The British Are Coming, the British Are Coming…

Fifty years ago, on February 9 1964, that the Beatles famously played the Ed Sullivan Show, a top-rated coast-to-coast Sunday Night TV variety show in the USA, a show which drew an estimated 73 million viewers, at the time a record for US television. Within two months, week ending April 4 1964, 55 years ago today as I write, the Beatles held the top five positions on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The British had truly invaded

The British Invasion, as it as known, was where you could have a hit or even hits in America as long as you were British and could do a British accent. And it wasn’t just the pop music. Other aspects of British culture became disproportionately and excessively popular in the United States too. You can’t really look at the British Invasion without at least mentioning David McCallum as Ilya Kyriakin in The Man from UNCLE, Julie Christie in Darling!, Albert Finney in Tom Jones, Richard Harris in This Sporting Life and of course Michael Caine in Alfie. And let’s not forget James Bond and Julie Andrews.

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Before 1964, UK acts had barely troubled the US chart compilers. In 1963, only 3 British records broke the US Top Twenty, but the Beatles changed that of course. According to Stones then-manager Andrew Loog Oldham: America was not even a possibility for anybody before the Beatles. The French stars used to say, “We’re touring America” but really, they were shopping. They might play Canada, but America wasn’t open.

Over the next 2 years, the invasion grew so that almost any UK act as long as they had the right accent and a record deal could get up the US charts. Most had talent and some didn’t but the only thing that really mattered was that they were British. In 1965, more than half of the 26 No 1 singles belonged to British acts – and this was the year of Mr Tambourine Man, My Girl, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling and I Got You Babe. In addition to the Beatles and the Stones, you had the Kinks, the Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, Petula Clark, the Searchers, the Zombies, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, the Moody Blues, the Animals and even Freddie and the Dreamers dominating the US charts.

Some were good,  some weren’t and there were some groups that were huge in the USA and genuinely British but unknown here. Ian Whitcomb and Chad & Jeremy were huge but failed to trouble the chart compilers back home, possibly because they were terrible, Ian Whitcomb in particular. Some changed pop culture and some were one-hit wonders, such as Tobacco Road from the Nashville Teens. They weren’t teens nor were they from Nashville. They were from Woking in fact.

On May 8, 1965, we almost had a clean sweep of the US Top 10, with nine of the slots taken by UK acts, only Count Me In by Gary Lewis & the Playboys being homegrown (Gary Lewis being the son of comedian Jerry Lewis). The Britsongs in the Top Ten were The Beatles’ Ticket to Ride, Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders’ Game Of Love, Petula Clark’s I Know A Place, Herman’s Hermits’ Silhouettes, Freddie And The Dreamers’ I’m Telling You Now, The Rolling Stones’ The Last Time and at Number One Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter by Herman’s Hermits, proving they weren’t all great songs

By the middle of 1966 when US bands sort of caught up and made their own British-sounding music, although some of the bands, especially the Beatles and the Stones continued to release hugely successful – and hugely important – records of course.

What we had done was tap into the particularly poor state of US music in 1963. Some say it died in 1959 with Buddy Holly. Apart from the Four Seasons, the biggest stars of 1963 were the Singing Nun and extremely bland, clean-cut teen idols like Fabian and Frankie Avalon, who’d had hit singles but couldn’t really sing and were mainly in awful B-movies like Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini

The truth is we were doing far more interesting things with the rock and roll that we’d pinched from the Yanks. Traditionally American pop music had been hip, where British pop music was not. Our homegrown acts like Lonnie Donegan, Tommy Steele and Cliff, were just cheap copyists of US acts and few UK acts had ever done well in America. It wasn’t until mid-192that we had our first Number One when Mr Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the Shore got to the top.  

Acker Bilk aside, our music was new and exciting and aimed at the vibrant young people making America a huge success in the brave new decade of the 1960s. That optimism was shattered on 22 November 1963 when their young, energetic and good-looking President was shot dead in Dallas, Texas. TV and radio stations thought t it was unbecoming of American artists to perform with any kind of enthusiasm and exuberance in a period of national mourning. British acts did not have that guilt or that restriction so could be chirpy, bright, funny – and chock full of great pop tunes. America lapped it all up, still very much in mourning for John F. Kennedy, needing reinvigorating with a dose of fun, and, thus re-invigorated. First in of course were the Beatles.

On 31 October 1963, storied American broadcaster Ed Sullivan, his wife and his team were changing planes at London Airport (it was not renamed Heathrow until 1966) at exactly the same time as the Beatles arrived back from a tour of Scandinavia. Despite heavy rain, the roof of the Queens Building was packed with hundreds of them who were there to welcome them back. Sullivan and his wondered what all the commotion was. It’s the Beatles, he was told. Who the hell are The Beatles? he replied He didn’t necessarily like what he saw – he was a very conservative man in his 60s– but thought it might be good for his show.

The Ed Sullivan was America’s preferred viewing on a Sunday evening from 1948 to 1971 but the wily Sullivan was always looking for something that would keep him ahead in the ratings and knew that it was this pop music that could do that. He had famously outbid other TV shows in 1956 when he signed Elvis Presley despite having originally publicly called him lewd. He had Buddy Holly and the Crickets on the show in 1957 and again in January 1958.

Getting the Beatles became a priority for Ed Sullivan, especially after witnessing Beatlemania and reading about their turn at the Royal Command Performance. Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein flew to New York in mid-November and negotiated $12,000 for 3 performances (although Sullivan often paid $10,000 to a headliner for one show) although Epstein demanded they receive top billing and two spots (opening and closing) on each show.

The deal almost got cancelled. The BBC sold film of a Beatles performance to Jack Paar, a rival of Ed Sullivan who had a big primetime show on Fridays on NBC. Epstein had promised Sullivan an exclusive, the very first Beatles American television appearance. Epstein threatened to cancel The Beatles’ radio shows on the BBC if action was not taken and the BBC tried to rescind its licensing of the film, but Paar refused to budge. Sullivan was furious and phoned to cancel but fortunately, cooled off when he realized what a hot ticket The Beatles were becoming.

Ironically the Ed Sullivan show was not the Beatles’ first TV exposure in the USA. There was a news story about the phenomenon of Beatlemania sweeping England that was broadcast on the CBS Morning News breakfast show on 22 November 1963. The segment was scheduled to be repeated on the 6.30pm Nightly News show hosted by Walter Cronkite, but this was of course the day President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas so every other topic went onto the back burner

After two weeks of mourning, Cronkite started looking for a way to lift the spirits of the devastated American public with a cheerful segment. And he remembered that Beatles story the day JFK was shot. It was shown again on 10 December to a nation still reeling from the massive emotional trauma of the assassination, the film clip triggered an astonishing chain reaction that kick-started Beatlemania in the USA. The Beatles’ single I Want To Hold Your Hand was rush-released on 26 December 1963 (it was almost unheard of for US record companies to release new product over the holidays) and boosted by massive airplay now that American kids were off school, it sold over 250,000 copies in its first three days of release. By 10 January, it had sold over a million and was actually Number One when the Beatles landed in New York on 7 February 1964 to a crowd of 3,000 teenagers there to greet them as they stepped off their plane (Capitol Records had cleverly leaked details of the group’s itinerary to New York’s radio stations).

Their first Sullivan appearance on Sunday 9 February 1964 is considered a milestone in American pop culture. It drew an estimated 73 million viewers, the largest audience that had ever been recorded for an American television program to that point. It was just 77 days since President Kennedy had been assassinated. Watching were everyone who formed a band in the next 3 or 4 years.

Epstein had demanded that they be on at both the beginning and the end of the program in order to keep the audience tuned in throughout. The Beatles performed All My Loving and Till There Was You, which featured the names of the group members superimposed on close-up shots, including the famous Sorry girls, he’s married caption on John Lennon; and She Loves You. The studio was utter pandemonium, so it was a good job that the act that followed Beatles in the broadcast had been pre-recorded, rather than having someone perform live on stage amidst the chaos (incidentally in the same show was Davy Jones, later of the Monkees, then appearing in Oliver on Broadway who sang I’d Do Anything).

Thirty-five minutes later they played both sides of their latest single I Want to Hold Your Hand and I Saw Her Standing There. After taking their bows, John, Paul and George removed their instruments and Ringo jumped down from his drum riser. The group then headed over to Sullivan to shake hands and wave to the hysterical crowd.

They had perhaps given a grieving nation a much-needed reason to smile once again. There is an Urban Myth that during the Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, crime rates plummeted all over the USA on the basis that everyone was hooked to the TV and had no time or inclination to burgle or rob. Not even a single hubcap was pinched between 8:00 PM and 9:00 PM on 9 February 1964, says the legend. As it happens, like most legends, it turns out to be completely false. Not only that, but it actually originated with a comment that was intended as a backhanded swipe at the group rather than a compliment. The News Editor of the Washington Post – now owned by the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos – a man called B.F. Henry quipped that the one good thing about the Beatles was that during the hour they were on Ed Sullivan’s show, there wasn’t a hubcap stolen in America.

His statement was actually a put-down reflecting the older peoples’ perception that the Beatles were a dumb fad that only appealed to the worst elements of American youth. If no hubcaps were stolen for an hour, it was because all the juvenile delinquents in the country who would normally be out committing petty crime if they hadn’t been glued to their television sets. That would have been that had Newsweek not re-published his comments and it national. The sarcastic origins of the comment became obscured and it became the truth, a legend that grew and grew as it was retold. Even the Beatles themselves came to believe it in time.

Sullivan had ponied up that $12k for 3 appearances, so they flew to Miami Beach, Florida and appeared live on the Ed Sullivan Show a second time the following week, broadcast live from Miami Beach where the then Cassius Clay was training for his title bout with Sonny Liston. The occasion was used by both camps for publicity. A third appearance  on February 23 was actually taped on February 9 before that first live appearance. By the time it was shown they were back home in England.

Then America went out and bought Beatles records. In the week ending April 4 1964, the Beatles held the top five positions on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (to date, no other act has simultaneously held even the top three). 1. Can’t Buy Me Love, 2. Twist and Shout, 3 She Loves You, 4 I Want to Hold Your Hand and 5.Please Please Me. Their debut album sold 3.6 million copies in 4 weeks. That same month, four Beatles tribute songs also made the charts: We Love You Beatles by the Carefrees – based on We Love You Conrad from the musical Bye Bye Birdie about a pop star who gets drafted into the US Army – My Boyfriend Got A Beatle Haircut by Donna Lynn, The Boy With The Beatle Hair by the Swans and A Letter To The Beatles by the Four Preps who were actually an established group with quite a few hits to their name. All were dreadful.

By the end of 1964 the Beatles had sold 25 million singles and albums in the USA alone, including nine singles and six albums which sold at least a million. The single Can’t Buy Me Love sold 940,226 copies on the day it was released, March 16 1964. Capitol released anything they could. US albums usually had fewer tracks on them than they did here and in the UK the rule was you don’t add singles and B sides to albums. Capitol just released anything so for the next few years till Sgt Pepper the US versions of Beatles albums are very different than the UK ones and there are US albums that don’t exist here

If you thought the Rolling Stones were the second in the vanguard of the invasion? Nope. The day after the Beatles’ success on the show, Ed Sullivan called his people in London to ask who was Number One in England. The said it’s Glad All Over by the Dave Clark Five, so the five lads from Tottenham who barely been out of N15 in their lives were on the next plane to New York for an appearance on 8 March 1964, exactly a month after the first Beatles appearance. They went down so well that Ed Sullivan wanted them back the next week but they said no because they didn’t fancy flying all the way back to London only to return to a few days later. Sullivan countered with the offer of a week’s holiday anyway they liked. On the way in from JFK they had seen a billboard advertising holidays in Montego Bay, so they said Can we go to Jamaica? and they did.  

Four months earlier they had been the house band at the Tottenham Royal, a Mecca ballroom at 415-419 High Road Tottenham, London, N17. They were all still semi-pro and working in factories and offices during the day. When they were booked to appear on Ed Sullivan, that was when they gave up their day jobs. They remain Gods in the USA to this day. They genuinely were second to the Beatles, certainly during the duration of the Invasion. They were the first British band of the British Invasion to tour the US, before the Beatles toured, and played to sell-out crowds and they made 18 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show – the most of any British Invasion group. And they were as influential on US music as the Beatles or anyone else arguably, especially anything that involves big drums. They scored seven straight Top 20 singles in the USA in 1964, and four more in 1965 and had hits all the way to 1967. They also sold out 12 straight concerts in Carnegie Hall

The market in the USA was so large and wide open that British record companies started signing groups for the US market. Before it was all about the UK but the success of the Beatles changed all that, so you had British bands having hits in the USA without ever having been there. A Beatles link helped. Both Billy J Kramer & the Dakotas and Gerry & the Pacemakers were managed by Brian Epstein’s NEMS group who of course also managed the Beatles and their records produced by George Martin. Kramer’s hits were almost entirely lesser Lennon & McCartney songs like Bad to Me and From A Window. Gerry & the Pacemakers did at least write many of their hits, though not all. You’ll Never Walk Alone is actually from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Carousel.

Paul McCartney’s girlfriend throughout most of the Sixties was actress Jane Asher and in fact his London home until he bought a posh house in St John’s Wood was the attic bedroom of Jane Asher’s parents’ house at 57 Wimpole Street W1. Paul and Jane’s brother, Peter Asher, were great friends and Peter and his friend from Westminster public school Gordon Waller recorded a Lennon-McCartney song the Beatles didn’t was good enough for them called World Without Love as Peter & Gordon which went to Number One here and in the USA for 1 week in June 1964. They lasted till 1967. Peter Asher became the head of A&R for Apple Records, where he discovered James Taylor who was living in London at the time. When Taylor moved back to the USA so did Peter Asher basing himself in LA and managing and producing multi-platinum albums by Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, producing Andrew Gold and Bonnie Raitt and was instrumental in shaping that 70s LA sound. Which is not bad for a public schoolboy from London.

The biggest UK impresario after Epstein was Mickie Most, a former singer at the 2Is coffee bar who moved to South Africa to become a pop star and came back as a producer. Most was one of the first to make the effort to travel to NYC to trawl the Brill Building for songs UK artists could nick. British pop artists normally did covers of American records that had already been successful, but Most went to America to get the songs before they were recorded. In New York, he found a Gerry Goffin and Carole King song called I’m into Something Good, which he knew would be perfect for a band from Manchester he was handling called Herman’s Hermits. They were as polite and clean cut as the Beatles, fronted by Peter Noone, who was only 17-18 when they hit. Some of their hits were very good – No Milk Todaywas written by 10cc’s Graham Gouldman, who was their manager’s cousin – but not all were belters: extraordinarily in 1965, the year of Tambourine Man and Loving Feeling, their Number Ones were Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter and I’m Henry VIII, I Am. 

If Herman’s Hermits were Mickie Most’s clean-cut Beatles-alikes, the long-haired Stones equivalents were the Animals, an R&B band from Newcastle who had had a residency at the Scene club in Ham Yard. They had been playing The House of the Rising Sun, which was an old folk song sung by Dylan on his first album Bob Dylan. The arrangement was by the whole band – especially the catchy organ melody, played by Alan Price on a Vox Continental keyboard – but only Price was credited on the label and he was the only person to receive songwriter’s royalties. Needless to say his bandmates were less than pleased and he left the group for a solo career the following year.

They recorded it in May 1964 at De Lane Lea which was opposite Kingsway tube station, having driven 300 miles overnight from a gig in the North East. After parking the van and a quick cup of tea and a cigarette at a café round the corner, they nailed the song in three takes, the whole session was over in under half an hour and the invoice from De Lane Lea for the studio time was £4 10s or £4.50. The record hit Number One in Britain in June and in the US in September. They weren’t writers and had further Price-less hits with Tin Pan alley tunes like Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, We Gotta Get Out of This Placeand It’s My Lifebut gave up by 1967. There have been a few reunions and a version still tours.

The Zombies were very nice lads from St Albans, who were signed Decca in 1964. Decca thought their first single She’s Not There would do well in the USA so they were on the next flight. They toured the USA on a 7-performances-a-day package tour with amongst others the Shangri Las where the drummer Hugh Grundy played with the Zombies, then behind a curtain revved a motorcycle during Leader of the Pack. They had a couple of further hits like Tell Her No which got to Number 6. They continued recording but without chart success. Their 1967 slightly psychedelic album Odessey & Oracle failed to reach the charts so they split up. A year later the single Time of the Season was re-released after a DJ in Michigan started playing it and the record company re-released it. It got to Number 3, two years after it was made.

The Kinks hit big with You Really Got Me, All Day And All of the Night and Tired Of Waiting For You but in late 1965 they were banned for 4 years from touring in the US by the American Federation of Musicians, in which time they recorded what we might think of as their greatest stuff, but it never really charted in the USA. They were viewed as hooligans. Ray Davies and Dave Davies could not stand each other and the rest of the band did not particularly like either one of them. They would fight on stage, including a rather famous night in Cardiff where the drummer Mick Avory threw a cymbal at guitariot Dave Davies like a frisbee which left Davies in hospital and landed Avory in jail. They got a fight on a TV show called Where the Action Is and Dave Davies used the C-bomb on the radio in Boston when the DJ who was clearly American was talking with a Liverpudlian accent. He was dragged me out of the building.

The main problem was they fell out with their tour promoter who wanted them to play the hits, rather than the newer more complex stuff Ray Davies was writing. He refused to pay them so one night they played a 45-minute version of You Really Got Me. He filed a formal complaint with the American Federation of Musicians, who had the power to withhold work permits for British musicians, which they did. For 4 years. The Kinks not surprisingly lost their commercial momentum.

It was not just groups like The Yardbirds, The Searchers,The Hollies, Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders, Manfred Mann, even Freddie & the Dreamers who hit gig in the States. We also had solo singers like Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield and especially Petula Clark who enjoyed a dozen huge hits crafted by Tony Hatch, another New Faces judge of the 70s. The one group whop couldn’t get a hit were the Rolling Stones, strange given that of all the Invasion groups they were doing the most obvious impression of American music, Herberts from Dartford singing with Estuary accents and reimporting it to the US with absolutely no irony.

It’s not that they didn’t try. Decca renamed The Rolling Stones, their debut album as The Rolling Stones: England’s Newest Hitmakers for the US market. A trip to the USA was announced in the press, so there were a few dozen screaming girls at London Airport on 1 June 1964 when the group were greeted at JFK by 500 fans, 4 months after the Beatles had 3000 fans turn up which gives you some idea of where they stood on the British Invasion pecking order.  The Stones gave a press conference at the airport but in direct contrast to the Beatles clean and smiling look, they were dirty and rude. The PR filled the room with flowers and told the press he had done so to bring relief to their nostrils because he feared that the Stones might be too smelly. He also brought along something typically English and Hairy: two Old English Sheepdogs.

The next day they went off into America for a fairly disastrous tour. The US Press were scathing: The Stones wear their hair long and uncombed their clothes are dirty and they appear to be strangers to a bathtub. You see them roaming around in packs. It’s hard to tell the girls from the boys because they dress the same way. Our teenagers look like angels compared to them. In California, they appeared on the Hollywood Palace TV show introduced by an apparently tipsy Dean Martin, whose kids had asked him to get Stones’ autographs but kept cracking wise about their appearance like These singing groups are under the impression they have long hair: not true at all, it’s an optical illusion, they just have smaller foreheads and higher eyebrows’ or ‘These long-haired wonders from England, the Rolling Stones…they’re backstage picking the fleas off each other.

Their first US Top 10 hit late in 1964 was a cover of Irma Thomas’s Time Is on My Side but their manager Andrew Oldham knew that for the Stones to compete they would have to start writing their own material. After a tentative start, Jagger and Richards finally hit their stride in 1965 with The Last Time and the Number Ones Satisfaction and Get Off My Cloud. In 2019 they are still touring, or at least they will be once Jagger’s ticker gets better.

