30.4.14

THE WORST INTERVIEWS I EVER DID - 1. Neil Diamond

In the course of those Bruce blogs I mentioned Neil Diamond who was envious of the critical acclaim that Bruce was receiving around 1975.
         With the possible exception of Sly Stone, whom I will get to tomorrow, Diamond was the most disagreeable interviewee I ever had to misfortune to come across. My meeting with him took place that same year in an air-conditioned caravan that served as his dressing room backstage at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in the borough of Queens in New York City, and probably in order to impress a blonde woman hovering in the background, Diamond spent almost half an hour ignoring my questions and bragging about his achievements. He was, he told me, far more popular and talented than Springsteen or any of “those long haired British musicians and noisy groups who come over here and encourage our kids to take drugs”. He seemed to have a taken a particular dislike to his label-mate Springsteen and was unable to understand why music papers were making such a fuss of him when he, Neil Diamond, deserved similar if not greater accolades.
         As I silently pondered the relative merits of ‘Born To Run’ and ‘Song Sung Blue’, Diamond went on at great length about his many accomplishments. He was, he said, about to direct his talents into acting where he fully expected to be as successful as he was in the field of music. He emphasised the depth of his career, pointing out that he’d paid his dues, unlike so many other pop singers, and was now reaping rewards that were fully justified.
         Diamond’s rant veered worryingly towards the right-wing politics he evidently espoused. He held strong opinions on drugs and drug culture and I was left in no doubt that he vehemently disapproved of the use of all recreational drugs and had no time for those who used them. He had no time for anti-war protesters either, and thought John Lennon should be deported, sent back to England where he came from. 
         I felt a growing sense of unease, not just because I disagreed with almost everything he stood for, but because he obviously wanted me out of the way so he could be alone with his female guest. It was almost as if my arrival had interrupted something between them and Neil was impatient to get back to it. She was nodding vigorously at almost everything he said, indicating her approval of his opinions. I noticed that she was drinking white wine, quite a lot of it too, and that the top buttons of her blouse were undone so as to draw attention to her ample cleavage. She wore an abundance of gold jewellery and tight black stretch pants that emphasised her curvy backside.
         Diamond, permatanned, was wearing white jeans and an unbuttoned white shirt with the collar turned up, and he had an ostentatious gold medallion around his neck. I’d done my research on him but he soon became impatient with my questions about his early years as a writer in the era of the Brill Building. He wanted to talk about his recent gold and platinum albums and the vast crowds that were attending his concerts at Forest Hills, two shows in one day no less. Even more he wanted me out of the way, and when the rising sharpness of his tone indicated that the meeting was over I was summarily dismissed. The interview had lasted less than half an hour. In truth I was glad to leave.
         A few weeks later I was much amused to read in the newspapers that during a police raid on his house in Holmby Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles, marijuana had been found. So Neil Diamond was a hypocrite as well.
         I now find myself strangely allergic to Neil Diamond. Whenever I hear his songs on the radio I change channels immediately. If I am subjected to his music in a shopping mall or airport I turn slightly queasy and do all I can to absent myself from the premises. If I see a photograph of him in a magazine, I quickly turn the page. I cannot help this. Once, when a doctor was about to prescribe me medicine, he asked if I had any allergies. “Neil Diamond,” I replied. And he thought I was joking. 

29.4.14

BRUCE AT WEMBLEY, 1985

The next time I saw Bruce Springsteen was at Wembley Arena in May of 1981, on The River tour, and by this time the shows had become marathons, with 30 songs or more. I took my girlfriend Jenny, the first time she ever saw him, and she’s remained a fan ever since.
         When Bruce was next in London he’d graduated to the big stadium next door, three shows no less on July 3, 4 and 5. I went to all three, on the 3rd with tickets supplied by CBS and on the 4th and 5th with tickets bought from touts. I simply enjoyed the first night so much I didn’t want to miss any of them
         On the 3rd the concert was followed by an after-show party for which the invitations were ‘Bruce Passports’, scans of which are below. Bruce didn’t show but some the E Streeters were there.

On the 4th – American Independence Day – Bruce walked out alone, armed with only an acoustic guitar and sang The River track ‘Independence Day’, a ballad, to a crowd of 80,000 or more who’d been waiting around for hours and were gagging for rock’n’roll. That took bottle, I thought. Then it was into a blistering ‘Born In The USA’. On one of the shows – I can’t remember which – Bruce played the Stones’ ‘Street Fighting Man’, doubtless because it refers to ‘London town’. He did the same thing in Hyde Park fairly recently, expect he chose the Clash’s ‘London Calling’ that time.
         Towards the end of all those Wembley concerts Bruce broke off to relate a monologue about how he and Steve Van Zandt climbed over the wall of Graceland, Elvis Presley’s Memphis home, in 1976. He’d seen a light in an upstairs window and wondered whether Elvis was up there, reading maybe, but as he walked through the grounds he was stopped by a guard. “I told him I had a band, that I was playing at a club in town,” he told us. “I even said I’d been on the cover of Time and Newsweek but this guy just looked at me and threw me out.”
         In the event Elvis wasn’t home anyway. A year later Elvis would die at Graceland. “I used to wonder what I would have said if Elvis came to the door… it was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear and somehow we all dreamed it. And maybe that’s why we’re all here tonight. I remember later when a friend of mine called to tell me he had died. It was so hard to understand how somebody whose music took away so many people’s loneliness and gave so many people a reason to live and a sense of all the possibilities of living, could have died so tragically. It’s easy to let the best of yourself slip away. So I’d like to do this song for you tonight, wishing you all the the longest life and the best of everything.”
         The song was ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, with Bruce leading a choir of 80,000 in his tribute to the King. Then he and the band went headlong into a 20-minute ‘Twist And Shout’ to close the shows.


28.4.14

GLEN MATLOCK - And Libel Issues

One of the more time consuming and often pointless exercises that non-fiction editors like me need to turn their attention to is whether or not their authors have libeled anyone in their books. Being as how I deal with books about rock and roll stars in which the protagonists are often badly behaved, this issue often rears its ugly head but sometimes the outcome is quite amusing.
Many years ago I published the original edition of Glen Matlock’s book I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol. Glen was not one to mince words. He lashed out at all and sundry – Malcolm McLaren, Richard Branson, the other Pistols, other rock stars – and I thought it wise to have the book read for libel.
This necessitated a meeting with a libel lawyer who was female, rather prim and of an age and disposition that tended to discourage informality and bad language. She expressed some concern about a tale concerning ‘the wife of a famous rock star’ who accompanied the Pistols on a trip to Brighton and, according to Glen, allowed herself to be pleasured by all four of them in the back of the van on the return journey. It was eventually left in but any clues as to her identity were excised.
Funnier still was Glen’s throwaway remark about Rod Stewart. “A bit of a cunt,” was his choice of phrase.
“What do you mean by this?” asked the lawyer in all seriousness.
“Well, he a tightwad,” replied Glen. “He’s vain. He’s a bit of a prat, really.”
“He’s bit full of himself,” I volunteered. “He’s big-headed.”
“Yes, and he’s always unfaithful to his girlfriends and treats them badly,” added Glen. “Definite male chauvinist.”
“Mmmm,” said the lawyer, as if considering the evidence. “Fair comment then, I suppose.”

