The Matadors – Shotgun
from album “The Matadors”, 1968, Supraphon 0130493/1130493 (mono/stereo), Supraphon/Artia SUA13992/SUAST53992 (mono/stereo), reissued 1995 on CD Bonton 710244-2
produced by Jaromír Tůma
original LP sleeve, export reissue sleeve
Between 1966 and 1968 the Matadors belonged to the best beat groups in Czechoslovakia. At that time their enormous popularity might have been threatened only by the equally experienced “veterans” Olympic. (By comparing the former with the latter, think e.g. the never ending “Stones vs. Beatles” dispute…) So it was no coincidence that the Matadors were the second rock band after Olympic to have a full long player recorded and released by Supraphon in 1968. And it’s no coincidence either that their only album still belongs to the most sought-after items from former Czechoslovakia among vinyl collectors worldwide, being an undisputed classic of the so called freak-beat or psych-beat genre.
The band was mainly influenced by british R&B acts like Them, Pretty Things, Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Heartbreakers Bluesbreakers or even the Kinks and the Who. But like many other Czech groups around 1967 and 1968, also the Matadors couldn’t resist the infectious grooves from the omnipresent soul craze all over the world. Moreover since they were frequently playing abroad, particularly doing a Switzerland night club tour through the winter 1967/1968, where they were often asked to play popular dance tracks from the charts.
In this context it’s not surprising that the album song Shotgun nicely fits into this blog’s scope. Unlike Junior Walker’s proto-funk original however, the Matadors’ version speeds up the tempo quite a bit and adds a trace of a Hendrix-like rock feeling due to heavy use of wah-wah guitar; lead guitarist Radim Hladík (1946) was the Czechoslovak pioneer in using the wah-wah pedal to such an extent, that he supposedly even invented the now commonly used Czech word for that device: kvákadlo. And also lead singer Viktor Sodoma (1945) must have been in a good shape on this recording date. His English phrasing is precise and he doesn’t shout as “over-the-top” as on some other Matadors tracks.
The overall production quality of the whole album is rather bad though. The “old school” Supraphon recording engineers of the 1960s didn’t have a clue how to put this kind of music to tape, not to speak of the poor vinyl mastering. Especially Otto Bezloja’s (1945–2001) bass guitar and Tony Black’s (1946) drums suffer from the thin sound. And if there ever was Jan “Farmer” Obermeyer’s (1944) Matador organ on this very track, it’s nowhere to be heard now. (To illustrate these issues, one of the popular anecdotes is, that on an earlier recoding date an engineer supposedly thought that Hladík’s amplifier was broken after he switched on his overdrive pedal for the first time…)
The full Matadors story has been excellently documented in Aleš Opekar’s authorized biography book The Matadors – Beatová aristokracie z Prahy (Oftis 2007, ISBN 978-80-86845-91-3). While the book is written in Czech language only, it contains not only lots of photos and commonly understandable biographical data, but also a bonus CD with previously unreleased live recordings from 1966! (Hey, remember my interlude from last October…?) So if you are a serious collector of Czechoslovak oldies, this book belongs to your collection even if you don’t understand a word Czech. But as I’ve already noted last year, don’t expect any hi-fi quality – it is a historical document.
Speaking of the Matadors story: last year in June I’ve coincidentally discovered that the English Wikipedia already has an article about The Matadors. Originally it was so full of errors then that I’ve decided to clean it up as well as to add some less known facts about the band. At that time I’ve already read Aleš’s nearly completed manuscript, so my informations were first hand. Hence I won’t repeat what I’ve already put together in a more or less serious form elsewhere (although the Wikipedia article isn’t complete yet). But for regular readers of Funky Czech-In it will be of interest when I point out the connections between other Czech groups and artists previously posted here, like Flamengo, Vladimír Mišík or Komety.
The Matadors album has been reissued in 1995 on CD, which also contains all tracks but one released on seven inches and Supraphon samplers between 1966 and 1968. It’s out of print but it still pops up for sale here and there on the web. There’s also a Korean CD reissue available, but as I’ve been told by Jan Obermayer recently, it’s quite likely a bootleg, as are most of the other releases on various low budget samplers in the past 10–15 years all over the world. Still, some Matadors tracks appeared every now and then on some of the protagonists’ official Best Of compilations, like Sodoma’s or Mišík’s.
The export version of the vinyl LP was pressed by Supraphon/Artia way into the late 1970s, so it should be still around in quite sufficient quantity. In other words: don’t believe a record dealer who wants to sell you an overpriced Matadors copy in the black export sleeve, praising it as the “original pressing”. They are not! That applies also to the old Czech reissues in a half-generic Supraphon sleeve with overprinted text. The true rarity is solely the original Czech issue with the colored logotype – particularly the stereo edition – provided it’s in top condition. Because being likely a popular record to be played at way too many wild parties then, most are probably not in the best shape these days anymore. Anyway, don’t get fooled. ;)
There are chances that an official reissue of the complete Matadors recordings will be [is now] available within the next few years (to express it rather pessimistically) relatively soon. In any case you will find out about it here first. Simply stay tuned to the RSS feed.
Ex-Matadors Vladimír Mišík, Jan F. Obermayer and Radim Hladík with Lou Kash at the backstage of the Lucerna Music Bar, March 31, 2008, right after one of their annual reunion gigs. (photo: Aleš Opekar)