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Spark the Bong and Listen to Some Motherfucking Wizard Rock

The Numero Group has brought the heat with their latest comp of lovable, stoned-tastic classics.

Between Vietnam, COINTELPRO, Nixon, Peter Frampton, Barry Manilow, and all the other horrible shit about the era, it was sort of a given that everyone in the ‘70s with a guitar and/or a mustache was getting high. If your body managed to escape the draft, your mind required its own way out, and a veritable legion of pasty North American teenagers found one in the holy trinity of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and local dirt-weed. It’s a combination that birthed many a band—from early adopters/walking legends like Pentagram, Sir Lord Baltimore, and Warpig to those long-forgotten miscreants whose 15 minutes consisted of a solitary, barely-ever-in-print 45 and the story about that one time they opened for Alice Cooper in Ypsilanti, Michigan, or the Allman Brothers in East Dogdick, Arkansas. Toss in a mom’s-basement-dwelling escapist undercurrent of Tolkein novels and pre-Dungeon & Dragons role-playing games, and you’ve got the basis for Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles, the latest compilation from the Numero Group, a label that has built its well-deserved reputation for excellence on a catalog of magnificently curated R&B and soul compilations. But Darkscorch is a different beast entirely, featuring 16 dope-huffing, Hobbit-humping, one-off rock bands from the late, great 1970s.


Which means lots of band names that act as double-entendres for getting high as hell: Stonehenge. Stone Axe. Stoned Mace. A band called Medusa, not be outdone—or only to be outdone, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing—by a band called Gorgon Medusa. Songs entitled “Sorcerer,” “Wizzard King,” “King Of The Golden Hall” and “Song Of Sauron.” A band called Air that isn’t two French guys with a keyboard and a drum machine. You get the drift. Bands that played mostly keggers, strip clubs, and high-school dances but managed to score the occasional dream gig supporting the Stooges, MC5 or Bob Seger System (like Saginaw, Michigan’s faded sons Sonaura, who opened for all three). Sometimes they’d break up during a smoke machine debacle while opening for Frijid Pink (that’d be the aforementioned Gorgon Medusa, who hailed from Chicago). If they managed to get out of town, they slogged across touring circuits that consisted of the shittiest third of the Rust Belt—or, like, Greater Ontario. There were bands that practiced in farmhouse coal chutes (like Indiana’s Stoned Mace). Bands that flirted with majors, released one LP, and then quit to become lawyers and produce Buddy Miles records (like Tampa’s Wizard). Bands led by guys who, today, can’t even remember the last names of the other dudes in their own band—like George Bisinov, vocalist/guitarist for Houston’s Space Rock, a band that recorded their lone single in a studio located under a bowling alley. Think about that for a second.


They did all this, of course, while baked out of their tits.

It doesn’t even matter if the stories in the liner notes are true. All the best legends are based on a solid foundation of oft-repeated rumors or outright lies. Like Robert Johnson taking guitar lessons from Satan. Or the moon landing. In the end, it almost doesn’t matter: Robert Johnson was an undisputed blues master, NASA got to give the Soviet Union the finger in public, and everybody wins except the Russians, who have shitty music and no moon landing.

Everybody except the Russians and the bands on Darkscorch Canticles, anyway. Like Toronto outfit Triton Warrior, who imploded under the weight of two mid-’70s lawsuits, one involving a trashed hotel room and the other a “botched laser light concert.” Or Houston rockers Dark Star, whose guitarist Bobby “Wizard” Parker did so many drugs that he was demoted to sound man. Later, the band’s vocalist/guitarist “Major” Tom Lazer suffered a spinal cord injury that ended his music career. But worst of all was the fate of the band Junction from Green Bay, Wisconsin: After their van was hit by a drunk driver, guitarist Darryl St. John was trapped behind the steering wheel and forced to watch as some of the other passengers burned alive on the hood.

In the good news department, there was this band called Wrath. Straight outta Canton, Ohio, they apparently competed against a young, pre-Eagles Joe Walsh in a local battle of bands. They later reportedly jammed with Sabbath at a military base in Atlanta. They released a sole single in ’75 through their own aptly titled label, Stone Cold Records. When they hit the studio to record it, singer/drummer Rick Page had laryngitis. So guitarist Ralph Minocchi brought in his then-wife Sherry to deliver a one-shot vocal performance for the ages on “Warlord.” It’s the second track on Darkscorch Canticles, and currently our favorite. The lyric nicks a line from The Guess Who’s “American Woman” (“don’t need your war machine”), but again: It doesn’t matter. The song rules, like some premonitory hybrid of Shocking Blue and The Devil’s Blood.

Then there’s Stoned Mace’s “Tasmania,” a medieval soldier’s lament done in a style that merges hints of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western soundtracks with The Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” Elsewhere, the awesomely named North Carolina quartet Arrogance deliver “Black Death,” the kind of white-boy-soul-masquerading-as-hard-rock that Terry Reid—Jimmy Page’s original choice for the singer of Zep—should’ve become famous for. Not to be outdone, another group of Tar Heels known as Inside channel English flash lords The Sweet through some true Southern grit on the heavy glam stomper “Wizzard King.” Closing out the comp, all-black Texan trio Hellstorm unfurl “Cry For The Newborn,” a psych-funk oddity that’s just slow and dirge-y enough to fit in with Darkscorch’s otherwise hard rock purview.

Like many recent compilations of heavy ’70s obscurities—the excellent Bonehead Crunchers series from Germany’s Belter label and Finders Keepers’ 2012 Man Chest Hair collection come to mind—the songs on Darkscorch Canticles are largely hit or miss. But the hits are so worth inhaling.

J. Bennett plays guitar in Ides of Gemini. Perhaps you should listen to them?