Derringer – The Complete Blue Sky Albums 1976-1978 (HNE Recordings LTD.)

If you’ve spent enough time on this site to get a feel for my musical sensibilities, you’re probably wondering how I ended up reviewing a box set of commercial hard-rock from Rick Derringer’s band Derringer. After all, isn’t he best known for the 1973 butt-rock hit, “Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo”? Well yeah, but about a year ago I heard a live version of his song “Beyond The Universe” which had explosive MC5-like energy and insane guitar solos that piqued my curiosity. Reading up on the guy I learned that he has roots in garage rock, singing for The McCoys (“Hang On Sloopy”) and he collaborated with Patti Smith and Iggy Pop in the early-’70s, so maybe there was more to the man than my preconceived notion would lead me to believe.

After listening to these five albums – three studio LPs and two live ones – I’ve concluded that my preconceived notions were pretty spot on. There’s some good moments on these five discs: Derringer’s self-titled debut album from 1976 (he’d released two albums under his own name prior to it) has the aforementioned gonzo “Before The Universe”, and “Let Me In” is good enough pop fun; “One Eyed Jacks” from Sweet Evil sounds like Queen Of The Stone Age twenty years before their first album, and the live albums are goofy ’70s stadium-rock fun. The rest is kinda weak though, with 1978’s If I Weren’t So Romantic, I’d Shoot You the low-point, despite a Patti Smith co-write on “Sleepless”. The members of Derringer are all technically very competent (Derringer, drummer Vinny Appice and bassist Kenny Aronoff have built extensive studio musician’s resumes in the decades since) but for all that musical ability, they don’t have the creative spark needed to make interesting songs. Derringer’s voice is frequently a liability and, if you couldn’t tell from lines like “Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo/ Lordy Mama Light My Fuse” his lyrics aren’t very good either – unless of course songs about “rocking” really speak to you. Basically if you ever wanted to hear a band that sounds like a generic no-frills cross between Aerosmith and Cheap Trick (comparisons that really come to forefront on Sweet Evil, which was produced by Aerosmith/Cheap Trick-producer Jack Douglas), without the personality that made those bands unique, this is a great find, and a great value at a current Amazon price of $27. If you want classic songs, look somewhere else.