Lost Prog Rock Albums

For the Records #3: Bloodrock’s Forgotten Prog-Rock Album is Not D.O.A.

In the annals of rock history, many bands are liable to be remembered only for their biggest hit. And so it is with Bloodrock, the Fort Worth-based outfit that graced the American Top 40 but one time. That single, of course, was the infamous “D.O.A.,” an exceptionally graphic dirge that depicted the immediate aftermath of a plane crash—told from the point of view of one of its soon-to-expire victims!

Against a morbid musical backdrop of funeral organ and blaring sirens, Bloodrock vocalist Jim Rutledge spares us no detail, whether it’s his missing limbs or the blood-soaked sheets applied by a paramedic who is overheard saying, “There’s no chance for me.” The song ends with Rutledge’s over-the-top cry of “God in heaven, teach me how to die!” before the final chorus yields to the sound of multi-tracked sirens sounding off on route to the morgue.

Brilliant stuff, to be sure. Just enough of us twisted teenagers bought the 45 (the full LP version ran past 8 minutes) to enable “D.O.A.” to claw its way to #36 in early 1971. I still have my copy. The b-side (“Children’s Heritage”) was more typical of the band’s output, a righteous if plodding boogie typical of the era. While the band’s signature song may not have been intended as a novelty (their guitarist Lee Pickens had witnessed a small aircraft crash), Bloodrock were to be identified with “D.O.A.” as closely as the Baha Men will be stuck forevermore with “Who Let the Dogs Out.”

For their first three albums, Bloodrock were under the clientage of both John Nitzinger, the sketchy kingpin of Texas blooze-rock who penned many of their songs, and manager/producer Terry Knight, who was also the combative Machiavelli behind Grand Funk Railroad. But by 1972, Rutledge and Pickens had left the band and Bloodrock had a new frontman in the person of fresh-faced Warren Ham. Ham was the lead singer and quite handy with the flute, saxophone and harmonica.

In late ’72, two years after recording “DOA,” came their fourth album, Passage. Gone was Terry Knight and his brainchild that their every LP sleeve design had to have dripping blood somewhere. Instead, the cover was a cryptical woodcut-like illustration of a clipper ship passing an underground cave, a nice touch. Similarly, the new Bloodrock sound was imaginative, and suggestive of the era’s preeminent progressive-rock sound.

The biggest and best surprise being the second track, “Scotsman,” an outright ringer and tribute to Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson. With its scootering flute riff, weighty Hammond organ accompaniment (by key band holdover, Stevie Hill) and jaunty jig-rock arrangement, it could have been slotted into a Tull album like War Child or Songs from the Wood, if not for the singing accent.

While this edition of the band would never be mistaken for Yes or Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, other artful touches spice up this record. The buoyant opener “Help is on the Way” has a deft instrumental coda and “Life Blood” has some nimble dynamics and fresh splashes of synth that can stand up there with the best proggers of the day and contains some still-relevant lyrics (“I have seen a picture of hate, formed in a thousand ways/People say it’s all too late, talk of numbered days”).

The 8-minute semi-epic “Days and Nights” is a nice slab of organ-led heavyosity that should appeal to anyone who’s ever enjoyed a Uriah Heep album. There’s even a topical number, a nifty blues shuffle called “Thank you, Daniel Ellsberg,” giving props to the man behind the “Pentagon Papers” expose. Despite this new lease of life, Passage did not catch on and Bloodrock would only be around for one more studio album.

Since this “For the Records” series focuses on the obtaining of records as well as the listening to them, here are the somewhat odd circumstances of how I got my copy of Passage. After a night on the town, I pulled up in front of a used record store in North Cambridge, Mass. The owner of the Blue Bag Records store sometimes puts a pile of free discarded albums outside the door after hours. There was no pile this time, but the place was open despite the late hour (I think the guy was doing his accounts). Since I was likely going to be the only customer at that time, I had to be supportive and buy something. Nothing interested me until I saw this baby for eight bucks. I love the covert art (reminiscent of nautical mysteries like “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or Poe’s novel “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”) and I had heard a few of its tunes online. So it came that I bought my second Bloodrock record, some 52 years after purchasing the “D.O.A.” single.

Although Bloodrock were not long for the world by the time that this album was released but Warren Ham went on to a long and successful career (still ongoing) as session and touring saxophonist for everyone from Kansas and Toto to Olivia Newton-John to Donna Summer. He has also been in several iterations of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band (see above). In fact, I saw him on one of these tours and of course never made the connection then. Too bad. If I ever had the chance to meet him I would love to see his reaction when I told him: “Hey, I loved that “Scotsman” song you did way back when.”

—Rick Ouellette