Rare records with eye-watering price tags do not always live up to their reputation nor their scarcity-inflated value. Although Vinyl Connection does not own a vinyl copy of the one and only Kahvas Jute album Wide Open, the excellent Aztec Music re-issue is playing as I write. Thus it can be loudly proclaimed: this is one brilliant, overlooked gem of early seventies rock.
If you are thinking, “How come I’ve never heard of this band?” you are in the majority. Twenty years ago no-one had a clue who Leafhound were either, yet their sole LP is now highly regarded by fans of heavy rock. There were scores of short-lived and under-appreciated bands who produced one or two albums then disappeared. With Kahvas Jute, not only did the record struggle to reach the wider world during the decade of its release, it didn’t exactly set sales records in Australia either. Which is odd, considering the fertile progressive scene Downunder and the high quality of the music.
Everything travelled slower back then; the 21st century reality of trends appearing (and disappearing) overnight did not apply in the 1970s. The ‘new’ took months or even years to arrive on other continents. Records arrived by ship. Pop news arrived in magazines that meandered across the world to eager Aussie music fans months after publication. That’s one of the reasons for the tendency to overlook rock music from counties other than the 1960s’ Big Two: often it seems a little ‘after the fact’.
A consequence of this lag is that it took until the early 1970s for Australian musicians to accumulate a cultural bank of experience. It takes time (and gigs) to cut rock ’n’ roll teeth, to gain experience, to fuck things up and try again, slowly working out what you want to do. Dennis Wilson (hailing from Sydney—a beach boy no doubt, though not a Beach Boy) played in a number of bands in the second half of the 1960s before forming Kahvas Jute. As Ian McFarlane notes in his excellent essay (2006 Aztec Music CD re-issue), Bob Daisley had similarly served his time before joining forces with Wilson. The other half of the quartet both came from the mighty psychedelic rock band Tamam Shud. Dannie Davidson was a powerful and accomplished drummer, while teenager Time Gaze was a startlingly accomplished guitarist for one of such tender years.
The twin guitar attack of Wilson and Gaze was a core feature of Kahvas Jute’s music. They certainly shared solos, but more importantly, the playing was frequently harmonised in the way Wishbone Ash became famous for a around this time. It was a powerful front line—Wilson on a 1960 Gibson Les Paul and Gaze with an SG Custom (McFarlane)—but no more important than Khavas Jute’s secret weapon: their rhythm section. I mentioned Davidson’s open, potent drumming, but it is actually the extraordinary bass playing of Bob Daisley that lifts the band to a whole other level. Restless, innovative, simply virtuosic, Daisley leaps up and down the fretboard of his instrument like a dancing arc-welder. When he sinks into a simple pattern, you find yourself expectant; waiting, listening, for the next breakout. It’s fabulous. So there is nothing at all surprising in Mr Daisley’s subsequent career with Ozzy Osbourne, Rainbow, Uriah Heep and many other first division artists from the heavy end of the periodic table.
None of this would mean a thing if the songs weren’t up to par, and on Wide Open the news is good. There are many highlights… psychedelic Cream influences in “Odyssey”, some deft time signature changes in “Up there”, a Jack Bruce flavour to “Vikings” evoking his classic “Theme for an imaginary Western”. In “She’s so hard to shake” one can hear the powerhouse rock of early Jeff Beck, while “Twenty three” evokes Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac.
Good though this all is, the album places its epic climax at the end. At a smidge over nine minutes, “Parade of fools” is an adventurous rock workout featuring the thrilling guitars of Wilson and Gaze. As you listen, you can’t help wondering what might have happened if the mercurial Gaze had not returned to Tamam Shud and Kahvas Jute had managed to get a foothold in the UK or even the US.
The Kahvas Jute story was short, but their one album—released in January 1971—is a timeless slice of heavy psychedelic rock. Remember that reference to Leafhound? Their much-admired Growers of Mushroom album is terrific; Wide Open is even better.