Then there was the time I found myself in a friendly dispute with our libel lawyer in a matter concerning the meaning of the term ‘looking after’ in regard to a record company’s responsibilities to an artist. He is an expert on libel law, albeit like all of his ilk rather too cautious in my opinion, but is sometimes ignorant of the ways in which the music industry operates, especially in areas that might be considered questionable by those in more respectable, ie straighter, professions.
The discussion arose because a book he read for me contained an allegation that an executive was fired for overstepping the boundary in respect of expenses incurred in the course of ‘looking after’ artists. What does this mean exactly, asked my lawyer, who assumed this meant arranging matters in connection with the artist’s career and nothing else. Surely, he said, such expenses would be legitimate and not cause for a dismissal. Well, I said, that’s not strictly true. And I went on…
The term ‘looking after’ in the music industry, at least from a record company’s point of view (as opposed to a bodyguard’s), is a euphemism for all sorts of things but the customary meaning is attending to an artist’s comfort and entertainment needs, it being generally accepted that an uncomfortable and discontented artist is an unproductive and uncooperative one. When I was at RCA Records (3 years, 1979-81) we had an ‘artist liaison’ department which specialised in this field and our biggest (and arguably only) star was David Bowie, upon whom attendance was danced along the red carpet every which way. For reasons of discretion I hesitate to mention what was provided by RCA’s artist liaison department to amuse Bowie, legal or otherwise, but there was a grey area with regard to who would foot the bill for such diversions. Artists with strong management and plenty of clout, such as Bowie, would invariably manipulate the situation so that the bill was picked up by the record company; artists with weaker management and less clout would find themselves paying, often through subsequent deductions from royalties. A good deal of tact and diplomacy was needed to maintain good relationships and ensure an even balance in these matters but, generally speaking, the bigger the star the less likely they were to have to pay, and the cleverest managers of all had this skill – making sure the record company paid and they heard no more about it – off to a fine art.
It is all too easy for an inexperienced record company executive to be come tripped up by this, I explained, especially one brought in from outside the music industry for their business and accountancy skills who might become seduced by the glamour of rubbing shoulders with rock stars. In such cases the managers and/or artists are in a perfect position to run rings round them with regard to picking up tabs for limousines, meals at fancy restaurants, even plane fares (first-class of course), not to mention providing ‘services’ that might attract the attention of the criminal justice system should anyone involved be insufficiently discrete in the execution of same. 
The penny dropped. My lawyer now understands what ‘looking after’ means and I took a quiet satisfaction in being able to enlighten him. 

27.4.14

PAUL McCARTNEY - Here There And Everywhere

I saw Bruce twice at Wembley Arena in 1985 and still have my invitation to the after show party which took the form of a Bruce 'Passport'. I was going to scan it so as to reproduce it here with a report of those shows but can't get the scanner to work so it'll have to wait. I was on a Bruce wave last night after the last few posts, and was surfing the internet looking for footage of him when I came across the Hyde Park show where he was joined on stage by Paul McCartney for ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Twist And Shout’. This was the show where some brain dead asshole turned the power off so they couldn’t play a third song together which, to my mind, is about as culturally stupid as taking a Stanley knife to the Mona Lisa.
As I wrote in an earlier post I first met Paul on Monday November 8, 1971, at a party to celebrate the launch of his group Wings and their album Wild Life at the Empire Ballroom in London’s Leicester Square. He was wearing a loud check jacket and, like John would do, seemed much smaller in real life than I’d always imagined him to be. He was surrounded by people all night but at some stage in the evening I asked John Entwistle, another guest, to introduce me. I figured that since John was in the same trade he’d know Paul and sure enough he did. We managed to push past everyone and I had a brief chat, the first time I’d ever spoken to a real live Beatle.
         Me: “Why the Empire Ballroom on a Monday night?”
         Paul: “Why not?”
         Linda: “We thought it would be a nice idea to invite a whole lot of our friends to a big party where they could bring their wives.”
         Paul: “EMI are paying for it.”
         Me: “When will we hear Wings live?”
         Paul: “Well, it should be soon now. We want to start in a very small way, maybe do some unadvertised concerts or something.”   
         As I would do two years later with John, I simply requested from Paul a more in-depth interview in the near future, and a session was granted for Wednesday, November 10 at Abbey Road Studios.
         The interview took place in the control room of Studio Two, the studio where The Beatles had recorded almost all of their songs. I tried not to show it but I was in awe not just of Paul but also my surroundings. Here it was, I remember thinking, that all four of them sat and listened to playbacks of everything from ‘She Loves You’ through Sgt Pepper to Abbey Road. If these walls could speak…
Although ostensibly to promote his new band and album, the interview strayed into Beatles-related topics and I certainly came away with the impression that there was no love lost between Paul and the other three Beatles, especially John. This probably explains why my subsequent story in MM was headed “Why Lennon Is Uncool.”              
         “I just want the four of us to get together somewhere and sign a piece of paper saying it’s all over, and we want to divide the money four ways,” Paul told me. “No one would be there, not even Linda or Yoko, or Allen Klein. We’d just sign the paper and hand it to the business people and let them sort it out. That’s all I want now. But John won’t do it. Everybody thinks I am the aggressor but I’m not you know, I just want out.
         “John and Yoko are not cool in what they’re doing. I saw them on television the other night and thought that what they were saying about what they wanted to do together was basically the same as what Linda and I want to do. John’s whole image now is very honest and open. He’s all right is John, I like his Imagine album but I didn’t like the others... there was too much political stuff on the other albums. You know I only listen to them to see if there is something I can pinch...”
         Paul then touched on the song ‘How Do You Sleep’ from John’s Imagine album. “I think it’s silly. So what if I live with straights? I like straights. I have straight babies... he says the only thing I did was ‘Yesterday’ and he knows that’s wrong...”
         When I asked about The Beatles’ live shows – or rather lack of them – Paul remarked: “I just wanted to get into a van and do an unadvertised Saturday night hop at Slough Town Hall or somewhere like that. We’d call ourselves Ricki and The Red Streaks or something and just get up and play.”  

