Tramline

Tramline was an English blues-rock band from Middlesbrough that released the 1968–69 albums Somewhere Down the Line and Moves of Vegetable Centuries, both on Island Records.

Members: Micky Moody (guitar), John McCoy (vocals, harmonica), Terry Sidgwick (bass, vocals), Terry Popple (drums)


Background

Tramline formed when guitarist Micky Moody teamed with singer John McCoy after respective stints in Middlesbrough rivals The Road Runners and John McCoy’s Crawdaddys.

Moody (b. August 30, 1950) grew up in Middlesbrough, where at age thirteen he formed his first band, Pots & Pans, with schoolmate Paul Rodgers. They self-learned chords on acoustic guitars and renamed their band The Road Runners (no connection to The Roadrunners, a Merseybeat group on Ariola). Another schoolmate, Colin Bradley, joined as their singer while his older brother, Joe, became their manager. Colin noticed Rodgers’ vocal potential and suggested they trade places.

Between 1964 and 1966, The Road Runners performed hits by the Beatles, Kinks, and Rolling Stones at youth clubs and Working Men’s clubs in North Yorkshire. They welcomed Bruce Thomas, a guitarist-turned-bassist from the Stockton on Tees band The Tremors. In 1967, The Road Runners hit London under a new name, The Wild Flowers (no connection to the Canterbury root band of Soft Machine and Caravan).

The Wild Flowers shared the attic of a Finsbury Park home held by The Scots of St. James, a Scottish–English freakbeat quintet. Their new setlist featured Tamla–Motown and blues covers. In his spare time, Moody practiced classical guitar. His relationship soured with Rodgers, who co-formed Free with Bluesbreakers bassist Andy Fraser and members of Black Cat Bones. Thomas soon linked with Tomorrow guitarist Steve Howe in Bodast. After Howe joined Yes, Thomas cut two albums in Quiver, which merged with the Sutherland Brothers. Bruce then kinked with Tomorrow singer Keith West in the 1975 one-off Moonrider. He ultimately found fame in Elvis Costello‘s Attractions.

Moody traveled home, where he reconnected with schoolmate (and later Teesside chef) Eugene McCoy, whose older brother headed John McCoy’s Crawdaddys, the leading Middlesbrough beat group (since renamed The Real McCoys). With the blues-rock boom in full swing, John and Micky formed Tramline with bassist Terry Sidgwick and drummer Terry Popple. John used his contacts at Island Records to secure the band a two-album deal.

Meanwhile, Tramline played regularly at London’s prestigious Marquee Club as the opening act for Ten Years After (4/5), Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation (5/10), John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (6/28), Simon Dupree & The Big Sound (7/2), Tim Rose (7/16), and Taste (7/29, 8/26).>


Somewhere Down the Line

Tramline released their debut album, Somewhere Down the Line, on September 20, 1968, on Island.>

The album features three group-written numbers (“Sorry Sorry,” “Look Over Yonder Wall,” “Mazurka”) and one song apiece by John McCoy (“Harpoon Man”) and Micky  Moody (“National Blues”).

They also cover songs by Elmore James (“Look Over Yonder Wall”), Buffalo Springfield (“Rock and Roll Woman”), Blind Willie McTell (“Statesborough Blues”), Howlin’ Wolf (“Killing Floor”), and Little Johnny Taylor (the title track).

A1. “Harpoon Man” (4:05)
A2. “National Blues” (3:25) refers to the steel National resonator guitar, which Moody plays on loan from Mike Absalom. Moody co-wrote the song with Wild Flowers bandmate Bruce Thomas, who guests on double bass.
A3. “Sorry Sorry” (9:01) Moody uses a Hammond Leslie cabinet, inspired by a serendipitous Buddy Guy technique that soon became commonplace.
A4. “Look Over Yonder Wall” (4:39)
B1. “Rock and Roll Woman” (4:02) is a Stephen Stills contribution to Buffalo Springfield Again, the LA band’s second album (October 1967).
B2. “Somewhere Down the Line” (3:35)
B3. “Mazurka” (2:45) is a 6/8 jam (in D) with a hyperactive snare–tom drum solo; titled after a 1956 piece by Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia.
B4. “Statesborough Blues” (3:37) originated as a 1929 Victor 10″ b-side by Piedmont bluesman Little Johnny Taylor; standardized through recent versions by the Holy Modal Rounders, John Hammond, Tom Rush, The Youngbloods, and Taj Mahal, whose just-released take inspired Moody.
B5. “Killing Floor” (4:51) originated as an August 1964 Chess Records a-side by Chicago bluesman Howlin’ Wolf; first covered by Electric Flag on their March 1968 album A Long Time Comin’. Post-psych hard rockers Killing Floor took their name from this song.

Sessions took place at Morgan Studios in Willesden, where Island head Chris Blackwell produced the album himself with eighteen-year-old tape operator Andy Johns.

Somewhere Down the Line sports visuals by the CCS Advertising Associates , the design team behind 1968 covers for artists on Island (Nirvana, Traffic, John Martyn) and the reggae-subsidiary Trojan (Desmond Dekker, The Pioneers).

