The blues came screaming down from the misty highlands in 1969 under the savage execution of Maggie Bell’s Stone the Crows.Finally Janis Joplin had a rival that could whisper, convulse, and climax as she raped the soul guitar of ex Silhouette’s Les Harvey. The high energy of their earthy blues first took root in 1967 when Maggie teamed up with the Kenning Park Ramblers headed by an old friend of hers, Leslie Harvey. Leslie’s older brother, Alex Harvey was doing the ‘Star Club’ circuit in Hamburg and little brother decided to invade the US bases that he knew had a soft spot for the blues. Les Harvey’s Gibson execution on the lead guitar did not go unnoticed and he was invited to tour America with Cartoone supporting Led Zeppelin whose underrated album boasted Jimmy Page’ Telecaster. This quickened appointment was largely due to their original guitarist dropping out at the last minute and a hasty recruitment by manager Mark London.
Cartoone comprised Charlie Coffils, Mike Allison, Derick Creigan & Mo Trowers, all ex Chevlons who first hit the charts with the infectious “Knick Knack Man” followed by the nostalgic “A Penny For The Sun”. The Cartoone highlights included the haunting “Withering Wood”, “Ice Cream Dreams” with Page’s guitar wailing wonderfully and “Deep In My Heart”.
At that stage Les & Maggie were playing in the soul outfit Power. The hasty departure of Les created a void not easily replaceable, but as luck would have it two months later Les returned having paid his dues jamming regularly with the Allman Brothers. Les now sporting a new Stratocaster, had matured and was intent on writing his own songs. It was thanks to Mark London that he invited Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant to come and check out this fabulous new voice, thus Grant’s comment “cor blimey, stone the crows”, and the name stuck. The eponymous 1970 debut under ‘Polydor’ comprised ex Gleneagles/ Lulu & the Luvvers bassist Jimmy Dewar & ex Power keyboardist John Mcginnis who started out in 1967with Sock Em JB headed by Frankie Miller. A fabulous blues drummer, ex Jet Set / Big Roll Band Colin Allen reinforced the group with the insatiable Les Harvey on lead guitar. Dewar would often share vocals with Maggie, but the strength of the group lay with the staccato wail of Maggie as she grated through Don Robey’s “Blind Man”.
'I Saw America Burning in Sin'
The eponymous album un-earthed an 18-min blues fusion called “I Saw America”. Harvey’s aching guitar weeps like the messiah’s dripping blood. Maggie wails at the Wall of America, carrying the torch of Coltrane’s surrealism, with leaning toward Bach and Robert Johnson. Take time to absorb the liquid riffs of Les Harvey’s Gibson as he laces his axe with fire and mounts the steeds of Hell. Their soul-laced version of the Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill” was probably the finest to surface. During the eve of the seventies they caught the wonderment of John Peel of the BBC after doing a spectacular 13-min gallop through Dylan’s “Hollis Brown”. The BBC live interpretation of “Friend” is a near perfect recording of the Crows in full flight, squawking and slashing till all land is in sight.
The 'BBC Sessions' were sizzling as Les Harvey ripped through George Harrison’s “Let It Down” , my God this man could play and even more dazzling his rampant elastic intro to “On The Highway”. If the tube stations had Clapton ‘God’ inscribed on their walls then Les Harvey was the ‘Demi-God’ whose strains were definitively more charismatic and boundless in improvisation. Notably the jazzy “Freedom Road” almost a cycle from Brian Auger’s Express or the insidious leadbreaks that decipher “Raining In Your Heart” with Dewar’s vox taking no prisoners. The follow up Ode To John Law gave birth to a Cocker tribute “Mad Dogs And Englishmen” while Harvey’s riffs spit defiantly through “Friend”, “Things Are Getting Better” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Danger Zone”. The repetitive “Love 74” would have made a great single. In 1970 Mcginnis & Dewar departed, replaced by ex John Mayall / Spooky Tooth bassist Steve Thompson and ex Jasons Flock / White Trash keyboardist Ronnie Leahy. Dewar went on to great things with Jude and later Robin Trower.
The sizzling 1972 Teenage Licks heavily laden with the steaming “Mr Wizard” and “Big Jim Salter” reach a Prog opus on “Seven Lakes” with Leahy’s almost classical keys. The standout was a riveting version of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice , It’s All Right”. Halfway through the recordings Les was electrocuted on stage at Swansea’s ‘Top Rank Ballroom’ by a live stage mike. Ex Thunderclap Newman Jimmy McCulloch who started with the Jaygars and One in a Million was recruited after a Peter Green/ Steve Howe interlude. Their final Ontinuous Performance, (name taken from a sign where the C dropped off) was aptly set in motion in Sept 1972 with a soulful ode to Harvey through the staggering “Sunset Cowboy” featuring McCulloch. (re-echoed in stolen form on the Baghdad Café soundtrack) Les Harvey reaches toxic levels on the “King Tut” instrumental and the 9min unfinished blues cadenza “Niagara”. “King Tut” was first played by ex Giant Moth Alex Harvey at the ‘La Cave’ in the early years, inspired by the British museums Tutankhamen exhibition. (lyrics in answer to Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman”)
Ontinuous Performance gave Harvey a tour de force on the escalating “One More Chance”. The album spawned the Rod Stewart styled “Good Time Girl” #12 thanks to appearances on the BBC ‘Top of the Pops’. A Stone The Crows’ rendition of Sonny Terry’s slinky “Penicillin Blues” boasted a young McCulloch. Sadly the Crow was clearly depleted after the loss of Les Harvey. Colin Allen would then join Focus while Jimmy featured with Paul McCartney’s Wings making his debut with “Junior’s Farm” and penning the medicinal “Medicine Jar” which became his final undoing. Maggie released Queen Of The Night and Suicidal Sal, also featuring on albums with ex Rascals Felix Cavaliere and ex Mountain Felix Pappalardi. She now lives in Rotterdam, singing the gospel blues.