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Leaf Hound: Growers Of Mushroom - Album Of The Week Club review

Leaf Hound's cult classic Growers Of Mushroom was inspired by an anthology of horror stories and became an accidental template for stoner rock

Leaf Hound - Growers Of Mushrooms cover art
(Image: © Deeca)

Formed from the ashes of British acid-blues band Black Cat Bones (the other half of BCB formed Free), Leaf Hound’s tantalising cocktail of drugs and distortion was so ahead of it’s time that their sole album (for 40 or so years, at least), Growers of Mushroom, still sounds like it was released yesterday. It’s also the blueprint for every “stoner rock” album of all time ever.

Growers Of Mushroom is now acknowledged as an undisputed classic of heavy riff’n’roll, and has gone on to influence countless bands, including nearly every major player in the stoner rock movement, from Kyuss to Monster Magnet

Leaf Hound: Growers Of Mushroom

Leaf Hound - Growers Of Mushrooms cover art

(Image credit: Decca)

Freelance Fiend
Sad Road to the Sea
Drowned My Life in Fear
Work My Body
Stray
With a Minute to Go
Growers of Mushroom
Stagnant Pool
Sawdust Caesar

But, as frontman Peter French (see also: Cactus and Atomic Rooster) explains, the band’s leafy-green imagery was more horror show than dope show. “The name Leaf Hound was not what some people have presumed it to be,” he says, “the idea of the name coming from a short horror story by Ray Bradbury called The Emissary, about a dog that had returned from the dead covered in mud and leaves."

Furthermore, French says, the band’s image was largely the figment of revisionist imaginations: “The drug scene of course was around, but we never really took to it. The drug-crazed image of Leaf Hound that some people seem to have assumed couldn’t be further from the truth. The band was as straight as a die when we wrote and played and recorded our album.” 

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Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in October 1971

  • Teaser and the Firecat - Cat Stevens
  • Meddle - Pink Floyd
  • The Morning After - The J. Geils Band
  • 200 Motels - Frank Zappa
  • In Search of Space - Hawkwind
  • Message from the Country - The Move
  • 18 Other Voices - The Doors
  • Restrictions - Cactus
  • American Pie - Don McLean
  • Grateful Dead - Grateful Dead
  • Chicago at Carnegie Hall - Chicago
  • Rough and Ready - The Jeff Beck Group
  • Fearless - Family
  • Bloodrock U.S.A. - Bloodrock
  • Fog On The Tyne - Lindisfarne
  • Focus II (Moving Waves) - Focus
  • Memories - John Mayall
  • Pawn Hearts - Van der Graaf Generator
  • Rainbow Bridge - Jimi Hendrix
  • Reflection - Pentangle
  • R.E.O. Speedwagon - REO Speedwagon
  • Stoney & Meatloaf - Stoney & Meat Loaf
  • Tupelo Honey - Van Morrison
  • UFO 2: Flying - UFO
  • War War War - Country Joe McDonald

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What they said...

"Growers of Mushroom is not just a proto metal album but proto stoner, a predecessor of stoner rock. All the characteristics of the subgenre are present on here; highly distorted guitars, mid tempo song structures, raw production and audible bass. Leaf Hound are wilder than Black Sabbath, heavier than Led Zeppelin and more psychedelic than Deep Purple MK II." (Sputnik Music (opens in new tab))

"The band they keep reminding me of the most is Sir Lord Baltimore – there almost seems to be some subliminal transatlantic psychic link between these two groups, who would have been recording their debut albums at about the same time (so I don't see how one could have directly borrowed anything from the other." (Head Heritage)

"Lead vocalist Peter French – who went on to form Atomic Rooster and later worked with Cactus and a later lineup of Randy Pie – is in fine form here, and his scorched-earth screech may even remind some fans of Robert Plant. His cousin, guitarist Mick Halls (who replaced Foghat-bound lead guitarist Rod Price, guitarist in French's earlier group, Black Cat Bones), doesn't have the same guitar prowess that, say, Jimmy Page had at the time, but he's no slouch either, showing considerable skill throughout." (AllMusic (opens in new tab))

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What you said...

Gary Claydon: I first heard about this album from a gig-going mate sometime around the late 70s/early 80s during a conversation about rare or unusual records that we owned. He told me he had one that he thought I might like. It was by a band called Leaf Hound and it was "pretty decent". He couldn't be persuaded to loan it me but did agree to tape it for me so I hot-footed it round to his place a few days later clutching a C60. That remains the only time I've ever seen an original copy of Growers Of Mushroom 'in the flesh'.

