Meet the man who's re-recording the history of Heavy Rock

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Tony Reed is head-honcho in Washington’s Mos Generator, a band that’s delivered some of the finest heavy rock since its inception in 2002. Way ahead of the game in mining the hidden history of early 70s downer-rock and proto-metal for inspiration, Reed is a hardcore crate digger with exquisite tastes in the hopelessly obscure, and his band is a celebration of rock’s darkest, dustiest corners. 

Mos Generator is one of the most active ‘stoner-rock’ bands in operation, logging in a punishing 150+ gigs every year throughout the US and Europe. But during the band’s all-to-brief breaks, vocalist/guitarist Reed likes to unwind by recording note-for-note covers of some of his fave heavy hits.

“In my life I’ve done hundreds of covers,” he says. “All they really are is an exercise in learning another style of playing and recording. Emulating other people helps you learn.”

Eventually, Reed realised he had something special on his hands and took on the arduous but rewarding task of whittling down his archives of cover songs and compiling the cream of the crop for The Lost Chronicles of Heavy Rock, Vol.1.

“The songs were recorded over four years,” he explains. “Most of them took about a day or two to record. I have my own studio, so I just sit down and go, ‘Ok I’m gonna do this.’ Some I would go back to a couple months later, but most were pretty quick. Some were done in a few hours. Getting the player’s feel was the most challenging thing. Some of the vocals were in my range and some were a challenge, which was great.”

Reed played every instrument himself, and shot the final takes on his phone, uploading them to Youtube. He originally planned to release Chronicles on vinyl, but took another route along the way, uploading the tracks to Bandcamp page and making them available for free.  

“It was originally going to get released on vinyl on Ripple," he says, "But then I thought, I’m just gonna throw it out there for free. It’ll get way more attention that way. So now that it’s been out there, been heard, been talked about, it might even sell better because of doing it this way.”

And now it's actually out on vinyl, released by French label Listenable Records and accompanied by a bonus CD featuring six tracks not available on the original release (or on the new CD version). 

“There’s already a slew of tracks for volume two that were either left over from the first one or that I’m in the middle of working on,” he says. “So yeah, there’ll be another one. Like I said, I have hundreds.”

Tony Reed in his basement studio

Tony Reed in his basement studio

Here’s a track-by-track rundown of Chronicles of Heavy Rock, Volume 1, in Reed’s own words.

BoomerangBattle (1972)
The first Boomerang album is really cool. So Battle, for one, it’s a great song. And for two, it’s an unreleased record. So that was cool. The first time I heard Battle, I was at a buddy of mine’s house, Henry Vasquez, he’s in St Vitus now and Blood from the Sun, he would turn me on to a lot of this stuff. So he played that and I was like, that’s one of the coolest songs I’ve ever heard. It spoke to me right off the bat, so it was a natural to open with it.

Fanny AdamsAin’t No Lovin’ Left (1972)
Australian band, the dude from this band was in the Bee Gees band. This was another one that Henry played me. We’d drive around listening to tunes and whatnot. This is my favorite song off that record, and I think I wanted to do it because my wife was really into it. I was scared to do it because of the vocals, I was like, I don’t know if I can sing like this guy. He’s got some raw soul in his voice. But I went for it, and it’s one of the vocal performances I’m most proud of.

Highway RobberyFifteen (1972)
There was this proto-metal compilation that somebody posted online and it had at least a hundred songs on it. This was on there, and later on I bought the record. The song is so upbeat and the way the instruments move around is so awesome. It’s almost like a punk rock song, at times. Once again, the vocals were something I thought would be a challenge. All these songs are songs that either moved me when I heard them or I couldn’t get them out of my head so I had to do them to stop them from looping ,around in my brain. This was one of those.

Wishbone AshQueen of Torture (1970)
There’s the age-old argument, is Argus better, or the first Wishbone Ash album? I’m a first-album guy. The first album just has a rawer sound and rawer guitars. And this tune has a great drumbeat. The drum beat is super-fun to play. The vocals, once again there’s some high falsetto stuff, and I was like, I can’t do that stuff. But then I did. Maybe it’s because I just never tried it before. And luckily, the way they made that record is that each guitar player was recorded on opposite sides. So you can flip it to one side to hear what one guitar player is doing, and then to the other to hear the other guitar.

Atomic RoosterNobody Else (1970)
This is from Death Walks Behind You and man, every song on that album is awesome. People cover Death Walks Behind You and Sleeping For Years a lot, so I wanted to go for something different, and I just really like the melodic structure of this song. I just think it’s a beautiful song, and I really like the way the vocals were delivered. Doing the piano part was a real challenge for me. I’m not a very good keyboard player, so I was like ‘Ok, I’m gonna sit down and learn this.’ Those parts took me a few hours all by themselves. It’s not like the guitar where if you play anything, I know where it is on the guitar without seeing it. The piano is totally different, and I had to do it by ear.

