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The Four Horsemen
The Four Horsemen EP - Caroline/ILL 1989
The landscape of popular American music has changed so much in the years that have passed. In the days when rock was king, radio was saturated by elements of hard rock and metal, slammin' on the drums and heavy on the guitar. Like the good ol' American musclecar, they don't make 'em like that anymore. I grew up to the likes of Gun's & Roses, ACDC, Skynyrd, and the Crue so it was a great surprise to me hearing about a group named The Four Horsemen and their album Nobody Said It Was Easy. I had never heard of them before. Jeez, I thought, where the hell was I when this came out?
Now it goes without saying that every great rock band should have great rhythm, bad attitude and all that good shit. But also key is what their music says to you and what sort of story the songs tell. I've put the Horsemen albums on repeat more times than I care to admit. Hell, the last album I played for countless hours on repeat was Use Your Illusion II from Guns & Roses because not only did the album rock, but the lyrics spoke to me. Now I ain't trying to compare the Horsemen to GnR, because make no mistake they are *not* Guns & Roses. Axl Rose never sang about "Looking for a piece of ass, looking for a cheeseburger", nor did he ever have a "12 gauge sittin' unda tha driver seat". And hey, any frontman that can relate to having a "454 under the Goddamn hood o' this mutha", is cool in my book. There's a lot more where that came from since The Four Horsemen packed their albums chock full of classic lines only a rocker could come up with.
This is no shit rock and roll.
To understand what the Horsemen sound like, bear in mind that at the height of their existence, hard rock and heavy metal was the order of the day. It was this kind of street-brawlin', hard-chargin', fuck the cops and row the gears into overdrive type smash-the-gas-pedal-and-the-next-guy's-face guitar riffin' rock that the Horsemen played. They had all the ingredients that made groups of the era famous, taking a load of contagious riff's reminiscent of ACDC, a lead singer with the kind of voice that put Axl Rose on the map and they mixed that up with some seriously bad ass lyrics about fast women, fast cars, and booze. Their origins might have been in Hollywood and not some down and dirty southern ranch deep in the heart of Dixie as one might expect, but they were every bit as hard-rockin', long-haired and unshaven as they needed to be, and truth be told by all accounts, they lived the life they sang of that kept their music true.
"It's dirty. It's a pity. And time ain't exactly on our side."
The story of the Horsemen begin round about 1988. The band was formed when bassist Stephen Harris (aka Haggis) moved to LA and teamed up with Frank C. Starr (born Frank Casamassina) doing vocals, Dave Lizmi on lead guitar, Ben Pape on bass and Ken Montogomery (aka Dimwit) on the drums. This was The Four Horsemen as the world knew them by their first (and now rare) little known four track self-titled EP in 1989 through their major-label debut Nobody Said It Was Easy in 1991. The Horsemen might not have been able to count very well, as there were five of them, but at least they damn sure knew how to play rock and roll.
Stephen Harris, whom is typically credited with putting the band together, was "Kid Chaos" before he was a Horseman. The Welshman from Swansea, Glamorgan had a career up to that point as a hired-gun bassist for various heavy rock outfits like Zodiac Mindwarp and The Love Reaction and The Cult (that would be the same Ian Astbury Southern Death Cult, Death Cult, later to be called just plain Cult). Yeah, no shit. But somehow he blows that gig and with his departure from The Cult, Harris leaves the UK for Los Angeles to form his own rock and roll band. He spends the rest of his hard-rocker days as "Haggis", to all who knew him. 'Haggis' also happens to be the name of a Scottish dish made up of highly seasoned, minced viscerals from a calf or sheep which is boiled, in the same slaughtered animal's stomach, until it has the consistency of pudding. Fitting, as many of the hard-rockin' Horsemen tracks found on their albums are as brash as his namesake.
A rather talented songwriter, Haggis wrote most (if not all) of the tracks and lyrics found on Nobody Said It Was Easy, sharing some of that songwriting in a few tracks like "Tired Wings" and "75 Again" with his girlfriend at the time in LA.
"With the Devil in my heart, and a shotgun in my hand..."
