Graham Reid | | 2 min read
In the age of Cream (mid '66 to late '68), Blue Cheer and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the power trio became an established form and this group from Buckinghamshire -- two brothers and another -- took the hard rock, guitar pyrotechnics sound to the top of the British charts with this single. And that was about it for them.
That's actually not entirely true, but there is a back-story and a little bit after worth recounting.
The Gun story begins with guitarist Paul Curtis' stint in a group called The Knack (in a Spinal-Tap/New Originals story they'd previously been The Londoners who had backed Gene Vincent).
Curtis' father Sam was a roadie for the Kinks (so maybe he knew a man who knew a man?) and the Knack recorded some singles (two produced by Tony Meehan of the Shadows) for Decca. There were line-up changes (their full, amusingly Tap-like story is here) but eventually Curtis brother Adrian (guitar) joined Paul (who switched to bass) and drummer Louis Farrell.
Under the influence of the emerging psychedelic scene, they became The Gun (more correctly just Gun).
By that name they recorded their self-titled debut album (one of the first covers to feature a painting by Roger Dean, incidentally) which sprang this incendiary single. Race with the Devil doesn't go very far (there's a case to be made that it is too repetitious) but it certainly gets there fast.
At a mere 3.40 it takes off at full throttle after a little eerie scene-setting by the vocals, then it is foot to the floor the whole way. It is one of those riffs that young guitarists practice after they've mastered the slower ones like Smoke on the Water, Satisfaction and Foxy Lady. (Speaking of which, Hendrix allegedly liked this and incorporated into his Machine Gun at the Isle of Wight in '70, but I can't hear it quoted in the recording I have.)
But although the all-originals album had powerful songs like Yellow Cab Man and Rat Race, as a singles act The Gun were done.
The band recorded a second album (Gunsight in '69) but none of the singles took off in quite the same way. The brothers Curtis, reverting to their family name of Gurvitz, formed Three Man Army and in '74 linked up with former Cream drummer Ginger Baker for the Baker-Gurvitz Army.
But none of the rest matters -- except to them.
The Gun were one-hit wonders, although as it strode the world of '67-'68 it was quite some hit. It was rock music, just as the form was emerging, and they knew it.
"We're a rock group," Farrell is quoted on the album cover saying. "No, I don't mean rock and roll -- do me a favour. I mean a hard rock group. We're trying to play rock, in our own way."
The liner notes (by Melody Maker writer Chris Welch) concluded with a warning: "The Gun are aiming at you!"
For more on-offs or songs with an interesting back-story see From the Vaults.