Blackfoot: Strikes - Album Of The Week Club review

It took ten years for Blackfoot to become an overnight success, and a week for the Album Of The Week Club members to compose the definitive review of Strikes

Blackfoot - Strikes
(Image: © Atlantic Records)

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Blackfoot - Strikes

Blackfoot - Strikes

(Image credit: Atlantic Records)

1. Road Fever
2. I Got a Line on You
3. Left Turn on a Red Light
4. Pay My Dues
5. Baby Blue
6. Wishing Well
7. Run and Hide
8. Train, Train (Prelude)
9. Train, Train
10. Highway Song

Formed in 1969, it wasn't until 1975 that Blackfoot’s first album, No Reservations, was released. Its cover was a conical, pop-art nightmare more suited for Kraftwerk than a no-nonsense southern heavy metal band. Not surprisingly, it sank like a stone. Then, in 1976, they switched to Epic records and released Flying High. It did a little better.

Despite their flagging recording career, the band continued to prove their mettle on stage, and the band took the opportunity to hone their chops to a razor edge. Southern rock had exploded around the country, but none of them offered the sheer overkill of Blackfoot’s relentless twin-guitar attack. By the late 1970’s, Blackfoot became the most terrifying underachievers in rock’n’roll.

Blackfoot's big break finally came in 1978. They found themselves a manager, Al Nalli, who worked out of the same car-making city of Ann Arbor, Michigan that Iggy Pop and The Stooges came from. Nalli had managed another of Ann Arbor’s rock bands, Brownsville Station, and in 1973 had guided their Smokin’ In The Boys Room single to No.2 on the US chart. 

Under Nalli’s direction, Blackfoot signed a new record deal and then set about making their third album, Strikes, in his basement studio in Michigan. Nalli made a virtue of the rough, unadorned edges of their sound, and Strikes went on to sell a million copies, urged on by a hit single of their own, Train, Train, a slide guitar-led boogie-fest written by Shorty Medlocke.

“Strikes went gold real fast,” said bassist Greg T. Walker, “And people started saying, ‘I like this new band Blackfoot.’ They were calling us an overnight success and we were saying, ‘Yeah, right – a ten year overnight success!’”

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Other albums released in April 1979

  • Evolution - Journey
  • Euroman Cometh - Jean-Jacques Burnel
  • Cool for Cats - Squeeze
  • Black Rose: A Rock Legend - Thin Lizzy
  • Gimme Some Neck - Ron Wood
  • Million Mile Reflections - The Charlie Daniels Band
  • Bob Dylan at Budokan - Bob Dylan
  • It's Alive - Ramones
  • New Chautauqua - Pat Metheny
  • New England - New England
  • New Values - Iggy Pop

What they said...

"Known as a ferocious live unit and probably the heaviest of Southern rock bands (see opener Road Fever), Strikes also proved that Blackfoot could write great melodies for the gloomy Left Turn on a Red Light and the inspired cover version of Free's Wishing Well. But the band's biggest hit would come in the form of the seven-minute Highway Song, a tune that was admittedly very reminiscent of Skynyrd's Free Bird." (AllMusic)

"Road Fever opens the album and sets the scene for ten tracks of blistering southern rock.  With Strikes, Blackfoot took Lynyrd Skynyrd and kicked it up a notch, incorporating just enough heavy metal to make it rock-hard, but still retaining their southern roots." (Classic Rock Revisited)

"Blackfoot finally found the right musical mix on Strikes. They began with the mountain-moving Road Fever, but it wasn't all metal flash. The heartfelt Left Turn On A Red Light is a lonesome delight, and they swerve confidently into Skynyrd's lane on Highway Song. Then there's the bluesy Train, Train, which finds Rickey's grandfather Shorty Medlocke playing a feisty harmonica. (Ultimate Classic Rock)

What you said...

Nigel Lancashire: Arguably, Rickey Medlocke was the main attraction and the main downfall of Blackfoot. A huge talent with a killer rock voice and guitar style, but also someone who didn’t seem to know a good thing when he had it. His treatment of the other founding members and subsequent ‘franchising’ of the band’s name to a completely different set of musicians is (chooses words carefully) ‘regrettable’.

So what of 1979’s Strikes itself? Well, it was Blackfoot’s third album, and the first to get any real promotion or attention internationally, and forms something of a trilogy with the subsequent Tomcattin’ and Marauder, before an incredible live album and then the first of many musical identity and line-up changes. 

Listening clinically, it’s an OK, unspectacular production job, but one that thankfully can’t fully restrain the greatness of the songs in the grooves (yes, listening to it on vinyl). It’s refreshing and odd at the same time to hear a southern rock band who doesn’t have a football team of guitarists. And then, there’s that distinctive, undeniable rhythmic and song structure difference in their sound that I can only put down to the presence of three musicians with native American heritage, and an aspect of their music that I always loved.

