The Groundhogs In-depth Biography
The Groundhogs} were not British blues} at their most creative; nor were they British blues} at their most generic. They were emblematic of some of the genre's most visible strengths and weaknesses. They were prone to jam too long on basic riffs, they couldn't hold a candle to American blues} singers in terms of vocal presence, and their songwriting wasn't so hot. On the other hand, they did sometimes stretch the form in unexpected ways, usually at the hands of their creative force, guitarist/songwriter/vocalist T.S. (Tony) McPhee}. For a while they were also extremely popular in Britain, landing three albums in that country's Top Ten in the early '70s.
The Groundhogs'} roots actually stretch back to the mid-'60s, when McPhee} helped form the group, named after a John Lee Hooker} song (the band was also known briefly as John Lee's Groundhogs}). In fact, the Groundhogs} would back Hooker} himself on some of the blues} singer's mid-'60s British shows, and also back him on record on an obscure LP. They also recorded a few very obscure singles with a much more prominent R&B/soul} influence than their later work.
In 1966, the Groundhogs} evolved into Herbal Mixture}, which (as if you couldn't guess from the name) had more of a psychedelic flavor than a blues} one. Their sole single, "Machines,"} would actually appear on psychedelic} rarity compilations decades later. The Groundhogs}/Herbal Mixture} singles, along with some unreleased material, has been compiled on a reissue CD on Distortions}.
After Herbal Mixture} folded, McPhee} had a stint with the John Dummer Blues Band} before reforming the Groundhogs} in the late '60s at the instigation of United Artists} A&R man Andrew Lauder}. Initially a quartet (bassist Pete Cruickshank} also remained from the original Groundhogs} lineup), they'd stripped down to a trio by the time of their commercial breakthrough, Thank Christ for the Bomb}, which made the U.K. Top Ten in 1970.
The Groundhogs'} power-trio setup, as well as McPhee's} vaguely Jack Bruce}-like vocals, bore a passing resemblance to the sound pioneered by Cream}. They were blunter and less inventive than Cream}, but often strained against the limitations of conventional 12-bar blues with twisting riffs and unexpected grinding chord changes. McPhee's} lyrics, particularly on Thank Christ for the Bomb}, were murky, sullen anti-establishment statements that were often difficult to decipher, both in meaning and actual content. They played it straighter on the less sophisticated follow-up, Split}, which succumbed to some of the period's blues}-hard-rock} indulgences, putting riffs and flash over substance.
McPhee} was always at the very least an impressive guitarist, and a very versatile one, accomplished in electric, acoustic, and slide styles. Who Will Save the World? The Mighty Groundhogs!} (1972), their last Top Ten entry, saw McPhee} straying further from blues} territory into somewhat progressive realms, even adding some mellotron and harmonium (though the results were not wholly unsuccessful). The Groundhogs} never became well-known in the U.S., where somewhat similar groups like Ten Years After} were much bigger. Although McPhee} and the band have meant little in commercial or critical terms in their native country since the early '70s, they've remained active as a touring and recording unit since then, playing to a small following in the U.K. and Europe. ~ Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide