Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Bloodrock: Here and gone like a comet in the sky

1972: Cobb, Hill, Taylor in front; Pickens, Rutledge, Grundy in back

Have you ever seen a shooting star? Look at that picture at the top of this page. That's a photo of a shooting star.

Bloodrock appeared in early 1970 with a debut album that became iconic among hard-rocking high-school kids. They issued three more successful albums and had a Top 40 single by the end of the following year. And then, just like that, by summer 1972, poof, Bloodrock was gone, kaput, vanished, retreated back to the obscurity from whence they came.

To be fair, Fort Worth, TX, is not nowhere. But you get my meaning. Most all of the Bloodrock alums have enjoyed pretty good careers in the Dallas-Fort Worth music scene even if no one outside of North Texas has noticed. But because the key players in Bloodrock all of a sudden took their guitars and their microphones and went back home for whatever reason, history consistently fails to give this band due credit in the conversation about the genesis of heavy metal.

Bloodrock for that brief time was a high-profile purveyor of what was then called hard rock. I recall that in my last two years in high school, my circle of friends identified each other as either a Bloodrock guy or a Grand Funk Railroad guy. Did you prefer the layered, slightly experimental Bloodrock or the bottom-heavy, straightforward Grand Funk? I was Team Bloodrock. 

To be sure, this was far from a two-band universe. Deep Purple and Steppenwolf were the old guys. Humble Pie was emerging on the other side of the ocean -- as was Black Sabbath, who was taking this game to a whole 'nother level. But for those two years, manager/producer Terry Knight and Capitol Records did a fantastic job of making this a two-team battle among us Middle America teenagers.

I saw then, and I still hear it now, that Bloodrock was a solid, tight group of rockers led by two key players. Jim Rutledge was your classic frontman -- a strong, sure voice capable of carrying the rockers, the ballads and everything in between. He was also a pretty good drummer, showing off some pretty good chops on the debut album. Lee Pickens' distinctive slicing lead guitar way always way high in the mix.

Steven Hill's Hammond organ glides over almost everything. Rhythm guitarist Nick Taylor and bassist Ed Grundy were masters of the monster riff. They along with drummer Rick Cobb, who came on board after the debut to allow Rutledge to focus on frontman duties, provided flashy and solid support. 

Two other Fort Worth guys were instrumental in Bloodrock's catalog. Guitar player John Nitzinger was not a band member but was the credited songwriter on almost half the tracks across the 1970-71 albums. Warren Ham appeared uncredited with saxophone and flute on the two 1971 albums before hijacking the band when Rutledge, Pickens and Nitzinger dropped out.

So now that I've piqued your curiosity, I'm here to be your guide through the Bloodrock catalog. As always, these aren't ranked so much on artistic merit but rather on my feelings through a couple critical listens over the past few days. (Because I care so much, I went through the two Ham-centric albums so you won't have to. My reactions to those come from my one and only listen.)

No. 6. Passage (November 1972):
The first album with the new lineup. Ham joined Hill, Taylor, Grundy and Cobb, taking over as lead singer and replacing Pickens' lead guitar with saxophones and flutes. This as well as the next one are unrecognizable as Bloodrock albums. Historians and critics want to call it progressive rock, but it's not how I would categorize it -- unless you distinguish the general descriptive "progressive" from the specific genre "prog." I would label it more specifically as jazz-tinged art rock. It's not prog rock like what was emerging from Europe about this time but maybe more of an American-style progessive -- something like Kansas with woodwinds instead of violins. In any event, don't waste your time. One listen was enough for me. It isn't wretched, just uninteresting and boring.

No. 5. Whirlwind Tongues (February 1974):
The last official Bloodrock album, with Randy Reeder replacing Cobb on drums. The same kind of stuff we heard on Passage, with more of a lounge-pop feel. This sounds like something you might appreciate from the house band at the local nightclub. I enjoyed it a little more than Passage, probably because it seemed a touch more accessible. This one includes a cover of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" that isn't bad, so a point or two for that. This band, with a different drummer, started recording another album later in the year before Capitol Records pulled the plug. Abandoned tracks from those sessions surfaced on the 2000 compilation Triptych, which included everything from the Ham era.

No. 4. Bloodrock U.S.A. (October 1971):
The last studio album from the Rutledge/Pickens band. Ham's flute dominates the opening track, "It's a Sad World," which he co-wrote with brother Bill Ham. It's the first Bloodrock album not produced by Knight. Bloodrock and Capitol Records staffer John Palladino are credited as producers. The signature hard-rock sound is tamped down a bit and flavored with some of the jazzy elements that dominated the Warren Ham albums. Pickens' guitar leads are pulled back closer in the mix, and Hill's Hammond organ is not nearly as pervasive as in previous albums. It's still a pretty good riff-heavy Bloodrock album, with Taylor, Grundy and Cobb carrying a bigger part of the load than previously. I did a little more digging trying to find something that would tell me why Pickens and Rutledge bolted so suddenly. Again, I found nothing. But giving another listen to this album as I was taking a break from writing this, it did occur to me that Warren Ham's influence is fairly noticeable in this album. It got me to wondering if maybe Ham somehow worked his way into some influential role and ended up in a power struggle that Rutledge and Pickens lost. It's just speculation on my part, but it's the only thing I can come up with that makes any sense. Or maybe Rutledge and Pickens decided that they just wanted to stay home. Who knows? The Internet doesn't seem to.