I can't say enough about how much this album really does rock. Kickin' off the album is the title song for which the album was named. If you listen real careful you might hear Haggis bitch about makin' it big. A constant theme in that song was time, or lack of it and let me tell you brotha, whether it be a rock and roll band, relationships, or just plain life in general..."Nobody Said It Was Easy" tells it like it is. Following that first track we have the all obnoxious rock tune titled "Rockin' Is Ma Business". Brazen, badass, and cocky, it's the Horsemen at their finest, declaring what was later to be a motto of theirs. Third up is "Tired Wings", a catchy twangy tune that slows things down a bit; not much, just enough for you to truly appreciate the awesome slide work on the guitar in this track. Not a bad rendition of a song originally rejected by Geffen (DGC), not bad at all. Things pick up again really quickly with the next track "Can't Stop Rockin", a sort of cowboy saloon style rock tune reminiscent of the type of rock that made rock so much fun to listen to. The rest of the album is chock full of rocker lifestyle enlightenment paying homage to hot broads, running booze and havin' a fine time looking for trouble. All of the wisdoms and truths about this lifestyle most of us wished we could live but don't have the balls to, are in this album along with a handful of lyrics worthy of quoting to your lesser uninformed rocker type friends. Let me be clear: The Four Horsemen EP and Nobody Said It Was Easy albums are absolutely essential to any rock lover's collection.
"Whiskey is bad for ya soul, I said women are bad for ya heart..."
No one seems to really remember the first Four Horsemen EP, it was a small album with only four tracks...but they were still pretty rockin' tracks. Shortly after that EP, their break came in 1990 when Rick Ruben (of Def Jam fame) signed the Horsemen to his own label, Def American. I mean holy crap, they joined the ranks of acts like the Black Crowes, Danzig, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers; now for a band, if that ain't big, I don't know what is! But in late 1990, flirtin' with the law gets lead singer Frank Starr busted on drug charges and six months jail time. Strike One. He eventually gets out in the spring of 1991 and Nobody Said It Was Easy is recorded and finished. Hey "...time ain't exactly on our side...But that ain't no good reason, not to give it a try", right? Seems like the album hit the streets the same year and seemed they were pretty successful, getting some time on MTV and opening for the likes of The Black Crowes (which leads me to ask again, jeez where the hell was I and why hadn't I heard of them?). Yessir things were lookin' rosy and work on their second follow up album began.
Lead vocalist Frank Starr scratches your eardrums with his outstanding raspy, hoarse and sometimes screechy voice. He was a rocker, and a hot rodder; I can only imagine his Nova was as loud and obnoxious as he was. Being that "Rockin' was his business", he was also an all around bad ass, maybe too much for his own good.
Flirtin' with the law once more gets Frank busted in late 1992 and tossed back in the Big House for a whole year. Strike Two. Who picked the name of this album again?
Needless to say, with internal strife an ever present issue within the band and their frontman behind bars for a year, things were now in the shitter for The Four Horsemen. Things start gettin' hazy in the next five years between their second and third albums; the only certainty is that things will get worse before they get better for this tragedy stricken band. Meanwhile, work on their next album, Gettin' Pretty Good...At Barely Gettin' By, which was probably started in early 1992, continues. It doesn't get very far.
By late 1993, Starr finally gets out of jail, but a lot of motivation is understandably lost with the passing of that year he spends in The Joint. The Horsemen are a shambles due to management problems and internal bickering and probably exist only in name, if at all. To get the gears in motion again, Dave Lizmi and Frank Starr conspire to revive the Four Horsemen and tour, with or without the help of the bands' founder Haggis and original bassist Ben Pape who have seemlingly lost interest. A new face would be added to the Horsemens lineup with the recruitment of a new bassist named Pharoah, whom Frank Starr met in a band after a stint playing for Ozzy Ozbourne that didn't work out. Successfully rallying the band, minus two original members, the "new" Four Horsemen hit the road in 1994 to tour Canada.
The Horsemen continue touring and by September of 1994 are doing quite well selling out shows mainly in Canada and a few in the US and selling a butt load of records in Canada as well. As the rest of the band returns to LA to celebrate their success, drummer Dimwit remains in Vancouver. His celebration unfortunately involved scoring some China White. Without testing the quality of his cut, he OD's on his hit and dies as a result.
