Friday, December 14, 2007

SLUDGE IN THE 70s: The Other Side, Minersville's finest rock band, ever

Sons of the coal country furnish high energy rock action at smallish ski resort. Watch out Detroit!

Being about Schuylkill County's best rock 'n' roll band in the Seventies ought to count for something, don't you think?

Arrival in the mail of The Other Side's Anthology, fresh out of CDBaby jolted the memory of the county's early Seventies rock scene.

Yes, indeed, it had one!

Naturally, its staple was cover bands playing high schools, firehouses, parks and a surprising number of nightclubs, most which had passed into extinction by the late Seventies.

The Other Side were a frequent presence in Schuylkill County. If you lived in Schuylkill County in the early Seventies, they were impossible to miss. Anthology collects a good cross-section of their music from the time.

The Other Side's biography, included with the CD and reprinted on the band's website, outlines a bewildering history of members, difficult to follow but not unexpected for any hard-working band that hung in there as long as it did. The biographer indicates The Other Side's high water mark came in 1977 when De-Lite, Kool & the Gang's label, then brimming with success from that band's presence on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, issued the band's only album, Rock X-Ing, meant to read "rock crossing."

Personally, I prefer pronouncing it phonetically -- Rock Eksing. This gives it just a little more posthumous distinction in 2007.

Rock X-ing kicked off with "Lies," a decent interpretation of The Knickerbocker's single. Styx had done the song three years earlier on its Man of Miracles album and The Other Side adopts that band's style. Cross-pollination of ideas was common. If you heard a good song on someone else's record, there was no sin in co-opting it.

The other immediately recognizable pop hit -- and DD uses the term generously -- was "Ghenghis Chicken." "Genghis Chicken" was rollicking hillbilly rock, fusing a honkytonk beat and handclaps to autobiographical lyrics about a band of the same name: "They come from miles around to hear us play our tunes and make fools of ourselves." "Hey, turn it down!" shouts someone in the background.

The CD booklet comes with photos of The Other Side performing in various Schuylkill County venues. DD could be wrong but one appears to be inside the old Minersville High School, or was it in Shenandoah? By the mid-Seventies, The Other Side's lead singer had sprouted a Rob Tyner-like 'fro and a number of the band's tunes put the heavy soul into hard rock, a style driven into the mainstream by much better known Detroit bands.

For example, The Other Side's "Walkin' the Dog" could pass for anything done by Grand Funk Railroad's between Footstompin' Music and We're an American Band. Anthology's last cut, a cover of The Rolling Stone's "Jumpin' Jack Flash" segues unexpectedly into War's "Cisco Kid" before a rousing finish.

However, The Other Side's most distinctive sound was delivered around 1969-1972.

Sometime around then DD saw them flashing Flying V guitars at a Pine Grove High School dance. The amps were loud, the delivery British white boy. This was a style you could get away with locally only until about '74 when the high school and diminishing club circuit began demanding less heavy music. By the late Seventies, disco had almost totally killed it off in the dance clubs of eastern Pennsylvania. Pure and violent hard rock retreated to the dives where bands could barely make more money than the drink tab.

"Writing On the Wall" is the showcase tune, a '69 number from the album Bang, Bang -- You're Terry Reid, the latter a singer who turned down the job of being front man for Led Zeppelin. Well, at the time it seemed like the right move...

The Other Side give "Writing On the Wall" a full and flowery Mickie Most arrangement. With pumping bass and stabbing organ, it's a psychedelic period piece taken over the top by a wailing, lugubrious vocal and fuzzy guitar. "Tramp" -- from 1972 -- furnishes another slice of fiery hard rock, contemporaneous with what was coming from the Motor City.

For fans of this type of rock music, the well of Seventies also-rans is virtually bottomless. Once out of New York City or LA and into the vast spaces in between, every county had their own. Although you might have been too close to the local action to know the boys for what they were, other than the guys at the carnival dance on Greenwood Hill, greasy album-ready hard rock bands, fit to shove at mass audiences, were your neighbors.

Sludge in the 70's -- from the archive.


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