Vinegar Joe formed in late 1971 out of the ashes of jazz-fusion combo Dada, who had released a single album for Atlantic Records the previous year. Atlantic supremo, Ahmet Ertegun, decided that the multi-membered Dada was financially unviable and too much of a drain on his label’s coffers.
Ertegun brokered a deal for the trimmed-down group, staying with Atlantic in the US but moving to Island Records in the UK. Island head Chris Blackwell insisted the new incarnation be called Vinegar Joe, after a sourpuss US Army General called Joe Stilwell.
Vinegar Joe made three albums – a self-titled debut in 1972, Rock ‘n’ Roll Gypsies (also 1972) and Six Star General (1973).
In 1972, the looming OPEC oil crisis and Yom Kippur War caused the price of plastics to skyrocket. Consequently, only 5,000 copies of Rock ‘n’ Roll Gypsies were produced instead of a planned 20,000.
Shops sold out quickly, but Island put a re-press on hold owing to the vinyl shortage. Thus, Vinegar Joe’s crucial second album failed to dent the charts.
Although the band never achieved significant record sales, they received considerable press coverage and toured extensively, playing numerous sell-out concerts, especially on the British university circuit.
They were an electrifying live act but they struggled to capture their supercharged performance energy on vinyl. To quote a music-press review of the time; “If Elkie Brooks is on stage and the audience aren’t giving enough of a response she’ll tell them to get off their fucking arses and start boogying”.
Brooks was raunch ‘n’ roll personified, a high-thrusting hybrid of Janis Joplin and Tina Turner. By contrast, Robert Palmer was the ultra-coolest of cats. A smooth operator who sashayed around onstage barely breaking a sweat while his bandmate stomped, shrieked and hollered like a she-devil.
The two vocalists were polar opposites but their onstage relationship was pure dynamite.
Many fans were convinced Brooks and Palmer were an item, although Elkie was, in fact, married to guitarist Pete Gage at the time.
The group broke up in March 1974 when it became apparent that, all along, the band had been created as a vehicle to launch the solo career of Robert Palmer.
Palmer released his debut solo album, Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley in September 1974, kicking off a hugely successful solo career.
Pete Gage eventually moved to Australia where he worked as a sound production teacher.
Guitar, keyboards, vocals