Catfish Hodge-The Eastbound and Westbound Years.

Great things were expected of Bob “Catfish” Hodge who was born into a musical family in Detroit, and began playing in clubs when he was still in high school. Before long, he was a regular in Detroit’s clubs despite not being able to read music. Music came naturally to Catfish and seemed to flow through him. Catfish  was a natural when it came to music. So it’s no surprise that  Bob “Catfish” Hodge decided to make a career out of music. 

Since then,  Bob “Catfish” Hodge has enjoyed a long and illustrious career. He first came to prominence as a member of Catfish who “coulda been a contender.” During the late-sixties, Catfish seemed destined for greatness and rubbed shoulders with The Stooges and MC5. Sadly, success eluded Catfish. After that Bob “Catfish” Hodge embarked upon a solo career.

Bob signed to Eastbound Records in the early seventies. As Catfish Hodge,he released his debut album Boogieman Gonna Get You in 1972. Two years later, Bob released his sophomore album Dinosaurs and Alleycats in 1974 and in 1975, Catfish released Soap’s Opera. It was released on Westbound and was Bob’s final release on the Eastbound and Westbound labels. After that, Bob signed to Adelphi Records. However, the three albums he released on Eastbound and Westbound are seen as the finest of his career. 

Music was Bob’s life, and he spent all of his spare time listening to music. When he wasn’t listening to music he was making music. Bob formed his first band as a senior in high school, after his friend Terry Kelly taught him how to play guitar. Terry also introduced Bob to a variety of artists, including Lonnie Mack, whose songs found their way into the setlist of Bob’s band. However, Terry wasn’t Bob’s only musical influence.

By the late-sixties, Bob was absorbing the sounds of Detroit, and he was a regular visitor to Motown. Along with his friends, Bob sat in his car listening to the music emanating from the studios. Sometimes, Bob and his friends managed to sneak past the security guards in and watch the recording sessions. They were able to watch artists like Smokey Robinson recording. Before long, they were discovered by an embarrassed guard and they’d be thrown out, until the next time. This was a regular cat and mouse game. Whilst watching these sessions, this only depended Bob’s determination to become a musician.

Aspiring musicians are only mortal and “can’t live by bread alone.” So on leaving school, Bob got a job working at a finance company. One of the job’s he was given was collecting money from customers who had missed a payment. This included a forgetful member of the Four Tops. Whenever he was on tour, he forgot to pay his bills. Bob would go and collect the payments. So Bob would’ve to take the forgetful Four Top, or his wife to Motown. At Motown, they’d pick up some money to pay the bill. Naturally, seeing what was another world close up, made Bob’s mind up, now was the time to make music his career.

Bob’s first job in the music industry was as a songwriter and producer. He penned and produced Capreez’s Over You, which was released on the Detroit label Sound. That was Bob’s introduction to the music industry.

Soon, Bob was working with three local bands. He hired an office and started trying to get them a record deal. One label that showed an interest was Vanguard. So, Bob caught the redeye to the Big Apple, and headed to see Maynard Solomon at Vanguard. Bob played him the tapes. Solomon like what he heard, but reckoned that Vanguard weren’t quite ready for rock ’n’ roll. After his meeting, Bob headed into Greenwich Village.

That night, Bob saw a still unsigned Jimi Hendrix playing in a coffee bar. After that, Bob headed to Bleecker, and s he passed by a club that was closed, he heard music. Curious, Bob looked in. There was Van Morrison rehearsing. For Bob, that was a eureka moment. At last, he knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

Back home, Bob formed Wicked Religion, who evolved into Catfish. Before long, Catfish established a reputation as one of Detroit’s top live groups. They were soon rubbing shoulders with MC5 and The Stooges. Their raw blues rock sound was winning friends not just in Detroit, but Catfish further afield. This included in the offices of Epic

Kenny Hodges of Epic had heard good things about Catfish. The word in Detroit was Catfish were on their way to the top. So, Kenny signed Catfish to Epic. He wasn’t going to risk anyone beating him to their signature. The only problem would be, replicating Catfish’s famous live sound? 

