Taking their name from a trio of convicted felons who were members of the Black Panther Party—George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John Clutchette—incarcerated at Soledad Prison and killed by police fire, the Soledad Brothers formed in 1998 in their hometown of Maumee, Ohio USA(near Toledo).
The band’s foundations began with Johnny Walker (Johnny Wirick) joining the punk blues band Henry And June, in which Benjamin “Swank” Smith was already performing as drummer. The Soledad Brothers began in early 1998, after guitarist and vocalist Johnny Wirick (a.k.a. Johnny Walker) asked drummer Ben Smith (a.k.a. Ben Swank) if he wanted to play a show. When traveling north to Detroit for a few gigs, the duo was approached by Italy Records owner Dave Buick. The label recorded the band, releasing the single “Sugar and Spice,” which attracted Estrus Records. This led to the release of “The Gospel According to John” single along with a number of others, the success of which prompted Estrus Records to put out the band’s first full-length album.
The self-titled album was engineered by Jack White of The White Stripes, who also produced their second single. Meg White performs some percussion on this album. While both the Soledad Brothers and the White Stripes were Detroit bands heavily influenced by blues, the relationship between the two was also personal. Ben was Jack’s roommate for some period of time, and Johnny played slide guitar on two songs from The White Stripes’ debut album, as well as teaching Jack how to play slide.
The band followed up with the 2002 album, Steal Your Soul and Dare Your Spirit to Move. The blues influence is still very prevalent, but also saw the introduction of the heavier ’60s and ’70s Brit-rock influence.
The Soledads’ third release came in 2003, Voice of Treason, on Loog Records in the UK. It saw the band expand their sound with some jazz influence, and some strange atmospheric sounds. The bulk of the album still retained their distinctive blues-rock style. Though uncredited it would seem that Mr David Viner played on the album.
Their fourth album The Hardest Walk, released in 2006, on Alive Records in the US and Loog in the UK, transcends the rampant garage blues that had so characterized the band’s previous work by taking in a diverse range of influences, from Dr John and Albert Ayler to Syd Barrett and early Neil Young, with some Brit pop melodies and soul grooves added. Garage blues that is mature, personal, and complex.
It was announced within weeks of the album’s release, however, that the band was breaking up. Upcoming shows were canceled and the band’s final gigs were at the Magic Stick in Detroit and the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky.