STONE GARDEN

Proto-Metal • United States
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The Speer brothers, Gary (guitar), Paul (guitar), and Neal (drums and piano), were at the core of what would eventually turn into Stone Garden. The Lewiston, Idaho, preteen siblings, from a musical family, took up their instruments in the early 1960s. Their father built them makeshift amplifiers out of old stereo equipment and the Three Dimensions were born. Still barely teenagers and already scoring paid gigs, the trio soon took on junior high schoolmate Dan Merrell as its full-time bass player, and with his addition adopted English-style ruffled shirts as well as a new name, Knights of Sound. The quartet made its first studio recording in 1965, and began to play routinely around Lewiston, eventually drawing the attention of aspiring manager Don Tunnell. With psychedelia in full flower, Tunnell renamed the group Stone Garden in 1967 after seeing a poster with the name. They began growing their hair long and read more...
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Out-Sider 2014
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Remastered · Extra tracks
Shadow Kingdom Records 2010
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STONE GARDEN Oceans Inside Me album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Oceans Inside Me
Proto-Metal 1969

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STONE GARDEN Stone Garden album cover 3.07 | 3 ratings
Stone Garden
Proto-Metal 1998

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STONE GARDEN Stone Garden

Boxset / Compilation · 1998 · Proto-Metal
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It’s been said that it’s thanks to the Internet that there has been a boom in the re-mastering and publishing on CD of sixties and seventies music that had for two or three decades remained in relative obscurity. When I was in high school in the 80’s I made my music discoveries mostly through music magazines and occasionally the radio when an adventurous DJ would play something obscure. These days you just type in what you are looking for in the search box and you will likely find it. Such is how I came across the bands I will be reviewing over the next week or two, Stone Garden being the first. This CD album with 15 tracks covers their career from 1965 to 1971, even when they went by different monikers, although the exact year of the recordings goes mostly unlisted.

From the crunching and highly distorted power chord that kicks off the album there’s good indication that this is going to have some tasty proto-metal. “Oceans Inside of Me”, if not a metal tune, certainly leans into heavy rock. The singer, who I think is Russ Pratt and who joined the band in 1969, has a thick and low voice that lends itself to soul singing if required but on this song and where it appears on the album it reminds me more of Mike Pinera whose vocals can be heard on a few songs on Iron Butterfly’s “Metamorphosis” album of 1970. “Oceans Inside of Me” also features an interesting transition part after the chorus with some very enjoyable heavy rock guitar, the likes of which were only just beginning to appear in heavy psych and proto-metal at the time.

“It’s a Beautiful Day” lyrically sounds like a hippie song with its feet in astral waters but the guitar distortion and heavy rhythm section keep up the feel of the previous song, though less heavy in mood.

“The World Is Coming to an End” sounds in title like a portent of doom lyrics to come and it’s a little surprising to know that this was the band’s first studio recording in 1965, before they even took on the name of Stone Garden. The vocals are clean and of higher register than Russ Pratt’s and it should be one of the Peel brothers singing here. There is no guitar distortion, only clean electric guitar, but the music still feels unusual for its time. Though I don’t have any albums by them, I found myself thinking of Sonic Youth for a comparison, perhaps one of their clean electric guitar numbers. This song’s biggest drawback is the recording of the vocals which are too quietly mixed in music.

“Bastard” starts with some very weird vocalizations that make it sound like the song should have been called “Idiot”. The music begins to develop however and we are back to the rock guitar with fuzz box. This song has potential but its fault is that it sounds like a live recording with some unrefined structure in areas. The liner notes point out that the band often recorded their live performances and it sounds like it here. “Da Da Da Da Da” is another hippie sounding tune but again with heavy guitars.

“Stop My Thinking” is the first real blues number on the CD and includes harmonica. The song’s style is like that of Gillan’s “Trouble” if you know that one. The recording here comes straight from the 45 disc on which it was released, so all the pops and scratches are in place. The guitar solo at the end of the song rocks out but ends soon. The next song “Assembly Line” takes us into the heaviest territory yet with almost doomy chords and some more inventive song structure. Along with “Oceans Inside of Me” it is so far the best example of proto-metal on the album.

