Vinegar Joe

Vinegar Joe was an English soul-rock band that released three albums on Island Records: Vinegar Joe, Rock’n’Roll Gypsies (both 1972), and Six Star General (1973). The band germinated when ex-Alan Bown Set vocalist Robert Palmer joined Dada, the prior band of co-vocalist Elkie Brooks and guitarist Pete Gage.

Vinegar Joe also featured several musicians with prior credits, including bassist Steve York (East of Eden, Manfred Mann Chapter Three) and keyboardists Dave Thompson (Pete Brown & Piblokto!), Tim Hinkley (Jody Grind), and John Hawken (Renaissance/Illusion). Guitarist Jim Mullen (Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express/Piblokto!) joined for the second album, while the drum slot switched between Rob Tait (ARC/The Battered Ornaments), Keef Hartley, and several others. Palmer and Brooks subsequently launched high profile solo careers.

Members: Elkie Brooks (vocals), Robert Palmer (vocals), Steve York (bass), Pete Gage (guitar), Dave Thompson (keyboards, 1971-72), Tim Hinkley (keyboards), John Hawken (keyboards, 1972), Rob Tait (drums, 1971-72), Mike Deacon (keyboards, 1972-74), Jim Mullen (guitar, 1972-74), John Woods (drums, 1972), Keef Hartley (drums, 1972-73), Pete Gavin (drums, 1973-74), Alan Powell (drums, 1974)


Vinegar Joe spilled from Dada, a brass-rock-soul band formed in late 1969 by guitarist Peter Gage and his vocalist wife Elkie Brooks.

Gage cut four mid-60s singles with beatsters The Zephyrs and played on multiple sides in the Ram Jam Band, the backing act of American soul singer Geno Washington. Brooks cut six singles between 1964 and 1966 on Decca and His Master’s Voice. After a stint with jazz bandleader Humphrey Lyttleton, she recorded Gage’s “If You Should Go” as the b-side to her 1969 NEMS single “Come September.”

The two entered a personal and professional relationship and formed Dada, a nine-piece brass-rock band with keyboardist Don Shinn and singer/songwriter Paul Korda. After the 1970 release of Dada on ATCO, Korda resumed his solo career. Just prior to their US tour, Dada welcomed Robert Palmer, a young singer who debuted the prior year on the second album by the Alan Bown Set (where he replaced singer Jess Roden).

Upon their return to the UK, Shinn left Dada, which dispensed with its (mostly Australian) brass section. The core of Gage, Brooks, and Palmer assembled a new lineup comprised of bassist Steve York and keyboardists Tim Hinkley and Dave Thompson.

York hailed from East of Eden and played on their 1969 debut album Mercator Projected. He then joined Manfred Mann Chapter Three and played on their two albums, released in 1969/70.

Hinkley hailed from ’60s beatsters the Bo Street Runners (with Mike Patto and Mick Fleetwood). He cut two albums in the post-psych trio Jody Grind and played on Al Stewart‘s 1970 release Zero She Flies. Thompson played on the two 1970 albums by Pete Brown & Piblokto!

Initially drummer-less, Vinegar Joe auditioned ex-Flaming Youth drummer Phil Collins just prior to his entry into Genesis. They recorded their first album with three drummers: Keef Hartley, Conrad Isidore (One), and Rob Tait, Thompson’s Piblokto bandmate who also played in Brown’s Battered Ornaments. Thompson exited midway through sessions for Vinegar Joe.

They took their name from the sobriquet of Joseph Warren “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, a US Army General in the China Burma India Theater military designation during World War II. Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun sub-licensed Vinegar Joe to Chris Blackwell of Island Records.

Between August and September of 1971, Vinegar Joe played the English club circuit on bills with Caravan, Egg, Stackridge, Pink Fairies, Amazing Blondel, Bronco, Day of Phoenix, and Wishbone Ash.

1972: Vinegar Joe and Rock’n’Roll Gypsies

Vinegar Joe released their self-titled debut album in April 1972 on Island (UK, Europe), Atlantic (Oceania), and ATCO (US). It features four songs apiece by Palmer (“Rusty Red Armour,” “Circles,” “Leg Up,” “Never Met a Dog”) and Gage (“Early Monday Morning,” “Ride Me Easy Rider,” “See the World,” “Live a Little, Get Somewhere”), plus the BrooksGage co-write “Avinu Malkenu” and the Gage–Thompson–York collaboration “Gettin’ Out.

