Cult Heroes No. 6: Nantucket
This week Xavier Russell celebrates the career of Nantucket, one of the most underrated melodic hard rock bands of the late 1970s. What was special about them? The Bourbon Baron will explain all… and then you can hear Nantucket for yourself. Check out all of Classic Rock‘s Cult Heroes here.
For me, the golden period of vintage classic American AOR was between 1976-1982. Remember such gems as Blue Oyster Cult’s intelligent Agents Of Fortune (1976), Foreigner’s scorching self-titled debut (1977), Boston’s masterful Don’t Look Back (1978) and Journey’s flawless Escape (1981)?
The American airwaves had never had it so good. But for every success story, there were an equal number of failures, artists who sadly never got a fair crack of the whip. There are so many great albums out there sadly now just collecting dust in old secondhand record stores. Thankfully, there are a few that have been re-released again, such as Fortress’s Hands In The Till (1981), Le Roux’s Up (1981) and Balance’s In For The Count (1982) But my own personal faves from the ‘cut-out bins’ era of 1976-1982, are Raleigh, North Carolina’s very own Nantucket.
Formed in 1969 as covers band Stax Of Gold they played every dive in the American Southwest, before finally changing their name to Nantucket (literally chosen by drawing a name out of a hat!) in the early 70s.
Guitarist and main songwritier Tommy Redd picks up the story:
”Yeah, those were pretty wild days. We started out playing a lot of R&B, beach music, before progressing to the more heavy stuff, such as Aerosmith’s Walk This Way and a lot of AC/DC. But we got bored of just playing covers, and started to include our own material in the set, which went down really well, and in 1977 we were picked up by Epic Records. Our first album (Nantucket, 1977) sold moderately well, doing 200,00 copies in the US. We got quite a bit of exposure opening up for the like of Kiss, Styx, Boston and Journey.”
Nantucket’s music can only be described as multi-layered, hard-edged AOR, with Tommy Redd’s powerchords and wacky solos dominating – well, he did write most of the material! But Larry Uzzell had a great voice, which is complemented by his brother Mike Uzzell’s Moogy keyboards. Completing this Raleigh wall of sound were Kenny Soule (drums), Mark Downing (lead, rhythm, slide guitar) and Eddie Blair (sax, yamaha wx7, synthesisers) Their debut album, with its hysterical lobster motif on the front cover, is chock full of delights. Born In A Honky Tonk, Rugburn, Heartbreaker and the classic What’s The Matter With Loving You all got serious amounts of airplay across the Southern states.
Nantucket’s second album for Epic, Your Face Or Mine, was released in 1979, and also sold reasonably well. Again it was full of gems, such as Your Face Or Mine, California and the scorching slow-burner Is it Wrong (To Rock And Roll). With tracks such as these, Nantucket were slowly beginning to make inroads in middle America, but the band were still having trouble breaking into the top tier. Why ?
Tommy Redd: ”Looking back now we made a big mistake with our choice of management when we signed to Epic Records. We could have gone with Tommy Mottola (Mariah Carey’s ex-husband) for management, and he was a big cheese at Sony at the time, but we didn’t really know him and went with a local guy Bill Cain, simply because we knew him. We’ve regretted it ever since.”
Nantucket’s last album for Epic was Long Way To The Top (1980). If the title seems a bit familiar, then that’s because the album included AC/DC’s classic toon, given a rousing reworking. AC/DC got to hear it, and asked Nantucket to open up for them in 1980 on their Back In Black tour.
Redd recalls the tour:
”It was great opening up for AC/DC, we were always big fans. Originally Humble Pie were supposed to be on after us, but they only lasted one gig, then it was just us and AC/DC. Angus loved our version of It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock And Roll) and asked us to play it every night, so they didn’t have to! There’s a big interview with me in Susan Messina’s AC/DC book Let There Be Rock, where I talk about AC/DC at length.”
After being dropped by Epic in 1981 various members of Nantucket went their separate ways. Drummer Kenny Soule, guitarist Mike Gardner and bassist Pee Wee Watson formed PKM, a sort of Nantucket offshoot, and released Rock Erotica, which later resurfaced on CD as Recycle. Nantucket, meanwhile, signed with RCA, releasing No Direction Home. Yet, despite being produced by Mike Flicker (the man behind Heart), the album was a stinker. Things didn’t exactly improve on 1985′s Nantucket 5, released on Executive Records, a local Raleigh label. Simply Nantucket had run out of gas and ideas. The band not surprisingly broke up.
The Nantucket story kicks back into life in 1991, when the original line-up re-formed to record perhaps their greatest outing to date, Still Live After All These Years, for the Zella label. Recorded live on November 29, 1991 in their home town at The Long Branch, this is Nantucket’s greatest hits show, with 16 of the Tucket’s finest toons, delivered in a raw, exciting manner, and now in your living room!
”Yeah, that live album was a blast. We all got back together again and there was no fighting. We just wanted to give our fans the album they had always craved an asked for. It went down so well that we all kept in touch and decided to reform the band in 1995. At this time, Larry Uzzell released an outtakes album entitled DC Tapes, which also contains a reworking of my song California, and towards the end of last year we started recording a new album with the help of John Boy and Billy , who are big DJs on the East Coast; their show from Charlotte, North Carolina is syndicated across 150 stations in the US. We have recorded four songs so far, and my favourite is Everything’s Green But The Money, which has a sort of Born In A Honky Tonk vibe to it. I can’t wait to get back in the studio and finish the album.”
Tommy Redd, being the talent he is, has been keeping busy with his own solo projects and last year released Redneck Rhapsody on the Rocco Recordings label. The 18 songs here are a sort of compilation album, taken from four albums’ worth of solo material. I think it only fair that I let Tommy explain the wackiness of this project!
”This is a totally different vibe to Nantucket, this is a sorta blues rock deal, mixed in with a bit of country, a bit of hillbilly and a dose of southern rock, all with a sense of humour. Basically, it’s trailer trash rock. Hell, most of the members of this band live in trailers! The material is a blast to play live; I do a Barry White pisstake. My other favourites are Britney Spears (One More Beer), Keep That Drunk Off The Juke Box and G.R.I.T.S (Girls Raised In The South), the last one being my tribute to southern rock’.”
So there you have it folks, a beginners guide to Nantucket.
Check out Heartbreaker
The band’s official website is www.nantucketband.com where you can purchase the entire Nantucket back catalogue for $47.95
For PKM info go to: www.pkmrocks.com
For Tommy Redd’s solo album go to: www.roccorecordings.com
Tags: AC/DC, Aerosmith, Balance, Barry White, Blue Oyster Cult, Boston, Britney Spears, Cult Heroes, Eddie Blair, Foreigner, Fortress, Heart, Humble Pie, John Boy And Billy, Journey, Kenny Soule, Kiss, Larry Uzzell, Le Roux, Mariah Carey, Mark Downing, Mike Flicker, Mike Gardner, Nantucket, Pee Wee Watson, Styx, Tommy Mottola, Tommy Redd