Chain kick started their recording career in 1970 with a live album, recorded at Sydney’s Caesar’s Palace Discotheque, simply titled Live Chain, a record that had as many virtues as the band members themselves. The group officially formed in 1968, having travelled from Perth to Melbourne after winning the Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds competition, which in those days was probably the equivalent of conquering X Factor. And like many musicians back then, they built their talent from the ground up. So by the time Toward the Blues appeared, in 1971, the band had a reputation that was nothing short of legendary amongst the more discerning blues-rock crowd of Australia’s inner suburbs.
Chain were the originators of Aussie blues, in a way not too dissimilar to Paul Butterfield or John Mahall a few years earlier (in America and England respectively), in that they served as a sort of launching pad for the careers of others, and exposed a whole lot of white folk to the majesty and power of the blues itself, all done in an authentic and honest way. The group was made up of the ever versatile Phil Manning (guitar), Barry Harvey (drums), Barry Sullivan (bass), and the eccentric Matt Taylor on vocals, whose song “I Remember When I was Young” was an enormous hit on the Oz charts in the early ‘70s (and for good reason too. Check it out on YouTube if you haven’t heard it, it’s a corker).
We open appropriately enough with “Black and Blue”, whose beginning reminds the listener of a 1930’s chain gang that is until the band breaks loose into a brief but full on assault with some serious soloing by Manning, proving he was no slouch when it came to the electric guitar. Taylor is also blowing some major chops on the harmonica, hence the Butterfield and Mahall comparisons. “Judgement” is all harmonica, wah wah guitar, and a heavy rhythm section playing for their baked beans on toast and slab of beer. On “Slow In D” Taylor establishes himself as one of Australia’s pre-eminent blues singers of the era, wrought with feeling and emotion, not to mention desperation, a quality us armchair music lovers can never get enough of.
The band blast their way through an energetic interpretation of Robert Johnson’s “Thirty Two Twenty Blues”, followed by “Snatch It Back and Hold It”, a performance so good that any blues club in America would have been itching to book them in no time. Manning wah wah’s it out on “Boogie”, another number Butterfield or Buddy Guy would be proud to play on. Taylor whinges about how his woman “rode him so strong” that all his “strength was gone”. I don’t know about you, but I can think of far worse things to complain about than a woman who wants nothing more than to bonk your brains out. And when Manning plays that extended guitar solo, talk about stoner-blues! So much in fact that I wouldn’t be surprised if there was plenty of marijuana smoke pouring out of the amps and microphones as they were doing it.
“Booze Is Bad News Blues” reminds me of Eric Clapton’s “Key to the Highway”, which can only mean one thing and that is the band were likely listening to Derek and the Dominoes. The beat is the same, as well as the overall accent of the whole tune. Then again, so do most blues songs in general. On “Albert Gooses Gonna Turn the Blues” Manning gets all spacey (as if the title itself didn’t give it away), stretching his imagination into the farthest regions of outer space. But unfortunately every early ‘70s album must come with a repetitive and impressive drum solo, which is exactly what you get from Barry Harvey, a man with obviously imposing talents, however it comes not only with a price on one’s mind yet also patience, to the point that I’m beginning to wonder when it will actually finish.
Not long after Toward the Blues was released, and just when the album was beginning to take off, Manning, Sullivan and Harvey left the band, meaning that Taylor had to continue on, before even he himself decided to leave, forging a relatively successful solo career of his own with The Matt Taylor Band.
For anyone interested in late ‘60’s early ‘70’s blues-rock, you can’t go any further than this LP. The remastering is superb, meaning that this 30th Anniversary edition has never sounded better. And if you see it for a tenner, it will be one of the best bargains you’ve had all day. I promise.