Do you remember the scene in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation in which Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) discovers a wrapped Christmas present in the attic that he had hidden years before? That's what it felt like when I recently discovered this 1971 album by The Exkursions thanks to a tweet by @RealPaulAhnert, who is the pastor at Metal Mission of Knoxville. Its roots and influences are undeniable...Hendrix, The Doors, Wilson Pickett, psychedelia, and blues. There is a bit of funk along with great fuzzy guitar and a sound that is quintessentially '70s. Simply put, there is musicianship, so let's dig in.
This is not an album I can listen to while mowing the grass. In other words, it grabs my full attention and will not allow itself to be used as a generic soundtrack for mundane activities. The album opens with a groovy, funky blues in "Picture Woman" that expands into a wah-wah sound that has your head and shoulders moving and your face twisting into what YouTuber Jamel_aka_Jamal calls "stank face maximus." It calls to mind "Mustang Sally" by Wilson Pickett, and the wicked guitar solo bouncing back and forth between the right and left cans of your headphones has you reaching for your bell bottoms.
Great drums open "Dry Ground," and as your body continues to groove, you realize you are listening to musical poetry and can't help thinking a bit of Jim Morrison. This song would not be written today. It's broken rhythm and lyrics alternate between sung and spoken, and the guitar solo is straight up Hendrix. This is part of the great experimental era of the '60s and '70s when sounds were new and there were vast musical lands being discovered.
Pure blues kick off "Baby You Lied," both musically and lyrically. "You said you loved me, but, baby, you lied to me." It doesn't get any more direct or bluesier than that. A very slow groove accompanies lyrics that again wander from spoken to sung and back, leading to a deliciously fuzzy guitar solo and the resurfacing of your stank face maximus, if it had ever gone away.
"What Happened to Me" attacks with a funky rhythm, spoken lyrics, and full use of every piece of the drum kit. It is also the first song to feature explicitly Christian lyrics. For me, this really works. We know from the first three songs that these guys have serious chops. Having earned our respect, they can offer a straight up evangelistic lyric.
"Third Eye" is up next, and it opens with a cacophony of voices followed by a VERY Hendrixesque guitar solo, and it's a full 2:07 before we get to the lyrics. Bluesy psychedelia floods the song that bounces between and around and through your headphones. This is one to listen to while imagining paisley lights cascading across your ceiling and walls.
"You & Me" returns us to the pure blues with an opening reminiscent of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" and then transitions into The Doors so that you find yourself alternately in the back room of a Chicago speakeasy or walking down the streets of L.A. Make no mistake, however, the lyrics are pure Jesus. "Jesus gives live meaning. Give Him a chance. Find out that it's true."
It's not a pyrotechnic drum solo that opens "It's Been Set Down," but a fifty second tour of the whole kit that then explodes into a dark, fuzzy guitar. This is the kind of thing that puts the band squarely in the camp of Blue Cheer and Sir Lord Baltimore as lesser acknowledged shapers of early metal. There is even a hint of growling vocals and a Black Sabbath feel here.
The album ends with one of the most delightfully moody songs. "Would You Believe" is just a slight notch heavier than a '70s pop love song with a bit of a Santana feel to the rhythm. Songs evoke very specific images for me, and I could absolutely hear this playing over the closing credits of a '70s love movie. The lyrics, however, are not saccharine, but are Christian evangelistic from first to last.
This album is a lost treasure. Unfortunately, Mike Johnson (lead vocals and guitar), Phil Johnson (bass), and Leon Wilson (drums) only released this one work, but it stands as a gem of '70s rock. So join the rest of us cool cats and dig this one, baby. You'll be glad you did.