Legendary, Prophetic Heavy Psych Band Winterhawk’s Albums Are Back in Print on Vinyl

by delarue

San Francisco band Winterhawk were years ahead of their time. They’re best remembered for frontman/guitarist Nik Alexander’s distinctive mashups of 70s acid rock and Cree Indian folk music. Alexander was fiercely proud of his heritage, and that connection to the land resonates potently in the band’s many politically-oriented songs. In addition to rocking out ancient folk melodies, they sometimes employed indigenous instruments like shakers and wood flute. Drummer Alfonso Kolb would frequently diverge into native rhythms as well.

Their first two albums were 1979’s Electric Warriors, which was more psychedelic, and Dog Soldier, a considerably harder-rocking effort from the following year which is more erratic. Both have been newly digitized and are back in print. Electric Warriors is streaming at youtube, and Dog Soldier is there as well.

Electric Warriors is the better of the two. The songs are longer, more overtly political, and the band’s sound is unmistakably original: it’s impossible to think of another act from the era who sounded anything like this. The first track, Prayer, builds from a delicate Cree melody to a burst of riff-heavy rock and then a return, with native flute over Alexander’s acoustic guitar textures.

The band follow with Got to Save It, a stomping, Stonesy eco-disaster cautionary anthem punctuated by Alexander’s unhinged, bluesy guitar breaks and savage pickslides. Black Whiskey is not a good-time drinking song but an indictment of the alcoholism which after all these years still plagues the Indian population.

Restaurant is over-the-top hilarious: this girl is a chocolate sundae with a cherry on top, yeah! The band return to potently relevant, Cree-flavored acid rock with the anti-nuclear power broadside Selfish Man. The band rise to a triumphant war cry as they gallop through Custer’s Dyin’ and close the record with Fight, a haphazardly heavy, redemptive epic which is all over the place stylistically and must have been a huge concert crowd-pleaser back in the day.

On Dog Soldier, the group are tighter, but they’re also trying to sound like .38 Special a lot of the time. The ever-present chorus pedal gives much of the material a dated feel, and they hardly distinguish themselves by aping the pop side of Blue Oyster Cult or acoustic Led Zep. But the quality rises as the album moves along. We Are the People is a towering, defiantly timeless reminder of how much more civilized the North American natives were, compared to the imperialist invaders. There’s also Crazy, shifting between hammering riffage and a spare, cantering native rhythm; We’re Still Here, a surreal attempt at politically-fueled disco; Warriors Road, a subdued acoustic freedom-fighter anthem; and I Will Remember. a stark, mystical folk tune. Good to have this distinctive band back in print.