RushGarden Road (1974)
This one’s just a rocker. Mos Generator covered it on a Small Stone records compilation back in 2007 and I redid it for this just because I really like the song. Of course my vocals aren’t as high, so I went for a more raspy kind of thing. If I didn’t do this one, I might have gone with Anthem or Bastille Day. The interesting thing is that the only version of this song that exists is from a live recording from Cleveland in 1974. There’s no studio version. They’re doing it as an encore, and they had obviously never played it before because Neil stops twice during the song because he thinks a change is coming, so he fucks up a couple times.

NecromandusStill Born Beauty (1973)
I heard them on this compilation called Downer Rock Genocide and I was like, ‘Fuck, this song is awesome’. So I looked them up and found out that Tony Iommi produced it and that the dudes in the band were roadies for Sabbath, so I expected them to be heavier. But when I got the album, it has more of a jazz feel. Still, I’d say it’s in my top two or three favorite downer/lost heavy rock records of all time. It just ended up being one of my favorite albums ever. I tracked down a dude who recorded a whole bunch of shows in ‘72, and he gave them to me. So I’ve been restoring them. I made Necromandus shirts, and I even got a hold of the drummer. I talked to him, he’s the only dude left, he wanted to do a reformation with me in the band, but they just can’t do it at this point.

PentagramForever My Queen (1973)
If they were able to make that record they were supposed to make back in the early 70’s, things would’ve been a lot different for Pentragram. They were a really, really good band. I did their song Review Your Choices in 2007, that was the first song I did for this project. I know a lot of people know this song, but I mean, to most people, all these songs are obscure, including this one. I talked to Bobby Liebling from Pentagram on the phone a few months ago, I was going to do some audio restoration on some live recordings. I’m not sure where that’s at now, but it was good to talk to him, he was really thankful that I cared about his band. He’s still really humble about getting the attention he deserves these past few years.

BloodrockDier Not a Lover (1970)
Bloodrock was a great band, man. Bloodrock go as far back as I can remember in my childhood. They were from Fort Worth. I was born in Dallas but my parents lived in Fort Worth, and Bloodrock was a local band for them and they would go to see them all the time. My parents were cool, man, they turned me on to a lot of cool stuff. Bloodrock II was always playing in my house, so doing this song was a given. The vocals were a little tough, I couldn’t quite get his tonal quality. I could sing the notes but couldn’t get the tone. I worked harder on this one than any other song.

King CrimsonCourt of the Crimson King (1969)
I’ve been into King Crimson since I was a teenager and over the years I’ve remained a huge fan. I’m a collector of all their stuff that I can get my hands on, particularly their 70’s stuff. And this one, I have two 400 Mellotron organs so I wanted to do a King Crimson song because I can use real Mellotrons on it. I also have the Court of the Crimson King tattoo, so I just wanted to do this song as tribute to them And this is one that I never thought I’d never be able to finish. In my mind I was like, ‘Ok I can start this but I’ll never finish it, this epic, crazy thing I’m getting ready to do.’ The way it turned out, I mean I’m surprised I can say this, but I can sit next to Robert Fripp and play this song, and I wouldn’t be afraid to do it. I’m so proud of this piece. It took three days to do.

Bonus Tracks

Pentagram - Much Too Young to Know (1978)
This is a different version of the song that appears on First Daze Here Too. It was recorded by what is known as the High-Voltage line up of Pentagram and I think it has much more energy than the original version. The only problem was trying to decipher the lyrics from the only recording of this version that exists. A raw live recording from 1978.

Cheap Trick - Need Your Love (1979)
This is the first of two songs on this album that I think really capture the feel of a live band playing together. This is an amazing song that originally was released on the Live at Budokan album and then the studio version appeared on the 1979 album Dream Police. Doing this song proved to me how underrated of a vocalist Robin Zander really is.

Poobah - Walk of The Bug (1973)
I was doing a restoration job for a band called Poobah and this song was a bonus track from 1973 and I thought it was a cool song, so I covered it. I’ve since met with the song’s writer Jim Gustafson and we’ve stayed in touch.

Slade - Know Who You Are (1970)
This is just one of those songs that I heard and said, “man I want to cover that” and so I did. The main challenge was the massive vocal overdubs but in the end, it came out very well.

Pentagram - Review Your Choices (1973)
This is the third Pentagram song on this album. It's the earliest song that I did, I believe I recorded it in 2007. Once again, one mic in the kick drum and one overhead to try and capture that Pentagram warehouse recordings sound. I ended up using that Phase 45 type guitar sound in my own music on the albums I recorded after I'd recorded this cover.

Iron Butterfly - Butterfly Bleu (1970) 
This is my favourite song on the whole album. It knocked court of the Crimson King off for most epic to me. I had been trying to do this song for a few years and I finally nailed it. It was hard to get all of the dynamics and the feel of multiple musicians playing at once and feeding off of each other, but in the end, I believe it's the best cover ever I've ever done and I'm glad it can be included. 

Chronicles of Heavy Rock, Volume 1 is out now.