29.6.16

SCOTTY MOORE



Woke up this morning to an e-mail from a friend telling me of the death of Scotty Moore, the pioneering guitarist who backed Elvis on his earliest recordings and toured with him until – like so many others – he displeased Colonel Tom Parker by asking for a fair share of the profits. So did Chips Moman, the producer who in 1968 suggested Elvis record ‘Suspicious Minds’, and who also died recently too – but at least he and Moore outlived the avaricious Parker by the best part of 20 years.
Along with producer Sam Phillips, bassist Bill Black and the Hillbilly Cat himself, Moore was a key figure when, between takes at the Sun Studios in Memphis on July 5, 1954, Elvis started hamming it up on an Arthur Crudup blues number called ‘That’s All Right’. Moore and Black joined in and Phillips rushed to set the controls. The recording was completed the same day.
As I wrote in a booklet commissioned in 1987 to accompany a Telstar Records cassette of Elvis material leased from RCA: “Although not the best of the 17 sides Elvis recorded for Phillips and his Sun Records label, ‘That’s All Right’ surely embodies the same sense of freedom a prisoner might feel on breaking loose after years in the pen. Flowing like a river in flood, the song is a showcase for Elvis’ pure high tenor, Moore’s precise guitar figures and the trio’s slapping rhythmic feel. Elvis and his two accomplices had made a dynamic debut.”
In fact, Moore was Elvis’ manager when he first started out and after being ousted by Parker managed to hang on long enough to play beautifully on many more early Elvis recordings, among them ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Blues Suede Shoes’. He also appeared alongside Elvis, with Black and drummer DJ Fontana, on the TV shows in 1956 and ’57, looking for all the world as if they was born on a different planet from the boy at the front who scandalised America until censors decreed he could be shown only from the waist up.
Just about every rock guitarist who has ever learned to play has done his best to emulate the solos on Elvis’ recordings between 1955 and ’58. In a forthcoming Omnibus Press biography of Jimmy Page, author Martin Power quotes Page as saying: “The record that really made me want to play guitar was ‘Baby, Let’s Play House’. When I heard that record, I just wanted to be part of it... the acoustic and electric guitars, the slap bass, those instruments seemed to generate so much energy”, and Power goes on to write: “If one were being picky, ‘Baby, Let’s Play House’’s combination of descending acoustic bassline and bouncing drums was probably more rockabilly than rock’n’roll. In the end, such distinctions were irrelevant. The instrument teasing the best out of Presley’s deliciously slurred vocal and making Jimmy’s ears pop as a result was Scotty Moore’s guitar. Elvis’s secret weapon, Moore was a man who could combine country fills, double stops and hillbilly chord twangs like the ingredients for a gourmet meal, served up on his gold Gibson ES (Electric Spanish) 295 in a way Page once described as ‘heart-stopping’. Obviously, this whole rock’n’roll thing were to be investigated, and quickly.”
Keith Richards, too, was turned around by Moore: “When I heard ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, I knew what I wanted to do in life. All I wanted to do in the world was to be able to play like that. Everyone else wanted to be Elvis. I wanted to be Scotty.”
        Moore (and Black) left Elvis’ employ in 1957 over disputes with Parker. In his memoir That’s Alright, published in 1997, he claimed to have made just $8,000 in 1957 while Elvis made over a million. “We couldn’t go to talk to Elvis about anything,” he wrote. “It’s not that I feel bitterness, just disappointment.”
        Moore appeared with Elvis on the 1968 comeback TV special that saw a dramatic reversal in his fortunes, but his fee didn’t even cover his travel expenses, so he and Elvis never worked together again. Nevertheless, like many pioneering background figures from the early years of rock’n’roll, Moore was eventually feted by the guitarists he inspired, many of them British. He went on to work with Ringo, Jeff Beck and others and, despite the rancour of the Elvis situation, whenever he made appearances later in life always came across as a genial and eternally modest old soul, slightly surprised at the credit bestowed upon him, deferring always to Elvis and acting like the dignified southern gentleman he was.
        Scotty Moore died yesterday at his home in Nashville, aged 84.
    

