Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2018 May-June Contents 20 Rhythms
Here’s the deal. You are checking the bargain bins of an
old record store sorting through albums by one unfamiliar
act after another - but at least the prices are right. Up pops
Buckwheat Charade – on US London label, early 70s with
a gatefold jacket reeking of period L.A . Laurel Canyon and
just enough spooky craziness on the back to perk curiosity...
especially as it shouldn’t cost you much.
That could be how the crate dig goes and if it did you would
be duly rewarded. Turns out circa 1971 Buckwheat came
west out of Oklahoma, the members having paid enough
dues to expect a shot at the big time if they weren’t just
so damn eclectic. The psychedelia of a few earlier albums
had been shaken off and replaced with a mix of funk and
country which at that stage (if ever) was not really flying
up the charts. The core membership of Michael ‘Bucky’
Smotherman (keys/vocals), Dub Campbell (guitar), Marc
Durham (bass) had been augmented by Rick Gilbert
(drums) and Debbie Campbell (Dub’s wife) on vocals/guitar.
The group was musically covering some wide-open
territory, doing it well but the outstanding feature were
the vocals of Campbell. Her relaxed soulful groove puts
her up with the finest female vocalists of the era, certainly
those with a white complexion anyway. Complementing her
subtle power, bassist Durham could play it straight or give
funkmasters such as Larry Graham a run for their money
when required. Ditto Smotherman, on electric piano and as
a songwriter, but also as a crooning vocal foil for Campbell.
As usual it all came down to a hit song or rather lack of one.
Certainly the opener ‘Hey Little Girl’ was a pretty powerful
Sly & the Family Stone style groover with Smotherman
taking the opening verse until Campbell’s overwhelming
presence on the chorus brings it all home. The song that
follows, ‘Children’ (by the same writer Steve Lindell) is a
tender piece fronted by Campbell that also had commercial
potential. Really her forte at that stage was the rowdy bar
band oeuvre and the best was yet to come. First the semi
biographical country shuffle ‘Old L.A’ and then side one
closer ‘Tell Me Baby’ where Debbie scores her first co-
write credit. Delivering a killer vocal on a bluesy stomper
complete with an Elmore James ‘Dust My Broom’ style
guitar riff that says all that needs to be said.
Flip the disc over for a double dose of Debbie (and possibly
the most immediately appealing track on the album).
‘Funky Way (To Treat Somebody)’ was originally recorded
by the song’s writer Calvin Arnold back in ’67, but here
is transformed by Smotherman’s outrageously cheesy
distorted electric keys; Marc Durham’s superfine bass work
and of course, Campbell’s right on the money vocal. Genya
Ravan, Elke Brooks, Gail McCormack, any number of other
white women staking out this territory at the time take
note, few could hold a candle to Campbell based on her
performance right here.
Sure it goes downhill after this highlight but there is
enough to suggest Buckwheat could have fared better if
not for the usual bad management, less than fully engaged
producer woes and London Records lack of clout when it
comes to hit singles. At least that’s the way the story is told
by the most ongoing active member of the troop Michael
Smotherman. Surviving a stint with Captain Beefheart he
amazingly snared an entire album worth of songs recorded
by Glen Campbell (no relation to the Campbells here) plus
a few solo albums and even a stint in Mick Fleetwood’s non-
Mac project Zoo which also included Billy Thorpe.
Debbie Campbell scored a brief solo contract with the
Playboy label but moved back to Tulsa, Oklahoma where
she remained a much loved singing presence until she died
at the young age of 53. In many ways a typical band story,
Buckwheat at least didn’t have a weak link. With this line-up
all performed at their peak abilities and given time and
place had every chance of ‘making it’. That their discs are
now consigned to the bargain browser bins is just the way it
LONDON XPS 621
In the 60s/70s/80s major record labels worldwide
maintained a massive album release schedule. Only a
comparatively few artists scored a hit, others became ‘cult’
classics. Beyond that exists an underbelly of almost totally
ignored work, (much never reissued) that time has been
kind to. This is a page for the crate diggers.
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