Yeah, I know, I ain’t been here in a while. No excuses – been too busy listening to great music to crawl out and scrawl out about it.
Hopefully that will change. Here’s something I recently discovered. I think anyone into late ’60’s/early ’70’s rock will get a kick out of it just as much as I did. In fact, I still got a footprint shaped indentation in my ass that this album left.
Big Boy Pete – The Perennial Enigma
Just when you thought every scrap of great music had already been reissued along comes grade-A material by an artist who should have been famous but instead wound up helping many other artists and producers achieve the long-term success he could never attain. Though it’s doubtful you have ever heard of Big Boy Pete, it is almost a guarantee you have heard the work of some of the recording studio operators he has trained at his engineering school in California, the Audio Institute of America. While his own career has doubtlessly ended up being very rewarding and influential in a roundabout way, it is a far cry from what this one-time peer of the Beatles (he toured with them in the mid-60’s) and psychedelic rock pioneer (he released what is commonly referred to as the first psychedelic rock song Cold Turkey) should have been able to accomplish.
Big Boy Pete, nee Peter Miller, has seen all forms of success in music from the front lines and from behind the scenes, and one can only wonder what this talented artist thinks of his own career being shrouded in mystery. After doing plenty of recording in the ’60’s with his early band Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers and then solo, Miller spent his time in his studio crafting these pop masterpieces for himself, not only to keep his musical chops sharp but also to help himself learn the ins and outs of the recording studio process as he was soon to open his soon-to-be prestigious engineering school. It is the lessons he learned watching legendary British producer Joe Meek when Meek produced the Jaywalkers that Miller mixed with his own pop sensibilites and crafted these songs (and others soon to be released) that have helped a couple of generations of recording engineers begin influential careers of their own and delighted music fans just now enjoying these long-hidden works.
For his part, Miller’s music is definitely influenced by the Brit-psych he was in the midst of during his tenure as a rock heartthrob in Britain. Not only a peer of the Beatles and Stones, he was also in their circles of friends, and cut his teeth playing to the same hipsters and tastemakers the so-called big boys were playing to. Truth be told, Miller was as respected as anyone at that time and was groomed to become a leading hitmaker. Possessor of a killer guitar-playing style and capable of writing swirling, expansive yet immediate rock songs, Miller was considered to be the future of British rock. That he never did quite break through remains a mystery to anyone lucky enough to hear some of Miller’s work though at the tail end of his career there he started to be reluctant to tour, falling in love with the recording studio and even sending other singers out to impersonate him and sing his songs. The resulting confusion over who actually was “Big Boy Pete” no doubt detracted from his career and befuddled his possible fanbase, just one of the reasons this CD has such an apt title.
Nevertheless, this collection of “forgotten” tracks from back in the day show Miller’s instrumental and compositional talent in spades. Most of Miller’s legendary tracks come from a fertile period between ’66 and ’69, but these tracks are totally unknown, originating from his first few years in the US while he set up his Institute. Beginning from the first track “Demo”, which is quite possibly the best track on the album, Pete brings the rock but also manages to infuse it with a wonderful songcraft usually missing from other artists’ psychedelic efforts. His music is not just fuzz-tone sturm und drang but melodic, expressive art combined with piercing guitar work with an eye for the greater good – a song with the possibility of achieving immortality. In this album’s case, most of these are stripped-down rockers, with little of the layering Miller used in the past. Even so, Miller’s genius is evident and these songs sparkle in the light of the new day this album gives them.
As more of his work gets discovered (thanks to all the collectors who have suddenly started digging under every thing not nailed down for unreleased and rare psyche) and released Pete Miller may yet claim his crown as the king of British psychedelic rock.
While what’s left of those Brothers Gibb may, whenever asked, still like to refer to themselves as the Enigma (Cucumber Castle) with the Stigma (Saturday Night Fever) (for starters), may I posit the REAL, TRUE, ORIGINAL Great Big Rockin’ Rolling Enigma is none other than the one, the still and only, Big Boy Pete Miller.
Why, armed with little more than his twin-tone green ’61 Gretsch guitar – name of Henry, btw – and a clutch of equally vintage recording equipment (including a Goobly Box and genuine Humbert Humbert by way of very special effects, I kid you not) Pete has, since 1959 and counting, been in dozens of bands (the so-aptly-named Offbeats, Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers, The Fuzz, even Buzz), toured everywhere with everyone (Beatles, Stones, Kinks et al all round Swinging Sixties England, not to mention the wilds of the Orient – with his trademark electric wah-wah sitar — during no less than the Vietnam quagmire), composed beyond-numerous neat numbers for Freddie and the Dreamers, Damned, and the (original) Knack, and most notably of all as it turns out churned out literally thousands of recordings in studios worldwide these past four-plus decades with, for and/or alongside the likes of Marty Wilde, Peter Frampton’s Herd, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Murray the K, Arlo Guthrie, Elvin Bishop, The Avengers, Tuxedomoon, Roy Loney, Marshall Crenshaw, Johnny and the Potato Chips, and even our good buds The Squires Of The Subterrain, very roughly chronologically speaking indeed.
And now! The good folk over there at Angel Air Records (“Where the Artist Has a Voice”) have gone and collected a dozen of some of Pete’s prime early-Seventies San Francisco productions neatly together right here upon one perfectly titled The Perennial Enigma CD.
Thrill, as I repeatedly have already, to The Great Joe Meek / Marc Bolan Tape that Got Away (“The Demo”), the absolute biggest hit Dave Edmunds somehow never had (“All Down The Road”), and a mere two-minutes-twenty- five called “Get Up And Dance” which finally fills that socio-musical gap between The Swinging Medallions and your very first Elvis Costello long-player.
Elsewhere, Harry Belafonte makes an extremely wrong turn …straight down into Lee “Scratch” Perry’s sub-basement (“Havana Juana”), “Who Stole My Garden?” asks the kind of musical question even those Bonzo Dogs seemed incapable of, and “Rudy’s In Love” – not to mention “The Prayer” – makes one wonder why in holy heck that Plastic Ono Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll album didn’t, or should I say COULDN’T, sound half this coooool ??
Not to fret though: For while the inimitable Johnny Rhythm may no longer be with us, Big Boy Pete is still sitting tight there in Frisco, safe and stereophonically sound within his esteemed Audio Institute of America, demo-ing up his next several hundred severely-high-fidelity musical marvels. So until they too begin trickling out upon us Lost Groovers, I’d suggest you grab your own Perennial Enigma toot sweet, awreet?