamed up with Mott The Hoople, adopting the stage name of Ariel Bender. Grosvenor was succeeded by Mick Jones, while founding drummer Kellie was replaced by Bryson (unusual first name) Graham. Bass chores were handled by Ian Herbert, then Chris Stewart. 

For their next album, Witness (November 1973), original drummer Mike Kellie returned in place of Bryson Graham. Gary Wright remained the dominant songwriter at this stage of the band's history. But co-lead singer Harrison left following the album's release and Mike Patto was the new vocalist, alongside Wright, when they recorded The Mirror (October 1974), which also included new bass player Val Burke and Bryson Graham back on drums. Are you keeping up? But the album's failure led to Wright leaving once again for a solo career and the group disbanding in November 1974. 

Spooky Tooth was unlucky, really. One of those bands who just couldn’t catch a break. They didn’t have any chart success apart from two singles, one in 1969: "Feelin' Bad" (US#132) and 1970’s: "I Am the Walrus" (Netherlands #38)

They were a band of fantastic players and if you doubt that, look at the success they went on to have. Luther played with Mott and the underrated Widowmaker. Mick Jones went on to form Foreigner and enjoy global success. Gary Wright’s Dream Weaver was a huge global #1 hit. Henry McCullough was in the band in 1970 and went to play on Wings hit albums. Mike Patto was an underground hit with Patto and Boxer. 

Their albums are all worth revisiting, the final one The Mirror is a superb hard rock record. They’re all collectable too, so if you’ve got vinyl copies from back in the day, you could be sitting on a few hundred quid.

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