But the show must go on, and the remaining Horsemen continue to tour and play on in memory of their lost drummer. Their final album is dedicated to him. Dimwit's older brother, ex-Danzig drummer and sometime graphic artist Chuck Biscuits, plays and tours with the Horsemen in his place. Though the Horsemen hoped that Biscuits would stay on to record for Gettin' Pretty Good, he opted to call it quits and head home. Canadian Randy Cooke would be the new drummer to replace Biscuits on the album. Gettin' Pretty Good...At Barely Gettin' By is recorded in Canada and in the process of being mastered.
In November of 1995, while riding his motorcycle down Sunset Strip, Frank Starr is involved in an accident that proves fatal. A woman, apparently drunk, pulls her car out in front of Starr. With no time to avoid her car, the resulting collision reputedly sends him flying some distance and though Starr was a known hot rodder and liked to ride throwing caution to the wind, he did happen to have a helmet on. It couldn't have helped much as he suffered massive head trauma leaving him comatose for the next four years. In the end, eventually coming out of the coma, Frank was left on life support with virtually no motor skills, unable to walk or talk. He passes away on June 18th 1999.
Fast forward to 1996. Gettin' Pretty Good...At Barely Gettin' By is finally mastered and released. But it's a different world. And with Haggis, Ben Pape, and Dimwit Montgomery gone, Frank Starr on his way out, it's also a different band. Nevertheless the show must go on and the remaining Horsemen regroup to hit the road and tour their new album. To replace Frank Starr on vocals (if that's possible), Ron Young, of Little Caesar, is recruited to hit the road with the Horsemen after things go on the slump following his band's release of their album Influence.
Gettin' Pretty Good...At Barely Gettin' By is a good album and has got more than a few tracks I'd put on repeat. Starting off with a cover of Rick Derringer's "Still Alive And Well", the album alternates between bluesy tracks and between the harder-edge rock prevalent in their first two albums. But it's more bluesy than hard-rock overall, and the lyrics are more introspective, understandable considering what the band has been through. This is an album you'd be swayin' to, but not one you'd be brawlin' to, if you can dig that.
It definately has it's moments, following the Derringer cover, the song for which the album was named grabs you with a catchy chorus that you just can't help but yell. "Drunk Again", reminds us of how these guys still do know how to rock and how it sucks yet rocks to be drunk sometimes. "Livin' These Blues" seems suspiciously like "Tired Wings" from their last album, a good ballad nonetheless. "Keep Your Life", speaks of wisdoms in life while still reminding you of the Horsemen's southern rock roots. "Hot Rod", though a little too skit-like due to Frank's dialog during the song, is saved by the axeman's massive headbanging riffs. This one song really brings out the hot rodder in Frank and sure as hell is worth adding to a cruise playlist. Same goes for the song following titled "Rock My Universe" which starts off spacy but builds a nice crescendo thoughout the track; but this one needs to be played loud otherwise it doesn't work as well for some reason. One of the songs I enjoy most on this album is "Back In Business Again". One of the harder rockin' tracks on the album, if you can overlook the bit of dialog thrown in by Starr in the middle, it's a combination of killer guitar and funny lyrics. Says Frank of himself in this tune: "I'm a fast-talkin' woman-lovin' whiskey-drinkin' good-for-nothin rock and roll star...!!" Classic. The rest of the album slows down a quite bit and the introspective stuff kicks in cause it makes me sad to think about it. But shit, don't take my word for it, it really is worth a listen, for the sake of rock and roll nostalgia. Unfortunately just like Guns & Roses ain't Guns & Roses without Slash, The Four Horsemen just don't seem The Four Horsemen without Haggis.
If you're driving around in old muscle you probably know a thing or two about locating stuff that's hard to find, so do yourself a favor and give these boys a listen. It's a damn shame that tragedy prevented them from ever making it big, but if you're a lover of all things rock, you need to add them to your rock and roll collection and cruise the boulevard with them. Remember what real rock and roll was like and what it meant to be young and badass. You can thank me later.
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"Got a 12 gauge, sittin' unda tha driver seat.
Gotta take yaw chances, life in the fast lane,
Hangin' down by tha skinna yaw teeth."
- The Four Horsemen, Moonshine 1991