The year was 1975. It was Christmas Eve and Black Sheep has just opened for Kiss in Boston. It was the first night of the tour and a real opportunity for a band from Rochester that had struggled to get attention. They had just released their self-titled debut through Capitol Records and were desperate to tap into audiences beyond WCMF’s broadcast range. Opening for Kiss seemed like the perfect launch pad. Unfortuately, that performance would become a one night stand. On the ride home from Boston the truck carrying their equipment crashed on the New York State Thruway, destroying all of the contents and leaving the band in a mad scramble to come up with replacements by the 27th – the date of the next show. They also needed to find a way to get that equipment to the venue. The band reached out to the label and to family and friends for help but came up empty. What’s ironic is that Capitol’s decision to not offer any financial or operational support is what prompted the band to call Kiss’s manager to say that they couldn’t continue with the tour. When the label learned that Black Sheep had pulled out they promptly dropped the band — not however before reminding them that per their contract they still owed Capitol one more record. This would end up being an incredibly short-sighted decision and one that couldn’t have been rationally tied to the music.
I’m not sure what Capitol was listening to, but it certainly wasn’t this debut. This is an album of fiery guitar work and fat rock sounds. More Bad Company than Foreigner, the back and forth between Lou Gramm and guitarist Donald Mancuso is a real rock rarity. They anchor the music like bookends, and any given moment in any of these tracks is one defined by their incredible rock versatility. This is never better demonstrated than on the album closer “Woman“ – a real burner. Foreigner never rocked liked this, never showcased any real powerful guitar work, never orchestrated songs with an eye toward building complexity within the framework of four-on-the-floor rock. That’s probably because Mick Jones was so much more focused on corporate rock than in constructing cohesive works of art. Even when it comes to ballads, Black Sheep’s approach is progressive with a grandeur that soars on fat guitar solos, splashy drums, and swirling organ parts.
Like any debut, there are some shortcomings. Here the gaps reside in the lyrics. They can be a bit lazy at times. There are also some transitions that are a bit clunky. But these are observations made against the sheen and pop driven production that we all associate with Foreigner. This record has so many dynamite moments that it’s impossible to understand how the label could let Black Sheep go. Any sensible record exec would have at least found a way to sink their claws into Gramm. Capitol quickly fell into the bands rear view mirror.
Lou Gramm (then known as Lou Grammatico) and bassist Bruce Turgon would soon have the last laugh. Lou soon responded to a call from Mick Jones and accepted an offer front Foreigner. He took Turgon with him – a relationship that would continue into Gramm’s solo career. In both cases it was Atlantic Records that won their support and enjoyed the riches that followed.
For a brief moment though, someone at Capitol Records had the vision to give five guys from Rochester a shot. When you spin this debut, you’ll quickly understand why.
Below is the value of the aforementioned album in Near Mint (NM) condition, according to Standard Catalog of American Records, 1950-1990, 9th Edition. Note: As a standard rule, a vinyl record in VG+ condition is 50% of NM value and VG record is 25% NM value.