SIR LORD BALTIMORE – Unsung Metal Legends Unearthed!
February 24, 2007, 10 years ago
Special Report by Martin Popoff
The story goes like this… SIR LORD BALTIMORE rocked out of New York in 1970 with a pretty damn heavy record called Kingdom Come, one of the all time cult classics of early hard rock, following it up with a second album, and then… kaput, due to mismanagement, drugs, loss of direction, all sorts of things.
Pan forward to 1975-ish, and the guys are struggling to keep it going, having come up with about eight songs semi-finished but unreleased, one of the holy grails of early hard rockin’ lost tapes.
Tack 30 odd years onto that, and drummer/singer/leader of the band John Garner has re-recorded those songs (six of ‘em anyway) and has for sale a CD of them, at www.sirlordbaltimore.com (see also www.myspace.com/sirlordbaltimore, email: email@example.com).
Asked where the band got their heaviness so early on before much heavy existed, Garner explains that “It’s part of the wild nature inside of all of us. We either tap into it or we don’t; we suppress it. But we did not suppress it. Of course, back in those days, peace, love and happiness was the persona of the whole idea of the way of things in that era, and you know, nobody knew how bad drugs were. So we smoked a lot (laughs). So we got a little wild, and we were naturally a little wild, and it came out in our music. I just loved heavy stuff back then. I still do. It gives me a sense of… I feel a sense of power when you hit a bass drum and it feels like somebody punched you in the chest, or if the guitar is like grating and sounding really heavy and cool. Of course, back then the technology was a lot different, and you couldn’t sound as heavy as you did today. People say in some of the interviews, that we sound like an ‘80s or ‘90s group, which is a bunch of bullshit really. Because we started back in 1970 and this material is from the mid-‘70s! So it’s funny to see how people judge our new stuff, especially when they compare it to ‘80s or ‘90s metal, or that I sing a certain way. It makes me laugh, actually, but it’s okay. As long as it’s positive and people enjoy it, and that’s it.”
The six new “old” songs are fully re-recorded, with John singing (very under-rated, this guy, and astonishingly powerful for 55 years old) and playing drums, original guitarist Louis Dambra doing his usual distinct axe-isms, and the esteemed Tony Franklin conducting bass duties on four tracks. Adds John, “a friend of mine came and did two songs, who happens to be a great musician, by the name of Sam Powell.”
And what do Sir Lord Baltimore experts think? Well, they decry the fact that Garner has replaced the old “rock ‘n’ roll” lyrics with somewhat religious ones, but on the other hand, are suitably impressed with Garner’s starkly incredible and soulful vocals, as well as the authenticity and adventure of the musical tracks. It seems to be viewed out there as a qualified success, as well as a situation where the original magic and independence of the band shines through.
Adds John, “People wanted to hear from Sir Lord Baltimore, and I put it together and, hey, if you want it, you got it. If you don’t want, then you don’t want it. I felt that we owed it to our friends who really liked the band, and wanted to hear the songs. I get tons of email all the time from people that are so happy that we have something out, that we’re still alive, still going - they’re encouraging letters, wonderful.”“I’m going to be honest with you, I’m disappointed in both of them,” says Garner, intimating that all is not entirely well in the Sir Lord Baltimore camp. “Gary (ed. Justin – bass) went on to Wall Street for 27 odd years, and he got married. He doesn’t call up, he doesn’t hang out with the boys. And Louis is a pastor, and he’s very much a pastor. God bless him. I mean, he loves God, and that’s his work out there in LA. He finds homes for the homeless. And I said, ‘Anybody can find homes for the homeless but nobody can play guitar like you can.’ And I said, ‘We can reach a lot of these metalheads who are into destroying themselves with diabolicism.’ I said to him, ‘You know, if you want to do that, let’s go to that.’ And he’s scared, because he’s got pay, he’s got a job, he’s afraid to step out in faith, which is funny to say about a pastor, right? And you know, we’re all getting older. And our health isn’t as great as it used to be. But I still play my ass off, and I sing my ass off, but I don’t hit those high notes as well as I used to, but we’ve got that shit going. I love it. I don’t have as much energy as I used to, but hey man, an hour and a half show? No problem.”
It looks like an old friend of the BW&BK; staff might be stepping in to keep this legendary act alive…“This is what I’m doing,” says John. “I gave Louis and Gary a chance to be part of this. If they don’t want to be, I’m taking it on the road myself. I have a guitar playing friend from Sweden. They love us in Europe, and in Sweden, especially. And I’ve been asked to play the Swedish Rock Festival, as Mr. Sir Lord Baltimore (laughs) and there’s a guy out there named Janne Stark (ed. OVERDRIVE, LOCOMOTIVE BREATH). He’s a fabulous guitar player, and he’s coming to visit in March, and we’re going to be jamming a little bit, and he’s going to be the next guitar player for Sir Lord Baltimore, if everything works out with my health and all that. I’m 55 now. I can’t believe it - where did the time go? It’s kind of wild. But hey, I’m still a 19-year-old in my heart (laughs).”