Lost Tuneage: Spooky Tooth

Categories: Lost Tuneage

Spooky Group.jpg

Who Dat?

Spooky Tooth was formed in 1967 out of the ashes of a band called Art, which featured Mike Harrison (vocals/keyboards), Luther Grosvenor (guitar), Greg Ridley (bass), and Mike Kellie (drums). Signed to Chris Blackwell's Island label, Art's debut album went nowhere.

spooky tooth its all about.jpgBlackwell spotted vocalist/organist Gary Wright in another band, and suggested the five form a new group. Wright's high falsetto added a yin-and-yang to the vocals, and the now-named Spooky Tooth released It's All About in 1968. It featured - as did much of the band's releases - a combination of originals and interesting covers, including an apocalyptic take on Janis Ian's biracial love story "Society's Child" and the Band's "The Weight."

Their next record, 1969's Spooky Two, is an underrated gem of the classic-rock era, featuring tracks like "Feelin' Bad," "Evil Woman," "That Was Only Yesterday," and the original version of "Better By You, Better Than Me," which would grow more famous when Judas Priest's cover version landed the band in court, supposedly for purposefully including "subliminal messages" that led to a teenager's suicide.

"That Was Only Yesterday"

What happened?

Though Spooky Two should have been the band's ticket to greater success, the band began to unravel. First Ridley left to join Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton in their new Humble Pie (he was replaced by Andy Leigh). Then, Spooky Tooth embarked on a project that nearly buried them, a collaboration with French electronic musician Pierre Henry.

Spooky Two cover.jpgHenry wanted to create an "electronic religious mass" and asked the band to record the backing tracks. The resulting Ceremony confused fans and angered the band, who never wanted it released as an official ST project. Wright and Leigh then left, replaced by Chris Stainton and Alan Spenner.

Adding guitarist Henry McCullough (later of Wings), The Last Puff came out in 1970 and featured an incredible, sweeping cover of the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus." Shortly thereafter, though, the band split up. Harrison and Wright resurrected the name and added future Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones for 1973's You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw, and Kellie then returned for Witness. But by The Mirror, with Wright left as the only original, Spooky Tooth had to be extracted.

Why should I care?

spooky tooth broke my heart.jpgBy straddling the intersecting lines between hard rock, prog-rock, and psychedelia, the Spookies thus split their audience and were never able to really crack the American market. But in choosing to base their sound on two ivory ticklers, they managed a sweeping, swirling music akin to Procol Harum, Argent and Wishbone Ash.

Where are they now?

Gary Wright would score two massive '70s radio hits with "Dream Weaver" and "Love is Alive," but his career stalled. He continued to release albums, and recently toured with Ringo Starr's All-Star Band. Harrison had a moderately successful solo career in the '70s.

spooky tooth last puff.jpgRidley would leave music after the dissolution of Humble Pie, occasionally resurfacing. He died in 2003 of pneumonia. Grosvenor has brief stints with Stealers Wheel and Mott the Hoople, and did some solo work. He's recently been performing under his Mott pseudonym, Ariel Bender, in the Ariel Bender Band.

Kellie would turn punk as a founding member of The Only Ones, which recently reformed. In 1998, the original Spooky Tooth lineup (sans Wright) reunited for one record, and in 2004, Wright, Harrison, and Kellie played two shows as Spooky Tooth in Germany, resulting in the CD and DVD Nomad Poets.

Essential Listening

Spooky Two

That Was Only Yesterday: The Best of Spooky Tooth - Bob Ruggiero


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