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Eela Craig: Eela Craig (1971)

Unless you’re a record collecting fanatic, or at least a prog rock fanatic, chances are you’ve probably never heard of Eela Craig. Eela Craig was apparently one of the best known prog rock bands to come out of Austria (other prog bands from that country included Paternoster and Kyrie Eleison). The band, for the most part, consisted of Hubert Bognermayr (keyboards), Harald Zuschrader (flute, keyboards, guitar), and Gerhard Englisch (bass), with varying musicians helping out on guitar, drums, vocals (their lineup more or less stablized in the late 1970s).

Their best known albums all appeared in the late 1970s: One Niter (1976), Hats of Glass (1978), Missa Universalis (1978), and Virgin Oiland (1980). Basically these albums are synthesizer dominated prog rock with funk influences, as typical of many prog rock bands from the second half of the 1970s.

One Niter is by far their best one, their followups are of lesser quality, but still worth having. But their 1971 debut is drastically different from all their albums. It’s much more jazzy and bluesy. The production is also much more homemade as well, given a more underground feel to the album. Bognermayr, Zuschrader, and Englisch are all here, with guitarist Heinz Gerstmair, vocalist and saxist Wil Orthofer, and drummer Horst Waber.

While the band’s later output was known for using lots of different synthesizers and other keyboards (including Mellotron), the only two keyboards used on this album is the electric piano, and some Hammond organ, letting the guitar and flute dominate. The album has only four cuts, “New Born Child”, “Selfmade Trip”, “A New Way” and “Indra Elegy”. The first cut features starts off in psych territory, but then some unnecessary use of terrifying screams detracts from the song a bit, because unlike Pink Floyd’s “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”, the song does not build up to an exciting, intense climax, but rather, the song slows down with just vocals and electric piano, which itself is fine, but not with the screams preceeding it. After a couple minutes of basically the vocals and electric piano, then the band gets in with a killer jam with sax dominating.

The next song, “New Born Child” seems to feature drug-oriented lyrics (not surprising, given the era), basically it’s a rather bluesy piece, then there’s a great jazzy solo with flute and guitar, before the song totally slows down with mainly flute. At the end, the main theme of the song is played in reverse. “A New Way” continues more in the same bluesy and jazzy vein, with more great solos.

The last piece, “Indra Elegy” is the most progressive on the album, and is regarded as the highlight. Starts off with some rather spacy sounding organ, before the band solos, then the vocals kick in with the electric piano. Personally I don’t find this cut the album’s highlight, as I find the vocal section a bit tedious. But then the cut ends the way it begins, with the organ and electric piano.

Because of the many different musical styles found on this album, it should come as no surprise some of the members left. Heinz Gerstmair, Wil Orthofer, and Horst Waber all left the band after this album because they favored the bluesy and jazzy side of the band (they formed Ice Planet, who never recorded, with Wil Orthofer rejoining Eela Craig in 1977 to record for their last three albums), while the remaining three members of the band moved the band to a much more strictly prog rock direction, which would be the style they’ll be doing for the rest of their career. It won’t be until 1976, with further lineup changes before their next full length LP would surface, that is, One Niter. Between their 1971 debut and One Niter, they would release a single called “Stories”/”Cheese” in 1974. This Mellotron heavy single featured no jazz or blues and is strictly in the symphonic prog style that they would explore on their late 1970s albums. Both cuts were later re-recorded for their album Hats of Glass (with more synthesizers and less Mellotron).

For years, Eela Craig’s debut was incredibly difficult to find. The original LP, released on a small Austrian label called Pro-Disc, had regularly fetched $500 on the collector’s market (only 1,500 copies were pressed). Luckily a small German label called Garden of Delights (named after a Hieronymous Bosch painting, but they use a marijuana leaf for their logo) had reissued this album on CD with four bonus tracks, two of them were from the aforementioned “Stories”/”Cheese” single, and two bizarre and experimental pieces the band did with Dr. Alfred Peschek. Although One Niter is Eela Craig’s best album, their debut is still an album well worth having, and especially if you like underground bluesy/jazzy/psychy prog rock.
Lineup on their self-entitled debut (1971):
– Hubert Bognermayr: electric piano
– Harald Zuscrader: flute, organ, sax, acoustic guitar
– Heinz Gerstmair: electric guitar, organ
– Gerhard Englisch: bass
– Wil Orthofer: vocals, sax
– Horst Waber: drums

Lineup on bonus tracks:
Irminsul and Yggdrasil (1972):
– Hubert Bognermayr: keyboards
– Harald Zuscrader: guitar, keyboards
– Gerhard Englisch: bass
– Joe Drodar: drums

Stories and Cheese (1974)
– Hubert Bognermayr: keyboards, vocals
– Gerhard Englisch: bass
– Fritz Riedelberger: vocals, guitar
– Hubert Schnauer: keyboards
– Joe Drobar: drums

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