by Fred Mills
Three years ago Motor City legends the Frost — guitarists Dick Wagner and Donny Hartman, bassist Gordy Garris and drummer Bobby Riggs — received a “Distinguished Achievement” honor at the annual Detroit Music Awards. Which was appropriate, to say the least. For despite this very publication somewhat mean-spiritedly describing the subsequent onstage Frost reunion (in the April 19-25. 2000 issue) as “moldier than [a] cheese plate…”, the band was feted regionally during its day, alongside other key players such as SRC, the Rationals, the Amboy Dukes and of course the MC5 and the Stooges. Nationally, the Frost was destined for cult status, although a listening session with the band’s three LPs (Frost Music and Rock and Roll Music, both from ’69, and 1970’s Through The Eyes Of Love) quickly re-establishes the band’s post-psychedelic/proto-hard rock prowess. It’s likely that Vanguard Records — aside from having Country Joe & The Fish and another Detroit combo, Third Power, a primarily folk-oriented label — just didn’t know how to market the group to Joan Baez fans.
Incredibly, the history books seem to have begun writing the Frost out of the picture; you can’t find a mention of the group in The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Popular Music, the Mojo-sponsored The Great Rock Discography or even the print edition of All Music Guide To Rock. The online version (www.allmusic.com) of the latter does include a glowing entry, however. In it, veteran rocker/ scribe Joe Viglione discusses the second album, which included a couple tracks recorded in ’69 during a two-night Frost stand at the Grande Ballroom, and notes that Wagner would go on to be a member of both Lou Reed’s and Alice Cooper’s bands. “Vanguard should go through the vaults and expand the live segments of this recording,” writes Viglione. “The Frost has glimpses of the sound that would be so instrumental in defining ‘70s hard rock.”
He just got his wish: The somewhat misleadingly titled The Best Of The Frost serves up an hour’s worth of those same Grande Ballroom gigs. As Frost producer Samuel Charters astutely notes in the CD’s eight-page booklet, “Here is all [the Frost’s] thunder and excitement, with the rough noise of the guitars crowding in the mikes, with Dick and Donny’s voices finding their balance as Gordy and Bobby filled every other bit of sound on the stage. … Their excitement at being with their friends adds a bright, rubbed gleam to the music they put on the tapes.”
Considering those tapes’ vintage and the era’s technology, the album’s a powerful live document. After winning the hometown crowd over with a call-to-arms (a throbbing, anthemic “Rock And Roll Music”) the band proceeds to knock ’em dead. There’s the soulful, restless “Sweet Lady Love” and a down-and-dirty slow blues, “Donny’s Blues.” A pair of athletic pop-boogie numbers, “Black As Night” and “Fifteen Hundred Miles” (studio versions of both would wind up on the third album), contrast with a long, distinctively prog-flavored excursion that welds “Take My Hand” to “Mystery Man,” both from Frost Music; the latter song was a big regional hit for the band. And a monumental 17-minute jam/improv workout on the Animals’ “We Got To Get Out Of This Place” (a 12-minute edit appeared on Rock And Roll Music) not only demonstrates how fluidly agile the Garris-Riggs rhythm section was but how extraordinarily complex the Frost’s guitar dealership could be — shades of Big Brother & The Holding Company in their heyday — with Wagner’s modal leads spiraling off into infinity while Hartman jabs and punches like a prizefighter.
Indeed, these cats were real champs, and The Best Of The Frost is as much a celebration as it is a vindication.
The Frost’s Dick Wagner will perform Saturday, April 19 at the I-Rock (16350 Harper, Detroit). Call 313-881-ROCK.
E-mail Fred Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.