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30 Dec 2016

Back Street Crawler “2nd Street” 1976 UK Hard Blues Rock

Back Street Crawler  “2nd Street” 1976 UK Hard Blues Rock
Such is the way with life that when you think things are on the up and you are finally heading into some clear water a huge great tidal wave comes along and turns your world upside down all over again. Even to the point of destroying it completely. That, sadly, was the case for poor old, although old is hardly a appropriate term for one so young, Paul Kossoff. His past tribulations and highs and lows have been well documented. From the personal pride and bewilderment he felt when his hero Jimi Hendrix took him to one side and asked him to show him how he got ‘that sound’ out of his guitar to the disgrace and embarrasment of having to have Simon Kirke placing his fingers on the fretboard to remind him how to play ‘All Right Now’ when in a drug crazed stupor before one of the final tragic Free gigs. So no need to go into any depth with that here. 

After Free Kossoff formed Back Street Crawler, a band he named after his solo album of a couple of years earlier and they put out a decent enough blues rock debut album and embarked on a headlining UK tour. The tour was cutshort though due to Kossoff suffering a heart attack and being declared clinically dead for almost 30 minutes. It was after this though that things began to pick up. A reasonably well recovered Kossoff had regained a little of his old enthusiasm and the arrival of old mate John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick to replace the less suitable Mike Montgomery on keyboards had also given him a lift. Headlining shows at the Starwood Club in Los Angeles, where old mates Bad Company came along to jam seemed to signify Kossoff was on the way back and optimism was at its highest point for some time. 

“Second Street” was recorded in various studios in America during Kossoff’s rehabilitation period and for this reason Snuffy Walden who had helped out on the final Free album again took some of the guitar parts when Kossoff was too ill to play. Despite this though it is clear from listening to the album that Kossoff was regaining his enthusiasm and things were definately on the up. The nine track album features four from the pen of bass player Terry Wilson, not to be confused with vocalist Terry Wilson-Slessor and four from keyboard man Rabbit, two of them co written with Dean Rutherford and just the one group composition. 

Things get under way with ‘Selfish Lover’ a reasonably fast paced opener. The first thing that hits you is that the addition of Bundrick in place of Montgomery has given them more of a Free feel. Kossoff seems happier and his playing is very reminiscent of the last two Free albums, particularly Heartbreaker. Although he didn’t play on all of that album much of what he did play was some of his best work. The track features lots of flashing solo notes across riffs and vocals alike. ‘Blue Soul’ has a nice gentle acoustic guitar opening with some lovely piano underneath. Former Beckett man Terry Wilson-Slessor who is not unlike Paul Rodgers in delivery belts out a superb soulful vocal which compliments the melody perfectly. The guitar and keyboards are working well in unison as ever with Kossoff and Bundrick. What could have been little more than a simple blues soul track is turned into an atmospheric peice thanks to the powerful little sections alongside the gentleness of the main part of the song. Of course the classic weeping Kossoff guitar gives it its own majesty. ‘Stop Doing What You’re Doing’, the only group composition, is energetic and fast paced with a funky beat. Kossoff playing some great funky riffs underneath the main body of the song. Kossoff plays it like an instrumental never wasting an opportunity to flash a few notes tastefully across track. It is almost constant soloing, even behind the vocal which is rhythmically repetative but not to the point of monotony. The back end of the song takes a progression not unlike the Don Nix track ‘Going Down’. ‘Raging River’ is another track with an acoustic opening before it builds up to a better than average mid tempo folk blues track. The first half of the album ends with ‘Some Kind of Happy’ which is a truly wonderful blues soul song. With great backing vocals and a superb lead vocal delivery from Wilson-Slessor the song is packed full of emotion. As you can imagine it features more great classic Kossoff guitar. His Gibson weeping and wailing mournfully in a style not unlike that on ‘Come Together In The Morning’. The song has a great climax and is easily my favourite on the album. It is just one of those songs that hits a spot and stays with you forever. 