This was the only substantial interview I ever did with Paul, although I would encounter him many times again over the years. On Sunday July 9, 1972, I was at the outdoor Theatre Antique in Chateau Vallon, France, where Wings made their official debut. After the show I asked Paul “why no British dates?” Paul optimistically replied: “We will play there sometime or other, but not right now. The audiences are very critical in Britain and we’re a new band just starting out – no matter what we’ve been through before. We have to get worked in before doing any big shows in Britain or America.” Paul’s upbeat mood changed when he was asked: “Have you seen your former Beatle mates recently?” Paul bluntly replies: “No, I’ve got no particular reason to, and I don’t really want to. They’re into their things and I’m into mine.”
         Linda asked me if I liked reggae to which I replied that I used to dance to ‘007 (Shanty Town)’ by Desmond Dekker at a disco in Ilkley, long before I joined MM. Then we talked about Paul Simon’s ‘Mother And Child Reunion’ and how this would help introduce reggae to the rock world.
        
I would see Paul and Wings on stage four more times, in Oxford, New York, Detroit and twice in London. Many years would then pass before I saw him in concert again, this time at the Wembley Arena in 1990 billed simply as Paul McCartney. Slowly but surely Paul had come to realise that his audience wanted Beatle songs and bowed to the inevitable. In France and in Oxford he sang no Beatles songs whatsoever. By the time Wings reached America there were half a dozen or so Beatles songs in the set – American fans wouldn’t stand for an all Wings show – and by the time of the 1990 concerts, most of the show comprised Beatle songs.
I was pleased by the accurate musical arrangements of the Beatles’ songs in Paul’s repertoire at the 1990 show. Paul and his band, Hamish Stuart in particular, had evidently taken special pains to reproduce as closely as possible the vocal harmonies and backing tracks of the original Beatles’ recordings. This was particularly noticeable in ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘Sgt Pepper’ and the wonderful closing sequence of Abbey Road songs, for which Paul played lead guitar on a Gibson Les Paul and Hamish played bass. For much of the concert Paul played an original left-handed Hofner Violin bass, just as he did with The Beatles, and the reappearance after so many years of this distinctive instrument was further evidence that The Beatles’ legacy meant more to Paul than he often admitted.
It was around this time that Paul’s daughter, Mary, came to work for me as the photo researcher at Omnibus Press, but that’s another story. The last time I saw Paul was at Earls Court in 2002 with the band he still uses and to all intents and purposes it was a Beatles show, with film footage of the Fabs shown on screens before Paul hit the stage and sang ‘Hello Goodbye’. We took Sam along to this but he fell asleep and remained out to the world, even when Paul sang 'Live And Let Die' complete with fireworks and explosions. The other thing I remember is that during ‘Here There And Everywhere’ a middle-aged couple in the row in front of us started smooching, no doubt reliving their younger days when someone stuck Revolver on at a party, and got rather carried away, snogging big time and giving each other a bit of a feel, completely oblivious to where they were. I had to draw Sam’s attention away from them. After all, he was only seven.






26.4.14

BRUCE - New York Palladium, November 1976

Here’s my review, word for word, as I wrote it in 1976...

It may rain or snow, and the temperature in New York might even drop below freezing point this weekend, but so long as Bruce Springsteen is playing downtown at the Palladium the next few days won't be so bad. And for those lucky enough to have obtained tickets, the days grow ripe with anticipation.
         Few artists in rock have suffered the burdens that Bruce Springsteen has borne on his none-too-square shoulders. He was branded a hype because of the monumental publicity he received, publicity he didn't instigate, and now he's in the throes of a million-dollar lawsuit after a tiff with his manager.
         Prevented from making a follow-up album to Born To Run, he's out there playing – and playing with all the enthusiasm and, if you'll pardon the superlative – the brilliance that caused all the publicity in the first place.
         Springsteen began the first of a six-night stint at the New York Palladium on Thursday evening. All six nights have sold out which, for the benefit of those who consider him to be a flash-in-the-pan, is the equivalent to selling out a show at Madison Square Garden. Flashes in pans don’t sell out the Garden.
         But Bruce doesn't do things like that. I'll wager a pound to a penny that in a year's time, when Springsteen is even more popular than he is now, he won't be playing at the Garden. He'll just do 12 nights at the Palladium instead.
         On Thursday he delivered 17 songs, five of them encores and three of them new and, apparently, ready to be recorded. He started an hour late, but the delays were soon forgotten as he tore into a set that epitomised everything that a rock show should be: great tension, dynamic vocals, visual action, much more than technically proficient instrumentals, and lighting that was stunning.
         Let's deal with the new songs first. 'Rendezvous' is a rocker that had Bruce buckling at the knees with excitement; 'Something In The Night' is a slower piece, with minimal backing (brass, piano and tambourine only), highlighted by a muted trumpet solo; and 'The Promise' is a moving tale of growing up in New Jersey that seems oddly autobiographical. Bruce sings it straight from the piano with just glockenspiel for accompaniment.
         Also "new" is a fearless version of the old Animals' hit, 'It's My Life (And I'll Do What I Want)', which opens with a piercing, echo-ridden guitar solo by Bruce and moves into a monologue about a conversation with his father before sliding into top gear and hitting the song proper. It follows on the tradition of 'Pretty Flamingo', which isn't included this time around.
         By the third number of the show, 'Spirit In The Night', Bruce had left the stage and jumped into the audience, singing as he walked up the aisle with only a roadie to protect him from straining arms; a calculated risk but a shrewd move to gain audience approval. He repeated the gesture often.
         'She's The One' has now taken on an even stronger Bo Diddley rhythm. It opens with a long, sliding solo by Bruce and meanders off into those tried and tested rhythms; at one point I thought he was about to slip into 'Mona', but he didn't. Other tracks from Born To Run – '10th Avenue Freeze-Out', 'Thunder Road', 'Backstreets' and 'Jungleland' – were all offered with variations on the recorded versions.
         For some tunes an enlarged brass section (introduced by Bruce as the Miami Horns) was brought up, although Clarence Clemons, Bruce's gigantic black horn player, is as forceful as ever in his role as King Curtis reincarnate.
         The E Street Band, tight yet flexible, still pack a punch that Bruce can't do without. It does seem, though, that Miami Steve (Van Zandt) is taking a lesser role, allowing Springsteen to do more soloing on guitar as well as lead the band. Bruce's old, battered Telecaster never sounded better, rippling with rich tones in the mid-range instead of the screeching treble that so many rock guitarists rely on all too much.
         'Rosalita', extended to about 15 minutes, closed the show, though Bruce came back for two encores, the first a three-song marathon and the second a two song segue. 'Sandy', sung harsher and with new lyrics to a couple of the verses, opened the marathon with its regular accordion accompaniment, followed by a couple of oldies, 'She's Fine, Fine, Fine' and 'Raise Your Hand', the old R&B standard.
         Throughout his career Springsteen has always managed to breathe life into oldies almost forgotten. No exception here: the E Street Band transformed themselves into a good-time, kick-ass show-band and delivered with all the panache of Geno Washington's Ram Jammers.
         'Born To Run' closed the show, making a late appearance in the programme, almost as if the star was reluctant to play his biggest-ever song.
He'd been on stage two hours and by this time both the audience – they'd been on their feet most of the time – and the band were pooped. The house lights rose to an exhausted, rather limp, ovation, and it was over.
Bruce Springsteen is no hype. He may not be the future of rock and roll, but he is the most engaging, exciting and enthusiastic performer in rock right now. It'll take more than lawsuits to dampen his spirits, and that is something for which we can all be thankful.

