PATTI SMITH – 1975 Interview

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the releases of Patti Smith’s Horses album, which she is performing in its entirety while on a world tour, and a week or two ago it was announced that she and her band will be one of the headlining acts at Glastonbury in June. I wish her well. The first time I saw her, at New York’s Bottom Line Club in 1974, I was intrigued – and then a little surprised when she and her band closed their set with a ramshackle stab at ‘My Generation’. For a few moments I wasn’t sure whether this was a tribute to The Who or a pisstake, but I decided that since she looked like Keith Richards and her heart was so obviously in the right place it had to be the former.
          I knew Patti’s guitar player Lenny Kaye quite well. He was a rock writer, and a very good one, and also a mine of information about New York rock, garage bands and everything that was great about rock’n’roll. He once gave me a Gene Vincent 78 – ‘Blue Jean Bop’ on a silver and blue Capitol label – for my birthday, a seriously fine present, that I kept on a shelf in my flat for three years but it got lost somehow when I left NY for London in 1978. So did quite a bit of other rock’n’roll memorabilia as it happens.
          Through Lenny I got to know Patti, saw her play a few more times and interviewed her for Melody Maker in November 1975 just as she was emerging as a serious contender. Then it all went pear-shaped. The Soho Weekly News, a sort of poor man’s Village Voice, published some topless pictures of Patti with cheesecake captions that were guaranteed to infuriate her. For a week or so this was the talk of the NY rock biz and I felt obliged to mention the uproar in the ‘News From New York’ column that I wrote each week. Patti saw it, took umbrage and gave me an earful the next time we met, at a post-gig party for Black Sabbath at the Plaza Hotel if I remember rightly. In vain did I plead that I wasn’t supporting what the SWN had done but felt I had a duty to cover all music biz stories from NY and, like it or not, this was a story. Patti felt I should have ignored it – and she never spoke to me again.
          Here’s my story about Patti and interview with her, written in 1975 and timed to coincide with the release of Horses. The interview took place in an empty apartment on the Westside where Patti and her band were rehearsing.

Last month they caught Patti Hearst — and so ended the biggest man (or woman) hunt in the history of the US. All this is history now, of course, but it’ll probably be the subject of at least two best-selling novels in the near future, not to mention a major screen movie.
          But perhaps the first outside view of the Patti Hearst case came from New York’s sparrow-like poetess Patti Smith, then a struggling personality in the underground rock scene of the city. With considerable difficulty she raised $1,000 and headed for Electric Ladyland Studios in Greenwich Village and recorded a version of the traditional Hendrix classic, ‘Hey Joe’.
          The inspiration for this move was provided by the words of newspaper magnate Randolph Hearst who, on seeing the picture of his daughter holding a rifle, exclaimed to the anxious ears of America: “What are you doing with that gun in your hand?”
          Patti Smith’s version of ‘Hey Joe’ was a bitch of a record. Opening with a poetic dialogue about the Hearst situation, it gradually flowed into the regular song. It was chock-full of atmosphere and, for topicality, it really couldn’t be beaten. Had it received more exposure, I’m sure that Patti Smith would have been an overnight sensation. It didn’t though, and it never will. About 1,000 copies of Patti’s ‘Hey Joe’ were pressed and made available by mail order through her management company and selected record shops down in the Village. According to Patti’s manager, Jane Friedman, the project lost around $3,000, even though the singles were sold at $2.50, a mark-up of over 50 per cent on the regular singles’ price.
          Today it’s a collector’s item, and no more are available.
          Also today, Patti Smith stands on the brink of success after a long, hard struggle. This summer she signed with Arista Records, and her debut album is out in the states this month.
          Thanks to Clive Davis, the boss of Arista, she is only the second of many artists in this (New York) fringe rock fraternity to be recognised by a record company. The first, of course, was the New York Dolls, whose recording career slumped after two albums.
          But Ms. Smith does not belong in the same category as the Dolls, or any rock band, for that matter. Some may call her a singer, but she is really an improvising lyricist whose performances rush with crazy momentum as each song, or poem, unrolls. She recites with a musical backdrop, frequently breaking into song as the energy spirals, criss-crossing between the two and, more often than not, making up the words as she stumbles headlong forward.
