I’ve decided this feature needs to rock a lot more, so today’s song is a massive stomper: The Train Kept A Rollin’, by Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages. This one goes out to by buddies at Garage Punk.com! Most people know this rock standard, which was written and originally recorded by R&B bandleader Tiny Bradshaw in 1951, translated into Rock and Roll by Johnny Burnette, and then made an even bigger hit by the Yardbirds in the 60’s. The Wikipedia page for the song lists numerous versions, including those by Alex Chilton, Hanoi Rocks, and Motörhead, but not this one. That’s too bad, because it’s probably the best after the Yardbirds and Johnny Burnette.
Screaming Lord Sutch was a British theatrical horror-rocker in the tradition of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Alice Cooper. His best material was produced in the early 1960’s, in the period before the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. It is a notoriously barren musical period for rock (though this fact is exaggerated, since it ignores surf music for one, and a ton of awesome R&B and Soul produced in those years), and music in England was particularly shallow. So a Screaming Lord Sutch show had all the shock effect that the Sex Pistols would have about a decade and a half later. As Richie Unterberger’s Unkown Legends of Rock and Roll describes it, “Wind howls, rain swirls, and a coffin slowly creaks open. An agonizingly elongated, Phantom of the Opera scream shakes the stylus for a good 15 seconds. Screaming Lord Sutch, the prince of horror-rock, is most definitely in town.” Madness must love company, because Sutch’s early material was produced by the legendary eccentric Joe Meek. Axemen Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck also apprenticed in his band (also future Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore), which is probably where they first played this song, though I’m not sure who in particular is playing on this track.♦ The slashing solo sounds like Page to me, but it’s anybody’s guess. At any rate, Sutch might have remained a footnote in the history of British Rock if not for the enthusiasm of like-minded American bands like The Cramps. Sutch’s tune “Jack the Ripper” has become something of a garage-rock standard. In 1970 Sutch reunited with Page and Beck (now huge stars), as well as Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham and Hendrix’s bassist Noel Redding, for Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends. Although it has been named more than once as one of the worst rock albums ever, what I have heard of it sounds alright.
Perhaps as a result of getting banned from so many venues, or perhaps conceived as a publicity stunt, Sutch decided to enter politics, running for Parliament in 1963 on the National Teenage Party ticket. Later he became famous as the representative of the Monster Raving Loony Party. While that party was a sort of proto-Green Party, Sutch’s initial campaign was quite libertarian, whose platform “advocated lowering the voting age to 18, the introduction of commercial radio [rock could never thrive on the BBC], and the abolition of the 11-plus (a British school examination that separated pupils into certain courses of study at an early age).” Sutch’s campaign slogan is “Vote for insanity! You know it makes sense.” Was it George Orwell or Thomas Szasz who said that insanity was the only sane reaction to an insane society?
The Screaming Lord Sutch story has an unhappy ending. He hanged himself in 1999.
♦My version of the song comes from a compilation of British “freakbeat” bands called That Driving Beat which doesn’t include personnel info, but I have now heard through the grapevine that the guitarist in question is in fact Blackmore.