THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (Reissue with bonus demos)
By the time the Four Horsemen managed to get a second album on the shelves, it was already far too late.
It didn’t matter how good the album was; the climate was completely different in 1996. Not only had grunge come, but it had already gone! Sadly, so had original T4H drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery. He was not the only casualty. Struck by a drunk driver in late 1995, their charismatic frontman Frank C. Starr fell into a coma he would never come out of. (Starr finally passed away in 1999.) The Horsemen had a second album in the can with Starr, but were all but out of action.
Even though the debut was produced by the biggest name in 90s rock, Rick Rubin, the mercurial Starr had always been the key. When the band first arrived, his shriekin’ AC/DC mannerisms earned the band some series MTV play. The frontman had a whole lot to do with that. Then he blew it. Starr wound up in jail for a year while Kurt Cobain took over, something addressed in the lyrics on several tracks. Horsemen guitarist Haggis attempted to move on with new singer Tim Beattie and, through trials and tribulations, recorded a southern rock album called Daylight Again that was not released. Then guitarist Dave Lizmi tried to give the can one more kick, and reunited with Starr for what could have been an incredible second ride. They had the tunes to back it up, and Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By is the proof. With Canadians Randy Cooke on drums and Pharoah Barrett on bass, they finally had a second Horsemen album on the shelves. But with Starr in a coma, they were stuck in the mud once again. They toured with Little Caesar vocalist Ron Young doing an admirable job of it, but it was the end.
For shame. A forgotten album that could have been mega was largely ignored.
You can’t really tell that Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By was made through such hardship. The songs are largely upbeat and party-hardy. The exceptions are the contemplative “Song for Absent Friends”, dedicated to the passed Dimwit Montgomery, and the angry “Back in Business Again”. This ode to Seattle was certainly not a love letter to Kurt or Eddie. Singing about his year in jail, Starr says he “heard a bunch of whining, little wussy rock n rollers, complaining about how fame and fortune’s got them down.” Ouch.
Otherwise, this a rip roarin’, liquor snortin’ good time. “Lots of whiskey and beer!” Starr’s singing style had changed too. No longer was he trying to be Brian Johnson (one has to assume doing that is hard on the voice). Singing in a more natural throat, Starr could still pull it off, just shoutin’ instead of screamin’.
Here’s something else: 13 tracks, and no filler. Not one skipper, and more variety than the first LP. Most of the tracks are fast or mid-tempo rock n’ rollers, adorned with some absolutely stunning lead guitar work from Dave Lizmi. The man has not seen a slide or a wah-wah pedal he couldn’t master, and the album is drenched in that kind of feel. It also sounds more loose. Frankie seems to crack up laughing mid-sentence on “Drunk Again”. “It’s been 40 days since I looked at my face (laughs)…ah shit…”
Some of the tunes that deviate from the norm are the highlights. “Song For Absent Friends” hits hard, right in the feels. “And I know that you all are out there somewhere, on a leave of absence from this place.” Then there’s the aforementioned “Back in Business Again”, probably the heaviest tune the Horsemen have put to tape. The anger is palpable, but it’s not without a smile and a wink. It’s more a declaration of the kind of music the Four Horsemen represent in the era of “wussy rock n’ rollers” from some “nowhere town”. As Frank sings, they’re a “trail blazin’, skin lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, motherfuckin’ rock and roll band”. The exact opposite of the kind of groups Frank seemed to despise.
There are a couple singalongs (“My Song” and “Hit the Road”) and the traditional Horsemen album closing epic. Seven minutes long, Frankie asks “What the Hell Went Wrong”, and I’m sure there are many different answers to that question. A slow blues rocker with some sweet organ, it’s kind of like two songs in one. They pulled a similar trick on the debut album with a track called “I Need a Thrill / Something Good”. Regardless, when Lizmi starts soloing it goes into epic territory.
Like other Horsemen releases, Gettin’ Pretty Good was reissued on CD by the band with bonus tracks. These are 1995 demos for “Livin’ These Blues”, “Keep Your Life” and “Hit the Road”. All three tracks differ in some ways from the album versions, either in lyrics or solos. These feature Canadian Ken Montgomery’s brother, Chuck Biscuits, on drums.* Surprisingly, the soulful backing vocals on “Livin’ These Blues” was there from the demo stage. The demo of “Hit the Road” is even looser than the already pretty lubricated album version! More twangy, too, with a wicked dobro solo. The demo of “Hit the Road” is probably the superior take for its genuine party atmosphere.
These albums are finally available from the Horsemen shop on CD once more. You know what to do.
* Drum credits confirmed by Pharoah Barrett.
COMPLETE FOUR HORSEMEN:
- Record Store Tales #224: Rockin’ Is Ma Business
- Welfare Boogie (1990 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
- Nobody Said It Was Easy (1991 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
- Nobody Said It Was Easy (2018 double vinyl LP)
- Daylight Again (1994 “lost” album – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
- Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By… (1996)
- Left For Dead 1988-1994 (2005 – CD/DVD set)
- Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners 1991 (2012 CD)
- Death Before Suckass – Live at Miami Arena (DVD)