          Her band has been increasing in size over the years. Four years back it was just Patti and her guitarist Lenny Kaye, an occasional rock journalist and walking encyclopaedia on the last two decades of pop in America. Kaye, who three years ago, incidentally, compiled the Nuggets album of relatively obscure US singles for the Elektra label, might be described as a free-form guitarist, as he plays random notes at will according to the prompting of Patti’s dialogue. They understand one another and, as such, it’s doubtful whether any orthodox guitar player would fit.
          Pianist Richard Sohl is a similar performer. Like Kaye, nothing he plays can be predicted beforehand. Recently two other musicians have been added: a second guitarist, Ivan Kral, who, like Patti, bears a striking resemblance to Keith Richards, and drummer Jay Dougherty. There is no bass player — Patti feels a drummer is ample rhythm.
          John Cale was brought in to produce her first Arista album, Horses, which is released this month. It was on this topic that we began what turned out to be a very lengthy conversation last week. “It’s a live album,” she informs me, squatting on the floor. “There’s hardly any overdubbing at all. We just went in and did the songs straight away.
          “In the studio we went through hell. I asked John to do it for me, I begged him to, and we had nothing but friction, but it was a love-hate relationship and it worked. At first I wanted an engineer producer, somebody like Tom Dowd, but Atlantic wouldn’t let him go, so I figured I’d get a top artist producer who would act as a mirror.
          “The whole thing in the studio was us proving to John that we could do it the way we wanted, so we fought a lot but it was fighting on a very intimate level.”
          The result is an album that’s actually far more melodic than the half dozen or so occasions I’ve watched Patti perform in various places in New York. The inclusion of a drummer – Dougherty was brought in immediately before the sessions began – tightens up Patti’s style no end. Before, it was often shapeless and lacked discipline of any kind. Now you can even dance to Patti Smith, or at least some of the tracks.
          Even words were improvised in the studio, she says. “I’m not into writing songs. I find that real boring. All our things started out initially as improvisation, but doing them over and over again got them into a formula. I can’t play anything at all, so Lenny and I work out tunes as they go along. I have words and know how I think they should go, so we just pull it out and pull it out further until we get somewhere.”
          She and Kaye first got together in 1971. This followed a period of Patti’s life when she lived at the Chelsea Hotel, writing poetry and spending time with rock musicians in what she describes as a “tequila split life”. Before that she was at art school, which followed work in a factory in New Jersey, where she was brought up. It was Dylan cohort Bobby Neuwirth who introduced her to the changing musical inhabitants of the Chelsea Hotel. (Neuwirth is currently playing on Dylan’s tour of New England with Joan Baez.)
          “Neuwirth recognised my poetry and immediately introduced me to everybody he knew in rock and roll and kept pumping me to work at it. I studied Rimbaud, too, but being surrounded by these rock and roll rhythms the two moved simultaneously.”
          It wasn’t until 1972 that Patti started making regular appearances in New York.
In 1973 Lenny Kaye appeared following a reading Patti gave on the anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death, and from then on things accelerated. Pianist Richard Sohl joined the ranks and gigs followed at anywhere manager Jane Friedman could book them.
          Which just about brings us up to where we began: the ‘Hey Joe’ single recorded at Electric Ladyland. It was a deliberate choice of studio, for Patti strongly allies herself with Hendrix, another artist who took his art beyond contemporary strictures.
          “We had three hours of studio time, but I just did it like we were on stage. Eventually we had ten minutes left and no ‘B’ side, so I recited this poem and the musicians just joined in and we had it done.”
          According to Friedman, that ‘Hey Joe’ chapter lost about $3,000 as so many copies were given away to friends instead of being sold. Part of their deal with Arista was a clause that no more could be made, so it’ll remain a collector’s item for ever.