Vinegar Joe was recorded at Olympic Studios and co-produced by Gage and engineer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, credited here as Vic Smith. Known for his later work with The Jam, Vic’s credits up to this point included records by The Attack, Skip Bifferty, Guillotine, Cochise, and Korda’s debut solo album Passing Stranger.

On the Vinegar Joe cover, the six members are represented by clay figures nested in a bowl of French fries. The imagery was conceived and photographed by the design firm Visualeyes, also responsible for 1971–73 cover visuals for Frankie Miller, Claire Hamill, Traffic, Amazing Blondel, Ten Years After, Wild Turkey, Sharks, and Tír na nÓg.

The inner-sleeve shows headshots of the six members (Tait marked as the official drummer) and song lyrics. The flipside has two columns of supporting players, including Hartley, Thompson, Isidore, saxophonist Dave Brooks, percussionist Gaspar Lawal, and the horn section from Mogul Thrash: Malcolm Duncan, Mike Rosen, and Roger Ball.

The Island Studio remix is attributed to one Morris Dolby, represented on the inner-sleeve by a cat. Thompson is credited with “pianofifty,” electric piano, Moog organ, and soprano saxophone. Backing vocals are credited to The Vinegrettes, a tongue-in-cheek name for the background vocals of the band’s regular singer: Palmer, Brooks, and Gage.

Island issued “Never Met a Dog (That Took to Me)” as a single, backed with the non-album Gage original “Speed Queen of Ventura.” Stateside, ATCO issued “See the World” (mono b/w stereo) as a white-label promo single.

“Never Met a Dog” appears on the 1972 Island Norway comp Diggbart with cuts by Uriah Heep, Sutherland Brothers, Cat Stevens, Free, King Crimson, Fairport Convention, and Emerson Lake & Palmer. The song also appears on the German Ariola two-LP comp Pop Eye 2 with tracks by Elton John, T Rex, Blackfoot Sue, Stealers Wheel, Humble Pie, Strawbs, McGuinness Flint, Bill Withers, and the Carpenters.

Vinegar Joe toured the UK club circuit throughout 1972 on bills with the JSD Band, Hackensack, Sandy Denny, and Quicksand. On April 30, they played Pop Circus 1972 at Country Hall, Sart Tilman, Belgium, with Assagai, Majority One, Recreation, and Rory Gallagher. For several months, their touring keyboardist was John Hawkins, formerly of Renaissance and Third World War. Before they re-entered the studio, he left for the Strawbs.

Between the first and second Vinegar Joe albums, Hinkley cleared out for keyboardist Mike Deacon, formerly of The Greatest Show On Earth. Guitarist Jim Mullen, another Piblokto alumni who recently played on the first two albums by Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, stepped in to augment Gage. Hartley juggled drum duties with John Woods, a former member of the Junco Partners who also played on the 1971 album Bell + Arc.

Vinegar Joe’s second album, Rock’n’Roll Gypsies, appeared in December 1972 on Island (UK, Europe), ATCO (US, Canada), and Atlantic (Australia, Japan). Gage contributed three cuts (“Charlie’s Horse,” “It’s Gettin’ to the Point,” “No One Ever Do”) and co-wrote songs with Brooks (“So Long”) and York (“Buddy Can You Spare Me a Line?”). Palmer penned “Falling” and “Forgive Us.” The albums also contains covers of Jimi Hendrix (“Angel”), Dave Williams (“Whole Lotta Shakin'”), and Roger Tillison (“Rock ‘N’ Roll Gypsies”).

Vic Smith produced Rock’n’Roll Gypsies, which lists no additional players or studio hands. Original copies are housed in a gatefold sleeve with live pictures of the band, including an upshot of a red-clad Brooks on the cover. The cover was designed by Hipgnosis with photographs by Laurie Lewis, later credited with visuals on albums by Hawkwind, Hatfield & the North, Michael Mantler, and National Health.

The album spawned three 7″ a-sides: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Gypsies” (UK, US, Netherlands, Spain), “Whole Lotta Shakin'” (Germany), and “Charlie’s Horse” (France).

