As the world first started to discover shortly after youtube went online, the big record labels’ history of music was a big lie. Here in the US, Kasey Kasem’s American Top 40 and the Billboard Magazine charts only told a small portion of the story. There were thousands and thousands of bands and artists who never had a hit record – or never even made a record – who still made a big impact on their home turf. One of those bands was Ice.
They came out of Indianapolis in the late 60s, sounding like no other group on the planet – except early Spinal Tap, if that band had been real. The lead instrumentalist on most of their songs was organist Barry Crawford. Their more riff-oriented songs bring to mind Spooky Tooth, but Ice were a lot more than your typical proto-metal band. Their vocal harmonies reveal an early BeeGees influence. One of their singers affects a raspy ersatz blues delivery. Their lyrics can be ludicrously funny. And the song titles pretty much speak for themselves: Running High; I Can See Her Flying; He Rides Among Clouds.
Ice released their lone full-length album, The Ice Age, in 1970. Riding Easy Records has just reissued it – on vinyl of course, and you can hear it on their album page. It’s easy to see why none of the major labels were interested in this band: their music is wildly original, veering from one style to another. Take the first track, Gypsy, with its simple wave-motion hook, jangly Byrds twelve-string guitars and smoky Procol Harum organ. It could be a sarcastic look at anomie in a dead-end town, or something less ambitious. It has absolutely nothing to do with Romany people.
Satisfy is a total Spinal Tap moment. Set to a chugging Spencer Davis Group vamp, it’s about a guy who lives for being onstage, bitching about all the time he has to spend away from it. 3 O’Clock in the Morning could be the Move taking a stab at Penny Lane Beatles, punctuated by lead guitarist John Schaffer’s keening slide riffs and haphazard blues over torrential organ.
Frontman/bassist Jim Lee’s slithery slides punctuate rhythm guitarist Richard Strange’s simmering, cheap tube amp chords in Copper Penny – the attempt at a jam midway through is hilarious. Drummer Mike Saligoe adds a light-fingered, marching touch to Catch You, a pop song with a couple of bluesy electric harpsichord solos.
Running High turns out to be the heaviest, most toothsomely spooky number here. I Can See Her Flying seems to be an attempt at Memphis soul. They follow that with the bizarrely rising and falling Run to Me: “Every day of my lonely life, I wish I had a wife,” is the lyrical highlight.
He Rides Among Clouds is religious: by the time the song is over, this messiah’s “heavy beard” has earned not one but three mentions! The album ends with the catchy organ-driven instrumental Song of the East – does this mean that the band met the guy with the heavy beard and found nirvana, or dharma, or whatever that is? No, just take another hit, you probably need one after all this.
Fun fact: during their brief lifespan, Ice managed to open “for national acts like Three Dog Night, [Detroit MC5 contemporaries] SRC, Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and others.”