14.9.14

JOE WALSH, April 1975




On my way back from interviewing the Eagles in LA, I stopped off at Des Moines, Iowa, to see Joe Walsh who later that year would become an Eagle himself, though he didn't know it at the time. Joe was an affable guy and it's to be hoped that some of his good nature rubbed off on his future bandmates. 
          Omnibus is about to publish a biography of Stevie Nicks, Visions, Dreams & Rumours by Zoe Howe, which I edited during May and June. Walsh features heavily in the book, of course, as he and Nicks were an item until he ran away, scared by domesticity. Joe was a big pal of John Entwistle too, and one of Joe’s exes, Lisa Pritchard Johnson, lived with John at Stowe for the last eight years of his life. I remember her well, but that’s another story.

DES MOINES: It has to be a coincidence. Affixed to a light switch close to the door of Joe Walsh’s dressing room at the Veterans Auditorium in this sleepy mid-west town is a sticker that reads: “James Gang... Bang.” There are no other stickers, posters or rock paraphernalia in the room.
         “Mmmm, that’s a weird one,” agrees Joe, who lopes around the room pulling on a coke and ice, and treating a spinning blackboard with more than a little contempt. “Fancy THAT sticker being on this wall,” he murmurs darkly before ambling away into another, smaller room to attend to the tuning of two Gibson Les Pauls.
         Slightly over one hour later Joe is back in the dressing room, disappointed that the show didn’t gell as he had hoped. “Awww...shit,” he repeats and blames his misfortunes on the monitor system. “The crowd was up, real up to it, but we couldn’t hear a thing. I just wanna get outa here.”
         The new Joe Walsh band is a mellower group than Barnstorm, a group obviously more dedicated to intricacies of electric sound, melodies and subleties. There are two keyboard players, not counting Joe himself, who sits at a grand piano for at least one number on stage.
         Ricky Fataar, the drummer, is a solid player. His spell with The Beach Boys taught him discipline, if not adventure. Bryan Garofalo is an utterly proficient bassist of the studio variety, who effortlessly pumps out line after line without thought or hesitation. The two keyboard players, David Mason and Paul Harris, are somewhat anonymous, hiding behind banks of organ and keyboard cabinets at stage right.
         It’s Walsh who’s the star, a slowhand cowboy of the fretboard, whose style can be reckoned to be a cross between Townshend and Clapton. There’s none of Pete’s violence, but plenty of chunky chord work, and his solo lines seem to flow in Clapton’s oozing fashion. He also plays with disarming ease: he doesn’t belong to the school of players who believe in screwing up their faces to attract attention.
         The new band – the first to go out as simply Joe Walsh – was born around six months ago. Garofalo has replaced Passarelli in the latter stages of Barnstorm – Walsh’s old band – so he was a natural choice, while Fataar had often discussed with Walsh the possibility of a link-up at some time in the future. David Mason was a friend of the Eagles (who share the same management company as Joe) and he readily agreed to accept the job.
         “It was a strain getting a whole new group together, as Brian was the only one remotely familiar with playing my material live. It seemed like the millionth time I’d taught ‘Funk 49’ to somebody, so trying to put new energy into it and keep it fresh was a struggle. With new players seeing it differently it often does put new energy into a song so I didn’t mind the struggle that much.”
         Last to join was Paul Harris, an old friend of Joe’s from James Gang days and a former session colleague. “The four-piece worked well except that I felt I needed a little more melodic content. Four hands on the keyboard seemed to really fill it out nicely.”
         The So What album was mainly Joe’s work, though two tracks were put down by the old Barnstorm, and Garofalo took care of the bass work. During the recordings, the new band had yet to be recruited.
         “It was the first time I’ve ever been alone in the studio and although it was good, I probably won’t want to do it again. I guess I wanted to get the quote – solo – unquote, album out of my system. It’s about one third a group and two-thirds solo.
         “In the studio I’ll give everybody a chance to create and add whatever is in their heads. I try and be be fair to everybody otherwise the band gets weak. If you don’t give a band more involvement then they don’t add more involvement.
“Unless other musicians can relate and add to what’s going down then it can’t be a group. I don’t think I’ve ever hit the chemistry yet. Barnstorm was real close though.”
The new group, says Joe, has the potential to be his best yet though this stage hasn’t been reached.
         They are playing material from all the stages of Joe’s career right back from the James Gang.
         “It’s a kind of cross-section of me up to date. The tunes change a bit and that’s interesting as we get together different players to play the same songs.
         “I don’t think the audience would let me phase out the older material, though I would love to not play ‘Funk 49’ anymore. I feel they’ve paid to come and hear the record and I owe it to them to play that.
         “One of the strengths of the concert is that we do have a catalogue of songs that people recognise and want to hear. Going out and playing all new songs is risky. Eventually I may phase out some of the old stuff but so far everybody is hollering for it and I don’t want to let them down.”
Joe acknowledges with some bemusement that he is becoming a guitar hero, but lays the blame on his days in the James Gang, which was a guitar-fronted trio.
         “I just had to be inventive when there was just one guitar. When you stop playing lead there was no more lead, and when you stop playing rhythm there was no more rhythm.
         “You learn a technique to compensate for that and that stage was when I really sat down and studied rock technique on the guitar. Now it’s nice to apply all that with a much fuller group.”
Joe’s most recent activity has been a move into production, and a successful one at that. He produced Dan Fogelberg’s Souvenirs album which reached the US Top Twenty.
         “I’ve always wanted to produce but I never thought I could,” says Joe. “I didn’t think I was ready and I was having enough trouble getting my own things on tape without worrying about anybody else’s. But at some point I figured it was time to try, and I was interested in Dan because I really related to his music.
         “It’s hard to say what a producer does because so many producers do different things. I just tried to be an extension of Fogelberg in whatever way he needed it. I think I proved to myself and some others that I can produce, but it was just good to try it once and I don’t want to go and make a career out of producing. Not yet, anyway. I think I’ve got some more of my own career left in me.

