ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 30, 1993
By Steve Newton
Not many Vancouver rock fans have heard of Big Head Todd & the Monsters, the Colorado-based trio that warms up the Orpheum on Thursday (October 7). Every Vancouver rock fan has heard of Robert Plant, the fellow who Big Head Todd & the Monsters will open for that night. Not surprisingly, singer-guitarist Todd Park Mohr—Big Head Todd himself—has also heard of Robert Plant.
“I think Led Zeppelin’s the greatest rock ’n’ roll band of all time,” says Mohr, on the line from Champagne, Illinois. Obviously, he’s excited about sharing the stage with Plant, and his own band just might turn a few heads itself. The group’s major-label debut, Sister Sweetly, is strong stuff indeed—primal and atmospheric, gripping in its blues-drenched intensity.
But it hasn’t really given Mohr the big head he’s noted for.
“We actually started out as a blues band,” he says, “and one of my favourite blues guys was a guy by the name of Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson. So we just sort of made up a silly name as well.”
Although Big Head Todd & the Monsters is a new name to most folks in these parts, the band has been making good headway down in the States, releasing two albums on its Big Record label and selling more than 75,000 copies. Those numbers surprised everybody.
“That’s real astonishing to me,” says Mohr, “for not having any radio airplay or any huge distribution. A lot of them sold in the Denver area, but we also ended up hookin’ up with Caroline Distribution, an independent distributor, and they sold a lot for us on the East Coast and West Coast, too.
“But the press on [1990’s] Midnight Rodeo was kind of startling, because a number of newspapers named it in their top 10 best records, and we’d just sort of winged it. We just hooked up a cassette deck to our board and made a complete live record that way, so for it to have done what it did is just amazing.”
Sister Sweetly is very much a band album, with Mohr joined by former high-school buddies Rob Squires and Brian Nevin on bass and drums, but the group did get a hand from acoustic-guitar wizard Leo Kottke, who shares the same management team. As well as recommending David Z (Fine Young Cannibals, BoDeans) to produce Sister Sweetly, Kottke contributed an almost psychedelic display of finger-picking to the swirl of “Soul of Every Cowboy”.
“I don’t think he’d even heard us play,” says Mohr, “but we met him and he was like, ‘Hey, I like you guys!’ When we were in Minneapolis, he offered to play on our record, and it was a great honour to have him. It was one of my favourite moments, actually.”
With a healthy batch of CDs sold and numerous sold-out clubs in its wake, things are looking good for Big Head Todd & the Monsters, and Mohr has a pretty fair idea of what the future holds for the band.
“For the most part, I think we’re gonna be out touring until we’re dead, probably; I really don’t have any other life. There’s always a lot of goods and bads about it—it’s very difficult from a personal standpoint—but in general, I like…I love playing guitar for a living, and this is the only way to do it.”