Screaming Lord Sutch (who’s real name was David Edward Sutch) was something of an oddball, whose horror act was heavily based on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins own stage show, which consisted of a coffin and skull, amongst other props. Clearly an eccentric’s eccentric, Sutch released several singles which did absolutely nothing, probably due to his lack of vocal ability and sheer wackiness. Still, he eventually developed a cult following in his native England (or at least London anyway), while also running for Parliament, before relocating to Los Angeles in 1969 with the hope of reigniting his so called musical career. It was around this time that a chance encounter with guitarist Jimmy Page would result in Sutch’s first album, Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends. And what friends they were: John Bonham, Jeff Beck, Noel Redding, Nicky Hopkins, and of course Page himself, who not only contributed guitar, but also produced.
Now for anyone who has never heard this record, don’t assume based on the credits alone that this is some kind of super group ready to conquer the world. Sutch was no genius (though he did have a genius for self promotion), and a piss poor songwriter to boot, so what’s the appeal? Well, his ‘heavy friends’ for a start. If this album had of been Lord Sutch and Hired Hands I’m sure nobody today would even give a damn.
The LP opens with “Wailing Sounds”, where Sutch yowls and growls over Page’s mega-riffing and Bonham’s thunderous pounding. Who needs laughing gas when Sutch’s out of tune vocals will do just fine. The whole thing is pretty awful really, and I don’t mean in that ‘so bad it’s good’ way, I mean really awful. The same goes for “Cause I Love You”, on which Sutch plagiarises the main vocal riff to The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” (I’m surprised they didn’t sue him). Not even Page’s double tracked guitars and Bonham’s superior drumming efforts could save this one.
The Bo Diddley inspired “Flashing Lights” has some heavy reverb drenched guitar courtesy of Page, and while nothing special, it is the first tune which hasn’t made me burst into laughter. Not so “Gutty Guitar” (featuring Jeff Beck) and “Thumping Beat”, both of which are just as hilarious as the LPs first two numbers. The last couple of tracks, “Would You Believe” and the psychedelic “Smoke and Fire” actually aren’t too bad, in a weird loony sort of way. Sutch’s singing is still crap, although the instrumentation is top notch.
There is some talk that Page utilised these sessions as a means of experimenting with various studio techniques while Led Zeppelin were working on their second album, which if true, wouldn’t surprise me, as Heavy Friends does have a very Led Zeppelin II sound and feel to it in places. “Union Jack Car”, featuring Page and Bonham, is merely a rip off of “Sweet Little Sixteen”, followed by the bluesy “One for You Baby”, a song which if handled by the likes of a Keith Relf or Chris Farlowe could have turned out as a minor classic. “L-O-N-D-O-N” is pure S-H-I-T, no more, no less. Sutch couldn’t sing his way out of a paper bag, and here he sounds like a feral toad with laryngitis. “Brightest Light” has its endearing qualities to be sure, listenable even, including a nice fuzz guitar solo and paisley production. The final track, “Baby, Come Back” is a rock and roll stomper with Page and Bonzo overheating the amps as Sutch snarls into the microphone like a rock and roll Jack the Ripper.
If Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends had of been released as a comedy album, a sort of rock and roll piss-take, then I reckon he was on to a winner. Because how anyone could interpret this as some sort of serious musical statement in its own right would surely be joking. That Sutch himself saw it as the “highlight” of his career is as telling as it is humorous. Buy this record by all means; but just don’t say I didn’t warn you.