Wynder K. Frog: Shook, Shimmy And Shake : The Complete Recordings 1966-1970  (RPM)

 

What’s in a name? British musician Mick Weaver is  an excellent example of what happens when a highly talented musician trade under a most unfortunate name. In the 1960s, he fronted a red-hot combo called Wynder K. Frog, a name that implies silliness, and one that unfortunately belies the quality of music that they made. Shook, Shimmy And Shake : The Complete Recordings 1966-1970 collects  the entire lot of their discography, and offers three hours’ worth of delightful music from a band with a name worthy of Monty Python.

Like many musicians of the era, Weaver began his career primarily as a live act, and as such featured numerous covers in his sets. Thus, his earliest studio releases featured his funky takes on contemporary hits, an original sound driven by Weaver’s keyboard and organ playing. Sunshine Super Frog, released in 1967,  was a most exciting, electrifying listen as he took on such well-known song as Donovan’s then hit, “Sunshine Superman,” Fats Domino’s, “Walking to New Orleans,” and Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Coming.” All in all, it’s a fun debut album that stands up after repeated listens, and feels like the soundtrack to a really fun party.

Although the first album wasn’t the huge success, it was soon followed by Out Of The Frying Pan, which continued the fun formula of funky takes. This time around,  the group took on  such diverse names as the Rolling Stones (“Jumping Jack Flash”), The Champs (“Tequila”), Irving Berlin (“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”), and Aretha Franklin (“Baby I Love You”). Much like its predecessor, it wasn’t necessarily a successful record commercially, but it was an artistic delight, an enjoyable album full of interesting takes on the music of the Twentieth Century. But the album itself had a difficult birth; it was originally rejected by his record label, and the acetate from that album is presented here for the first time, featuring a few early versions of songs featured on the album and a handful of unreleased numbers, most notably a merely okay take on the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out,”

Unfortunately, creative arrangements alone do not guarantee a band’s survival, and soon Weaver found himself bored and frustrated. It didn’t help that his label had shelved an entire album, or that sales had been disappointing. So Weaver moved on, forming a post–Steve Winwood version of Traffic called Wooden Frog,  that lasted for a few months before dissolving and the members reforming Traffic. Weaver decided to begin a solo career, and began recording Accrington Mushroom, an album of original material compiled with unreleased Wynder K. Frog originals.

Oddly enough, the band had some chart success in United States, and though they had broken up in 1968, Weaver was convinced to scrap the solo album and release it under the band name. Into the fire appeared in 1970 and was a radical departure from everything before it, and it’s almost inconceivable as to why Weaver allowed the album to be co-opted that way.  Instead of being the British R&B take on American music that the previous albums had been, Into The Fire is a straight up funk record, one that would sit nicely beside albums by War, Blood Sweat and Tears, and The Bar-Kays. Instrumentally, the songs are much more complex,  featuring saxophone solos (“F In Blues”), soulful vocals (“Eddie’s Tune”), some wild harmonica playing (“Cool Hand Stanley,” “Howl In Wolf’s Clothing”), and an exciting vibe that seemed to promise greatness in the future.

Into The Fire should have given Mick Weaver a proper launch to a rewarding solo career, but that career never materialized. Don’t feel too bad for him, though;  while he may not have had the recording career he deserved, he quickly became an  in demand session and live musician, with a long and impressive pedigree that continues to this day. Sure, the band’s name may have been dumb, but the music found on Shook, Shimmy And Shake : The Complete Recordings 1966-1970 is anything but.

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