Vinegar Joe were a band who were considered to be distinctly second division. Wannabe headliners, always gave a good show but somehow were unable to quite get up the ladder enough to get top billing status. This may in part have been due to their record company, Island, having their own ideas and agenda for the band. They could see a bright future for one of the two singers in the group, a certain smooth voiced Batley born Robert Palmer, yes, he of the dancing girls in the Addicted to Love video of the late 1980’s!
For, in him, they could see big dollar signs if were they able to manouvre him into a solo contract. Better still, they could make the band that he was part of, his backing band. Well, that may have been the plan however, Robert did not want to ditch his fellow singer Elaine Bookbinder, or as you may know her, Elkie Brooks. He wanted to stay with the band and see it through, very noble but management and record company did their own thing and caused the band to break up after an American tour and insisted that they came back to the UK to record their final album, ‘Six Star General’.
This new box set from those clever folks at Esoteric tells the whole sorry story from inception to implosion and gathers all three Vinegar Joe albums together, along with various single edits, to give a complete overview of a band who offered much and did their utmost to make it, but, as is often the way, interference and manipulation from management and other parties screwed them over. Although, as this set testifies, Vinegar Joe had talent and the potential to make it big but, somehow never really got the breaks they were due.
Vinegar Joe evolved out of an earlier outfit, called Dada, that was more of a jazz/blues type band that boasted ten members. This band recorded an album in 1969 that is certainly due a reissue. When Dada ended, they decided to strip the sound down to a more conventional rock band format and sound, becoming Vinegar Joe. Their eponymous debut album was released in 1972 and introduces the world to the powerful vocals of Elk (Elkie Brooks) and the soulful voice of Robert Palmer .
Occasionally they sing together but they, generally, separately, Elk certainly has a big voice and she can wail with the best of them, very often in a high-pitched warble (as shown on Early Morning Monday, which sounds remarkable). In addition to the main band, the album also featured various guests like Keef Hartley and Conrad Isadore, amongst others. This does mean there is a degree of inconsistency in the music, but it doesn’t really matter when it sounds as good as this.
Their second album, ‘Rock N’ Roll Gypsies’, is equally as hard hitting and has a Hipgnosis designed sleeve, reproduced here in a gatefold cover. The music also had changed, more a blues stomper type sound, like that of Canned Heat or Creedence Clearwater Revival. The album also features more slide guitar and Hammond Organ sounds, you can tell it would make a good live sound but was never actually recorded for any live releases sadly. Certainly, the change of style worked well for the band and the album was a powerful rock and roll release.
The third Album, ‘Six Star General’ (1973), was more of the same but with a slightly different line up, still with Elk and Palmer on vocals. Sadly, this was to be their last outing as Palmer was offered a solo contract by Island and the chance to record in Nassau in the Bahamas. This album contains the fabulous Black Smoke Rising from The Calumet.
This set really captures the essence of the band and offers a chance to rediscover this lost band of the 1970’s again. Personally, I like the debut album most out of the three as it best shows what the band were all about. It also has some strong tracks and that amazing voice of Elk, which is simply stunning. Highly recommended indeed, this set has much to offer anyone who loves good music.
Released 17th August, 2021.