St Louis band Pavlov’s Dog, who formed sometime between 1972 and 1973 certainly had an interesting history, their mild form of folk/prog with the helium balloon vocals of David Surkamp being a product of its time.
Written by: gdmonline
ARTIST: Pavlov’s Dog
ALBUM: Pampered Menial
LABEL: ABC Dunhill, CBS
SERIAL: ABCD-866, KC 33552
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: David Surkamp – vocals, rhythm guitar * Steve Scorfina – lead guitar * David Hamilton – keyboards * Doug Rayburn – mellotron, flute * Siegfried Carver – stringed instruments, vitar * Rick Stockton – bass * Mike Safron – drums, percussion
TRACK LISTING: 01 Julia * 02 Late November * 03 Song Dance * 04 Fast Gun * 05 Natchez Trace * 06 Theme From Subway Sue * 07 Episode * 08 Preludin * 09 Of Once And Future Kings
WEBLINKS: Site Link
The 1970’s was a fertile breeding ground for bands attempting a folk/rock crossover. Though in some cases it drifted across into progressive rock (think Jethro Tull and their contemporaries), some bands kept it closer to rural themes. Case in point – St Louis band Pavlov’s Dog, who formed sometime between 1972 and 1973. There is some debate among the personnel as to who actually formed the band, but that’s irrelevant now as this band are being reviewed many years after the event.
Interestingly, Pavlov’s Dog signed with ABC/Dunhill in 1975 for a reputed advance of $650,000. A huge sum for a new and unsigned band at the time (1974). Then what could be described as lunacy, the label fired the band, who were then picked up by Columbia/CBS for a $600,000 advance. Massive dollars thrown about like monopoly money, though whether the band were given that sum of money hasn’t actually been confirmed by ABC/Dunhill.
There was a story that ABC and CBS just swapped bands, Poco for Pavlov’s Dog, though the further we go away from the original timeframe, the further stretched the story gets! ABC initially released their record in April 1975, and when that version slipped off the charts, Columbia/CBS reissued the LP, only for it to re-enter the charts during June 1975. So for a time, both versions were available on the racks. Probably a first in the recording industry!
Of course the most immediate aspect of this debut album is the voice of David Surkamp. Anyone familiar with Pavlov’s Dog and the album will know how Surkamp has been compared to early Rush and Geddy Lee. His vocal is off the scale on some tracks, but of more interest to me, is how the band flow between folk, symphonic, progressive lite, and art rock all within the confines of one album.
The lovely airy keyboard work, Siegfried Carver’s stunning string work (hard not to ignore the Kansas and Shooting Star comparisons) and Steve Scorfina’s rock guitar makes this album vastly underrated for its time. I think many people over the following years have come back to this album and band, finally acknowledging that they did have some talent after all. That’s certainly something I’m not denying.
Pavlov’s Dog’s best known track ‘Julia’ is a lovely blend of folk and symphonic rock. ‘Late November’ compares favourably with Firefall at a musical level, though Surkamp’s voice moves this in a different direction. ‘Song Dance’ is all over the radar, all the aforementioned genre styles combined in one. Surkamp’s shrill voice might take some getting used to on this one.
Carver takes the plaudits on ‘Fast Gun’, and there’s lots to like here, as the tempo changes often, keeping you on your toes whilst the violins glides over the arrangement like a gentle breeze. ‘Natchez Trace’ is perhaps the heaviest song here, written by Scorfina, obviously there is some strong guitar evident. ‘Theme From Subway Sue’ sounds like a heavier version of ‘Julia’, and again Surkamp soars above the clouds. He really does sound amazing, and gives me the impression he could’ve shattered wine glasses at a close distance!
Some strong passages drift through on ‘Episode’. A mournful symphonic song which still sounds great on this album. Preludin’ is a short classically inspired piece written by Siegfried Carver, and segues directly into the last track ‘Of Once And Future Kings’, which is the album’s ‘epic’ moment. At 5 and a half minutes, this has a bit of everything, including what I call ‘jester like rock n roll’ a la Zon, Zazu, Cinema Face and Insight.
You would think that the dual LP entrance into the Billboard charts might have given Pavlov’s Dog a leg-up in terms of commercial success. But no, #181 was as high as it got in the charts. Despite being produced by the Blue Oyster Cult management team of Murray Krugman and Sandy Pearlman, you don’t hear any trace of BOC‘s manic rock n roll at all. It’s all very symphonic for the most part, with the band releasing ‘At The Sound Of The Bell’ in 1976 before being jettisoned by CBS. However, it wasn’t quite the end of the Pavlov’s Dog story as we know it. More to follow.
Entire Album (Select Tracks)