12.6.16

PAUL McCARTNEY: THE BIOGRAPHY by Philip Norman




What must it be like to be Paul McCartney? Deluged by gargantuan levels of fame since the age of 21, he has remained squarely in the spotlight ever since. Other pretenders to his pop crown, not to mention Popes and Presidents, come and go but Paul, like the Queen, remains in place, the best known, most loved and most successful rock star on the planet, still at it at 73, his violin bass and cheery smile entertaining the multitudes with yet another chorus of ‘Hey Jude’. Meanwhile, having amassed a fortune as great as the Count of Monte Cristo, he somehow keeps his feet on the ground, always and forever Mr Normal.
It is a life that has been under the microscope many times before and Philip Norman is better placed than most to tell it again. The author of Shout!, the first Beatles biography to look seriously behind the deference that until its publication in 1981 had shielded the world’s greatest and best known pop group from detractors, Norman went on to write a thumping great biography of John Lennon, the Beatle he once suggested was three-quarters of the group. Now he turns his attention to the other senior Beatle who, it must be said, has good reason to detest him. Shout!, highly enjoyable and successful as it was, was so firmly on the side of John that Paul referred to it as ‘Shite’.
Adding to the debate that surrounds the publication of his bulky 850 page McCartney book is Norman’s position in the hierarchy of Beatle biographers, once unassailable but of late challenged by Mark Lewisohn, now widely recognised as the group’s foremost archivist. There is a well-defined difference between these two rivals, however. Lewisohn is a virtuoso historian, concerned with details, painstakingly unearthing previously unknown facts and anecdotes and, with scrupulous attention to accuracy, recording them at great length for posterity as demonstrated in the extraordinary Tune In, the first in what will surely become a remarkable and definitive trilogy of books that tell the Beatles’ story from birth to their formal dissolution in 1974. Norman, on the other hand, is a first-rate literary stylist, a craftsman whose elegant and evocative prose entertains, illuminates and gives pause for thought as he tells the story – the same story, of course, that he’s told twice before, at least up to 1970.
Norman begins his tale by laying his cards on the table, explaining in his introduction his difficult relationship with McCartney which seems to have finally reached a relatively amicable plateau. In what seems like a quid per quo trade-off, McCartney has evidently given his thumbs-up to this book while Norman has revised his opinions on his subject’s contribution to the group’s music. Hatchets buried, at least for now, we’re off and Norman’s opening chapter, a heart-warming description of the National Trust ride to 20 Forthlin Road, Liverpool, the house where McCartney spent his formative years, is as eloquent as it is charming, bringing back memories of my own experience of this same National Trust tour in 2010.
Thereafter we get chapters on the McCartney line – in which we are informed that Jim, Paul’s dad, was one of seven siblings who owned two pairs of shoes between then, one for the boys, the other for the girls, and that since the school they attended required all pupils to be properly shod they would take turns to attend, and those that did would repeat the lessons to the others on their return – and Paul’s childhood, followed by the best part of 300 pages on The Beatles. This takes us to about halfway through the book, so the years from 1970 to 2015 occupy the second half, an imbalance that suggests Norman’s interest still rests with the sixties.
It’s an all too familiar story now; how Paul met John at the village fete, joined the Quarrymen who morphed into The Beatles, who learned their trade in Hamburg and at the Cavern, became managed by Brian Epstein who smartened them up for George Martin to light the fuse beneath the firework called Beatlemania. Nevertheless, it is to Norman’s credit that in this, his third time of telling the same story, he still manages to inject it with the magic it deserves, even though this is a more streamlined version. This telling, however, not only shifts the focus towards McCartney but also presents him in a more favourable light than in either Shout! or his Lennon book. Tony Sheridan, for example, states: “Watching them, I used to think that Paul could probably make it without John, but John was never going to make it without Paul”, a particularly strong quote that I couldn’t find in either of his previous books. This surely implies that for this book Norman has adopted a selective policy that favours McCartney.
If it’s well told – and it is – I can enjoy the Beatles’ story again, even if there’s nothing much new of note here. That’s Lewisohn’s job, though even he would be impressed by details such as how Jane Asher’s father taught himself to write his signature upside down so as not to waste time turning around letters handed to him by his secretary. There is, however, new – or at least expanded – material about McCartney himself, and Norman is particularly strong on his close relationship with his father Jim and warm attitude towards his second wife that in time would cool; also his relationship with Jane Asher who, as ever, remains decorously mute, and Paul’s voracious appetite for other girls; his fondness for soft drugs and immersion in London’s alternative culture, led by my friend Barry Miles, which finally puts to the sword any ideas that John was the Beatles’ avant-garde envelope pusher; and family life at Peasmarsh and elsewhere in which Paul and Linda excel as parents. Throughout all this the group’s music seems to take a secondary role, perhaps because Norman realises it’s all been covered so well before, though he delights in hinting how real experiences find their way into Paul’s songs.
Linda’s arrival in Paul’s life is covered in great detail – as it should be – and she, along with Yoko, are held responsible for the break up of the group. As it fragments after Epstein’s death, Norman puts forward a convincing case against the wisdom of hiring Allen Klein to oversee their affairs, the implication being that if the other three had adopted McCartney’s suggestion that Lee Eastman, his father-in-law, be given the job they would all have benefitted to a far greater degree – and John and Paul might even have hung on to Northern Songs. In the event it was not to be, the malice clouding John’s judgement and upsetting the applecart to everyone’s detriment. Paul can be forgiven for being smug when it turns out he was right all along.
And so on to the solo years during which Paul, who always enjoyed performing, becomes the only Beatle to do so regularly (at least until Ringo formed his All Starr Band). Band On The Run (and ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’) aside, Paul’s music thereafter rarely reached the heights it did when John was egging him on, and though Norman feels duty bound to cover it in detail there a sense of dutiful ennui to his coverage thereof. Of more interest is the coverage of the Japanese jaunt that saw Paul briefly jailed for importing marijuana, which Norman relates in fine detail, as he does with Linda’s decline and McCartney’s disastrous marriage to the dislikeable Heather Mills.[1]
Linda’s death clearly robbed McCartney of the rock on which he’d built his life, so in her absence seems to have been a bit of a loose cannon. Never one to defer to others, apart from her, we are presented with a man who is known to everyone but surprisingly isolated. Not even his children can prevent this ill-advised union, the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ syndrome having proved his undoing. Fortunately, in the closing chapters of Norman’s book the darkness is exchanged for light with the arrival of the far more suitable Nancy Shevell.
With regard to flaws, I feel duty bound to reiterate comments from other reviewers in that Wings was never a ‘glam rock’ band and that ‘God Save The Queen’ by the Sex Pistols was not a punk-style pastiche of the National Anthem, even if they do share the same title. More importantly, for a book that purports to be a definitive biography of McCartney I could find no discussion of his remarkable skills as a bass player, one of the best in the business. Having myself written a 2,000+ word introduction to a Beatles songbook aimed specifically at bass players (http://justbackdated.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/paul-his-basses.html), I find this unforgiveable, a very serious deficiency.[2]
As Norman brings the story up to date we learn how McCartney finally become reconciled to his past, realising in the end that this was where the love was made, and performing hugely enjoyable, ultra-professional concerts that continue to be celebrations of The Beatles. He is also resigned to forever being second, the second Beatle, after John but before George and Ringo. Indeed, Philip Norman perhaps recognises this as well, choosing to write first about Lennon and then McCartney, albeit with greater insight and depth with this book.