Leaf Hound evolved from the remnants of Black Cat Bones who counted some familiar names in their numbers at various times. They released one album, Barbed Wire Sandwich (Spinal Tap eat yer heart out!) which has a serious contender for the 'worst ever album cover' award.

"Pretty decent" my mate called Growers Of Mushroom. Man, did he ever undersell it! This is a prime slice of early 70s heavy rock. No frills, all thrills. There is nothing groundbreaking here, you could say it's fairly generic of it's time but it's really well done and nicely paced. The raw, almost lo-fi production lends it a pleasing edge (it apparently took just 11 hours to record). Influences are plain enough, it's certainly Zeppelin-esque in places. 

Stray veers firmly into Heartbreaker territory, for instance, but you can hear Sabbath, Heep, Purple, Cream & The Who in there as well. There are snippets of Work My Body that always bring Donovan's Season Of The Witch' to my mind. 

I really like Peter French's voice. It's a mystery how he never became much more high profile. He went on to work with Atomic Rooster and Cactus and would audition for both Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. He has a definite air of Robert Plant about his delivery on Growers Of Mushroom but he also reminds me a bit of Rod Stewart in the slower passages. Mick Halls is no Jimmy Page but he does a fine job with some meaty riffs and a few nice solos while the rhythm section are solid.

I literally played my taped copy of Growers Of Mushroom 'til it broke so I was pleased when the album was re-issued on CD in the early 90s due to the interest generated by an article in, I think, Record Collector magazine. It's a fine album, a true 'lost' classic.

A couple of factoids. The album was first issued in Germany on the Telefunken label, after the band had gone down a storm on a short tour there, and had two tracks missing. Leaf Hound were given the impression by their label, Decca, that the album wasn't going to get a UK release and had pretty much decided to call it quits by the time it came out.

The band's name was apparently derived from a short story by Ray Bradbury while most of the song titles were taken from horror anthologies curated by a certain Herbert van Thal, who was responsible for the highly popular Pan Book Of Horror Stories series that ran for about 30 years from the late 50s.

Brian Carr: Life was busy this week. Thankfully some of that was due to me playing and singing my way through some songs, but when I saw the album cover for Leaf Hound’s Growers Of Mushroom, I wasn’t inspired. The artwork and title screams “psychedelic,” which to me isn’t a drawing point. But when I saw the poll pop up on my feed this morning, I gave it a little time. Glad I did - this is a pretty killer record. Looking forward to subsequent listens!

Bill Griffin: I probably would have really liked this if I had heard it when it was fresh but now, it's just enjoyable, not awe-inspiring. Of course, I had no idea what the significance of mushrooms was when it was fresh so the title seems rather silly to me.

Neil Immerz: Well, here’s another band I’ve never heard of before. I took a listen yesterday and I’m so surprised at how great it is. It’s definitely got that Led Zeppelin vibe, with a bit of Black Sabbath thrown in. It actually reminds me very much of the first Witchcraft album. Good stuff

Evan Sanders: A fun album and I'm another one who is reminded of Led Zeppelin and Free. A more recent comparison is Greta Van Fleet in the category of "bands who sound like Led Zeppelin but aren't".

Mike Canoe: I stumbled across Freelance Fiend on a CD compilation years back but the rest of the album is new to me. To my ears, Leaf Hound is a blues-based rock band influenced by other bands influenced by the blues: Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jethro Tull, etc.

The whole album has an uneasy and paranoid vibe that may have made it a hard sell for listeners wanting to extend the increasingly distant Summer of Love. The music and lyrics may not be as dark and heavy as Black Sabbath but still unexpectedly gloomy for a band with a colour-saturated cover replete with a rainbow and a title hinting at psychedelic mushrooms. Even the title track seems to be referring to a drug bust and/or bad trip. Not a fun time at all. 

The eight-minute-plus Work My Body is not a song about sex, as someone raised on Kiss and Aerosmith might be led to believe, but instead a dirge about the daily drudgery of life that would make Roger Waters smile. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn has gone home, drawn the blinds, and triple locked the door.

It took me several listens to get used to Pete French's singing, especially on softer songs like Sad Road To The Sea or With A Minute To Go, but I'm getting there. The rest of the band thunders out an enjoyably thick bottom heavy chug throughout - with some mystery organ played on the epic Work My Body. Freelance Fiend may have been the gateway drug, to overuse a metaphor, but the rest of the album is growing on me as well.

I'm always interested in an album like Growers Of Mushroom. When a new issue of Classic Rock magazine, I usually (digitally) flip to "Buried Treasure" first, where a band not dissimilar to Leaf Hound is featured. I have the firm belief that my next favourite album is out there and odds are it was recorded around the same time as Growers Of Mushroom.

