Chris Farlowe & the Thunderbirds: The Beginning

Ryan Reed on December 15, 2017

In 1961, seven years before Jimmy Page transformed the history of rock music by forming Led Zeppelin, the prolific session guitarist stumbled on a fiery blues-soul band, the Thunderbirds, onstage in London. Riveted by vocalist Chris Farlowe and guitarist Bobby Taylor, he offered to record the group’s debut demo at nearby RG Jones Sound Studio in Morden. That session was pivotal in two ways: Not only did the connection help launch Farlowe’s career, but it also proved that Page was capable of manning the producer’s chair, cementing a confidence that flowered throughout his tenure with Led Zeppelin. Those 12 recordings remained shelved for 56 years, but Page—perhaps in a nostalgic mood, given his recent Zeppelin reissues—dusted off the tapes for retrospective showcase The Beginning. Maybe “dusted” isn’t the right word: As the hissy opening seconds of instrumental “Entry of the Slaves” make clear, these tracks sound more like they’ve been buried under mountains of dirt for the past half-century. But the songs themselves offer an often riveting glance into early rock history—a pre-Beatles-era London where possibilities felt limitless. These Thunderbirds were first-rate players, spicing up the rote blues of “Slaves” and jazzy swirl of “Spring Is Near” with visceral guitar solos and tom-tom flourishes. And Farlowe, even at this young age, oozed charisma with that golden, wise-beyond-his-years blues moan. His voice sounds primed for any challenge, whether scatting to the guitar solo on their version of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” or crooning soulfully on waltz ballad “Just a Dream.” As for Page’s contributions? Well, this is a 1961 demo, not “Stairway to Heaven.” But Zeppelin completists should seek out The Beginning for its historical importance alone.

Artist: Chris Farlowe & the Thunderbirds
Album: The Beginning