25.4.14

BRUCE - The Early Years

After those first two shows in January 1974 I saw two more Bruce concerts that year, one during his week at the Bottom Line club in downtown New York during July, the one where I took Harvey Goldsmith along, and I remember that at one point during his set Bruce jumped off the stage and on to a long table, scattering glasses everywhere, still playing his guitar. The Bottom Line held around 400 people and Bruce did two shows a night for six straight nights. Oddly, the first couple of nights weren’t sell outs but there was a buzz in the city about what was going on down there and by the end of the week it was the hottest ticket in town.
         My next Bruce show was about a month later at the Wolman Skating Rink in Central Park, where he was second on the bill between Brewer & Shipley and the headliner, Canadian singer Anne Murray. This was a gross miscalculation on the part of Murray’s managers, who insisted their client top the bill. Well over half of the audience, those who were there for Bruce, walked out after his set, and many of those that stayed yelled ‘Broooce’ during Murray’s set which, of course, sounded like booing.
         Then, in February of 1975, I caught an unusual show at the Westbury Theatre out on Long Island where the stage revolved. Bruce seemed a bit uncomfortable with this set-up and there were rumours backstage that the place was run by the Mafia, so the show wasn’t quite the roller-coaster ride as others I’d seen. There were a lot of broad-shouldered men in suits backstage, unlike most rock shows where the crew wore jeans and t-shirts, and we left in a hurry. By now the E Street band included a temporary violinist, name of Suki Lahav, so augmenting the group with girls and less obvious instruments – as he does now with many extra musicians – is a dynamic in Bruce’s presentation that goes back a long way.
         Then there was a night in 1974, perhaps after one of the Bottom Line shows, that I chanced on Bruce in JP’s bar, a music industry hang-out on the Upper East Side, sitting having a beer with the writers Jon Landau and Dave Marsh, his booking agent Barry Bell and some of the E Streeters. Landau congratulated me on the piece I’d written about Bruce in MM, but I think he’d got me mixed up with Michael Watts whose much longer piece had appeared in MM the previous year. I was invited to join their table and the conversation which, inevitably, was all about music, the only thing that Bruce ever seemed to want to talk about. I didn’t say much but was happy to listen to Bruce going on about which bands from the sixties that he liked, British and American, and it occurred to me that like so many in his profession who make it to the very top he was a student of rock’n’roll, and by that I mean a Grade A student through and through.
         Not long after my first review, back in early ’74, Jon Landau had declared in Boston’s Real Paper that he’d seen the future of rock’n’roll and its name was Bruce Springsteen, a statement now carved in stone that in the long term led to Landau becoming Bruce’s manager and producer. Eighteen months later, not long after Born To Run was released, in the fourth week of October 1975 he appeared on the cover of Time and Newsweek simultaneously, which prompted suggestions that he was being hyped by Columbia, his record label.
         I was perfectly placed to observe all the fuss that surrounded Bruce at this time, the dispute with his first manager (and producer) Mike Appell, the fretting that this caused at Columbia and the label’s dilemma over whether or not to drop him after the relative commercial failure of his first two albums, which would almost certainly have happened in today’s more cut-throat, less nurturing record industry. The support of the music press was key in Columbia’s decision to stick with him but at the same time there was a perception that he’d been created by those rock critics who sang his praises, me included I suppose, and that he pandered to them by playing music that was by – or inspired by – their favourite artists, the classic rock’n’rollers of the fifties, the Phil Spector stable and style, and the great UK and US bands of the sixties.
         The situation wasn’t helped by an article in the widely read ‘alternative’ New York weekly The Village Voice which decreed that the opinions of only five East Coast rock critics mattered and, by implication, all the rest were superfluous. Those named were Landau (then reviews editor at Rolling Stone), Dave Marsh (of Newsday), Paul Nelson (Rolling Stone), John Rockwell (The New York Times) and its own rock critic Robert Christgau, all of whom were supporters of Bruce. Some writers not in this list took against Bruce as a result and inflated the hype accusations. Being a Brit, I simply watched from the sidelines, digesting privileged information from my inside source at Columbia who’d got me into all these gigs and using it judiciously as I covered the Bruce saga in my weekly New York news columns for MM.
         In truth Bruce didn’t need any of this. He certainly wasn’t a hype, which to my mind implies an element of fraud, a performer elevated beyond his limited abilities by those who stand to make a short term profit from their success. His abilities were never in question but he did provoke strong feelings, however; from other artists jealous of his sudden rise and critical acclaim* and from a handful of writers who felt obliged to condemn Bruce for no other reason than they felt somebody ought to, though I felt in reality they were condemning the Bruce phenomenon, which was something entirely different.
         In the event none of it mattered. Landau took over the production reins for Born To Run, the tour that followed its release saw Bruce reaching even greater heights and the rest is history. The next time I saw him, my last as an MM writer, was in November 1976, at the New York Palladium, and I’ll post my review of that show tomorrow.



* I remember interviewing Bruce's Columbia labelmate Neil Diamond in 1975, not the most friendly encounter I ever had, and Diamond went on and on about how he couldn't understand all the acclaim that Springsteen was getting. Talk about green with envy! 

24.4.14

BRUCE - My MM review from 1974

Talking of Bruce, after I saw him for the first time in January of 1974, I went back to New York and wrote this for the following week’s Melody Maker, reproduced below more or less word for word. I wasn’t the first to ‘introduce’ MM readers to Bruce as Michael Watts had written a long piece about him the previous year but I guess I still needed to lay out the basic facts. Bearing in mind what Springsteen has accomplished in the 40 years since I wrote this, it has a rather quaint and slightly na├»ve ring to it now. At least I recognised he had a big future.

