Formed in Washington DC in 1994 the Delta 72 had much in common with their brothers in arms (and much better known) Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Both bands had a passionate love of black music, the former with soul and the latter with blues.
Neither were mere copyists, soul and blues may have formed the heart of their music but both managed to successfully combine these styles with their own distinctive brand of punk rock ‘n’ roll.
As Jon Spencer sang in ‘Talk About The Blues‘ :
Rolling Stone magazine, Coming on the phone, baby
Talk about that fashion, Haa!
I don’t play no blues
I play rock and roll
The blues is number one ladies and gentlemen but there’s something I gotta tell you right now
I play rock and roll
Yeah, that’s right baby, come on momma
I feel so motherfucking good
The lyrics were partly a jab at Spencer’s bête noire Eric Clapton but they make a good point, ‘we are white boys, we love black music but we play rock ‘n’ roll’, no pretence, straight up and honest.
This track, ‘I Feel Fine‘ from the 3rd album, 000, gives a good idea of the Delta 72 sound:
Anyway, this piece is not about the Blues Explosion. I’m just trying to get something across here, not sure how well I’m doing it, time for another beer I think (goes to fridge).
So, the Delta 72 made a furiously good punk-rock-soul sound, underpinned largely by a big hammond organ sound and Gregg Foreman’s vocals. They released three albums, one (‘The Soul of a new Machine’) with liner notes written by John Sinclair, manager of the MC5 and founder member of the revolutionary group the White Panther Party.
Here’s some of what Sinclair had to say about the band:
It is a hell of an undertaking to which the band called Delta 72 has committed itself: bringing the roll & soul of classic rhythm & blues back into modern rock…
Not that Delta 72 is some kind of Blues Brothers act for the end of the century, slavishly aping the heroic soul singers and their elaborate backing bands in the sort of post-modern minstrel show now popular in places like the House of Blues and mainstream campus bars.
No, it’s not like that at all: the stripped-down rock & roll ensemble called Delta 72 is instead engaged in a serious struggle to make a singular form of musical expression inspired as much by the rhythms & blues that gave birth to the modern idiom as by the popular music they hear around them today.
I had the good fortune of seeing the band on their only (as far as I know) UK tour. The gig was at the Garage in Highbury, London, a dirty, sweaty little dive, kinda perfect for the band. They played like maniacs, I’ve rarely seen such a performance. You can get an idea of what they were like live here:
So, why didn’t they make it big? Are they underrated because they are obscure or obscure because they are underrated? It’s a difficult question to answer, maybe they were just the right band at the wrong time.
Or perhaps, as Lou Reed once said, ‘maybe you know, it’s just called bad luck’.