For their debut album Get Down, Kenny Cooper was brought in to produce the album. A total of nine tracks were recorded. They were meant to showcase Catfish’s blues rock sound. On the release of Get Down in 1970, it wasn’t a commercial success and didn’t even come close to troubling the charts. Then someone at Epic came up with an idea of how to capture what Catfish were about musically. The idea was to record a live album.

So, Detroit’s Eastown Theatre was booked. In front of an enthusiastic audience, Catfish combined their own songs with two Motown covers, Nowhere To Run and Money. The concert became Catfish’s sophomore album, Catfish Live. Released in 1971, Catfish Live failed to chart. Still commercial success and critical acclaim eluded Catfish. Not only did Catfish Live fail to chart, but it spelt the end of Catfish.

The plaudits and commercial success that were about to come the way of MC5 and The Stooges passed Catfish by. They were about to become a footnote to Detroit’s musical history. That shouldn’t have been the case. Catfish had what it took to go from contenders to title holders. Who knows, maybe another record company would’ve got the best out of Catfish? Sadly, Catfish would split-up not long after the release of Catfish Live. 

Bob realised this was about to happen, and had been thinking about embarking upon a solo career. He started recording his first album as Bob Hodge. Catfish Hodge had yet to make his debut. As Bob Hodge, he released Empathy, which was recorded in a small studio in Memphis and released on Cupid Records, which was Catfish’s own record label. Bob optimistically, had 500 copies pressed. Empathy passed most people by. So Bob decided it was time for a change and hopped on a plane to London.

There was a reason for this. Bob was friendly with many British musicians, including the legendary Peter Green. In London, Bob stayed at the Earls Court hotel and wrote songs. Back then, Bob had hopes of become the next James Taylor. Instead, his music headed in a very different direction, when Bob wrote Boogie Man. So with another album written, Bob headed home, looking for a record deal.

Since Bob had been away, Detroit had changed. Motown had followed the sun to Los Angeles. This was now the age of the major label. No longer were independent labels thriving. Many were struggling to make ends meet. One independent label bucked the trend, Westbound Records.

Founded and run by Armen Boladian, Westbound Records and its subsidiary Eastbound Records were doing well. They were home to Denise LaSalle and The Detroit Emerald and Bob decided  to visit Armen Boladian. He’d heard Empathy and liked what he heard, and decided to take a chance on Bob. He gave him $500 and told him to record some demos.

Five songs were recorded at a small studio owned by a local band SRC. Then Armen wanted to see Bob play live. Bob just so happened to be playing in a local club. So Armen headed over to the club, accompanied by two members of Funkadelic, George Clinton and Calvin Simon. That night, Bob won over not just Armen, but the two members of Funkadelic. They encouraged Armen to send Bob to Toronto, where Funkadelic were recording America Eats Its Young. Armen agreed, and Bob headed to Toronto, where he recorded Boogie Man Gonna Get Ya.

Boogie Man Gonna Get Ya.

At Manta Recording Studios, in Toronto, Bob recorded Boogie Man Gonna Get Ya. Calvin Simon who’d encouraged Armen to record Bob produced Boogie Man Gonna Get Ya. Bob wrote seven of the eight songs. The other song was a cover of The Beatles’ Want You (She’s So Heavy). Accompanying Bob was a tight, talented band. This included a rhythm section of bassist William Landless, drummer Pat Freer and guitarists “Shakey” Al Werneken and Dallas Hodge. They were joined by pianist Bob Babitch and percussionist Jerry Paul. Producer Calvin Simon decided to add some punchy horns. This was an absolute masterstroke.

Boogie Man Gonna Get Ya was released in 1972. It marked the debut a the  newly named Catfish Hodge. It’s described as rock with  a hint of funk. Sadly, despite what’s a delicious fusion of blues, funk, jazz and rock, Boogie Man Gonna Get Ya failed to chart. This wasn’t helped by Westbound falling behind with the release of Boogie Man Gonna Get Ya. Locally, the album was a success. Boogie Man Gonna Get Ya was played on local radio. This resulted in Catfish playing bigger gigs and heading out to tour Boogie Man Gonna Get Ya. Westbound believing Catfish had a big future ahead of him, commissioned a second album, which became Dinosaurs and Alleycats.