“Another couple of years yet, I think.”

13.9.14

THE EAGLES IN 1975


In April of 1975 I was flown to LA courtesy of Irving Azoff, the manager of the Eagles, Steely Dan, Minnie Riperton and REO Speedwagon to do interviews with all four acts. In the event Steely Dan pulled out, but I can distinctly remember being driven up one of those canyons that separate Hollywood from Sherman Oaks to a sprawling house where the Eagles, or at least some of them, lived. The big living room was littered with acoustic guitars, Martins and Gibsons, and a succession of spectacularly beautiful girls in very tight jeans and halter tops wandered in and out distributing cups of coffee and nibbles. I never did figure out if they were the girlfriends of the group or had been sent there by a catering company.
        This was the first of two encounters I had with the Eagles, neither of them particularly friendly. They were one of those groups that distrusted the press, probably the result of early critical barbs that suggested they’d taken a dollop of The Byrds, a dollop of The Flying Burrito Brothers and a dollop of CSN&Y, mixed it all up with plenty of sugar and baked a cake with packaging designed by Wells Fargo. There’s an element of a truth in that: the Eagles made country rock commercial, massively so, but they didn’t invent it, just scooped up the rewards.
        

HOLLYWOOD: On a clear day Glenn Frey can see from his living room right out to sea, right across the Pacific to Catalina, the island off the coast of Southern California. On a not so clear day, he can see layers of orange smog, the product of the internal combustion engine, which is God in this part of America.
         Today is clear and the view is quite breathtaking. Certainly conducive to writing those typical Los Angeles soft rock melodies with which the Eagles have become synonymous.
         It doesn’t take a fortune teller to predict that 1975 is going to be the big year for the Eagles. They’ve been digging in the heels of their cowboy boots for three years now, steadily building a reputation in the wake of The Byrds, waiting for the breakthrough that their third album, On The Border, has seemingly now brought about. Although it’s easing down the charts right now, it’s established the band as a force to be reckoned with.
         On The Border was the best-sounding record we ever made, but that’s also experience,” says Frey. “We’re starting to learn how to become recording artists, which is a little different from learning how to be a member of a band or how to become a singer/songwriter.
         “There’re definitely things we’ve learned slowly over a couple of years of making records. I know when we made Desperados we were very conscious of having a group identity running through the songs and that was something we learned out of doing the first album.
         “After doing that one when we went in to do On The Border we tried to bring in the best elements from both the albums. That probably had something to do with it, but I think it was a better album anyway. I think we just progressed and played with a little more confidence. But mainly I think it’s that we stayed together.”
Another factor which Frey credits as being important to the group’s recent success is the introduction of Don Felder on slide guitar. Felder, says Frey, put extra punch into the Eagles’ live show with the added result that they picked up more followers. “I believe in selling records on the road, and I believe that if you work hard and have a good album out, it will sell.
         “Since we got Felder in the band we’ve had a much better second half, the rock and roll half, in our shows. The other part, the vocal harmony softer part, was always real good, but Felder nails down the harder stuff.
         “He’s like Duane Allman: he drives the band on certain songs. Some slide players, myself included, just slide along with the song but when Felder plays slide he drives the band and the whole thing revolves around him. So the year that we promoted On The Border we had a much better show together.”
         Desperados was a concept album in as much as many of the tunes dealt with the old West. It seemed curious, I remarked, that a band would travel to England from America to make that kind of record.
         “Well,” mused Glenn. “I guess you’re right, but Clint Eastwood made all those cowboy movies of his in Italy. Some of the best Western movies have been made in Europe. You get a whole new perspective working in England.
         “All of a sudden you’re a foreigner, and it put us and LA and everything into perspective. Now I like staying here although we tried going to Miami for part of this new album. We got some stuff accomplished there but not nearly as much as we did recording here.”
         Another factor which possibly aided the success of the last album was their decision to tour with some of the material before it was put down on tape. Thus not only were audiences already familiar with the tracks, but the band had an opportunity to work on them before they reached the studio.
