I was sent this letter by my friend Ed Bicknell who famously managed Dire Straits and at one time managed Bryan Ferry who probably gave him a copy. No doubt Bryan, Eno and the rest of the gang fought tooth and nail over ownership of the complimentary Polka Party cassette.
Ill-served in 2004 by Paulo Hewitt and John Hellier’s well-meaning but toothless It’s All Too Beautiful, Steve Marriott gets the biography he deserves in Simon Spence’s unflinching oral history. Insofar as a book can be ‘authorised’ when its subject is 30 years gone and his posthumous affairs in eternal disarray, All Or Nothing has evidently been sanctioned by Marriott’s sister, first two wives, four children and several surviving bandmates, all of whom contribute, but not his third and final wife (and sole heir) whose errant behaviour since his death invites castigation from all concerned.
“The format of an oral biography… makes for an honest, often brutal form of storytelling, especially when dealing with the shadier side of Marriott’s life; the gangsters, addiction, immorality and long-held suspicions over his untimely death,” writes Spence in a concise preface that lists no fewer than 125 interviewees. “[It is] insightful, gossipy, engrossing, frightening and stickily intimate. Here is the man in full, warts and halos, on stage, in studios, backrooms, bedrooms and dark holes.”
Well, bring it on then is the only response to such blatant trumpeting but after winding my way through its 438 pages I can faithfully report that he isn’t kidding. Blessed with a voice that made his rivals weep, Marriott was an inestimably talented musician but, like a few others in this line of work, he threw it all away by living recklessly and alienating just about everyone he met. For better or worse, the extent of his dickhead behaviour is laid out forensically on page after page, the only surprise being that so many of those close to him have authorised such a damning account of his short life.
“He was a very, very naughty boy,” says his aunt Sheila on the opening page, echoing Terry Jones as (Life Of) Brian’s mum and summarising an opinion shared by just about everyone else as we travel through Marriott’s childhood, early acting roles and uneven musical career with the Small Faces, Humble Pie and groups he led himself under the All Stars and other banners. Towards the end, perhaps inevitably, he winds up broke, playing pub gigs for cash as Packet Of Three, having learned absolutely nothing from his many mistakes, misdemeanours and misadventures.
Cocky, opinionated and inconsiderate, Marriott was certainly difficult to like – and the impression is given that it wasn’t really worth the effort. He was also tiny, a few inches over five foot, and this might explain why he was drawn towards tough-guy managers in the belief that these traits would serve him well in a dispute, physical or otherwise. What he failed to realise, however, was that these managers, chief among them the notorious Don Arden and, in America, mob associate Dee Anthony, were unlikely to deal honourably with their clients either. All Or Nothing is full of information about deals that involve decent sums of money, but what little of it ended up in Marriott’s bank account was invariably squandered within days or owed to the taxman.
Arden, who actually comes across as less sinister than his popular image suggests, certainly treated the Small Faces as a commodity to be bought and sold, and though their story has been told many times before All Or Nothing reinforces the impression that, for all the great songs they recorded, the four boys – Steve, Ronnie, Mac and Kenney – didn’t really have a clue about what was going on around them. It’s no secret that when Marriott quit there wasn’t much left in the kitty and the rights to their work wasn’t theirs. Meanwhile, all four, but especially Steve, had acquired a taste for drink and drugs, and while the other three matured in the company of Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, Steve didn’t.
Humble Pie, on the other hand, have not previously been under the microscope like this and it’s here where Marriott finds his greatest success which, paradoxically, sends him off the rails, not least because manager Anthony believed that the best way to sell records, and therefore generate income, was by touring endlessly. Drummer Jerry Shirley and bass player Greg Ridley recount endless tales of exhaustion, drugs and money woes, with Marriott spinning out of control, trashing hotel suites and picking fights with men twice his size, blaming his behaviour on an alter-ego, a wrestler called Melvin. (Puzzled? Read the book.) Yet, at the same time he was singing out of the skull, night after night, a pint-sized prima donna beloved of audiences across America, an artist in his element, as good a rock and soul singer as the UK has ever produced, an opinion shared by Bob Dylan, Robert Plant and David Bowie.
Journalist and PR Keith Altham, a shrewd observer of the pop scene for over 50 years, makes the point as well as anyone: “[Dee Anthony] was a clever, powerful man. His way of handling artists was to give them what they wanted. ‘You want more girls? Drugs? Bigger houses? Have them.’ They don’t find out until later that the money was a loan and they’ve got to repay it, and they’re mortgaged to the hilt.”
Meanwhile Marriott treats his women, whether he married them or not, shamefully, friends recoil in horror at his behaviour and he slides into drug addiction and alcoholism. It all makes for an absorbing, if chilling, read; the awful truth laid bare. His death, in a fire at his cottage at Arkesden in Essex 30 years ago next month, is covered exhaustively with a suggestion that questions are likely to remain unanswered. And wife number three, to whom he had been married for less than two years, inherited whatever was left but has declined to share it amongst his children. That she winds up in Holloway after a drunk driving incident in which a girl was killed seems like a macabre postscript to an already lurid tale.
As well as the thoughts of those mentioned above, and many more, All Or Nothing contains 24 pages of well-researched pictures, a foreword by Jerry Shirley and a great cover shot by my old colleague Barry Wentzell.
Alone among their contemporaries in the UK, The Who attracted a handful of fans and at least one influential critic who viewed them not just as a lively pop group but as a performance art project conceived by Pete Townshend, aided and abetted by co-manager Kit Lambert. This component of their being, exemplified by their clothes, the auto-destruction and the tone of their early records and interviews, is scrutinised here; not so much a biography as a rather academic thesis on The Who’s role in the cultural environment of the sixties that produced social realism in the cinema, Peter Blake’s pop art, Mary Quant’s mini skirt, Blow Up, great pop music and all the rest of what made the decade swing.
The critic in question, of course, is Nik Cohn who believed that the best pop was transient, a sudden explosion followed by nothing else, much like the climax to a Who concert. Long careers and earnest expressions in pop were anathema to Cohn whose acclaimed 1969 book Pop From The Beginning expanded on this theory, arguing that once good taste triumphed over trash it was all over. Now best known for his story in New York magazine that formed the basis of the movie Saturday Night Fever, Cohn wrote a provocative music column for Queen magazine in the sixties, and the point is made that unlike the music press Queen did not rely on record company advertising to stay afloat, thus permitting Cohn to adopt a ‘critical honesty’ he might not have enjoyed elsewhere. Such honesty appealed greatly to Lambert and Townshend, both of whom disdained the hypocritical, PR-driven showbiz culture that infected pop.
Insofar as he loved to demolish sacred cows, Cohn’s writings reflected the same lapse in deference to authority as shown by the Mods and Rockers clashing on Margate beach or Mandy Rice-Davies’ famous ‘Well he would, wouldn’t he?’ response during Stephen Ward’s trial. In The Who, and Townshend in particular, Cohn found his champions, so it’s no surprise that he gets almost as much space as the group in A Band With Built-In Hate.
Thanks to Townshend and Lambert, The Who were arty, clever, stylish, revolutionary and, with Keith Moon’s gleeful help, subversive. ‘Attitude as style, style as attitude’ was Lambert’s dictum and Stanfield, Emeritus Professor of Film at Kent University, sets out his credentials in the book’s first chapter, an impressive essay on how social realism dramatically changed film-making and so enthused Lambert and his more pragmatic business partner Chris Stamp. Furthermore, he intriguingly draws attention to The Who’s seldom-seen film début, Carousella (1965) in which they appear, for a few seconds, as background colour in a short X-rated documentary about Soho strippers.