The second half starts with ‘Sweet Beauty’ another one with a gentle opening before it builds up into a slightly faster track. A nice vehicle for Wilson-Slessor and Kossoff it is one of the shortest songs on the album and one of the least impressive. The bar is set high here though so it is still a fine track. ‘Just For You’ is a moodier bluesier song featuring a strong riff with atmospheric organ underneath. The drums of Tony Braunagel are very much to the fore here even more so than on the majority of the album. Braunagel is from the same mould as Simon Kirke, simple and effective without being overly flashy. Kossoff though flashes some great mini solo’s inbetween the verses and during the lyrics. One of Kossoff’s many qualities as a guitarist was that he was happy for the vocalist to sing over his soling. This gave his guitar a far more human crying sound and also didn’t do the vocalist any harm either as it added even more emotion to the vocal. It is tracks like this one that make you realise what a pity it was that Kossoff and Rabbit didn’t get to record with each other more as they blend perfectly and compliment each other superbly. Wilson-Slessor must have felt all his Christmases had come at once to have such great instrumentalists complimenting his vocals. ‘On Your Life’ is a good mid tempo track which is even more reminiscent of Heartbreaker era Free than the rest of the album. With a superb melody, some top notch Rabbit keyboards and another good vocal from Wilson-Slessor it is in the same vein as Bundrick’s best ever composition ‘Muddy Water’. The best compliment I can give Wilson-Slessor is that despite this whole album sounding very much like Free you never find yourself wondering if the songs would have been better sung by Paul Rodgers. Now that has to be close to the highest praise you can heap on any vocalist ….. it certainly is from me. Quite why Wilson-Slessor hasn’t had a more illustrious career is another one of those infuriating rock ‘n’ roll mysteries. ‘Leaves In The Wind’ is a faster jazzier type track with Kossoff and Rabbit playing some interesting jazz like runs under the vocal and Rabbit driving the song along with some great keyboard and piano work. Kossoff of course shines with a great slow lingering blues solo or two. It is a great laid back ending to what is an incredibly good album. 

Sadly as I mentioned earlier the floor was pulled away from under the tragic Kossoff before the completed album hit the streets and “Second Street”, which remains strangely obscure, wasn’t released until after he had passed away on internal US flight on 19th March 1976. The world had lost one of its greatest guitarists but he left us one last peice of magic which finally hit the streets the following month. Where would Kossoff have gone had he survived, how would he have developed. Sadly we will never know but track this album down and give it a spin. You certainly won’t be disappointed. I’m not ashamed to say there is a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat as I write these words and the last notes of ‘Leaves In The Wind’ fade away ……by…..Martin Leedham…. 

“2nd Street” is good stuff. It’s better then their first long play. Paul Kossoff’s guitar just soars. Sadly, this was it for him. He died just before the release of this recording. How good these guys could have been, we will never know, but Back Street Crawler was not a bad band. Solid rock and roll,….rod45 …… 

This is simply one of the great underrated rock albums of the 1970’s and the last album to feature Paul Kossoff on guitar. He actually died before the album was released due to a heart attack brought on from a long standing heroin addiction. It almost seems as if Koss knew this was to be his last effort and his playing is of an unusually melancholic and lilting quality on tracks like, “Blue Soul”, “Some Kind Of Happy” and particularly the end portion of “Leaves In The Wind.” 
Blending beautifully with Koss’ guitar is the keyboard work of John ‘Rabbit" Bundrick. He has a haunting and equally reflective style that embraces aspects of melancholy and longing. His unique style brought a similar layer of sophistication to Free’s final album “Heartbreaker.” In more recent years he has been the regular touring keyboard player with The Who. 
Of equal importance is the powerful, soulful and curiously unaffected vocals of Terry Wilson Slesser. His voice is just perfect for these well crafted songs which vary between the funky “Stop Doing What Your Doing”, the acoustic driven “Raging River” and the pleading “Some Kind Of Happy.” The latter song also features some nice blending of his voice with some impassioned female back-up singers. His voice never falls into any overwrought bellowing or bluster and always provides what the song needs without drawing special attention to embellishments. A perfect example of this is on the song “Just For You” which many other singers of the era would have delivered in an overdone bluesy growl. Here Slesser sings like a man truly pining for a woman he has recently lost. No bravado just a wish unfulfilled. 
Two real highlights are the last two songs, “On Your Life” and “Leaves In The Wind.” “On Your Life” is a perfect example of this band working as one with no showboating. The keyboards blend perfectly with the vocals, and the drumming of Tony Braunagel are tight but never intrusive. It’s a a sad remembrance captured in song. “Leaves In The Wind” starts out as a nice funky groove with some tasty bass from Terry Wilson (like this band in general, an underrated bass player) before moving into its reflective second half where, appropriately, Paul Kossoff shows off his lilting guitar playing in all its glory. When Slesser sings “If you can’t imagine, what is the use…Leaves in the wind” with Kossoff’s sad guitar weeping along it’s true magic and a perfectly fitting end to a very brief life, of not only Paul Kossoff, but a band with great promise. Of course, the band would carry on under the shortened moniker Crawler, with a new guitarist, but the rare magic captured here was never quite matched again. The only negative about this album is that it is too short! Pick up the 2004 CD release of this on the Wounded Bird Records label!….by….Godwaffle ……… 

- Paul Kossoff - lead guitar 
- Terry Wilson-Slesser - lead vocals 
- John “Rabbit” Bundrick - keyboards, vocals 
- Terry Wilson - bass, acoustic and electric guitars 
- Tony Braunagel - drums, vocals 

A1 Selfish Lover 3:26 
A2 Blue Soul 3:46 
A3 Stop Doing What You’re Doing 3:26 
A4 Raging River 3:16 
A5 Some Kind Of Happy 5:00 
B1 Sweet, Sweet Beauty 3:14 
B2 Just For You 6:18 
B3 On Your Life 3:54 
B4 Leaves In The Wind 5:12 

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..