Stone Axe

For death-Zep unit Josefus of Houston, Texas, the busy and drug-addled 1970—birth-year of shattering hard rock LP Dead Man and its self-titled follow-up— proved shatteringly fractious. Vocalist J. C. “Pete” Bailey, lead guitarist Dave Mitchell, bassist Ray Turner, and drummer Doug Tull would play their final live set in December. Meanwhile, Josefus’ core trio had been doling out copies of Dead Man to drummers hoping to replace Tull. They were assembling Stone Axe, a quartet whose paranoid guitar vexation was soon to dance upon the grave opened by Black Sabbath’s epochal early albums.

By ’71, Stone Axe had coalesced around Bailey and Turner, plus “Wolf” Mike Long on biting lead guitar and serious skins upgrade Jerry Ontiberoz, whose skills took “the chains off an eagle dying to fly,” as Bailey put it. Preparations for buzzing those same clubs pounded by Josefus put Bailey on a new songwriting tear. That year, the vaulting power-dread of “Slave of Fear” flew batwinged on 45 out of Rampart Street Records (actually addressed at 6105 Jessamine in Houston). “Snakebite,” a less horror-stricken if no less potent B-side, warned in galloping, distorted blues of letting the fangs of spirits or horse—perhaps both— near one’s veins. The 500-copy pressing put Stone Axe on stages, but reached nothing approaching the lusty arena-sized audience “Slave of Fear” sought to stir.

From there, the rough-hewn Stone Axe crumbled quickly. For one, their cheap, cavernous, AC-free Heights-area band house had never been rehearsalfriendly. Then, after a devastating theft bereaved them of gear, Stone Axe felt its own camel’s back sliced clean through. One-and-done in ’71, membership retreated into marriages and rock-life burnout. As the decade waned, Bailey, Turner, and Mitchell would reconvene Josefus—with Ontiberoz still manning Tull’s vacated drum throne—and sharpen long dormant Stone Axe material for stage and studio alike.

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