Such in-depth research warmed me to his book. Stanfield is no less impressive on Mods and Pop Art, both of which were adopted and abandoned by The Who in 1965 and 1966, and on their early singles, which he examines forensically, and with great insight, in Chapter 3. He’s also impressed by their LP artwork. “There is nothing po-faced, pretentious or obscure about this sleeve,” he writes about Alan Aldridge’s cover for A Quick One. “It is glossy, colourful, superficial, humorous, self-depreciating, commercial and fun. It is Pop!” He’s equally enthused about Sell Out, but quotes others, notably Cohn, over his own opinions.
It’s slightly droll to imagine that, unbeknownst to the other three, Townshend envisaged The Who as an extension of his studies at Ealing Art College and might even have abandoned the group once he brought the experiment to a conclusion. ”Obsolescence was a given in [Townshend’s] concept of the band,” writes Stanfield at one point, adding weight to the theory. If true, Townshend clearly decided at some point to carry on with the band, no doubt because he realised he could make a decent living from it and/or because it would have been churlish to let the others down.
Either way, Stansfield’s book loses some of its purpose, at least as far as The Who are concerned, once these objectives have been achieved. From around the midpoint he devotes as much space to what is going on around them, and to lengthy passages about Cohn’s Pop From The Beginning and, to a lesser extent, his 1967 novel, I Am Still The Greatest Says Johnny Angelo, about the rise and fall of the titular pop star. Thereafter he deals with Tommy, and Cohn’s role in its conception, and how it brought The Who into the mainstream. Discussion on Leeds and Who’s Next follow but unlike in the first three chapters Stansfield relies more on quoting other critics – whose opinions I’d read before – than offering his own take which is a shame, because I enjoyed what he had to say earlier. Much of the chapter on Next is about politics, youth cults and rock revivalism, somewhat tangential to The Who, who by this time were rock superstars and of less interest to critics favoured by the author whose mission was by and large to seek out the new. Much of the final chapter is about punk and The Who’s role as founders. Oddly, there is little mention of Meher Baba’s influence on Townshend, none at all of his confrontational columns in Melody Maker and scant appreciation of the excitement generated by The Who’s stage shows, nor of their skills, when they were in their pomp.
Nevertheless, Stanfield is probably right when in his Conclusion he writes, “[what]... had originally driven The Who, the desire to flaunt convention, to remake one’s world, to refuse the easy way, to contest what it means to be a pop product… had all started to come to an end… around the time of Quadrophenia.” And he’s definitely right when, later in this concluding chapter, he asserts, “Whether they liked it or not The Who were now in the business of making heritage products, selling their fans the comfort of consuming the already experienced.” Still, as Cohn put it, and Stanfield concludes his book, “The Who played longer, harder, and straighter, for the people than anyone else,” a view with which I have always concurred.
With 280 pages, A Band With Built-In Hate: The Who From Pop Art To Punk is an easy but by no means breezy read, well researched and notated, and illustrated thoughtfully throughout in black and white. Just published, it brings together some significant criticism of The Who, connecting them with all manner of cultural references, and is a valuable addition to my ever-expanding Who library. That The Who continue to be so well-served by knowledgeable authors is a tribute to their importance.
Until yesterday I thought my long association with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame had been terminated. I discovered who’d been nominated for 2021 via the internet but for the first time since 1992 I had not received a voting form. It usually arrives in October so I thought maybe my constant banging on about why Richard Thompson and Slade have never been nominated had prompted the R&RHoF to fire me. Or maybe they’d decided I was too old for the job, which may be true, but I sensed my time was up.
Accordingly, I sent a message to them via their website: “My name is CC and I have been a voter for the R&RHoF since 1992. I have not received a voting form for the 2021 inductees. Have I been fired?” I added my email address.
“Hi Chris, you have not been fired!” was the prompt response the kind lady from the R&RHoF Foundation. “Your ballot should arrive early March.”
It turns out the induction schedule was changed due to the pandemic, so the 2021 nominees were announced on February 10th instead of in October as in previous years.
Being a voter for the R&RHoF is an ‘honorary’ position. We’re not paid and no favours are granted beyond an opportunity to listen to selected works by the nominees via a link to their website. Nowadays, with the internet and file sharing making music damn near free to anyone, that means jack shit of course.
Before the computer age, when it was necessary to be in possession of a physical object to listen to music, I was sent cassette tapes and CDs of the R&RHoF nominees, just in case I was unfamiliar with their work and needed a nudge to help me decide my vote. I still have four of those cassettes, the first from 1992 and on it are 30 tracks by 15 artists, two per act, among them David Bowie, Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Velvet Underground and Johnny Cash.
I’m listening to it as I type (yes, I still have a cassette player!), and it’s pretty damn good. Those five above are probably the acts I voted for, and it’s a pound to a penny they were all inducted that year. A glance at the R&RHoF’s website tells me the other ten on this cassette have also been inducted along the way. This certainly adds credence to a contention shared by many that the calibre of acts nominated in yesteryear was somewhat higher than those nominated in the past decade, but we won't go there right now.
I also have eight of their CDs, the first from 1999 when Bruce Springsteen was first nominated, the last from 2006. The CDs have only 15 tracks, one per nominee, but are still cool things to own. My first opens with ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath and closes with ‘La Bamba’ by Ritchie Havens, and elsewhere we get McCartney (‘Jet’), Dusty (‘Son Of A Preacher Man’) and Bruce (‘Born To Run’). The last, oddly, also opens with Sabbath (‘Iron Man’ this time) which just shows how long it took – seven years – for them to be nominated, and closes with Joe Tex (‘I Gotcha’). Elsewhere are Blondie (‘Heart Of Glass’), Chic (‘Good Times’), Miles (‘Right Off’), Skynyrd (‘Free Bird’), Sex Pistols (‘God Save...’), The Stooges (‘1969’) and Patti Smith (‘Dancing Barefoot’), which makes this a fine collection.
This year’s HoF nominees, for whom I will be able to vote in March, are The Go Gos, Fela Kuti, Carole King, Foo Fighters, LL Cool J, Dionne Warwick, Devo, Jay Z, Mary J Blige, Chaka Khan, Rage Against The Machine, The New York Dolls, Tina Turner, Iron Maiden, Todd Rundgren and Kate Bush, many of whom have been nominated before.
The surprises there are Carole King and Tina Turner but the reality is that both have already been inducted, King with Gerry Goffin in 1990 and Tina with Ike a year later. I will vote for both.
I will also vote for The New York Dolls who became eligible for nomination in 1998, 25 years after their first LP was released. Still, it is deplorable that the R&RHoF have waited until all bar one of the Dolls, singer David Johanson, have left us, most recently Sylvain Sylvain in January of this year. Three years ago I edited his memoir There’s No Bones In Ice Cream.
That’s three of my five or six votes – I won’t know how many I can vote for until the form arrives. The others? Dionne Warwick get a vote from me. Though she’s not really rock’n’roll, who can deny the quality of her work? And Todd Rundgren, whom I’ve voted for before.
As before the R&RHoF have instigated a popular vote whereby you can go on their website and nominate one of the acts. It states that votes are limited to one a day, which suggests you can vote for your favourite however many times there are days between this website appearing and the final count, which is probably about six weeks.
At the moment Fela Kuti is leading on 184,000+ votes which is unusual, not because he doesn’t deserve to lead but because I wouldn’t have expected US rock and roll fans to vote for an Afrobeat pioneer who consistently spoke out against American imperialism. Second is Tina on 173k, followed by Foo Fighters on 129k, Iron Maiden on 120k and The Go Gos on 109k. My old pals the Dolls are languishing towards the bottom on 50k, one place ahead of Kate Bush on 49k. This confirms my belief that she’s a bit too weird for American tastes.
