Heads, Hands & Feet: They Once Helped Spawn Britain’s Interest in Contemporary Country
British bands rooted in Americana tradition aren’t a new phenomenon by any means. Groups like Brinsley Schwarz, Ducks Deluxe, Starry Eyed and Laughing, and others tempered their pub rock approach with hints of country rock, as borrowed from bands like the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and other members of the legions that populated Laurel Canyon half a century ago. Even the Beatles, the Stones, and the Kinks freely dabbled in sounds synonymous with the American heartland, and in the process paved the way for mainstays like pedal steel, fiddle, mandolin, and twang to find a niche in the English environs.
One Americana outfit that came of age around the early ‘70s was Heads, Hands & Feet. The group – Albert Lee (lead guitar), Tony Colton (vocals), Ray Smith (rhythm guitar, bass, vocals), Chas Hodges (bass, violin, vocals), and Pete Gavin (drums) – was made of several veteran musicians and producers whose credits had encompassed such mainstream stars as Dionne Warwick, Richard Harris, and Shirley Bassey as well as work on various film and documentary soundtracks. The band’s first incarnation was dubbed Poet and the One Man Band, but by 1970 they had changed their handle to the only slightly less cumbersome Heads, Hands & Feet.
Yours truly had a chance to catch Heads, Hands & Feet when they opened for Humble Pie at a free concert in London’s Hyde Park, a show which was headlined by Grand Funk Railroad. Although they were clearly overshadowed by the bigger names, I recall being impressed by their country cred. Upon returning to the States, I immediately bought their eponymous double album debut on Capitol Records. It didn’t disappoint.
Sadly, they didn’t make that much of an impression with anyone else that day, including some of the other performers. A year or so ago, I introduced myself to Grand Funk Railroad/Silver Bullet Band drummer Don Brewer backstage after a Bob Seger show and I relayed the fact that I was in Hyde Park the day they played. However, when I mentioned the opening act, Brewer didn’t seem to have a clue as to who I was referring to.
Regardless, the coulda-been, shoulda-been classic cut from that self-titled double album was a tune called “Country Boy.” It was a classic example of Americana well before the term was even effectively coined. It was a catchy enough track, highlighted by some nimble guitar picking from Albert Lee, but aside from a brief flirtation with the country charts courtesy of Ricky Skaggs, it’s relegated to the cobwebs of musical obscurity. Happily though, it resurfaced recently on an album called Guitar Heroes – a collaborative effort by such revered axemen as James Burton, Amos Garrett, David Wilcox, and, of course, the equally legendary Lee himself.
Heads, Hands & Feet went on to release two more albums before breaking up in 1973 – Tracks and Old Soldiers Never Die – as well as a belated posthumous effort Home from Home, which was originally intended to be their debut before it was rejected by their record label. Each successive offering garnered only diminished returns. Despite occasional sessions appearances backing Jerry Lee Lewis, Shirley Bassey, and Don Everly, HH&F are now all but forgotten.
All except Albert Lee, that is. His devotion to Americana was proven after he moved to the States and became an in-demand country picker and performer with Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band, Eric Clapton, the Everly Brothers, and the modern incarnation of Buddy Holly’s Crickets. Yet despite a string of solo albums, Lee has never come close to achieving any individual stardom. Nevertheless, he has the obvious admiration of his peers, including Jimmy Page and Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, each of whom have praised him for a complete lack of attitude and ego.
Heads, hands and feet aside, it doesn’t get much better than that.