Wynder K. Frog – Shook, Shimmy And Shake
Released 23rd February 2018
Subtitled The Complete Recordings 1966-1970, here are all the tracks set down by the group Wynder K. Frog, a vehicle for Bolton’s Hammond Organ maestro Mick Weaver. Included amongst the bonuses are nine previously unissued tracks unearthed from a 1968 acetate…..LTW’s Ian Canty hears the smoothest of grooves that delighted the vibrant late 60s club scene and scored a contract with leading indie Island Records….
It is hardly surprising that the Mods embraced that coolest of keyboard sounds, the Hammond Organ. Their roots as Jazz-obsessed “Modernists” and the pioneering work of Jimmy Smith meant that when the mix with R&B occurred, it was a match made in heaven. There were many fledgling keyboardists that took up with the instrument as a result, with the first probably being Graham Bond who struck out with his crack outfit the Organization (which featured such soon-to-be big names as such Ginger Baker). But there were others challenging Bond’s dominance of London clubland, with Brian Auger, Zoot Money and Georgie Fame snapping at his heels, each with a white-hot outfit backing them.
Though coming along somewhat later than the rest, Mick Weaver’s Wynder K. Frog had a great deal of success and recorded three albums in the early days of Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. With the associated single tracks, this is what makes up the bulk of the boxset presented here. Weaver had piano lessons as a child, but like a great deal of kids in the UK, his interest in music really took off with the advent of Rock & Roll. The young Weaver had a good ear for tunes and could play some of the Rock and R&B he heard on the US Forces Network and Radio Luxembourg. He graduated from playing the pub joanna in a Jerry Lee Lewis style to joining a Manchester band the Chapters, of whom Decca showed an interest. The band folded but one of the members did provide the Wynder K. Frog name for Weaver’s next and best-known band.
The initial Frog line up included Alec Kirby and Dave Webb, who would later go onto join St Louis’ Union (whose keyboard player was Dave Formula, later of Magazine). On hearing Jimmy Smith’s work for the first time, Weaver traded up from a Farfisa to a Hammond B3 (witnessing Brian Auger in top live form also had a bearing). Soon a Darwin-based band the Wot Nots came up with an unusual offer to bail out financial debts and finance the purchase of the organ, as long as Mick joined them and let them take up the Wynder K. Frog name. This version of the band played on the debut single Turn Your Love Light On (an instrumental cover of a Bobby Bland song), but this would be their only recording.
Weaver recorded the Wynder K. Frog debut album accompanied by the cream of London’s session world including a young John Paul Jones, rather than his band which were retained for the moment just for live engagements. Being constructed from sessions with three different producers probably did not help the slightly disjointed feel either. Jimmy Miller, who was one of the three, went onto to cement himself on the Island Records roster and also work more extensively with Weaver’s band. The record, Sunshine Superman, logically struggled to present the live fire of the Frog, but had its good points.
Walking To New Orleans suffers from a dated arrangement, but for the most part the material was given sunny, smart and very danceable grooves. They are on the whole uptempo instrumental cover versions of R&B and Pop songs, apart from the final, James Brown-grunt enhanced Dancin’ Pain (Alias Dancing Frog), which was a Weaver/Miller original. The backing track later reused in longstanding Ska fashion by fellow Island recording artiste Jimmy Cliff.
Despite the organ being unsurprisingly lead instrument most of the time on all three albums, there is some neat guitar work all the way through as well. Here on Oh Mary it weaves freaky shapes between the Hammond flourishes nicely. Blues For A Frog is a sultry piece of instrumental Soul and you can see here most clearly that the record company/management may have had an eye on positioning the Frog as a kind of UK Booker T and the MGs. Incense has a Jazz influence and flows nicely, with a party atmosphere and an infectious crowd vocal chanting the title.
It is a theme they would come back to shortly, because next for Wynder K. Frog was a cover of Green Door. The idea of covering the Davie/Moore song came from label boss Blackwell, hoping a cover might give them that elusive hit. The plan did not quite work as both this and the follow-up I’m A Man missed out on the charts. However they firmly cemented themselves on the club scene to such an extent that Green Door became a long time Northern Soul favourite. You won’t think of Shakin’ Stevens when you hear that song’s name again after copping a load of this!
Green Door features as a bonus with hot takes of I’m A Man and Graham Bond’s signature tune Wade In The Water (from a BBC session) and both sides of the first single. The oddly titled Henry’s Panter from an old flexi-disc also crops up, which also has a period DJ introduction from Ed Stewart. This gives us a nicely rounded view of Wynder K. Frog in 1966, with I’m A Man being particularly driving and effective.
By the time we reach 1968’s Out Of The Frying Pan Weaver had assumed the identity Wynder K. Frog rather than it being a band name. He had dispensed with the former Wot Nots who went back up north, taking their Hammond with them. Chris Blackwell stumped up for a replacement, a state-of-the-art M-102 this time. After a short while working on a mooted but ultimately fruitless collaboration with fellow Island Recording artist Jimmy Cliff, work began on recruiting new musicians and the second Frog LP.