         “I think we did about five songs on a college tour,” said Glenn. “We were out there testing them, mixing them in with the better known songs. I think it’s good to do it that way sometimes because it forces you to make a presentation immediately.
         “It forces you to give a rendering immediately so vocal parts get simplified, and backing parts and guitar parts get honed down to what you can do best to present the song. By the time we get to the studio there’s a whole basic sketch already done.
         “With this next album we haven’t done that, but again this album so far is nothing but our own songs. On the others we usually included a song by another writer or called in a friend like Jackson (Browne) or John David (Souther) to help on a track. We may do that in the next two weeks, though.
         “This is maybe a reason why it’s taking longer to make than other albums, but another reason is that Don Henley and I are trying to change the traditional symbolic rock and roll lyrics that most people use on albums.
         “The songs have been finished for a while but we’ve sat around thinking whether we ought to change them. All we have to do now is to go in and sing the parts, and that’s when it’ll begin to sound like an Eagles record. Whenever I hear backing tracks, I can’t think of it being the Eagles at all, a long way from ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’.”
         Last summer the Eagles backed Neil Young at an Indian benefit concert near San Francisco, an experience which may be repeated this year, and one which Frey recollects with more than a little pride.
         “The guy that put it together was our art director, and he knows the native California Indians and he approached Neil Young who said he’d do it. He didn’t commit himself until three or four days before the concert, though, because he didn’t want it to be advertised.
         “We had a great jam on ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ with me and Felder and Neil trading solos for about 12 minutes. We hope to make it an annual event as we’re doing another one this May. I’m into doing things for them because I figure we’re living on their land even if I don’t have one iota of guilt about it.
         “The Indians knew how to live here properly and a lot of people are starting to think this way and realise their Old West consciousness. I’m into the western civilisation mysticism. Over here people are always turning to the east, but I figure it’s all right here if we want to look for it.
         “I’m sure some of this Indian and Mexican influence was with us when we were doingDesperados, as we had a great time doing the little links between songs, the banjo and traditional things. I would like to do another concept album, though I’m not sure what the premise would be.”
         Frey’s song, ‘Best Of My Love’, undoubtedly gave On The Border sales a boost. It was, he says, an attempt to work off a guitar tuning that Joni Mitchell had demonstrated. “Actually, I got into a totally different tuning and that’s how the song ended up.
         “I had a little help from John David Souther who worked on the bridge and rang me up from LA when I was in England to play it over the phone. We actually worked on it over the phone until he came to England to see us. ‘Cry Like A Lover’ came about the same way, working on the phone over all that distance.”
Collaboration with other LA musicians is a way of life in California, as can usually be detected by reading album credits as well as noticing various similarities in the actual music.
         “On songwriting, I do it all the time,” admits Frey. “If I get something I can’t finish by myself it’s always good to take it to someone else. We collaborate among ourselves, but Souther helps us out sometimes.
         “It’s not so much calling up for help in an emergency as just calling and suggesting we spend an evening writing together and picking up on fragments. The funny thing that we find with the guys in the Eagles and Souther and Jackson is how much we think alike. Whenever anyone plays something, we tend to pick on it right away.”
         This summer the Eagles are making their first trip to England in over 18 months. They’re tentatively scheduled to appear with Elton John at Wembley Stadium on June 21 along with stablemate Joe Walsh.
         “What I like about playing in England,” said Frey as we drew to a close, “is the attentiveness of the audience. In America we tend to play to very boisterous crowds, but in England they sit and listen and I just thrive on that.
         “We found when we played our first ever gigs in England that being American helped us. Being an American unknown in America is a drag, but being an American unknown in England is cool. We found we had a certain amount of Western charisma. I didn’t realise it until people started looking at my cowboy boots and asking where I got them.”



