It’s Dirty, It’s A Pity

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It’s dirty, it’s a pity
And time ain’t exactly on our side

There you go job done, that’s Four Horsemen Nobody said It Was Easy review in the bag in 12 words filched from the title track.  Next!  Hey it was dirty and it’s still a pity and time really wasn’t on their side – although a singer who kept getting convicted of drug-related misdemeanours and sheer rotten timing didn’t help matters any.

Something funny was in the air in 1991, the ‘serious’ music press in the UK started to cover more rock, the reasons were twofold really, all the grungers liked rock and talked about it a lot in interviews and it and its’ practitioners were way more entertaining than 98.67% of the indie guitar fodder mulching around at the time.  Along with big sellers Guns n’ Roses and Black Crowes, the Four Horsemen came from nowhere to garner a lot of attention all of a sudden.  Thrown together by ex-Cult/Zodiac Mindwarp bassist Haggis, or Rick Rubin (depending on which side of the argument you believe), they were a fully-formed ass-kickin’, Southern rock-flavoured*, boogie rock behemoth of a band.  So what, these things come and go, I hear you say – what makes this crew any different?

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Well, for one thing they really could play, Rick Rubin certainly knows his way around a mixing board and they had a certain Starr factor.  Their singer Frankie Starr to be precise.  The legends are, umm, legend about him.  When Rick Rubin first introduced him to Haggis at the Rainbow Bar & Grill, he was reportedly covered in blood, probably not his own, after a serious altercation in the parking lot; the LP was delayed whilst he did 6 months for possession; he body-slammed an unchivalrous dude through the glass counter at a Dennys; he did a further  year for possession straight after the LP was released, stalling its progress and all that’s just scratching the surface of this recidivist.  Read this interview with haggis on Über Rock, ** it’s a brilliant, lengthy interview with an entertaining subject with a wealth of good stories to tell; the best rock interview I’ve read in a long time actually.  Basically as haggis tells it, ‘He really genuinely was nothing more than a petty criminal mechanic who happened to fall into being in a rock band.’

But that wasn’t all, their guitarist Dave Lizmi, stolen from Dave Grohl’s pre-Nirvana outfit Scream, was a shit-hot blues rock player, but to my mind their real trump card was their drummer, Dimwit  – known to his mother as Ken Montgomery.  Now Dimwit looked like Lennie from Of Mice And Men, crossed with a yeti (a yennie?) and hit those drums so hard that they done stayed hit; originally from Vancouver he was the brother of Chuck Biscuits and like his brother had done time in D.O.A.  Allied with some solid bass and rhythm playing and Mr Starr’s manly pipes, they were a pretty formidable crew.

I rushed out and bought the shaped picture disc single of Nobody Said It Was Easy on 1 October 1991, show me the man (women are nearly always far too grounded and sane to be bothered with such trivial nonsense) who can resist a shaped picture disc and I’ll show you a man who knows no joy – I think Thomas Jefferson may have said that, possibly, once; him or Moses.  The title track was everything I wanted it to be, slightly love-tired dusty rock, played with a certain irresistible swagger.  I defy you not to like the opening guitar lines on this track.  Right from the first time I heard it, it sounded more like I was discovering a long-lost treasure rather than hearing a latest release and I mean that in only a good way.

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I’ve patched the video in below, but a word of caution here in amongst the moody lighting, rock star poses and the two ladies who seem to rather enjoy stroking each others’ arms and legs, the record company have blatantly added a bald guy into the video just to sex the whole thing up.  I’m sick and tired of the way that bands use gimmicks like this just to up the sex quotient in their videos and attract hot chicks to their music, it also creates unrealistic sexy expectations for genuinely bald men like me, I don’t want to be treated like a sex object by young women all the time, I’m sick and tired of chicks staring at my dome when they’re talking to me, I shouldn’t have to have to put up with their salacious comments like, ‘check out his belly’, when I’m walking down the street with my friends and I don’t want to feel intimidated and on show if I choose to dress a little sexy sometimes – it’s my right to do so without being hassled ladies!  I just want hot chicks to see me for me, as a person, rather than just as a bald head.  So I don’t approve of this video at all.

That aside, I bought the LP Nobody Said It Was Easy when it came out a couple of weeks later and my reaction was and is, a bit mixed.  First off, I’m still not impressed by the lack of credits/lyrics/info that went out with the LP, up yours Def American!  Secondly, for all Haggis’ protestations about this LP standing up there with Appetite For Destruction, the song writing is a bit hit and miss throughout, the fist side of the LP is brilliant, the second much less so.

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‘Rockin is Ma’ Business’ and ‘Tired Wings’ are both brilliant, brilliant rockers, full to the brim with attitude and excellent playing^.  ‘Can’t Stop Rockin” is a bit shrill and, umm, dim-witted for my tastes, owing far too much to early  Quo for my tastes too.  ‘Wanted Man’ steals a little bit from Johnny Cash, umm, ‘Wanted Man’, but sticks in enough originality to avoid a lawsuit, it’s one of my favourite things here – a boozer and brawler’s travelogue, detailing the damage done.

The second side is just a whole let less inspired than the first, culminating in the too-shrill-by-half ’75 Again’ and the trying-too-hard-to-be-classic ‘I Need a Thrill / Somethin’ Good’ – just what did the Four Horsemen have against the letter ‘n’ ?  Too much can be irksome and maddenin’.