The one British band who were not part of the British Invasion were the Who. They had come in right at the death with My Generation, the single and the album. In fact, their US label Brunswick changed the cover for the US release. The UK cover is the band standing beside some oil drums on a rooftop in Surrey Quays. For the US release in April 1966, Brunswick wanted a quintessentially British image and nothing says London more than Big Ben so the US cover was a shot of the band standing on Victoria Embankment in front of what is Westminster Pier with Big Ben very obviously in the background. The album did not chart!

The Who Sings My Generation

By 1966, the British Invasion was sort of all over. There wasn’t much left in Herman’s Hermits or the Hollies or even the DC5. After a little over 2 years, the US charts were full of groups who had been inspired by the British Invasion, so the circle was complete. Artists like the Mamas and Papas, the Young Rascals, the Byrds, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan had gone electric, the Shadows of Knight, Johnny Rivers. English singers were rare on the US charts and American bands regained the mainstream and the wave of anglophilia largely faded as American culture shifted in response to the Vietnam War and the resulting civil unrest.

The Beatles were unassailable as were the Stones to almost the same extent but it is worth saying that each of those groups were prolific innovative and fast-changing and changed the culture on an annual basis. Rubber Soul is a leap from Help, Revolveris a leap from Rubber Soul. Similarly., the Stones’ Out of Our Heads is a huge leap forward from their previous album, and December’s Children and Aftermath are a huge improvement on Out of Our HeadsThey were just the best groups in the world at that time. The only US groups who came close were the Beach Boys who had just made Pet Sounds.

 

 

 

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The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Hoaxes

It’s April Fool’s Week as I write and whilst I may be a couple of days late but I thought a quick round-up of the Greatest Rock and Roll Hoaxes might be in order. A mixture of conspiracy theories, cheeky scams, hilarious pranks and downright evil sleight of hand.

The Sonny Boy Williamsons
The earliest hoax of the rock and roll age is the story of Sonny Boy Williamson. Or to be strictly accurate Sonny Boy Williamsons. Older Bluesheads out there, veterans of the Crawdaddy back in ’63, will remember kneeling at the feet of the revered blues pioneer, guitarist, singer and harmonica player when he toured here with The Animals and The Yardbirds – whose guitarist was an 18-year old Eric Clapton.

Only one problem. Sonny Boy Williamson died in 1948.

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The original Sonny Boy  – John Lee Williamson from Tennessee – was the best-known blues man in the USA during and just after the war. He had made his way to Chicago in the early 1930s, started recording in 1937 and made a number of songs which are regarded as blues standards, not least Sugar Mama Bluesand Good Morning Schoolgirl, which was Rod Stewart’s first single in 1964. He was hugely popular in those industrial cities of Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, all of which had huge populations of African-Americans who had migrated North from Alabama, Mississippi and other Southern states for jobs in the North. Alas in June 1948, Sonny Boy Williamson was killed in a robbery as he walked home from a gig in Chicago. Terrible news for the Williamsons, but as it turned out, very good news for Alex Miller of Mississippi.

Miller had been playing in those Southern states for several years billing himself as Sonny Boy Williamson to cash in, safe in the knowledge that the real Sonny Boy Williamson was way too busy in the North to ever play shows anywhere else. Once the real Sonny Boy Williamson was safely dead, Miller was free to start recording as Sonny Boy Williamson. With no explanation given, he simply picked up where the dead Sonny Boy had left off. Blues historians now differentiate them as SBWI and SBWII but at the time no one knew. He even moved up to Chicago from Mississippi in 1953 because there was so much work for him

When the Blues craze exploded over here in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he got on a plane and toured Europe and the UK and even appeared on top TV show Ready Steady Go! He obviously liked the place. A dapper man with money now in his pocket for once, he headed to Savile Row and had a two-tone suit tailored personally for him, along with bowler hat, matching umbrella, and an attaché case for his harmonicas. You can take the man out of Arkansas, but you can’t take Arkansas out of the man. On tour in the Midlands, he tried to cook himself a tasty bit of rabbit in a coffee percolator of all things and set his hotel room on fire.

He didn’t enjoy that sharp suit for long. He died on May 25, 1965 of an apparent heart attack suffered in his sleep the night before. He had adopted the real Sonny Boy Williamson’s birthday to complete the subterfuge, so everyone thought he was 65. Actually he was 52.

 

Could Klaatu Be Beatles? Mystery Is A Magical Tour
It’s 1976 and a band called Klaatu – Klaatu was the extraterrestrial in the 1950s sci-fi film The Day The Earth Stood Still – released an album called 3.47 EST. Oddly, mysteriously it had none of the usual information about the group, no photos, no songwriting credits, no contacts and it came out on Capitol Records (lest we forget the Beatles’ label in North America) . On top of that the sleeve of Ringo Starr’s latest album Goodnight Vienna had the drummer standing in the doorway of the spaceship from The Day The Earth Stood Still, dressed as Klaatu. The lead singer did rather sound like Beatle Paul and the guitars were a lot like George’s playing. There were even a few Yeah Yeah Yeahs in there too in case we didn’t get the message

One person who did get the message was Steven Smith of the Rhode Island Providence Journal, who reviewed the album with a story titled Could Klaatu Be Beatles? Mystery Is A Magical Tour’. he even contacted Capitol Records for more information but as sales had been a bit slow and figuring this might help sell a few albums, they refused to confirm or deny.  He felt his only conclusion was to announce that this was an anonymous record by the Fab Four. Then all hell broke loose sales-wise.

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AM and FM radio who loved the Beatles and whose listeners were desperate for the Fab Four to reform, began to play tracks from the album and other stations caught on to the story. Within weeks Klaatu were being played all across the US.  It wasn’t just an American phenomenon. It was reported around the world, including the UK, although the New Musical Express famously squashed the rumours with an article under the title Deaf Idiot Journalist Starts Beatle Rumour. In the end some bright spark went to the US Copyright Office and discovered that the songs were copyrighted not to Lennon, McCartney, Harrison or Starkey, but to John Woloschuk, Dee Long and Terry Draper and Klaatu were actually a dull group of Prog Rockers from Toronto.

They made a number of albums, all apparently very good if you like that kind of thing, sold well in Canada but nowhere else now people knew they weren’t the Beatles. It was all 40 years and the only reason you’d remember them now is because they wrote the Carpenters Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day).

 

The Fake Zombies
The Zombies were very nice lads from St Albans, who enjoyed a few hits here and in the USA as part of the British Invasion. By 1967 though, it was pretty much all over, despite them making they masterpiece Odessey & Oracle, so they packed it in and went their separate ways.

However a couple fo years later, a DJ in Michigan started playing a track from Odyssey & Oracle, a song called Time of the Season so it was re-released and stormed upon to Number 3 in the charts. There was all of a sudden demand for a Zombies tour but they were all off doing other things and weren’t interested. Luckily a dodgy promoter in Bay City, Michigan, Delta Promotions, was and did what anyone would do if they were trying to fake a 5-piece band from St Albans: they found a 4-piece blues band from Dallas, Texas, took some promo photos (two of them were wearing cowboy hats) and set them out on tour as The Zombies. If anyone asked where the keyboard player was, they had to say he’d been busted and was in jail.

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They were terrible, which is not surprising as they were a blues band from Texas not a pop group from St Albans but there was no internet or social media so they just moved on to another town. Newspaper reviews mentioned bad sound, shoddy playing, and unimpressed audiences but by the time the paper came out the Fake Zombies were hundreds of miles away. They played small clubs in Michigan and Wisconsin and went up into Canada, where they appeared on TV and played a gig in a prison.

The promoters were getting away with it, so they decided they’d make twice as much money with a second group of Fake Zombies. The second fake Zombies were a five-piece and at least had a keyboard player. They were also very good. If you heard them play Time of the Season, you couldn’t really tell the difference. The real Zombies did find out and were furious but there wasn’t a lot they could do. In the end it was Rolling Stone magazine that broke the story in December 1969, titled The Zombies Are A Stiff. 

Still Delta Promotions continued their dodgy business They had a fake version of The Animals and even a fake version of the Archies, which is bizarre because the Archies were a fake band to start with. It was also Delta’s downfall as the Archies were controlled by a very shrewd and powerful publisher and businessman called Don Kirshner, who had the clout – and the lawyers – to take Delta down, which they did. With Delta Promotions dissolved, the bands on the Delta roster headed back home. The Texas Zombies returned to Dallas where they ditched their Zombies past and returned to their normal lives. Tow of them, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard formed ZZ Top with guitarist and singer Billy Gibbons. They released their first album in 1970 and have since sold around 60 million albums worldwide.

Why Did You Do It? The fake Fleetwood Mac
Fast forward to 1974 and the lessons of Delta Promotions had obviously not been learnt. Fleetwood Mac had by this point been a blues band led by godlike guitar player Peter Green and were yet top be the radio-friendly AOR behemoth of Rumours led by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. In fact, they were in a bit of a rut, constantly on tour in the US where they retained some kind of audience. However the John and Christine McVie’s marriage was under strain, there was a lot of drinking and drugging and Mick Fleetwood knew that their new guitarist was having an affair with Mick’s wife. Not surprisingly they didn’t fancy slogging round America in a tour bus, so they cancelled any remaining dates to sort themselves out and have a nice break. However, they didn’t realise that they were contractually obliged to play and would be sued for huge amounts of money if they didn’t play them. The financial losses could be huge.

So rather than lose a fortune, their manager Clifford Davis recruited a British band called Legs and sent them out on tour as a Fake Fleetwood Mac. They were told that Mick Fleetwood would join them on later dates, but when he didn’t show up, the excuse was he’d just dropped out when he rumbled the scam. Which audiences soon did too, what with there being absolutely no actual members of Fleetwood Mac on stage at any time. After a dreadful review in Rolling Stone, the tour ground to a halt as the news spread and promoters cancelled dates, although when they had played they had gone over a bit of a storm apparently. Then it all went legal. Everyone sued each other and they couldn’t work for months and months. Most of the industry assumed they were finished, although the real Fleetwood Mac relocated permanently to LA, recruited Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks at a studio in LA and have sold well over 100 million albums since

As a postscript, the musicians in the fake Fleetwood Mac later formed Stretch, who had a huge hit with Why Did You Do It? which is allegedly about Mick Fleetwood.

