As someone once said you can be sure of 2 things in life, death & taxes. I’d like to add to that with…and somewhere near you in any given week you’ll find Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack playing a gig! The band have become a British institution, and quite rightly so. Since arriving on the scene in 1965 despite wars, recessions, global warming, pandemics etc etc there has always been throughout a man with a guitar playing the blues at the front of his band, a constant in an ever rapidly changing world. My first introduction to Chicken Shack came in 1969 when they were fronted by Christine Perfect (later McVie) singing their version of blues classic ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ which was a reasonably sized hit. Since those early days the band has undergone a myriad of changes in personnel and style. Which brings us to this lavishly put together new box set from Esoteric Recordings. Housed in a clamshell box this collection brings together the 3 albums Stan & the band recorded for Decca’s ‘progressive’ label Deram between 1971 & 1974. The 3 albums in question are ‘Imagination Lady’ (1971), ‘Unlucky Boy’ (1973) & ‘Goodbye’ (1974). By 1971 Chicken Shack was paired down to a trio consisting of Stan Webb, John Glascock (bass) & Paul Hancox (drums) this line-up would only last, like many of Chicken Shack’s for a short time. However this was the trio that recorded the first album in this set ‘Imagination Lady’. If you’d never heard Chicken Shack before and had just been told they were a blues band you could be forgiven for thinking you’d been given a rock record by mistake. Kicking off with the title track to the whole compilation ‘Crying Won’t Help You Now’ it’s certainly more rock than blues as Stan unleashes some blistering runs on his axe, with a whole dose of wailing wah-wah pedalling over a frenetic drum pattern. It’s definitely a long way from his early ‘classic’ blues early records. The opener sets the tone for the whole album which shows off Stan’s new harder blues rock direction which gains more momentum with Track 2 ‘Daughter Of The Hillside’ that has become a beloved classic fan favourite over the years and one of my own favourites and a record I’m sure needs no new words from me. Track 3 seems a rather odd choice to me, it being a rock take on Tim Hardin’s classic folk song ‘If I Were A Carpenter’, which again see’s Stan drenching the song with an abundance of fuzz laden guitar set against some Mitch Mitchell style drumming from Paul. I can’t quite make up my mind as to whether It’s a great take or somewhat self indulgent, the jury’s out there. ‘Going Down’ follows which whilst still rocky is much more back in classic blues territory and contains some glorious ‘crying guitar’ short licks from Stan. Skipping on a couple of tracks to the epic ‘Telling Your Fortune’ a track i feel i should know but in all honesty i don’t remember, if you’re a drummer or just into drums it’s quite a tour-de-force from Paul and being a sometime drummer myself i found myself more than a little impressed! He certainly knows his way round a kit. The following track ‘The Loser’ for some unknown reason reminds me of a Beatles track which i can’t quite pin down in my head, it’s a short neat little piece which thankfully is devoid of wah-wah! I have to say that if there is such a thing as suffering from an overdose of wah-wah then I’m suffering! By Bonus track ‘Poor Boy’ I’ve heard enough from the wah-wah pedal to last me for a good long time & want to tell Stan to get his foot off the damn thing…On to the second album in the collection ‘Unlucky Boy’ and with a change of bass player to Bob Daisley, the band turn in to my mind a better balanced album than the previous one, with more light and shade on show as opposed to the formers rather more full on frenetic pace. This is much more in the tradition of a blues album, Track 2 ‘Revelation’ is a warm, relaxed excellent piece with some of the best of Stan’s laid back guitar overlaid with some fine brass backing. Track 4 ‘Too Late To Cry’ is another gem blessed with some really neat picking making it a joy to listen to. This is followed by ‘Stan The Man’ which i hardly think needs much explaining! again replete with some really enjoyable licks and riffs together with some boogie-woogie foot tapping piano. The title track of the album ‘Unlucky Boy’ is a strong piece of work and one of the standout tracks with some glorious brass work melding perfectly with a good vocal performance from Stan. The laid back ‘As Time Goes passing By’ is another of the standout tracks for me, a slow burning piece, filled with mellow guitar and the addition of some sweet string orchestration. And finally we’re on to the 3rd album in the set 1974’s ‘Goodbye’. This catches the band playing live at Brunel University in October 1973, with as you might expect from Stan, yet another set of new musicians in the line-up. This was to be the final album before he disbanded the band to join Savoy Brown at the time. The album is full of fan favourites opening with the classic BB King number ‘Everyday I Have The Blues’ before sliding into what is probably my favourite track ‘Thrill Is Gone’ an impeccable piece of playing from all concerned. I think this album is one of the best vocal performances Stan has put out. He’s an acquired taste i know, but he’s really strong here. Other standout tracks are ‘Going Down’ & ‘Webb’s Boogie’ my piano playing friend Alan i know will really appreciate this when i duly play it to him. There are 9 tracks in all ending with an epic raise the roof version of the evergreen classic ‘Tutti Frutti’ clearly leaving the many fans very happy. Esoteric Recordings have done a fine job with the presentation of this 3CD set. It comes in a very sturdy clamshell box containing each of the 3 albums in separate sleeves reproducing the original vinyl covers, 2 of them being gatefold and a glossy and informative accompanying booklet. If you’re a Stan Webb/Chicken Shack fan or like your blues shot through with some hard rock, this new collection is definitely for you. Enjoy.
Alan Esdaile… Love Chicken Shack’s version of ‘Thrill Is Gone’, amazing playing. Great by a lot of different people but my favourite would be Tracy Chapman and BB King… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdNpuPWspQk