The second part of my long interview with Keith from April 1972. Part three tomorrow.
Can you remember making ‘I Can’t Explain?’ [single released February 1965.]
Yes, for us it was phenomenally successful because it got into the Top 20, and we can’t even do that now, not that we ever release anything. It was released about the time Pete started getting into writing. He had written a couple of things before, but now he had bought a pen and paper because we could afford it. We borrowed the money from Kit because we thought he was a millionaire. He probably had about £150, but that was a million to us. Chris Stamp had to go and work on films to keep us.
When did you start playing outside of London?
We used to play some Sunday concerts with people like Dusty Springfield, Gerry & The Pacemakers, and massive bills. Each group had about three minutes. It was one number and off. Our one number used to last about 15 minutes, and we weren’t very popular so we didn’t do many. We invariably got into trouble for over-running and being generally nasty. Then we did [early British rock television show] Ready, Steady, Go and a Beatles show in Blackpool.
Were you having trouble with record companies at this time?
One always is. The record companies are strange. Some try harder than others, but the ones we had weren’t trying at all. There were hassles everywhere. A lot of it was pointless. Now we get together and thrash things out, but for that. We’d just smash each other in the mouth to solve things.
When did you first go to America?
That was much later. We did the Ready, Steady, Go! things, and then the Ready, Steady, Who record [an early EP]. Kit had some connections in Paris and we did a couple of shows over there [in 1964]. That was the first time we ever went abroad. I remember Kit taking me to a bistro and I threw up all over the drums. The group’s music was a lot of Motown stuff, which we got into at the Marquee. There was ‘Baby Don’t You Do It’, which we still do, and ‘Barbara Ann’. That’s the kind of music I was into then, as well as Who music.
Were you ever a mod?
No, I was a rocker. Everybody was generally scruffy except John. We wore jeans and T-shirt gear basically. Pete would always wear comfortable clothes. The pop-art thing was Kit’s idea.
You were always looked on as being an arrogant, nasty bunch.
We were. We were very nasty, and still are.
Were you living on pills or was that a publicity gimmick?
It was true. We had amazing things. We didn’t go out of our way to be nasty, we were naturally nasty. The press would ask these bloody stupid questions like, "What is the colour of your socks?" and I’d think, "What’s that got to do with you?"
Was it ‘My Generation’ that made it in England for you?
Yes. We had ‘Anywhere, Anyhow’ [sic] but that didn’t go well. ‘My Generation’ made it over here but I can’t remember how we made it to America. The first time we went was the Murray The K Show [March, 1967]. He used to take a theatre for two weeks and put on as many shows a day as he could possibly fit in. There was a minimum of four with the first starting at 11:00 in the morning. You could never leave the theatre because you never knew when the next one was.
We had eight minutes and it was insane. We always ran overtime, but the reaction we got was amazing, because we were into smashing everything up. Eventually he let us go on a bit. The Cream were with us then on the show, and Wilson Pickett and Mitch Ryder. The next time we went to the States was for Monterey [July ‘67], but that was just in and out. Then we concentrated on New York, which was Kit’s plan. He wanted to take New York and go on to the West Coast using the same formula as we had at the Marquee. We wanted to build up a solid New York following and move out from there.
Were you very much in debt by then?
Very much so. I don’t think it was because of living too well, although Pete and I are spenders. We are extravagant, to say the least. The main things were the instruments. We’d do a show and get £100, but a guitar would be £150, and a drum set £100. The debt got up to £30,000 or £40,000, and probably a lot more.
Was there a time when the relationship within the group worsened because of the mounting bills?
The thing that kept us together was the fact that we knew all along we were going to get somewhere. We didn’t have to convince each other. We were supremely confident. It was a very tough band and nobody would concede. Nobody would say they were leaving the group except in flashes of temper.
How much did the debt reach?
The figures were astronomical. We used to have meetings that were more like post mortems. Our accountants were pale, ashen figures. We’d pick up the accounts and throw them all over the office, falling about with laughter. There was no account, just debt, debt, debt, with nothing coming in.
It became so huge with equipment costs, van costs, costs for going to the United States – which was amazingly expensive. Over here we would get £200 a week, which sounded great, but it wasn’t. We got about £600 for the Murray The K Show, but we were booked into one of the most expensive hotels in New York. $5,000 would go in two days. We should have had a broom cupboard, but there we were in a suite ordering Oysters Rockefeller. We didn’t have any idea at all of money.
When was the turning point as far as money was concerned?
In the States, I can’t remember. Ready, Steady, Go was the turning point here after ‘My Generation’ made it. Believe it or not it’s only since Tommy that we have started to have a bit of profit. Before that, nothing, and we had to pay back everything we had borrowed. We did a tour of the States with Herman’s Hermits and lost money. We did a tour in a bus, which we thought was the cheapest way of doing it, but once again the bus came to thousands of dollars.
The money we were earning meant nothing. Going from one gig to another would cost more than the gig money, and on top of that we had the equipment bills. Every night, regular, we’d break the gear. By this time I’d got some stronger drums, but I deliberately broke them.
Were you beginning to develop a following in the United States?
On the Herman’s Hermits tour we were second on the bill, closing the first half, and about this time we started picking up fans. It was by playing, not records. It was a slog going around with a big group. The turning point in the States was Tommy in all respects: money-wise, audience-wise, and respect-wise. That got a lot of hassles with the record company sorted out because they respected us then. They would arrange things like free publicity and receptions for us.
You had trouble following Tommy?
Yes. That’s why we put the live album out [Live At Leeds]. We couldn’t really follow it up. We wanted to do a positive step in another direction, otherwise Pete would be writingTommys for the rest of his life.
Who came up with ‘Summertime Blues?’
We all had a meeting where we were rehearsing and decided we needed some new material to replace Tommy. We all went home and sorted through old records that we could do a version of. Some we came up with were no good, and others were great, like ‘Summertime Blues’. We dug up ‘Young Man’s Blues’, too. The Live At Leeds album represented the stage act as it was for a time, but then we got to putting more of Tommy into it.