Orion: the Man who would be King
Elvis Presley of course died in Memphis in August 1977 of a heart attack after years of prescription drug addiction and dreadful diet.

Or did he? Many think he’s still alive. The first alleged sighting of a non-dead King of Rock’n’Roll was two days after Elvis’ death, when a bloke at Memphis airport bought a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Apparently he looked a bit like Elvis and used the name Jon Burrows, which was an alias of Elvis had often used when booking hotels for himself. Some swear he’s in the 1990 movie Home Alone as the bearded man behind Kevin’s mum as she checks in at the airport to fly home from Paris. Last year, when a man with a white beard was spotted visiting Graceland, fans were convinced it was Elvis.

The appetite to want Elvis not to be dead is huge and has been since 1977. At the end of that year, a cash-in pulp fiction novel called Orion was published. It was the story of a hugely successful Southern rock star called Orion Darnell who fakes his own death to get out of the rat race and live a normal life. In case you missed the link, the publishers cheekily added the words Is Elvis Really Dead? on the cover. It flew out of the stores and up the best seller lists.

A few weeks later, Sun Records, the label that first released his music, put out an album of duets between Jerry Lee Lewis and a singer who sounded uncannily like Elvis. Not a little like Elvis, like Les Grey of Mud or Shakin Stevens, but uncannily, preternaturally like Elvis. To ride the coat tails of the Orion bestseller, Sun Records called him Orion and had him wear a mask, which he never took off. To be honest he didn’t look unlike Elvis. He had quite a luxurious black Barnet, liked a gaudy jump suit like the King himself and there was that voice.

a5152f32cbf82678b60d9ecd0d70bb50There was frenzied speculation that these were new unreleased Elvis tracks and keen to have them sell, Sun were happy to create the mystique that it was Elvis. No one at Sun said it wasn’t Elvis. Sun’s first Orion album was called Reborn and people desperate for Elvis to still be among us bought it in large numbers. He sold out large theatres, always in the mask and always sounding uncannily like Elvis. He had massive following, released 9 albums between 1978 and 1982, some country, some gospel, some rock and roll, but all Elvis. There were 20,000 in his fan club and they all just really wanted it to be Elvis. They argued he wore a mask because he’d had plastic surgery to disguise himself after he died, although no one questioned why the biggest rock and roll singer would come back, er, as a rock and roll singer. When people started saying hang on he doesn’t actually look like Elvis, his manager started the rumour that whilst he might not look exactly like Elvis, he did look the spitting image of Vernon Presley, Elvis’ dad, so you know he might be his brother.

Was he Elvis? No, he was 34-year-old Jimmy Ellis from Orrville AL whoa been singing exactly like Elvis Presley since high school. He had had a singularly unsuccessful recording career in the 1960s but no one wanted another Elvis, there already was one. So he went back to the family business, which happened to be training horses. His heart though was always in music so one day in 1975 aged 30, he quit, sold everything he had and went to California to get into the music business. He hired a manager, a choreographer and a stylist to launch his career. But there was already one Elvis, so how do you market another.With difficulty and no success as it happens. After a year, his money ran out and it was back to the horses, with a sideline as an Elvis impersonator.

Then in August 1977, Elvis died.

Sun Records – now run by the less-than-scrupulous Nashville hustler Shelby Singleton – still owned the masters to Elvis’ early songs as well as those of Jerry Lee, Charlie Rich and Carl Perkins. With Elvis dead and the market going nuts for anything Elvis-related he overdubbed Jimmy EIllis’ voice onto all sorts of old Sun recordings and released them. The Orion best-seller gave Singleton an idea. He got Ellis to change his name to Orion and go out on the road. Ellis, after 20 years as a failed singer, thought this might be his shot. He even agreed to wear the mask, he so desperately wanted to be a successful singer.

He was the masked singer for five years, criss-crossing the USA and even touring the UK and Europe but still thought this might be a means to an end and that one day the mask might come off and Jimmy Ellis might be the big star. Alas it was not to be and when his manager finally told him that he was never going to be successful without the mask, he tore it off his face on stage one night and threw it into the audience. It ended his career. No one wanted him, they wanted the guy who sounded just like Elvis.

He didn’t stop singing trying a whole load of different stage names but after 5 or 6 years, skint and over 40 he found a new mask and was Orion once again. He barely made a living so had to do other jobs to support himself and his family. He went back to the family farm and then opened a Pawn Shop in his hometown of Orrville AL with his ex-wife. In December 1998, they were both killed in an armed robbery at the shop. The robber couldn’t get the till open and so ran out with no cash, having killed 2 people for nothing. Nothing at all. 

 

Milli Vanilli: Girl You Know Actually It Isn’t True
Milli Vanilli, two ridiculously good looking blokes in very tight trousers who sold several million records in 1989 and 1990, especially in America where they had three Number One singles, videos in permanent rotation on MTV and a Grammy for Best New Artist. The only problem was they didn’t actually sing on their records

Illustration for article titled 20 Years Ago Today, Milli Vanilli Lost Their Grammy For Lip Syncing Someone Else's Songs

They were formed in Munich by a German singer, songwriter and producer called Frank Farian, formerly an unsuccessful pop singer who had form for this kind of thing. In 1975, he came up with a song called Do You Wanna Bump? in fact a dangerously funky version of Prince Buster’s Al Capone with Farian’s tuneless and heavily accented voice over the top. He needed some good looking people to sell it so he recruited a proper female singer, a couple of exotic models and a whirling dervish of a dancer who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. They were called Boney M.

Boney M records sold 80 million copies throughout the rest of the 1970s, particularly here in the UK where they had a dozen Top Ten hits and albums that sold in the millions. People like me often look back on pop records of that time which I disregarded because I was listening to the Pistols and think actually that’s quite a good pop record. But with Boney M you really can’t. They are irredeemably terrible.

Fast forward to 1988 and Frank Farian is at it again. He had finished all the songs using session singers but needed someone to front it. He found two guys in a disco in Munich who were the best dancers there: Fabrice Morven who was French and originally from Guadeloupe; and Rob Pilatus, who was German, the son of an exotic dancer and American GI. He called them Milli Vanilli, claiming it was Turkish for Positive Energy (it isn’t, it’s the name of an old disco in Berlin).

Their debut album, known in the USA as Girl You Know It’s True, was released in late 1988 and had sold 10 million copies worldwide in a few months, mainly due to irritatingly catchy songs and sexy videos featuring Rob & Fab in phenomenally tight shorts. MTV invited them to tour America and they spent the Summer lip-synching their way across the country until one fateful night in Bristol, Connecticut when the tap e got stuck, repeating the line Girl you know it’s true over and over. They pretended to sing on for a while but just then ran off stage with the tape still playing their voices. Even then, the crowd didn’t seem to care, but suspicions were raised.

However their biggest problem was when they won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Grammys are serious awards and the press decided that a little more scrutiny might be in order. One or two newspapers had heard about the incident with the tape and started looking into them. They couldn’t work out why the vocals on their records had such strong authentic American accents, yet when they had interviewed Rob & Fab they could barely speak English and had impenetrable German accents. Their enquiries were helped when the actual singers on the record suddenly revealed by press release that Rob & Fab were imposters and hadn’t sung a note. Farian buried the story by paying them handsomely to retract what they had said and got away with it. But worse was to come.

Emboldened by all the success, Rob & Fab actually demanded to sing on the next album. Farian, a wily music biz player, knew that would be a disaster, so he who blew the gaff himself with a news conference in November 1990, where he announced that Rob & Fab had mimed the whole thing and had not sung a single note on their records. Arista Records dropped them immediately and deleted their album. Their Grammy was revoked, the first time that had happened and they had to send it back

It didn’t end there. Twenty-two class-action law suits were filed in the US, charging that Arista Records had perpetrated consumer fraud by implying that Rob and Fab had sing on their own records. The plaintiffs, groups of fans, cited the “emotional distress” they experienced when the truth was revealed. They are demanded reimbursement of the money they spent on Milli Vanilli records, concert tickets and merchandise, as well as legal fees and costs. Arista were told to offer refunds to the tune of $1 if you bought a single, $2 if you bought an album or cassette, $3 if you bought a CD or video and $2.50 for a concert.

The actual singers released an album credited to The Real Milli Vanilli in 1991, which flopped. Rob & Fab tried a comeback but their album Rob & Fab sold around 2000 copies. Amazingly in 1997 they made another album with Frank Farian where they sang but Rob Pilatus who had not handled the scandal well, slid into substance abuse, attempted suicide and was arrested several times. Despite 10 stints in rehab, Pilatus couldn’t kick his habits. He died aged 32 after an overdose just as it was about to come out so it remains unreleased.

 

Paul is Dead
Possibly the most famous hoax of all. In November 1969, the world went crazy with the rumour that Paul McCartney had died.

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The story was this: Paul McCartney had attended an all-night recording session at Abbey Road NW8 on Wednesday, November 9, 1966 but had had a furious row with the other Beatles and had stormed out of the studio into his car. He then picked up a female hitchhiker on his way to a friend’s house but the woman became so excited when she realized who had picked her up that she threw her arms around Paul and caused him to lose control of the car. Both Paul and his passenger were killed when the car swerved off the road and hit a stone fence.

Furthermore, not wanting to lose potential record sales, the Beatles’ record company  suppressed the story of Paul’s death and brought in a lookalike to replace him, a man named William Campbell, who was an actor and who had won a Paul McCartney lookalike contest. With a little plastic surgery, William Campbell had taken Paul’s place in photos of the group. The surgery had been successful except for a small scar above his lip. And, by an extraordinary stroke of luck, he could also sing and just happened to be a songwriter with an exceptional ear for pop melodies.

Ss if that weren’t far fetched enough, the surviving Beatles agreed to go along with this scheme, but as a protest decided to deliberately leave clues on their subsequent albums about Paul’s death and the imposter who took his place.

