Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Farmer Rawks Like Hell

POOBAH – “Peace Farmers” CD ’09 (Alibi-Gustunes, US) – I have a funny story about the way I originally crossed paths with POOBAH’s Jim Gustafson. Well, I think it’s funny and I’m confident you will too. If not, no, I can’t give you the few minutes of your life back that it took you to read this, so sorry in advance. But if you love great hard rock besides wishing for comedy from your favourite music writer, delve in…you won’t be sorry.

Back in “the day,” I started collecting records and the first really “rare” one I ever got was the 3rd effort from Youngstown, Ohio band POOBAH entitled “Steamroller” (1979). All it took for me was Bart at local store Vinyl Discoveries to play me a tape of the 8 minute mauler “Jump Thru The Golden Ring” and I was on a quest for the holy grail. Feeling kind of sheepish, I ended up plunking down a hundred smackers for a cherry copy of this baby and what I learned was that if anything was worth that kinda price tag, it was this motherfucker. Laced from pillar to post with raw, distorted riffing from Gustafson as well as his melodic vocal range, there was more as well. Atop every song, Mr. Jimmy G applied a generous dollop of some of the most cochlea-mutilating, brain-scalding lead guitar known to man…or woman. And being a person who understands the difference in priorities between paying rent and spending another $ 200 on “rekids” (as my dad called ‘em), I quickly sought out “Let Me In” (1972) and “U.S. Rock” (1976). The former was an early ‘70’s gem that espoused that rugged Budgie / Toad / Sabs feel, the latter a mid-decade slice of brilliant FM hard rock complete with the addition of massive organ work. What tied it all together was the fact that not only was each of these platters just as top-drawer as the popular luminaries of it’s age, each was also packed to the brim with a full crate of Gustafson Solo Whoop-Ass. Here was a guitarist who easily took his place among names like Iommi, Page and Bourge in my humble opinion.

As time went on and I developed my printed zine, it became obvious to me that a glaring omission in my cannon of musical script was an interview with Jim Gustafson. The problem was, I had no idea how to locate this cat. So I went back to Bart, the record store guy who’d originally given me the POOBAH fever. Here’s where it starts to get funny. Bart looked at me for a moment and hesitated. He then pulled out a dog-eared book from under the counter and, in a hushed tone, read me a phone number. “Ray,” he began haltingly, “I’m a little worried about this.” His countenance bore the look of a man who was besieged with grave concern. “I was given this number by a guy who knows Jim but he warned me…says he’s not the friendliest character. Might hang up on you.” I have to admit, it wasn’t with the greatest hope that I dialed the number that night, and when the voice on the other end said “Hello,” I introduced myself half expecting to get lambasted over the phone. And here’s where it really gets funny. What followed was a lengthy, pleasant conversation with a man who, over the years has proven to be one of the most friendly, gregarious and humble people I’ve met in the music industry. Don’t know who that record store guy had heard about from his friend but it sure as hell wasn’t Jim Gustafson. Mr. G is one class act who not only produced 3 of the best records of the ‘70’s but has been a joy to work with on interviews, reviews, etc.

And so we come to 2009. Since “Steamroller”’s release some 30 years ago, POOBAH has continued to stomp the boards in the Ohio, Western PA, WV and East Coast area and has delivered some damn nice platters like “Wizard Of Psych,” “Furious Love” & “Underground.” Featuring a wide variety of guitar-drenched hard rock, Jim began to lace the music with a decided psych overtone that speaks of the maturity of a songwriter and musician with a long & storied lineage. Now, POOBAH has delivered their new disc “Peace Farmers” and I have to say that it is an unqualified barnburner. In fact, it may be the best one yet! There’s little doubt that Jim & crew came to bring it as the haggard fuzz riff of “Ripped” comes tumbling out of the speakers. The rhythm section (bass – Brian Muth, Jimmy G, George DiGiovanni, Wood Hupp; drums – Mike Fortino, Wood Hupp) plants the seeds of a smoldering groove and Jim sets his 6-string acid tractor in gear, plowing the rows with an alternation of pillaging riffs and searing lead lines. Elsewhere, everything just continues to turn to gold: the neck-snapping Gibbons-like funk of “It Out,” the heavy SRV shuffling in the verse of “This” and the completely re-worked “Let Me In” classic, “Live To Work.” Still, the crème de la crème are the 3 lengthy epics spaced throughout “Peace Farmers." In “Mood” (8:25), “Fly Away” (8:15) and “86 Times” (9:12) we really get to see the full talents of Jim Gustafson flower as they haven’t since “Steamroller.” Whether it be the former’s upbeat rockin’ vibe, “Fly Away’s” ethereal spaciousness or the insistent plundering heaviness of the latter, Jim’s exploratory guitar work is nothing short of stellar. In each of these cuts, the man’s guitar stretches long, gossamer strands of feedback-drenched lead across seas of musical intrigue that would sit equally as nice at 125 dB in a bar or on headphones at 1:00 AM.

Long story short, POOBAH is not only a band that’s been a going concern for close to 40 years. It’s an American rawk institution and Jim Gustafson continues to guide it into a very special spot in the musical hall of fame. What still has me wondering is who the hell the guy was that Bart told me was “not the friendliest character.” Maybe Jimmy G could give him a call and make him smile! Nice one, bro, this one’s a masterpiece! Peace And No Quiet


J.B. said...

Yes, I need to hear this. I still can't believe Poobah played the Doom or Be Doomed festival in 2007. Holy hell was that great. Jim played A LOT of lead guitar. He even walked out on Lexington St. and jammed (he had a wireless setup for his guitar).


raysrealm said...

Jim is a monster. This album shows it the way the old stuff did, the long songs really being something very nice to hear.