Friday Full-Length: Spooky Tooth, The Last Puff

Spooky Tooth, The Last Puff (1970)

It’s no coincidence that the fourth Spooky Tooth album, The Last Puff, is billed as ‘Spooky Tooth Featuring Mike Harrison,’ as their frontman absolutely tears it up across the seven-track/33-minute long-player first released in 1970 on Island Records. I don’t know if Spooky Tooth were ever a household name in terms of hits, but either Harrison and guitarist Luthor Grosvenor (who also played in Mott the Hoople) led one incarnation or another of the band between 1967 and 2009, and even their initial run from ’67-’74 is longer than some groups of the birth-of-heavy era managed to last. There were lineup changes even during that time though, and The Last Puff brought together GrosvenorHarrison and drummer Mike Kellie with The Grease Band, who were best known for backing Joe Cocker at Woodstock in 1969. No minor shakes, and certainly the arrangements on The Last Puff‘s tracks play that out as well.

Those were guitarist Henry McCullough (later of Wings), bassist Alan Spenner (who played with a ton of people from Roxy Music to David Coverdale) and pianist/keyboardist Chris Stainton (whose CV boasts lines with The Who, Marianne Faithfull and Ringo Starr, among others), and what they bring to The Last Puff in vibe is not to be understated. In the pedal-steel and organ-meets-piano rollout of “Nobody There at All” (co-written by Mike Post, who later penned the theme to Law & Order) and especially in their six-and-a-half-minute righteously lumbering take on The Beatles‘ “I am the Walrus,” which is the opener and longest inclusion on the LP (immediate points), this incarnation of Spooky Tooth make their mark in a soulful vision of the blues rock of the era, standing out in terms of tone, Harrison‘s believable soul, and in the organicSpooky Tooth The Last Puff sound of what surrounds him as he “features,” which includes background singers on “I am the Walrus” and the subsequent “The Wrong Time,” on which Harrison summons his inner Robert Plant in likewise believable form. The hook in that second track is a landmark unto itself, and its nodding, funky central verse riff feels like a blueprint on which an entire sprawl of heavy rock would be constructed in the years following by the likes of Humble Pie and, oh, the next three generations. More laid back and less dirt-encrusted than Blue Cheer, not as stately as Cream always seemed to want to be, The Last Puff found a place of its own in what was already a crowded sphere of emerging heavy rock and roll.

Percussion and a more ranging vibe, jaw harp, more singers and all, bring “Something to Say” to a hypnotic place in its second half as the presumed end of side A, but “Nobody There at All” is a return to ground on side B, introducing a stretch of four shorter tracks that round out the album neatly without losing the open spirit of the preceding three. With piano up front and vocals deeper in the mix, “Down River” spends its early going in a build that seems to come to a gradual fruition before it’s done, but still doesn’t touch the five-minute mark; the only shame of it is that it fades out just as Kellie seems to really start wailing on his drums. I’m sure that tape exists in some closet of Island Records somewhere. The closing duo is a bluesy take on Elton John‘s “Son of Your Father” that fades neatly into the instrumental title-track, which is the shortest piece at just three and a half minutes and, being instrumental, doesn’t feature Harrison at all, but follows suit with the spirit of the rest of the record just the same, with an interplay of piano and keys and a bounding groove.

You can read the band’s narrative and discography in the usual spots on the internet, the Wikipedias, Discogses, and artist websites, but what you want to know is that after 1970, Grosvenor left Spooky Tooth. They were broken up for a couple years and came back in 1973 with the titled-in-such-a-manner-as-to-get-your-band-canceled-today You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw and the same year’s Witness. Founding keyboardist/vocalist Gary Wright led the band through 1974’s Mirror and that would be their last release until 1999’s Cross Purpose, which brought GrosvenorKellie and Harrison back into the group with bassist Greg Ridley. As noted, they’d continue to play live with Kellie and Harrison in the band in spurts for about the next decade, then split. Kellie passed away in 2017 and Harrison in 2018, while Grosvenor, performing under the pseudonym Ariel Bender, did reunion dates with Mott the Hoople.

