Atomic Rooster

Atomic Rooster was an English hard-rock band that released back-to-back albums on B&C/Fontana in 1970, followed by three albums on Pegasus and Dawn between 1971 and 1973. After a six-year pause in activity, the band reconvened for two albums on EMI and PVC/Passport between 1980 and 1983. The band was formed from the ashes of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown by keyboardist Vincent Crane and briefly featured drummer Carl Palmer, who departed after one album for Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Members: Vincent Crane (keyboards), Carl Palmer (drums, 1969-70), Nick Graham (bass, vocals, flute, 1969-70), John Du Cann (guitar, vocals, 1970-71, 1980-84), Rick Parnell (drums, 1970, 1971-74), Paul Hammond (drums, 1970-71, 1980-84), Peter French (vocals, 1971-72), Steve Bolton (guitar, 1971-73), Chris Farlowe (vocals, 1972-74), Johnny Mandala [John Goodsall] (guitar, 1973-74), Preston Heyman (drums, 1979-80), Bernie Tormé (guitar, 1981-84)


First Album, Death Walks Behind You, In Hearing Of (1970–1971)

Atomic Rooster formed when Vincent Crane and Carl Palmer headed back to England in mid-1969 after an abortive American tour with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The new project was set to include ex-Stones guitarist Brian Jones, but his drowning death that summer nixed the plan. The pair roped bassist/singer Nick Graham and proceeded as a trio. The name “Atomic Rooster” was inspired by the fact that 1969 was Year of the Rooster in the Chinese calendar. They initially set out to continue their former band’s guitar-free organ-rock style, a method also employed by Quatermass, Rare Bird, and Van Der Graaf Generator.

Atomic Rooster issued their self-titled debut album in February 1970 on B & C Records (U.K.) and Fontana (Europe). It features eight songs, including the opening assault of “Friday the 13th” and “And So to Bed” and the closing epics “Winter” and “Decline and Fall.” Crane wrote the bulk of the songs, save for three full-band credits and a cover of John Mayall‘s “Broken Wings.” The album was self-produced except for two tracks overseen by Tony Colton (Taste, Yes, Heads Hands & Feet). Artist Adrian George (The Who Sell Out) designed the cover, which depicts a green rooster with lady breasts. The breasts are covered with leaves on Aussie pressings of the album.

A month after the album’s release, Crane decided the band needed a guitarist. He hired axe-man John Du Cann (The Attack, Andromeda) to fill the role. Just as this was happening, Graham departed for Skin Alley. While preparing for a U.S. release of Atomic Rooster, Crane replaced Graham’s bass parts with bass sounds generated from his organ pedal. He also had Du Cann replace Graham’s vocals and add guitar to four tracks. This revised version of the album was rejected by their American label but released in the U.K. as a second issue, albeit with no information about these changes in the credits.

In mid-1970, Carl Palmer left Atomic Rooster to join ex-Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson and former King Crimson bassist/vocalist Greg Lake in the super-trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Palmer’s spot was briefly filled by Horse drummer Ric Parnell before newcomer Paul Hammond assumed the slot for the next two albums.

In September 1970, Atomic Rooster released Death Walks Behind You. The self-produced effort contains three Du Cann originals (“7 Streets,” “Sleeping for Years,” “I Can’t Take No More”), three Crane compositions (“Vug,” “Gershatzer,” “Tomorrow Night”), and two jointly credited numbers (“Nobody Else,” the title-track). Bass duties were split between Du Cann and Crane, who used a Hammond organ pedal to generate lower frequencies. The album cover features the monotype Nebuchadnezzar by 18th century printmaker William Blake. Most of the songs feature thick, swirling organ passages and scaly, rapidfire guitar solos. 

When issued as a single, “Tomorrow Night” (b/w “Play the Game”) reached #11 on the U.K charts in 1971. Atomic Rooster plugged it with an appearance on Top of the Pops, where Crane bobs his head violently while miming the organ solo. That June, the band hit #4 with Du Cann’s non-album “Devil’s Answer” (b/w “The Rock”).

During recordings for In Hearing Of, Crane enlisted singer Peter French (momentarily of Leaf Hound) to serve as lead vocalist. Du Cann — unhappy about his demotion as frontman and the minimalization of his guitar parts in the final mix — left the band just as the album was released in August 1971. Hammond followed and the two formed the power-trio Bullet, which ultimately released two albums as Hard Stuff. (Du Cann and French also cut demos that were later released under the name Hellhound.)

Seven of the eight songs on In Hearing Of were written by Crane, half of those in partnership with his lyricist wife Pat Darnell, including the album-bookends “Breakthrough” and “The Price.” Side one wraps with “A Spoonful of Bromide Helps the Pulse Rate Go Down,” a whirling instrumental akin to the prior album. Du Cann’s presence is most prominent on “Break the Ice,” his lone composition in the tracklist. The album was released on B&C-subsidiary Pegasus (Three Man Army, Fuchsia, Nazareth, Ricotti & Albuquerque) with cover art by Roger Dean (Yes, Uriah Heep, Osibisa, Greenslade). Crane produced the album under the pseudonym Gaff Masters Ltd. He toured the album with French, a returning Rick Parnell, and new guitarist Steve Bolton.


