Pompeii – The Secret Sessions Record Review
By Vince Andreasen
What happens when a record is created in the late 70’s combining artists from Mott The Hoople, Mountain, Cream, The Allman Brothers, and more? You guessed it… absolutely nothing! That is precisely what happened when Corky Laing, drummer from Mountain, was asked to form a potential super group as a final effort to salvage his recording contract.
Corky, struggling to maintain a place in a music scene rapidly shifting to punk and disco, was teamed up with fellow rocker Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople) and veteran producer Bob Ezrin. But, the collaboration was mired with trouble from the very beginning. Early jam sessions with friends failed to materialize causing a revolving door of musicians, and then Bob left to produce a Pink Floyd record titled The Wall. I wonder how that worked out for him? Ultimately Corky and Ian were able to recruit Mick Ronson (Spiders From Mars, David Bowie) and Felix Pappalardi (Cream, Mountain) to create the foundational 8 songs that would eventually appear on The Secret Sessions.
Recording commenced with assistance from some of the biggest names in rock-and-roll including Eric Clapton, Todd Rundgren, John Sebastian, Leslie West, Dickey Betts, Pete Carr, Tommy Talton, Calvin Arline, and Neil Larsen. And they received additional songwriting support from Gregg Allman, Paul Butterfield, Randy Van Warmer, and Billie Joe Shaver.
You would imagine a record with such a musical pedigree would be spectacular, with the record company eager to release it. Unfortunately, the result was an above-average collection of songs without a stand out single, and nothing that could seemingly shift music buyer’s attention away from the dance records climbing the charts. It is a testament to how turbulent the music industry was in the 70’s. These songs written by some of the best in the business get ignored, yet a song like “Kung Fu Fighting” would sell 11 millions copies. An example of missed opportunity became apparent as Pompeii’s version of Just When I Needed You Most never received airplay, but writer Randy Van Warmer was able to record it on his own with a more adult-contemporary feel and it became a massive hit. You can only assume Pompeii’s entire record could have been a gold or platinum release if recorded just 2-3 years sooner.
Fast-forward 40 years later, The Secret Sessions will finally be available as a Record Store Day release on Apr 21. The record includes the 10 songs originally recorded by Pompeii, along with a digital download of Easy Money; Silent Movie;
and the fittingly titled Growing Old with Rock and Roll re-recorded with Corky Laing’s current band mates Chris Shutters and Mark Mikel. The digital download also includes a brand new track Knock Me Down, which was written during the re-recording sessions to capitalize on the renewed vibe they shared.
The original tracks have that distinct 70’s sound, highlighted with several outstanding musical moments, and varying styles. The Best Thing is straight forward classic rock, I Hate Dancing and I Ain’t No Angel have nostalgic funk grooves with a hint of disco in “Dancing”. Strong southern-fried elements really shine in tracks like Silent Movie, On My Way to Georgia, and Growing Old with Rock and Roll. Vocal production certainly sounds dated at times. Lyrics are
standard topics of the era, and often cliché. But, it’s those musical moments that captivate and keep you listening. There is exceptional piano and keys throughout the record, bluesy harmonica, outstanding guitar work, with some killer bass lines and drumming that really drive these songs home.
The re-recorded tracks are an excellent additional to this release. Naturally they sound a little more punchy and updated, but I really appreciate the extra grit and wear in Corky’s vocals that give these songs renewed life, not to discredit the excellent vocal work Chris and Mark provided. I also really enjoyed the new track Knock Me Down. It’s disappointing these recordings are only available via digital download, it would have been nice to have them pressed along with the original tracks in a 2-LP release.
Pompeii’s Secret Sessions will be a must have for several collectors, especially any fan of Corky Laing or Ian Hunter. It’s hard to believe it remained in the vault this long. Its unexpected treasures like this that vinyl junkies, like myself, line up for on Record Store Day. A chance to get our hands on long lost recordings and rarities that take us back to another place and time. Bell-bottoms and Chevy van not included.