Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers: A second chance to hear what we first missed
There are few people reading this who will be familiar with Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers. They were British, lasted only between 1972 and 1975, had about 400 gigs and just two albums. Their main claim to fame is that they were linked through members with Brinsely Schwarz, itself a relatively obscure British pub rock band known mainly to Brits of a certain age.
Perhaps this album will change that. It should. The two CD, 44-song anthology will be a thrill to anyone with a soft spot for the Grateful Dead and their ilk. It is a series of rags, country boogies, American 1960s/70s country rock that sound as if they should have come from Palo Alto rather than the scruffy pubs of London’s Balham.. It may have something to do with the fact that co-founder Martin Stone spent some time in later ’60s San Francisco.
You get the feel right from the start with “Living Out Of My Suitcase”, a paen to bands without work and homes (with a Ry Cooder-ish slide). Skip forward a few tracks and you have “Fiddle Dee”, a raw banjo/fiddle affair that you might hear at the Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax, VA, but was performed in the back room of some London dive.
The U.S.-West Coast sound come through beautifully on “Desert Island Woman” (although I do have to wonder how many mangoes there were in grungy Britain at the time).
It is not clear why the band did not make it. One reason may have been that the kind of Americana being offered at the time was not a crowd-pelaser in Britain. This was the period wedged into the outgoing prog rock and the about-to hit punk rock. My own love of Americana (Little Feat aside) only began when I crossed the Atlantic for a few years. I would not have been impressed going into a pub in 1974 and hearing this.
But I would now. This anthology is great listening. A real second chance to hear something that was missed at the time.