Either way, I probably have one more vote. Any suggestions?
My good friend Johnny Rogan, who died unexpectedly in January aged 67, was among the most prolific and acclaimed music biographers of his generation. Much admired for his attention to detail and tenacity in pursuing the truth, his work did not always sit well with his subjects and for this reason he cultivated a rather mischievous air of mystery about his activities and whereabouts. Once his confidence had been gained, however, he was the most genial of companions, witty and wise, generous with advice, the perfect drinking buddy, his preferred tipple a full-bodied red wine.
Two of the 26 books he authored deserve special praise. His definitive biography of The Byrds ran to four updated, fully revised editions. First published in 1981 as Timeless Flight and finally in 2011 as Requiem For The Timeless, it matured by stages into a 1,200-page epic. A second volume, in 2017 his last published book, added a further 1,248 pages to the work and told the stories of the six former Byrds who had passed away. Q magazine described it as, “The best biography of a group ever written”, while Record Collector magazine compared its scope to Tolstoy’s War And Peace. Mojo added: “Rogan displays a grasp of material and depth of research that’d be staggering were it not for the advance warning of an already considerable reputation.”
Until the arrival of Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In, the first in his anticipated multi-volume history of The Beatles, no writer had written more expansively about any popular music group than Johnny did on The Byrds.
Shorter but equally well regarded, not to mention deeply controversial, was Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance (1992), the first substantial book about The Smiths, which became a best-seller, at least by rock book standards, for its publisher Omnibus Press. It famously earned the displeasure of Morrissey who described it as “all lies” and commented: “I hope Johnny Rogan ends his days very soon in an M3 pile-up or a hotel fire,” a quote the publishers gleefully included on the cover of future editions.
Johnny had the last laugh, however, when Morrissey himself quoted from the book during the court case brought by Mike Joyce, the group’s drummer, in a successful bid to increase his share of The Smiths’ earnings. Johnny was present at the hearing – he attended every music-related court trial he could – and was much amused when the judge described Morrissey as “devious, truculent and unreliable”. A New Statesman review of the most recent revised edition, published in 2011, described it as, “the definitive if daunting account of the most romantically mythic band of those times”.
Christened John Rogan, Johnny endured an austere childhood. His parents emigrated from Co. Waterford, Ireland, in 1943 and he was raised in deprived circumstances in a slum in Pimlico, just north of the River Thames in the Borough of Westminster in central London. The rooms, soon to be demolished, had no toilet or electricity. The family of five was then re-housed in a tiny council flat in nearby Vincent Square. His father died young after suffering a heart attack, his brother drowned and his sister died following a brain haemorrhage. The impoverishment of their first accommodation was vividly recalled in his introduction to Requiem For The Timeless: “I dreamed not only of The Beatles and Bob Dylan but of the wonders of electricity,” he wrote. “Our rooms were entirely lit by gaslight, just like you see in Victorian melodramas… heating came from burnt wooden fruit crates taken from the greengrocers and chopped up with a hatchet. Removing ashes from the grate and emptying the urine-filled chamber pot were the first tasks of the day. There was no private toilet or bathroom.”
Johnny attended St Vincent’s Roman Catholic Church School and Pimlico School before spending the entire 1970s as a student, firstly at Newcastle University, where he obtained firsts in both English Language and English Literature, and later at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, where he was awarded an MA for a dissertation on Edmund Spencer’s epic poem The Faerie Queene. Post graduate study at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford – the Bodleian Library became a favourite place to write – followed before he opted to turn his scholarship to his second love after literature: popular music. He later recalled nourishing his love of pop and rock on visits to relations in Ireland whose house, wired for electricity, boasted a radiogram. His love of The Byrds was sparked in 1965 when he first heard their electrified reading of Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’. “It was almost as powerful as hearing ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ when I was about four years old – a treasured childhood memory,” he would write.
Naturally, Johnny longed for a Byrds album but family finances were tight and to avoid parental ire at squandering hard-earned pocket money on something as superfluous to their daily existence as an LP, he bought record tokens which he mailed to himself with a faked note congratulating him on winning a competition sponsored by Radio Luxembourg. “That’s how I came to purchase the first albums I ever owned,” he wrote. “[The Byrds’] Mr Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn!”
Most music biographers of his era served an apprenticeship on the UK’s weekly music papers before turning to books but Johnny Rogan’s by-line was absent from the mainstream music press. His first published writing appeared in Dark Star, an idiosyncratic music fanzine issued sporadically between 1975 and 1980. “He was able to use their credentials, such as they were, to procure his original interviews with [Roger] McGuinn, [Chris] Hillman and most of all [David] Crosby,” recalls his friend and fellow music writer Peter Doggett. “He probably loved Crosby’s music more than anyone else’s, but was rewarded by Crosby consistently bad-mouthing him on Twitter and calling him a liar, because he faithfully reported what Croz had said and done.”
Another friend, the writer and editor Colin Larkin confirms this. “Crosby once said to me on the phone, ‘What! You know Rogan, Johnny Rogan?’” he recalls. “He’s a fucking ferret man, a fucking ferret.”
As well as The Byrds and The Smiths, Johnny wrote books on Neil Young, Roxy Music, Van Morrison, The Kinks, Wham! (which forensically dissected their business affairs), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, John Lennon and Ray Davies. In almost every case he thoroughly revised, updated and expanded these books some years later, often more than once, so much so that they doubled in size. He also wrote a revealing study of pop management, Starmakers & Svengalis: The History of British Pop Management (1988), which was adapted for a six-week BBC TV series and is now a university set text, and a book on football management, The Football Managers (1989).
His second Van Morrison biography No Surrender (2006) was included in the Sunday Times Top 10 books of the year, and inspired one Irish reviewer to proclaim: “Van Morrison: No Surrender is the best book about popular culture written about any Irishman living or dead, and it’s certainly the best social history of Belfast in the mid-60s ever written.”
A review of Johnny's Ray Davies biography A Complicated Life, in The Sunday Times stated: “Masterfully teases out the warring impulses wrestling in [Davies’s] psyche … [Rogan is] adept at relating the social history of the 1950s and 1960s to Davies’s brooding character and lyric obsessions ... He uncovers psychological traumas everywhere and is fascinating on the bitchy rivalries between 1960s pop titans … Such tales make this ... oceanically researched biography go with a swing.”
Unusually, Johnny believed that being a biographer was a lifetime commitment, which explains why – unlike the vast majority of music biographers – he rewrote and enlarged his books as often as he did. “Most biographers, when they’ve finished, they leave it behind and move on,” he told an interviewer. “I keep boxes of material at home, and they keep getting filled up with stuff.”
Similarly, Johnny took a hands-on approach to his books, reading and correcting proofs, indexing them and following the process closely through from print to publication. This led to his forming his own publishing imprint, Rogan House, through which some of his work, including the last two editions of Requiem For The Timeless, were published, along with books by other authors, among them his friend Pete Frame’s Restless Generation, the definitive account of the emergence of rock ’n’ roll music in Britain during the 1950s.
Once he became conversant with the legalities and mechanics of book publishing, Johnny eschewed the services of a literary agent and became adept at reading the small print in book contracts. He was a keen advocate and member of the Society of Authors, happy to share his expertise with other, less savvy, authors. Similarly, he was scrupulous about the correct use of the English language, always available to advise on matters of grammar and syntax.
Between books Johnny worked occasionally as a freelance editor and indexer, and he contributed to many anthologies, most notably The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, conceived and edited by Colin Larkin and published most recently in 2006 as a 10-volume edition by Oxford University Press. He also contributed book reviews to The Irish Times.