[1] I became convinced that this lady has a very distant relationship with the truth when she let it be known that when Paul smoked marijuana he became violent towards her; anyone with the slightest experience of cannabis use knows perfectly well it has the exact opposite effect. I wholeheartedly concur with the judge who firmly rejected her evidence during the divorce proceedings, reproduced here in all its fantasy detail.

[2] Other errors: a suggestion that The Who would have been managed by Nems had Robert Stigwod taken over is well wide of the mark. Joni Mitchell did not perform at Woodstock. Denny Laine was not a member of the Incredible String Band (it was the Electric String Band) and he is incorrectly identified as Jimmy McCulloch (and vice versa) in a photo in the third plate section. The Troubador in LA is certainly not ‘super-chic’. McCartney did not buy his MPL offices in Soho Square in 1977 but acquired the floors of the building one by one as they became empty from 1972 onwards, completing the ‘set’ in 1977 when he brought about a full scale refurbishment. Finally, I don’t believe Paul ever played a Fender bass on stage, as implied on page 627.

7.6.16

ABBA REUNITE (AGAIN) - The Truth




Reports that the four members of Abba performed together on Sunday night for the first time since 1981 seem to have been exaggerated, at least according to my well informed source who was with them at the Berns Salonger, a posh restaurant attached to a hotel in Stockholm. Not only didn’t the quartet all perform together but the songs that were performed, firstly by the boys alone and secondly the girls, were different from those reported in the press.
The occasion was the 50th anniversary of the date when Björn Ulvaeus first met Benny Andersson, on June 5, 1966, at a pop festival on the Ålleberg hill, three miles southeast of the town of Falköping. At the time Björn was a member of The Hootenanny Singers while Benny was the keyboard player with The Hep Stars, and both bands happened to be playing the festival that day. Afterwards, at the hotel where The Hep Stars were staying in Linköping, the two future Abba songwriters were introduced and ended up with playing guitars together, sitting in a park until the sun came up, singing songs by The Beatles and The Kingston Trio.
Not surprisingly Björn and Benny never forgot their equivalent of the Woolton church fete and, on Sunday, 50 years to the day, they were joined by the female half of Abba, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, to whom they were once married, to celebrate. That much seems to have been reported accurately enough by the media but that’s as far as it went.
“Contrary to reports, the four of them didn’t actually sing together,” I am told by my spy, who was present at the event. “Agnetha and Frida sang ‘The Way Old Friends Do’ and then Björn and Benny came onstage afterwards. But [there was] no actual group singing. The last number before Agnetha and Frida was Björn singing ‘Does Your Mother Know’ with Benny playing the piano.”
According to the erroneous reports the quartet sang ‘Me And I’, their ‘1980 hit’. Not only wasn’t ‘Me And I’ a hit – it was an album track from the Super Trouper LP, released that year – but they never sang it. “What happened was that the emcee introduced Agnetha and Frida by saying they were going to perform a song called ‘You And I’, which are the first words of the lyrics for ‘The Way Old Friends Do’,” reports my insider. “He should have known better, but there you go. Then one of the guests leaving the party told a reporter outside that they’d performed a song called ‘You And I’. And then the media must have concluded that “there’s no ABBA song entitled ‘You And I’ – oh, I guess they meant ‘Me And I’”. Voilá – a rubbish story is born.”
          Just Backdated – not necessarily first with the news but at least we get it right!




