Heavy Cruiser

Heavy Cruiser was an American hard-rock/psych band that released the 1972/73 albums Heavy Cruiser and Lucky Dog on Artie Ripp’s Family Productions label. Canadian bassist Neil Merryweather formed the band in Los Angeles with keyboardist James Newton Howard, later a noted film composer. Heavy Cruiser also recorded as Mama Lion behind Merryweather’s then-partner, singer Lynn Carey.

Members: Neil Merryweather (lead vocals, bass, acoustic guitar), Alan Hertz (guitar), Rick Gaxiola (guitar), James Newton Howard (organ, piano), Coffi Hall (drums, percussion)


In 1969, Merryweather arrived in Los Angeles with his namesake psych-rock band, which cut two albums that year on Capitol. He assembled different players for the 1970 blues-rock album Neil Merryweather, John Richardson and Boers and retained them for a subsequent release on RCA as Ivar Avenue Reunion, fronted by his then-girlfriend, Angeleno actress and singer Lynn Carey. In 1971, they released Vacuum Cleaner as Merryweather & Carey, backed by drummer Coffi Hall.

Merryweather, Carey, and Hall formed Mama Lion with two newcomers: guitarist Rick Gaxiola and keyboardist James Newton Howard. They signed with Family Productions, the newly established label of Artie Ripp. Their first album, Preserve Wildlife, appeared in 1972.

Mama Lion functioned as a vehicle for the belting voice and stage presence of Carey. As an outlet for material beyond the confines of soul-rock, the musicians in the band recorded simultaneously as Heavy Cruiser.

1972: Heavy Cruiser

Heavy Cruiser released their self-titled album in 1972 on Family Productions (US) and Philips (France, Germany, Spain). It features two Merryweather originals (“My Little Firefly,” “‘Lectric Lady”) and two Howard co-writes (“Don’t Stop Now,” “Let Your Rider Run”). Despite the absence of Carey, Heavy Cruiser contains three Carey/Merryweather co-writes: “Wonder Wheel,” “Outlaw,” and “As Long as We Believe.” The closing epic, “Miracles of Pure Device,” is a joint composition between the three. Each side starts with an oldies cover: “C’mon Everybody” (Eddie Cochran) and “Louie, Louie” (The Kingsmen).

Heavy Cruiser was recorded at Hollywood Spectrum and Paramount Studios L.A. Merryweather produced the album with engineers Bruce Albertine (James Brown, Siouxsie and the Banshees) and John La Salle. The cut-and-paste image on the back cover shows the band as gun-toting yachtsmen adrift on mountainous terrain against a giant lunar backdrop. They were photographed for the image by Maria Del Ré, noted for her cub-nursing snapshot of Carey on Preserve Wildlife.

In the Family Productions catalogue, Heavy Cruiser (cat# FPS 2706) appeared four releases after Preserve Wildlife (cat# FPS-2702) and just ahead of the self-titled album by Sleepy Hollow. FP issued one single from the album, “Louie Louie” (b/w “Outlaw”). Philips paired “Louie” with the Cochran cover on a 7″ for the French market.

C’mon Everybody” appears on the French Phonogram comp Reunion Des Representants Phonogram Du 23 Juin 1972 with tracks by Uriah Heep, MOR, and the Sutherland Brothers. “Louie Louie” appears on the Euro Fontana comp Rock Discotheque with tracks by Mama Lion, Nazareth, Status Quo, and the Spencer Davis Group.

As recordings commenced for a second round of albums in the Mama Lion/Heavy Cruiser camp, Gaxiola bowed out for another guitarist, Alan Hurtz.

1973: Lucky Dog

Lucky Dog appeared in the US only on Family Productions in 1973. Merryweather wrote everything apart from a Kinks cover (“You Really Got Me”) and a co-write apiece with Hurtz (“Supergirl”), Carey (“Where You Gonna Run To”), and Howard, who assisted the couple on “Concrete Jungle.”

Merryweather produced Lucky Dog, engineered at three LA studios (Paramount Recording, Hollywood Spectrum, Freddie Piro’s) and New York’s Advantage Sound. Albertine and LaSalle share engineering credits with Kerry McNabb (Frank Zappa, Ballin’ Jack, Velvert Turner Group, Opa, Flora Purim, George Duke) and James E. Vickers, who also handled Give It Everything I’ve Got and Howard’s 1974 solo album.

The album’s titular theme reflects in the cover art with three poker-playing bulldogs (front) and a smiling collie (back).

In 1976, the tax-scam Tiger Lily label reissued Lucky Dog, confusingly retitled Heavy Cruiser. This released adds two unique tracks, “The Next Voice You Hear” and “Runaway Child.” The cover sports an alternate pic from the 1972 Del Ré shoot against a plain white backdrop with the name stamped in green.

Later Activity

Heavy Cruiser stopped when its parent act, Mama Lion, collapsed during a European tour behind Give It Everything I’ve Got. Merryweather, in conflict with Ripp and his business practices, broke from Carey and the band. He teamed with another FP breakaway, Billy Joel, on a demo tape that landed the singer his contract with Columbia.

Merryweather formed the Space Rangers, his backing band for the 1974/75 Mercury albums Space Rangers and Kryptonite. He svengalied the post-psych girl trio Band of Angels and moved to the Netherlands for a round of productions. His final solo album, Differences, appeared in that country in 1978. His final 20th century group effort, Eyes, released its sole album in 1980. After years in the fields of design and photography, he resumed his musical activities on a sporadic basis in the late ’90s.

Howard released a 1974 solo album of instrumentals on Kama Sutra. In 1975, he joined Elton John‘s backing band on an on/off basis. Between 1975 and 1980, he played on albums by Melissa Manchester, Leo Sayer, Diana Ross, Olivia Newton-John, Kiki Dee, Valerie Carter, Samantha Sang, Boz Scaggs, and numerous other acts. He turned to soundtrack work from the ’90s onward, starting with his score for the 1990 romantic comedy Pretty Woman.

Heavy Cruiser got an unofficial CD release on Progressive Line (Australia, 2002) and a green vinyl repress on Lucky Pig Records (Germany, 2013). German archivists O-Music reissued Lucky Dog in 2012 along with the two Space Rangers titles.


  • Heavy Cruiser (1972)
  • Lucky Dog (1973)


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