The Groundhogs “Split”

Here’s one I can’t believe I haven’t heard before. For a record with such a commanding presence, excellent would-be classic tunes, and an ahead of its time Nirvanesque sound it’s a shock I can find too scant mention of it around these parts or elsewhere. In reality, it’s my shame I haven’t run across the Groundhogs before now, as their legendary run through most of the 60s’ British blues scene and subsequent forays in hard jam-rock are not to be overlooked.

Not at all “blues” and too cool for the prog tag, Split is more like a psych-tinged  insanity-fueled classic rock opus. Side A, a continuing amalgam of anthemic classic rock jams, “Split Parts 1-4″ (the lyrics apparently inspired by a panic attack), is the kind of amped-up music it can be dangerous to drive to; “Part 1″ is so juiced it makes me want to join a frantic crime spree. “Part 2″ may be the catchiest song with its driving wah-guitar lead and chop chords. Tony McPhee is clearly running the show, his guitar playing so effortless, dynamic, reeking of virtuosity; this is as in the zone as it gets. Not to diminish the efforts of Peter Cruikshank on guitar and bass and Ken Pustelnik wildly beating away, this band can fucking play.

“Cherry Red” may be the sickest, meanest classic I’ve never heard. How this masterpiece has evaded classic rock radio, movie soundtracks, and my ears altogether I’ll never understand. (Instead of the endless barrage of Black Keys and Jack Whites on the airwaves, music supervisors would do well to score something like this, both for the better of their budgets and our sanities.) On the self-titled “Groundhog,” McPhee proves he can swat the devil blues out of his electrified acoustic as fine as Robert Johnson, providing the album’s only real taste of blues.

Grab this mean, mighty bastard as soon as you can find it.

mp3: Split (Part One)
mp3: Cherry Red

:) Original | 1971 | Liberty | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2003 | Caroline | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]


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5 Comments.

  • Now I call this a comment!!! Excelente and justice-maker too!

    This is a real mean, bad-ass record and thanks god somebody’s saying what a huge lies those Black Shits really are!

    I listen to a lot of modern music and can’t really explain how on earth they are everywhere nowadays. I’ve listened to three LP’s, always thinking I might be wrong and couldn’t get a single tune.

  • ken

    The band were very popular in Euroape and I saw the several times. “Thank Christ for the Bomb” is also well worth a listen.

    This is what AMG on e-music has to say:

    All Music Guide:

    The Groundhogs were not British blues at their most creative; nor were they British blues at their most generic. They were emblematic of some of the genre’s most visible strengths and weaknesses. They were prone to jam too long on basic riffs, they couldn’t hold a candle to American blues singers in terms of vocal presence, and their songwriting wasn’t so hot. On the other hand, they did sometimes stretch the form in unexpected ways, usually at the hands of their creative force, guitarist/songwriter/vocalist T.S. (Tony) McPhee. For a while they were also extremely popular in Britain, landing three albums in that country’s Top Ten in the early ’70s.

    The Groundhogs’ roots actually stretch back to the mid-’60s, when McPhee helped form the group, naming it after a John Lee Hooker song (the band was also known briefly as John Lee’s Groundhogs). In fact, the Groundhogs would back Hooker himself on some of the blues singer’s mid-’60s British shows, and also on an obscure LP. They also recorded a few of their very own obscure singles with a much more prominent R&B/soul influence than their later work.

    In 1966, the Groundhogs evolved into Herbal Mixture, which (as if you couldn’t guess from the name) had more of a psychedelic flavor than a blues one. Their sole single, “Machines,” would actually appear on psychedelic rarity compilations decades later. The Groundhogs/Herbal Mixture singles, along with some unreleased material, has been compiled on a reissue CD on Distortions.

    After Herbal Mixture folded, McPhee had a stint with the John Dummer Blues Band before re-forming the Groundhogs in the late ’60s at the instigation of United Artists A&R man Andrew Lauder. Initially a quartet (bassist Pete Cruickshank also remained from the original Groundhogs lineup), they’d stripped down to a trio by the time of their commercial breakthrough, Thank Christ for the Bomb, which made the U.K. Top Ten in 1970.

    The Groundhogs’ power trio setup, as well as McPhee’s vaguely Jack Bruce-like vocals, bore a passing resemblance to the sound pioneered by Cream. They were blunter and less inventive than Cream, but often strained against the limitations of conventional 12-bar blues with twisting riffs and unexpected grinding chord changes. McPhee’s lyrics, particularly on Thank Christ for the Bomb, were murky, sullen anti-establishment statements that were often difficult to decipher, both in meaning and actual content. They played it straighter on the less sophisticated follow-up, Split, which succumbed to some of the period’s blues-hard rock indulgences, favoring riffs and flash over substance.

    McPhee was always at the very least an impressive guitarist, and a very versatile one, accomplished in electric, acoustic, and slide styles. Who Will Save the World? The Mighty Groundhogs! (1972), their last Top Ten entry, saw McPhee straying further from blues territory into somewhat progressive realms, even adding some Mellotron and harmonium (though the results were not wholly unsuccessful). The Groundhogs never became well-known in the U.S., where somewhat similar groups like Ten Years After were much bigger. Although McPhee and the band have meant little in commercial or critical terms in their native country since the early ’70s, they’ve remained active as a touring and recording unit since then, playing to a small following in the U.K. and Europe.

  • Still highly thought of in ’76, I saw them a couple times. McPhee was the affordable God of Guitar you could see round smallish clubs then. No rock ‘n’ roller should be without all their records.

  • KARL G.

    My old friend Tom here in Norway, made me know and love the Groundhogs around ’72. Personally I like Who’ll Save the world (The Mighty Groundhogs) even more, with its cool mellotron added to the instrumentation. But SPLIT is SPLIT… :-) And yes, I’ve also thought of the Nirvana connection, with ”screwed” chord progressions – like noone else I’ve heard. John Lee Hooker also used them as backing band in Europe some times. And Groundhog itself is a mighty blue song! Tony McPhee also has a way with wah-wah that’s very special – Hendrix included…
    The big Q: Did Kurt Cobain hear any Groundhogs records?

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