Johnny divided his time between the flat in Pimlico in which he was raised and a home he shared with his long-term partner, Jackie Taylor, at Tramore, in Co. Waterford in the Irish Republic. To those who did not know him, he might have appeared as a somewhat remote, very private, perhaps even slightly eccentric figure. Realising that a certain amount of promotion would help sell his books, he was not averse to publicity but nevertheless provided publishers with indistinct pictures of himself for use on the inside flaps of his books. He grew untidy, bushy beards that disguised his features and almost always wore sunglasses. He let it be known – perhaps to amuse, perhaps to confound – that while working on The Severed Alliance he spent a whole year in complete isolation, never once speaking to another person.
Some of these traits were concocted from a fear that certain individuals about whom he wrote might seek to do him harm, but there is no recorded instance of him being assaulted by a rock star or their agents. Nevertheless, when he vouchsafed his telephone number to me, as his editor at Omnibus Press, I was under strict instructions never to reveal it to anyone, and in all the 40 years that I knew him I never knew his address in Pimlico, let alone visited the flat. He used a PO box for mail in all this time. Phone calls, however, were unlikely to be brief.
“My most enduring memory of Johnny is of regularly spending several hours at a time on the phone with him,” adds Peter Doggett. “In conversation he would dissect the minutiae of pop history with the zeal of a rabbinical scholar examining the Talmud. Anyone who dared to claim that ‘Please Please Me’ wasn’t the Beatles’ first UK number one was going to get their ear bent.”
Stick thin, prematurely bald and impervious to fashion trends – I never once saw him in blue jeans – Johnny walked almost everywhere in well-worn Doc Martin shoes, from Pimlico to the West End and back for meetings with publishers, from one end of London to the other. Only in the severest weather would he take a bus. Although the success of his books enriched him beyond the imagination of his parents, he was frugal by nature, a legacy of his disadvantaged upbringing, and he abhorred waste, always using both sides and every square inch of A4 paper on which to write, most often in neat, legible longhand. He always maintained a discreet distance from the established music industry but his adult life was devoted almost entirely to chronicling conclusively the lives and creativity of those without whom it would not exist.
The more I got to know Johnny the more I sensed something in his character, his methods, even his bearing, that brought to mind the popular notion of Sherlock Holmes; that fastidious attention to small details; that cool, sharp, analytical mind; that resolute determination to resolve an issue with absolute precision. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d produced from his coat pocket a magnifying glass to inspect the sleeve of a rare LP record before pronouncing it a fake, or turned up for one of our many pub crawls in an Inverness cape and deerstalker hat.
Of course, he would have taken me to task for writing that last sentence, for straying from the facts, for indulging my imagination, so I will conclude with a self-evident truth. As far as I am aware, Johnny Rogan did not accept promotional records from record companies or review tickets to concerts. This, he believed, was the only way to pursue his craft with his integrity intact. In this respect, this great friend of mine whom I admired so much and now grieve so deeply, was unique in the province we shared, this field he ploughed with such immense distinction.
Johnny suffered a brain haemorrhage. Jackie survives him.
John Rogan, music writer, editor and biographer; born February 14, 1953; died January 21, 2021.
Those who were there will tell you that it was the best concert of their lives and, judging by the eloquence of Richard Williams in a review on his Blue Moments blog two weeks ago, I am inclined to believe them. Richard, the assistant editor of Melody Maker during my early years on the paper, was a clearheaded critic who more often than not kept his emotions in check, but he was unusually passionate in the office the morning after he saw The Band at London’s Royal Albert Hall on June 2, 1971. Two days earlier he and our colleague Chris Welch had interviewed the five members of the group at their London hotel while our photographer Barrie Wentzell took pictures, one of which appeared on that week's front cover, and Richard wasn’t exactly tight-lipped about that either.
Now that entire concert, barring one encore*, has been made available as a bonus second CD in the just released 50th anniversary edition of Stage Fright, The Band’s third studio album, and as anticipated it’s an absolute monster, certainly superior to what I remember of the three Band shows I saw in America between 1974 and 1976. It also bests Rock Of Ages, the live double LP from 1972 on which, to my ears, the group’s distinctive lean sound was impaired by the addition of Alan Toussaint’s horn arrangements.
At the Albert Hall there is no introduction, just a split-second roll from Levon and a sinewy guitar figure from Robbie before the group steam straight into ‘The Shape I’m In’, Richard on lead vocals with the rest joining him on the choruses and Garth upping the ante with some characteristic swirling Hammond lines. The song over, there’s a frighteningly short delay before they’re into ‘Time To Kill’, equally rollocking, introduced by Robbie’s crashing chords, soon joined by Rick’s bass before he and Richard share lead vocals. Two songs in and they’re so nimble they sound as if they’ve been playing all night. Next up is ‘The Weight’.
The Band had many assets, not least their economy, multi-instrumental capabilities and solidity as a unit, but I’m hard pressed to think of another quintet of players with four singers all capable of singing lead who sounded so distinctive, so dissimilar to one another, and who as a consequence could be individually assigned the songs most appropriate to their vocal stylings.
Levon, whose drum kit was tiny and all the better for it, usually took on the more aggressive songs, especially those that expressed anger at the misfortunes of dispossessed rural folk. Also, he and his kit were placed at the side of the stage, subtly implying that unlike every other drummer you care to mention he was part of the front line. Rick’s deeper timbre found voice in their more romantic repertoire, not least their cover here of ‘Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever’, while pianist Richard’s forte was their soulful side, best exemplified here in a passionate, incandescent reading of ‘I Shall Be Released’. Though not quite as expressive as his three colleagues, Robbie was at home just about everywhere but confined himself largely to harmonies while concentrating on his Tele leads and fills.
Nowhere are these multi-faceted vocal skills more exemplified than in the multi-part counterpoint harmonies that close the Richard-led ‘Rockin’ Chair’, a sheer delight previously heard as one of the three live recordings from the Albert Hall included on The Band’s Musical History 5-CD set in 2005, but to my ears the version here sounds marginally different, as is the audience reaction.**
The sequencing of the CD suggests – perhaps misleadingly – that every song they played that night followed very quickly after the one that went before. Whatever the actuality of the concert’s pacing, this serves to emphasise their modest attitude towards live work, with no unnecessary introductions, let alone grandstanding.
But back to the music. As the concert sweeps majestically onwards we are treated to the full gamut of The Band’s skills. Levon bequeaths his kit to Richard and plays a Telecaster for ‘Strawberry Wine’ while Garth shoulders an accordion, as he does for ‘Rockin’ Chair’, and he blows a mean saxophone on the playful ‘W. S. Walcott Medicine Show’. My favourite contributions from Garth, the group’s musical polymath, are the fairground whirls and bottom-end rumbles that punctuate so many songs and, of course, the way he conjures up the sound of a Jew’s harp on ‘Cripple Creek’.
But picking highlights from this concert is futile. I’ve been listening to the CD all this past week in my car and office, all the while wishing I could share my enthusiasm for it with my great friend Johnny Rogan, the news of whose death cruelly coincided with its arrival in my home. He’d have loved to hear Levon’s furious growl on ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, the segue from that to Richard’s anguished plea to Molly in ‘The Great Divide’ and Rick’s heart-stopping take on ‘Unfaithful Servant’ which follows, a triple treat if ever I did hear one.
The concert closes on another triple decker, the moderate-paced, metronomic funk of ‘Don’t Do It’, the much-covered Motown song, ‘Chest Fever’, prefaced by Garth’s extraordinary Bach-inspired solo on the organ, and a final, glorious ‘Rag Mama Rag’, at which point I’m pretty sure the RAH crowd, including even Melody Maker’s customarily dignified assistant editor, were on their feet and dancing like the Saturday night revellers at a barn dance in rural Arkansas, fuelled no doubt by moonshine distilled by Levon’s great uncles Josiah and Seth somewhere in the woods nearby.