3.6.16

TIGHT BUT LOOSE - JPJ & BP Fallon's Story



Perhaps because fame wasn’t to his taste, perhaps because – as the consummate professional – he regarded his employment between 1968 and 1980 as just another gig (albeit a very lucrative one) or perhaps because he thinks he has less to lose than Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, but John Paul Jones has kept himself largely to himself since Led Zeppelin called it a day in 1980. Truth is he’s the kind of rock star I’d like to have been, acclaimed for his musicianship, richly rewarded yet unrecognised on the street. When I worked at Music Sales John Paul would come into our offices from time to time to meet with his publisher on the 5th floor, usually dressed in jeans and a scuffed jacket, and tell me whether or not the tube was crowded. The tube? Page and Plant are less likely to be seen on the tube than senior members of the Royal Family, unless of course they’re opening a new line named after them.
So it’s nice to see the eternally modest John Paul on the cover of the latest Tight But Loose, Dave Lewis’ superior Led Zeppelin fanzine which arrived this week. Inside he talks about what he’s up to (with a brief mention of his work for Dave Rawlings, musical partner of the very wonderful Gillian Welch) and a bit about his past and his thoughts on his legacy. No one ever seemed to want to interview John Paul in my Melody Maker days and he didn’t seem to mind one iota, happy as he was to do his job properly like the craftsman he is, and go home afterwards. Nevertheless, when he does decide to talk he’s forthcoming, friendly and comes across as the Mr Nice Guy he's always been.
Of equal interest, at least to me because I used to know him well, is an interview with BP Fallon, the impish Irish PR who took on the Led Zeppelin brief around 1973 and hung around doing the same job on and off until 1980. Having previously worked for EG management (King Crimson, ELP, Roxy Music) and Marc Bolan, BP’s arrival in the Zep camp took most of us by surprise, not least because he didn’t share the aggressive tendencies associated with their management. In the event this was a bonus. Already well liked by the press for his laid-back otherworldliness, BP was ideal for easing the rather touchy relationship between band and media that developed after the merits of Led Zeppelin III came under scrutiny in 1970.


Jimmy Page with BP Fallon aboard the Starship in 1973, photo by Bob Gruen

Whenever BP rang me up with some news about a client he would open the conversation by announcing: “Hey man, I need to lay a verbal on you.” He never ceased to fascinate, to intrigue. Nevertheless, like the eternally absent-minded Simon Puxley with Roxy Music, PR for BP was really just a hook on which to hang his hat. His real skill was advising his clients on how best to present themselves to the world, and in so doing to engender sympathetic media coverage at a time when the UK music press was becoming far less deferential towards the artists that peopled its pages. When Bolan was in danger of becoming a trifling teen-idol, BP gave him integrity, and when Led Zeppelin appeared too high and mighty, BP did his best to present them as humans, not quite cuddly but certainly less belligerent than their reputation suggested. Also, there was an obvious affinity with Jimmy Page; both of them small, dark and a bit mysterious, sometimes whimsical, sometimes deep, and both of them powerful magnets for immensely attractive women. After Zep BP went on to work for U2 for a spell, wearing a laminate that read: ‘Guru, Viber & DJ’ – a perfect job description really.
Elsewhere Tight But Loose contains the usual news of what Page, Plant and Jones have been up to, information about records, gigs (including a Deborah Bonham Band show at which Plant got up to sing ‘When The Levee Breaks’ and ‘Shakin’ All Over’) and bootlegs, opinions from fans and everything else the committed Zep fan needs to know. It’s also nice to know that the three men who inspire the magazine’s success and continuing existence now so appreciate the work that Dave does on their behalf that they are happy to support it in the way they do.