Doc Holliday

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Southern rock was at a real crossroads as the 1980s arrived: the heartbreak of Lynyrd Skynyrd's violent demise still hung over the landscape like a dark shroud, the Allman Brothers Band was grinding to a halt amid endless personal controversies and lukewarm musical output, and so perhaps it was no wonder that the genre's younger guns seemed at a loss about choosing the best way forward. On the one hand were the mainstream-focused outfits like .38 Special and the Outlaws, angling for radio airplay and driving inexorably toward arena rock; on the other were the tougher likes of Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet, inspired almost as much by contemporary hard rock trends as the old Southern rock masters. Into of the breach between the twain emerged Macon, Georgia's Doc Holliday, whose versatile, eponymous 1981 debut for A&M in many ways reflected the colorful upbringing of bandleader Bruce Brookshire: a world-traveling army brat during his youth who never lost sight of his Dixie roots. These factors would explain the presence here of a true blue cowboy saloon boogie, complete with harmonica solo, named "Round & Round"; an acoustic country strummer in "The Way You Do"; a yearning, mid-paced rocker in the Bob Seger mold entitled "Never Another Night"; a nod to AOR godfathers Boston, of all bands, via Eddie Stone's forceful keyboards on "Somebody Help Me," and the laid-back, funky vibes of "Midnight Lady" -- unique tracks one and all. But Doc Holliday's best-known attribute since forming nearly a decade prior as Roundhouse -- that of being a fierce live proposition -- was cut loose elsewhere with the help of British producer Tom Allom -- an odd choice, on paper, since he'd only just wrapped work on Judas Priest's British Steel LP (though his prior experience included all kinds of rock & roll). Allom's "heavy hand" (to put it one way) is probably most evident on the utterly irrepressible "Moonshine Runner," which barrels down the freeway with wild abandon and metallic staccatos amid the blaring horns of speed-addled 18-wheelers; yet "I'm a Rocker" ain't too far behind, contrasting pounding power chords against high-speed boogie-woogie piano. Finally, not to be omitted: "Keep on Running" and "A Good Woman's Hard to Find" are late-'70s Southern rock through and through (predictable, at times, but still rock-solid), and first but not least, opening number "Ain't No Fool" forges a veritable London bridge from Macon to ol' Blighty with its unmistakable so-rock hallmarks wed to twin guitar harmonies right out of Thin Lizzy, and driving organ playing borrowed from Deep Purple (as good a reminder as any that many of Southern rock's chief architects learned their trade jamming on the products of the British blues explosion). Unfortunately, for all its variety, Doc Holliday's debut wound up slipping through that same stylistic breach from which they emerged, failing to latch on with consumers on either side of the Southern rock divide despite receiving largely positive reviews from savvy critics. Within two years the band would lose their way, their record deal, and totally fall apart, but things sure appeared promising once upon a time. [Rock Candy Records' 2008 reissue of Doc Holliday featured a pair of bonus tracks -- both of them demos recorded during Doc Holliday's prior incarnation as Roundhouse, and both worthy additions to this underrated album.]

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