Saturday, August 2, 2014

Forgotten Bands Of The 90s-Swinging Steaks

The 90s were the last true good era of undiscovered bands that managed to score a major label deal, make one album and then disappear off the map.  Chances are that one album that they did make are in landfills or in the forgotten dollar bin at the local junkshop.

Sometimes in life, lesser bands have managed to carve out a career and still hang on a major label.  That would be Dave Matthews Band.  But Dave has had the foresight to suggest bands to his label and they do make an album or two for said label.  That would be From Good Homes.  The mid 90s seems to have a fair share of Americana rock out there, the best known was Uncle Tupelo and the offshoot bands that followed after their split Son Volt and Wilco.  The blues inspired Blue Mountain that somehow found themselves on Roadrunner, the metal label.  Or Collective Soul who managed to get lucky and sell loads of their albums on Atlantic, like their other bandmates Hootie And The Blowfish who sold 15 millions copies of Cracked Rear View, to which 14.5 million got donated back.  Which leaves us into the oddball named Swinging Steaks.

The Steaks hailed from Boston and owed their music to a cross of Black Crowes and Rolling Stones but with a Ozark Mountain Daredevil influence on the start of their only major label release South Side Of The Sky.  A few of the songs originated from Suicide At The Wishing Well and it partly produced by Gary Katz (Steely Dan, Root Boy Slim).  South Side Of The Sky was issued by the revamped Capricorn label, home of The Allman Brothers for many years and countless other bands of the 70s (Marshall Tucker Band, Elvin Bishop, Sea Level, Wet Willie etc) before Phil Walden closed it down around 1980.  But in the new CD era Walden was searching for a new eclectic sort of bands.  The Capricorn Records of the 90s was much different, with an eye on the past, (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dixie Dregs, Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarian  Rescue Unit) and up and coming jam bands (Widespread Panic, Galactic) and of course rap rock (311).  The Steaks actually fit in quite nicely.  But like in the past, Capricorn's distributions with Warner Music, just like back in the 70s soured greatly and like in the past, went back to Polygram (later sold off in the infamous Universal/Edgar Brotman deal of 1998 which killed off the label once again) and dropped a few bands along the way.  Which included The Steaks.

Which is too bad, South Side Of The Sky issued in 1993 and demoted to cutout bins all across the country is a good listenable album all the way through, somewhat like From Good Homes, Open Up The Sky but The Steaks were more rocking and wrote better lyrics.  I think their heart was in the the Exile On Main Street era Rolling Stones.  Some of the songs showed a country flair (Beg Borrow Or Steal), some more toward boogie (Right Through You) and even bluegrass (Southside Of The Sky).  In other words, another one cent classic, meaning you can get this for  one cent (Plus 3.99 shipping and handling at I would rate this album in the top ten all time best bargain classics of the 90s.  But then again I didn't buy this, till 2010 when I seen this for a dollar at the Kingman pawn shop and played it twice going down old route 66.

Gong back to the minors, The Steaks recorded the more straight ahead Shiner which goes on for almost an hour and again, not a bad track to speak of. The chemistry between Tim Giovanniello and Jamie Walker has always been perfect in terms of harmony and songwriting and let's not forget Jim Gambino who plays the keyboards and Paul Kochanski on bass. It's probably a more balanced album than Southside  Of The Sky. But it does rock harder with songs like All In It Together and Come This Way).  Their second best overall album.  But then again I'm biased.  I like just about everything they have done anyway.

With that The Steaks disappeared for five years before returning with KickSnareHat to which they started adding elements of Cracker and latter day Tom Petty/Heartbreakers, probably a bit too much of the latter. Still a fun listen including a wild remake of Get Out Of Denver. Anybody does cover that song in the way of Rockpile did or even Eddie And The Hot Rods will get bonus points from me.

  But after 2003's Sunday's Best they haven't released anything new and since 2013 has remained on hiatus. Sunday's Best was a bit more laidback then KickSnareHat but new guy Steve Sadler adds fiddle and dobro into the mix.  Their most country sounding album although they have not given up on the rock and roll they love so much.

In a perfect world, The Swinging Steaks should have made the big time as well.  In a long line of great Boston bands (Aerosmith, J.Geils Band come to mind) The Steaks are right up there.  But like many of bands on being a indifferent label, they were promoted very poorly.  But they could fit in with any body quite well since they shared the stage with Jason And The Scorchers, Los Lobos and Paul Westerburg just to name a few, that's a great resume to start with.  On the recently released Live 93, they could hold their own or even out rocking the said bands. The Swinging Steaks still remain one of the greater unknown bands of the 90s.  Any album you do find I recommend wholeheartedly.

I love these guys.

Their version of The Rolling Stones Live With Me:


Suicide At The Wishing Well (Thrust 1992) B+
Southside Of The Sky (Capricorn/WB 1993) A-
Shiner (Thrust 1995) A-
Bare (1996/Swinging Steaks 2010) B+
KickSnareHat (2001) B+
Sunday's Best (First National 2003) B+
Live In 93 (Swinging Steaks 2011) A


joanie994 said...

As a Swinging Steaks fan for the past 21 years, I simply can't fathom why these great musicians are not famous. They should be and I believe they will be some day. Thanks for recognizing their genius!

2000 Man said...

Hey Crabby! Ya ever hear of a CD that came out in the early 90's called Boston Gets Stoned? It's a collection of Stones songs done by Boston area bands of the time. The thing that sets this apart from, say a collection of East Lansing Gets Stoned is that Jimmy Miller (that's right, THE Jimmy Miller) produced it. It's very cool, and just the kind of thing you'd probably pass up if you ever come across it - don't do that! The Swinging Steaks get the place of honor with the first track, their cover of Live With Me. I assure you, it totally kicks ass!

R S Crabb said...

Hi Joanie!

Thanks for reading and commenting! In a perfect world and radio you'd be hearing the Steaks all the time.

Hi 2000!

I have not seen that Boston Gets Stoned CD but shall keep my eyes opened for it. I think they were actually doing the Stones better than the Stones themselves in the 90s. It's probably safe to say that after Jimmy Miller, The Stones albums were never as good although Some Girls did come close to the spirit. Jimmy Miller remains an underrated producer.


2000 Man said...

Jimmy Miller is way overlooked as a producer outside of Stones die hards. I think he's the first person that ever really got a kick ass drum sound on record, with Honky Tonk Women. It may have been as much to do with equipment, but Miller just finally seemed to get the sound on a record to sound like what drums in a room sound like. Big, hard and powerful. He always made Charlie sound great.

Ellen G said...

I'm also a long time Steaks fan and worked with the band for many years. Just want to let you know there's one disc missing off your discography. They came across some live tapes from a tour in their Capricorn Records days and released it as a CD called Live '93. Thanks for giving them some recognition. I forwarded them the link to your blog. They have the link on their website now. Much appreciated. Their live show kicks ass.

R S Crabb said...

Hi and mucho thanks for forwarding this blog to The Steaks themselves Ellen. Very nice of you to do that.

I'm sure they may have come this way in the 90s when South Side Of The Sky came out, if they did, I'm guessing they may have played Gabe's in Iowa City since Gabes was the place to go to see Alternative bands, though The Steaks did rock out better than some of the acts at that time. The Live 93 CD really rocks. :)