He stands there looking like a cross between Elvis Presley and a reject from Sha Na Na with faint Dylanesque overtones and a battered Fender Telecaster hung low enough for him to qualify for a place in The Ventures.
         His hair is short and curly and there's a wispy beard that never seems to grow any longer. On his nose rests a pair of square shades which stay in place all the time during the show and which make him look more like Dylan of 1965 than Dylan of 1974 looks today.
         He wears jeans and a red vest and maybe a denim jacket, all of which helps to make him look a trifle like James Dean, only smaller and more vulnerable.
         And he clicks his finger now and then like Presley's supposed to do and like Tom Jones does. He shakes his Fender back and forth and twists his hips around, looking as if he means business. He conducts the band with his fretboard, sometimes grinning and sometimes looking perplexed 'cos he ain't quite sure what's happening next.
         And then he'll surprise you by discarding the guitar and playing a tender love song at the piano. He dismisses the group, who will return later with a change of instruments and take up a stance at the front with the regular bassist playing a tuba and the keyboard man strapped behind an accordion. The tuba makes such a strange deep noise that you don't know whether to laugh or cry.
         After all that seriousness he'll start rocking again, the big black cat on the saxophone coming on as a bass vocalist and singing an old rock and roll number.
         If you're lucky he'll finish his set with a rendering of 'Twist And Shout' complete with the ascending build up between verses that sounds just like John Lennon was standing beside him crouched over a Rickenbacker and yelling his loudest to drown out the screams.
         Sometimes he runs on the spot then dashes about the stage, guitar in hand, like a cat waiting to pounce. Other times he'll just stand there and sing with emotion instead of a funk.
         He's as hot as hell in America right now, but he's having problems because the big bands don't want him as the supporting act in case of any embarrassment over who's the star of the show; and the word hasn't spread around enough yet for him to sell out on his own name except in certain areas.
He also needs a good producer who can do justice to the songs he writes and the music that his band is capable of playing.
         He's put out two albums for CBS. The first was brilliant and the second was just good. Neither has sold particularly well although both have had rave reviews in the US music papers.
         I'm talking about Bruce Springsteen and, as he's never been to Europe, you could be excused for not knowing who he is. In Europe certain reviewers suggested that he was the next Bob Dylan on the release of his first album, and he's never quite got over this rather unfortunate categorisation.
         There is a physical resemblance and they both write songs, but then Dylan's facial appearance could blend into any crowd and lots of young men write songs these days.
         The only other similarity is that they're both pretty good at their craft.
Springsteen comes from New Jersey, the State immediately south of New York, where he has been a musician of sorts since his teens.
         He's 24 now and finally doing what he wants to do most – lead his own band. Although he recorded an album three years ago for Bill Graham's Fillmore label (it was never released, but bootleg versions are circulating around California), his recent Columbia output is the sum total of his recording career.
He played in a couple of bands before the current outfit – Steel Mill which lasted two years and which travelled around America getting gigs whenever they could, and Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, a sort of happy-go-lucky bunch of dudes who played around New Jersey, changing the line-up for almost every gig and adding musicians at a frantic rate.
         At one stage there were as many as 14 musicians in the Sonic Boom, but the regular number was nine.
         Out of this came Bruce, who arrived at CBS's offices with a guitar and an appointment to see John Hammond, the A&R man who actually signed Dylan way back in 1961. Springsteen played a few of his songs in Hammond's office and he was duly signed as a solo artist under the assumption that he would immediately become CBS's new ‘Bob Dylan’.
         But Bruce had never been a solo artist so he used his advance from CBS to put a band together. Previously he'd never been able to afford to run a band, but now he was in a position to get together the best musicians he knew from New Jersey.
         This he did, and today they're one of the tightest little backing outfits on the road in the USA, rivalling Van Morrison's various backup bands for sheer funk and outright competence.
         Star sideman is Clarence Clemons, a huge black cat who plays the saxophone and sings in a rich deep voice. He also wears a bright white suit, printed shirt and white fedora hat on stage – making a strange contrast with small, curly haired Bruce in his faded denims. Clarence's reed work is a gas; not complex but tight and unhurried, flowing when required and rasping at the right moments. He looks great, too, thanks to nature rather than a make-up kit.
         There's Garry Tallent on bass, a skinny long haired guy, who also sings and plays the tuba; Vini Lopez on drums; and a couple of keyboard men: Danny Federici, who contributes a swirling organ and occasional accordion, and David Sancious, who gets a chance to shine with his almost classical piano introduction to Springsteen's very beautiful song, ‘New York City Serenade’.
         The band has been with him since he started out with Columbia although David Sancious quit after the first album to go down south to form his own band. He didn't manage it and arrived back with Springsteen in time to appear on the second album. He was welcomed back with open arms.
         Springsteen's first album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. was greeted with wild enthusiasm and showcased Bruce as a singer/songwriter with little attention paid to his backing band. The second The Wild, The Innocent and the E. Street Shuffle, was more of a band album with chunks of solos and ample opportunity for all to shine.
         Springsteen himself insists that it's a band rather than a showcase for himself. He just regards himself as the lead singer/guitar/writer in the group.
And on stage this facet is more pronounced. Although he's the leader, it's more of a situation like Jagger and the Stones: each gets a crack of the whip and the one for-all-all-for-one idea is enhanced when Bruce introduces his band at regular intervals.
         I saw them twice last weekend, both in Virginia, which is the East Coast and fairly hot territory for Springsteen.The first night's show at Richmond was a sell-out, although the crowd seemed less responsive to Bruce's quieter material and anxious to get out of their seats and dance at the slightest provocation.
         Perhaps it was because Bruce sensed this that he included a version of 'Let The Four Winds Blow', the old rocker, which featured Clarence's remarkable bass skat singing.
         At Norfolk, a naval base 100 miles away, the show wasn't a sell-out but the audience response was more respectful. It was the better of the two shows and they included a wild version of 'Walking The Dog', which began as a red hot instrumental taken at furious pace. He also played ‘Pretty Flamingo’ with a trademark monologue as an intro.
         But the bulk of the sets are taken up with Springsteen's own material taken from the two albums which vary greatly in texture from the soft, contemplative 'New York City Serenade', the almost comical 'Wild Billy's Circus Story' to the shuffling rock numbers from the first album which, behind the driving rhythm, also contain sets of brilliant lyrics.
         Bruce doesn't talk much. He's a quiet guy who neither smokes nor drinks. He spends most of his time on the road, but has yet to play outside the USA and Canada. He's hoping for a chance to get to England this year.
         If he makes it, go see him.

