An unsung power pop band of the '70s, Artful Dodger existed in the mid-'70s gap that separated the Raspberries from Cheap Trick. Sonically, Artful Dodger skewed toward the huge arena hooks of the Raspberries but they lacked the Paul McCartney infatuation of Eric Carmen, favoring a big roar that tamed the arena rock of the Who. Producer Jack Douglas helped give their eponymous 1975 debut muscle and he'd take some these tricks to Cheap Trick's first album in 1977, by which time Artful Dodger were starting to seem like the old guard -- they lacked Cheap Trick's punky attack and sense of irony. Being stuck between the early days of power pop and its impish revival during New Wave meant that Artful Dodger were by definition a cult band, but the music they made was tuneful and hard, the kind of thing that was prized by power pop aficionados.
Guitarist Gary Herrewig, vocalist Billy Paliselli, guitarist Gary Cox, bassist Robb Michael Inglis, and drummer Steve Brigida all played with the intertwined garage bands Badge and Homestead before they formed Brat in Fairfax, Virginia in 1973. They released an independent 45 called "Not Quite Right" in 1974. Inglis left not long afterward, replaced by Steve Cooper. The band switched their name to Artful Dodger and signed with Aerosmith's managers Leber-Krebs, who helped get them signed with Columbia Records. Jack Douglas, who previously helmed albums for Aerosmith, produced the 1975 debut Artful Dodger.
Despite being laden with radio- and arena-ready rockers, Artful Dodger didn't go anywhere commercially. For their second album, Honor Among Thieves, the group worked with Douglas and co-producer Eddie Leonetti. Arriving in 1976, Honor Among Thieves was supported by an opening tour for Kiss, but the record stalled commercially. Babes on Broadway, produced by Leonetti, arrived in 1977 to less attention, as rock was undergoing a generational shift.
Artful Dodger lost their deal with Columbia after Babes on Broadway and Cox left the group. The group hired Peter Bonta as a replacement and delivered Rave On to the Arista subsidiary Ariola in 1980. Rave On was another commercial disappointment and the band began to splinter, with Paliselli leaving after its release; the group called it a day in 1982. Most of the group busied themselves with music in the ensuing years -- notably, Bonta went on to play with Mary Chapin Carpenter -- but the group reunited for a pair of 1991 reunion shows in Cleveland, Ohio; this was the original lineup plus Bonta. They'd continue to play the occasional live performance in Cleveland during the 2000s, during which time American Beat reissued Honor Among Thieves. Cox died in 2012 and the group finally got its due in 2017, when Real Gone Music released the double-disc retrospective The Complete Columbia Recordings. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine