Saturday, March 30, 2013

Big Tree: Ain't That Pecuilar

If you were living in the Upper Ohio Valley or in the Rust Belt during the mid 1970s, chances are you heard our final selection from Big Tree Records. From Pittsburgh, the band Diamond REO (who is not to be confused with the country band Diamond Rio) released three albums and had a charting single in 1975 with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar.”


The single only peaked at #44, so it isn’t a song that is heard too often today. Their take on the Motown hit was slower and heavier – they really developed their own sound for this song. The single supported the band’s self titled debut album – their only recording with Big Tree Records. Two other singles were also released from the album and included “Rock and Roll Till I Die” and “Work Hard Labor.”

The song used a Talk Box effect that was previously featured on Joe Walsh's “Rocky Mountain Way.” This was well over a year before Peter Frampton made the device famous with his “Show Me the Way” and “Do You Feel like I Do” hit singles. The tune also has a killer slide guitar part.

Their unusual name came from a former truck manufacturer – Diamond REO Trucks – which was a merger of the Diamond T Motor Corporation and the REO Motor Car Company in 1967 to become a division of the White Motor Corporation.


The REO in the name was the initials of the company’s founder Ransom E. Olds who had also started Oldsmobile, but had sold the Olds Motor Works to General Motors Corporation. One of the REO models also inspired a Champaign, Illinois band to choose the name R.E.O. Speedwagon. It is said that Diamond Rio additionally took their name from the truck brand; however, it appears they used Rio instead of REO probably because of the existence of the former band Diamond REO.

“Ain’t That Peculiar” was released in December 1974, which is not the best time for an unknown artist’s single to chart. Diamond REO was only five months old when “Ain’t that Peculiar” was released. The band had been formed by their manager/producer Dave Shaffer at Red Fox Studios in Pittsburgh with four veterans of the Steel City’s music scene.

Pittsburgh music fans will be familiar with the names of the band’s members. Diamond REO included Bob “Bubs” McKeag on lead guitar and vocals, Norm Nardini on bass, Frank Cruzi on keyboards and vocals, and Robbie Johns on drums. Second guitarist Warren King, not on this recording, was added later.

By January 1975, the single was a breakout at a number of Billboard reporting stations including Pittsburgh’s KQV; WTAC in Flint, MI; and Cleveland’s WIXY. While it never placed within Billboard’s Top 40 ranking, it peaked at #36 in Cashbox. Their debut LP was their only recording for Big Tree; their second album, “Dirty Diamonds,” was on Kama Sutra and their final, “Ruff Cuts,” was released independently.

Although the band had some success by appearing on “American Bandstand” and having opened for Aerosmith, KISS, Frank Zappa, Kansas, Ian Hunter, Ted Nugent, Canned Heat, and Blue Öyster Cult. It's unfortunate that Diamond REO hadn’t been more successful, but it may be due the change in the mainstream public’s musical tastes during the mid to late 1970s – that alone may cause one to opine, “Ain’t that Peculiar”




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