Wells Fargo

Watch Out!

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Set against the backdrop of a turbulent civil war, Rhodesian combo Wells Fargo emerged at the vanguard of their country's mid-'70s heavy rock scene. In retrospect, the irony of the band's name is not lost on founder/drummer Ebba Chitambo, who first saw it printed on the side of a stagecoach in an American cowboy comic book. Attracted to the Western outlaw image, he was at the time unaware that his funky guitar rock outfit would be sharing their name with a major American financial institution. Along with his like-minded bandmates, guitarists George Phiri and Handsome Mabhiza, and bassist Never Mpofu, Chitambo took inspiration from guitar-based English and American acts like Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, and especially Jimi Hendrix. Melding South African sensibilities with hard rock influence Wells Fargo quickly became a leading light of the country's burgeoning heavy rock movement thanks in particular to their politically charged signature song "Watch Out." The covertly coded independence anthem quickly became a live favorite and, as the single snuck through Rhodesian radio sensors, a national rallying cry for the emerging counterculture. During their '70s rock reign, Wells Fargo were signed to Afro Soul, a South African label run by liberal white Rhodesians sympathetic to the band's plight. While a long-player never materialized, the band released a smattering of singles throughout the decade and they're collected here for the first time. Wells Fargo and other acts of the heavy rock movement generally treated records as promotion for their concerts, and what appears on disc is truly a document of a tight live combo preserved in the amber of their moment in time. There are no overdubs and what few guitar effects (wah, echo) there are were obviously part of the band's live gig as they barrel through highlights like "Love of My Life," "The Crowd," and the funky "Love Is the In Thing." Curiously, all but one track are sung in English, marking the dichotomy between white rock's influence and the nation's battle to end white rule. When independence was finally won in 1980 and Rhodesia became modern-day Zimbabwe, Wells Fargo shifted their musical focus to more traditional African themes, but Chitambo always saw them as a rock band first, and the 11 tracks featured here are a direct document of this unique period in time.

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