Morlocks – The Morlocks Play Chess

January 01, 1970


(popantipop Records)


There’s nothing new under the
sun, as the old expression goes, and that’s especially true for music. The long
genetic chain of folk and blues that extends back to Europe and Africa eventually
gets churned and reborn later as gospel, country, bluegrass, jazz and rock.
Like a Mobius strip, it’s the circle that goes unbroken, or perhaps Ouroboros,
the snake devouring its tail. It’s a feedback of roots music reinvented and
re-embraced by subsequent generations looking to get a groove on.



For instance, British kids in
port cities like Liverpool were often treated to the latest American records by
their seafaring dads returning home. This included pop, blues, R&B and rock
‘n’ roll. Of course, these kids started their own bands, influenced by music
that was influenced by music going back and back. Early British invasion bands
were strongly influenced by black blues artists and the likes of Elvis, Jerry
Lee Lewis, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. American kids flipped over
what was, in essence, their own music, recycled and fed back to them again.
Folk and blues had a huge resurgence here throughout the ‘60s as well, with
folk flipping over on its back when Dylan plugged in and went electric, frying
some brains in the process.



Right along in the middle of the
‘60s was an American response to the British invasion, hard stomping
garage-rock. Proto-punky songs primarily themed around boy-girl relationships,
love, yearning, loneliness and rebellion. Fast forward to 1972 and Nuggets gathered some of the best of
this primal genre into a classic collection helping us skate through most of
the musical dreck early in that decade. About ten years later, after punk and
new wave were off and running, some kids were dipping into the mid-‘60s
classics and wishing it could be 1965 again. Bands that grabbed my attention at
the dawn of the ‘80s, The Barracudas, The Chesterfield Kings, my pal Alec Palao’s
band the Sting-Rays, The Meteors’ one-shot band, the Clapham South Escalators
and Chicago’s notorious The Cunts Live, who actually had been garaging it since
about 1974. By the mid-‘80s a worldwide garage-punk renaissance was in full
swing with a plethora of fantastic bands in Sweden, France and Down Under.



The Morlocks were rocking San
Diego as the Gravedigger 5, then swung north to San Fran and transformed into
the Morlocks. Of all of the bands of their ilk, their psyche-lithic garage-rawk
had true currency and elevated them to near-cult status among their peers and
fans everywhere. At an East coast vs. West coast Battle of the Bands, I saw
them stunningly stomp The Chesterfield Kings’ collective ass. They really know
their shit about classic garage and psych bands, blues-rock, R&B music and
‘70s punkers like the MC5, Stooges and Ramones.



This Play Chess project (as in, “Chess Records”) gives them something to
sink their fangs into, and pays tribute to the pioneers that rocked the world
and helped to tear down the race wall around black music. Leighton Koizumi’s
gravelly-raw voice is perfectly suited to do justice to Howling Wolf and Bo
Diddley. They tear through a dozen gems like “I’m A Man”, “Smokestack
Lightning”, “You Can’t Sit Down”, and “You Never Can Tell” with a pretty
straightforward style, choosing not to add too much embellishment or mangle and
distort the songs as Tim Kerr did in Jack O’ Fire. The band delivers, energy
wise, for the most part the song picks are solid. (On “Boom Boom” Leighton’s
voice croaks out in the opening and perhaps another take later would have
nailed it.) They do let go and psych out on “Who Do You Love” and “Killing
Floor” and it’s great. “Feel So Bad” and “Help Me” sound they’ve been playing
them for decades and made them their own.



So, once again, all that is old
is new again. Or maybe it’s just a circadian cycle.



DOWNLOAD: “Who Do You Love”, “Killing Floor” BARRY ST. VITUS


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