In the fall of 1969, Greg T. Walker – bassist, Rickey Medlocke – on guitar and Jakson Spiers on drums, DeWitt Gibbs on keyboards and Charlie Hargrett on guitar formed a band in Jacksonville, Florida, called Hammer. Their first live appearance was at the Miami International Rock Festival back in December 1969.
Three months later, in March 1970, the band was renamed Blackfoot, with two of the members moving to New Jersey, played live shows mostly at universities. Right after DeWitt Gibbs left the band, Rickey Medlocke took over on guitar until June 1971, when Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant was looking for a drummer for his band. Medlocke couldn’t turn his back on this chance and accepted the offer. Greg T. Walker followed the same path, so Blackfoot tear apart, although history was about to show that this would last only for a while.
August 1972, Charlie Hargrett sets out to reunite Blackfoot. He persuades Medlocke, and they decide to make some changes to the lineup, by including Lenny Stadler of Blackberry Hill as bassist and Jakson Spiers as drummer. Axis’ Danny Johnson helped with rhythm guitars for a while too. In the summer of 1973, Stadler left the band, and Greg T. Walker returned to Blackfoot.
Medlocke and T. Walker sent a demo to David Hood and Jimmy Johnson, the two co-founders of Muscle Shoals Studios in Alabama. Blackfoot’s tracks caught the attention of the two producers as they decided to take over “No Reservations”, Blackfoot’s first studio album (Islands Records). It was 1975.
Choosing “No Reservations” (maybe because it was the first album of theirs to step into), it’s not just due to the fact that I’m fond of dealing with underdogs and outsiders, but mostly due to the quality of this specific album. It’s all about this vinyl record – a harbinger of the greatness that was about to unfold via a non-stop series of Blackfoot’s diamonds (especially when they mixed heavy metal elements and influences). With one success after another, the band was already in the pantheon of hard-sounding heroes from 1976’s “Flyin ‘High” until 83’s “Siogo” (yes, “Siogo”). With their debut, they made their statement loud and clear… Blackfoot’s first 2 records (“No Reservations” and “Flyin ‘High”) are alike Maiden’s Di’Anno era, while the rest to come resemble more to Maiden’s Dickinson era.
Without being musically extremists or that much of prog, they had a clear minimalist approach of south hard rock and rhythmic blues. The album has many classic forms, almost conservative in a way, containing tracks with elements and ideas that we do find in future band’s projects. For example, “I Stand Alone” which is an anthem for the street culture that will evolve into the monumental 1979’s “Highway Song”, and also to ultra-classic album “Strikes”.
Slower tempo moments like ‘Simple Man’, are definitely a highlight, with ballad ‘Stars’ standing out in an album, totally being a 70’s one, along with its warm analog production with guitars being on the spotlight, on top of it all coming singer’s outstanding voice.
All compositions are interesting and very well written, with a really detailed/traditional approach, covered by the variety and high quality of the songs, and of course Medlocke’s vocals. In label’s and band’s favor is the existence of catchy tracks, such as “Born to Rock N ‘Roll” and “Take A Train”. And we are talking both of them! Hymns of southern hard rock, combining a solid and unified result, with smooth flow, makes you wanting more of it! This is the starting point for drummer, Jakson Spiers, to show his composing skills, as he is the mastermind behind band’s material except of the more blue-ish “Railroad Man”, closing the album, being composed by Shorty Medlocke, Rickey’s grandfather.
Apart from his terrific vocals, Medlocke is also excellent on guitars, along with Hargrett, while in the rhythmic part stands out with his distinctive bass lines Greg T. Walker. Last but not least ruler of the drum kit, Jakson Spiers, with his distinctive solid sound.
“No Reservations” may not be band’s best album, but it’s a combination of hard work, inspiration, talent, passion, and eager for success; each and every one of all above being the magic maker making dreams come true, the foundation of what was about to follow. Totally worth buying….
If the album was to inspire Bourdain to name after it his famous travel/cooking show, it would make me love it a little bit more…