French with Leaf Hound
Atomic Rooster, Cactus, Leaf Hound pedigree Interview by John Wisniewski
For full-throated '60's/'70's Brit singers, we usually think of rock dinosaurs like Daltrey and Plant but another name should come to mind too. In the short span of a few years ('68-'72), Peter French went through four groups including a stint with an original member of Fleetwood Mac plus heavy prog-sters Atomic Rooster, the even heavier rock of Cactus and the under-rated stoner-rock of Leaf Hound. French is no slacker nowadays, leading revived versions of both Rooster and Leaf Hound. So how exactly do you keep a busy musical schedule like that and maintain it decades later? Read on to find out.
PSF: What the early bands were you in?
PF: One of the many early bands that I was in was a semi-pro outfit blues called Joe Poe, with my cousin Mick Halls on guitar. Then I joined together with Mick in The Brunning Sunflower Blues Band to record the Bullen St. Blues album (1968) with ex-Fleetwood Mac bass player Bob Brunning.
I then joined and toured with the blues outfit Black Cat Bones. Sometime after this, both my cousin and I wrote almost a whole new album and changed the band from Black Cat Bones to Leaf Hound. We then recorded the now-classic album Leaf Hound Growers of Mushroom (1970) on the Decca Label. I later joined (the) Birmingham-based Big Bertha with Cozy Powell.
PSF: What was it like recording Growers of Mushroom? Did you think at the time that it would become a classic?
PF: We recorded and completed the album in an amazing eleven hour studio lock in. The songs were previously written by mostly Mick Halls and myself. The players were really in great form on the day of the recording.
We never thought that it would turn out to become a classic at the time, but we knew it definitely was a great album- if I did, I would have bought my own albums for prosperity.
PSF: Why did Leaf Hound break up after that?
PF: The agents that were meant to look after us were a couple of dodgy idiots, who told us after we finished a brief but successful tour of Germany that the album was not going to be released then. Sadly, we broke up after that.
Decca were absolutely useless and clueless as well. They had no idea who we were or what nationality the band was- they thought we were an American band. They didn't release the album until about a year after Leaf Hound had broken up.
PSF: How did you wind up joining Atomic Rooster?
PF: After those adventures I mentioned before, I was asked by Vincent Crane and John Cann to join Atomic Rooster. We recorded together their most successful album In Hearing Of (1971) on Pegasus Records, in Trident Studios, and on Elektra Records in the States. We toured in the early Seventies, together with Europe and Canada.
PSF: How would you describe Vincent Crane as a musician? What was he like on a personal level?
PF: Vincent was a superb musician, and very original composer and he was also classically trained, but unfortunately he was flawed by his depressive dark nature, hence his sad demise when he tragically committed suicide by taking an overdose (1989).
PSF: What could you say about working with guitarist John Du Cann and drummer Paul Hammond in the 1971 band?
PF: I liked John and Paul a lot, we all seemed to get along fine together when we were recording at Trident Studios the best selling Atomic Rooster Album In Hearing of which went to Number 18 in the British Album charts.
PSF: You did the Atomic Rooster American tour in 1971- what was that like? What were some of the highlights?
PF: I loved touring the States. Highlights were touring with the Faces, and gigging with some great act- Alice Cooper, Yes, and Cactus, etc.. I really liked the way that the American audiences went all out to enjoy themselves and were truly a delight to perform to.
PSF: Why didn't Paul and John tour with the band?
PF: It was a great pity that the Atomic Rooster that I had recorded with didn't tour the States. The sad truth is that Vincent had a major falling out with John after we finished the album. This evolved over Vincent taking out a lot of John's guitar tracks from the final mix, which led to John and Paul deciding to quit the band.
With the new album about to be released and a tour of the States lined up, Vincent asked two new members on board to tour of the States with us- they were Ric Parnell on drums and Steve Bolton on guitar.
John Cann and Paul Hammond had tried to get me to leave Vincent and help them form their new band Hard Stuff, but I decided to stick with Vincent.
French with Atomic Rooster
PSF: Why did you decide to join Cactus after Atomic Rooster?
PF: I was approached by Carmine Appice and Tim Bogart who asked me to join Cactus after Atomic Rooster had performed on the same bill together during our tour with them.
