"Got to keep on moving, running to the sounds
Rhythm is a song dance
Rocking to a song dance."
American rock band, based in St. Louis, Missouri. Intermittently active 1973-2013.
David Surkamp (vocals, guitars)
Mike Safron (drums, percussion)
Steve Scorfina (guitars)
Siegfried Carver (electric violin)
David Hamiton (keyboards)
Rick Stockton (bass)
Doug Rayburn (mellotron, flute)
There are some strange American bands that are hardly known in the US but are huge elsewhere in the world. Here's another one of them. If you say "Pavlov's Dog" in Europe or Australia, chances are it will be recognised as something that's not just 19th century science. 25 years after the band split, frontman David Surkamp, who now does the odd music column, tells of visiting bands that he's supposed to be interviewing asking him whether he's "THE David Surkamp?!" Which, of course, he is. With a platinum record on his wall. From Australia.
"In St. Louis they're bigger than the Stones" --NME, Dec 1975
But only in St. Louis, as far as America was concerned. Pavlov's Dog have recorded five albums, two of which are seriously worth your time and money. Of the remainder, one spent most of its time as bootleg. The later albums had only two of the original members in the line-up and doesn't quite compare to their earlier work. Their first two albums, though, are impressive. In Pampered Menial and At the Sound of the Bell we have two brilliant albums of what might or might not be described as pop, might or might not be described as prog rock... hell, I don't know. Whatever you call it, those two albums are largely obscure delights of a mid-70s music scene that was pretty unproductive as a whole.
In a way, the band epitomised the broken rock dream of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Around 1974, Pavlov's Dog were hot stuff. Formed the previous year, they signed with ABC Dunhill and collected an advance said to be a staggering $600,000 before releasing as much as a single, something unheard of for a completely untried band. They then went to record Pampered Menial, and got canned by their label (according to Safron's version of events) OR were traded for another band OR jumped to Columbia. The album hit the shelves on the same day under two different labels.
So there was this singer who some said was like Geddy Lee, and loved or hated accordingly, and could hit notes that very few could even imagine reaching. When I give people a taste of Pavlov's Dog, I like to mess with their minds by making them guess whether the vocals are male or female. Half of them get it wrong. Perhaps a comparison to Klaus Nomi would be more helpful. There was cool junk like flutes, violins and a mellotron (acquired after seeing John Lennon's). There was a band that never used paper, be it in the form of sheet music or whatever (not even set lists as far as I can tell), and exhibited talent like few before or after them. And they knew it:
"We were the house band at the Ambassador Theatre. And we'd play in front of the bands like Aerosmith and Kiss. And they flat-out couldn't follow us. They weren't in the same league. We'd go out on tours and then get kicked off after one or two nights because acts just couldn't come out after us." --D.S.
While sales of the first album could have been better, the critics didn't mind it. They became one of the darlings of the New Musical Express and even inspired a comic strip in the magazine. The second album was released with Columbia and, while not quite as remarkable as the first, is still a classic. Album number three was shelved by Columbia, who, I suppose, intended to put an end to this capricious ensemble's recording career. However, before going their separate ways, the band members were each given a 1/4 inch copy of the master tape, and a few versions of the album did make it out from these tapes. Known as Third most of the time for discographical purposes, the best known version of it is the "St. Louis Hounds" edition. Number four
was made with Surkamp and Rayburn as the only original members, and Scorfina putting in a guest appearance.
In 2004 Pavlog's Dog began to tour again with varying line-ups and mostly in Europe. They also spent a little time in the studio. By 2012, two of the original members (Rayburn and Carver) had died so the continuation is never certain but remains probable as long as Safron and Surkamp feel up to it. European tour dates for late 2013 had been posted at the time of writing.
As far as I'm concerned Pavlov's Dog stand as one of the finest musical ensembles of the 1970s and are sorely deprived of the recognition they deserve. I've owned their first two albums for well over a decade and they're still as high on my playlist as they were when I first got them. I call that the test of time and they've passed it with flying colours. The band itself has passed into the realm of legend as one of the biggest might-have-been-much-more's of 1970s music. So I'm not old enough to have seventies nostalgia but damned if the mention of this band doesn't warm my villainous heart regardless.
Without doubt, Pampered Menial is an album that you might hate but, if you love it, you'll love it forever. At the Sound of the Bell is pretty much the same. If you see a copy of either hanging around waiting for a good home, don't hesitate to adopt it. If it's lying around unappreciated... liberate it! If your tastes include stuff like Yes, Procol Harum and King Crimson, there's a good chance that you'll like The Dog. The modern miracle of the internet may help you obtain a copy from record shops in St. Louis that carry the band's old albums.