John Davidson: I almost didn't make time to listen to this album. I'd never heard of it before and wasn't sure I wanted to listen to the other half of Free all that much. But I'm glad I made the effort.

While the production is raw, this is a properly heavy blues rock album reminiscent at times of a Led Zeppelin covers band (focussed on I and II) but sometimes they channel early Sabbath or Jethro Tull as well while

The title track Grower of Mushrooms sounds like a long lost Cream song. 

It's good enough that they should have garnered more attention but they were maybe two years late to the party. Heavy rock was in full flight by 1971 and these guys are still playing like it's 1969.

That may not seem like much from this far removed but in those days fads and fashion were fast moving.

Greg Schwepe: Another fun discovery here in the Classic Rock Album Of The Week Club. And yet another “Never Heard Of Them, But Really Like Them” find. Good choice.

After listening to this new find, I read the band’s bio in Spotify. Talk about a long list of “who was in this band, they joined, then left, then joined so and so…” Basically a big ol’ melting pot of influences and backgrounds. Which leads me to my basic obvious observation about music in general; we are drawn to new bands and music because of characteristics they may have with bands we already like. And again, I may really be stating the obvious here, but if it sounds like a favourite band; you’ll stick around long enough to listen to the entire album.

When listening to Growers Of Mushroom I envisioned hearing this for the first time while being cranked from some gigantic speakers outside at a summer party in someone’s backyard. “Wow, what’s that playing? I like it!” as you reach for yet another burger and bottle of your favourite beverage. Freelance Friend opens up the album and got me hooked. Again, at that imaginary backyard party, you’re starting to groove. “Yeah…”

As you listen to the album, there is an evolution of the influences for me. Starts with a Zeppelin and Sabbath vibe. Then maybe a little Cream. Then, wait, is that Three Dog Night? Maybe. Now a little Grand Funk, and maybe some Foghat to finish off the album.

Work My Body is eight minutes or so of slightly jazzy goodness. Found a live version too and it’s just as good.

The title track and ode to psilocybin agriculture is the only song for me that kind of has that whimsical 70s vibe. But given the subject matter, I get that.

Remaining favourites on the album are Hipshaker and Too Many Rock ‘N’ Roll Times. At that point I can really hear the British boogie rock coming out in Leaf Hound’s sound.

So we have a good album by a band that has their own sound but has enough characteristics of other bands of the time that keep you hanging around. Now, back to that imaginary summer backyard party and more Leaf Hound.

Alex Hayes: It hasn't happened too often over the years, but, on the odd occasion, I have been known to buy an unfamiliar album on a hunch, usually after being drawn in by the artwork. I'll be browsing in a record shop somewhere, and make an impulsive purchase because I like the 'look' of a certain album. I have been quite willing to take that gamble if the price is right.

Obviously, my success rate will never be 100%, but I have occasionally picked up some belting music by doing this. Caravan's 1971 cult classic, In The Land Of Grey And Pink, came into my life that way. Another, more recent, example is Opus Eponymous, Ghost's debut, which I picked up about a decade ago in Manchester, when that band's profile was nothing close to the one that they enjoy nowadays. I'll be forever indebted to the Ministry for that one.

Again, that's how I first got my hands on Growers Of Mushroom, the only album from the short-lived Leaf Hound (at least until a post-millennium reformation of the band). My copy is on CD, alas, not an original vinyl copy, which would be worth a few grand in the current market. The thing is, this one initially threw me when I got it home and played it. It wasn't what I was expecting at all.

The name of the band, the cover artwork, and the title of the album - all of these had me anticipating a listening experience more akin to the aforementioned In The Land Of Grey And Pink. I had been expecting something more psychedelic, progressive, and, for want of a better word, hippie-ish. What I'd actually purchased was something altogether more primordial and potent. Growers Of Mushroom turned out to be a seminal early heavy rock album, with a lot more "oomph" than I'd expected.

It's so damn good though, especially after a few listens. To the uninitiated, I'd place this in an artistic sweet spot between Led Zeppelin, Free, and something like Atomic Rooster. It's surprisingly well produced too. Undeniably raw, yet pleasingly so, it's very evocative of those pioneering early days of the classic rock era. From a sonic standpoint, the album reminds me of Deep Purple In Rock.

I'd say that it was a shame that Leaf Hound hadn't stuck around longer and recorded more material, but, in a way, that only adds to Growers Of Mushroom's overall appeal. The fact that the album turned out to be a one-off only adds to its status as an underground classic. This is well worth 37 minutes of anyone's time, and it still holds up well as a more obscure time capsule from a golden era.

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Final Score: 7.27 (36 votes cast, total score 262)

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