Vinegar Joe were an English Blues rock band, formed in 1971 in London. They released three albums on Island Records, but were best known for their live shows and launching the solo careers of Elkie Brooks and Robert Palmer.
Vinegar Joe evolved out of Dada, a 12-piece Stax-influenced, jazz/blues rock fusion band. Dada released one eponymous album in 1970, with a line up including vocalist Elkie Brooks and guitarist Pete Gage. Singer Robert Palmer, formerly with The Alan Bown Set joined Dada after the album had been recorded. Dada were signed by Ahmet Ertegun for Atlantic Records. After their US tour, Ahmet sub-licensed them to Chris Blackwell of Island Records for the UK and rest of the world, with instructions to reduce the line up to form Vinegar Joe in 1971, adding keyboard player Dave Thompson, but the band was still without a drummer. Phil Collins had unsuccessfully applied for the job. Conrad Isidore and Rob Tait drummed on the first album. Tim Hinkley added keyboards alongside Dave Thompson and it was Hinkley who appeared on the cover of the first album. Their debut LP Vinegar Joe was released in April 1972 on Island Records in the UK and Atco Records in the US. The album cover featured plasticine models of the band created by John Padley.
Tim Hinkley took over from Thompson on keyboards and was succeeded by John Hawken. Drummer Rob Tait played the first series of live shows succeeded by John Woods. Mike Deacon took over on keyboards. During recording of their second album, Rock’n Roll Gypsies, also released in 1972, Keef Hartley played drums. Guitarist Jim Mullen also joined the band for this record and played on the US tour. The artwork for the album was supplied by Hipgnosis. Drummer Pete Gavin joined the band prior to the US tour and recording of their third and final album Six Star General released in 1973. The band dissolved in the spring of 1974. Alan Powell played drums during the band’s final weeks.
Subsequently, Brooks and Palmer went on to enjoy success as solo musicians. Gage became a record producer and arranger, working with Brooks, his wife, until their divorce, and a range of musicians such as Joan Armatrading and specialising in upcoming rockabilly and punk bands including as Restless and King Kurt. (wikipedia)
And here is their first album:
When I first heard of the semi-obscure soulful progressive blues rockers Vinegar Joe, I was intrigued. To have not one but two future solo stars with legitimate top ten hit single radio staples was one thing, but for those stars to be pop soul star Elkie Brooks (yes, she of “Pearl’s a Singer” fame) and Robert Palmer (yes, the “Addicted to Love” guy), let’s just say I struggled to imagine what that might sound like. Then I saw archive footage of them performing on The Old Grey Whistle Test and I was on board. I resolved to keep an eye out for a Vinegar Joe album.
Turned out they aren’t so easy to track down. Something to do with the fact that they didn’t come close to denting the charts.
Then one day, shortly after the comprehensive Finer Things: The Island Recordings 1972-1973 compilation was released, I found two thirds of their discography in my favourite music exchange, and I duly purchased them out of sheer surprise.
Even when I first listened to Vinegar Joe’s self titled debut album, there wa s a certain reassuring familiarity about it. Not that I’d heard it before, I just have a things for early 70s rock, so sonically, I immediately found Vinegar Joe appealing. While I’m at best lukewarm to Brooks and Palmer’s respective solo outputs, them being the vocalists for a band that seemed determined to bring blue-eyed soul marinated rock music is just pleasing to my ears.
Something which is interesting is that Brooks and Palmer don’t perform any traditional duets on Vinegar Joe, instead one tends to act as the backing vocalist for the other, or they blend their vocals together, and yeah, it works well. Musically there’s the sense that there was a real ambition for Vinegar Joe to have a slightly funky Southern rock edge about them, and led by Brooks’ then husband Pete Gage on guitar and ably backed up by Steve York and a rotating cast of keyboard players and drummers, yeah, they were a hell of a band that could pretty much adapt their sound to anything the individual songs required.
The fact that the music of Vinegar Joe hasn’t been played to death on classic rock radio gives it a sort of weird vintage freshness. For me the absolute highlights of this debut are the first and second side openers “Rusty Red Armour” and “See the World”, “Never Met a Dog”, “Ride Me Easy Rider”, and “Circles”, a tune which, if we lived in a just and fair world, would have seen Vinegar Joe enjoy a well deserved top ten hit rather than languish in semi-obscurity.
A re-issue edition:
If I have a criticism of Vinegar Joe, it’s that they perhaps didn’t know exactly what they wanted the sound of their band to me, so tried to cover a few too many bases. Also, there was a tendency to overstretch some of the songs to slightly longer than they needed to be. Having said that, this was an album released in 1972, the height of progressive rock’s commercial success, so they certainly weren’t the worst offenders by any means. (P.Q.)
Elkie Brooks (vocals, percussion)
Pete Gage (guitar, slide-guitar)
Tim Hinkley (keyboards)
Robert Palmer (vocals, guitar)
Dave Thompson (keyboards, saxophone)
Steve York (bass, harmonica)
Roger Ball (horn)
Dave Brooks (saxophone, flute)
Malcolm Duncan (horn)
Keef Hartley (drums)
Conrad Isidore (drums)
Gasper Lawal (percussion)
Mike Rosen (horn)
Rob Tait (drums)
The Vinegrettes (background vocals)
01. Rusty Red Armour (Palmer) 5.02
02. Early Monday Morning (Gage) 4.44
03. Ride Me Easy, Rider (Gage) 5.42
04. Circles (Palmer) 4.03
05. Leg Up (Palmer) 4.55
06. See The World (Gage) 6.16
07. Never Met A Dog (Palmer) 6.30
08. Avinu Malkenu (Gage/Brooks) 3.24
09. Gettin’ Out (Gage/Thompson/York) 5.04
10. Live A Little, Get Somewhere (Gage) 5.21
11. Speed Queen Of Ventura (Single-B side) (Gage) 4.10
12. Speed Queen Of Ventura (long version) (Gage) 7.06