23.4.14

MY ODD CONNECTION TO YES

The first time I saw Deep Purple was at the Plumpton Festival on the Sunday night of the August Bank Holiday, 1970, and they closed their set by setting fire to their amps, or at least Ritchie threw some lighter fuel over them, together with a match, and watched the fun. The stage crew quickly doused the flames but it was enough to cause an almighty row backstage, not least with Yes who were due to follow them.
         Setting aside the obvious, few groups remind me more of my years on Melody Maker than Yes, probably because of the enthusiasm of my colleague Chris Welch who did everything he could to boost their profile. Also, I had a slightly weird connection to them. In the summer of 1968, two years before I landed at MM, on holiday in London with my mate Chris Whincup, I watched Yes rehearsing in a basement beneath the Lucky Horseshoe, a restaurant in Shaftesbury Avenue. This came about because a character called John Roberts, a wealthy paper manufacturer who lived in Settle, in north west Yorkshire, had advanced them £500 and wanted us to check up on his investment.
         Roberts was well known on what passed for a music scene in nearby Skipton where I was brought up. Assumed by locals to be gay because he preferred the company of young men to men or women of his own age, he was really more sociable than predatory. He befriended many aspiring local rock musicians and those fans like me for whom rock was becoming more than just something to dance to at a party. A keen jazz fan, he made frequent visits to London to visit Ronnie Scott’s Club, and it was in the nearby La Chasse club that he met Jon Anderson who in early 1968 was working there as a washer up. Anderson told Roberts he used to sing with an Accrington group called The Warriors – a band Roberts was evidently familiar with – and about his new band Yes which needed finance; hence the £500 loan and my mission to check them out.
         Accompanied by my mate Chris, we went to the Lucky Horseshoe on John Roberts’ behalf, but apart from Jon Anderson the group had no idea who we were. We watched a while and chatted, and simply thought they sounded better than any band we’d ever heard in Yorkshire... such long numbers and very complex. I played guitar myself in a local band up in Skipton in those days, but this was way out of my league. It was incredibly loud and smoky down there but they seemed very professional and they were all very polite and friendly towards us. We were, after all, pals with someone who'd given them £500, no mean sum in 1968. 
         Two years later I was watching Yes on stage at Plumpton, following on from Deep Purple’s firestorm. I was impressed and over the next year or so renewed my acquaintanceship with them, but as their albums became more and more convoluted they began to bore me. In truth I didn’t write much about Yes on MM as Chris Welch monopolised them but I had an interesting brush with them in New York in February, 1974, when they played two nights at Madison Square Garden. That week Melody Maker celebrated their American success with a front-page story stating that the gross takings from the two Garden shows would exceed $200,000. Their bass player Chris Squire was less than happy that MM had chosen to ‘reveal’ Yes’ earnings and at a pre-show party in their hospitality suite at the Warwick Hotel he berated me over the story. 
         I responded by pointing out that anyone with a calculator could work out what they were grossing each night, simply by multiplying the average ticket price by the number of seats, but Squire seemed to think that we had exposed some dark secret. He didn’t like the idea of fans knowing how much money they made but there really wasn’t any secret about it, and I thought it a bit rich coming from him as he always seemed to me to the most money-conscious member of the band. The others didn’t care about the story at all, and neither did Brian Lane, their manager. Rick Wakeman certainly didn’t care and he joined in the argument on my side.
         The party ended in disarray when Harvey Goldsmith, the London-based promoter who promoted Yes’ UK concerts and who was visiting them in New York, was thrown fully clothed into a bath tub. It was Rick who instigated that. Harvey was all dressed up, ready to go to the Garden when suddenly Rick and some of the others in the room picked him up and threw him into a bath full of cold water. He was furious... really angry. He was soaked and had to change his clothes. Personally – after the row I’d just had with him – I’d have preferred to see Chris Squire dumped in the bath.
         More significantly, in July that same year, I took Harvey to see Bruce Springsteen at the Bottom Line in NY. I’d been telling Harvey how great he was and this was the first time Harvey saw Bruce. He went on to promote his UK concerts for the next two decades, including some whoppers at Wembley Stadium. 

