Jan-Simon : Gear Fab Records does it again. After having polished and rereleased two very obscure British (or perhaps German?) exploito-releases from the sixties earlier this year, a similar combination of two American albums, equally rare and only known in small circles, is being released. This offering contains album by The Firebirds and 31 Flavors, two bands that happen to be incarnations of the same group of musicians. However, this might be conjecture, because they were a studio group working for the small Crown Records label which specialized in socalled exploitation music, music created by the industry as an attempt to cash in on the latest musical craze at the lowest cost. The Firebirds / 31 Flavors produced two fuzz and distortion laden albums full of heavy psych proto-hardrock in the style of Hendrix, Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly in 1969. With hindsight these albums proved to be groundbreaking because of their combination of Black Sabbath like grungy doom with ramshackly garage punk. Gear Fab ought to be praised once more for reissuing these unpolished diamonds.
The exploito character of the albums is shown through the unusual covers of well-known songs. ‘Light My Fire’ by the Doors has been recorded in an instrumental lounge version for the first record, attributed to The Firebirds, where the 31 Flavors album contains plainly bizarre versions of the hippie anthems ‘Hair’ and ‘Aquarius’. With the out of tune guitars and unsteady voice they sound utterly clumsy but yet they are charming. These covers must have been the tricks imposed by the record company, because they are in shrill contrast with the rest of the two albums. These 13 songs (‘Free Fuzz’ and ‘Free Drums’ were present on both albums and have been included only once on the cd) are complete fuzz freakouts and as such perhaps the first stoner rock songs ever. With all the needles in the red they are similar to the protopunk by bands like Rocket from the Tombs and the Stooges, and in their heaviness they surpass the highly revered early hardrock legends like Blue Cheer and Sir Lord Baltimore. Take for instance ‘Reflections’ from ‘Light My Fire’: in our modern ears a remarkable amalgamate of pure stoner, doom and garage rock that was probably just misunderstood back in 1969. It is because of such self-willed freak jams that the albums by The Firebirds and 31 Flavors have become obscure gems. Some points of interest for the fans: ‘Reflections’ is found in two versions on this cd, as ‘Distortions of Darkness’ is just the same song without vocals. Other oddities are the long jam that was cut in three and divided over the two albums as ‘Free Bass’, ‘Free Fuzz’ and ‘Free Drums’. It is nice that you can now program them in your cd-player in order to hear how it was once meant.
There is only one minus with this cd: despite the excellent liner-notes it remains unclear who The Firebirds / 31 Flavors were. Have they done other things, with a different band name? It is one of those questions that will very likely remain unanswered.