We would all like to be appreciated for what we've accomplish in this life. Be it a hearty pat on the back from a gregarious co-worker or grandiose 'certificate of merit' for lifetime achievement. Small or large ... it really doesn't matter .... just some form of acknowledgment letting us know we've made the world a better place by services rendered. And for a musician, the greatest accomplishment and legacy you hope to leave behind is a recording - a physical artifact of those services rendered.
But unfortunately for Michael Grothues that great musical achievement was presented ... posthumously.
Michael Grothues passed away on March 10th, 2012 at the age of 53 from an untreated gastrointestinal hemorrhage. And as fate would have it, just months later on October 15th his band Heyoka's thirty year old studio recordings were finally released on CD by ShroomAngel Records.
"The Spirit Of Revelation" is an archival echo of the past from Heyoka, a legendary, yet obscure 70s' progressive rock band from San Antonio, Texas.
Now to suggest the music of Grothues and Heyoka was never heard would be a gross misstatement and disservice to this hard working Texas band. They were a quite popular and enormously successful as a regional band, even receiving airplay on local FM radio. And during the 70s' the band opened for such artists as Rush, Van Halen, Budgie, Judas Priest, Moxy, Ted Nugent, Be Bop Deluxe, Golden Earring, Mahogany Rush, Trapeze, Legs Diamond, Head East and a host of others. When a big name band passed through San Antonio, Heyoka was usually there to open the show. But their notoriety did not exceed far beyond the boundaries of Texas.
And there-in lies the problem.
Talent-wise, Heyoka should have achieved the same level of success as similar progressive rock bands of the era ... namely Styx and Kansas. And after listening to their CD "The Spirit Of Revelation" you can't help but wonder what level of success the band might have achieved with the backing of someone like Don Kirshner - the man behind Kansas, The Monkees and The Archies.
To this day Heyoka is rightfully considered 'the greatest unsigned band' to emerge from the Lonestar State.
With the passage of time the memory of Heyoka is little more than a distant memory for the Texans who attended those legendary performances. But now, thanks to the remaining members of Heyoka and Richard S Patz of ShroomAngel Records these thirty year old master tapes of the original studio sessions recorded between 1978 - 1980 (never available before), have finally been digitally remastered for superior audio fidelity for all to enjoy.
"The Spirit Of Revelation" is a fitting epitaph for Michael Grothus and a badge of honor for the remaining members. It's an opportunity for prog/rock fans beyond the Texas border to enjoy the music of this amazing band. And for reviewers like myself to acknowledge a 'job well done' to the remaining members. Something a long time coming.
The name Heyoka refers to the Lakota (American Indian) concept of contrarian, satirist, jester, or sacred clown. The idea being that only through the "Wisdom Of The Contrary" can a true seeker of knowledge even aspire to approach the true Spirit of Revelation.
Grothues’ lyrics, as on the tracks "Thunderdreamer" and the folksy "Wooden Birds" (which had a Jethro Tull - "Songs From The Wood" vibe to it) were often steeped in Native American folklore. Songs written as a protest against oblivion ... paying homage to the ongoing plight against the Native American Indian.
Musically the compositions are a collective melding of American 70s' progressive rock and southern rock and roll. Alternating between bombastic arena rock numbers like "Change My Ways" and complex progressive rock tracks like the 24 minute three-part epic "The Trilogy".
Elements of Kevin Cronin and R.E.O. Speedwagon can be heard on the track "Metamorphosis" as well as moments of both Styx (the keyboard leads) and Jethro Tull (flute). Intricate keyboards and flute leads interweave throughout the recording.
"Video Madness" brought back memories of Jim 'Dandy' Mangrum and the psycho-boogie southern rockers Black Oak Arkansas.
The quirky little rocker "Disco Sucks" roars from the speakers with guns blazing reminding me of the opening track "Dancing Madly Backwards" from Captain Beyond. Then at the midway point the song gets all 'funkified', mocking all that was wrong with the disco movement, as the band transforms from balls-to-the-wall Captain Beyond to The Average White Band. And even though it was intended as a satirical jab at the disco genre - the boys did a damn fine job of getting all down and funky.
On "The Monotony Of Change" Michael Grothues’ vocals bore an uncannily resemblance to Patrik Lundstrom, lead vocalist of the Swedish prog band Ritual. (Or should I say Lundstrom sounds like Grothus since Heyoka he recorded their album much earlier). I immediately went back and listened to an assortment of tracks from the Ritual self-titled debut album as well as "The Hemulic Voluntary Band" - and by golly the similarity was amazing. Other comparisons to the tune can be drawn from later period Bloodrock albums like "Passage" and "Whirlwind Tongues". And the intricate instrumental passages between flute and keyboards brings to mind keyboardist/flautist Phil Kimbourough of Yezda Urfa.
The funky rock and roll track "The Quest" had me cheering for "more cowbell"! It's another track that revives the spirit of Captain Beyond as well as the group Automatic Man - a band that combined elements of psychedelic/space/prog & funk, producing only two albums "Automatic Man" (1976) and "Visitors" (1977).
Although the personnel varied throughout their career, the line-up on "The Spirit Of Revelation" includes: Michael Grothue (vocals and flute), Dito Garcia (guitars and backing vocals), David Alocer II (guitars and backing vocals), Pat Hood (bass and backing vocals), and Gerardo Ramiez (drums and percussion).
Though some tracks are clearly dated and reflect the music of the era, the production is flawless and should pass the test for even the most stringent audiophile. A great headphone album with nice separation between instruments.
Highly recommended to students, collectors, and aficionados of those great 70s' regional America prog artists who might otherwise languish in the Limbo of Obscurity were it not for the forward thinking independent labels willing to reach backwards in time to rescue these long forgotten studio recordings.
"The Spirit Of Revelation" should appeal to fans of Styx, Kansas, Zazu, Dixie Dreggs, Jethro Tull, Bloodrock, REO Speedwagon, Triumph, Captain Beyond and the several other artists mentioned in the review.
Again, highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on March 9th, 2014