Photographer Francine Winham took the front-cover perspective shot from within a tramline tunnel. The back-cover features a posed monochrome group photo by rock photojournalist Gered Mankowitz, a longtime Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull photographer with recent credits on Traffic and albums by Duncan Brown (Give Me Take You), Giles Giles & Fripp, The Nice, and Island label-mates Wynder K. Frog.

“Killing Floor” appears on British Blues Adventures Vol.1, a 1969 French Island comp with tracks by Blodwyn Pig (“Dear Jill”), Jethro Tull (“Living In the Past”), Free (“Moonshine”), Spooky Tooth (“Waitin’ for the Wind”), and Traffic (“Something’s Got a Hold of My Toe”).

Tramline showcased their set at London’s Marquee Club, where they headlined autumn ’68 bills with Black Cat Bones (9/2), Climax Chicago Blues Band (9/27), and Kippington Lodge (10/26). When the tour wrapped, bassist Terry Sidgwick left Tramline for domestic reasons.


Moves of Vegetable Centuries

Tramline released their second album, Moves of Vegetable Centuries, in 1969 on Island. It features three-fourths of the earlier lineup — guitarist Micky Moody, singer–harpist John McCoy, and drummer Terry Popple — with bassist Colin Hodgkinson, on loan from the nascent blues-jazz trio Back Door along with saxophonist Ron Aspery. The album’s piano parts are played by one Norman.

Vegetable Centuries features two co-writes by Micky Moody and John McCoy (“Sweet Satisfaction,” “Harriet’s Underground Railway”) and the Moody instrumental “Grunt.”

Tramline also cover Traffic (“Pearly Queen”), The Rascals (“You Better Run”), Billy Boy Arnold (“I Wish You Would”), and Sonny Boy Williamson (“Goodmorning Little Schoolgirl”). Side B opens with McCoy’s arrangement of the traditional number “Sweet Mary.”

A1. “Pearly Queen” (3:40) originated on the self-titled second Traffic album, co-written by Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi.
A2. “Sweet Satisfaction” (3:34)
A3. “You Better Run” (2:17) originated as a May 1966 Atlantic a-side by The Young Rascals; written by members Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere and later included on their 1967 third album Groovin’. Instant covers appeared by multiple artists, including Listen (Robert Plant‘s pre-fame mod band) and The ‘N’ Betweens (the pre-fame iteration of Slade). After Tramline, the song went unrecorded until the 1980 versions by Pat Benetar, Eddie & The Hot Rods, and Kiss drummer Peter Criss.
A4. “Grunt” (7:04) in a sprinting blues-rock instrumental (in E) with and clipped sax and barroom piano (low mix), which coil around Moody’s fuzzy chords and filigree runs. The idea sprang from “You Need Love,” a 1962 Chess a-side by Muddy Waters; written by Willie Dixon and covered by the Small Faces. (Waters’ song was the more overt basis for “Whole Lotta Love,” the 1969 breakthrough song by Led Zeppelin.)
B1. “Sweet Mary” (6:17) features Moody on slide. McCoy took inspiration from an earlier version by Cyril Davies & The All Stars.
B2. “I Wish You Would” (5:25) originated as a 1955 Vee Jay a-side by Chicago harpist Billy Boy Arnold; resurrected in 1964–65 by the Yardbirds and John Hammond.
B3. “Goodmorning Little Schoolgirl” (2:32) originated on a 1937 Bluebird 10″ by Tennessee blues harpist Sonny Boy Williamson I (1914–1948). It entered the blues-rock lexicon through John Lee Hooker’s 1959 version “Good Mornin’, Lil’ School Girl,” which inspired sixties versions by Lightnin’ Hopkins, Rod Stewart, Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Grateful Dead, and (most recently) Johnny Winter and Ten Years After.
B4. “Harriet’s Underground Railway” (3:56) is an uptempo 12-bar blues (in A) with picked guitar, saloon piano, and caterwauled vocals. The title refers to the Underground Railroad, a network of mid-19th-century safe houses coordinated by abolitionist Harriet Tubman (1822–1913).

Tramline recorded the album with Island soundman Guy Stevens, who also produced 1969 titles by Free (Tons of Sobs), Heavy Jelly, Mighty Baby, and Mott the Hoople. Andy Johns engineered Moves of Vegetable Centuries amid concurrent titles by the Bonzo Dog Band, Circus, The Deviants, Humble Pie, Jack Bruce (Songs for a Tailor), Jethro Tull (Stand Up), Renaissance, and Spooky Tooth (Spooky Two).


Post-Tramline

Micky Moody made three albums apiece with Juicy Lucy (1970–72) and Snafu (1973–75). In 1977, he collaborated with Status Quo fifth-wheel Bob Young on the Magnet Records release Young & Moody. Amid session-work for Peter French, Gerry Rafferty, Roger Chapman, and Sheena Easton, Moody served as Whitesnake‘s guitarist on their first six albums.

Terry Popple cut a 1971 album with Aussie psych-rockers McPhee and reunited with Moody in Snafu. They also interacted on the 1975 album Squire by Lindisfarne-frontman Alan Hull.

John McCoy (not the Maldoon guitarist who later joined Gillan) managed the early careers of Claire Hamill and Chris Rea.


Discography:

  • Somewhere Down the Line (1968)
  • Moves of Vegetable Centuries (1969)

Sources:

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