12.9.14

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO NODDY

Next week sees the publication of a book entitled The World According To Noddy, by Neville Holder Esq, which I am reliably informed will be available only from a well-known supermarket, at least initially. No advance information is available on line from either its publisher, Constable & Robinson, or Amazon, which is unusual these days, but by the sound of the title it looks like a book of humorous anecdotes, and I wish the author well in his ongoing endeavours to establish a literary career.
              I don’t suppose he’ll include the full story of that night in 1971 when, three sheets to the wind, Noddy and I ventured out together on to the streets of Amsterdam from our berth at The 13 Balkans Hotel, which just happened to be right slap bang in the middle of the city’s teeming red light district, but I wonder whether the following anecdote, or at least Nod’s version of it, might be.
              It is London, late 2000, and I am walking along Oxford Street towards Tottenham Court Road tube station when my progress is distracted by a sign outside the now long departed Waterstones book store a few shops along from its entrance. “NODDY HOLDER SIGNS COPIES OF HIS BOOK WHO’S CRAZEE NOW: MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY, 5.00-6.00 TONIGHT,” it reads, so being as it is not yet six I step inside.
              Sure enough Noddy is sat at a raised table in the middle of the shop obliging a short line of punters by signing copies of his book that they’ve plucked from a nearby pile. A man from Waterstones, Slade ├╝ber fan Gareth Jones and a comely girl from Ebury Press, his publishing company, are standing behind him, appraising the situation, willing more shoppers to join the line.
              I do just that, and when I get to the front of the queue Noddy looks up. He recognises me immediately, of course, and addresses me in that broad Black Country accent we know so well, that lascivious drawl that always seems to convey a kind of Dickensian depravity, especially when Nod was reaching out to the ‘young laiyydiss in the aowdience’ from some stage or other back in the seventies.
              “Hello Chris, what are you doing here?”
              “Well, I saw the sign and came in to say hello.”
              “Are you going to buy my book?”
              “No.”
              “Why not?”
              “Would you buy my CD?”
              Nod, to his credit, bursts out laughing, that irrepressible laugh we also know so well, loud too, almost as loud as when he used to yell into a microphone, inviting a great crowd of Slade fans to ‘take yer boots off’.
              “Good answer Chris. Let’s have a photo anyway.”
              Here it is. I found it online and can only assume it was taken by the bloke from Waterstones, so thanks mate. 



11.9.14

PINK FLOYD – Their first American tour

This is an extract from Pink Floyd: The Early Years by Miles, my predecessor as editor at Omnibus Press, published by us in 2006. An activist, author of countless books and writer for numerous musical and counter-culture publications from the mid-sixties onwards, Miles was instrumental in promoting the early Pink Floyd so was in an ideal position to write about the group’s fledgling period when Syd Barrett was regarded as their leading light.
        This is Miles’ take on the group’s first US tour, which includes Syd’s confrontation with Pat Boone – now there's a nice pair if ever there was one!


