Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Rockadrome - Royal American 20th Century Blues (1969)



Apparently, the folks comprising Rockadrome were session players up there in the frozen north. The scenario behind this group and its lone long player – 1969’s Royal American 20th Century Blues – makes sense then. The playing, for the most part, edges towards adept if not inspired. And by such a late date, the band’s brand of psych cum pop song construction should have been dispensed to just about anyone even attempting to be an edgy rock group. So, that all’s the reason why Rockadrome’s disc sounds like it was recorded in ’66 or ’67. Or maybe it was just the fact that they were Canadians. Who knows?

Considering the band functioned as a quartet and doesn’t list a keyboard player in the album’s liner notes, being session players probably provided for each performer being able to play at least two instruments. Probably, though, the band should have found someone to right an authentically original tune.

“Royal American 20th Century Blues” is basically a Kinks rip off with a bit of heavy organ dousing the entire thing. Well, either that or Rockadrome aping the Stones’ stance on Satanic Majesty’s Request. Or both. There’s a far greater Brit influence here than anything American. And the relative dismissal of rootsy fair again points to the band’s being a few years behind everything. The tuneful key solos make up for that a bit.
With a history of studio time and the wealth of people drooling over the group, going so far as to plop down a grand for an original copy of the disc, hearing flubbed notes is a surprise. “Thirteen Miles Down,” another Kinksy (Byrdsy?) track, while engaging as a good cover song could be, it’s a huge letdown. Maybe not thirteen miles worth, but still a bit thin for a group of professions.

Whether or not Rockadrome purposefully eschewed Eastern sounds, for the most part, is up in the air. “Inside Out, Inside In” doesn’t come off as a Hare Krishna jumping off point, but the weird tempo change inside its verse should make listeners wonder why the dirgey portion of the band’s personality wasn’t ever more fully explored.

Most frustrating about the album is that the band’s clearly a decently talented lot, if not a tremendously original one. Each song has a bit of something for listeners, but at the same time winds up being a thinly veiled approximation of another group’s work. Bummer.



A near-mint copy of Rockadrome's lone 1969 LP will probably set you back at least a month's rent - and not a one-bedroom in Wawa (ON), either. Recorded in the early months of 1969 at Art Snider's Sound Canada studios in Toronto and pressed up in very limited quantities, Royal American 20th Century Blues is an impossibly rare psych-rock curio that has sold for upwards of US$1900. 

The band (guitarists Ron Dove and Mike Clancy, along with bassist Paul Lachapelle and drummer Rick Vallieres) formed in Toronto in 1968, with the older Clancy having once recorded with rockabilly acts Jack Bailey and The Naturals and Jerry Warren and The Tremblers. Royal American... seems to have one foot planted on either side of the Atlantic, flitting from Brit-infused freakbeat ('Very Strange') to acerbic West Coast guitar jams ('Thirteen Miles Down'), sometimes even in the same song (the amazing five-minute title track). Dove's Dylanesque whine on the jangly 'There You Go Again' should by rights be maddeningly annoying, but instead the song could almost be a long-lost Blond on Blonde outtake. And the sombre piano reprise that closes side two is a sober lament - almost frighteningly so - on our own royal American twentieth century futility. The record is not without its detritus, but still, how Royal American 20th Century Blues could have gone so unnoticed remains a mystery. 

Snider kept the lads busy later that year, employing them as session musicians on a couple of equally arcane endeavours, Hyde's obscure folk LP on Quality and, a few years later, for Snider's wife's project, the Allen Sisters. But aside from a solo seven-inch by Dove, the band responsible for one of Canada's rarest records was never heard from again. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you D&J for this little gem!

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