How Sir Lord Baltimore invented stoner rock because it didn't know no better

City Paper

Named after a character in “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” and based out of Brooklyn, late-’60s skronk hot-mess rock band Sir Lord Baltimore has nothing to do with Baltimore really, but it’s known for being quasi-inventors of stoner metal, and so categorize it along with proto-doomsters Pentagram (founded by Germantown’s Bobby Liebling) and the baffling longstanding Dundalk love for West Virginia late ’70s heavy-progster’s Crack The Sky as one more weird way that the stuff that would birth stoner metal obliquely circles around Baltimore music history.

OK, so Sir Lord Baltimore sounds like Jimi Hendrix and Cream and Led Zeppelin and The Stooges and Blue Cheer but they misheard all that a little bit or just didn’t care and did truly strange things with distortion and instrument layering. Also, its members were probably bigger meatheads than those hallowed gawds of rock above (all of whom were really dweebs playing cock-rockers, I mean Hendrix loved sci-fi and lots of Zep songs are about Tolkien), so Sir Lord also recall cheap strong heavy stuff such as Grand Funk Railroad (whose 1970 “Live Album” was released the same year as Sir Lord Baltimore’s “Kingdom Come” and deserves a critical reevaluation—check out Grand Funk’s 12-minute ‘Into The Sun’) and Deep Purple, who as Chuck Eddy pointed out in his essential book, “Stairway To Hell,” stole the riff for their 1973 hit ‘My Woman From Tokyo’ from a Sir Lord Baltimore song.

The result of being influenced by all these slightly different bands and trying to find their own lane is that Sir Lord Baltimore’s 1970 album “Kingdom Come” is a bit further removed from hard rock, which is why it predicts stuff like Sleep and Fu Manchu. It sounds like a band gnawing on the ‘Luke’s Wall’ part of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ for a whole album and there aren’t really any touches of psychedelia to be found here, instead these freak-jazz curls of guitar and some sub-Ginger Baker of Cream tap and tumble drumming, provided by John Garner who is also the lead singer (one of the most ridiculous howlers in rock history). Sometimes, it feels like a rock band trying to be a jazz band, if only in the sense that there’s a whole bunch of guitars doing a whole lot of things over top of one another, which makes the riffs “complex” by virtue of there being so many of them and still reptile-brain badass because each and every one of them is a thudding cavemen stupid kind of thing.

Start with ‘Lady Of Fire’ off “Kingdom Come” (it’s the song Deep Purple ripped off), which begins with a winding air-raid siren of a riff and then finds Garner howling “fire!” and then things get all complicated and stop-start less than 20 seconds in and you realize the song is kind of just Hendrix’s ‘Fire’ and ‘Foxy Lady’ (and maybe The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’ too) with some King Crimson math-rock and MC5 “wildness” thrown in, but that’s just fine because rock ’n’ roll is full of hacks and rip-off artists and dudes too dumb to know no better and who even knows where Sir Lord Baltimore falls and it just sounds so totally unhinged. Rock done wrong until it’s totally right.

Dope Body’s lunkheaded rawk moments get to Sir Lord Baltimore territory sometimes and Foghound do a kind of in-quotes version of this but figured out how to make it soar properly, but it’s just tough to be as unself-conscious and ridiculous as these guys, especially lead singer Garner, who sometimes sounds like a Pterodactyl David Lee Roth and other times like Dennis DeYoung from Styx if he spent high school slamming down enough brews to cause brain damage instead of doing theater. This is stoner rock before stoner rock because, well, what else would you call it? There just weren’t rules for this stuff yet so no one told them to stop doing it or maybe they just couldn’t hear it over all their preening, screaming, bong-rattling guitar shrieks. 

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