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The Beatles had just released Abbey Road, where the cover of the 4 of them walking over the zebra crossing symbolises a funeral procession. Lennon, dressed in white, symbolises the preacher or heavenly figure. Ringo, dressed in black, is the undertaker or mourner. George, in denim jeans and shirt, symbolises the gravedigger and McCartney, barefoot and out of step with other members of the band, symbolises the corpse. In some cultures there is the custom to bury people without their shoes apparently. He’s also holding a fag in his right hand – although at that point was probably the most famous left-handed person in the whole world! The VW Beetle in the background with the number plate LMW 28IF, the age Paul would have been (actually he would have been 27)

And they were the most sensible, reasonable ones. Fans also went back through past albums and came up with all manner of bizarre stuff, like how on the Sergeant Pepper cover, if you put a mirror half way up the drum skin that says LONELY HEARTS you get I ONE IX arrow Die – the arrow points up to McCartney – IX being 9 in Roman numerals and (of course) McCartney has 9 letters. QED.

What about their greatest hits set, A Collection of Beatles Oldies– the letters O and L in Oldies are of course the letters immediately before P & M in the alphabet so it could therefore read PM DIES – in the same way people think the computer in 2001 HAL is IBM shifted by one letter. If you play the Strawberry Fields Forever single backwardsthere are messages in the final section that say I buried Paul (although it actually sound more like cranberry sauce.)

All a load of old tosh of course and here’s how it started. On 17 September 1969, the student newspaper of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa published an article titled Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead? based on a rumour they’d heard from stoned students from California that clues to McCartney’s death could be found among the lyrics and artwork of the Beatles’ recordings. One suspects student mischief and some exotic smoking might have been involved.

The Drake University story was picked up by the University of Illinois’ student newspaper, as well as other college newspapers in that part of the country. Then a copy found its way to Detroit radio station WKNR FM on 12 October where DJ Russ Gibb hosted a call in show about the rumour for the next hour, with the effect that hundreds of hysterical fans calling in to see if it was true.

Two days later the story appeared in the University of Michigan’s newspaper, with a lot more completely made up detail. They created the identity of Paul’s replacement, William Campbell, inserted new invented clues from their new album Abbey Road. The author assumed everyone would think it as a spoof and was then astonished when the story was picked up by proper mainstream newspapers across the United States, like, the Des Moines Register, the Chicago Sun Times the Washington Post, New York Times, the LA Times and The Times in London in pretty quick succession. This was the old world’s version of going viral.

In fact, the rumour though had become so widespread that both the BBC and Life magazine sent reporters to Paul’s farm in Scotland and get photos. Paul had taken refuge from the Beatles’ legal battles and he was not at all happy to be confronted by reporters but agreed to let an interview with Life, which did calm everybody down a bit. There was an upside though. In November 1969, Capitol Records sales managers reported a significant increase in sales of Beatles catalogue albums, attributed directly to the rumour. It was all student mischief that went round the world.

 

What’s So Funny? Nick Lowe at 70

Nicholas Drain Lowe, the Bard of Brentford, bass player, singer, producer, songwriter, former son-in-law of Johnny Cash, all-round nice bloke (I’ve met him) turns 70 this week, 24 March.

In a professional career of (at the time of writing) 51 years, he has produced records for the likes of Elvis Costello, the Pretenders, Graham Parker (with and without the Rumour), The Damned, Dr Feelgood, Wreckless Eric, Carlene Carter, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Mavericks and Johnny Cash. If that weren’t enough, his songs have been covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, Englebert  Humperdinck, Curtis Stigers, George Thorogood & the Destroyers, Tom Petty, Dr Feelgood, Wilco, Graham Parker and Lene Lovich.

And himself of course, lest we forget the 14 cracking solo albums since the Seventies. I first bought a Nick Lowe record in 1977. It was called Bowi (a joke I’ll explain later) and I have bought all of them since then, usually on the day they’re released, and would include at least one of them – either 2001’s The Convincer or  Jesus of Cool from 1978, depending on my mood – in my All Time Top Ten of All Time.

WK-BD237_ARENA_P_20120912175432The child of an RAF Group Captain father and a musical mother, he had played in bands at Woodbridge School in Suffolk. After leaving school, he was a cub reporter with the Middlesex Advertiser & County Gazette newspaper in  Uxbridge, until his old school chum Brinsley Schwarz called him up and asked him to join his group Kippington Lodge – named after a Victorian manor house close to the Schwarz family home in Kippington Road Sevenoaks. Tired of writing about suburban flower shows, he said yes without a second’s hesitation. Which was very good news for all of us who have enjoyed his tunes since then.

Kippington Lodge had a record deal with Parlophone – lest we forget the Beatles’ label – but after a flop single, their first bass player left and in late 1967, Nick was his replacement. Parlophone wanted them to be a frothy pop group, replete with the appropriate hair and paisley clothes, but their next four singles all flopped (but sounded great) so they were dropped. Having failed miserably, they needed a new name and a new direction. They chose Brinsley Schwarz, after their guitarist and as it was 1969 and had been listening to a lot of CSN, Music from Big Pink and Dylan’s Great White Wonder bootleg, they went all hippy. Which was fine for the times but before long they were potless. Luckily they saw an ad in Melody Maker in October 1969: Young progressive management company require young songwriting group with own equipment.

It was placed by a company called Famepushers from the rough end of the Portobello Road and headed by a charismatic and entrepreneurial Irishman called Dave Robinson, who had been a tour manager and roadie for a band called Eire Apparent who had supported the Jimi Hendrix’s Experience in the USA. From the tons of replies, the Brinsleys were auditioned and signed.  All they needed to achieve fame and fortune was a record deal but that was proving remarkably difficult to secure.

Robinson had an idea: a big showcase gig to catch the record companies’ eye. The only problem was where? Every suggestion for a venue seemed inadequate so they dreamed bigger and bigger. The Speakeasy? Too small. The Albert Hall? We need bigger. Then someone suggested the hippest music venue in the World at that time, the Fillmore East. Except the Fillmore East was in New York City and Brinsley Schwarz were in Notting Hill, London, W10.

Not lacking in chutzpah, Dave Robinson called the Fillmore’s owner, legendary impresario Bill Graham in San Francisco begging for a slot of the bill, any bill. Despite an impassioned pitch, Graham refused but did say Stop by if you’re ever on the West Coast. Which inspired Robinson to cab it to Heathrow and fly straight to San Francisco, so that less than 24 hours after they had spoken on the phone, he was in Bill Graham’s office. And even then Graham would still only say he’d consider it. A  week later though, he called to say they could open for Quicksilver Messenger Service and Van Morrison at the Fillmore on 3-4 April 1970.

All of a sudden record labels thought hang on they’re on at the Fillmore and got interested. United Artists signed them for £22,000 and Robinson used the money to carry out the most daring – and ultimately unsuccessful – publicity stunt in the history of rock and roll.

He chartered an Aer Lingus Boeing 707, filled it with journalists and flew them to NYC on the Saturday for the shows and flew them back on the Sunday. The whole thing would be filmed for a documentary they would release in the cinemas for which Brinsley Schwarz would provide the soundtrack. The money would roll in. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turned out, everything. There were visa problems for the band who pretty much had to sneak in via Canada. The 707 took off late, developed engine problems over the Irish Sea so had to make an emergency landing at Shannon airport, before finally leaving for NYC at 4.30pm. That was 11.30am US time with the band due on at 8pm and it’s an 8-hour flight. They managed to land dead on 7pm New York time and got to the Fillmore at 8.20pm, just as the band they’d all come to see took the stage. They played for 35 minutes and were terrible.

Stressed, under-rehearsed playing a large venue for the first time and were patently knees-a-knockin terrified. The next day they all flew back the next day with hangovers and a massive sense of disappointment. The Melody Maker referred to it as The Biggest Hype Of All Time. They were not only a laughing stock, they had overspent and were £13,000 in debt. When their debut album came out at the end of April, it achieved at best a lukewarm response. All they could do was live cheaply and gig furiously till it was all paid back, which is exactly what they did. They made five more albums of country-oriented based  R&B, based on the gifted songwriting of Nick Lowe, led the entire UK Pub Rock movement, got in all the papers, even supported Paul McCartney’s Wings on tour – and sold almost no records and so split up in March 1975 with a farewell gig at the Marquee on Wardour Street.

The other members went their separate ways, but as the main songwriter Nick was still contracted to United Artists, who saw him as a singer/songwriter in the James Taylor mould. Nothing against Sweet Baby James but that wasn’t Nick’s bag, so he did a kind of Producers thing where he deliberately made a single so terrible that it was bound to flop and he’d be dropped by UA, free to go somewhere else.

The problem was he put so much effort into making Bay City Rollers We Love You, it turned out to be a fantastic record. The lyrics were so tongue-in-cheek no self respecting Rollers fan in the UK was going to buy it, but the Japanese did – huge Rollers fans, the Japanese – and it went to Number One. United Artists were thrilled and wanted more, so he quickly did a follow up called Rollers Show, which was also a success. Finally he released Let’s Go To The Disco, as the Disco Brothers, which thankfully flopped everywhere so he was eventually released from the label.

Next he became an artist and in-house producer at Stiff Records, the new independent label formed by Dave Robinson and Nick Lowe’s flat mate, Jake Riviera. For just £45 he made the label’s first release, So It Goes, released in August 1976, with the witty catalogue number BUY1 and the words Mono-Enhanced Stereo, Play Loud! engraved on it. It made Single of the Week in Sounds and the NME and John Peel played it every night on his Radio One show.

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As a producer, he had already produced Graham Parker & the Rumour’s debut Howling Wind and at Stiff was responsible for producing the country’s first punk single New Rose by The Damned as well as the wonderful Whole Wide World by Wreckless Eric. The records were made cheaply in small studios and his bash-it-down quickly-and-tart-it-up later philosophy earned him the nickname Basher. He also produced the first album by Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True. Costello had been a massive Brinsley Schwarz fan who dropped his demo tape off at the Stiff offices only to bump into Basher on his way home on the steps of Royal Oak tube station. Stiff loved the tape, signed him for an advance was £150, a battery powered amp and a cassette recorder. Nick Lowe was assigned to produce and between them they gave us the first five Costello albums and singles like Watching The Detectives and I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea. Fabulous stuff then and fabulous stuff still.

