The Groundhogs – in Concert for John Peel – BBC Radio 1 – May 24, 1970 – BBC Radio 1 –
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The Groundhogs in concert for John Peel for his Sunday Concert series, recorded on May 24, 1970 for BBC Radio 1. Rumor has it, this is the first UK performance of the band to coincide with the release of their milestone album Thank Christ For The Bomb (which came out in May 1970), having been last minute replacements for The Pretty Things, who were scheduled to appear, but last minute complications forced them to reschedule.
The band was originally formed as The Dollar Bills in New Cross, London in 1962 by brothers Pete and John Cruickshank (born in 1943 and 1945 respectively in Calcutta, West Bengal, India). Tony McPhee (born 22 March 1944), the lead guitarist in an instrumental group called the Seneschals, joined the group later that same year. McPhee steered them towards the blues and renamed them after a John Lee Hooker song, “Groundhog’s Blues”.
John Cruickshank suggested they became John Lee’s Groundhogs when they backed John Lee Hooker on his 1964 UK tour, they later supplemented Little Walter, Jimmy Reed and Champion Jack Dupree when they toured the UK. McPhee featured on Dupree’s From New Orleans to Chicago (1966) alongside Eric Clapton. The Groundhogs issued “Shake It” b/w “Rock Me” on the Interphon record label in January 1965.
Their line-up on their first album, Scratchin’ the Surface, (produced by the 19-year-old Head Of A&R for Liberty Records, Mike Batt) released in November 1968, consisted of McPhee as singer and guitarist; bassist Peter Cruickshank, Ken Pustelnik on drums and Steve Rye on harmonica (born 8 March 1946 in London – died 19 July 1992, in London). In 1969, the single “B.D.D.” (Blind Deaf Dumb) flopped in the UK but hit number one in Lebanon.
The group’s album releases Blues Obituary (September 1969); Thank Christ for the Bomb (May 1970); Split (March 1971); and Who Will Save the World? The Mighty Groundhogs (March 1972), recorded as a trio without Rye, all but Blues Obituary the Top 10 in the UK Albums Chart. Split reached number 5, spending 27 weeks in the UK Albums Chart and achieved gold record status, while a single release from the album, “Cherry Red”, was featured on BBC Television’s Top of the Pops programme on 22 April 1971.
They supported The Rolling Stones on their 1971 British tour at the request of Mick Jagger and released an album of their live set on the Stones tour, recorded at Leeds University and called Live at Leeds. All these albums and live shows were performed by the classic power trio of Cruickshank, McPhee and Pustelnik. 1974’s album Solid saw a last return to the charts.
Still together, although Tony McPhee (guitar and vocals) is the sole constant member of the group, which has gone through many personnel changes but usually records and performs as a power trio.
Have a listen to their 1970 period to get an idea of just how influential they’ve become.