Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.
Confession time: I’ve never really got too into Uriah Heep. I’ve tried: I have a vinyl copy of Demons and Wizards and I’ve listened to it several times, but there was just always something preventing me from getting too close to the band, philosophically. Still, that’s not going to stop me from investigating pre-Heep band Toe Fat‘s self-titled debut from 1970 in my proto-metal questing in this column.
Toe Fat featured in its ranks Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake, both of whom would go on to Heep (and the latter of whom you know from Ozzy’s band); bassist John Glascock would end up in Jethro Tull. Toe Fat’s self-titled album is also noteworthy for having some of the most insane cover art ever. As soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew I had to dive in.
Opener “That’s My Love for You” features some great grooves and a hard-rockin’ lead riff that will worm its way into your head. Killer economic rock, the band hitting big grooves with that riff, the vocals immediately turning down the heavy factor a couple notches—a similar feeling nags at me when listening to Heep—but the drumming is spot-on, and that lead riff just goes for miles. When it returns for a victory lap near the end, it’s rock glory.
“Bad Side of the Moon” is up next, and there’s some big, crashing riffs here, they’re just hiding behind the thin production. Man, this song is a huge anthem, like something Free or Bad Company might have laid down; kinda makes me wonder why I never, ever hear about this band. Two songs in, and this is a winner so far. Proto-metal value isn’t huge though, the production more psych or classic rock even if some of these riffs could be monsters if beefed up with a different sound.
Then there’s “Nobody,” where Toe Fat start to stretch their wings a bit. The six-minute tune finds the band exploring their psych and prog tendencies; the first few minutes are good bluesy hard rock, but then the soloing begins and things start to get exploratory, the band jamming hard here, all guitars blazing, the song climaxing back into the main riff with a glorious, kinda accidental ease.
“The Wherefors and the Whys” gets a bit twee but manages to settle in a nice stoned, summertime place, like Zep when they really laid back and just let their mellower side flow. It’s a good track, as is “But I’m Wrong,” a bluesy rocker with another huge riff that just begs to be unleashed through a bigger production. A hoary and hairy song with tons of great playing from everyone, and a soulful vocal performance to boot.
“Just Like Me” delivers some of the heaviest riffage of the album; it’s buried behind a bluesy vocal delivery and classic rock structures, but the proto-metal mining is most rewarding on this great tune. It’s followed up, humorously, by “Just Like All the Rest,” where the flute comes in, agonizingly, but that’s how it went at the time, man. We deal with it now, and I must grudgingly admit that the song is pretty fun to listen to.
“I Can’t Believe” is next, and is a good, moderately heavy, psych rocker that I can get behind, as is “Working Nights,” a rocker with a great snaking riff and a soulful, bluesy vocal delivery.
“You Tried to Take It All” ends the album off with another blues-inflected rocker, this one a bit more light in the feet, serving its purpose well: it brings the album to a close and makes you—“you,” if you’re me, who went into this one a bit defensive due to my Heep aversion—start to think, hold on, these songs were all really well written, the production was tight and satisfying (even if I wish the guitars had more heft, but what can you do?), and even the reliance on blues—which normally bores me to tears—is actually handled really well here.
Wrap it all up in that truly WTF? cover and Toe Fat created a great album here, one destined to not get what it deserves due to the outrageous band name and cover art, bold moves that give us all the more reason to approve this one.
Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: It’s gonna help with the flute.
Heaviness factor: On the lighter side of things, but worthy for some riff exploration.
Obscura Triviuma: Legend has it—and gore-grind fans, listen up—the band name was an attempt to make the most disgusting name imaginable.
Other albums: 1971’sToe Fat Two.
Related bands: Uriah Heep, Captain Beyond, Iggy and the Stooges, The Bee Gees, Air Supply, The Gods, Blizzard of Ozz, Jethro Tull, Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers, many others.
Alright, fine, if you must: LSD.