Your then 16-year old correspondent missed out on So It Goes but became aware of him when he released an EP in 1977 called Bowi. My regular rock and roll reading, Sounds, explained the joke: that if David Bowie couldn’t spell his name properly, then he wasn’t going to spell the Thin White Duke’s properly either (Bowie had just released the album Low). Tickled, I bought it forthwith and grooved to Born A Woman and Shake That Rat et al while I crammed for O Levels.

Concurrent to all this soloing and producing, there was Rockpile, a basic 50s rock and roll outfit with a very modern twist headed by the twin talents of Nick and Dave Edmunds. Rockpile actually recorded four studio albums, but Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds were contracted to different record labels – Nick Lowe to Stiff and Edmunds to Swansong, Led Zeppelin’s label – so only one, Seconds of Pleasure, was ever released under the Rockpile banner. They tried to get out the Swansong contract and thought Zep’s mercurial manager and label boss Peter Grant might be a tad busy making billions with the Zep and other charges Bad Company in the USA to be concerned about little old Edmunds. They drove all the way to Grant’s moated estate in Sussex to negotiate, but he didn’t recognise their car so he wouldn’t raise the drawbridge. Negotiations there were none.

However, if you bought a Dave Edmunds or Nick Lowe solo album in 1977, 1978 or 1979, you were really buying a Rockpile album – Tracks on Wax 4, Repeat When Necessary, Twangin’ and Labour of Lust all have the same players on them and were often recorded side by side. If it was Dave singing, they went on his albums, if it was Nick they went on his. Between them they had a number of hits, the likes of Girls Talk, Queen of Hearts, Crawling from The Wreckage plus his biggest hit Cruel To Be Kind and Cracking Up.  

Nick’s first chart hit though was the splendid I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass, which got to Number 7 in March 1978 and is from his debut album Jesus of Cool (although anyone reading in the USA will not know it by that title; the US record label CBS thought it was too racy a title and wouldn’t sell in Peoria or other such god-fearing places, so it was renamed Pure Pop for Now People).

Finally in 1980 Edmunds got free of his Swansong contract and they were finally able to release Seconds of Pleasure as Rockpile – at which point they split up. Nick was now solo and released a series of very fine albums throughout the 1980s with wonderful titles like Nick the Knife, The Abominable Showman, Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, The Rose of England, Pinker and Prouder Than Previous.

In 1979 he married Carlene Carter, the daughter of Johnny Cash’s wife June Carter Cash, which means he sort of became Johnny Cash’s son-in-law. Johnny, June and the Cash entourage were frequent visitors to Nick and Carlene’s house in Shepherd’s Bush and Cash covered a number of Lowe songs, including The Beast In Me. 

The late 1980s were perhaps not his best time, his marriage ended so older and wiser he moved further out into West London. Into the 90s, he surprised a few people when he formed a supergroup called Little Village with Ry Cooder, John Hiatt and Jim Keltner. They made only one rather decent album and when they played three nights at the Hammy Odeon in February 1992, the marquee out front said Tonight live from Nashville, Los Angeles and Brentford … Little Village.

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The Nineties were the time he moved from being a pop star to a mature songwriter, dropping great albums of sensitive, witty and often melancholy songs every few years, recorded live with a steady company of great, understated musicians. What helped was the windfall when old Brinsley tune What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love & Understanding? was covered by American singer Curtis Stigers and found its way onto a movie soundtrack album. Luckily, that movie was The Bodyguard, with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, and at last count the soundtrack has sold over 45 million copies worldwide. Anyway, the thoroughly decent royalty cheque enabled him to record at his own pace and develop the music he could hear in his head. The results were fine albums like The Impossible Bird, Dig My Mood, The Old Magic, At My Age and my personal favourite The Convincer.

These days he still lives in Brentford, with second wife Peta Waddington and their young lad Roy and is as active as ever. Tours of the USA, a couple of new EPs, a new biography from author Will Birch and a UK tour in June, including the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, for which me and Mrs Routemaster already have tickets. I look forward to going back there as it was where Nick’s mum asked me to move seats in 1994 because my head was too big and she couldn’t see. How could I turn her down?

Will Birch’s biography, Cruel to be Kind: The Life & Music of Nick Lowe, is out in August, published by Constable and is already listed on Amazon and other online bookshops.

 

 

Bob Marley and the plaque at Number 42

English Heritage is honouring Bob Marley with a blue plaque on the house he lived in in 1977 when he fled Jamaica, hid out in London and made the music that transformed him from a fringe player to a global superstar. I’m talking about hints like Jamming, Exodus, Is This Love?, Waiting in Vain, One Love and Waiting In Vain. You know, over half of Bob Marley’s Greatest Hits.

Why did he flee his beloved homeland? Well, they tried to kill him, that’s why. On Friday 3 December 1976, two cars roared into the driveway of Bob Marley’s house at 56 Hope Road, Kingston. After sealing the exit with one car, four of the gunmen began firing into the windows of the house. Another man, described by one observer as looking like “a 16-year-old kid, scared to death,” burst in the side and began firing wildly and indiscriminately. He entered the kitchen and took aim at Marley.

Wailers’ manager Don Taylor happened to be directly in front of Marley and somehow pushed Bob to the ground and took five of the seven shots, four in his upper thighs. Others in the room, including Rita Marley, Bob’s wife, were hit but miraculously everyone survived. One bullet grazed Marley’s chest directly below the heart and passed through his arm. Doctors advised him that removing the bullet would risk losing control in his fingers so he opted to leave it (and it was therefore buried with him)

The attempt on his life could have been politically motivated. Jamaica was in the middle of a particularly nasty General Election. Marley had remained neutral but one side thought he was endorsing the other. He had agreed to appear at a Smile Jamaica concert in Kingston, which some thought was a little more than a rally for the Michael Manley, leader of the left wing People’s National Party. Or it could have just been a gang thing.

Despite his injuries, Marley performed as scheduled, two days after the attempt. He had agreed to perform one song for the 80,000 people in attendance. He was unable to play guitar because of his wounds, although he and the Wailers performed for an hour and a half. Even Rita Marley, her head bandaged, sang backup. At the end of the set, Marley unbuttoned his shirt to show his chest wound to the crowd. Next he rolled up his sleeve to show where the bullet had passed through his arm.

Still, despite the reception, he and his entourage left Jamaica the next day. It would;d be over a year till he returned. After a week in the Bahamas, he and his entourage arrived in London on 3 January 1977 and moved into 42 Oakley Street SW3, just off the Kings Road in Chelsea. 42 Oakley Street is a 4-storey house, with a big kitchen in the basement where everyone would hang out and a large room up a white wrought iron spiral staircase which was Bob’s den.

The house was usually packed with people. He lived there with bandmates, his chef, assistants and friends, all men and the  it became known Marley was in town, Oakley Street became something of a magnet for fellow dreads, Rastafarians and assorted hangers on, who we might euphemistically call ‘herbsmen’. Mrs Marley however, Rita, was a mile away with the children in another flat in Collingham Gardens, Earls Court. Not that Bob was without female company. His girlfriend – Rita seems to have been aware – was Cindy Breakspeare, who also happened to have been crowned Miss World the previous November and happened to be based in London during her reign. She gave birth to his son Damian in July 1978. If they needed space or privacy, they went to Claridges Hotel.

Oakley Street was handy for both locations of record company’s Island’s studios in Basing Street Notting Hill and St Peter’s Square Chiswick. He recorded two albums simultaneously, Exodus and Kaya, which were released in September 1977 and March 1978 respectively.  Exodus has the more political and mystical songs like the title track, Jamming and One Love; Kaya got the happier tunes like Is This Love? and Sun Is Shining.

Oakley Street was also handy for Battersea Park, only a short walk over Albert Bridge. He and his gang walked over the bridge every day – even on brutally cold Winter mornings – for daily football matches, either amongst themselves, against anyone else in the park who wanted a game or occasionally against the record company or journalists.  Anyone who played attests that they were good, very good. They may have smoked heroic quantities of ganja, but once they put their football boots on, they could run rings round anyone.

Bob Marley finally returned to Jamaica after 16 months in April 1978, just in time for another peace concert,  the One Love Peace Concert, named after his song on the Exodus album. The concert was Marley’s first performance in Jamaica since the Smile Jamaica concert two days after he was shot. The One Love Peace Concert took place in Kingston on 22 April and Marley came home to play it. It’s the concert where you see photographs of Marley raising the hands of both Prime Minister Michael Manley and Opposition leader Edward Seaga, after he had invited them both onto the stage.

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Chain Chain Chain!

I’ve been doing my Chain of Trivia: from the King to Queen show a lot this last year and such has been the feedback that I’ve decided to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. It should be a hoot.

picture1I’ll be at theSpace@Surgeons Hall on Nicolson Street every day from 2 August till 24 August, with only Sunday 11 August off. It lasts an hour and is packed with more awesome rock and roll trivia than you’ve ever heard before. It’s a mad journey from the King – Elvis Presley of course – to Freddie Mercury and Queen in 12 trivia steps, where each links to the last by a stunning piece of rock and roll information you’ve probably not heard before. Expect music, photos and a little video

Tickets go on sale on 1 March and are very reasonably priced at £10 or £8 concessions.

Otis Redding: 50 years gone

It is 50 years this month since Otis Redding died aged only 26 in a plane crash in Madison WI, killing him and four members of his backing group, the Bar-Kays. He was not yet a huge superstar and in fact became such only after he died, with a posthumous worldwide number in (Sitting On) the Dock of the Bay recorded just three days before he died.

In the UK he had been phenomenally popular, especially among young white mods and had had pop hits like My Girl. Back home in the US, he was huge R&B star, topping the R&B charts bit not crossing over to the whiter pop charts. After years as a full-throated blues shouter, he was aiming for a calmer style, in that gap in the market created by the death of Sam Cooke, that other slightly gravelly voiced gospel-turned-poppier singing star, who but had been shot dead in December 1964. Motown too had dominated the charts in the mid-Sixties, cleverly matching R&B with pop rhythms and arrangements on the Temptations and the Four Tops with stunning success. Otis’ label Stax wanted a piece of that and had a plan in place, with Otis at the centre. It’s just that it was interrupted by a plane crash on 10 December 1967.

