It's always struck me as kind of odd that most of my record collecting friends hate David Surkamp's high pitched and shrill voice, but have no problem listening to Rush and Geddy Lee. I brought the issue up at a 2010 Rush concert I went to where I was unanimously labeled out of my mind by friends. Regardless of what others think, I'd make the argument that Pavlov' Dog's catalog is easily as good as anything in Rush's catalog - in fact Surkamp and company may well have written better songs than Lee and company, though their sales were never more than a fraction of Rush's international successes ...
Calling St, Louis home, Pavlov's Dog formed out of a series of local bands including High On a Small Hill and Touch. Formed in 1972, the original lineup featured violin player Siegfried Carver, lead guitarist Mark Gahr (quickly replaced by former REO Speedwagon lead guitarist Steve Scorfina), keyboardist David Hamilton, synthesizer player Doug Rayburn, drummer Mike Safron, bassist Rick Stockton, and former Touch singer/rhythm guitarist David Surkamp. The band toured the mid-West extensively and in 1975 recorded several demos before signing a contract with ABC Dunhill. Dunhill rushed them into the studio where they were teamed with producers Murray Krugman and Sandy Pearlman (then beginning to enjoy some success with Blue Oyster Cult).
Released in 1974 "Pampered Menial" (ABC catalog number ABCD-866) never had a chance. In one of rock's weirder business deals, Dunhill almost immediate walked away from the band (even though it had invested more than $600,000 signing the band), leaving Columbia to quickly pick up their contract (reportedly forking over another $600,000) and reissue the album with the same track listing and slightly modified cover art. No matter how you approached Pavlov's Dog, the make or break component was Surkamp. As mentioned earlier, his shrill, high pitched voice sounded like The Chipmunks doing helium whippets. Yeah, his vibrato was literally that high !!! There's simply no denying it was definitely a deal breaker for lots of folks and I'll readily admit it took me awhile to warm up to his unique voice. So if you could get your ears around Surkamp, the album was surprisingly impressive. Responsible for most of the nine tracks, exemplified by material like 'Julia' and 'Late November' Surkamp had a gift for crafting catchy melodies that were wrapped in tasty hard rock and progressive moves. Elsewhere the rest of the band were first-rate musicians with Scorfina standing out via a series of taunt, but tasteful solos. Imagine a less rockin', more commercially oriented Rush and you'd be in the right aural ballpark (yeah, I can hear Rush fans groaning).
- Opening up with some classically inspired keyboard from Hamilton and pretty acoustic guitar from Scorfina, 'Julia' was a simply gorgeous ballad with awesome backing vocals. The song got better and better as it rolled along. Rush would have been happy to have written something this commercial. Easy to see why Columbia tapped this one as a single. Had it been released a couple of years later it probably would have been a hit. rating: **** stars
- Showcasing some of Scorfina's prettiest work, 'Late November' sported one of the album's best melodies. Similar to Blue Oyster Cult's 'Don't Fear the Reaper', this was one of those rock songs that had a weird, slightly ominous edge that simply wouldn't let go of your head. rating: **** stars
- Written by drummer Safron, 'Spring Dance' opened up with some heavy orchestration before unexpectedly morphing into one of the album's toughest and most enjoyable rockers. It's also one of the few rock songs I know of that has a violin solo that actually improves the track. One word of warning - get acclimated to Surkamp's voice before checking this one out. Killer hook that should have made major weaves of FM radio. rating: **** stars
- With a breezy, Western-inspired lyric, 'Fast Gin' featured one of the album's most commercial melodies and some great Safron drumming. rating: **** stars
- 'Natchez Trance' was one of the album's more conventional rockers, though the lyrics have always puzzled me ... rating: *** stars
- Opening up with a blazing Sarfonia solo and showcasing some great Hamilton keyboards, 'Theme from Subway Sue' was a fantastic rocker and perhaps my favorite performance on the LP. rating: **** stars
- The album's first mediocre performance, 'Episode' was another pretty but somewhat meandering ballad (Carver's violin solo was particularly haunting - never thought I'd say something like that in relation to a rock song). At least to my ears the track just never really seemed to gell. rating: *** stars
- The sole contribution from Carver, 'Preludin''' was a classically tinged instrumental. Not something up my alley, but it had a pretty melody with some nice Richard Stockton bass lines and some tasteful synthesizers from Douglas Rayburn. rating: ** stars
- 'Of Once and Future Kings' was the album's most progressive oriented track with obvious nods to early-1970s English progressive bands like Genesis. To my ears it lacked the focus of some of the other tracks, but if you could stomach Peter Gabriel and company, then this one wasn't too bad. rating: *** stars
Columbia tapped the album for a single in the form of:
- 176's 'Julia' b/w 'Episode' (Columbia Catalog number 3-10152)
Even though it was a 'challenging' album, the set managed to hit the top-200 LP charts, eventually peaking at # 181. It certainly didn't make them superstars, but did give them a chance to record another collection. You're also left to wonder what would have happened to these guys had they chosen a somewhat more conventional singer ...
"Pampered Menial" track listing:
1.) Julia (David Surkamp) -
2.) Late November (Steve Sarfonia - David Surkamp) -
3.) Spring Dance (Michael Safron) -
4.) Fast Gin (David Surkamp) -
5.) Natchez Trance (Steve Scorfina) -
1.) Theme from Subway Sue (David Surkamp) -
2.) Episode (David Surkamp) -
3.) Preludin'' (Siegfried Carver)
4.) Of Once and Future Kings (David Surkamp) -
For anyone interested, the band have an interesting website at:
That said, the best Pavlov's Dog website I've run across is run by German fan Klaus Reichert: