Already a part of John Lee Hooker’s backing band and supporters including Julian Cope’s Unsung Album of the Month back in 2000 and Captain Sensible of the Damned who’s been an admirer of Tony McPhee’s guitar playing and vocalization, The Groundhogs were the opposite of a Blues Rock trio piece from the realms of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Blue Cheer, and Cream and took the genre of the Blues and Psychedelic music into another level. It was hard, vicious, heavy, and were sort of giving Clapton a chance to bow down to his knees and were sort of the early archetypes of early Hard Rock and Punk mixed together into a giant mixing bowl.
That being said, you could tell that you were about to enter the mind of a psychopathic living in the mental institute and knowing this wasn’t going to be your simple Blues album that would have given the Rolling Stones a big wake-up call for them. Released in 1971 on the Liberty label, Split was inspired by Tony McPhee’s panic attack that he had while trying to come up with a composition that he was working on and he needed to calm down and figure out what he was going to do that would later be this crazy adventure.
Engineered by Martin Birch, who would later work with Deep Purple and Iron Maiden and produced and recorded by Tony McPhee (Rhythm and Lead Guitar, Vocals), Peter Cruikshank (Bass Guitar), and Ken Pustelnik (Drums). And with the nightmares that Tony had during the sessions, the music itself is a surreal and a twisted tale of the surrealism that you could feel the tension and atmosphere in what was happening during the sessions.
The Four-Part title track features McPhee with his angry like vocals that resembles Roger Chapman of Family at times, goes through various structures on his electric guitar as unleashes his power on what this person is going through and its almost like straight out of Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. At times the suite is a spiritual journey through the realms of hallucinations, suicide, evil, and resurrection to find out who you really are while Tony does some pure psychedelic power on the guitar through solos, shuffles, and power chords including a B-movie like Hammond sound on what is happening to the Man’s mind.
The eruptive Cherry Red, finds the band going into the deeper realms of Iggy and the Stooges Raw Power-era while the mellowing A Year in the Life captures the death of the hippie movement and the ‘60s generation through the various incarnations of weather on the Spring, Spring, Autumn, and Fall and at times it feels like a mourning song that is written as a funeral at what happened during the Stones free concert at the Altamont Speedway in December, 1969. Elsewhere, Junkman, which deals with a Janitor cleaning up the mess, is a fiery heavy metal psychedelic freak out flamer which goes into a folk-jingly sing-along piece then goes back into the firework momentum on Tony’s shrieking guitar solo.
Then it’s the closer, Groundhog, which is an homage to the blues legend John Lee Hooker, is Tony tapping his feet and playing Guitar as if he was the incarnation of Seasick Steve and slide guitar work like Ry Cooder in this piece playing both Acoustic and Electric guitar, alone and just playing the way the Blues is meant to play. The Groundhogs are the bees knees of obscure hard blues rock. Along with Thank Christ for the Bomb, Split is one of the most dangerous and strangest albums to come out of the ‘70s, but it is, for me, one of the most playable albums that needs a lot of attention.