Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Pig Iron
Today we raid our sister’s bedroom for an obscure, but pretty cool album from 1970 – Pig Iron. Back in the day Columbia Records was doing well with rock bands that had a big, brassy sound. They gave us Chicago Transit Authority, Blood, Sweat and Tears as well as Pacific Gas & Electric and even Chase (on Epic Records).
Now to my ears they were just pop/rock bands that happened to have horns, but people called it “jazz rock fusion” even if there was no jazz to be found. I think that’s what the Columbia PR department came up with, and bands were all too happy to go along for the ride.
Pig Iron was a unit out of New York City with six members, some of whom could double up on trumpet and vocals. Drummer Alan Abrahams was also the lead vocalist and apparently the musical director of this outfit. Abrahams produced the eponymous first album, which included the ear-opening cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You.”
The song starts out with that weird “tuning” thing that I’m almost sure Chicago or BST also did, then it kicks into a groove reminiscent of Eric Burdon and the Animals. But about a minute or so into the tune, it changes into a skipping (jazzy?) tempo punctuated by the horns. Band member Marty Fogel delivers a tasty saxophone solo before Adam Ippolito (I think) takes over with an equally nice trumpet solo. It’s a refreshing take on a song you’ve heard a thousand times before.
“Neighbor Neighbor” is another cover (co-written by Huey Meaux!) that was also done by Spencer Davis Group and Status Quo back in the day. Jerry Garcia also did it with Merl Saunders occasionally … anyway, the Pig Iron version is fairly straightforward. “I Can’t Make It Alone” is a standard pop-rock effort that maybe swipes a melodic hook or two from other songs, I would have considered it almost tasteful until the female choir floated in.
“People Gonna Talk” is much better, it’s meat-and-potatoes rock; “Abe’s Blues” is a piano-guitar workout that is slightly reminiscent of the Al Kooper/Mike Bloomfield Super Sessions. “Wake Up Mr. Charlie” is a tambourine shakin’ tune with a gospel flavor that could have been done by Pacific Gas & Electric. “Easy Time Now” steers blatantly into BST territory, and probably that’s a mistake for this band.
Pig Iron apparently got some critical acclaim upon its release but listeners didn’t bite. Maybe the band’s music was a little too derivative, a little too much like everything else out there. Listening to it with modern ears, this album does sound pretty dated.
After some high-profile tours opening for big acts, Pig Iron broke up in 1971 so this would the band’s only album. Abrahams would become a sought-after producer, working with Pure Prairie League, Joan Baez and David Cassidy. Ippolito and bass player Gary Van Scyoc would join Elephant’s Memory, a NYC band whose biggest moment was backing up John Lennon & Yoko Ono (for the album Sometime In New York City). And sax player Marty Fogel would spend a lot of time playing with Lou Reed.