Each year at the Frankfurt Book Fair during the nineties I would meet up with my American friend Paul Williams who in 1966 founded Crawdaddy!, the first magazine ever to include serious rock criticism, and in doing so invented the concept of rock journalism. These meetings resulted in Omnibus Press publishing new UK editions of Paul’s three Bob Dylan Performing Artist books, and also Watching The River Flow, a further collection of his Dylan writings, and books of his writings on Neil Young and The Beach Boys. Paul always sent me copies of Crawdaddy! to read, and from 1994 I nagged him to write or commission for Crawdaddy! a decent length piece on The Who and their 4-CD box set 30 Years Of Maximum R&B, of which I was co-producer, and The Who’s re-issued back catalogue albums, of which I was executive producer. When it didn’t happen I thought about writing it myself, except that generally speaking (for wholly virtuous, ethical reasons) Crawdaddy! wasn’t the kind of magazine that commissioned record producers to write about the records they produced, even if the producer happened to be a writer first and a record producer second.
But what the hell... I didn’t produce 30 Years Of Maximum R&B in the sense that most record producers produce records. I didn’t book the studio or sit there in the control room twiddling knobs or recommending songs or making suggestions about where the solo should go or the order in which the verses should be sung or double-tracking the choruses or tweaking the volume on the bass. I just compiled the tracks from the band’s back catalogue and other sources, or at least suggested what I thought was the best selection to Pete Townshend, arguing with him in their favour where necessary, and then commissioned and/or wrote and then edited the text in the 76-page booklet, helped with the photo research for same, checked over proofs of Richard Evans’ design work, and did my best to sustain everyone’s motivation so that it came out at a time that kept the two record labels (MCA in the US and Polydor in Europe) reasonably happy, i.e. less than a year late. And I hadn’t written about my involvement in this project, how it came about or what I thought about it when it was released, or about the back catalogue re-issues, so I put pen to paper for Paul and he eventually published the piece in Crawdaddy!, all 12,000 words of it.
Paul died in 2013 having suffered from dementia for a number of years, the result of long-term injuries sustained in a cycling accident in 1995. I felt honoured to have been published in Crawdaddy!, and I was proud to have been Paul’s friend. As I wrote on Facebook at the time of his death, he invented the career I chose to follow.
Over the next few days I will post the 30 Years Of Maximum R&B piece I wrote for Crawdaddy!, the longest I ever wrote about The Who outside of the books I did, divided up into six parts. After a good deal of thought I came up with the title A Bargain – The Best You Ever Had for reasons that will become clear along the way. The circulation of Crawdaddy! was never very large so I don’t suppose it was that widely read but my apologies if some of the text seems a bit familiar, as some of it is reworked from other Who related writings of mine that have already appeared as posts on Just Backdated. I tend to recycle a bit! Bear in mind also that it was written in 1997, though I have amended it slightly in the meantime.