To me, it appeared that It presented a great opportunity for me to be able to record on Atlantic Records and have the freedom to write new material for their new album, 'Ot 'n' Sweaty (1972), and for me to be able to continue to perform in the States. It was also at this time that Vincent's depression was in my opinion getting worse, and I found he was getting more and more difficult to work with, and tended to socially close himself off. I realised that I was not going to get any further musically with him so I decided to take the opportunity and told Vincent that I had enough and that I was going to leave and go and join Cactus.
PSF: What was it like working Cactus? How was it different than Atomic Rooster?
PF: It was completely different, it was like a bit of fresh air. I loved working with Cactus, and boy we rocked. When we recorded the fabulous Album 'Ot 'n' Sweaty, I knew that the band had a great future. We recorded the album live in Puerto Rico at the Mar Y Sol Festival and also in Jimi Hendrix's Studio in New York.
Our tours were fabulously received as well as receiving fab reviews of the Album and Cactus was getting top airplay right across the States.
But sadly, this was all brought abruptly to an end when Jeff Beck appeared and broke up the band when he took Carmine and Tim with him to form Beck, Bogart and Appice and record the (self-titled 1973) album. I was gutted and decided to return to live back to England.
PSF: What were your next music projects after that?
PF: I later joined a German-based band called Randy Pie and whilst living in Hamburg, we recorded on Polydor Records the Fast/Forward (1977) album at One Step Up Studios in Los Angeles.
Polydor asked me to do a solo album and so I recorded the solo album Ducks In Flight (1978). I also was asked to record on the controversial double anti-war album Der Fuhrer released on the Harvest Label (1978). I then reformed Leaf Hound and recorded the Leaf Hound Unleashed album/CD on Repertoire Records (2007). I also recorded the On Top blues CD (2007) with the Ambulators on Moorland Street Records. I later recorded Leaf Hound Live in Japan (2013), recorded in Tokyo some years back and just recently re-released on DVD & CD, format by Repertoire Records.
At present, I am gigging and touring with both Atomic Rooster and my band Leaf Hound.
PSF: What were you up to in the '80's and '90's?
PF: During the 1980's, I was asked by Carmine Appice to back to the States to write and record tracks for his solo album (Carmen Appice, 1981), and the B-side of his single titled, "Leave It Up to You" (1982)
I also worked with Colin Towns who wrote and together we collectively recorded a great version of the track titled "Nightmare." This was a track that I was told weirdly by record companies that it was too 'American' for the British market, whatever that means, so it didn't get released. Ironically, Gillan later heard it and released later and had a number 10 hit with it (1981).
I was asked by a record producer if I would do a vocal session for Magnet Records on a Status Quo multi copy track single, called “Status Rock" by the name of Headbangers (1981). I had a right laugh doing it and amazingly it got into the top 50 charts.
I also rehearsed with several bands during this time but they just didn't happen. I wrote a bunch of lyrics and recorded some tracks with guitarist Dee Cooper. Then I did a few gigs with my band Peter French and Friends, etc. etc..
PSF: How did you wind up reforming Leaf Hound after all these years?
PF: It reformed after I returned home to England and quite by accident. After a journalist friend rang me to tell me that there was a bunch of young rock guys at a rock club who said that they would like to meet me as they were fans of my early Leaf Hound album.
They asked me 'why don't you form a new Leaf Hound?' I wasn't too sure but then I was introduced to Jim Rowland, a drummer who said he knew a few guys that I should audition. I went along with the idea not really expecting too much. But then at the later rehearsal/audition, the guys to my delight turned out to be great musicians.
So I decided that 'okay let us record a new album with some entirely new songs,' which was Unleashed, released on Repertoire Records (2007).
PSF: How is it different playing with Leaf Hound now as opposed to when it was originally together?
PF: Now, Leaf Hound is still gigging, and ever evolving. We have recently had a new guitarist "Tom fast hand Smith" join the band, with the line-up of Pete Herbert on bass guitar, Dominic French on drums, and of course, yours truly on the vocals. The newer version of the band recently successfully cut its teeth at the Brudstock festival in Italy.
Leaf Hound are still as fresh as ever and the guys are now working on some new material, so Leaf Hound are still very much around and cooking.
PSF: How do you see Leaf Hound as different from your time with Cactus and Atomic Rooster?
PF: Leaf Hound is very special to me, and I consider it to be a very original band. I put a lot of me into it over the years, and I have always believed in the band's professional standing but I think the band has been vastly under-rated over the years.
French (2nd from right) with the new millennium version of Leaf Hound
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