22.4.14

DEEP PURPLE & Mischief With Ritchie

When I was asked to present an award at Classic Rock’s annual shindig at the Roundhouse in November, 2012, I found myself sat next to Amy Lord, daughter of Deep Purple’s keyboard player Jon, and her husband, and elsewhere on the table were other members of the Lord family, all there to watch Jon’s sister-in-law collect his posthumous award. Jon’s wife Vicki, it was explained to me, was too overcome to attend so it was left to Jackie, her twin and wife of Purple drummer Ian Paice, to do the honours.
          I was able to tell Amy that, in the early eighties when she was a toddler, I’d spent a night at their family’s house near Henley while researching my now out of print biography of Deep Purple. Her dad was a most generous host and I recall that he and Vicki took me to a Chinese restaurant in Henley where we were joined by Ian and Jackie. Afterwards, back at the house, Jon and I settled down to long interview that stretched way into the night, all punctuated by bottles of champagne from Jon’s wine cellar. Somewhere in amongst that interview was the revelation that one of the partners in the original management of the group had been jailed for receiving stolen goods, leading to the conclusion that the group’s first set of stage gear was bought from the proceeds of crime. It was almost dawn when I switched off my recorder and Jon stumbled over to the white grand piano in his living room and played a bit of Beethoven before we retired. Or was it Bach? Or Chopin?
          I’d travelled around with Deep Purple a lot in the seventies, wrote some complimentary reviews for MM when they were at their best, and came to like them as people. This was the Mark II band – Lord, Paice, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Glover and Ian Gillan – which is generally regarded as the best. I lost touch with them when this line-up fragmented, so I didn’t witness the group’s decline. Then, in the early eighties, I wrote that book about the group and was pleasantly surprised that most of them (Blackmore was a notable exception) co-operated with me and were all remarkably candid about their relationships with each other and the reasons why the group came together and fell apart. I have had no dealings with them since that book came out, but I was given to understand that although most of them were happy with it, Blackmore was not. It’s his own fault. Had he co-operated then perhaps the book would have portrayed him in a manner more to his liking. When Omnibus published a biography of Ritchie by Jerry Bloom in 2006 there was some sabre rattling from his lawyers but nothing happened in the end, but it all points to the conclusion that he evidently doesn’t like books written about him.
          In the seventies I got on quite well with Ritchie Blackmore, and recall spending time with him socially, but he could be a bit of a moody old bugger, and one wrong word was enough to bring on a meltdown. I think he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder because he wasn’t spoken of in the same terms as other great British guitarists of the era, the Clapton-Beck-Page axis, and Harrison and Townshend, not to mention Hendrix, his great hero. It’s perfectly true that as far as technique and skills go, Blackmore was on a par with them all – barring Hendrix, of course – and he’d certainly paid his dues, taking lessons from ‘Big’ Jim Sullivan and playing with The Outlaws and Sutch’s Savages before The Beatles’ breakthrough in 1963. The problem was the manner in which he chose to employ those skills, the hard rock/heavy metal material that was unlikely to appeal to critics, with lyrics that didn’t really say very much, not to mention his subsequent drift into medieval folk music.
          I have no doubt that Blackmore considered himself a more skilled player than Pete Townshend, and he was probably right (certainly when The Who started out) but Pete could write great songs and this drew attention to him and his group while Blackmore was unknown (to the public, anyway). No doubt this pissed him off mightily. Later, with Purple, Blackmore became the second musician after Pete to abuse guitars on stage but to me this was just an act – the guitars he smashed were cheap replicas anyway – while with Pete it was more of an artistic statement and he didn’t give a toss about destroying expensive Gibsons and Fenders. 
          At the beginning of December 1972, I found myself in the US with Deep Purple, and on a (commercial) plane flight from Des Moines to Indianapolis sat next to Ritchie. At one point in the journey he produced from his hand luggage a pornographic magazine, a fearsomely offensive example of the genre with women doing obscene things with animals. Realising that it was of the same dimensions as the in-flight magazine published by Braniff Airways, Ritchie systematically substituted pages from one to the other, carefully replacing the staples before tucking the reconstructed flight brochure into the pocket provided at the rear of the seat in front of him. “Shame we won’t be here to see what happens when the next person picks that up,” he said when the mischief was complete.
          That wasn’t the only mischief I was caught up in with Ritchie. The following year I was in Paris with them and after the show he and I ended up at a club called the Rock’n’Roll Circus, allegedly the same place where Jim Morrison spent the last night of his life. Somehow Ritchie and I became attached to two Spanish girls and I opted to leave first, bringing one back to the hotel. Unfortunately the night porter, knowing I had but a single room, refused to allow her to enter, so after a bit of hanky-panky by the trees on the nearby Champs Elysees (it was a warm night) I headed back to the hotel alone, only to bump into Ritchie arriving back with his Spanish maiden. I explained to Ritchie what had happened to me and we agreed that he would distract the hall porter asking for his key while I rushed through the lobby with his girl, and we would meet on the first floor where I would ‘hand her over’. The plan seemed to work, but when I got to my room the phone rang. It was the porter. “Ou est la fille?” he demanded. “No idea mate.” Five minutes later there was a knock on my door. “Ou est la fille?” He came in and, of course, no girl was to be found. Desperate to get rid of him, I said, “Try Mr Coletta’s room,” John Coletta being DP’s manager. And off he went.
         Next morning Mr Coletta and his girlfriend were none too pleased to have been awoken from their slumbers in the double room they’d booked. But he never found out who was responsible. 

