Ken Kraft and Bob O’Neill try to think about how much unreleased music they wrote for their band Snail during its original run from the late ’60s till the early ’80s. Kraft thinks there could be five albums worth of unreleased material. O’Neill isn’t so sure, but acknowledges that there are probably a lot of songs he can’t remember.
Snail only released two official LPs during their initial run (Snail in 1978, Flow in 1979). But some of those old, unreleased tunes have been recently recorded on the band’s brand-new record, Snail Rocks, like the crowd favorite “Without You” and the rocker “Jive Ass.”
In 2020, the group released Snail Now, which showcases the mellower side of Kraft and O’Neill’s post-original-Snail years. Fans loved the album, though some were critical of its sound.
“We got some feedback from real diehard Snail fans from back in the day, saying, ‘You guys got to put an album out that’s more rock,’” O’Neill says. “So we listened to them.”
Even though they recorded Snail Rocks in 2021, the record will bring old fans right back to the ’70s. The cover image is of Kraft and O’Neill playing live as Snail in 1978. Kraft is certain he knows the exact moment the shot was snapped: a climactic lick near the end of their tune “Childhood Dreams.”
“We chose [the photo] because it showed that camaraderie between Bobby and I,” Kraft says.
The songs on Snail Rocks range from the very early Snail days to random tracks that were written in the decades that followed, like opener, “Believe in Tomorrow,” which O’Neill wrote in the late ’80s for his group Inflatable Dates. It was never released. For this album, they “snailized it,” meaning completely transformed it to sound like a Snail rocker, which is something they did a lot of back in the day.
“We made a career out of doing cover songs, but changing them up—we called it ‘Snailizing.’ We don’t want to be a cover band,” Kraft says.
On this record, they also “Snailized” a song by John Lennon (“Losing You”) and one by John Mayer (“Good Love is On The Way”). Both of these songs are quite different than the originals.
There are a lot of unreleased songs from Snail’s early years, because the band was unable to land a satisfactory record contract for nearly a decade. They demoed a lot of songs, but oftentimes, these deals fell through. “Without You,” for instance, was originally recorded in the ’70s for Buck Owens as part of a four-song demo. Owens wanted to bring a rock band onto his country label and thought Snail would be perfect. But the band didn’t like the deal he offered.
After Snail broke up, Kraft and O’Neill went their separate ways, but stayed friends. They did other projects together that didn’t rock nearly as hard as Snail.
“[Snail Now], we were thinking that really represented the side of me and Bob as partners for all these years,” Kraft says. “But we wanted to make something that was more in the rock ’n’ roll vein of our first two albums that we put out in 78-79. I think we’ve succeeded in doing that, because this thing does kick ass.”
The group will play their first show in decades on Jan. 29. Originally, they were going to play their long-awaited show in April 2020 to celebrate the release of Snail Now, but the pandemic sidelined their plans.
Now, they’re not only ready to play again, but they want to bring the original Snail vibe back to the stage. They have Jim Norris on drums (he drummed on their ’70s records), and they are going to play lots of songs from those two albums as well as some from Snail Rocks. A lot of these songs they didn’t even play at their reunion shows in the ’80s and ’90s.
“We want to present those old songs that people used to come see when we played the Catalyst all the time,” O’Neill says. “The songs that were popular then.”
Snail performs at 8pm on Saturday, Jan. 29 at Michaels on Main, 2591 Main St, Soquel, $20. 831-479-9777.