"THE STORY SO FAR"
TOO MUCH OF NOTHING
The group, with the exception of Gary Wright who was still at his apartment in Chelsea, was now living at Woolwich Green Farm an old Tudor farmhouse in Berkshire surrounded by a manmade lake. Chris Blackwell had bought the house at auction after spotting it one day while driving with producer John Gilbert.
With the house came Doris a live-in housekeeper who had been looking after the previous owner following the loss of his wife. He was an elderly gentleman and had farmed the plot for years, he must have wondered what was happening to his house. Doris had a penchant for too much whiskey and the group still remember the greasy plates of egg and bacon presented to them one day by a slightly worse-for-wear Doris, her head covered with a turban/scarf tilting slightly to one side with strands of matted grey hair falling from beneath it. Doris seemed enamoured with waiting on a pop group but her position was soon terminated and then things really started to rock ‘n roll. The dining room was set up for music as was one of the outside barns and many long and creative nights were spent with various combinations of Spooky Tooth, Traffic, Family and later a wayward Trevor Burton who had quit the Move in order to devote his talents to less pop orientated music. Trevor moved into Berkshire promptly dislocating his shoulder in the process by falling from Traffic’s jeep whilst at their cottage. Some months later his fellow brummie mate Denny Laine would join him as they formed Balls with Steve Gibbons and Alan White.The pair lived for a while at the Spooky farm. In fact Mike Kellie became the second drummer for Balls but the unit was short lived. There were journeys into London town to the Speakeasy – the occasional pub crawl and many a night spent jamming.
Amidst all this, America beckoned. Following Traffic’s first U.S. tour which was a great success Spooky Tooth followed. In the early summer of 1968 the band flew (via the polar route – being cheapest!) to San Francisco. The fight had stopped off in Calgary, Canada and in all had taken almost 24 hours. A frustrated promoter, Bill Graham, met the band at the airport and heatedly explained that they should have been on stage at his Fillmore West 30 minutes earlier. Amazingly a police escort led the entourage to the venue and they went straight on stage. The other acts that night included Buddy Guy and his band and local stars Quicksilver Messenger. Kellie says "I remember the first words anyone said to me in the dressing room, a very laid back young lady said 'Hey man, what sign are you?' strange to think that I had no idea at the time!" Even though they were exhausted Spooky performed well and there began a strong association with American audiences. Such an adventure... this was what they’d been looking forward to for so long. That tour, a short one, lasted only about 2 or 3 weeks and moved east from San Francisco to Los Angeles and later on to Boston, Chicago, Cleveland and finally New York where they performed at Graham’s other venue Fillmore East. On the bill with them that night was a young band called Santana, a Cuban American unit. The atmosphere of the American gigs was like nothing they had experienced in England. The oil light backdrops, the smell of incense, the kids dancing wildly and some cross legged taking in the performances.
It should be remembered that this was a time of great social change, the back drop of the Vietnam war, civil rights and white youth rebellion in the name of love (with a little substance encouragement). Bob Dylan was the voice of a generation and Spooky Tooth along with several other British groups were there. While staying in Los Angeles at the Sunset Towers West and later the Sunset Marquee they took in the smoggy, hot, tropical feel of southern California, enjoying days off by the pool and all day breakfasts at Ben Franks. The Whiskey-a-Go-Go is where they first played in LA, a great little club frequented by many musicians with a regular audience. The Terry Reid Band was in town most of the time that Spooky was there and they shared many a night at The Whiskey. They were made very welcome by the Americans. Great hospitality was offered to them, and often accepted by them. Mike Harrison recalls a week end party that he, Mike Kellie and Luther Grosvenor attended at the home of Peter Tork, one of the Monkees. The house sat high in the sky over looking Topanga Canyon; the views from the living room where stunning. Peter Tork was the host but Professor Owsley – of ‘Owsley Acid’ fame seemed to be in charge. With hind sight it was innocent enough; a fun week end and all part of the adventure.
The band's second album ‘Spooky Two’, still considered to be their masterpiece was released in mid 1968 and made the Billboard Top 100, but never reached the heights that Island and A&M records were hoping for. One of the tracks on the album, Feeling Bad, written by Wright and Kellie is a powerful rock ballad and was recorded at Sunset Sound Studios in LA. If one listens carefully to the chorus the unmistakeable sound of Joe Cocker can be heard singing with a large chorus of friends.
During the next 2 years or so the group toured the U.S. extensively. When in New York, along with Traffic, and occasionally Jimi Hendrix they would jam the night away at Steve Paul’s Scene club and later at the unlicensed Unganos. Friendships were formed some of which remain to this day. Steve Paul later went on to manage Johnny and Edgar Winter with his faithful assistant from The Scene club, Teddy as their tour manager.
Spooky Tooth was always a very spiritual group something that often shone through in their music but sadly they seemed to lack a corporate vision. This lack was possibly enhanced by the conflict of interests with Chris Blackwell being less the personal manager and more the record company boss. This situation led eventually to cracks appearing in their unity. First Greg Ridley was encouraged to leave the band to form Humble Pie, with Messrs Marriott, Frampton and Shirley. His replacement was Bob Griffin, an old friend of Mike Kellie’s from their first childhood band The Phantoms. Bob was later the bass player with the original Steve Gibbons Band. In 1969 Griffin was replaced by Andy Leigh who left to become a member of Matthew’s Southern Comfort. Soon afterwards Gary Wright departed to form Wonderwheel. Harrison, Kellie and sometimes Grosvenor continued and recorded ‘The Last Puff’ with some members of Joe Cockers Grease band but the marriage was basically over. They had created a large following around the world but without someone to guide them properly they lost sight of their goal. Mike Harrison formed a band called Junkyard Angel as well as producing several solo albums. Luther Grosvenor joined Mott the Hoople for a short while and recorded two solo albums, the most recent of which is the sensitive "Floodgates". Mike Kellie played for a season with Johnny Hallyday and made contributions to records by The Who, Traffic and Three Man Army before forming a band with songwriters Brian Parrish and Paul Gurvitz hailed, unfortunately, as the new Beatles due to the fact that they were George Martin’s first signing since the end of the fab four. This band included Rick Wills on bass and Mickey Gallagher on keyboards (to later contribute Hammond and piano parts on several of The Only Ones recorded tracks . They did one American tour, one album and then Kellie, Wills and Gallagher left to team up with Peter Frampton who had recently quit Humble Pie. They became known as Frampton’s Camel.
Gary Wright of course had a huge American number one with Dreamweaver which firmly established his solo career.
There were other incarnations of Spooky Tooth involving several other line ups but none ever captured the same sense of power, melody and soul as the original line up. The truly final Spooky Tooth offering could be seen as the 1974 album Witness on which Wright, Harrison and Kellie teamed up with Mick Jones on guitar and Chrissy Stewart on bass. The album, recorded in England and Muscle Shoels has definite Spooky Tooth moments and was well thought out and recorded, however without the back up of a real band it did very little.
Mike Harrison has remained a solo artist as has Gary Wright. Kellie returned in 1976 to the live stage in The Only Ones.
As one door closes, so it is said, another one opens.
Copyright Control Mike Kellie 2012