20.4.14

RINGO & HIS DRUMS

When The Beatles exploded into our consciousness it seemed for all the world that they were a pre-packaged miracle. Unlikely as it might sound today, when their disparate personalities are so familiar, so analysed, it was once impossible to tell them apart.  It was Saturday, January 19, 1963, and most of Britain was blanketed by a huge snowfall; and tea time, huddled around our black and white TV sets, was when those of us outside of Liverpool saw them for the first time ever, performing ‘Please Please Me’ on Thank Your Lucky Stars. They all looked alike, the same dark suits, the same Cuban-heeled boots, the same longish hair that hid their foreheads, the same cheeky grins. One played a guitar with a long neck that seemed to stick out the wrong way, creating a symmetry that other guitar-toting groups like The Shadows didn't have. The only one that looked vaguely different was the drummer and that was because he was the smallest, had the biggest nose and the saddest eyes, and when he played he shook his head from side to side so his fringe bobbed up and down like a floor mop, but as far as we were concerned they were a single united being with no history, only a present and, possibly, a future.
Not until much later did the truth emerge; that the position of drummer in the group remained in the balance until they recorded their first single, ‘Love Me Do’, in September the previous year. By contrast, two of the guitarists, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, had been playing together in groups since October 1957, with the third, George Harrison, joining them a few months later. The drummer, Ringo Starr, born Richard Starkey on 7 July 1940, might have been the oldest Beatle in years but in terms of Beatle experience he was far and away the youngest.
The circumstances that brought Ringo into the fold were devious and, in the eyes of their luckless former drummer Pete Best, downright shameful. Best had joined The Beatles in August 1960 on the eve of their first visit to Hamburg, sticking with them throughout that four month marathon, on through the whole of 1961 and the first half of 1962, a stint that saw two further arduous Hamburg trips and hundreds of shows around Liverpool, many of them at the Cavern Club. Best had succeeded a drummer called Tommy Moore who was considerably older than the others and whose sole claim to Beatle fame was accompanying them on an ill-fated tour of Scotland, backing singer Johnny Gentle, in May of 1960.
For all his hard work and enthusiasm, and the hours he put in, Pete Best somehow never fitted in, and in the early months of 1962 John, Paul and George began plotting his dismissal. Ringo, meanwhile was playing with another Liverpool outfit, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, though his stint with them was characterised by occasional signs of restlessness, not least an abandoned plan to emigrate to Texas – he’d always been a lover of Westerns. Manager Brian Epstein was given the uncomfortable task of firing Best on 16 August, two days after John had phoned Ringo at Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Skegness and invited him to join. Ringo needed no encouragement and played his first official show as a Beatle on 18 August at Port Sunlight, near Birkenhead.
The changeover wasn’t accomplished without a certain amount of unpleasantness in Liverpool. Although the group was largely unknown outside of the Lancastrian port, there had been early, minor outbreaks of Beatlemania in their home town where a sizeable following, mostly female and certainly vocal, was attracted by Pete Best’s good looks and moody image. A frosty reception greeted The Beatles down at the Cavern after Ringo’s appointment, and George somehow received a black eye in one fracas.
It helped that Ringo was a fixture on the Liverpool and Hamburg scenes where The Beatles cut their teeth. It probably also helped that he was somehow more congenial than Pete Best, that he shared the same quirky sense of humour as John, Paul & George and could be relied upon to enliven the party with a well-timed droll comment. More importantly, he’d played a few shows with The Beatles before he became a member, deputising for Best when he was ill, so they knew he could cut it on stage.
It was touch and go whether he could cut it in the studio, however. After his first session with The Beatles at Abbey Road in September of 1962 producer George Martin took the precaution of hiring session drummer Andy White when they returned a week later, leaving Ringo to disconsolately shake a tambourine. In the event the version of ‘Love Me Do’ that was released in October did have Ringo on drums, though for reasons still unexplained The Beatles’ debut album Please Please Me featured the version with Andy White.
If this shook Ringo’s confidence it didn’t show, and the Best episode was quickly forgotten – not that fans outside Liverpool knew anything of it anyway. Ringo was certainly in his element when the group recorded their first album in February of 1963, the highlight of which was John’s all-out assault on ‘Twist And Shout’, with Ringo’s snare powering the group through what was, by a wide margin, the most frenzied piece of pop music ever recorded in the UK up to that time. 
When he became a Beatle Ringo was using a basic four piece Premier kit, a 20x17″ bass drum, a 16x16″ floor tom, a 12x8″ rack tom and a shallow white 14x4″ snare, together with one ride cymbal and a hi-hat. At first he had the initials ‘RS’ on the front of the bass drum, then added his full name. In early 1963 this was changed to The Beatles’ first logo in which the vertical line of the ‘B’ split at the top into two beetles’ antennae.
It wasn’t long before Ringo decided he needed something better and he bought his first Ludwig kit from Drum City on Shaftesbury Avenue in April of 1963, accompanied by Brian Epstein. He chose a basic four-piece kit in oyster black pearl with a 20-inch bass drum, two cymbals and a hi-hat, and it was Epstein who suggested that a new logo should appear on the front of the bass drum. In the event the famous Beatles logo with the large ‘B’ and dropped ‘T’ was designed in the store and painted on the front by their own freelance sign writer.
Ringo was loyal to Ludwig. He was using a second Ludwig kit by the time the group played their first concerts in America in February 1964, and in May of the same year he was given his third kit by a grateful Ludwig whose sales had shot up as a result of Ringo’s patronage. Retaining the same finish as his first kit, this was a Super Classic kit with a 22x14″ bass drum, 13x9″ rack tom, 16x16″ floor tom and 15x5″ wood-shell snare. By the time of The Beatles 1965 US tour he was on his fourth kit, and henceforth he seems to have chopped and changed between the various kits he owned.
During the remainder of The Beatles’ career two further kits made an appearance, the first Ringo’s ‘giant kit’ in white pearl with a 28x14″ bass drum, and the second his gold Hollywood kit with twin rack toms which he used during the session for the ‘White Album’ and during the filming of Let It Be. It is widely believed that Ringo still owns most, if not all, the kits he used during his eight years as a Beatle.
Ringo’s playing style and technical ability have always been hotly debated. His drumming skills have inspired tremendous acclaim and terrible derision in almost equal measure, the latter occasionally at the hands of the rest of the band with John Lennon once famously smirking that Ringo “wasn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles”. It may well be true that the sheer variety of drum parts in The Beatles’ songs can be attributed to the rest of the band’s musical imagination and awareness rather than Ringo’s skills, but it would be churlish to suggest that any half-way competent drummer would be capable of such remarkable diversity. Paul McCartney was particularly forthright in his criticism – perhaps naturally, as the bass player – and was also the most clued-up Beatle in regards to American soul and R&B. There is a definite Motown-esque energy to the tom-tom roll introduction and triplet fills that drive ‘She Loves You’, and McCartney has revealed that the quasi-Latin feel to ‘I Feel Fine’ was inspired by Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I Say’. However, it is testament to Ringo’s abilities that he was able to execute the ideas he was charged with and performed so successfully. This willingness to absorb the other’s concepts was a key part of why the dynamic of the group worked so well; a more independently-minded drummer might have found himself at odds with his bandmate’s collective musical ambition and have been unable to contribute so sympathetically. The result is a set of drum performances which are an intrinsic part of these great songs. For instance, the drums for ‘Ticket To Ride’ helped make it the strongest track The Beatles had recorded up to that point. The staggered tom-tom triplets of the initial verses were truly original, and the shift from this to more conventional patterns in the later verses gives a momentum that demonstrates how The Beatles’ musical sophistication and fast-developing mastery of song structure was embedded in Ringo’s parts. 
While Ringo’s drumming was never self-consciously flashy (he famously resisted playing the solo in ‘The End’ at the climax to Abbey Road, and relented only when it had been halved in length), many of The Beatles’ mid-period songs demonstrate how his role was not limited to that of a background time keeper. ‘She Said She Said’ is punctuated by (relatively) extravagant snare fills, never allowing the song to settle. ‘Rain’ – also a watershed for McCartney’s role as the other half of the Fabs’ rhythm section – was a favourite performance by Ringo and again is full of tom rolls and flourishes that match the song’s psychedelia perfectly.
The hi-hat fill and tom-tom rolls which kick off Lennon’s ‘Come Together’ show how Ringo’s particular feel could define a fairly simple pattern. Interestingly, Starr was born left-handed, but developed ambidextrous skills at a young age and always played a right-handed kit. This facilitated some unorthodox ideas, but also made some more conventional drum figures somewhat awkward; the result was Ringo’s personal, inimitable style. ‘Get Back’ would be unimaginable without Ringo’s underpinning snare shuffle; it’s B-side, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ features another idiosyncrasy in the 16th-note hi-hat pattern heard on the first beat only of each bar.
All this is interesting to compare with the performances on ‘Back In The USSR’ and ‘Dear Prudence’, where an unprecedented falling-out had led to Ringo’s temporary departure from the band, and McCartney played drums instead. Who knows how Ringo would have played these drum parts; there is perhaps a stiffness and straightness to some of McCartney’s comparatively undeveloped playing, but his avalanche of tom-toms at the end of ‘Prudence’ remains a definite standout Beatles drum moment.
A glance through the interviews he has given over the years gives the impression that Ringo Starr never believed that he was a great drummer, let alone a great singer, or a great anything else really. Yet, like his contemporaries Charlie Watts in The Rolling Stones and Keith Moon with The Who, he was unquestionably the perfect drummer for the group in which he played, steady and reliable with occasional touches of greatness that he modestly shrugs off with his trademark self-depreciation. In 1964 American Beatles fans mounted a campaign to elect Ringo for President. Well, he’d certainly have made a better fist of it than some I can think of…

(I am grateful to Music Sales senior editor Tom Farncombe for help with this and yesterday’s piece about Paul McCartney’s basses)

Further Reading:
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn (Hamlyn/EMI 1998)
The Beatles Gear by Andy Babiuk (Backbeat, 2002)
Here There And Everywhere by Geoff Emerick (Gotham Books, 2007)

Revolution In The Head by Ian MacDonald (Vintage, 2008)