As I sat in front of my computer freezing, snowed in and huddled in the upstairs of my 90 year old New England farm house, I sat virtually alone as my son and our dog were fast asleep in the adjoining upstairs lounge. We were doing our best to escape the bitter sub zero cold that seemed to seep in through the old weather worn walls of the downstairs part of the house. I was writing the story about my first drum kit as seen in this blog as a holiday interest piece. My girlfriend Rys was away in Brooklyn, N.Y. spending much needed time with her mother and friends and like anyone out there I was developing a case of the holiday blues especially when I didn't have all my loved ones present. Everything tends to slow down up in the north country where I live. The winter months help add to the gloom even though the countryside at that time of year is beautiful.
I took a break from writing and it was still early so I decided to call my old friend Jeff Lee and wish him and his family a Merry Christmas. I caught him at home as there is a 2 hour time difference in Texas where he lives and the east coast. I told him that things were going to be tight this holiday season and that my son would likely be the only one receiving gifts in our household. He said, "Correction! I'm sending you some CD's I've burned off of some amazing albums that I bet you've forgotten about!"
Jeff's collection of records is as big as mine but he branches off in directions that I don't and usually comes up with some noteworthy items to listen to from time to time. I said, "What heavy rock album could you possibly have that I don't?" The first album he mentioned was, "Sheetkeeckers"! This was an ultra rare bootleg live album from 1975 featuring Queen in concert at London's Rainbow Theater in 1974 .
I had completely forgotten about this record as my copy was stolen along with 200 of my other albums in 1978 from a friend's house! I managed to find these albums again in various cut-out bins and junk shops in my travels but never could I find another copy of "Sheetkeeckers". I remember it being really good but in later years I had purchased other live albums by Queen hoping to gain the same thrill. Some of these albums were bootleg and some were official releases from concerts after 1977 that were okay but still a few classics like "Stone Cold Crazy"or "Now I'm Here" were thrown in for a nostalgic look back at their early career. Even so, Queen still had it and were exploring other possibilities in their music.
Queen in their later career appealed to a much wider audience worldwide and became more diverse in their musical direction but they stiil managed hanging on to a few of their heavier rockers and played them just like in days of old!
A few days later on December 22 I received the CD in the mail from my friend Jeff. I was tearing into it before I could even get the front door open! I immediately ran upstairs and slapped the disc in my player and suddenly I hear a taped intro of "Procession" being pumped through a very huge P.A sytem in a very big echoing hall! First the bass drum, "Boom, Boom, Boom...Boom...Boom,Boom! Then the majestic harmony guitars with all their regal pomp! Then the lilty cascading high register guitar pattern with a building feedback sustain and then, WHAM! with a resounding GERRRAWNNNG! and a fantastic Freddy Mercury belting out "A Word In Your Ear, From Father To Son" and then the band roaring into the most powerful sounding set I've ever heard by anyone including Black Sabbath! Brian May's guitar tone is over the top and excruciatingly loud all the while kicking in his "Echo-plex" for optimum dual effect! Each power chord being heard loud and clear! Meanwhile, Roger Taylor's drum work is among the heaviest found anywhere and as brutal as anything John Bonham or Bill Ward could ever dish out! His extra large Ludwig tom-toms beating out the more savage parts of the songs for extra girth! John Deacon's bass playing is the anchor to this instrumental madness as he plunks down some of the tightest and most percussive bass lines available along with brilliant melodic embellishments! Then we come to England's finest vocalist, The Late Great Freddie Mercury as he cuts through the mighty assault with his perfect virtuoso voice that is beyond special! All of this together is equal to a melodic atom bomb detonation that must be heard to be believed! I can't remember when I 've heard anything heavier! It is by far their best performance, best sound and most inspired record ever made! It is almost unnecessary to listen to the studio versions of these songs after hearing this monolith of an album!
It all came back to me after hearing it again almost 34 years later. In 1975 I had played a gig with my band The Boyz at Dixon's Pizza King on Rt. 1 in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. It was a club owned by the father of Hollywood actress Donna Dixon who is now married to Dan Ackroyd. The in- house drummer at the time was Robbie Leebrick. Robbie played anything from country to rock as it was demanded of him by different musicians every night. He really liked my band and to our surprise, we both realized that we were mutual fans of Blue Cheer. He had 30 albums in the back room of the Pizza King that he would listen to on break by bands like Budgie, Status Quo and many others! He had also sabotaged the clubs juke box by replacing the George Jones and Dolly Parton hits with Sweet and Black Sabbath singles. It's no wonder I knew that day that Robbie and I would be friends for life. He invited me to come over to his house the next day and check out the real collection of albums
Robbie Leebrick with Buddy Rich in 1975. Robbie was and still is, my partner in crime when it comes to heavy music! I trust his opinion like gold and he has remained one of my greatest musical consultants through out the years! Not bad for a guy that once played on an album with Johnny Cash!