A new band was soon assembled featuring drummer Alan Spenner, bass player Bruce Rowland and guitarist Neil Hubbard, who made the initial connection in the chain by attending a day long audition at Ken Colyer’s Jazz Club. Percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah, who would later join Can, also contributed. Again this was to follow a similar format to the debut, mostly other peoples’ tunes, this time with a couple of originals. Though the changes had been rapid in the UK Pop Scene since ’66, there was still a sizeable audience for Soul and this album was full of perfect nightclub fodder that would carry the mood nicely between vocal songs.
The album emerged in the New Year after sessions produced by Muff Winwood in late 1967, again trying the MGs’ route, were deemed unsatisfactory (Baldy from these rejected tapes was released as the flip to the Jumping Jack Flash single). This time round Weaver wrote both Gasoline Alley and Harpsichord Shuffle. The later is a self-explanatory romp briefly using the sound of the keyboard whose invention dated from the Middle Ages, but the former is blessed with some great work from the horn section (which this time around included Graham Bond’s old sparring partner Dick Hecktall-Smith), a strident Soul stomp as smooth as silk. A beauty. Jumping Jack Flash may be seem an odd choice for an organ-led band, but there is plenty of guitar to power it along while Weaver’s Hammond takes the “vocal” role. A re-cut of Green Door retains the party magic of the single and a version of the Champs’ oldie Tequila follows the same template. Overall it trumps the debut in its aim to provide cool grooves allied to musical muscle.
On this disc the extras are a little less substantial but nice to have anyway. Stereo takes of Dancing Frog and Blues For A Frog (which both also featured on the soundtrack of the film The Touchables) and a mono Jumping Jack Flash are joined by Weaver original Baldy. It is good to have these versions to tidy up Weaver/the band’s career in 1968 like the first disc did with 1966.
In the downtime between the last two Frog albums came the attempt to hook-up with the remaining members of Traffic when Steve Winwood quit for a solo career. On paper, it looked good – Weaver had the keyboard skills to fill in (if not the singing ability) and the rest of the line-up of rather cumbersomely named Mason, Capaldi, Wood and Frog were more than a capable musical unit. For some reason it did not spark off and after only a couple of months and a fair amount of press the whole thing ground to a halt. With the current version of Wynder K. Frog out playing as the Grease Band with Joe Cocker off the back of his number one hit with the Beatles’ cover With A Little Help From My Friends, this could have been the end, but support from afar would get them another crack at the album game.
The final Wynder K. Frog album, Into The Fire, was solely released in the US after Out Of The Frying Pan (see what he did there?) was a success there. Coming two years after the previous LP, this album was originally entitled Accrington Mushrooms, which when coupled with one of the track titles Cool Hand Stanley, continues the punning (Accrington Stanley of course being the name of the football club that went out of business eight years before the album was finally released, but coincidentally the same time as the relaunched version of the club which graces Football League Two today formed). Cut with the crew of Spenner, Hubbard and Rowland, with Weaver himself doubling up on drums on occasion, this record was much more in the fashionable Funk mode that was picking up favour stateside.
My personal favourite of the three LPs here, Into The Fire kicks off with the wailing sax and thumping beat of the title track and Weaver is in fine form on Howl In Wolf’s Clothing, which is also enlivened by some excellent harp playing. Things slow down with some neat Jazz piano on F In Blues but things heat up again with Eddie’s tune, an oddity in the Frog canon in it having a vocal from guitarist Shawn Phillips who joined the band for this LP. Hot Salt Beef is a another terrific slab of proto-Funk, but Warm And Tender Love ends the LP on a poignant note with its mix of Gospel and Soul influences.
Appended to the final disc there are 9 previously unissued 1968 tracks from an old acetate. Though there is a cross-over with some efforts ending up on Out Of The Frying Pan in re-recorded form, five of the selections don’t crop up anywhere else. There’s good versions of the Who’s Happy Jack and the Beatles’ We Can Work It Out (actually a bit punchier than the Fabs!), plus the dance monster Funky Broadway and the hymnal A Memory Of Bruce. Finally Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever sets a jaunty pace and again features some bright guitar playing amidst the Hammond jabs. These extras are well worth having and bring the set to a fine close. In addition this collection is very attractively housed and has a detailed sleeve-note too, all a Wynder K. Frog fan or Hammond nut could need.
After this Weaver retired the Wynder K. Frog name and took up a session/backing musician role. He is currently domiciled Los Angeles, “retired”, but still with his trusty Hammond poised ready to spring into action should the need arise.
I won’t beat about the bush as it is pretty obvious that you would have to be a bit of a fan of 60s-style Hammond organ instrumentals to get anything much out of this box – there, as one might suppose, a lot of them on here. For those like myself who find the sound delightful, well they’re going to have a pretty good time listening to this to put it mildly. Mick Weaver was late on the Swinging London scene but captured the feeling of the place and time with his instrumental prowess on the B-3 and later M-102 oozing class and style. In a way Wynder K. Frog capture that mood of abandon that was a mark of the era as good as anyone.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here