Design By Humans
Published On: Mon, Jul 11th, 2016

Mike Harrison: Mike Harrison/Smokestack Lightning/Rainbow Rider

MHMike Harrison
Mike Harrison/Smokestack Lightning/Rainbow Rider
(BGO Records)

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If the devil could sing, he’d sound like Mike Harrison. Harrison’s threatening, bluesy growl gave Spooky Tooth its personality. John Lennon called Spooky Tooth’s version of “I Am the Walrus” one of his favorite Beatles covers. The group teetered on the verge of stardom, but frequent personnel changes and bad management doomed them to underground status.

By 1971, Harrison was out on his own, recording a self-titled solo album. The original tunes were first-rate folk/rock, but it was his gut-bucket remake of “Hard Headed Woman” and ex-bandmate Luther Grosvenor’s harp-happy “Here Comes the Queen” that best captured Harrison’s raucous delivery.
Harrison’s second effort, 1972’s Smokestack Lightning, matched Harrison’s raspy delivery with the Muscle Shoals southern sway. Harrison’s remake of Fats Domino’s “What a Price” was a leering saxy masterpiece, while the lyrically indecipherable but funky “Turning Over” and the heartfelt “Tears (Behind My Eyes)” showed his range.

Harrison’s unique voice was matched with his best material on his third solo effort, 1975’s Rainbow Rider. With the hard-charging opener, “Maverick Woman Blues,” Harrison finally found a throat-tearing showcase that rivaled “Walrus.” Manning the harp, Harrison’s whiskey-throated delivery gave “Okay Lay Lady Lay,” a lascivious New Orleans feel. The highlight of the album (and of Harrison’s solo career) was his soaring, heartbreaking performance of “Like a Road (Leading Home).”

Harrison’s Spooky Tooth bandmates carved out successful careers for themselves. Gary Wright made it as a solo artist, Greg Ridley had a long run in Humble Pie, Luther Grosvenor became Ariel Bender and found fleeting fame with Mott the Hoople, Mike Kellie drummed for the Only Ones and Mick Jones founded Foreigner. But Harrison continued the Spooky Tooth bad management/bad decisions curse. By 1977, he was out of music.

Harrison has resurfaced from time to time, reuniting with Spooky Tooth in 1998, 2004, 2008 and 2009. Spooky Tooth’s best albums, Spooky Two, The Last Puff, You Broke My Heart…So I Busted Your Jaw and Witness have been reissued, perpetuating Harrison’s legacy as one of the great blues/rock shouters. He finally put out his fourth solo album in 2006, ironically titled Late Starter. With this two-disc compilation of three of his albums, one of rock’s most astounding, underappreciated voices gets the chance to howl again.

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Mike Harrison: Mike Harrison/Smokestack Lightning/Rainbow Rider