I think it was 1988. Or maybe it was 1989. It was still the neon decade and I was a middle schooler on the cusp of being a high schooler. I wasn’t popular or even barely noticed in school, but I had a small crew of friends that I could relate to. My older brother had six years on me, so he was already working full-time and digging heavy into concerts, failed relationships, and partying with all the fixings. Despite the age difference we both connected thru music and weird movies. He introduced me to the Bay area thrash metal scene, the Sunset Strip hair metal crowd, and Suicidal Tendencies; while in 1990 I’d introduce him to Faith No More, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, and Alice In Chains.
Even though I was six years behind age-wise, I kept up on all the cool shit. And hey, this was before the internet. This was the late-80s where if you lived in the Midwest your only source for music was the rags at Reader’s World and the magazine rack at the grocery store. And of course righteous older brothers that drove cool cars, dated good-looking girls, and would entice you to stay up all night playing 1942 on the NES.
Out of all the great things my older brother exposed me to music-wise, I’d say the one I owe him most for is Masters Of Reality. Like I said at the beginning it was the late-80s and my older brother would occasionally bestow upon me some great tunes, and on one occasion in-particular he laid on me this cassette by these guys named after a Black Sabbath record. We were driving to our guitar lesson(we took from the same guy) and he put this tape in his Mazda pickup’s tape deck. “The Candy Song” blasted through the door speakers and I was blown away. What was this? It sounded nothing like anything “popular” at the time. It wasn’t hair metal or speed metal. It wasn’t really metal at all. But it was heavy. Bluesy, but dark. And the vocals were almost sweet. Light, soulful, and seemed to counter the almost Gothic nature of the music. It sounded like something I’d hear in a dream. Something you’d make up in your mind and wake up wondering if it actually existed or if it was just some amalgamation of classic rock and “Satanic Panic” fever dreams.
Well it turns out the Masters Of Reality were a heavy blues band that were fronted by a dude named Chris Goss. At that time Goss was probably 30-years old, which wasn’t that old really. But in videos he looked like a guy that’d be working in a garage, or teaching Industrial Arts at the high school. Bald, rotund, and just had the look of an East Coast working class stiff. But with him came influences from the mid-to-late 60s, Black Sabbath, and anything with a touch of soul and a pinch of weird.
I instantly became a fan of Goss and company. I remember hearing “Domino” in Steven Seagal’s Marked For Death and feeling like I was part of some secret society of cool music nerds. “Paint me a picture/and make it the devil” was one of those lines I’d walk around hearing in my brain going from class to class. What was so cool about Masters Of Reality was that they weren’t what was cool. They looked like guys that would be hanging out in their garage drinking longnecks and talking about acid trips and haunted houses they visited. No spandex, teased hair, or pointy guitars. Goss and company would’ve eaten those guys like a plate a hot wings. Jeans, t-shirts, Gibson guitars, and tube-driven amps…
That was Masters Of Reality.
So that debut album came out in 1989. It was a long wait between then and 1992, which was the year their sophomore record dropped. But man, the wait was well worth it. Masters Of Reality re-emerged as a three-piece, with guitarist/singer Chris Goss, bassist Googe, and new drummer Ginger Baker. Yes, the notorious curmudgeonly drummer of Cream and all-around amazing rhythm machine Ginger Baker joined Goss for Masters Of Reality’s Sunrise On The Sufferbus, an absolute masterpiece of 60s pop and psychedelic rock.
Where their debut(sometimes referred to as The Blue Garden) was heavily influenced by occult vibes, Sabbath and early doom like Trouble and Saint Vitus, Sunrise was a much more upbeat affair. Still very vintage in sound, they(not surprisingly) had a very British blues vibe. Yes, Masters Of Reality were sporting some serious Cream sounds. I mean, if you’ve got Ginger Baker as your drummer why the hell wouldn’t you lean into those psychedelic soul vibes? Goss had the Jack Bruce falsetto down, having touted them on the first MOR record. Here, with Baker’s help, Goss and Googe lock into some heavy power trio vibes and make yet another album that feels out of time and place, and instantly classic.
First track “She Got Me(when she got her dress on)” is just an absolute barn burner. Ginger Baker makes his presence known right out of the gate with a power shuffle of a rhythm. Pretty soon Goss and Googe jump in and make it a party, combining the force of of MOR’s first record with the newfound joy of playing with someone of Baker’s caliber. It’s a fun and infectious rock and roller of epic proportions. Then we’re greeted with “J.B. Witchdance”, the groovy tale of a guy who comes across a group of witches in the woods dancing around fire light in some strange ritual. It’s such a strange track, and so hard to categorize. Like a lot of the songs on Sunrise it’s heavy rhythmically, with Googe and Baker locking in so Goss can get loose with his guitar and voice. Lyrically MOR were never gonna be Dylan, but there was always a cryptically poetic thing with them. Goss seems heavily into things like the occult, women, and getting stoned. When writing songs with those things in mind it could go either way, fortunately Chris Goss keeps things interesting. His storytelling style feels just right on this record. Lines like “When I was young I didn’t know/Summer days seemed 25 years long” and “Now I ain’t no wiser/But I know that it’s a drag to be alone” have just the right amount of heft to keep things somewhat mystical. And this record feels very mystical.
Along with heavier tracks like “She Got Me(when she got her dress on)”, “Ants In The Kitchen”, “V.H.V.”, “Tilt-A-Whirl”, and “Gimme Water”, there’s also the sweet and darkly melancholy. “Jody Sings” is as gorgeous and pastoral as they come with its acoustic-driven rhythm and Goss’ gentle vocal touches(“Jody sings, I get high”). There’s the stoned strummer “Rolling Green” which may be about the gorgeous hills of Ireland and rolling a joint. One of my favorites is “100 Years(of tears in the wind” which has a melancholy feel while being somewhat mystical. Some mellotron is added, giving the song a touch of Moody Blues. It also has one of my favorite Goss lyrics, “I found my place in bed/three feet beneath your head”. Gotta love Chris Goss, man.
And of course there’s the Baker track “T.U.S.A”, an ode to a proper cup of tea and how Americans just can’t make one. It’s the perfect addition to a perfect record.
At the time this album came out there was a little media attention in music rags. I think it might’ve been Guitar World magazine, they interviewed Chris Goss. Something came up about his guitar setup. He said to the effect that he plugs his guitar into the amp and that’s it. Maybe a distortion pedal, but that’s it. When asked about ever using rackmount effects he said he’d rather plug his guitar into his asshole than use that shit, or something close to that. I think not long after that I retired my Digitech rackmount effects processor and bought my first tube amp, a 60 watt Sovtek head.
I can’t say enough about Sunrise on the Sufferbus. It’s a perfect record, combining all the stuff Goss grew up loving but with a modern feel. It never feels like a retro or nostalgia record. It just feels like a classic album, man. It sounds like the album Chris Goss was meant to make his whole life. If you’d tell me that Goss was a time traveler and came from the mid-60s to the 80s to help save us from decades of hair metal and spandex I’d totally believe that. Cause that’s what Sunrise sounds like. It sounds like a lost record from another time. Something that fell out of the sky to remind us that there’s more to life than pointy guitars and teased hair. Sure, by 1992 Seattle had done its fair share to put the Sunset Strip six feet under. But I think it began in 1989 MOR. They returned in 1992 to make sure the beast stayed dead, and to make sure a new generation knew what a true blue rock and roll band sounded like.
It sounded like Masters Of Reality.