"The self-titled, Ian Samwell-produced debut album, from 1968, was promising with several decent original songs (...) and great playing. On 'Mutiny', for example, Dunbar's technique on his long drum solo is exceptional while Moorhead's solo on 'Double Lovin'' is highly expressive."
Drummers as bandleaders? It’s unusual but not unheardof. Aynsley Dunbar’s career started off in the era of the Dave Clark Five, but the music his band Retaliation produced later in the Sixties was nearer to that of Fleetwood Mac, nominally led by sticksman Mick Fleetwood. On the way he played with the Mac’s Peter Green and John McVie, while Fleetwood took Dunbar’s place in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
Add to that offers of gigs (declined) with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Led Zeppelin, time backing Jeff Beck, Seventies spells with US supergroups Journey and Jefferson Starship, plus recordings with Frank Zappa and you have someone who has written his name into rock and blues history rather more often than the average drummer. Aynsley Dunbar,we salute you – and as we do so,we listen to the first album released under the group name Retaliation.
It’s a 1968 recording,nominally produced by Ian Samwell, and put Dunbar on the map as a bandleader. Aynsley was born in the right place at the right time – Liverpool, in January 1946.This meant he entered his teens at the very point the blue touch paper was being lit on the Merseybeat music explosion.Drums took over from violin at age 12, and he took to the instrument like a duck to water: just three years later he’d left school and was making a living in a dance-band trio with a saxplayer and keyboardist.
The biggest influence on the teenager came fromAmerican jazz drummers like Art Blakey, Louie Bellson, Elvin Jones, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. A stint in the Merseysippi Jazz Band gave him the opportunity to play trad jazz in Dixieland style,but it wouldn’t be long before his attention was diverted by the upcoming beat craze. August 1963 saw him join DerryWilkie and the Pressmen, who morphed into the Flamingos early the following year.The quartet followed the well-trodden path from Merseyside to Hamburg to play the club circuit, all part of the learning experience for a lad still in his teens. On their return they linked with singer-comedian Freddie Starr beforeAynsley bailed out to join hitmaking beat band the Mojos.
His two singles with the band were unsuccessful, but it got him to London; his history there will be recounted in the next sleevenote for ‘Doctor Dunbar’s Prescription’.
Suffice to say for now that his band Retaliation comprisedVictor Brox (vocals), John Moorshead (guitar, ex-Shotgun Express) and Keith Tillman (bass, soon replaced by Alex Dmochowski). They released a single, ‘Warning’/’Cobwebs’ on the Blue Horizon label, produced by MikeVernon, but his attempts to record their first album live proved unusable and when they went into the studio it was with Ian Samwell (famous for writing Cliff Richard’s ‘Move It’) and for a bigger label, Liberty.
‘The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation’ was impressive in that seven of the nine tracks were band compositions and only two blues standards.The outstanding cover is arguably Percy Mayfield’s ‘Memory Pain’ (also rendered as ‘Memory Of Pain’).
The first track,‘Watch’n’Chain’,was paired with ‘Roamin’ And Ramblin’’ as a single, but proved impossible to perform live. It was derived musically from a work song well known to American convicts.
The remainder of the album owed more to Retaliation’s live repertoire. ‘Double Lovin’’, for instance, even had the bass and drum solos that made the song a concert standout.The guitar sound achieved by John Moorshead, reminiscent in some ways of Peter Green,was achieved by mixing the input of two microphones, one at the other end of the studio from his amplifier and cab. According to singer Victor Brox, Jimi Hendrix rated this ‘the best white guitar solo ever recorded’.
The sleeve was put together by Hipgnosis, the soon-tobe- famous design team who are irrevocably associated with Pink Floyd.The connection is Bryan Morrison, Retaliation’s manager,who would go on to become Floyd’s guiding hand.The original idea, in typical late-Sixties ‘arty’ style, had been to photograph the band’s reflection in a lake, but weather conditions meant the effect had to be achieved by a shot of the band on dry land,modified by studio trickery.
The album would prove the most successful of the four issued under the Retaliation banner, entering at least one of the charts that existed at the time. ‘An exceptional debut,’ purred Melody Maker, while New Musical Express also approved of the ‘most attractive blues music’ it contained. Meanwhile, bassist Dmochowski’s solo on ‘The Sage Of Sidney Street’ was being seen and copied by young four-stringers up and down the UK as Retaliation pounded the highways and byways of premotorway Britain.
The next item on the agenda would be a second album, ‘Doctor Dunbar’s Prescription’, which was quickly recorded and released in November 1968.That is now available again as BADCD002, and that is where we will resume the Aynsley Dunbar story.
Also available on Vinyl