Our personal music discoveries are very non-linear. One day we might be listening to a leaked single from an upcoming release, and the next, might stumble across a great album that's been covered in dust for half a century. The latter is true for me in this particular story.
While working a few weeks back, I met a man around my parents' age - an avid vinyl collector of many years. We discussed music for probably half an hour. He told me of an interesting record he'd pleasantly uncovered at a garage sale or flee market by some band called Ancient Grease.
The cover was a vibrant splash of psychedelia, and the wordplay of the moniker was enough for him to shell out a few dollars to give it a chance.
A little research of my own led me to the band's lone album, Women and Children First, dating back to 1970. As a name like Ancient Grease would imply, the record is sludgy and raw; full of gritty blues-rock, but also some wonderfully proggy pop ballads.
The opening track, "Freedom Train", sounds like it could have been a Howlin' Wolf-meets-Grand Funk Railroad collaboration. It even branches into riffing McCartney's squeals from "Hey Jude."
Other tracks like "Mother Grease the Cat" and "Eagle Song" are bluesy prog rockers in the vein of Zeppelin, while "Where the Snow Lies Forever" is a slow-burning keyboard beauty. "Mystic Mountain" could have almost been a hit for CSNY.
The songwriting is solid throughout, with some of the tightest moments found in the middle of the LP. The talent was definitely there, yet Ancient Grease never really caught on.
Further reading suggested the band's actual name was Strawberry Dust and got their start in South Wales as an engaging live cover band.
Another Welsh band, Eyes of Blue, had found success and helped Strawberry Dust write and record the album. When the record was picked up by Mercury Records in 1970, the band was apparently quite surprised to see it credited to the name Ancient Grease rather than Strawberry Dust.
Not only did the record company quietly change the band's name, it never really put any promotion behind the album -- instead choosing to focus all of its energy on Rod Stewart's debut, An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down.
Without support for the album, Strawberry Dust/Ancient Grease returned to playing local shows in Wales until disbanding.
The members went on to play in other groups for several years until singer Graham "Morty" Mortimer and lead guitarist Graham Williams reformed as Racing Cars. Racing Cars went on to become most well-known for its 1977 hit single, "They Shoot Horses Don't They?"
So there I found myself, listening to Ancient Grease's Women and Children First for the very first time, forty years after it was recorded... and really enjoying it.
I'm fascinated by the reasons some artists become famous while others toil in obscurity, so I found this group's history particularly engrossing.
(For an even further breakdown of the band's lengthy story, click here)
You can preview one of the album's highlights below:
Ancient Grease - "Mother Grease the Cat"