Rickey Medlocke - vocals, guitar; Jakson Spires - drums, vocals; Charlie Hargrett - lead guitar; Greg Walker - bass, vocals; Ken Hensley - keyboards
The year was 1983; the location, the heart of Hollywood's Sunset Strip. The Palladium, a springboard for boosting numerous "home grown" bands, was unquestionably the place to play. For one night in August, however, the Palladium hardly felt like the usual West Coast hotspot; with Blackfoot on the bill, it belonged to the South. "We were so psyched because we were headlining the Palladium on the Sunset Strip. It was a really big thing for us," recalls Blackfoot co-founding member and frontman Rickey Medlocke. "I remember it as just being a very positive night…and we went out and started kicking major butt!"
With the King Biscuit Flower Hour recording the performance, the gig became an opportunity for a bunch of boys from Florida to showcase their unique blend of original Southern blues and heavy rock for a much wider audience. For Medlocke, Jakson Spires, Charlie Hargrett, Greg Walker and newly acquired keyboardist Ken Hensley, an against-the-grain attitude was the catalyst that launched Blackfoot's worldwide success. Thanks to their platinum 1979 album, Strikes, the band was armed with two bona fide hit singles: "Train, Train" and "Highway Song." Album sales were soaring in the U.S. as well as abroad, and "Highway Song" was rapidly moving up the charts. Sensing opportunity, the band packed up and hit the road to open for the likes of AC/DC, Ted Nugent, Journey, the Scorpions and The Who. It was here, out on the road, that Blackfoot shed the Southern band stereotype, carved their own niche and placed themselves among the heavy-rock elite; and here that Medlocke and Blackfoot developed their signature in-your-face stage presence.
"Blackfoot was one of the ultimate live bands…there was no pretense, no gimmickry, it was sound, lights, and rock and roll," Medlocke says with a grin. "Our whole goal was to be terrifying…to strike fear and cause havoc in a closing band's minds," accomplished, he believes, because of the fact that "this was a band of together people that had been there for many years. Incredible players, guys that were so locked in together. We knew each other's moves - we were so tuned in to each other. There wasn't one time that I was ever worried about that band walking out on stage in front of anybody, and not coming up with the goods."
Buttressed by a double-platinum album and a thriving worldwide fan base, Blackfoot continually strove to capture new followers. For Medlocke, who began performing publicly at age three with his legendary father, Shorty Medlocke, the stage must have been familiar turf. "The band used to really take it to heart. To Jakson, Greg, Charlie, myself, and even Ken, it was very important for us at that time to really make the audience feel like they were a part of that show. As a front man, I did my best to make sure they were a part of the show…I remember a story with the guys from Nazareth. They had six more shows left on their tour. We got booked on those final six shows. They walked into Phoenix, Arizona and saw us playing, and the bass player walked back in the dressing room and said, 'These guys are serious. This is a serious band out here. You guys gotta come out here and see this.'" Despite the band's growing popularity and successful follow-ups to Strikes (specifically, Tomcattin', Marauder and 1983's Siogo), Blackfoot could not sidestep the evolutionary path of the industry. The advent of MTV spawned a new generation that demanded new sounds and new bands. And although Siogo produced "Teenage Idol," the number one added single on AOR radio for six weeks with a video on MTV, the row remained a tough one to hoe. The onslaught of bands and music from the U.K,. Germany, Australia, etc. continued. They brought with them influences and voices that dictated radical changes within the industry. AOR, adult contemporary and the new "modern" or "alternative" radio stations were transformed almost overnight. The aftershocks changed radio formats as well. "When the music changed in the States in the early Eighties, that's where the downslide came from. And that's where we missed it, trying to mold to something that we weren't."
The significance this time period had on Blackfoot's musical approach is reflected with remarkable clarity in this King Biscuit show. "We were at a point in our career where we needed things to keep happening. We added Ken Hensley to the band to basically give it a little more depth and hopefully to bring in a writer. (Hensley had written "Easy Livin'" and other songs for Uriah Heep.) We were being pushed by the record company at the time…so we thought that maybe a little bit of change might help." According to Medlocke, the refurbished product that emerged was "a new dimension that was great…it was rock solid, it was heavy and it was vintage grunge to the max." But make no mistake about the legacy and imprint a bunch of boys from Florida left on the rock arena with Blackfoot. For Spires, Hargrett, Walker, Hensley and Medlocke, who put it in his own words, "the only way to combat it was to go out and put on really great shows…. That night at the Palladium we were on! We were having a heavy-duty night, and you could tell from the time we hit it. We had the momentum going, and it was on our side like a freight train out of control. That was a magical night for Blackfoot and King Biscuit." Indeed. And a magic, thankfully, that's faithfully preserved on one incredible live recording.