In his essay in the CD booklet Robbie explains that it was only an afterthought that the shows were recorded, and even then merely on a four-track machine. “Nobody was making a big deal out of this,” he writes, adding: “[It was] one of the greatest live concerts The Band ever played…. The Band, at the peak of enjoying our calling, and being so fortunate to have made this music together.”
Finally, I should add that the actual Stage Fright CD includes new stereo mixes of the original LP’s ten songs plus nine bonus tracks, seven of which are casual recordings of songs taped in a hotel room in Calgary on July 3, 1970.
Almost three weeks after the Eric Clapton concert, on July 25, I was at the side of the stage for another huge gig before another huge crowd, this time Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the Mile High Stadium in Denver. Unstable and prone to outbreaks of verbal squabbling between themselves, CSN&Y nevertheless set aside their differences to undertake a huge tour of the US in the summer of 1974, proving to one and all that they were unquestionably the most popular American band of the era. As with Eric, I can remember gazing out over a vast crowd though this time it was two wired up Americans, one cool Canadian and one delighted Englishman a few feet away from me.
Flown in from New York courtesy of Atlantic Records, I stayed in the same hotel as the group and in the afternoon interviewed Graham Nash. Stephen Stills had been quoted as saying that the first time CS&N went out on the road was for art, the second time for the girls and this, the third, for the dollars, but Graham took exception to this. “We’re doing it for the music, man, because all of us know that none of us can make as good music together as we can apart,” he told me.
Unlike Crosby and Stills, Nash was thin and wiry, and he spoke so passionately that I couldn’t help but believe him. Stills wandered into the room at one point, and was very friendly. Nash introduced us. “This is Chris, from Melody Maker in London.” “English, huh,” said Stills, thereafter that day calling me ‘English’, never Chris. I didn’t mind.
Later in the afternoon I found myself in the lift with Neil Young, a pure coincidence, but was too overawed to speak. He was thin and wiry like Graham, and travelling separately from CS&N, in a home-on-wheels with his wife and dogs. “Each night he packs up his guitar, wife, baby son and dog and hits the road,” Crosby told me after the show.
It was a warm night and watching the show from where I stood, gazing out over a crowd of 60,000 or more, was another of my unforgettable rock experiences. At 9 pm, three-quarters of an hour after The Beach Boys, CSN&Y appeared to a standing ovation, and for the next three hours they joyously celebrated their reunion alongside Tim Drummond on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums and Joe Lala on congas. The ovation washing over them, the four principals moved to the front, Stills to the left and Young to the right, with Crosby and Nash in the centre bobbing between mikes and occasionally sharing. They opened with Stills’ ‘Love The One You’re With’.
The show was three hours long and divided into two halves with a 15-minute break. The first half, the longest, opened with an electric set and switched to acoustic, with the second half all electric, and different combinations of CSN&Y took songs in turn. Those numbers where all four played and sang together were undoubtedly the highlights.
Crosby’s ‘Wooden Ships’, with Young at the grand piano, followed ‘Love The One’, then Nash went over to the keyboard for ‘Immigration Man’, Stills taking the guitar solo. A new Neil Young song, ‘Traces’, followed with Young playing a huge Gretsch White Falcon and trading guitar breaks with Stills. Crosby stepped up next for ‘Almost Cut My Hair’, screaming out the vocals above the combined backing. For this song, Nash moved over to the organ, but again it was Stills’ guitar that carried the weight. Young’s turn came next with ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ and the first electric set ended with all four joining together for ‘Pre-Road Downs’.
Five minutes later an assortment of acoustic guitars (about a dozen) were set up around two stools and four mikes. Firstly Young appeared alone to sing ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ and ‘Old Man’, then Crosby followed with a new song called ‘For Free’, and Nash followed with two songs at the piano, ‘Simple Man’ and ‘Prison Song’. For the latter he was joined by the whole band and they stayed in place for Young’s ‘Sugar Mountain’ which inspired a mass sing-along, rightly so as we were in the foothills of the Rockies.
Stills offered ‘Change Partners’, sung by the whole band, and ‘Questions’ which he played alone. I’d have preferred ‘4 + 20’. The acoustic set closed with ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’, all four tearing into this mythical song and, although some of the harmonies were occasionally a little off-pitch, they handled this long and difficult piece with the kind of assurance that comes only from those who’d created it.
The second half opened with Crosby’s ‘Long Time Coming’, followed by Young on ‘Don’t Be Denied’ and Stills with a new song called ‘First Things First’ on which he played congas. Crosby offered ‘Déjà Vu’ before Young played two more new songs, ‘Revolution Blues’ and ‘Pushed It Over The End’, on which both he and Stills soloed at length. The concert ended with ‘Ohio’, a great crowd favourite, another sing-along, but they returned for one encore, a lengthy version of ‘Carry On’, which proved equally popular.
The cheers were deafening but after a quick wave they left the stage fast, Young heading for his camper truck and the others to black limousines. On the way past me Stills stopped for a second. “Hey, English,” he shouted. “What da ya think?” I couldn’t think what to say so I just gave him a thumbs-up.
I lingered for a while as the crowd was leaving, taking in what I’d seen. As with Clapton, I’d found myself it a position to watch a gigantic crowd from the performer’s standpoint, seeing them react to songs, the waves of delight, the ovations, the sheer pleasure of experiencing all this on a warm night in Colorado amidst the Rocky Mountains. What a great fuckin’ job I had.
I watched the crowd disperse then knelt down next to a monitor and scribbled away in a notepad, anxious not to forget what I’d just seen. After a while I put my notepad away and spotted a blonde girl in jeans and a yellow top on her own, down at the front, gazing up at the crew clearing the stage. I shouted to her, asking if she’d enjoyed the show. “It was great,” she yelled back. “What are you doing later?” I asked. She shrugged. “Come to the party at the hotel,” I shouted and lobbed my hotel room keys down to her. She caught them and laughed so I just hoped for the best.
There was a party in the hotel, in a reception room high up on the top floor. Stills kept calling me ‘English’ and Crosby didn’t stint on the wine. I’d taken my pocket tape recorder along. Where’s Neil, I asked David. “He’s two miles out of town by now and so high on the show that nothing can touch him,” he replied. “He’s out there so happy. He came and did what he had to do for three hours and knows he did it well. Nothing can make a man happier than that.”
Crosby and Nash seemed the most enthused by the show, Nash especially. In fact, Graham seemed as high as a kite, rushing here and there and refusing to stop talking to anyone who’d listen. “It was a dramatic want to play music together again. A real need, man,” he replied when I asked point blank what motivated them to reunite. “I think we realised about a year ago that we had a really fucking hot band if we wanted and we could really make this hot music. We missed each other, y’know. We missed that bounce off. When there’s four of yer up there and there’s Stephen at one side and Neil at the other and me and David in the middle. Just watching them converse with each other. That’s it, y’know. That’s it. Like tonight, when we did ‘Sugar Mountain’, we stopped playing and heard 60,000 people sing back at us. Do you know what a rush that is?”
Of course I knew. I was about 20 feet away from him for the whole show.
I stayed at the party for a couple of hours hoping my friend with the room key would show up but she didn’t. It was the only disappointment of a fabulously memorable night.
Among other acts hitherto unmentioned that I interviewed during the first half of 1974 were Dr Hook, Rick Derringer, Loggins & Messina, Buffy St Marie, Harry Chapin and Gary Puckett whose ‘Young Girl’, a 1968 hit with his band The Union Gap, had mysteriously re-entered the UK charts in June. Editor Ray Coleman was always asking me to chase up oddities like this and, as it happened, Gary was in the Philippines shooting a movie so I spoke to him on the phone since no one offered to fly me there.
