Out of Miami, Florida in 1974 firmly resides in the upper realms of rare early ’70s southern rock LPs and the brilliant guitar interplay, vibrant vocals and finely crafted songs will seriously grab late ’60s westcoast rock ears as well. It’s really accessible stuff, heartfelt country inflected vocals with appealing vivid guitar textures and rhythms that fly.
Echoes of Buffalo Springfield, Flying Burrito Brothers, Byrds, more on the rock than the country side but genuine about both. It’s southern but it’s also eastcoast-westcoast. In fact the opening track titled “San Francisco Man” is loaded with searing guitar licks and propulsive rhythmic action hitting pleasure points similar to the first Moby Grape LP. “Get On Through” contains thoughtful song oriented outdoors rock with little in the way of “south’s gonna rise again” attitude, bluesy grit, bad women, whiskey, or hard livin’ roadhouse action. These guys genuinely sound turned on to life, everyday regular dude seeker post ’60s style and it is contagious. You can really feel it when the sweet southern fried dual guitar leads cascade out at just the right moment.
Southern Steel’s primary songwriter, vocalist, electric 12 string, and bassist was Jim Goodman. The other members all did time in previous local bands with names like Heat Machine, Willy Bogg, The Force, and Dakota. Spike Warner on lead / slide guitar and vocals , Ed Ocean Olszewski on lead guitar, bass and vocals, and Greg Orsini on percussion all play tight together with an assured energetic vibe that only comes from experience. Recorded quickly in two days at Criteria Studios with producer Craig Leon ((produced the Ramones and Blondie’s first records) at the helm, this LP exists because two rich Floridian lawyers Bill Blanton and Bill Barragan saw Don Kirshner’s In Concert rock series on TV, decided to get into the music biz, formed a label named Earth Records, put an ad in the paper and found Southern Steel, ready to rake in massive rock and roll dollars. That didn’t happen but fortunately nearly 50 years later we do have this uplifting slice of life. Hard to imagine a band this pure and sincere could exist nowadays with no taint of irony and no corny posing. Real people. In other words… this is a vintage blast of humanity with mesmerizing guitar magic you can really fly high with. Every track has hooks and staying power, the sort of album that feels fresher each time you spin it but somehow also seemed familiar the first time you heard it.
After this LP was issued the band got serious interest from major labels, they certainly had the terrific songs and sonic mojo needed to go up the charts… but it all fizzled out over the next year. If you are into early ’70s southern rock with country flavor and leftover ’60s westcoast flashes, more turned on than traditional in approach you should give this album a chance get stuck in your mind. I can’t get it out of mine!
SAN FRANCISCO MAN opens it up with ringing power chords and ripping lead guitar, delicious westcoast vocal stylings riding above hypnotically surging bass and drum patterns. Gnarly leads spit steel as the rhythm guitar alternates between open airy chords and jagged tough accents, making this a real mover. When the weaving southern fried dual guitar riffs kick near the end you want the jam to go on forever.
24 HOURS A DAY shifts gears into a tapestry of dreamy dangling melodic guitars floating over forward bass motion topped with vocals reminiscent of Richie Furay and Gram Parsons. Proto country rock equidistant to a Byrdsyfolkrock ambience, simple and poignant, swirling around with an infectious exquisite ease. It’s about being in a band on the road and how it’s not the singer’s fault he can’t be with his girl 24 hours a day. The melody is quite inventive in how it unfolds over the chord changes.
ME AND YOU opens with an ascending dual guitar hook above a free flowing gentle rhythm guitar bed with Wrecking Crew level perfect bass and drums. The singer has quite an affected nasal intensity in his voice, emotionally perfect for the lyrics about appreciating an aimless no agenda day, just grooving around with his girl, savoring a rare fleeting moment when everything seems effortlessly eternal, totally in sync… the sort of day that inspires him to sing “Gee I never knew that I could get so high just passing the time away”.
WHERE’S THE COUNTRY GONE is a jangle fest of shimmering guitars riding a stately groove evoking sad resignation over vanishing green fields that turn into cold stone and six-lane highways. Terrific melodic leads and tasteful rhythm guitar blend as if George Harrison and Neil Young were behind the curtain together pulling the strings. The sincerity in the vocal is heartfelt to a devastating degree, the sense of loss is eerily comforting. If it seems too earnestly vulnerable that’s on you, not the band. This song is simply gorgeous without being fancy. They really mean it, man.
ONE UP FOR LISTENING ends side one in style, morphing hard rock and country seamlessly into an instant classic with slide guitar moves to die for and a smoking snaky killer of a guitar break. Like all of the tracks on this album the arrangements are uncluttered, right on the money with interlocking structural precision yet performed with the vibrant energy of a live band.
THERE’S JUST YOU has a nostalgic early rock and roll undercurrent appropriate to the close harmony Everly Brothers flashback in the vocals. The extended guitar break soars nicely but this is the only track on the LP that messes around much with more ordinary familiar roots influences.
DAYS END has a moody feel but is an optimistic song suggesting that if you and I start a new kind of living maybe somebody else might follow along… we can change the world naive hippie idealism but sung with so much feeling you wanna believe it’s possible. Superb luscious and elegant guitar leads with a fabulous tone over a classic chord pattern with descending bass line create just the right reflective atmosphere.
THE FEELING “play it cool it’s against the rules but you know you gotta try it… just don’t get caught” Ha! The phrasing when they lay down that piece of advice is genius. This is the hardest rocker on the LP with sublimely powerful chord changes and I can even imagine a Grand Funk Railroad version in my mind. I bet they jammed out on this one at live gigs.
DON’T DENY is the extended epic closer, entering with rich acoustic guitar textures, weaving in airy leads and earnest vocals reminiscent of Roger McGuinn. It builds across seven minutes to a high energy climax over the classic chord pattern used by Traffic for “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and by the Beatles for the last four minutes of “Hey Jude”. Once again the lyrics have more of a post-psychedelic outdoors hippie wanderer vibe about life, fate and destiny than the rawer subject matter associated with most southern rock. No matter what you are into you will really dig the guitar moves!