On November 1, 1967 the Pink Floyd left Britain for an eight day mini-tour of America to launch their album.
        Roger Waters: “That was an amazing disaster. Syd by this time was completely off his head. We did Winterland, San Francisco. We were third on the bill to Big Brother and the Holding Company and Richie Havens. When Big Brother went on I couldn’t believe it. I was expecting something way out and it was bluesy country rock. I was amazed. I expected them to be much more different. It was kind of chunka, chunka, chunka with Janis Joplin singing the blues. I was expecting something really extraordinary and mind-blowing and tripping. Compared to some of the things that English bands were doing at the time it was boring. For example the Who in a good mood or the Cream.”
        The group found that they had been billed as ‘The Light Kings Of England’ but Winterland was enormous and the tiny little lighting rig they had with them couldn’t possibly fill the space so they used the same lighting men as Janis Joplin. Bands did not have their own lights in America; lighting crews were independent outfits contracted to ballrooms and clubs under their own name; the Fillmore used Joshua Lights, who were often advertised on the posters as if they were an added attraction.
        Co-manager Andrew King: “I remember the projectionist saying to me, ‘Hey, there are such strange animals in your music!’ I was thinking, ‘You’re fucking right, mate!’” Fortunately Syd managed to play reasonably well in San Francisco, and initially the band was able to enjoy the easy-going Californian hippie scene. At that point any band from England was regarded as visiting aristocracy and the group and their road crew found themselves surrounded by enormously friendly Californian girls and plied with more pot than they had ever seen in their lives while non-smokers Nick and Roger were introduced by Janis Joplin to the sweet-tasting delights of Southern Comfort.
        As the tour progressed, however, it began to take on nightmarish aspects as Syd began to disintegrate before their very eyes. Things got off to a bad start when the group arrived in Los Angeles and found that Syd had forgotten his guitar which had to be flown up at great expense and bother from San Francisco. The Floyd’s record company was Tower Records, a wholly owned American subsidiary of EMI and housed, along with EMI’s main American label, Capitol Records, in the famous circular glass building at Sunset and Vine which resembled a stack of 45s on a spindle, waiting to drop onto the turntable. A Tower Records A&R man proudly showed them their HQ building, announcing “Here were are, at the centre of it all: Hollywood and Vine.” Syd showed that he was still functioning with his deflating reply: “It’s great to be in Las Vegas.” *
        The group played the newly opened Cheetah Club, housed in the old Aragon Ballroom on Pacific Ocean Park in Venice. Before they left for the States Syd had had one of his £20 perms done at Vidal Sassoon to make him look like Jimi Hendrix but he thought they had done a bad job and decided that he wanted to straighten out his curls. In the dressing room at the Cheetah, just as they were preparing to go onstage, Syd took a jar of hair gel and tipped the whole lot on his head. Next he produced a bottle of Mandrax (or more likely quaaludes, as methaqualone was called in the States) and rubbed them into his hair. * He was sitting in front of the dressing room make-up lights which caused the gel to began to melt and run down his face and neck until, as Roger put it, Syd looked like “like a gutted candle”.
        The band took the stage and apparently girls in the front row screamed with horror as Syd’s lips and nostrils bubbled and ran with the gel as rivulets oozed down his cheeks, the mixed-in sleeping pills looking like tiny gobbets of flesh as if he was discomposing before their eyes in the moving lights. He detuned the strings of his guitar and stared out into space, his right hand hanging limply at his side, too out of it to sing any of the lyrics. Roger, who had to deliver the vocals for him, was so angry afterwards that he demanded that Syd be thrown out of the group on the spot. In fact Syd was probably very into the music: he detuned the strings to emulate Keith Rowe, listening to each one, blew on a whistle, and possibly thought he was participating in a free-form concert; he had always been allowed to improvise at will. I saw many AMM concerts and long periods of time often passed before anyone made any noise at all. It is possible that Syd strummed a few times during the concert, which would have seemed like a proper contribution to him in AMM mode.
        For many of the crew, and some of the band, this debacle was the final straw and they abandoned themselves to the pleasures of the road, which in Los Angeles were many. They were not sleeping much because of jet lag and were staying at the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Blvd, home of many rock and roll groups including half of the Mothers of Invention, and very much groupie central in the days before the Hyatt House hotel on Sunset Boulevard became ‘the Riot House.’ It was always interesting to see who accompanied members of the band and crew to breakfast at Duke’s 24-hour coffee shop next door for breakfast. As a consequence, some of the band and crew had to report to James Pringle House’s VD clinic as soon as they returned to London.
On November 5 they were on Pat Boone’s television show to promote their new single, ‘Apples And Oranges’ and though Syd mimed perfectly during rehearsals he refused to move when the cameras went live.
        Roger: “We did the Pat Boone show, and we were taping the show, and he would do the run-through and Syd would stand with his Telecaster with silver bits all over it and mime happily. ‘Cut, cut, we are going to do it now’... He knew perfectly well what was going on, he was just being crazy and they did four or five takes like that. Eventually I mimed it.”
        Despite this, Pat Boone chose Syd to talk to and asked him an inane question about what kind of things he liked. Syd fixed him with a Night Of The Living Dead-style stare and pondered the question. The rest of the band waited for what seemed like an eternity, buttocks clenched in horror as they saw their American career going down the tubes. Eventually Syd said ‘America’, which made the all-American audience holler and shout their approval. On Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Syd half-heartedly mimed, as if catatonic, through ‘Apples And Oranges’ and ‘See Emily Play’. For Perry Como’s show, it was Rick who had to mime ‘Matilda Mother’. After this, Andrew King finally accepted reality and cancelled a Beach Party TV appearance and a New York engagement at the Cheetah Club and put the group on a plane home. Before leaving Syd managed to fall into the Tropicana pool fully clothed and just abandoned his wet clothes in his room when leaving for LAX. 




* This may have been the memorable occasion when an American record executive asked, ‘Which one’s Pink?’
* David Gilmour later commented that he “still can't believe that Syd would waste good Mandies”.