STONE THE CROWS – ” The Albums “

Posted: January 28, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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it’s extraordinary to recall that Stone The Crows survived a mere three years.

The band were formed after the passionate vocal style of dynamic singer Maggie Bell was introduced to Les Harvey by his elder brother Alex Harvey. After playing together in the Kinning Park Ramblers, they called their next band Power but was renamed Stone the Crows  by Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant. The band’s first two albums were recorded with the original line up and Bell’s vocals were described as being similar to Janis Joplin’s.

But Maggie Bell and Leslie Harvey had both been working long and hard before their latest venture finally took shape, way back in 1969. They deserved the success that finally came their way. Their blues-based rock was imbued with that extra power and authentic flavour that sprang from their tough Glasgowegian roots.

The band was co-managed by Grant and Mark London. London was associated with pop star Lulu as the co-writer of her signature song, “To Sir With Love” . London had also managed the predecessor band Cartoone, in which Peter Grant had a financial interest and had featured Les Harvey on guitar. Guitarist Jimmy McCulloch would subsequently replace the main songwriter Harvey as lead guitarist, following Harvey’s on-stage death by electrocution at Swansea’s Top Rank Suite in May 1972. Ironically Stone The Crows greatest triumph was in the summer of 1972 when Maggie’s determination led the band through success headlining at the Crystal Palace Garden Party and Lincoln Festival and a wonderful received autumn tour. Sadly not even that could hold the band together, After Harvey’s death the band reconsidered their direction Stone the Crows ultimately broke up in June 1973, and Peter Grant continued to manage Maggie Bell’s career. Guided by Grant, Bell subsequently recorded two solo albums, Queen of the Night (1974) and Suicide Sal (1975).

Bell is also known for her session work on Rod Stewart’s album Every Picture Tells a Story (1971), in particular her co-lead vocal with Stewart on the album’s title track.

Jimmy McCulloch joined Paul McCartney’s group Wings,

Stone the Crows (1970)

Stone The Crows‘ (Polydor) was produced by Mark London and released in 1970. Jimmy Dewar shared some vocal duties with Maggie and co-wrote the material. “We recorded the album in Advision studios, London, with Jimmy Dewar and John McGinnis. Jimmy was a great singer and he sounded a bit like David Clayton Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears. We shared the vocals on that album and we made a great team.”

One of their first collective pieces was opening cut ‘The Touch Of Your Loving Hand.’ Says Maggie: “That was a really melodic piece and could have been done by a big band. It’s a song that could still be performed today and wouldn’t seem out of place. It was done in the style of Ray Charles or Roberta Flack. There is a great guitar solo on this by Leslie.” ‘Raining In Your Heart‘ was by Jimmy Dewar and it was quite an up tempo thing with lots of breaks and cymbal crashes.”

Most of the album material was a regular part of their stage set including the bluesy ‘Blind Man.’ Maggie re-recorded this in November, 1996 during sessions for the ‘History Of The British Blues‘ an album produced by Pete BrownJack BrucePeter GreenMick Taylor and Big Jim Sullivan are all on the album intended as a tribute to the late blues harp player Cyril Davies.

Says Maggie: ‘Blind Man‘ is a traditional song that Josh White used to perform. It’s a real blues song. One of the reasons I got into black music was from listening to Josh White.”

Another ‘cover’ on ‘Stone The Crows‘ is The Beatles‘ ‘Fool On The Hill‘ and explains Maggie: “I always wanted to do this because it’s got great lyrics. We didn’t really do it like the Beatles but I remember Petula Clark once said it was the finest version she’d ever heard!”

I Saw America‘ is a massive epic that covered side two of the original vinyl album. It was born out of the band’s first trip to America and was intended as a tribute to that great country. Some U.S. record executive however thought it was a rather odd idea.

Maggie: “It’s in four parts and starts off with the different States we visited, from the Deep South to California. Musically we tried to describe how we felt about the different places. It’s like a musical travelogue! Other members of the band had been to the States before, but it was my first trip. It was a strange situation though, because the American record people said: ‘but why do you want to write a song about America?’ They seemed to think only Americans should write about their country!”

Album sales weren’t huge but as Maggie says: “It did all right and enabled us to make another couple of albums.”