I went to see Dr Hook at a club in New Jersey, driven there in a limousine courtesy of Columbia Records. I chatted with Ray Sawyer who wore an eye patch, the result of a car crash, and Dennis Lacorriere, their singer, in a cramped dressing room and watched a lively show afterwards. They were a light-hearted lot who reminded me a bit of Lindisfarne but what I remember most about Dr Hook is that someone with a gun took a shot at the limousine as we were about to leave. We sped off down the road and after a couple of minutes the driver got out to take a look. Sure enough there was a scratch where the bullet ricocheted off the bodywork at the rear. I have no idea why this happened. Perhaps our rifleman simply didn’t like limousines.
I liked Harry Chapin a lot. He reminded me of a schoolteacher but his heart was in the right place and that was where his songs came from. After a career in which philanthropy played a key role, in 1981 he was tragically killed in a motor accident aged just 39.
My mid-summer highlights, however, were seeing Eric Clapton at Three River Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA, on July 5, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, at Denver in Colorado two weeks later, about which I’ll post tomorrow.
Clapton was on with The Band, friends of his from Big Pink days who’d steered him away from the excesses of Cream, but their music, Americana at its very best, was lost on the massive crowd eager to see their guitar hero. I was looking forward to seeing him too as I’d been sent an advance copy of 461 Ocean Boulevard which I liked a lot. What I remember most about this trip, however, was meeting Pattie Harrison, who arrived at the side of the stage midway through Eric’s set.
With their affair yet to become public knowledge I was ignorant of the whole business until I saw her being ushered in by Robert Stigwood, Clapton’s manager. I recognised her, of course, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out why she was here. Before long, however, the affectionate glances between her and the chap in the middle with the Fender Strat around his neck led me to the obvious conclusion.
“Chris, do you know Pattie?” asked Stigwood as the two of them assumed a position close to where I was standing.
“Er, no,” I stammered. “Pleasure to meet you.”
As we shook hands I could see where the attraction lay. Pattie Harrison was indeed lovely; slim of figure in tight-waisted bell-bottom jeans and a pale blue silky top, angelic of features with soft blonde hair that tumbled down around her shoulders, the slight gap in the top row of her teeth giving her a childlike innocence that was enormously becoming. None other than Keith Moon had once declared his admiration for her to me at his house in Chertsey when I interviewed him there three years past, but Moon, though a model of indiscretion in most respects, was far too deferential towards The Beatles to proposition one of their wives, as Pattie then was and, for that matter, still was, at least on paper. Clapton was evidently more determined – or more infatuated.
In hindsight, I have reason to believe that Pattie’s arrival was engineered by Stigwood in the hope that she might curb his client’s consumption of alcohol. In the event he was wrong, for July 5 happened to be the 31st birthday of Robbie Robertson, the leading figure in The Band. To be honest, though, Clapton didn’t need a reason to find strength from the whisky bottle in those days, being pretty much pissed as a newt most of the time. Before the show he was staggering around backstage trying to discover the whereabouts of The Band, then elsewhere in the vastness of Three Rivers Stadium. Each time he asked someone they’d reply something along the lines of, “right here, Eric.”
“Not my band, THE Band,” he’d say, exasperated. “It’s Robbie’s birthday today and... there’s gonna be some bovver tonight.”
Remarkably, Clapton’s inebriated state made not one iota of difference to the vigour of his performance. Perhaps facing 42,000 fans – the biggest crowd ever at Three Rivers – had a sobering effect, but when he walked on stage, acoustic in hand, followed by his group and preceded by Legs Larry Smith, the English country joker, late of the Bonzos, acting as compere, he seemed completely in control.
Legs Larry had been hired to play down the superstar angle that Clapton wanted to shake off, as had Yvonne Elliman, the easy-on-the-eye Hawaiian singer whose main contribution to the set came early on, during the acoustic songs. Clapton, wearing a floppy hat and shabby dungarees, opened the show with ‘Smile’, the old standard written, oddly enough, by Charlie Chaplin that came as something as a surprise at first but seemed more and more apt after continued hearings. It sent out a message of good vibes from the start – “Smile, when your heart is achin’” – and quietened down an audience eager for hi-powered rock. ‘Smile’ moved into ‘Let It Grow’, another easy-going acoustic song with Clapton and Elliman singing harmoniously together, then ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’, Steve Winwood’s Blind Faith song. Slotted hurriedly between them at Pittsburgh was a spontaneous ‘Happy Birthday’ for Robertson who was now standing at the opposite side of the stage to where I was. Its significance was lost on the crowd.
With the acoustic exchanged for a Stratocaster we were into the main course. During ‘Blues Power’, the first electric number, Clapton was hit hard on the side of the face by a well-aimed missile that turned out to be a New Testament, wrapped in a small chain with a message from the local Jesus freaks. Not knowing what had hit him, he fumed for a bar or two, picked up the tempo again and bellowed his disapproval down the microphone. Then Pattie arrived, soothing the situation as the set progressed, Clapton for the most part delivering songs from the forthcoming 461 Ocean Boulevard, with ‘Motherless Children’ and ‘Mainline Florida’ offering ample opportunities for everyone to stretch out.
The closing song of the set proper was Chuck Berry’s ‘Little Queenie’, enlivened by a re-appearance of Legs Larry who smashed a plastic ukulele a la Townshend, hurling the debris out into the crowd. As encores, after much cheering, there followed ‘Tell The Truth’ and a lengthy, turbo-charged ‘Crossroads’ that generated the most inspired soloing of the night.
For those who experience it only occasionally, there is something positively awe-inspiring about standing on a stage a few feet from a rock superstar playing to an audience in excess of 40,000; the vast sea of faces stretching out into the distance, the waves of adulation they release, the deafening on-stage volume of the music, the whole experience amplified for me this night by the freshly realised knowledge that the superstar’s mistress, the wife of a Beatle no less, was standing right next to me. Surreal is a much-overused expression, but it certainly applied here. We were both ‘half dancing’, as you do in situations where restricted space precludes a full twirl, and she was smiling towards the man with the guitar, and every so often, as ‘Crossroads’ surged like a tsunami, he would glance across as he played and smile back at her.
Back at the hotel Clapton found The Band, or they found him, and even Pattie was unable to curb the carousing that went on well into the night. Robertson, a man of fairly sober habits next to his team mates, retired early but Rick Danko and Richard Manuel kept the party going in Danko’s room until dawn broke, by which time Pattie had dragged Eric back to their suite. I recall seeing him reeling down a corridor, the slight figure of his inamorata steadying him as they lurched along. As it happened, that night I befriended Danko who a year later would try to put the make on my sister after a Band concert in New York – but that’s another story.
Shortly before Diamond Dogs was released in late May I had been summoned by David Bowie’s ‘people’ to Mainman’s New York HQ to listen to it. Tony De Fries, Bowie’s manager, firmly believed that to be a star, you must look and behave like one, even if you are not, and since by now David certainly was a star, the circus surrounding him was bordering on the absurd, on a par with the Pope or HRH Elizabeth II. To this end I was restricted to a single hearing of Diamond Dogs, not allowed to record it – I was temporarily relieved of my cassette recorder – just take notes, and generally treated like some sort of sub-species by the unpleasant people that worked for Mainman, one of whom lingered as I listened, observing me as a warder might an errant prisoner.
