Lost Tuneage: The Frost

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Who Dat?

Formed in Detroit in 1967 - first as the New Bossmen, then Dick Wagner and the Frosts, the band included leader Dick Wagner (vocals/guitar, above), Donny Hartman (vocals/guitar), Jack Smolski (bass) and Bob Rigg (drums). They released two singles. By the next year, Gordy Garris had replaced Smolski on bass/vocals, for its 1969 debut LP, Frost Music.

The Frost's sound combined hard rock, psychedelia, catchy pop-chorus hooks and the occasional ballad. Material included songs about dysfunctional relatives ("The Family"), dashed hopes ("A Long Way Down From Mobile"), groupies ("Little Susie Singer") and arena rockers ("Take My Hand/Mystery Man"). They were a powerful live group, and even ventured out to California in an effort to break beyond Michigan borders.  

The Frost's reunion (Wagner, Hartman, Rigg) at Harpo's, Detroit, 1983 (poor footage)

What Happened?

Sadly, the Frost never made an impact nationally. Some say the fault lay with its record company, Vanguard, a blues/jazz label not exactly familiar with how to promote a rock band. The fact that their cover of their debut featured only the band's name and title, and the second (Rock and Roll Music) had unflattering concert photos of the hairy, sweaty group, didn't help matters much.

That record - though billed as "live" from a hometown date at the fabled Grande Ballroom - actually featured a lot of studio re-recording. Third effort Through the Eyes of Love also failed to take off, and the original band broke up in 1970 as Garris, then Rigg, then Wagner, left. By 1972, the Frost had melted.

Why Should I Care?

The Frost had a lot of great material and two solid songwriters in Wagner and Hartman, and deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as fellow Michigan music-makers the Stooges, Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes, Grand Funk Railroad, the MC5 and the Bob Seger System. Tracks like "Take My Hand/Mystery Man," "Jennie Lee," "Baby Once You've Got It," "Black as Night," and "Fifteen Hundred Miles" certainly stand up extremely well nearly 40 years later.

But alas, the short-lived group remains a classic-rock cult fave, though Michigan audiences still relish their memories of the band's raucous live shows.

Where are They Now?

Dick Wagner went on to form Ursa Major, but found his greatest success playing and recording with Alice Cooper, co-writing hits like "Only Women Bleed," "You and Me," and "Welcome to My Nightmare." He also worked with Lou Reed and Peter Gabriel, and ghosted guitar parts for Ace Frehley on KISS's Destroyer LP.

He released his own Home at Last in 2006 and suffered a major heart attack the next year, from which he is still recovering. However, in mid-2008 he told fans on his Web site that he is "healthier than he has been in years."

Garris toured with Stroke, formed his own group in 1980, and now works mainly as a songwriter. Hartman has released solo records, continues to front the Donny Hartman Band, and also works as an Inland Lakes fishing guide. Wagner, Hartman, and Rigg have occasionally reunited for one-off shows.

The band finally got some of its due with the release of 2003's excellent The Best of the Frost CD. The record actually features expanded live music from the Grande Ballroom shows, cleaned up and remixed and sounding better than the studio counterparts.

Essential Listening, Reading, Web Surfing

Frost Music (1969)

The Best of the Frost (2003)

Grit, Noise, and Revolution: The Birth of Detroit Rock 'n' Roll by David Carson

www.motorcitymusicarchives.com - Bob Ruggiero 

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