Related imageOtis Redding was born on 9 September 1941 in Dawson GA, a very small town 150 miles south of Atlanta GA, and moved aged three to Macon GA, about 80 miles nearer Atlanta. His father was often ill so times were hard and Otis had to leave school at 14 to work to help the family. He sang gospel songs on the local radio station for a few dollars and entered – and won – talent contests to make a little money

He was inspired by another Macon GA singer, Little Richard, and Otis’ first proper job as a singer was replacing Richard as singer in the Upsetters, Richard’s band who suddenly found themselves out of work when Richard retired to be a preacher in 1957. His first records are little more than Little;e Richard impressions and no one bought them. He then moved on to Johnny Jenkins & the Pinetoppers, whose single Love Twist, was a regional hit. In 1962 Atlantic put up the money for for a follow up as long as it was recorded at Stax in Memphis 500 miles away. Otis was the driver because Johnny Jenkins couldn’t drive. Otis was 21.

The session was a bust from Jenkins’ point of view but Atlantic Records knew Otis’ voice was a bit special and had agreed that if there was any time left in the 3-hour session, they should use it with Otis. Otis recorded a couple of songs including a song of his own he had written, These Arms of Mine backed by Stax’s house band, Booker T and the MGs. It was the only useable thing from the whole session and was released by Volt, a Stax subsidiary. By March 1963 it was a minor national hit so Redding got a record deal and began a career where each single did a little better than the one before. After two years, his career hit real stride with Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, his third album, where he was backed by Isaac Hayes and Booker T and the MGs. The whole record was recorded  in one 24-hour session between 10 am July 9 (a Saturday) and 2 pm July 10, with a break 8 pm Saturday to 2 am on Sunday to allow the house band to play local gigs.

Otis wrote many of his own songs, or co-wrote them with Steve Cropper, the in-house producer at Stax and the MGs guitarist. Otis worked out the arrangements and hummed the horn parts to the musicians, he banged out the tempo and the rhythm on the desk to the drummer and then just sang. Everything was recorded live, especially early on. Nothing was planned, it was worked out around the piano and played. Otis Blue and the albums that followed did so well in the UK that the producers of top pop show Ready Steady Go! invited him and his 10-piece Otis Redding Orchestra over for a special show in September 1966. He performed, Satisfaction, My Girl, Respect, Pain in My Heart, I Can’t Turn You Loose, Shake and Land of a Thousand Dances. Special guests Eric Burdon who had just left the Animals and Chris Farlowe, both excellent R&B shouters, joined Redding on the last two songs. Burdon performed Hold On I’m Coming and Farlowe performed This Is A Man’s World.

Whilst he was here, he played a number of ballroom gigs around the country which were so successful that Stax decide to launch the Stax record label here with a full-on  package tour of artists, the Stax Volt revue, which included Otis, Sam and Dave, Booker T & The MG’s, Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley and house band the Mar Keys. They played two-shows-a-night in 29 cities in 31 days, all immortalised on The Stax-Volt Revue Live In Europe recorded live at the opening gig at the Astoria Finsbury Park on Friday March 17 1967. There were some amazing performers on the bill, especially Sam & Dave but the star of the show was Otis. When he came out on stage, there was a moment of hush as all the mods and GIs realised that it was actually Otis Redding.

The tour as a triumph, but back home he was still not a huge star. He had though made some money. He was a successful businessman, earning about $35,000 per week from concerts and owned his own publishing and had been careful with what he had signed. He earned more than a million dollars in 1967 alone and bought himself a 300-acre ranch near Macon GA called the Big O. He loved it there and started playing shows only at the weekend so he could spend the week at home. To get anywhere in the country of shows, he bought himself a new twin-engined Beechcraft aeroplane

The plan to get him cross-over success continued when he played the Monterey Pop Festival over the weekend of 16-18 June 1967. This was NOT his natural crowd, it was what West Coast hippie audience, the love crowd as he called them from the stage. But it was a huge shop window, huge strings were pulled to get him on the bill and in the end he played for free, no fee, just flights and hotel for him and the band.

He closed the evening session on the Saturday, following of all people the Jefferson Airplane. He only played five songs, as they had gone over their curfew and his set was cut short by 2 or 3 songs. The audience of white hippies, largely stoned, came with him such was his energy. He went down a storm pong course but it was his last major show.

His full-throated singing style and gave it all two or three shows a nigh schedule had strained his voice, so he took 6 weeks off to have throat surgery. Finally back in the studio in November 1967, he recorded dozens of new songs he’d written during his recuperation, one when he lived on a houseboat in Sausalito in San Francisco Bay. (Sitting On) the Dock of the Bay was a fundamental change in style and he completed it on 7 December 1967, just before he left on a trip to play dates around the Great Lakes, with hot young Stax band the Bar-Kays as his backing group. They had had a big hit that summer with Soul Finger and when I say ‘young’ I mean young: the oldest had just turned 19 years old and most were still in High School during the week and were able to leave for the weekend to travel with Otis as long as they were back Monday morning for school.

First stop was actually in Nashville for 2 shows, then they flew on to Cleveland 500 miles away in Otis’ plane to do a local TV show called Upbeat, followed by two shows that night at Leo’s Casino. The next day they flew on another 500 miles to Madison WI for two shows that night, 10 December 1967. At 3.30 in the afternoon, four miles from Madison’s airport and a few hundred yards from the shore, Otis’ plane crashed it crashed into Lake Monona in fog and heavy rain. Otis, his pilot, his 17-year-old valet Matthew Kelly and four of the Bar Kays aged 17 and 18 all died, either from the impact of the crash, hypothermia, or drowning. The only survivor was Bar Kays 19-year-old trumpeter Ben Cauley who managed to use a seat cushion as flotation device as he couldn’t swim. Bass player James Alexander also survived because there were eight seats on the plane and nine in the touring party so they took it in turns to fly commercial. It was his turn that day.

Despite their shock and sadness at the loss of a member of their family, Stax rushed to exploit the situation . They added seagull and water lapping noises to the (Sitting On) the Dock of the Bay (and replaced his whistling too, apparently) and rushed it our into the market. It went to Number One in the USA and in many other countries around the world. It won two Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

The Bar Kays regrouped, replaced lost members and became the new house band at Stax and were on all those wonderful Isaac Hayes records like Hot Buttered Soul and Shaft. as the Isaac Hayes Movement. Ben Cauley died in 2015 and never really got over the experience. Stax didn’t really recover though, plagued by business problems and a disastrous deal with Atlantic, but that’s another long story.

Don’t tell me all my love’s in vain: Eric Clapton and Layla

The album Layla and Assorted Other Love Songs was released 47 years ago, on 9 November 1970. It gave us a stone classic in the title tune and some say it’s Eric Clapton’s best album. But it’s not even by him, it’s by Derek & the Dominos, a group of unbelievable musicians formed by Clapton and keyboard player/singer Bobby Whitlock, who made the one album then split after barely six months, brought down by money, drugs and EC’s unrequited obsession for the wife of his best friend –  who just to complicate things happened to be a Beatle. Every song on Layla…. Even the covers of old blues numbers they included seem to have been inspired by Patti, George Harrison’s wife.

But making such a milestone record was not without its victims. Of the five key players, only three are still with us, one of them not really. Eric Clapton’s story is well-known and despite heroin addiction and alcoholism is as successful today at 72 as he ever was. Bobby Whitlock the keyboard player and co-writer of the most of the songs is also still very much with us and very active musically, a new album on the way. But bass player Carl Radle was not so lucky and died of a drugs-related kidney problem in 1980 aged only 37. Guest guitarist Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash in October 1971, barely a year after the release of Layla. Perhaps most tragic of all, powerhouse drummer Jim Gordon the drummer has been in a secure prison hospital in California since 1983 when he was convicted of killing his mother.

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But back to Patti. Eric Clapton and George Harrison were best friends. They had met when Clapton’s band of the time, the Yardbirds, were a support act in the ‘Another Beatles Christmas Show’ a bizarre festive songs and comedy sketches review at the Hammersmith Odeon in London at Christmas 1964. By this time, George’s girlfriend was Patti Boyd, a 20-year old model he’d met on the Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night where she had played a schoolgirl. They were married in January 1966 and lived in Esher. A little later Clapton bought the beautiful house he still lives in in Surrey, barely 20 miles from the Harrisons. As Clapton’s preferred choice of wheels was a Ferrari 365 GTC and Harrison’s was a red psychedelically-painted souped-up Radford Mini Cooper, they spent all their time together. In 1968 Harrison asked Clapton to play lead guitar on the Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps on The White Album; Clapton returned the favour by playing on Cream’s final album Goodbye credited as L’ange misterioso.

Unfortunately, Eric had developed quite an obsession his best friend’s wife. It’s not like Clapton didn’t have a steady girlfriend. He did, he was engaged to Alice Ormsby-Gore, the youngest daughter of Lord Harlech, a British diplomat, who had been US Ambassador to the USA for the first half of the 1960s. But he was a bit bored. He had conquered the world with Cream, had had a disastrous but lucrative few months with Blind Faith, a supergroup consisting of Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. But he was so tired of the pressure of being a blues guitar god that followed someone scrawling the graffiti Clapton Is God on the wall outside Highbury & Islington tube station.

His musical tastes had changed too, away from the blues. He’d been listening to newer folkier, more soulful music like the Band and crucially Delaney & Bonnie, who were blue-eyed interpreters of a folk-blues and R&B mix. They were the first white group to sign a contract with Stax Records. Their albums didn’t sell but created a buzz in music industry circles. George Harrison gave Clapton a copy of their second album Accept No Substitute. Clapton was so impressed he invited them to open for Blind Faith on their US Tour in late 1969 and watched them every night from the side of the stage. They seemed to having such fun whereas working with Blind Faith was like having his teeth pulled so he ended up hanging out with them more than the members of Blind Faith.