In these circumstances reviewing a record isn’t easy, and I wasn’t even given a lyric sheet, so to come up with 900 words, as I managed to do, was quite an achievement. “Bowie’s new album really is excellent,” I wrote, not my most insightful review, when I returned to the flat and read back my scribbled notes. “It’s a departure from his previous records in that the Spiders are no longer with him, and it’s also a departure in that the whole production of the songs is far more lavish than anything he’s previously attempted. For most of the tracks, he’s adopted a ‘wall of sound’ technique, borrowed not a little from Phil Spector, but the richness of it all enhances his voice no end. He’s also moved further into rock and roll – there’s hardly a slow song on the album – and played all the chunky guitar licks himself, according to the sleeve credits.”
Because of the almost paranoid secrecy surrounding David and his activities, I wasn’t to know that this record would form the basis of a new stage show set to open in Canada in June. The last time I’d seen David Bowie in person was on stage at the Hammersmith Odeon on July 3 of the previous year, the night he announced that the Spiders were breaking up, shocking everyone present, including the Spiders themselves. Now I was invited to the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto to review the third show of his Diamond Dogs Revue tour on June 16, along with a party of other music writers, all of us convinced after the concert that Bowie had re-invented the concept of rock theatre.
It could be argued that Alice Cooper started it all but, compared to what David did on this tour, Alice was a Punch & Judy Show. It being a Sunday night I had to write up my longish review very quickly, in longhand on hotel notepaper, then wait until about four in the morning to call London (10am UK time) and dictate 1,600 words over the phone to Marilyne, Ray Coleman’s secretary, who was also Mrs Chris Welch. We’d progressed from carrier pigeons but e-mails were as remote as Major Tom. It filled page three of that week’s MM.
“A few thousand lucky Canadians witnessed a completely new concept in rock theatre when David Bowie opened his North American tour in Toronto on Sunday,” I wrote. “It now seems likely that Bowie was speaking the truth when he announced his retirement from rock on the stage at the Hammersmith Odeon last year. For the act that David presents on this tour has as much to do with rock and roll as Bob Dylan has with the gloss of Los Vegas.
“The one-and-a-half-hour, 20-song show is a completely rehearsed and choreographed routine where every step and nuance has been perfected down to the last detail. There isn’t one iota of spontaneity about the whole show. It is straight off a musical stage – a piece of theatre, complete with extravagant mechanical sets, dancers and a band that stands reservedly to stage right and never even receives so much as a cursory acknowledgement, like an orchestra in a theatre pit.
“The show belongs on Broadway or Shaftesbury Avenue rather than on the road. The whole concept takes a complete turnaround from what a rock audience anticipates, but at Toronto on Sunday it left them stunned. Perhaps the crowd at the O’Keefe Theatre literally couldn’t believe their eyes… not once did Bowie address the audience, or even allude to their presence other than an odd grin… He was dressed in a light grey suit with blue and white polka dot, collarless shirt, and red braces. He retained the same outfit for the entire performance, apart from removing his jacket. He appeared without any noticeable make-up and gone was the spiky hair style of last year and the year before. In its place was a neat parting; it left little doubt about the masculinity of the performer.
“Fittingly there was no encore and the applauding audience was greeted with the announcement 10 minutes after the show stopped that Bowie had already left the theatre. The Colonel Parker touch is forever there.”
This show never came to the UK. I would see it again at Madison Square Garden on July 19 but the theatrics didn’t really work in an arena and it wasn’t long before the expensive props were put away for good. In the meantime, Bowie’s band – led by session bassist Herbie Flowers – had threatened to go on strike after a show in Philadelphia was recorded and they received no additional remuneration. It was released as David Live.
Without the props, the tour continued on the West Coast, merging the Diamond Dogs songs with David's increasing interest in soul music, after which he retired to Los Angeles to lick his wounds, anaesthetising them with cocaine. The following year he released his blue-eyed soul LP Young Americans, its funked-up US No. 1 hit single ‘Fame’ a collaboration with John Lennon that savaged his relationship with manager De Fries.
In 1976 Station To Station, my choice for his best ever LP, merged black funk with the emerging European electronic school, and in Detroit during a thrillingly successful world arena tour that year I would sit down and discuss his career in one of the longest interviews that David ever gave, of which more later. I wasn’t to know it but Madonna, then aged 17, was in the audience for the March 1 concert that I saw. It was, she said later, the first rock show she’d ever attended. For all I know I might have sat next to her.
I never felt closer to The Who, my all-time favourite group, than I did in New York during second week of June, 1974, and this includes the periods, between 1993 and 2000, when I worked on and off for them on their box set and back catalogue reissues. A ‘them and us’ relationship between the music press and the top groups of the day emerged with the arrival of punk in the UK, but it never affected my relationship with The Who. I tried to maintain my neutrality with them but I admired them so much, both as a group and as individuals, that becoming close to them was somehow important to me and, of course, it helped me get the hot Who scoops for Melody Maker.
On June 10 The Who opened an unprecedented four-concert run at Madison Square Garden, shows that sold out on the strength of one radio announcement, all 80,000 seats. No other act had played the Garden four times in one week before and to say I was anticipating these shows eagerly would be an understatement. I was at every one, either in a good seat or at the side of the stage, and in their dressing room.
It therefore pained me to report that The Who weren’t at their best in New York this time around. Equipment glitches were partly to blame but an exacerbating factor was a fan down at the front on the opening night who yelled “Jump Pete, jump” to Townshend, which shocked him enormously. For the first time, he said later, he felt he was parodying himself, even resembling a circus act. Furthermore, he found he needed to force his uniquely athletic stage style, which had previously come naturally to him and was so much a part of the excitement of The Who’s stage shows.
In the short term this contributed to an unsatisfactory run of concerts, at least by the absurdly high standards The Who had set in the past. In the long term, what he experienced at the Garden had a profound effect on his attitude towards the group. Most fans loved them regardless, of course, and their blind faith depressed Pete still further.
From where I was sat on the first night I couldn’t see the fans up front but I could tell something wasn’t right. I put it down to sound problems, as was so often the case when they hadn’t played for a while. The Who were like elite athletes who needed regular training to obtain optimum results. When they took on a lengthy tour the first few shows might have been slightly under par but when they hit their stride, Olympic fitness as it were, they were supreme, untouchable. When they played the odd show here and there, as they did in 1974, they suffered through being out of condition – and sometimes it showed.
This was the first time they’d played the Garden so the acoustics were new to them. I thought they’d iron out the problems after the first night but they didn’t, not really. It was only later that I realised the real problem ran far deeper, and I suspect that the band used the dodgy sound as an excuse when they, or at least Pete, knew the problems lay deeper too. They hadn’t recorded any new material since the previous year’s Quadrophenia, so the set they played was a run-through of their past, a kind of greatest hits selection. The only real surprise was that for the first time since the Tommy era they re-introduced ‘Tattoo’ into the set which the fans (and I) loved but which somehow contributed to a slightly unsettling feeling of nostalgia that had hit me earlier when I saw High Numbers t-shirts on sale outside the Garden. Pete always wanted to progress but the others were content with the way things were, and this was also part of the problem. It was a problem that would never go away, not while Keith was alive anyway.
“A huge roar greeted the arrival of The Who and the first half hour of Monday’s show was quite electric,” I wrote in MM. “But from then on it slid into a murky mess of badly mixed sound, flared tempers and general untogetherness. Things went wrong from ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ onwards. Daltrey had difficulty pitching the ‘See Me, Feel Me’ lines and at one stage he kicked over a monitor speaker in a fit of rage. Townshend could be seen shouting at the sound men and the taped synthesiser backing tracks were too loud. Towards the end the sound did improve but by this time it was too late to count. Townshend even apologised but it didn’t seem to matter. They still got a standing ovation, but it was a hollow victory for the band.”
