The Grease Band only released two albums and even if you’ve not heard either of them, you will have almost certainly have seen and heard the Grease Band live.
They backed Joe Cocker from 1966 to 1969 and it is they who performed with the gravel voiced Sheffield singer at Woodstock, laying down a scintillating, tight but loose, dynamic version of ‘A Little Help From My Friends’ as well as an awesome version of ‘Lets Go Get Stoned’.
The band had first got together in 1964 and had worked on and off backing Cocker playing soul and Tamla Motown throughout the pubs and clubs of the north. They even recorded a live single at Sheffield’s King Mojo Club for Sheffield University rag week – that has got to be a very rare, collectible 7” of plastic.
As Cocker’s career took off, post Woodstock, The Grease Band were cut adrift as the former gas fitter went out on the infamous Mad Dogs And Englishman tour with Leon Russell, Clapton, Delany And Bonnie and, crucially, Chris Stainton, who had been the leader of the Grease Band.
They now comprised Henry McCullough, Neil Hubbard, Alan Spenner and Bruce Rowlands. Hubbard had been in Juicy Lucy, a chugging heavy bluesy band that’d had a hit in 1970 with Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love?’
Their first project was working as sessioners on the Jesus Christ Superstar album. After that, they released the first of their two albums in 1971, ‘The Grease Band.’
Quite simply, it is a lost classic.
They combined the acoustic folkiness of The Band with a bit of funk and old school R & B. It has an inventive, melodic, yet rough and earthy vibe and had the potential to be very commercial. However, they struggled to get a label to back them. The album finally came out on Leon Russell’s and Denny Cordell’s (who had produced The Moody Blues ‘Go Now’ and Cocker’s ‘Little Help..’) excellent label Shelter Records. Although distributed by Blue Thumb, the album just dropped off the radar as soon as it was released through lack of promotion.
They toured the US for two months and later supported Leon Russell at the Albert Hall. They gigged all over the UK but the record just didn’t make any impact. Drummer, Rowlands left in summer of 1971 and John Weathers replaced him. Keyboardist Blue Weaver (real name, Derek) was also drafted in for a European tour with the ever supportive Leon Russell and also Freddie King.
Frustration at the lack of a break-through meant that when Stainton came calling for recruits for Cocker’s new backing band Spenner and Hubbard jumped ship. McCullough joined Wings in 1973 by which time the Grease Band was no more. They were legally contracted to make a second album for their manager and this eventually surfaced in 1975. ‘Amazing Grease’ was recorded across three years and wasn’t amazing at all.
And that’s where their story ends. One brilliant album full of invention, great songs and great musicianship was all they left us with.
All superb musicians, bassist Spenner is said to be the first white guy to be offered a session gig at Motown. He and Hubbard formed the superb blue-eyed soul outfit Kokomo in 1973 along with Mel Collins and made another lost classic debut album ‘Kokomo’ for CBS. They also provided backing for Alvin Lee on his double live ‘In Flight’ album made after his split with Ten Years After.
A near mint first pressing of the debut album will set you back over £60 today, because so few sold. The Grease Band could have been the UK’s version of the Band, for one album they really were that good.
Related t-shirt Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs and Englishman