7.6.14

MY BUSIEST EVER WEEK ON MELODY MAKER, December 1974


I was relieved of my posting as Melody Maker's US Editor in New York during the last three months of 1974, which meant I missed John Lennon’s appearance on stage with Elton at Madison Square Garden on November 28, always a source of disappointment to me. Michael Watts took on the American Editors’ role so that I might re-acquaint myself with what was happening in the UK but, as it turned out, not much was happening so when editor Ray Coleman received an invitation from Warner Brothers Records for an MM man to visit Los Angeles and various other US cities during the third week of December to do stories on six of their acts who were shortly to visit the UK, I was pressed into service.
I flew to LA where I picked up at rental car and drove to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. As soon as I arrived I called MCA Records and managed to obtain a number for Keith Moon whom I knew was living there, and later, sleepless of course, drove out to join him and friends at the Palamino, watching Rick Nelson. I’d hoped James Burton would in his band but it wasn’t so. The next day I had lunch with Joe Smith, the boss of Warners Records at his Bel Air mansion and in the afternoon met up with a hero of mine, Lowell George, the unimaginably talented guitarist and songwriter who led Little Feat.
Lowell turned out to be amongst the most down-to-earth, friendliest chaps I’d ever had the pleasure to encounter. He talked about guitars, his past, his influences and his hopes for his band, and as he did so I was struck by his humility and the simple fact that he seemed to have absolutely no idea of the respect in which he and Little Feat were held in the UK. Dressed in loose denim which accentuated his rather portly figure and with his shoulder length hair and none too tidy beard, he eschewed all pretensions of rockstardom. He was completely and utterly free of ego, definitely one of the most warm and endearing rock musicians I would ever meet. (Two years later I interviewed Bonnie Raitt and she said much the same thing, but there was a twinkle in her eye that implied that for all his sartorial negligence Lowell was a successful ladies’ man too. Somewhat suggestively, Bonnie even implied that Linda Ronstadt shared the same opinion. They would do 'anything', she said, to get Lowell to play on their albums!)
Then I went up to San Francisco to interview Larry Graham, leader of Graham Central Station, who told me he played bass on Sly Stone’s records, a fact that Sly disputed 12 months down the line, and the horn blowers Tower of Power. Then it was back to LA to interview Banaroo and Ronnie Montrose, then off to see The Doobie Brothers in Kalamazoo where I also visited the Gibson guitar factory. I was pretty much exhausted by this time - but the truth was I didn't know the half of it...
From Kalamazoo it was but a short hop to Detroit and a connection back to London, but when I tried to check in at Detroit the nice girl at the British Airways desk told me the travel agents had made a mistake and no London flight was leaving this particular evening. That meant a delay while they sorted something out, which they did, and because another BA girl’s boyfriend just happened to be the pilot on a Delta flight to Chicago I could squeeze onto that plane and get a connection to London from there.  Carrying my luggage, I was marched across the tarmac to this plane, searched at the top of the steps, and directed to a first class seat. Off we went into the December sky, with me settling back with what turned out to be the first of an endless supply of free drinks.
O’Hare Airport was snowed in and we went into a holding pattern that lasted for two hours. More free drinks appeared, and as I sipped my vodka I watched the hands on my wristwatch slip past the time that my connection to London was due to leave. Christmas was rapidly approaching. Would I spend it at O’Hare? Eventually we landed. O’Hare was a shambles, overcrowded, chaotic, bags and delayed passengers everywhere, many of them asleep. The runways were snowbound and planes could take off only in brief windows when a runway had been cleared. After a few minutes it needed to be cleared again. In short order I established that my connection to London had not yet taken off and I somehow managed to check-in, hours late, and be given a boarding pass and, yes, vouchers for free drinks at the bar nearest the departure gate. I took advantage of them until the bar completely ran out of booze then wearily joined my fellow passengers waiting to take off for London.
Eventually, somewhere around 3am, we boarded, took our seats and waited until a runway was cleared. Once in the sky, perhaps an hour later, we were offered – yes – free drinks ‘to compensate for our inconvenience’. Then came the bombshell. The plane would not fly direct to London but call in at New York JFK first in order to refuel. Evidently the snow on the runway had prevented refuelling at Chicago.
Many passengers, animated through drink, began to boo but to no avail. About two hours later we touched down at JFK and stayed on the ground for at least three hours. The fact that several other passengers boarded at this time suggests the airline may have had an extra incentive to touch down at JFK and this was noted by some of the more expressive passengers. Then, sleepless but fortified by more free drink, we got going again, crossed the Atlantic and, at around seven in the evening, more than 12 hours late, landed at Heathrow. It was the night before Christmas Eve and I was exhausted, jet-lagged and sleep deprived.
My old pal Chris Whincup met me at Heathrow, 12 hours late, and informed me he was having a party at his house in Egham to which I was invited. I went but passed out on a bed long before midnight. The next day I was reliably informed that later in the evening an amorous couple had joined me on the bed, undressed, did what couples do in that situation, put their clothes back on and left. I slept through the entire encounter.         
        Next day, Christmas Eve, I somehow managed to drive to Skipton where I spent Christmas with my dad and sister, alternately asleep or drunk. On the day after Boxing Day I drove down to London, wrote up all my interviews from the US trip and, on December 29, flew back to New York to resume my duties as Melody Maker’s US editor. The Manhattan skyline never looked better than it did that night as my plane descended into JFK. 

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