Growers of Mushroom: a long underrated album claims its place among the champignons

Leaf Hound, Growers of Mushroom, Italy, Akarma Records, vinyl AK256 (reissued 2003)

If not for an unstable line-up with band members seemingly coming and going, this British blues-influenced hard rock quintet might have taken its place among more famous early 1970s contemporaries like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Leaf Hound originally formed in 1969 as Black Cat Bones and in that incarnation recorded an album, “Barbed Wire Sandwich”, before lead guitarist Rod Price jumped ship to join Foghat, and with that band emigrated to the US where Foghat enjoyed success for the remainder of the 1970s. (Price died in New Hampshire in 2005 after suffering a heart attack and falling down a flight of stairs.) The remaining members of BCB, Derek and Stuart Brooks, formed Leaf Hound with singer Peter French, guitarist Mick Halls and drummer Keith George Young. Playing gigs in England, touring Germany and fitting in the recording of “Growers of Mushroom” (apparently done and dusted in 11 hours flat) among concert dates must have taken their toll as the band folded some time in 1971 and French went on to sing for Atomic Rooster, another bluesy hard rock band that would also go through constantly shifting personnel and even changes in musical style through the ’70s and ’80s.

For an album done in less time than it used to take me to do weekly junior high school homework, “Growers …” initially sounds a bit like Led Zeppelin (with a tougher attitude) and a lighter version of Black Sabbath but as the album continues, I find I can’t imagine those more famous bands doing what Leaf Hound do: the not-quite-famous five rocket through a varied and interesting set of songs with energy, enthusiasm, inspiration and crisp playing. Despite having three guitarists, Leaf Hound shun extended lead guitar soloing passages that go nowhere and don’t enhance the songs, and the drumming likewise sticks to its time-keeping and support duties. Singer Peter French rips into the lyrics with heartfelt soul and emotion, and the other musicians happily crunch through rugged riffs and rhythms, and sail through electrifying lead guitar chord lines that intensify the mood of the songs.

The result is that nearly each and every song on the original album – and there are nine of them! – is a gem radiating forth creativity, passion and power. Several songs might have Zeppelin-style epic riffs that can sound a bit clunky but the musicians push past them with ease. Highlights include “Freelance Fiend” (it’s a good sign when the album begins with a tapping cowbell), the impassioned “Work My Body” and the psych-lite title track which experiments with reverb and a cleaner style of singing. Of the two bonus tracks, “It’s Gonna Get Better” has less Zeppelin influence and a soulful feel with piano and organ competing for attention with the guitars.

It seems unbelievable that this album has languished in obscurity over the decades the way it has, mainly as a cult collector’s item and source of inspiration to stoner rock bands, though the band’s name and the album’s title wouldn’t have exactly endeared Leaf Hound to an audience other than stoner hippies in the early ’70s. Leaf Hound’s short existence from 1969 to 1971 did not help the album’s sales either. With the band’s reformation in 2004 though, with Peter French once again at the helm as lead singer, leading a new line-up of musicians, “Growers …” may finally gain Leaf Hound the reputation the band deserves.