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?
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.
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.
‘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!
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.