Detroit's Rockets were the creation of Johnny "Bee" Badanjek and Jim McCarty, who had just left Mitch Ryder's Detroit Wheels in late 1972. Looking to find an avenue for his own singing and songwriting, Badanjek drafted a few additional players and the Rockets were off and running. The band spent the next four years slugging it out in the club circuits of the midwest, gaining massive regional popularity. Though Badanjek's voice was strong, the bluesy swagger in the band's music required something with more flash and power. Enter former Amboy Dukes vocalist, Dave Gilbert. Gilbert not only had the voice for the job, but also poster boy looks which gave the band an image and identity. Shortly thereafter, a few personnel changes took place and the Rockets definitive lineup was born.
Their debut was issued in 1977 by local label, Tortoise International, and saw the band supporting huge acts throughout the midwest, bringing them to the attention of RSO Records. By the end of the year, RSO had signed the band and sent them to the studio to cut their follow up. In early 1979, the self-titled sophomore release hit the streets. The album saw the band bringing in elements of funk to the sound, which only served to bring them more attention. Soon, radio stations were pumping out tracks like "Turn Up the Radio" and "Oh Well", which both became minor hits in several markets in the states.
Things were beginning to heat up for the band, partially prompted by a high profile appearance on the successful Midnight Special music television program. However, Gilbert's increasingly erratic behavior, fueled by severe drug use and alcoholism, was also creating faults in the band's foundation. Often, McCarty and Badanjek were forced to confront Gilbert, creating a rift in the band that only grew larger with each passing year. The band pushed forward, issuing their third album, "No Ballads", in 1980. The album spawned another minor single, "Desire", but RSO was in the throws of bankruptcy and by year's end, the band were without a label.
Elektra came calling and two subsequent albums were issued in 1981 ("Back Talk") and 1982 ("Rocket Roll"), though much of the band's steam was lost through changing trends in the business and Gilbert's persistantly destructive behavior. Frustrated, Badanjek opted to retire the band and 1983 saw their final album, "Live Rockets", issued by Capitol. The band performed a farewell show in Detroit and the rest is history. Members would move on to session work and other acts, though Gilbert would spend the next 18yrs languishing in drug addiction and alcoholism before dying from cirrhosis of the liver in 2001.
The Rockets were a classic midwestern bluesy rock band who could muster hard rock and AOR all in one album's worth of material. Much like the Michael Stanley Band or Brownsville Station, they were huge in their region but failed to make a lasting mark on a global level. This album is a cohesive collection of songs that explored old school blues rave ups and hard rock with equal verve. There's no questioning Gilberts pipes, addictions aside, as his charisma translates so well to tape. This album illustrates this in spades throughout. If you need further explanation, I recommend checking this fine album out and listening for yourself. Let the music do the talking!
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