“Rock ‘n’ Roll Gypsies” appears on the 1972 American soul comp Heavies for January from Atlantic, ATCO & RSO ‎with cuts by Wilson Pickett, Margie Joseph, Yusef Lateef, Robin Kenyatta, the Spinners, Roger Powell, and the Bee Gees. “Whole Lotta Shakin'” appears on the two-LP Island comp Snacks with tracks by Tempest, John Martyn, Roxy Music, Spooky Tooth, Tony Hazzard, and The Wailers.

Between the second and third albums, Vinegar Joe hired drummer Pete Gavin, who played on the second Jody Grind album (Far Canal) and the three albums by Heads Hands & Feet.

1973: Six Star General

On February 24, 1973, Vinegar Joe played the Hot Rock Night in Philipshalle, Dusseldorf, with Family, Home, Hawkwind, Golden Earring, Focus, Savoy Brown, and Mick Abraham’s Band. That spring, they supported Wishbone Ash on a North America tour, which included several dates with Gentle Giant.

Vinegar Joe released their third album, Six Star General, in December 1973. Half the songs are Gage originals: “Proud to Be (a Honky Woman),” “Food for Thought,” “Black Smoke From the Calumet,” “Giving Yourself Away,” and “Let Me Down Easy.” Palmer contributed “Dream My Own Dreams” and “Fine Thing.” York submitted “Stay True to Yourself” while Brooks and Gavin co-wrote “Lady of the Rain.” The one outside composition is “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Baby,” written by Andy Fraser.

Gage produced Six Star General with engineer Mike Ross (Donovan, Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, Ray Russell Quartet, Burnin Red Ivanhoe, Tranquility, Bacon Fat, Glencoe). Woods, retained from the Rock’n’Roll Gypsies sessions, plays additional percussion.

Original copies of Six Star General are housed in a gatefold sleeve with a vertical inner-spread shot of Vinegar Joe grouped by a warrior statue in military fatigue. The front sports ID shots of the six member, split into three-row columns, each against a star badge. The back shows a vintage b&w photo of Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell. The cover was designed by Fabio Nicoli (Shoot, Stray Dog) with photographs by Roger Stowell (Jackson Heights, Refugee, Chris De Burgh, Squeeze).

Island issued “Proud to Be (a Honky Woman)” and “Black Smoke From The Calumet” as singles, both backed by the non-album Palmer original “Long Way Round.”

Also in 1973, York led Camelo Pardalis, an all-star blues-rock project that issued Manor Live on Virgin Records. It features appearances by Brooks and Hinkley, who co-wrote the opening track “See the Light.” The album also features tracks with Gavin, Tait, Thompson, and Mullen, plus ex-Dada saxophonist Barry Duggan.

Later Activity

Vinegar Joe disbanded in the spring of 1974. Their final lineup included drummer Alan Powell, who joined the 1975/76 lineup of Hawkwind.

Palmer went solo with his 1974 Island release Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, recorded in New Orleans with The Meters, Lowell George (Little Feat), and Allen Toussaint. That and the following 1975/76 albums Pressure Drop and Some People Can Do What They Like feature a mix of funk, reggae, and blue-eyed soul.

He scored chartwise with his 1978 release Double Fun and the Andy Fraser-penned “Every Kinda People,” followed by the 1979/80 albums Secrets (“Bad Case of Loving You”) and Clues (“John and Mary”). After recording one album with the supergroup Power Station, he reached his commercial zenith with the 1985 release Riptide and the singles “Addicted to Love” and  “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On.”

After a 1974 touring stint with US southern rockers Wet Willie, Brooks resumed her solo career and released her first album, Rich Man’s Woman, on A&M in 1975. Her 1977 album Two Days Away spawned her first hit, “Pearl’s a Singer.” She charted with numerous songs over the next decade, including “Fool If You Think It’s Over,” which she popularized in the UK, where Chris Rea‘s original version (a US hit) failed to chart.

Gage co-wrote “Here With You Tonight” on Palmer’s second album and played on Joan Armatrading‘s 1976 release Back to the Night. Also during 1976, he produced records for The Movies, Stackridge, Sassafras, and The Diversions (with Lene Lovich). Despite their divorce, he continued writing songs for Brooks, including the title track to her 1978 release Shooting Star. In the early 1980s, he adopted the name Micky Mutant and produced psychobilly records for The Meteors and Demented Are Go on I.D. Records.


  • Vinegar Joe (1972)
  • Rock’n’Roll Gypsies (1972)
  • Six Star General (1973)


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