Bobby Harrison

Angel Air, 1975

REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker


A curious mix of funk, soul, and rock n’ roll, Funkist is an overlooked gem of the 1970s. The lone solo album of Procol Harem’s founding drummer Bobby Harrison, it features a broad cast of characters that includes a pre-Whitesnake Micky Moody as the primary guitarist and Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice and Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi appearing as guests. Bobby Harrison himself leaves the drum kit behind and takes on vocals and turns in an impressive,  soulful performance! Levon Helm aside, it’s not often we hear a singing drummer (and no, Ringo Starr does not count), let alone one who takes on an eclectic mix of songs.

The opening number is one of the strongest on the album. A cover of R&B songwriter Joe Simon’s title track to Cleopatra Jones, the bass is pumped and the vocals have gone from soul to white man’s blues. And it works incredibly well! Wouldn’t fit on the soundtrack to my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Superfly but it’s an immediately catchy cover that makes Procol Harem sound tame in comparison. The funked up beat and Harrison’s great blues vocals segue into “Whiskey Head,” likely a tribute to Delta blues singer and guitarist Tommy McClennan’s “Whiskey Head Woman.” Follow it up with some slide guitar in “Thinkin’ Bout You” and the centerpiece to the album is coming up…

…Which, in this admittedly biased reviewer’s opinion is “King Of The Night,” a magnificent seven minute number featuring Tony Iommi on guitar. Iommi’s sound and his riffs were arguably at their best at this time, with Black Sabbath’s Sabotage released in the same year. Acquainted with Harrison when his post-Procol band, Freedom, opened for Black Sabbath on their 1971 tour of Great Britain, Iommi contributes a slow and hypnotic riff that fits surprisingly well with a blues singer. The song even takes a twist at the midway interlude, guaranteed to throw off Sabbath fans on first listen – in a good way!

Bobby Harrison has repeatedly named “Long Gone,” on which he also plays drums and wrote the lyrics, as his favorite track on the album. A song about embarking on tour and leaving people behind, it fits well with “Cleopatra Jones” and “Whiskey Head” as the third fusion of Harrison’s blues vocals with a funk. The song was re-recorded as a single for Harrison’s next band, Snafu, but I’d favour this one; his vocals are more front and center in the mix, the bass has more punch, and there’s a real sense of groove. 

Funkist is a bit loose around the edges at times, as is any release with a broad range of musicians passing through. But Harrison’s shift from drums to vocals and his interest in experimenting with different genres makes for an interesting and highly enjoyable 35 minutes. Persuaded by management to shelve the solo album and form a band with co-writer Micky Moody in what became Snafu, it was released after three years’ delay with little promotion from Capitol Records and soon faded to obscurity. Re-released in 2000, the album is well worth discovering.

Rating: B+

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