Bands either last or they don’t, and while the members of Spooky Tooth went on to do interesting things as players and as a group, it’s probably their earliest run — 1968’s It’s All About, 1969’s Spooky Two and Ceremony, and The Last Puff — that’s best known. They’re hardly in an exclusive category there, or really with their sound, but even if there seem to be an infinite number of bands who were rocking out in like fashion at the time, look around you. Not much has changed in that regard.

That said, I’ll admit that my first experience with The Last Puff happened just last week. I’m by no means an expert on the band’s history or what they accomplished, but while I was at Ode to Doom in Manhattan last Wednesday, the “I am the Walrus” cover came on the P.A. in between the bands, and being the Beatles fan that I am — you know Charles Manson was crazy because it’s obvious all their songs were written just to speak only to me — it immediately caught my ear to the degree that I asked the sound guy who was doing the song. In my didn’t-already-know-it defense I’ll say just that he also had to go check who it was. My tolerance for Beatles covers is low, low, low, so that was enough to make me check out the rest of The Last Puff, and I have absolutely zero regret at having done so.

As always, I hope you don’t either.

Thanks for reading.

Holy crap, I’m behind. On like, everything. Mostly news. With news and reviews, I’ve got Monday and Tuesday fully booked already and Wednesday more than halfway there. If I see one more relevant press release today, I’m gonna cry.

That’d be business as usual to some degree but for all the other stuff. The next Freak Valley lineup announcement needs doing this weekend (I’m not sure when it’s actually going out), plus a bio for the recently-recorded The Atomic Bitchwax LP — it’s their first in 15 years with a new guitarist, so much to talk about — as well as another bio to edit and a Gimme Radio playlist for the show that’ll air next Friday.

Perfect time to be incredibly, incredibly distracted, right? Totally. The good news is that while I was writing the above portion of this post, I took my emails down from about 220 to under 60. The bad news is there are only so minutes in the day and those were minutes I didn’t spend writing this sentence or whichever one about being super-productive I’d have written in its place.

As ever: some you win, some you lose.

I had a minor surgery on my left leg at the start of the month. It’s 8:18AM now and the right leg is being done at 10. So there you go. That to some degree is probably a source of distraction — it’s not a big deal on medical terms, but it sure did hurt like hell last time and I was laid up for a few days after; if it’s any indicator, it puts in question my going to see Warhorse next week — but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s shit to be done.

By the way, I just stopped writing to put up the Uncle Woe post and wound up falling down a Facebook hole reading about how they’re closing the Middle East in Boston. This morning has been brutal.

Alright, the kid’s long since up and with The Patient Mrs., so let me wrap up. I was kind of hoping writing now would turn my head around, but turns out my head is spinning and requires more than mere typing can give. Like coffee.

Next week: Deathwhite, Big Scenic Nowhere and Galactic Cross reviews. A Devil to Pay video premiere, and an album stream from The Spacelords. Not in that order. You’ll dig it. It’s a good week.

And side note, Wednesday has filled up while I’ve been sitting here with the laptop open.


Did I mention holy crap I’m behind?

Great and safe weekend. Be kind to someone. Maybe yourself.

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3 Responses to “Friday Full-Length: Spooky Tooth, The Last Puff

  1. Great Post!!! I’m listening to the Spooky Tooth album right now. Yeah these guys are certainly in the region between Blue Cheer and Cream. It sort of reminds me of Atomic Rooster or Cactus? Hey get well!! Take care of yourself so you can keep the posts coming. Great work! I enjoy your writing.

  2. JP says:

    Thanks for introducing those of us not in the know to Spooky Tooth. It is going very well with my morning coffee. On another note, what a kick in the balls it is that the Middle East is being sold. I’ve seen so many great shows and have so many memories of that place. One of the best music venues in Boston is probably going to become a Bath and Body Shop or a Starbucks. Ugh. Keep up your awesome work JJ. It is greatly appreciated up here in Portland, Maine.

  3. Neil says:

    Wonderful, I am a pom living in Australia since 1968 and do a community radio show every Wednesday afternoon/evening. My opening track for this weeks show is “I am The Walrus” by Spooky Tooth (using my own vinyl of course) and was looking on the web for interesting facts when I found your site!
    Always loved the band even with Gary Wright and if you have not already found it, seek out The Dream Weaver.
    I shall continue to follow.

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