Hungry Chuck “Hungry Chuck”
I discovered Hungry Chuck serendipitously via Bobby Charles’s eponymous 1972 album. Beyond Charles’s inspirational songs I was fired by his core backing outfit’s astonishingly sympathetic funky swamp-rock playing. I knew Amos Garrett already from his liquid-fingered guitar solo on Maria Muldaur’s sublime worldwide hit “Midnight At The Oasis”, but the other guys were strangers to me. On researching Garrett further with a view to identifying yet more stuff on which he’d played, I came across Hungry Chuck.
Former Eric Andersen sideman Garrett, original Remains drummer ND Smart II, ex-Bo Grumpus bassist Jim Colegrove and peripatetic New York pianist Jeffrey Gutcheon had backed Ian and Sylvia Tyson on their fine country-rock album Great Speckled Bird, recorded in Nashville in 1970. From there the four journeymen musicians moved to Woodstock, NY, and became effectively the house band for Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Records, whence their contribution to the Bobby Charles opus, inter alia. With moonlighting pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith from Neil Young’s alternative backing combo Stray Gators and, curiously, session trumpeter Peter Ecklund, they became Hungry Chuck, presumably jokily named for underground cartoonist Dan Clyne’s repulsive character Hungry Chuck Biscuits (unconfirmed – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). In between backing Grossman’s extensive register of talent the guys found time to assemble their own album, which appeared eponymously as Hungry Chuck in the US in 1972 but did not find a release in the UK until retrospectively put out by See For Miles in 1988 as South In New Orleans.
Typical of most albums recorded by aggregations of talented sidemen, Hungry Chuck is a slow burner which rewards repeated listening: such outfits by definition don’t usually include chartbusting songwriters or throat-grabbing lead vocalists, but the quality of such works invariably shines through with a little aural rubbing. (To see what I mean, listen to anything by Area Code 615 or Barefoot Jerry, or any of David Lindley’s solo and El Rayo-X waxings.) Most of the songs are penned by Gutcheon; musically they’re an eclectic stew of country rock, Memphis soul and New Orleans jazzy swing, and lyrically they’re joyous deprecatory pokes at 1970s American post-hippie culture and obvious parodies of The Band, Zappa and even James Brown, all recorded with a high sense of humour and absolutely no commercial ambition. Garrett’s playing is comparatively restrained compared to his Speckled Bird output, though gloriously tasteful throughout; Colegrove’s bass is less quirky, more solid than on the Charles outing; and it’s Gutcheon’s virtuoso piano and Ecklund’s multitracked trumpet, cornet and fluegel that largely shape the arrangements. As well as the ten “proper” songs there are three episodes of playful studio nonsense credited to Smart and Garrett, presumably to give them a writer credit. Again typically for albums by such aggregations there are no real standout tracks, but the highlights include the swinging opener “Hats Off, America!” (which includes the splendidly prescient line “Tell your kids, don’t worry ‘cos the banks will never fail!”), the obvious Eagles skit “Watch The Trucks Go By” with great guest harmonica from Paul Butterfield, and the splendidly po-faced “All Bowed Down” which caricatures The Band at their most morose.
After this freshman album Hungry Chuck recorded a second, which to date remains unreleased – why? – and soon afterwards went their own ways, all being highly valued as sessioneers. Most notably, Garrett worked extensively with Maria Muldaur; Smart thumped the tubs for Gram Parsons’s Fallen Angels; Gutcheon was musical arranger for the disparate likes of Gladys Knight and Ringo Starr; and Keith stroked the strings for seven years with Uncle Neil. Proving that the split was not rancorous, the Chuck members also intermittently toured and recorded in various combinations almost until the turn of the century, and most still remain active in the business.
“All Bowed Down”
Original Vinyl | 1972 | Bearsville | search ebay ]