Ode to John Law (1970)

After their second effort ‘Ode To John Law‘ (1970), John McGinnis and Jimmy Dewar quit and were replaced by Steve Thompson (bass) and Ronnie Leahy (keyboards).

The next album ‘Teenage Licks‘ (1971), proved to be their most successful and from then on Stone The Crows played all the major rock festivals. Maggie won the Best Female Vocalist award in the annual Melody Maker readers poll and with her raunchy, sincere style she was hailed by many critics as the natural successor to Janis Joplin. Things were looking good, then just when it seemed international stardom beckoned, Leslie Harvey was electrocuted and died on stage, before a gig at Swansea’s Top Rank Ballroom. It happened during a sound check when Les touched a ‘live’ mike and his guitar at the same time. The band were devastated and never really recovered from the blow. But for the moment, they decided to carry on.

Peter Green from Fleetwood Mac was a possible replacement. He spent some time rehearsing with them for a major rock festival. Two days before the show he rang to say he couldn’t make it. Steve Howe of Yes helped out, then another young Scottish guitarist, Jimmy Mcculloch came in to help finish off the fourth album ‘Ontinuous Performance‘ (1972).

Stone The Crows hadn’t really written anything before we did our first album, so I think our music was very good for the times. When you consider it was all done 25 years ago, it doesn’t sound too bad!”

Teenage Licks (1971)

This third album from Scotland’s Stone the Crows was as close to hitting on all cylinders as they ever came in the studio. With some personnel changes following Ode to John Law (a new bassist and keyboard player), they powered through the disc, with “Big Jim Salter,” “I May Be Right I May Be Wrong,” and their version of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” being the absolute standouts.

The figureheads of vocalist Maggie Bell and guitarist Les Harvey had never sounded better as they worked in a pure rock vein, abandoning the blues aspect of their sound (Indeed, “Aileen Mochree” took them into Gaelic, a pleasant, brief side track) — check “Mr. Wizard” to get a good picture of where they were really headed. Of course, it wasn’t a one-dimensional sound; the keyboard-dominated “Seven Lakes” was full of pseudo-classical portentousness, almost de rigeur for the period. But it was when they rocked that Stone the Crows were at their best, and with this album they seemed truly poised to move up to the big time.

Ontinuous Performance (1972)

Much of Ontinuous Performance was already in the can when guitarist Les Harvey was tragically electrocuted onstage on May 3rd, 1972. The band brought in young guitar wiz Jimmy McCullough (ex-Thunderclap Newman) to take his place, but really, in a band like this, no one could have filled his shoes — a listen to Harvey’s guitar work on the instrumental “King Tut” shows how far he’d come, and how integral his particular style of playing was to the band’s sound.

Ironically, out of tragedy came a brief moment of success, as “Good Time Girl,” released as a single (and, except for gender, it was a perfect Rod Stewart song) hit #12 on the U.K. singles chart. But there was also a return to their blues roots with the acoustic “Penicillin Blues,” while “One More Chance” offered Maggie Bell an opportunity to show her soulful vocal chops. However, they blew it during the nine minutes of “Niagara,” a piece that, it sounded, was never finished before release. It was would have impossible for the band to let go of Harvey without a song, and it comes at the end of the disc, the ballad “Sunset Cowboy,” which is touching and heartfelt.

After this record the disheartened band broke up.

Jimmy did his best but the heart had gone out of the group, and they finally broke up in 1973. Jimmy went on to play with Paul McCartney’s Wings while Colin Allen, their drummer, joined Focus. Maggie released two well received solo albums produced by Jerry Wexler, ‘Queen Of The Night,'(1973), and ‘Suicide Sal’ (1975).

Maggie Bell now lives in Rotterdam, Holland, and is still singing and recording. In 1995 she did a tour of Scotland with the old Alex Harvey Band which went down a storm. She also toured with Chris Farlowe for three years. “I have been keeping busy. I could never give this business up!” She says.

Stone The Crows were a great band and we had some wonderful times on the road. We toured with Roxy MusicDavid Bowie and Marc Bolan, and in the States we played alongside Frank ZappaEdgar Winter and the MC5.

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