Shotgun Ride to the Stars

The person who will be president in 2050 is probably in grade school today. The hottest new box-office star of 2025 is out there someplace, maybe waiting tables, or trying to get a date for the homecoming dance. At any moment, a few of the people among us will be famous someday—we just don’t know who they are or what will happen to them along the way to the top. Only after they’ve made it can we follow the roads they traveled.

Pete Bardens was a keyboard player who was doing well enough in the swinging mid 60s. He’d been in Them, which had scored a couple of iconic hits including “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Gloria.” After leaving that group, he formed another, which he intended to be an R&B combo in the mold of Booker T and the MGs, and which would be called Peter B’s Looners. He found a drummer named Mick Fleetwood, and they auditioned a guitarist named Peter Green. But it wasn’t long before Peter B’s Looners realized that if they wanted the maximum number of gigs, they would need a singer. So, in the late spring of 1966, the Looners hired two of them. One was a girl named Beryl Marsden, who was actually a pretty big star, comparatively speaking—a top female singer around Liverpool, she had toured with the Beatles in 1964 and released a couple of her own singles. The other was just out of a group called Steampacket. His name was Rod Stewart. With that, the lineup was complete, although they did make one more change, dumping the name Peter B’s Looners in favor of the Shotgun Express.

The Shotgun Express spent the last half of 1966 gigging around London playing mostly R&B, but it was several months before they got into a recording studio—in fact, Peter Green may already have left the group before the first session; there’s conflicting information about whether he’s on their first record. “I Could Feel the Whole World Turn Around” was released in October 1966, and while it got an almost instantaneous add on Radio Caroline, the shipboard UK pirate station, it failed to generate much interest—despite the band’s R&B chops, the song was saddled with a big ol’ string section that made it sound distinctly less than hip in the same season with “Good Vibrations,” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” and “96 Tears.” The second Shotgun Express single, “Funny Cos Neither Could I,” met a similar fate in April 1967. (The B-sides of the singles, both R&B instrumental stompers, are more along the lines of what Bardens originally intended the group to be: “Curtains” and “Indian Thing.”)

Although he sang on “I Could Feel the Whole World Turn Around,” Stewart left the Shotgun Express for the Jeff Beck Group before “Funny Cos Neither Could I” was recorded. About the time it stiffed, Fleetwood and Green moved on to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and were a couple of months away from forming what was first known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. And that was the end of Shotgun Express. Bardens would be best known in the 70s for founding Camel. Marsden continued to perform as a solo artist. Greater fame was in store for some of them: Stewart and Fleetwood would become famous on a level that must have exceeded even their wildest ambitions.

You never know what will become of that band you saw in that bar on the weekend, or the pretty girl who took your drink order. They probably won’t ever be famous, but maybe they will.

2 responses

  1. Damn man I never knew the pre-history of Green and Fleetwood! Great story – thanks for the digging you must have done.

  2. […] It’s  interesting to examine individual songs in detail, either their history or their impact, and sometimes both. So this year we wrote about Bob Seger’s “Still the Same,” Grand Funk Railroad’s “Closer to Home,” the multifarious versions of a song most people have never heard of anyway called “Roxy Roller,” the BS&T song “And When I Die,” as well as “Just My Imagination,” Lawrence Welk’s “Calcutta,” and a bubblegum song that name-checks Tricia Nixon. I had never heard “Mill Valley” by Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point Third Grade Class until I began exploring the fascinating story behind it. Other groups turned out to have interesting histories, too: the Poppy Family, the Starland Vocal Band, the Brady Bunch (who were not the hitmakers many people believe they were), and an early group featuring a pre-stardom Rod Stewart. […]

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