Only two things in this world have the capacity to immediately cause my eyes to glaze over; the first is talk about politics, and the second is the phrase “British blues group.” The momentous impact that the introduction of American blues had on British musicians cannot be overestimated; John Lee Hooker and company instantly transformed a generation of skiffle-mad Brits into blues zombies, fanatical acolytes and slavish imitators of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and company. Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Long John Baldry, Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, and countless other bands arose to preach the blues, and there was no way to stop their spreading like kudzu.
I’ve never been a blues aficionado, but Mayall, Baldry, and their like have always haunted and taunted me, goading me into giving them a fair chance, always to my disappointment. Their chief function, so far as I can tell, was as finishing schools for a very long laundry list of future rock greats. Why, Baldry alone is responsible for fostering such neophytes as Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Julie Driscoll, Elton John, and others. There is one British blues group, however, that I actually find intriguing, and that’s the Groundhogs. Theirs is a most inauspicious name, and I can’t say I expected much after a friend recommended I give their 1970 LP Thank Christ for the Bomb a listen. But I’ll be damned if the LP isn’t excellent, combining great musicianship with intriguing originals that frequently deviate from your basic blues template.
The Groundhogs were formed in 1963 by titular leader Tony McPhee, the band’s guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, who borrowed the band name from the title of a John Lee Hooker tune. The band’s history gets a bit twisted, so suffice it to say they briefly changed their name to Herbal Mixture (reefer turn-on alert!) before changing it back to the Groundhogs, and that Thank Christ for the Bomb was the band’s third studio LP, and fourth album overall if you count the 1968 LP they recorded with John Lee Hooker. The Groundhogs were playing as a trio at the time Thank Christ for the Bomb was released, with Peter Cruickshank and Ken Pustelnik joining McPhee on drums and bass, respectively.