I've been an obsessed hard rock & heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Stutz – Champions: The Demo Anthology 1979-1987
Genre: Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Label: Stormspell Records
Run Time: 76:00, 18 Tracks
Aging rockers with long memories may dimly recall Ohio's STUTZ, who plied their trade on the Cleveland area circuit for more than a decade during the late '70s and into the mid '80s. Apparently they were quite a popular concert draw in their home area, known for theatrical stage shows as well as catchy, blue collar, hard rockin' original tunes that drew comparisons to '70s heavyweights like Blue Oyster Cult, KISS, and Kansas.
The hard-working Stutz never landed a big time record contract, but they independently released two full length albums (1983's Made In U.S.A. and 1987's Tearin' Up The Night) along with a host of other singles and demo recordings before they finally hung up their spandex in 1990.
I assume that Stormspell Records' head honcho, "Danny," must be a big Stutz fan, because his label has seemingly made it their mission to preserve Stutz's legacy for future generations. Stormspell has previously released three compilations of the band's work (Keep Runnin', Killer, and Marching Into Hell, all of which were then collected in a 3-disc set entitled Stutz Anthology: Blood, Sweat, And Tears) and now they've returned with Champions, a new labor-of-love collection featuring even more Stutz demos and rarities from the vaults, recorded between 1979 and 1987.
Over the course of Champions' eighteen (!) tracks, you can hear the band's progression over time from a typical late '70s boogie-rockin' bar band towards a harder edged, semi-metallic sounding outfit later on. Sherman, set the Way-Bac Machine for the days of mutton chop sideburns, matching spandex outfits, and Carmine Appice mustaches!
If you came of age listening to rock radio in the late 70s and early '80s (like this writer), you probably heard a lot of bands that sounded like Stutz. Kicking off with the tasteful, Ted Nugent-esque hard rocker "Hey Bitch," it's clear that Stutz was the kind of party-rock band that wanted their audience to get up and dance. "Show No Fear" and "In The End" are straight up boogie rockers with plenty of guitar and keyboard interplay ala early REO Speedwagon (yes, Virginia, there really was a time when REO actually sort of kicked ass).
Most of Champions is made up of guitar-driven, booty-shakin' anthems like "Rock All Night" and "Tied Up In Love," which may not be considered "metal" to modern day audiences, but you gotta remember that back in the day, anything harder than Debby Boone was considered "heavy rock" to the mainstream.
Occasionally Stutz let their more ambitious side come out on fantasy tinged tracks like "Masters of Time" and "Searchin'," which take pages out of the Styx or B.O.C. playbook. The best example of this would be the impressive ten-minute (!) epic "Champion," with its slow, moody rhythm, robotic bleeping-and-blooping synth effects, and I-will-battle-to-save-the-universe lyrics, which feels like the end credit theme to a b-grade sci-fi movie. This track is probably about as "Metal" as Stutz ever got, if not exactly in sound, at least in overall vibe and attitude.
The middling hard-AOR of "Killer," the triumphant rock anthem "Together Forever" (which is pure KISS) and the barnstorming closer "Stars" (whose main riff recalls the Nuge's "Cat Scratch Fever") put a nice capper on this cool collection. I had never heard Stutz before I received this compilation, but after several spins of this slab of retro-rock goodness, I think I can now consider myself a fan. Stutz may not score especially high on the "metal" end of the spectrum for most headbangers, but they sported just the right mix of melodic sensibility and tongue-in-cheek rock warrior cheese to qualify as a guilty pleasure for me.
Drew Carey was right... Cleveland ROCKS!
Summing It Up
Stutz was quite a departure from the frenzied, pedal-through-the-floor, European power/speed metal that I'm used to hearing from the Stormspell stable, but that's also what made it such an unexpectedly fun listen. Champions is an interesting and cool look back at a bygone, sometimes unjustly forgotten era in American rock n' roll. Fans of classic rockers like the aforementioned BOC, Nuge, Styx, KISS, and maybe even Foreigner or early Rush, should be able to find some groove-worthy nuggets amongst the eighteen tracks on Champions.
Collectors beware, Stutz's Champions is an ultra-limited pressing of just 500 CD copies, available via the official Stormspell Records store... so if you're interested in adding this collection to your library, make sure you act fast before it's gone for good.
© 2022 Keith Abt