Poor Peter French. Like so many talented hopefuls, he’s had a rather tough time in the music business. Leaf Hound’s “Growers of Mushroom” became hailed as one of the lost classics “once feared lost amidst the avalanche of rock recordings made during the early Seventies” (quote from the CD booklet). The band had secured a record deal and recorded the album, surely with great excitement and hope. A tour was scheduled to promote it but the record company didn’t release it prior to the tour and so the band went off to the Continent and toured for three months. When they returned home they found the album was still not released. Frustrated and disappointed, they decided to call it quits. Vocalist Peter French went on to join Atomic Rooster for their “In the Hearing of” album, and then while Leaf Hound was no more, the record company quietly released the album. Without promotion, it failed to garner much attention until the 1990’s when someone suddenly called up French and did an interview with him for Record Collector. From then on, interest finally came for the album and in 2005 the reissue I recently picked up was released on CD with three bonus tracks: two singles recorded at the time and a new song for the “new” Leaf Hound album of 2005.
Leaf Hound was born out of a band called Black Cat Bones. The name change occurred not long before the album deal came along. A five-piece band, the music of Leaf Hound was described as a combination of Led Zeppelin, Free, and Faces. Though I have nothing by Faces in my collection, I was thinking while listening to the CD that this music could be described as throwing Led Zeppelin and Free into a blender and adding some gravel for the vocals.
The music rocks out very hard most of the time but also treads into some blues and acoustic rock (not so much acoustic though). For the most part, I’d say this is like Free from their first two albums but with a heavy Led Zeppelin guitar sound. In particular, “Freelance Fiend” and “Stagnant Pool” stand out as very crunchy and gritty hard rock tunes. “Sad Road to the Sea” is the one song with acoustic guitar, though it does develop into a more electric and rocking atmosphere by the end. You won’t find any of Led Zeppelin’s acoustic subtleties here. The 8-minute plus “Work My Body” begins with a jazzy flavour but turns into a kind of Free does its take on Zep’s “Lemon Song”. “With a Minute to Go” sounds like any typical slow-tempo rock song with gritty vocals that I might have heard on classic rock radio hundreds of times during my warehouse job days back in the 90’s.
Possibly the most unusual and surprising song on the album is the title track, which wears the guise of a psychedelic song (perhaps very appropriate with a name like “Growers of Mushroom”). It sounds more like something by The Strawberry Alarm Clock than Free or Zeppelin. An interesting touch.
Perhaps worth noting here is that in spite of the band’s name and the album title, they were not drug-addled, pot smoking, stoner heads. The name Leaf Hound apparently came from a story written by Ray Bradbury and many of the song titles, including the album title, were inspired by horror stories. When I read this, I still hadn’t listened to the album and was barely acquainted with the music, having heard just a little on YouTube. I imagined that we might have some good horror-inspired doom metal on the album. But no. It is as I have said. French claims that the band wanted to move away from the blues of Black Cat Bones and do something harder. However, they couldn’t leave the blues behind and so they are a hard rock outfit: the sounds and styles of Led Zeppelin, Free, and Faces combined on this one album.
After Leaf Hound, French teamed up with Cozy Powell but the project fell apart and he then went on to join Atomic Rooster for one album. Next, French joined Cactus for one album and enjoyed a year or so of good times before the band split up and the rhythm section of Bogart and Appice (from Vanilla Fudge) went on to do an album with Jeff Beck. French did a solo album in the late seventies but by the time the New Wave scene hit and 80’s pop was king, French found he was a fish out of water and gave up on rock and roll for a while. Then in 2004, a vinyl edition of “Growers of Mushroom” fetched 2000 pounds on E-bay! The revival of interest in Leaf Hound got him back on the stage and doing what he does best. This story of high times and low lines can be read in the CD booklet that comes with this album. While this 1970 release fits in with the proto-metal sounds of the time, the teaser bonus track for the 2005 album “Unleashed” suggests that Leaf Hound are still doing blues-based guitar rock which by modern standards has very little in common with metal at all.