Dinosaurs and Alleycats.

For Dinosaurs and Alleycats, eight tracks were chosen. Catfish wrote Color TV Blues and Living The Blues. He cowrote five of the other six tracks. The other track was a cover of Jack Bruce and Pete Brown’s Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out Of Tune. Some tracks were recorded at Manta Recording Studios, in Toronto. Other tracks were recorded in Detroit, at the Golden World Studio, which had been where so many Motown hits were recorded. It was much the same band accompanying Catfish.

Catfish’s band included a rhythm section of bassist William Landless, drummer Dave Chambers and guitarists “Shakey” Al Werneken and Dallas Hodge. They were joined by slide guitarist Bob McCarthy pianist Bob Babitch, plus backing vocalists and a horn section. Catfish played acoustic guitar, piano and organ. Once Dinosaurs and Alleycats was completed, it was released in 1974, two years after Boogie Man Gonna Get Ya.

Sadly, some things didn’t change. Dinosaurs and Alleycats failed to chart. This was despite Catfish changing direction. Whereas some of the arrangements on Boogie Man Gonna Get Ya are busy and sometimes, some of the arrangement on Dinosaurs and Alleycats are much more understated and spacious. Everything from  blues, funk, rock and feature on Dinosaurs and Alleycats, which marked a musical coming of age from Catfish Hodge.

Soap’s Opera.

A year after the release of Dinosaurs and Alleycats, Catfish began work on Soap’s Opera. It proved to be Catfish’s final album for Westbound Records was Soap’s Opera. It was released on their Eastbound imprint. Soap’s Opera featured ten tracks. Catfish wrote eight tracks. The other two tracks were covers of It’s All Over Now and Joni Mitchell’s For Free. Accompanying Catfish, was an all-star band.

This meant it was all change for Catfish. None of the band that played on his first two albums played on Soap’s Opera. The rhythm section included drummers Larry Zack, bassist David Kovarick and guitarist Bonnie Riatt. They were joined by Dr. John on piano and organ, Wayne Cook on keyboards and Sneaky Pete Kleinow played pedal steel. James Montgomery played harmonica and Rosemary Butler of the all-girl band Birtha sung backing vocals. The ten tracks became Soap’s Opera, which proved to be Catfish’s Westbound finale.

On its release in 1975, Soap’s Opera failed to chart. Catfish Hodge had changed direction again. He incorporated the West Coast sound to his usual fusion of blues and rock. However, just like Dinosaurs and Alleycats it left the listener wanting to hear more from Catfish Hodge. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

After the commercial failure of Soap’s Opera, Catfish Hodge left Westbound Records. He’d released a trio of albums, yet hadn’t made a commercial breakthrough. That’s despite the undoubted quality of the music on Boogieman Gonna Get You, Dinosaurs and Alleycats and Soap’s Opera. Each of these albums were very different.

On each album, Catfish’s music evolved. He wasn’t going to stand still. So, each album saw a new side of Catfish. By the time he released Soap’s Opera, Catfish had adopted the West Coast sound. This was totally different from the fusion of blues and rock that was Boogieman Gonna Get You. Then on Dinosaurs and Alleycats, musical genes and influences melted into one. Catfish also realised the importance of space. The arrangements were much more understated and spacious. Having said that, still occasionally, Catfish and his band cut loose. When they kicked loose, it was a glorious sound. Still, commercial success eluded Catfish Hodge. By 1975, Catfish was still trying to catch a break. Even when he jumped on the West Coast Sound bandwagon, commercial success and critical acclaim was nowhere to be seen. For Westbound Records, that was the end of the road.

For Catfish Hodge, his time at Westbound Records might be over, but his career was still in its infancy. Since 1975, Catfish Hodge has continued to release albums and tour. He’s one of the hardest working men in music. Now a musical veteran, Catfish Hodge has recorded a lot of music since Boogieman Gonna Get You, Dinosaurs and Alleycats and Soap’s Opera. However, these three albums are still regarded as the best music of Catfish Hodge’s long career and a tantalising reminder of a truly talented singer, songwriter and musician at the peak of his powers.

Catfish Hodge-The Eastbound and Westbound Years.







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