The hard rock sound continues in “Woodstick” but now we have the addition of Hammond organ so at times it’s possible to make draw parallels with Vanilla Fudge as they were around the “Rock and Roll” part of their career though I find Stone Garden’s music avoids the soulful sound of many Vanilla Fudge songs and sticks to aggressive guitar-based rock even in an extended jam as we have here.

“San Francisco Policeman Blues” is an American country rock tune about a poor lad getting busted in San Francisco for possession of marijuana. It’s a social commentary about who is in jail but also employs some humour in the lyrics. It’s not heavy but I find it fun to listen to because it’s well executed.

Next up is the original version of “Oceans Inside of Me” which was recorded with “Stop My Thinking” and again is pulled straight of the vinyl. This version includes saxophone and though it still has the energy and heaviness of the opening track, the recording quality doesn’t give it the same impact as the first track, which was a re-recorded version done at a studio in Vancouver, Washington at the behest of a local DJ who loved the band.

Up to here we have the original songs that appeared on the LP that was released of the group’s music prior to this extended CD version. “Grayworld Forest” is another live jam with Hammond organ and rollicking guitar soloing. I have to say that the soloing on this album is better than a lot of heavy psych solos I have heard as it is very fluid and without the odd trips and misses that come out of some sessions, most notably some of the awkward performances on Blue Cheer’s debut that at times sound like a novice guitarist working very hard to imitate a professional. Stone Garden pulls off some great solo work. As for this track, the engineer seems to have attempted some creative manipulation of the tape by stopping it and starting it up again between the guitar solo and the organ solo. The effect sounds like a mistake at first, the it becomes annoying and is only truly effective the last time as the music speeds up to normal speed just in time for the rush of organ notes. After this the volume seems to suffer as the sound fades low, comes back, and fades again.

“Life Is Getting Harder” is another clean guitar track and very much like the music of 1970 with some jazz drumming and bass, harmony vocals leaning toward the Mike Pinera soul feeling, and rich Hammond organ chords along with distorted guitar doing the solos. “Day to Day” also sounds very 1970 and it seems that the band had begun to leave their heavy power chords and distortion behind them though the guitar still remains prominent and the distortion comes in effectively. The musical structure of the song takes on more complexity here and the song runs just over six minutes without any extended jamming. Each part seems carefully worked into the song. Musically, these guys were no slouches and the fact that “Metamorphosis” keeps coming back to mind suggests that their music was at least on par with that of other more successful western American bands.

“I Am Nothing” is another long track of over 8 minutes and takes us back to more heavy psych guitar. The song builds more slowly and is in no hurry to finish. Harmony vocals, actually a regular feature on most of the bands 69/70 era output, are slow and suppressed. There’s a feeling that at some point the song will explode. Again, I am thinking about Vanilla Fudge, perhaps a little bit of “Some Velvet Morning” in the quieter parts but not quite the same. The explosion comes at 5:47 but after some tension-building guitar and then not exactly explosive like “Some Velvet Morning” but rather a change to an upbeat rocker with more organ and guitar soloing. This one also sounds like a live recording or possibly a demo.

The final track “Stainless Steel” begins very a very nice rock riff but no power chords. A second guitar joins in for the introduction. Power chords and straight notes trade places as a rock blues guitar note bend style of playing make for some good laid back hard rock sound. This style of music was not only common at the time but in a way reminds me of The Black Crowes. It could also be placed in with some of Blue Oyster Cults early 70’s material. Again the playing and composition are very good. This is an instrumental for guitar with the organ noticeably absent. The band went through some line-up changes between 1969 and 1971 and the organ was featured only for a year in their sound.

I’ve written a lot here because I am sure most people will not have heard of Stone Garden. As a fan of heavy psych and 1960’s proto-metal and possessing albums by Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly’s “Metamorphosis” I find this music very easy to get into. Of course it’s not heavy metal as we understand it today – how could it be? – but there are plenty of distortion-heavy power chords, very competent soloing, and a professional rhythm section, along with some rich Hammond organ that might even sound like early Uriah Heep demos. You can find Stone Garden on YouTube so I recommend listening to them there first to get a feel for the music. If you like the sound of late 60’s guitar rock then this album will likely appeal to you, too.

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