Giddy up! Part one of a five part Four Horsemen series this week at mikeladano.com!
1991’s Nobody Said it Was Easy was one of the greatest rock albums to ever come from the grunge decade that you’ve never heard of. The Four Horsemen were a multinational band, with Rick Rubin at the helm at the legendary Sound City studios, and one of the greatest rock star frontmen to ever grace the stage: the late Frank C. Starr.
There could only be one Frankie. But there was so much more to this band than just the singer.
There was Haggis, on rhythm guitar (ex-The Cult, formerly known as Kid Chaos). He lent the album an AC/DC edge with simple rock and roll riffs. Then there was Dave Lizmi, an uber-talented guitarist with a knack for classic tube-amp driven solos. On bass was Ben Pape who provided the album with interesting and melodic basslines. Finally, on drums, the man the myth the legend: Kenneth “Dimwit” Montgomery. A Canadian native as big as the mountains that spawned him, Dimwit was an absolute beast on the skins. His brother Charles Montgomery would change his name to Chuck Biscuits and join Danzig. Both brothers would spend time in the legendary Canadian punk band D.O.A. Sadly, Dimwit succumbed to drugs and died in 1995. What a gargantuan loss. (He later inspired the Horsemen track “Song for Absent Friends” from their second CD.)
This album was preceded by an impossible-to-find four song EP (since reissued), so when it was released on Def American, it was the first time most of us heard the Horsemen. And it was instant. With three unforgettable singles, the Horsemen kicked out the jams.
“Nobody Said it Was Easy” was a hell of an introduction. With a riff similar to those peddled by the Black Crowes a year before, but with a much harder edge, the track kicked every ass in the room. Get into the groove and enjoy, because the party is just starting. Frankie had a rock n’ roll voice, but when he let loose with his screaming, that’s when we knew he was special. Able to sing with a Brian Johnson shred, the Horsemen really had an ace in their pocket with him. Frankie was something else. He took no prisoners and without him, the Horsemen just didn’t sound like the Horsemen.
There aren’t breaks between the songs, so “Nobody Said it Was Easy” goes right into “Rockin’ is Ma Business”, the heavier second single. Louder, groovier and weightier, “Rockin’ is Ma Business” proves its point. “And if it’s so good why am I still fuckin’ broke?” asks Frankie before Lizmi rips into another solo. (That would be a question for the accountants, Frankie!)
The third (and some say the best) single was the slide-drenched “Tired Wings”. With a southern Skynyrd vibe, “Tired Wings” is simply awesome. I’m a sucker for a slide guitar, and there’s enough here to drown a cat. Haggis makes sure there is plenty to go around.
There could have been more singles, but the band hit the rocks when Frank was arrested and jailed for a year on drug charges. They were dropped by the record label, who stopped promoting the record. That effectively put the band on ice for several years, but that’s another tale for another review (or two).
T-Rev always pointed out the strength of the closing track, essentially two songs over eight minutes long, “I Need a Thrill/Somethin’ Good”. The song reeks of cigarettes, booze and tired hotel rooms. With organ and loads of Lizmi licks, it’s an epic track soaked in feeling. T-Rev pointed out that the Horsemen seemed to like closing their albums with slow bluesy epics like this. The next CD, Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By has a similar track called “What the Hell Went Wrong”. Their long lost second album (finally available today) called Daylight Again closes with an 11 minute version of “Amazing Grace”. That’s the kind of track this is. It could only be an album closer.
This CD reissue has three bonus cuts from the original demo tapes. I didn’t really want to trade up my old original CD copy of this album, but these bonus tracks made it worth while. “She’s Got It” was written by Dimwit, and has a pure AC/DC riff like they used to write when Bon Scott was alive. “Born to Boogie” is a rare Starr co-write (with Haggis). This is a completely different song from the same-titled demo that was included on the EP reissue (Welfare Boogie). It has a completely different riff, which is good because the original one basically sounded like “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley. I prefer this version, the faster and more fun of the two. Finally there is a different version of “Homesick Blues”, featuring a harmonica part by Tim Beattie. The funny thing here is that Beattie later joined a reformed Horsemen as their lead singer! It is he that recorded Daylight Again, before yet another version of the band would form and start recording with Frankie up in Canada….
But again, that’s another story for another review. If you are one of the many rock fans who missed the Four Horsemen during their brief heyday, then this CD reissue makes the album easy to acquire. The important thing is to get it!*
* But beware! I know of at least one customer, Freddy, who purchased a defective copy of the original CD with Dwight Yoakam instead of the Four Horsemen! (Record Store Tales Part 224: Rockin’ is Ma Business)
For a review by 1537, click here (It’s Dirty, It’s a Pity).