Ah yes, the '70s, fertile ground for prog-rockers of mostly English descent like Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But a cult has grown around the (many would say) even more complex and experimental Gentle Giant - a quintet that, among them, could play 30 different instruments.
Formed in 1970 out of the ashes of R&B band Simon Dupree & the Big Sound, which featured Phil, Derek, and Ray Shulman, the brothers added Gary Green, Kerry Minnear, and Martin Smith to form Gentle Giant, with almost all members contributing vocals.
Combining just about every musical genre out there including a healthy dose of classical, they released a self-titled debut the same year and Acquiring the Taste
the next. Gentle Giant - in their own words - wanted to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular."
Inevitable lineup changes and concept albums followed, but because of the complexity of their music, the group was never going to go over with the punters. Derek Shulman recalled a disastrous tour opening for Black Sabbath, whose fans were unmerciful once GG pulled out their violins and cellos.
But the group, now consisting of the "classic" lineup of Derek and Ray Schulman, Green, Minnear and John Weathers, hit what many fans believe was a creative (and, comparably, commercial) peak with In a Glass House
, The Power and the Glory
and Free Hand
. The three albums had a more rock-oriented sound, and the time signatures came to a more manageable level for the long-haired hippie crowd as opposed to the long hairs (maestros).
Their lyrics often ran toward the philosophical/poetic and (sometimes) obtuse. However, a concept album about being interviewed as rock stars (Interview
), a movement toward a more pop sound, a creative dip, and the grinding life of the road led toward the inevitable - but mostly amicable - dissolution. By 1980, Gentle Giant had been slain.