BLACK SHEEP (Lou Gramm) – Black Sheep [Remastered Digipak +2] (2017) HQ
As requested, here’s the not easy to find remastered CD’s of both BLACK SHEEP albums. Black Sheep was a Seventies, Rochester, New York based band that featured the great vocals of future Foreigner singer Lou Grammatico – later Lou Gramm. Black Sheep’s music was on the bluesier side not to mention a little less commercial but still fantastic. Both albums the band recorded are worth owning for any fan of obscure 70s hard rock – and especially if you are a Lou Gramm fan these are both must haves.
This quintet recorded two LP’s for Capitol Records, both terrific slices of classic American bluesy hard rock with mojo and muscle that made the genre so popular. The band was scheduled for a nation tour with KISS, but Black Sheep was plagued by bad luck at that time, just when they seemed to be on the brink of success (read the story below).
Also featuring future Foreigner member Bruce Turgon and talented guitarist Don Mancuso (pre Cheater), ”Black Sheep” is the self-titled debut from the band recorded 1974, a rocking 9-tracker. This remastered reissue includes as bonus the rare 2-sided single the band released before the LP.
Before their first album, Black Sheep released a single on the Chrysalis label in 1974, containing two likable mid-70s hard rock tracks. The A-side, “Stick Around”, is the one that sounds more proto-Foreigner – although, in truth, it is really quite reminiscent of Free’s “All Right Now”. Gramm’s vocals are recognizable, though he sounds like he was trying to emulate Paul Rodgers.
The B-side “Cruisin’ (For Your Love)” is more on the order of Deep Purple, complete with Jon Lord-like keyboard fills and a “heavier” type of hard-rock sound. Gramm is less recognizable on this track, as he seemed to be trying to sound more like a British metal vocalist -and was doing a fairly good job of it. Both tracks are the bonus tracks on this reissue.
The year was 1975. It was Christmas Eve and Black Sheep has just opened for KISS in Boston. It was the first night of the tour and a real opportunity for a band from Rochester that had struggled to get attention. They had just released their self-titled debut through Capitol Records and were desperate to tap into audiences beyond WCMF’s broadcast range. Opening for KISS seemed like the perfect launch pad. Unfortunately, that performance would become a one night stand.
On the ride home from Boston the truck carrying their equipment crashed on the New York State Thruway, destroying all of the contents and leaving the band in a mad scramble to come up with replacements by the 27th – the date of the next show. They also needed to find a way to get that equipment to the venue.
The band reached out to the label and to family and friends for help but came up empty.
What’s ironic is that Capitol’s decision to not offer any financial or operational support is what prompted the band to call KISS manager to say that they couldn’t continue with the tour.
When the label learned that Black Sheep had pulled out they promptly dropped the band — not however before reminding them that per their contract they still owed Capitol one more record. This would end up being an incredibly short-sighted decision and one that couldn’t have been rationally tied to the music.
I’m not sure what Capitol was listening to, but it certainly wasn’t this debut. This is an album of fiery guitar work and fat rock sounds. More Bad Company than Foreigner, the back and forth between Lou Gramm and guitarist Donald Mancuso is a real rock rarity. They anchor the music like bookends, and any given moment in any of these tracks is one defined by their incredible rock versatility.
This is never better demonstrated than on the album closer, a cover of Free’s song “Woman” – a real burner. Even when it comes to ballads, Black Sheep’s approach is meaty and even progressive with a grandeur that soars on big guitar solos, splashy drums, and swirling organ parts.
This record has so many dynamite moments that it’s impossible to understand how the label could let Black Sheep go. Any sensible record exec would have at least found a way to sink their claws into Gramm. Capitol quickly fell into the bands rear view mirror.
Lou Gramm (then known as Lou Grammatico) and bassist Bruce Turgon would soon have the last laugh. Lou soon responded to a call from Mick Jones and accepted an offer front Foreigner. He took Turgon with him – a relationship that would continue into Gramm’s solo career. In both cases it was Atlantic Records that won their support and enjoyed the riches that followed.
For a brief moment though, someone at Capitol Records had the vision to give five guys from Rochester a shot. When you spin this debut, you’ll quickly understand why.
Black Sheep’s self-titled LP opens with the defiant “Payin’ Yer Dues”. The four-minute opener from the New York based group immediately showcases Grammatico’s impressive vocals, which are on display throughout the entire recording.
Penned by Grammatico, Mancuso and Turgon, “A Little or a Lot” sounds so much like a Bad Co song, that the track comes off like a lost cut from Paul Rodgers band. “Little or A lot” is another winner, pretty Deep Purple-esque with some proggy twists.
The band was able to stretch out comfortably on the seven-minute ballad “Far Side Of The Sun”, but they were more effective on relatively short mid-tempo rocking songs such as “Power To Heal” and “Freight Train”.
Black Sheep recorded a second album titled ‘Encouraging Words’ released in 1975 to fulfill the contract with Capitol, not a ‘leftovers’ at all – the LP is even stronger than the debut, and by 1976 the group disbanded as Gramm was invited by Mick Jones to join his new band Trigger, which soon became Foreigner.
Does Black Sheep bear any resemblance to Foreigner? Just a bit, mainly due to Gramm’s distinctive vocals. It’s just a very good Seventies bluesy hard rocking album full of magic.
01. Payin’ Yer Dues
02. Broken Promises
03. Woman Back Home
04. Piano Prelude / Let Me Stay
05. Power To Heal
06. Far Side Of The Sun
07. A Little Or A Lot
08. Freight Train
10. Stick Around [standalone single A-side]
11. Cruisin’ (For Your Love) [standalone single B-side]
Lou Grammatico (Lou Gramm) – vocals
Don Mancuso – guitar
Larry Crozier – keyboards
Bruce Turgon – bass
Ron Rocco – drums