No. 3. Bloodrock 2 (October 1970):
The album with "D.O.A." and, not coincidentally, the biggest-selling Bloodrock album. This is the only Bloodrock album containing all original material, written either by band members or Nitzinger. It's loaded with the classic Bloodrock hard-rock sound though missing the psych-jazz experimentation found on other albums. Of course, "D.O.A." was a pretty bold experiment that worked for them. But it was a hard-rock experiment, not a progressive one. I am ambivalent about "D.O.A." I don't hate it, I'm just annoyed by it. It's a real sore thumb, sticks out way too far and breaks the flow of an otherwise strong album. Some solid material throughout but no exceptional, peak moments to overcome the "D.O.A." issue.

No. 2. Bloodrock (March 1970):
A heck of a debut album. Everything great I described earlier about Bloodrock's signature sound is here in spades. The production has a subtle sort of spooky, ominous veneer that isn't there on subsequent albums. It's hard to describe exactly what it is, but it's quite noticeable as you listen through this record. That's not a new observation, by the way. I've sensed that since the first time I heard this album a half-decade ago. Hold onto your hat as you work your way through the closing track on each side -- "Timepiece" and "Melvin Laid an Egg." Those two tracks will riff you to death if you're not careful. This is a significantly better album than Bloodrock 2 but suffers from the same annoying problem. The penultimate track, "Fantastic Piece of Architecture" is a slow, plodding bit of psychedelia that absolutely kills the flow. Like "D.O.A.," it isn't a terrible piece of music in itself. But in context, it's just too long and monotonous.

No. 1. Bloodrock 3 (April 1971):
This is it, the closest Bloodrock came to releasing a perfect album. Three of the eight tracks could make a case that they are the best Bloodrock track Bloodrock ever recorded. "Jessica," the Nitzinger-penned opener, is a strong contender. "You Gotta Roll" is a banger that sends you out of Side 1 on a hell of a Pickens-induced sugar high. But the winner of this contest, IMHO, is another Nitzinger track, "Kool-Aid Kids," in the middle of Side 2. That one covers all the bases. Find that on your streaming service and spend six minutes and change learning everything you need to know about Bloodrock. To boot, "Kool-Aid Kids" is sandwiched by two progressive dabblings that do work. "Breach of Lease," which opens Side 2, is the best of Bloodrock's slow, creepy experiments, mostly because of an explosive instrumental middle section that effectively blends the psych with the hard rock. "A Certain Kind" is a very good cover of a song by Soft Machine, the most enduring of those mid-'60s Canterbury Scene jazz/psych bands credited as the forerunners of prog rock. Warren Ham makes his first Bloodrock appearance that I know of with a sax solo on "A Certain Kind."


  1. Scott: The power struggle came to a head right before the the recording of Bloodrock 3. If you notice (like I did) when I was in H.S back in ‘71, why was Lee Pickens not credited for any songs on BR3? Lee departed the band and was replaced by John Nitzinger. As Rick Cobb III said “It just didn’t gel with Nit in the Band, Lee was missed!” They asked Lee to come back, and he added his solo’s and riffs to the songs on Bloodrock 3. The reason Bloodrock broke up after USA (my favorite) was that Jim wanted to go solo, and Lee was offered a spot on with Grand Funk by Mark Farner, so Lee left for Funk and Jim did a solo LP (Blue) that was never released. it didn’t work out for Lee with Funk as the other two members wanted a keyboard player, not another guitarist. The other players in Bloodrock wanted to do more of a Jazz rock thing. My thinking is they all, the original Bloodrock, needed each other. As a Band they had a great sound, still today my favorite Band.

  2. Thanks, Nightrider. I did not know any of that, couldn't find any explanation as to what happened despite searching far and wide.

  3. Also, that is not Warren on Sax.on BR3 — also that is not him on flute on “it’s a sad world”

  4. Replies
    1. Scott: I helped with a Web biography- American Burn: Wonder what it’s worth to make a legend of yourself. All about Bloodrock, pre and post. This was around 2004, soon before their reunion gig in March of 2005. You might find it in the internet archives. BTW, it was Dean Parks who played Flute. Dean was in the pre Bloodrock group, Crowd + 1. Dean was a major session player and Bloodrock asked/hired him to play. There were bad feelings as to what went down with the players back in the day. But, it’s often that way, things change, key players go there own way —egos rule.

  5. Cleburne, Texas rocked hard in that Era. Hard to understand why the impact of the Vietnam War is never mentioned on this great band. Most all the band members had family members returning from the war.


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