No surprise then that when Blind Faith split up at the end of the tour, Clapton offered his services as their guitar player on Delaney & Bonnie’s European tour. The other backing musicians included Dave Mason, who had just left Traffic, singer Rita Coolidge. keyboard player/ Bobby Whitlock, plus bassist Carl Radle and top LA session drummer Jim Gordon.   And when George Harrison went to see the band at the Royal Albert Hall, Clapton persuaded him to join the tour as an extra guitarist, his his first live appearance anywhere since the Beatles last show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in August 1966. The next year, 1970, the same guys backed Clapton on his first solo album then more or less became the backing band on George Harrison’s triple album, All Things Must Pass. Which kind of meant being with George and especially Patti Harrison most of the time. It’s not that he didn’t try to woo Patti away from George, she just said no.

The Harrison recordings went so well that the four of them decided to form a band, and not one that was just a backing group for Clapton, a proper band. And this was born Del & the Dynamics, as they would have been called have compare Tony Ashton not got all confused when he introduced them on stage at their live debut at the Lyceum in June 1970. Ashton always called Clapton Del for some reason, but by the time a well-refreshed Ashton got to the stage he’d forgotten or just got confused because he announced them as Derek & the Dominos.

Image result for derek and the dominos live

After a few more low-key gigs – where Clapton insisted that his name NOT be on the posters – they decided to record their debut album at Criteria Studios in Miami FL with legendary producer Tom Dowd. As they got to Miami, Dowd was just finishing the Allman Brothers’ second album Idlewild South and quickly introduced lead guitarist Duane Allman to Clapton. A huge fan, Clapton invited him to join their sessions. After completing a few gigs with the Allmans, he flew back to Miami to join in.

Such was the musical simpatico between the Dominos and Duane that the whole album – and it’s a double – was done in little more than two weeks, the basic tracks all recorded live, with only a few overdubs later. Almost all the singing is live, mostly first take. They didn’t really have enough songs of their own, so included a few blues covers like Big Bill Broonzy’s Key To The Highway and Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, both as it happens the first two songs Clapton ever learned to play on the guitar when he was a kid. They recorded Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing as a tribute to him but he never got to hear it. He died in London ten days later. The album’s track listing is pretty much in the order it was recorded so Duane is not on the first three songs.

The title song was written by Eric Clapton after a friend had given him a copy of The Story of Layla and Manjun, a book of Persian love poems by Ganjami Nizami. It tells the story of Qayas who falls in love with Layla a princess but is forbidden to marry her by her father and goes mad. His friends, unaware of  his obsession with Patti,  all thought that girlfriend Alice was Layla, especially with her father being aristocrat and Eric being working class boy from Surrey.

The song was recorded largely live on 9 September 1970 with only a few overdubs a couple of weeks later. They had spent a few days on and off approaching the tune in four or five different ways, most of them a bit slower as Clapton wrote it as a slow blues, but it was Duane Allman who speeded up the intro to create the riff to what we know now. The riff itself though, one of the classic riffs of all time in the opinion of most critics, was in fact nicked from an Albert King song, on his 1967 Born Under A Bad Sign album. The riff is a speeded-up version of vocal melody to King’s song As The Years Go Passing By on that album. And there are six layers of guitars in there, with most of the guitar solos from Clapton and the slide work handled by Allman. One layer is both Allman and Clapton playing exactly the same thing through the same single input of a tiny Fender Champ 5-watt amplifier.

A week later Eric Clapton heard drummer Jim Gordon playing a piano piece he had composed separately – actually most people say he nicked it from his girlfriend of the time, singer Rita Coolidge. Clapton liked and convinced Gordon to allow it to be used as part of the song. In a slightly different key, it was seamlessly tacked on to the existing section by speeding it up slightly so the keys matched.

As amazing as the music was, the sessions themselves were a bit of a debauch. Clapton had been dabbling with heroin for a few months, but the heartache over Patti remaining with George Harrison sent him over the edge. One day when When he tried to persuade Patti to leave George, he said that if she didn’t leave him, he’d start taking heroin. She didn’t, so he did. Since his days in Cream he’d had a healthy regard for its dangers having been lectured to by Ginger Baker, himself something of heroin expert, who threatened to cut his manhood off if he ever found out he was using heroin. And I think you take threats from Ginger Baker quite seriously.

But gradually Clapton went from using it once or twice a week, to four or five times a week to every day. And they had all the money they needed and drugs were widely available in Miami. Local dealers certainly weren’t shy and besides, they could get them from the gift shop in their hotel. You just left an order with the girl behind the counter and you got them the next day.

Recording over, they all agreed that Layla was the most powerful song on the album and they decided the album should be named after it. They added And Assorted Other Love Songs at Bobby Whitlock’s suggestion as he was eating a box of Cadbury’s Assorted Chocolates at the time and they liked the sound of it. The album was released in November 1970 and got to number 16 in the Album Charts, but did not even dent the charts in the UK.  There was no single from it and Clapton refused to do any publicity for it, knowing that it was his best work but wanting the album to succeed on its merit without the guitar god hype. The cover is a painting on the wall which Clapton saw at a friend’s house and thought looked like Patti but you will search in vain on na original pressing for the words Derek & the Dominos or Eric Clapton.

After a few more UK dates, they toured the USA for about a month, but by the first week of December it was all over, after only 6 months. Tired, overworked and not getting along and addicted to drugs, they tried to make a second album but the results were mediocre and when Clapton and Jim Gordon had a huge row, Clapton walked and that was it, in Clapton’s case for two years in which time he did nothing but sit at home play some guitar, make model aeroplanes and take heroin. He didn’t see his family or friends and when anyone came to visit, he would hide upstairs till they went. His manager Robert Stigwood was keen to keep his profile up so released The History of Eric Clapton compilation in 1972, with Layla as the single. It made Number 7 in the UK and Number 10 in the US.

He didn’t play live again till January 1973, when Pete Townshend of the Who, the only person he had kept in touch with was Pete Townshend mounted a comeback concert at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park with a superstar backing band, including Pete Townshend, Ronnie Wood, Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Ric Grech from Traffic. Clapton was so stoned that he doesn’t remember the shows at all, but the press reviews were enthusiastic mainly because people were just glad to have him back. It was a turning point in Eric’s life and career, although after the concert he went back into hiding. It was several months before he got clean and recorded his comeback 461 Ocean Boulevard which came out in April 1974.

Patti and George Harrison separated in 1974 and they divorced in 1977. Clapton and Patti got together in 1974 about her and they were married in 1979 with Harrison attending the wedding along with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. They split up in September 1984, and divorced in 1988. He wrote Layla and Wonderful Tonight for her.

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Derek & the Dominos in the garden at Eric Clapton’s house, 1970: l to r Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock, Eric Clapton

The others musicians have not necessarily been so successful. Bobby Whitlock, the keyboard player and co-writer of many of the Layla songs, has survived intact and has been clean and sober for nearly 20 years. He and Clapton have remained good friends and he remains very active in music, as a duo with his wife CoCo, the ex-wife of Delaney. His autobiography Bobby Whitlock: a rock ‘n’ roll autobiography is well worth a read.

Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident on 29 October 1971 in Macon GA, the Allman Brothers home town. He was apparently riding at some speed when a truck stopped suddenly in front of him, forcing him to swerve sharply. He hit the back of the truck and was thrown from the bike, which then landed on top of him. He died several hours later from massive internal injuries. Carl Radle, the bass player, remained as Eric Clapton’s bass player and right-hand man for the rest of the 1970s but died in May 1980 from a kidney infection, exacerbated by the effects of alcohol and narcotics; he was 37.

Jim Gordon’s though is possibly the most tragic story. The co-writer of Layla, one of those songs like Stairway to Heaven which is always on the radio somewhere in the world, he continues to collect significant royalties. Unfortunately he isn’t really in a position to do much with them. He has been in prison since June 1983 when he was arrested for killing his mother. At his trial a year later, he was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 16 years to life, although the defence had argued insanity. A change to California law made it almost impossible to prove that anyone is legally insane, despite five defence psychiatrists testifying that Gordon was an acute paranoid schizophrenic. He remains in prison 34 years later.

Jim Gordon had been, quite simply, one of the greatest drummers of his time. In the Sixties and Seventies he was a first call studio session drummer on everything from the Monkees to the Beach Boys. He’s on Wichita Lineman, Midnight At The Oasis and even joined Traffic for a while. He is the drummer on one of the most sampled records on of all time, the Incredible Bongo Band’s version of Apache. Eric Clapton’s in his book describes him as the greatest rock and roll drummer ever, bar none. And let’s just mentally list the incredible drummers Eric Clapton has played with.

However he had been hearing voices in his head from an early age, which were only exacerbated by the drugs and were becoming difficult to ignore or control. He wasn’t a particularly sociable guy, someone said if you looked into his eyes, they were empty, he had no soul.

He was a drug addict and then found that alcohol quietened the voices, and in a short time he was drinking more than ever. The madness though was winning, and soon everyone would know it. Gordon was becoming a liability. Record producers would not hire him anymore. With few recording dates being offered, Gordon wound up doing lower-paying work, like television, movies and commercials.

The worst of the voices was his mother’s and she wanted to control his life. He did get help, checking into a psychiatric hospital at least fourteen times over the next six years but nothing stuck and he would often check himself out. By 1980 he was, for all practical purposes, no longer a professional musician. He had always been paid well and had substantial savings, property investments and royalty payments coming in so he could afford to do anything or nothing.

He decided he would either kill himself or he would kill his mother. He hadn’t seen her for two years, although they had spoken on the phone where he had threatened her, although he had never actually harmed her. He suddenly appeared at her LA apartment in June 1983 and when she opened her door the voices in his head that hadtold him to take a hammer and an 8-inch butcher’s knife told him to use them to kill his 72-year-old mother. He hit her three times and stabbed her three times.

Her neighbours heard the screams and called the police. When they went to Gordon’s apartment early the next morning, it was to notify him of his mother’s death. The police found Gordon, moaning and sobbing, face down on his living-room floor. Although he had been sober when he killed his mother, afterward he had been to a bar and got massively drunk, then went home and drank a bottle of vodka. Amazingly he was coherent with the police to whom he confessed.

In July 1984, he was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison. He was first eligible for parole in 1992, but it has been denied several times. According to the authorities he is still “seriously psychologically incapacitated” and “a danger when he is not taking his medication”. He declined to attend his last parole hearing and won’t be eligible again until at least 2018. He is serving his sentence at a medical and psychiatric prison in Vacaville, California.