Made in England and Nice ‘n’ Greasy (1972–1973)

In 1972, Peter French left Atomic Rooster to join American hard-rockers Cactus. Veteran singer Chris Farlowe (recently of Colosseum) stepped in and the band recorded Made in England, released that October. Musically, the album shows newfound funkiness on tracks like “Breathless,” “Space Cowboy,” and “All In Satan’s Name.” Of the 10 proper songs, Crane wrote six while Bolton and Parnell contributed two apiece. Original copies on Dawn (U.K.) and Brain/Metronome (Germany) were wrapped in a denim sleeve. “Stand By Me” (b/w “Never to Lose”) was the only single released from the album.

Bolton departed at the end of 1972 (he later surfaced in Headstone). Guitarist Johnny Mandala (aka John Goodsall) stepped in and Atomic Rooster released its fifth album, Nice ‘n’ Greasy, in September 1973. Continuing the blues-rock/funk trend, the album features one cover (Jack Avery’s “Voodoo In You”), Mandala’s “Goodbye Planet Earth,” and six Crane originals, including the 6:39 closing track “Satan’s Wheel.” On the noodly jam “Ear in the Snow,” the new lineup recalls the intensity of earlier instrumentals (“Gershatzer,” “Spoonful of Bromide”). The album was forwarded by the single “Save Me,” a reworked version of “Friday the 13th.”

Atomic Rooster IV, the U.S. version of Nice ‘n’ Greasy.

In the U.S., where the first album was never released, Nice ‘n’ Greasy was issued as Atomic Rooster IV on Elektra. That release swapped “Goodbye Planet Earth” and “Satan’s Wheel” for the Crane solo instrumental “Moods” and Farlowe’s “What You Gonna Do.” The American cover features an orbiting rooster designed by one Pam Wall.

After the fall 1973 tour wrapped, Atomic Rooster lost its U.K. contract and disbanded. In 1974, Crane issued the Decca solo single “Tell Your Story (Sing Your Song)” (b/w “O.D.”) as Vincent Crane’s Atomic Rooster. He then put Atomic Rooster into a holding pattern for six years. In 1977, he played on the album Chisholm In My Bosom by Arthur Brown and cut the single “Fire Fighter” (b/w “Crazy Bout My Baby”) with pub-rockers Green Goddess, issued on self-press Atomic. Crane also played on the 1977 Harvest release Calypso by Italian composer/arranger Tony Verde.

Parnell joined Italian band Ibis for their 1974 release Sun Supreme and then teamed with Alan Ross in the funk-rock combo Stars. He subsequently joined jazz-rockers Nova for the 1977/78 albums Wings of Love and Sun City and later played on albums by Lisa Dal Bello, Toni Basil, Ava Cherry, and Taka Boom. Mandala reverted to Goodsall and rose to virtuoso status in Brand X and its various side projects (Marscape, Wilding/Bonus).


Resurrection: Atomic Rooster and Headline News (1980–1983)

In 1980, Crane and Du Cann regrouped for a new Atomic Rooster album. The self-titled effort was released that September on EMI. It features 10 originals, mostly co-writes, including “Lost in Space” and “He Did It Again.” The only track credited solely to Crane is the side-two centerpiece “Watch Out.” Two of Du Cann’s numbers — “She’s My Woman” and “Where’s the Show?” — were first cut for his then-unreleased 1977 solo album The World’s Not Big Enough. The opening track, “They Took Control of You,” was co-written with his wife Clara Du Cann. The album spawned one single: “Do You Know Who’s Looking for You?” (b/w “Throw Your Life Away”). Musically, the album meshes their 1970 sound with newer influences (Hawkwind, The Stranglers, The Damned).

Drums on the album are played by sessionist Preston Heyman (Gonzalez, Kate Bush, Wilding/Bonus, Bryan Ferry, Toyah Willcox, Monsoon, Ann Lewis, Bill Nelson). Ginger Baker briefly deputized the slot on Atomic Rooster’s fall 1980 tour before Hammond returned to the fold, reconstituting the Death Walks Behind You lineup.

Also in 1980, Crane re-teamed with Arthur Brown on the album Faster Than the Speed of Light, released in Germany on Innovative Communications. The album was produced by Klaus Schulze, who enlisted the pair for his 1979 release Time Actor, released under the alias Richard Wahnfried.

Atomic Rooster signed to Polydor for the 1981/82 singles “Play It Again” (b/w “Start to Live“) and “End of the Day” (b/w “Living Underground“). The band was joined on these recordings by Gillan bassist John McCoy. Du Cann departed once again before recordings commenced for the next album.

In the fall of 1982, Crane and Hammond recorded Headline News with guitar parts courtesy of David Gilmour, John Mizarolli, and Bernie Tormé (Gillan, Ozzy Osbourne). The album was released the following June on Towerbell Records. It features nine Crane originals, including “Hold Your Fire,” “Machine,” and the title-track. The songs “Time” and “Metal Minds” are co-credited to his then-wife Jean Crane. “Land of Freedom” was issued as a single.

With no proper bassist or singer at hand, Crane assumed the mic and played keyboard bass on all the tracks. In addition to the Hammond organ, Minimoog, and Clavinet, he also plays the Prophet 5, which lends the album a more modernistic feel than prior efforts. Headline News was engineered by Tom Newman (July, Mike Oldfield).

In December 1983, Crane folded Atomic Rooster. He played keyboards on the 1985 albums A Case for the Blues by Peter Green‘s Katmandu and Don’t Stand Me Down by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. He also served as the latter’s touring pianist until their split in 1987. The following year, he contacted Du Cann for a third reformation of Atomic Rooster. However, Crane’s depression worsened and he died from an overdose of painkillers on Feb. 14, 1989. The keyboardist/bandleader was 45.


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