Sadly as well as the drug busts, two tragedies in short order holed The Four Horsemen beneath the water line.  Firstly Dimwit died of an overdose in September 1994 and then in November 1995, Frankie Starr was riding his motorbike down Sunset Boulevard when he was hit by a drunk driver and put into a coma from which he never awoke, dying finally in June 1999.  A horrible end to a potentially great band, if only they’d got their shit together a bit better I get the sense that they could have got better and better.

I guess some bands are built to combust rather than make it through the long haul.  Flame on, Horsemen!

  Rockin’ is my business – business is good!

237 Down.

P.S – You really should check out the Haggis interview, if you’ve made it this far.  I’d also recommend this from the ever-entertaining Sleazegrinder too.

*a New Yorker, a couple of guys from Washington, a Welshman and a Canadian – doesn’t exactly make you Lynyrd Skynyrd.

**also well worth the money for his tale of playing (once) for Guns n’ Roses in Calgary and his influence on Dave Grohl joining Nirvana.  Read it, read it, read it.

^Alabama Thunderpussy’s much-heavier cover of ‘Rockin’ is even better than the original and is the most played song on my iPod, by far.  Seek it out friends.

35 thoughts on “It’s Dirty, It’s A Pity

  1. Pingback: Oh Canaduh! | 1537
      1. ABSOLUTELY and thanks for posting the link. It sounds like Haggis isn’t bitter at all about anything, which is refreshing, and it sounds like Frank was a real nutter! He was a petty criminal who happened to fall into a rock band! I love that quote!

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  2. I remember Zodiac Mindwarp. I don’t remember The Four Horsemen. And another Rick Rubin-produced drugged-out rock n’ roll bruiser of a record(he produced Masters of Reality’s ‘Blue Garden’ around the same time).

    I must take a listen.

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    1. The first side really is worth a damn good go. I was never that keen on MOReality, but I was a kid looking for something heavy at the time, I ma give it another going over.

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      1. Well, he’s the Sex Führer, what can you do.

        I think my mom was more offended by him referring to his “hot dog” and then politely requesting that she open her knees.

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      2. You should give the first album, Sunrise on the Sufferbus, and the live album How High The Moon a shot. Definitely the first album, though. I think older ears may appreciate it more.

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  3. OK two things now that I have finished reading:

    1. Did NOT know about Dave Lizmi being in Scream! I own one Scream album (Censorship No More) and he’s not on that one. Cool!
    2. What is on the B-side of that shaped picture disc??

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    1. It’s ‘Homesick Blues’ – I hate it when bands use LP tracks as B-sides (take a bow ZZ Top).

      I had no idea about the Scream connection either – if you have the time have a look at that Haggis interview, it’s a really good read.

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    1. I’m in tight with the NSA – we knew all about that.

      Sorry! I had 1300 other ones to choose from tonight too. Is this the blog equivalent of both of us turning up at the party wearing the same dress?

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      1. Not at all, it’s synchronicity. Plus it’s an excuse me to link to this excellent writeup. It is so hard to explain what exactly makes these guys and this album so special, but they are.

        I have everything of theirs – first EP, second album, second second album (long story), live album, everything. They have earned that from me.

        My buddy T-Rev saw them in Kitchener Ontario when Ron Young was singing with them. So this would be when Frank was in a coma. He also saw them on a previous tour with Starr when they played a whole bunch of “new” songs, some of which did not turn up on the album. Cool.

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      2. Thank you.

        I’ve never heard the first EP – is it good? it used to go for silly money on eBay, so I’ve never been seriously tempted.

        It would have been so cool to have seen them with Frank Starr – the man really could sing, as well as he could wield a monkey wrench.

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      3. Yeah he could! Tattooed pecker and Batmobile and all.

        The first EP is AWESOME. But pay no more than about $20, it is reissued with bonus tracks. The best song is called Hard Lovin’ Man.

        I’m a hard lovin’ man,
        I’m a hard lovin’ man,
        I’m a hard lovin’ man,
        Come ‘ere baby and see how hard I am.

        This is also the same song where he mentions his “tattooed pecker and Batmobile”.

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      4. This was about 1989, so a year before the Iraq conflict. My understanding is that Haggis was watching a lot of American TV and this is based on the Ollie North trial.

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      5. This post inspired me to give their second album a spin. Have you heard it? (I’m referring to the Starr fronted album, Gettin’ Pretty Good at Barely Gettin’ By.) It is really, really excellent and it has grown on me to the point that I consider it almost equal to this. I’d rate them both 5/5 stars without hesitation.

        Song For Absent Friends, dedicated to Dimwit, is really a peak of some kind for these guys as artists and performers.

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      6. Seen the new GI Joe movie? Inexplicably, THIS Four Horsemen song was in it. I do not know why. The lyrics have nothing to do with anything going on at any point in the movie.

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      7. Possibly? Or maybe Rich Chycki produced the soundtrack. I don’t know.

        The second Horsemen album was very Canadian. They were signed to Max Webster’s label Magnetic Air, the new drummer, bassist and producer were all Canadian. I don’t know why but I know they had a big following up here.

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