BLITZ!   Number 32, Sept-Oct 1979

ELTON DUCK, A Collector Rock Supergroup

by Mike McDowell

 

Elton Duck (L-R): Micki Steele, Mike Condello, Mike McFadden, Andy Robinson
 
Of all the up and coming bands currently active in the rock and roll movement, none boasts such a wide array of musical backgrounds as does Los Angeles' Elton Duck. Formed in 1978, the Elton Duck band has in one short year managed to synthesize the diverse musical talents of its four individual members into one of the most original and enthusiastic sounds to come along in some time.

In order to full understand and appreciate the music of Elton Duck, let us meet its members individually:

Lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Mike McFadden rose to musical prominence in 1967 as the leader of Superfine Dandelion, whose album, “Superfine Dandelion” (Mainstream S/6102) remains a classic example of punkadelic music. A brief association with the Goose Creek Symphony followed (“A thoroughly horrendous experience” adds McFadden,) as did a series of stints with various other musical outfits, all of which led to the formation of Elton Duck with longtime musical associate Mike Condello. McFadden writes the majority of the band’s material, and his uncanny (albeit unintentional) similarity in vocal inflection to Elvis Costello adds to the unique flavor of the music. Interestingly enough, McFadden’s striking physical resemblance to Elton John was the inspiration for the band’s unusual name.

Bass player Micki Steele’s relatively short tenure on the music scene has by no means been any less significant. Following a successful audition, Steele became one of the founding members of The Runaways, though her self-proclaimed “incompatibility” with the ideas of Runaways’ mentor Kim Fowley led to her departure from the band before their debut album for Mercury Records was recorded. As well as keeping a steady backbeat for Elton Duck, Steele is currently doubling as bass player for Slow Children, currently recording for Jet Records.

Lead guitarist Mike Condello boasts the most intriguing background of the band’s members, having begun his recording career in 1963 with Phoenix TV personality Pat McMahon as part of Hub Kapp and the Wheels (whose cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Sigh, Cry, Almost Die” on Capitol 5215 is in many ways superior to the original version.) A strong interest in the artistry of guitarist Duane Eddy led to an association with Eddy’s producer, Lee Hazelwood, who signed Condello to his LHI label late in 1966 as a member of Last Friday’s Fire, the backing band for vocalist Lynn Castle. “We came up with the name of the band during our first recording session” recalls Condello. “We went into the studio the week after astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee died in a spacecraft fire. the accident was on our minds at the time, so we decided to call the band Last Friday’s Fire.” the recording session resulted in “Rose Colored Corner”/”The Lady Barber” (LHI 17003), a brilliant single in a Rick Nelson-like country-rock vein that was met by commercial indifference. Condello became increasingly disenchanted with the label and was granted a release from his contract late in 1967. He soon formed a new group, Commodore Condello’s Salt River Navy Band, a four-man outfit that released a satirical EP in 1968 on Blitz Records (!) lampooning the music of such artists as The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. A solo album, “Phase One” (Scepter SPS 542) also surfaced during this period. Today, Condello channels the expertise gained through these years of experience into the creation of an authoritative and distinct guitar style that contributes significantly to the Elton Duck sound.

Rounding out the sound is drummer Andy Robinson, whose musical background began in the early 1970’s via various stints with a wide variety of bands that, according to Robinson, “have no bearing or connection with what Elton Duck is doing.” On stage, Robinson occasionally incorporates a dulcimer into some of the band’s material, bringing to mind a musical style not unlike that of the Rolling Stones’ monumental “Aftermath” album.

If comparisons must be made, the overall sound of the Elton Duck band alludes to such exemplary artists as Elvis Costello, the Byrds, the Kitchen Cinq or Joe Jackson. Their technical finesse, top-notch songwriting abilities (highlighted by “Friends,” “Runaways” and “She Won’t Answer The Phone”) and power to captivate an audience with their boundless enthusiasm (brilliantly showcased during their recent gig at Los Angeles’ Troubadour Club, where the band nearly stole the show from the headlining Phil Seymour) has aroused the interest of Arista Records’ Clive Davis, with whom the band is currently in negotiations. “Whatever happens, we won’t release a record until we’re sure the results are going to be perfect” adds McFadden. If the quest for perfection is their sole concern, the Elton Duck band has nothing to worry about.

 

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