My friend Pete Rudge, who handled The Who’s US affairs in those days, had given me passes for all four nights and backstage I overheard a terrible row after this opening concert. The Who were screaming at each other behind a locked dressing room door. Their co-manager Kit Lambert, who wasn’t often seen at Who concerts by 1974, had turned up unexpectedly, drunk as a lord, and was demanding to mix the on-stage PA the following night, a ludicrous suggestion that exacerbated an already fraught situation. Long serving soundman Bobby Pridden ran out of the dressing room shouting that he was through with The Who, and I took him aside into another room and spent about 20 minutes beseeching him not to quit, and of course he didn’t. Poor loyal Bob, the real fifth member of The Who. He caught it in the neck so many times but he loved them far too much to ever quit.
Eventually things calmed down and Rudge asked me to do everyone a favour by quietly steering Lambert away from the scene which I somehow managed to do. On our way back uptown to the Navarro Hotel I asked Kit if he could ask his limousine driver to stop so I could buy a pack of cigarettes. We stopped and Kit rushed into a liquor store and came back with two cartons of Marlboro for me – 20 packets!
The concerts improved as the week went by but The Who never really fired on all four cylinders that week. Tuesday was much better than Monday, though, and after this show I took Pete, John and Keith downtown to Club 82 where Television were playing. Pete had mentioned to me that he wanted to see some young New York bands, and I thought Television’s spiky, unsettling minimalism might be his cup of tea. He liked them but John, ever the traditionalist, hated them. I don’t know what Keith thought as he disappeared once we got inside the club, no doubt in search of female company. I don’t think he realised that Club 82 was a drag club that often featured female impersonators and ran by lesbians who dressed as men.
Wednesday was a night off and I did an interview with Pete in his hotel room during the afternoon. He seemed in a bad way, stressed out through working on the Tommy film soundtrack, drinking too much brandy and torn between the wishes of the fans, the band and what he wanted to do himself. I think he felt a great responsibility to everyone: the other three, the fans, the film producers and, of course, his young family. Everybody wanted a piece of him, even me interviewing him for MM, but he needed a break from everything. It was telling that when I knocked on his hotel room door he took a long time to answer. I might even have woken him up, and I’m pretty sure he was hung over.
“We were acting,” Pete told me as we discussed whatever it was that afflicted the group on the opening night. “We’ve been able to act and look as if everything’s OK for a while now but we can’t keep it up if the sound doesn’t get better. It didn’t and we couldn’t act for the whole show.”
He seemed grimly aware of the expectations of his audience. “These fans feel that they own The Who. They were there in the front row at the Murray the K Shows [in 1967] and now that The Who have reached this stage they feel that as they’ve been so loyal they have a prior claim to what numbers we’re going to play and things like that. New York to us is like what the Goldhawk Club is like to us in England.
“Most of these kids, the ones I’ve met, seem to have a similar attitude to life. The ones you saw freaking out at the front are the fanatics and they all seem to be deeply intellectual people who are very worried about life. They find The Who to be a kind of gut release which is what I get from The Who, too. They’re people from the dead suburbia of New York who need a release from everyday life.
“The trouble with all of us in this group is that we have such incredibly defined traditional ways of playing that we tend to be bogged down by them in some senses, but I like to go out and do a solo on single notes instead of the usual routine.
“Without becoming alarmist about it I guess that I don’t get as much out of performing on the stage as I used to. I don’t have the same lust for gut feedback that I used to and more and more I want to get feedback from pure music.
“I think The Who are going to have to allow themselves time to breathe without allowing their sense of identity to dissipate. I don’t want The Who to end up on stage playing because they have to but playing because they want to. If it turns out they don’t want to play together, then I don’t think they should, but at the moment we don’t play that often and when we do it’s because we want to. I can’t wait to get back on stage tonight.”
During their stay in New York, Pete stayed in a different hotel – The Sherry Netherland – to the rest of the band who took suites at the Navarro on Central Park South which over the years had become the band’s regular New York berth. It was the first time that the whole group hadn’t stayed together in the same hotel, which I thought was revealing, but Pete stayed in touch with developments at the Navarro by using a rudimentary cordless mobile phone, probably one of the earliest of its type, that had been assembled by the group’s sound crew.
At Thursday’s show ‘My Generation’ morphed into Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’, a rather disjointed stab at The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’, sung by John, and ended with ‘Big Boss Man’, a Jimmy Reed blues staple from their early days. It seemed to me they were loosening up, finding a semblance of form at last, but try as they might the shows somehow never reached the peaks of the touring that followed the release of Who’s Next, or the closing shows on the Quadrophenia tour for that matter.
After that show Keith, his assistant Dougal Butler and I visited John Lennon at the luxurious Pierre Hotel, where he was living with May Pang. The Pierre was a swanky hotel on Fifth Avenue at the south east corner of Central Park and Keith, Dougal and myself rode there in a limousine from the Garden, then headed up to John’s suite in the elevator. John seemed pleased to see Keith. They’d been pals back in London in the sixties and had been hanging out together in LA earlier in the year. In truth, Keith was a Beatles groupie, eternally in awe of them, and also a good pal of Ringo whose son Zak – who now drums with the 21st Century Who – was the recipient of at least one Moon cast-off drum kit.
Keith, being Keith, suggested to John that we all have a drink, assuming, wrongly as it turned out, that John would have a huge bar stocked with booze. In the event, all he had was one bottle of extremely expensive red wine, a fine vintage red, given to him by former Beatles’ manager Allen Klein. John said he thought the bottle cost $1,000 but was a bit spooked by this and mentioned that he was, at present, involved in a lawsuit with Klein who might therefore have good reason to poison him. John suggested that someone in our company should taste the wine before everyone else took a drink.
Looking around he said something like, “Well Keith, you can’t taste it because you’re the drummer with The Who so you can’t die, and you need your assistant Dougal. I’m John Lennon, the famous Beatle, and I can’t die either. May Pang is my companion at the moment and I don’t want her to die, therefore the only one of us left to taste the wine is you Chris... so here you are.”
The bottle was duly opened, John poured some wine into my glass and I sampled it as the others all stared at me. There was a moment’s silence while they waited to see whether I would keel over on the spot, and I was half tempted to clutch my throat and make a gargling sound – but to this day, that was the finest glass of wine I’ve ever drank in my entire life, so rich, full-bodied, bursting with flavour. “It’s absolutely beautiful,” I said. It was duly shared out, but once the wine had gone Keith was eager to move on, so we left.
As we were waiting for the elevator Keith decided he wanted to take a pee but was reluctant to return to John’s suite and disturb him. So he peed down the Pierre Hotel laundry shaft instead.
On Friday, the final night of The Who’s week of shows at the Garden, Pete smashed three of his Gibson Les Pauls and Keith joined in, chucking his drum kit everywhere and smashing the fourth and only remaining guitar. I was told that Bob Pridden had taken delivery of around a dozen Les Pauls from Mannie’s, the music shop on West 48th Street, and would return the unused ones at the end of the week.
My date at this final concert was Debbie Harry, and we sat together on John’s side, a few rows up from the stage. No doubt keenly aware how Chris Stein had saved up for his guitars, she was appalled by the destruction. Backstage in the dressing room after the show Roger tried to put the make on her – “Fuckin’ ‘ell Chris, that bird looks just like fuckin’ Marilyn Monroe” – as did Keith, equally unsubtly. She didn’t respond to either of their advances, I’m happy to report, which didn’t please Roger whose strike rate in this department was always very high.
Debbie spent the rest of the evening with me, taking in an after-show party at a roller-dome where we danced a lot and Bob Gruen, ever on my trail, took more photographs, including several of us together. It was a lavish affair where 1,500 guests, among them Elton and assorted Beach Boys, were entertained by Ronnie Spector & The Ronettes.
The Who wouldn’t perform again for 15 months.