Three covers (four if you count the supposedly ‘Grandpa Shorty’-written Train, Train prelude) lazily pack out the album, but in Blackfoot’s defence, they make each their own, particularly in bringing Spirit’s Got A Line On You up to date and breathing bare-chested life into it. 

Pay Your Dues does less with the Blues Image source material and is possibly the only disposable track on the record. I was always particularly fond of the way Blackfoot’s nicely muscular and distinctly southern shuffle-tinged version of Free’s Wishing Well took ownership of the song and the band’s great rhythmic feel (what a killer rhythm section Spires and Walker were BTW) took a bit of lead out of its plodding beat (unlike Gary Moore’s stodgy, guitar-histrionics approach).

The remainder of Strikes is near-pure Blackfoot gold, with the powerhouse boogie of Road Fever an ideal opener. Left Turn Of A Red Light brings the mood down, but in that good way that all the best southern rock bands can. Baby Blue while not one of their most essential tunes, provides a light, upbeat moment for the close of side one.

On side two, opening with the aforementioned Wishing Well, the wistful textures of Run And Hide take you for a lazy sunny afternoon by the creek before the barnstormer Train, Train provides enough steam-driven energy to take you right to Jacksonville. 

Strikes closes out with Highway Song, presumably because every southern band needs its Free Bird. Don’t mistake me, it’s a very good song, but I’ve always felt like it was written because Blackfoot had to have one of those lengthy set closers rather than from any artistic considerations.

Blackfoot could have been one of the greats. They had all the chops, all the songs, but Medlocke’s seeming hunger for mainstream approval and lack of care for his cohorts burnt up all the goodwill for the band. Nevertheless, Strikes stands up well and earns itself a slightly generous 9 from me.

Brian Carr: Southern rock has always been rather hit and miss for me, so it’s not a big surprise that Blackfoot’s Strikes is kind of the same way, but thankfully it has more to like about it than not.

As Road Fever drilled its way down my ear canal, I thought “well, this just might be more enjoyable than I thought it would be.” As throughout the album, there is some excellent guitar work from Medlocke and Hargrett - very cool. Less inspiring was their cover of Spirit’s I Got A Line On You, which I found to be really stiff. I thought they did a better job on Wishing Well.

The reason I had doubts going in was due to their best known song, Train, Train. Unless Stevie Wonder is playing it, I just can’t stand the sound of a harmonica. It’s nails on a chalkboard to me. On Strikes, we get a double shot of the intro that sounds like someone hyperventilating through that small piece of metal. 

I found a live video of the song without harmonica on YouTube and liked it better. To wrap things up, I’ve liked Highway Song better than Free Bird for quite some time, but when the outro solo kicks in it definitely goes on and on. Though it has some fine playing, it felt derivative. Overall, though, I found Strikes to be a rocking album with solid guitar.

John Davidson: It would be easy to write off Blackfoot's Strikes as southern boogie by numbers, but to be fair to them this album contains enough great tunes (and importantly well-sung) to rise above that concern.

Road Fever and Left Turn On A Red Light are classics and there are no real howlers though at 35 minutes they still managed to slip in a little filler (Wishing Well for example) .

Closer Highway Song is their attempt to recreate a Free Bird moment and while it's a good song, it's not got the same emotional resonance and it does go on a bit. Despite that, the album is well worth a listen - a solid 7/10.

Mike Knoop" Good hard rock album with a southern twang. Train, Train was the only song I knew coming in, and it’s still my favourite but the rest are growing on me. Whether an original or one of four covers, the lyrics tend to be hard luck cautionary tales. The Spirit classic, I Got A Line On You, seems out of place, but that might because of my overfamiliarity with the original.

Now hear me out, but as a vocalist, Rickey Medlocke reminds me a lot of ‘70s David Coverdale. He has a powerful and emotive voice that can go from growl to wail and back, but always comes across as nothing less than a total badass. And, of course, those gorgeous female background vocals draw me into Highway Song, Wishing Well, Run And Hide and Left Turn On A Red Light.

Blackfoot’s Strikes is a winning and potent blend of Whitesnake hard rock with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s southern boogie.

Carl Black: This album has a time and a place. In a dirty boozer late at night. Nothing wrong with a bit of southern rock. Hard riffs and cool vocals. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's not my go to to southern rock album. I'd reach for Second Helping or Rio Grande Mud every day of the week, but when the sun is low, you've had a few, and you've caught the eye of the girl on the dance floor, this is the perfect soundtrack.

Brett Deighton: Really happy with this suggestion. This was my first listen and I wasn’t disappointed. Some infectious grooves and a really solid rock album. I’ll be checking out their other material

Uli Hassinger: It's a very solid album like all the first four albums. The best song is Left Turn On A Red Light, which is a typical 7's rock gem with some southern rock influences. I Got A Line On You as well. Highway Song is Blackfoot's equivalent to Skynyrd's Free Bird

I saw them live in 1981 in Germany when I was 14 and the show was a blast. When I was younger I had problems to dig this studio album because it was too slow and mainstream for me while I was deep in the heavy metal scene these days. Growing older I learned to appreciate the first album as well, but the live album is the the crowning of the groups career. It's very sad that after the outstanding Highway Song Live they couldn't maintain the standard and they disappeared into nowhere.

