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.

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“All Bowed Down”

:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | Bearsville | search ebay ]

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  • Len Liechti

    As a note for collectors, my own copy of this album is a CD with the South In New Orleans title and different cover art and a 1992 issue date on the C-Five Records imprint from Maidenhead, England, marked as licensed from Castle Communications, a well-known UK reissue outfit, and therefore unlikely to be a bootleg. Although the track listing is the same, the info sector on the CD itself is in error and misses one track when brought up on Media Player, though the CD plays perfectly. There are also a few typos in the cover booklet, including spelling Amos’s name “Garratt” on the front. Used copies on the See For Miles imprint are available on Amazon UK at the time of writing, as are new copies on the JVC Japan label. With so many different reissue it’s hard to know which are legit and which are boots, so you pays your money and takes your choice.

  • baker

    have you heard of bobby lounge? it sounds so similar to him in the opening of hats off america!

  • theo

    The link for All Bowed Down delivers a track called Hoona, Spoona.

  • Nik Rayne

    No worries Theo, Hoona Spoona is indeed All Bowed Down. It looks as though it’s only the title of the file that is incorrect, which may be a result of Len’s unusual source. But man, I have to say that this record sounds a hell of a lot more eccentric (and dare I say interesting) than one would ever expect going into it from Bobby Charles and Great Speckled Bird. It’s too bad this is such a difficult one to track down here in the United States – that is, provided you aren’t ready to shell down $25 or more for the reissue import.

  • Len Liechti

    Yup, All Bowed Down it is, chaps. File name error due to an error on the info sector of my CD – see my first comment above – which has carried over to the MP3 itself. If the album is unexpectedly eccentric – and one has to admit that it is – then that’s due to the guys doing this one for themselves rather than for someone else. Yes, it is hard to find at a reasonable price – mine came pre-loved via eBay.

  • Nik Rayne

    Thought I’d chime in and mention that I just picked up a record by a band called Great Jones, and whadya know but the title track is a cover of All Bowed Down. Lacks the smoke & bramble spirit of the original, but it’s still pretty wild to hear another take on such an obscure tune.

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