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Steel Mill

A band long lost to the realm of speculation, misinformation, and even outright myth, Steel Mill stumped even expert music collectors for a few decades due to a scarcity of reliable evidence documenting the feats, foibles, and verifiable facts of their very existence. In time, it was learned that the late-‘60s roots of the group lay in the South London neighborhood of Wadsworth, where future Steel Mill vocalist and keyboardist David Morris first teamed up with sax and woodwind player John Challenger (late of short-lived Decca recording artists the Garret Singers), and, soon after, guitarist Terry Williams, bassist Derek Chandler, and drummer Colin Short -- all three of whom originated in yet another band called Roadrunners. The ensuing year was spent in constant rehearsal interrupted only rarely by live performances, but a handful of promising demos cut in April 1970 showed that Steel Mill were ready to break the shackles of the Brit blues scene with a few more pensive and eclectic numbers, resulting in a management and production deal.

Sessions were quickly booked for the fledgling band (temporarily featuring Rumplestiltskin drummer Ricky "Rupert" Baer) to record a single with producer John Schroeder (Status Quo, the Shadows, etc.) at Marquee Studios, situated behind the celebrated London venue, where Steel Mill also secured a six-month residency, followed by a performance at the 1971 Reading Festival. Soon after, the band's debut single, "Green Eyed God," was issued by their new label backers, the prophetically named Penny Farthing Records, and eventually peaked at a respectable number 51 on the British charts and an eye-opening number 17 on the German charts. And so December of 1971 found a slightly reshuffled Steel Mill -- now completed by the rhythm section of bassist Jeff Watts and drummer Chris "The Rat" Martin -- holed up at London's Delane Lea Studios with Schroeder, busily recording their first album, also to be titled Green Eyed God, in order to capitalize on their recent chart success. But the fruits of Steel Mill's labors left their label unconvinced, and despite giving the LP a 1972 release in Germany, where its imaginative brand of heavy progressive rock fit right in with local trends, in the U.K. Penny Farthing decided to bet the band's future on a second, non-album single called "Get on the Line," which ironically took the music industry's shady dealings to task.

When this failed to replicate its predecessor's encouraging sales performance, the label set the band adrift and an internal schism soon led to the departure of both Williams (who felt tempted to explore the rising glam rock craze) and Watts. The remaining members of Steel Mill recruited guitarist Alan Plaice and bassist Danny Easterbrook to fill their slots and briefly soldiered on, but in spite of some impressive opportunities opening for Rory Gallagher's Taste, T. Rex, and David Bowie in full Ziggy Stardust regalia, their flame had burnt out by August 1972. Rather inexplicably, Penny Farthing finally decided to release Steel Mill's Green Eyed God album in 1975, long after their demise, but at least that second limited pressing helped keep the group's name alive in cult circles for years to come, finally leading to a well-promoted 2010 CD reissue through Rise Above Records. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi
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