I arrived at his house the next day to find his extensive record collection lining a whole wall of his room. We listened to a lot of things and talked a lot about our heroes, Budgie and Blue Cheer. Then he pulled out the heavy artillery! The first was "Gr'ndle Poll", an unbelievably heavy Black Sabbath bootleg that was later released as "Heaven and Earth" on CD in 2002 with a board mixed quality version as "Gr'ndl Pol" was recorded from a reel to reel by a fan or possibly a local crew member the same night at the Asbury Park Convention Center in 1975. Then he played the now much sought after Sweet live album "Strung Up" with the classic track "Burning/Someone Else Will" from The Rainbow Theater in London 1973. Then he played Queen's "Sheetkeeckers"! Man, I thought the walls were going to cave in! I knew I just had to get that album! Robbie told me it would be no problem as he had the bootlegger's address and phone number to order from!
The next day I called the Korneyphone Records label in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and talked to the bootlegger himself! He sounded like an old hippie with a strong southern accent. I asked him about the awesome Queen bootleg and he told me that it had only been out for 2 weeks. He also wanted to sell me Deep Purple "Perks and Tits" and Led Zeppelin "Live On Blueberry Hill"! He had only one copy of Black Sabbath's "Gr'ndl Poll" left in stock. I told him I wanted one of each! They cost a reasonable $12.00 per album. He had also been the man who had released the notorious MC5 bootleg, "Motor City Is Burning"which later became a legitimate release complete with a pony bottle condensation stain on the color xeroxed paper cover art!
I must have waited a month for those records to arrive. The Queen and Black Sabbath bootlegs were finally delivered but the others had gone out of stock so he sent me his catalog to pick 3 different ones which I did later! The most important thing was that my 2 favorite picks had made it into my hands safe and sound! Queen's "Sheetkeeckers" made me decide once and for all to keep playing drums for heavy rock bands rather than the jazz fusion bands I had been experimenting with at that time. That really turned out to be to my benefit as jazz fusion died out quickly and heavy rock became king! So from then on I stayed focused on the heaviness of Sabbath and the musical prowess of Queen when writing music or performing it!
The "SheetKeeckers" album was rumored to be a BBC (live) recording as the quality is excellent but it turns out that it was recorded March 31, 1974 at The Rainbow Theater in London, England by EMI for a promotional (live) EP but was later shelved by the company with no reason given never to be released until it was stolen or copied and fortunately for us, dumped into the hands of a criminal bootlegger! It was eventually put out by the Kornyphone label with 6 different color xerox paper covers scotch taped to white cardboard sleeves (what class)! "Sheetkeeckers" also was re-issued on different labels several times over the years even finding it's way on to CD which is equally rare! The track listing for the original bootleg was as follows:
Intro; "Procession" (Tape)
"Father To Son"
"Son And Daughter"
"Keep Yourself Alive"
"Seven Seas Of Rhye"
"Modern Times Rock'n Roll"
extra bonus track : Sweet playing "Ballroom Blitz" which makes no sense at all!!!
"Sheetkeeckers" came in 5 variations on the Kornyphone Record label featuring 5 different colored xerox covers with photos and liner notes.
Now on Christmas 2007, this "Holy Grail" of heavy rock once again falls into my lap as if by providence and manages to cheer up my attitude and by Christmas morning bring me to my most joyous Christmas ever! No doubt Queen's "Sheetkeeckers will serve to further guide my way through the hallowed halls of heavy metal and once again keep my focus on what is important in my own career in the music business!
Freddy Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor knocked Led Zepplin and Elton John right off their over- hyped pedistles and raised the bar ever higher for future bands to come like Judas Priest and even recently "The Darkness" and "Muse". Queen in 1974 were a hungry heavy rock animal that pulled out all the stops and their album "Sheetkeeckers" is the proof!
This is an album meant for all fans of hard rock and heavy metal and I hope EMI or someone decides to put it out proper with liner notes and photos from the gig as it so deserves!
One of rock's true desert island classics!