By PERRY GRAYSON
A brief CIRITH UNGOL bio (Part 1)
Cirith Ungol was founded in sunny Ventura, California, by three junior high school and high school pals. Drummer (graphic artist and sometimes lyricist) Robert W. Garven Jr., guitarist extraoridinaire (and often space-case) Jerry Fogle (R.I.P.) and bassist/guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter Greg Lindstrom in 1972.
The three began playing together when they were in their early teens in a “band” called Titanic with another school acquaintance, Pat Galligan. With a desire to play heavier rock than Beatles covers, Garven, Fogle and Lindstrom bailed to form Cirith Ungol. Far from being scorned by their folks, Cirith Ungol actually found the support of the Garven family – their rehearsal room was set up inside the Garven family’s house. Early on the band took to covering psychedelic heavy rockers by the likes of Cream, Mountain, Budgie (“Crash Course in Brain Surgery” over a decade before Metallica did it), Thin Lizzy (“Return of the Famer’s Son” and “Vagabonds of the Western World”), Hard Stuff and Ursa Major (about half of “Sinner”) and Freedom (“Dusty Track”).
The name Cirith Ungol was arrived at for the same reason Rob Garven and Greg Lindstrom had initally became friends. Both Rob and Greg were fans of British fantasist J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which they were reading in literature class when they first met in 1969. In Tolkien’s manufactured language of Middle Earth, Cirith Ungol translates out as “pass of the spider”. Cirith Ungol is the bleak place where Frodo and Samwise fight the giant spider Shelob in Tolkien’s second installment in the trilogy, The Two Towers. The spider Shelob was the inspiration for the tune “Shelob’s Lair”, which was written by Lindstrom around 1975. You can also see the spider motif repeated in the longsleeve shirt axeman Jerry Fogle used to wear at practices and gigs. Much like Rush, Sam Gopal’s Dream, Zeppelin and even Mountain (okay, so those were Gail Collins’ lyrics) before them, Cirith Ungol took the hippie’s favorite fantasy saga and exploited it in the rock world. Something to write about aside from fast cars and faster women. Not that our intrepid teenage proto-metallers were above penning tunes about those tried-and-true topics. The first Ungol song was, according to Mr. Lindstrom, entitled “Rock ’n’ Roll Hooker”, after which they moved onto even slightly dodgier subjects. One can only smirk at Garven’s lyrics for “Tight Teen” (circa 1976). Sure, they may owe something to Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan, but it they wouldn’t exactly be up Tipper Gore’s alley.
She’s a tight teen, miniature queen / Not much more than a kid / She’s a tight teen, minuature queen / Seems I always rob the crib”.
Fast forward to 1976, and Cirith Ungol had found their first vocalist, who billed himself as Terry Dactyl (aka Neil Beattie). Neil’s biggest influence was Iggy Pop, and he often spent a lot of time rolling around the boards at gigs with very little clothing on. Pretty fitting for a band with tunes like “Neck-romancer” and “Flesh Dart,” wouldn’t ya say? Needless to say, the authorities at the Ventura State Beach were quick to tell ol’ Terry Dactyl to “keep his shirt on”. The truth be told, Iggy & the Stooges were a huge influence on Cirith Ungol as a whole. When interviewed for his Falcon website profile page, Greg Lindstrom relates that “Iggy is my Elvis”. Greg also remembers, “Robbie used to walk down the street singing ’Penetration’ off Raw Power.” Cirith Ungol Mark II (Beattie, Fogle, Lindstrom and Garven) would play numerous gigs around Ventura and Ojai at venues as diverse as the Foster Park Bowl, Louie’s Life, the Ventura National Guard Armory, the Catacombs, Huntington’s, the Ventura State Beach Pier, Ojai Art Center and the Dock.
Cirith Ungol’s earliest primitive recordings are the evidence that they were among the heaviest bands of the period. After all, in 1975 many of the heavies were lightening up. But the young Ungol stalwarts were fueled more by the loud early 1970s than the fluff corporate record execs were trying to force young bands to sound like. A rehearsal recording from ’75 blew the ears off your humble biographer at first listen (around 2002). Early renditions of “One Foot in Hell” and “Cirith Ungol” are doused with blasts of Greg fuzz bass, Jerry Fogle’s eerie guitar embellishments and wild solos and Rob Garven’s blood drenched drumming. “Shelob’s Lair” and “Half Past Human,” also found on these rehearsal room reels, are equal in both heaviness and epic length to anything on Frost and Fire or King of the Dead. Perhaps they weren’t Alice Cooper, but Beattie is said to have covered his hands and upper body with fake spiders while his Ungol mates played “Shelob’s Lair,” an ode to the giant spider in Tolkien’s The Two Towers.
But Neil soon tired of Cirith Ungol, leaving Lindstrom, Garven and Fogle to continue as an instrumental power trio once again. This wasn’t too daunting to the three, as they still found themselves playing singerless gigs at venues like the Starwood, the Roxy and the Whisky in Hollyweird, as well as the Ventura Fairgrounds. By this time, Cirith Ungol had also recruited a bunch of their fellow rockers and school pals to be their crew. Brothers Dan and Tim Baker were roadies and Kevin “Dr. K” Sage (no doubt in charge of pharmaceuticals?!) was the stage manager.
With no suitable singer in sight or earshot, friend and roadie Tim Baker tried out for the vocal spot. Although not a trained singer, Baker boasted a unique screaching style all his own. His first stab at recording vocals for a Cirith Ungol song was a “duet” with Neil Beattie on “We Know You’re Out There”, a track about alien invasion.
Armed with their own Dokorder reel-to-reel 4 track recorder, Cirith Ungol whapped out a tape chock full of their blistering tunes. The cassette demo “album” had an orange cover, and it was distributed at gigs. Some of the tunes on the orange cassette included “Show You All” sung by Rob, “Route 666” sung by Greg, “We Know You’re Out There” sung by exiting Neal Beattie and entering Tim Baker and “High Speed Love” sung by Tim Baker.
TO BE CONTINUED! Stay tuned…