When it comes to Ricky Medlocke you can hear on this album - even more on the live album - what a great singer he was. He was compared to Coverdale above, but I would compare him to Bob Seger with more rock attitude. He was also a brilliant songwriter. All his talent is a little wasted in Skynyrd, where he's only a background singer and of course a first class guitar player. Astonishing that he started off as a drummer with Skynyrd. I saw him live last year with Skynyrd and he is still a cool guy and badass rocker.

All in all Strikes was a solid album for the ambitious young rock group they were. I would rate it 7/10.

Robert Dunn: To my shame I had heard of Blackfoot but had never really listened to any of their stuff, so this was a welcome opportunity to put that right. From the first track to the last these were melodic, well-thought-out songs with a good groove to them, and I enjoyed that, but as has been mentioned with other albums, for me what was missing was the hooks. 

After a couple of listens, none of the songs were going through my head, no earworms to hum and annoy the family, nothing that made me want to add a particular song to a playlist. But despite that, I enjoyed it enough to give it another listen, as well as explore some of their other stuff. Good job, Album of the Week Club!

Nigel Taylor: Fantastic album. Always thought Ricky Medlocke is wasted in Skynyrd as he can write a great tune and his vocals are far superior!

Andy Ward: This is a 10 from me. Saw them on this tour opening for UFO at the Capitol Theater in Passaic NJ. Didn't know who they were before that set but sure as hell knew who they were after. Bought this album right after and still own it. They had some good albums after this but none equal. They come out of the gate hard on Road Fever and end with the epic Highway Song. Everything in between rocks and the solos are fast and clean as f*ck.

Mark Tucker: My first Blackfoot album, my first southern rock album. Absolute perfection. Not a bad track on it. Shorty Medlocke's contribution just lifts it a level, and along with Molly Hatchet's Flirtin' With Disaster it's Southern Rock Gold.

Greg Smith: Absolutely... this album is a sizzler. Without question the most underrated live act of their day. More then once have watched headliners walk from the wings shaking their heads, wondering how they could follow an opening set by Blackfoot.

Adam Ranger: Solid slice of southern rock. Some absolute belters on this. Highway Song, Train Train, Left Turn At A Red Light and a great cover of Wishing Well. Overshadowed by Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet perhaps, but this is southern rock at its finest.

Andrew Bramah: A band that should have been huge. Awesome live band but that was never captured in the studio or fully on the Highway Song Live album. Their '81 Donington performance is their best "unreleased" live album.

John Edgar: This is a fine slice of southern rock. This was their third album, but the first one to chart. It reached #42 on the Billboard album charts, but if you'd have lived where I lived (the Texas/Arkansas line) you would have thought it was firmly planted at #1. 

The album was released in April of 1979, and by summer you couldn't go to any recreation area that attracted young people without hearing this album blasting from passing cars. Blackfoot fell into my favourite category of southern rockers. I'm talking about those bands that drifted in during the later phase of southern rock's massive popularity. 

These bands all rocked a lot harder than the southern rock founding fathers. This group was made up of bands like Blackfoot, .38 Special, Point Blank, Doc Holliday and Molly Hatchet, just to name drop a few. There were more great releases to come from Blackfoot, but this was the best one, for sure.

Paul Hutchings: One of the few bands I never got to see with the classic line-up. Strikes is a fabulous album with some great tracks. Road Fever is a superb opening song and Train Train is so powerful. Like all Blackfoot albums, it's the hidden gems make it a stone cold classic.

Jonathan Novajosky: Ah, so that's who does "that train song." I had always heard it on the radio but never knew the artist. But let's back up a bit. My general thoughts are that this a very solid, rockin' album. Despite living in the south, I'm normally not crazy about southern rock, although I can enjoy it mostly. I was iffy on Strikes until Left Turn On A Red Light, which was the first song on here that I really got into (nice song title by the way). 

Run And Hide was another hidden gem – it's simple, but catchy and fun. Then of course there's Train, Train with the slick harmonica intro followed by a grinding guitar riff. There are lots of radio songs I can go without hearing again, but this one never got overplayed, so I still like it a lot. Overall, there's not a lot more I have to say about Strikes. It's good fashioned southern rock: nothing more and nothing less. 7.5/10

Bill Griffin: With the exception of a few tracks (Left Turn On A Red Light, Train, Train and Highway Song), it's really quite stiffly played and thus not particularly enjoyable. Those three are really good though.

Final Score: 7.78⁄10 (160 votes cast, with a total score of 1244)

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