          Clive Davis’s interest in Patti stems from his days with Columbia, when Patti wrote the lyrics to two songs recorded by Blue Oyster Cult, a CBS act. The deal with Arista is for five albums over the next three years, and meanwhile she has branched out from New York, playing concerts in California for the first time. In the coming months she will embark on her first proper tour, mainly visiting colleges across the country.
          “We’re a group now,” she says. “We’re together and that’s it. I’m in rock and roll now and I’m proud to be in it.”



I was never a serious football fan. I preferred the ebb and flow of cricket, a game that seemed to me to have more diverse individual skills that contributed to an all-round team performance, a more all-encompassing, more satisfying contest, even if it did take a bit longer to reach a result. The more impulsive aspect of football with its tendency, or opportunity, to rely on chance, was somehow less attractive.
Nevertheless, when I was about ten, a friend of my dad’s called Billy Ingham used to take me to Turf Moor to watch Burnley, in those days championship contenders led by Northern Irish international Jimmy McIllroy with handsome blond Ray Pointer at centre forward. Then I followed Leeds United under the management of Don Revie and even went to Elland Road a few times with a photographer’s pass from the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, where I worked in 1968/9, that enabled me to sit behind the goal Leeds were defending. To this day I can name most of the players in the all-conquering side led by Billy Bremner that it became fashionable to hate: Sprake, Reaney, Cooper, Giles, Charlton, Hunter, Jones, Clarke… you know them. One Wednesday night in April 1971 fellow Melody Maker writer Roy Hollingworth dragged me to White Hart Lane to watch his beloved Derby take on Spurs but we ended up behind a goal surrounded by home supporters. Roy, more attuned to the moods of football crowds than I, advised me to keep quiet in case my Yorkshire accent attracted unwelcome attention. I think Tottenham won 2-1. When Sam was about seven or eight and we lived in Shepherds Bush I took him to Loftus Road to watch QPR a few times, always with walk-up tickets bought on the morning of the game which meant we sat in a stand where the locals had refreshed themselves pretty thoroughly beforehand and called the ref rude names that Sam didn’t understand. “What’s a cunt, Dad?”
At around 3.30 on 11 May, 1985, I too had refreshed myself with a few lunchtime pints, at my local the Thatched House on Dalling Road in Hammersmith, and was settling down in front of the TV in my basement flat with a girlfriend named Lucy Phillips. We’d probably lit up a spliff, too. About ten minutes later I was glued to that TV, horrified by the scenes from Bradford City’s Valley Parade ground where the Main Stand was engulfed in flames. TV didn’t normally show games from Bradford but the cameras were there that day because City was about to be promoted to Division 2. I wasn’t a Bradford City fan, never had been, but having worked there I knew the city well and that afternoon my heart went out all those caught up in that inferno.
Among them, I was to discover later, was Roy Mason, who died that afternoon aged 74, whom I had known from my days as a reporter on the Craven Herald & Pioneer, the weekly newspaper published in my hometown of Skipton. This was the first job I ever had, and Roy was a kindly reporter of my father’s generation, slightly austere but ever willing to share his long experience with newcomers to the profession like me. I was friendly with his daughter Cathy, too. A tall, slim girl with long dark hair flicked up at the ends and a pretty smile, she worked on the Keighley News and we’d chat together at NUJ meetings and on the journalism course we both took at Bradford Technical College. It was conveyed to me by another CH&P reporter called Marcia Williams that Cathy wouldn’t turn down a date if I was to ask, but I felt a bit constrained because her dad might disapprove and I didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Roy.
Among the others who died on that dreadful day were the father, grandfather, younger brother and uncle of 12-year-old Martin Fletcher who somehow got out alive and, because of the misfortune that befell his family, became synonymous with the Bradford Fire, at least in its immediate aftermath when newspapers were looking for stories about ‘heroes’ or ‘victims’. Now Martin has written a book, 56: The Story of the Bradford Fire published by Bloomsbury, which I have read over the last few days, my mood as I read it alternating between deep sorrow and furious anger.
Martin’s book has caused a storm of controversy, largely because he points out that the owner of Bradford City, a local businessman who was a bit of a cowboy called Stafford Heginbotham, had somehow suffered no fewer than nine fires at business premises he owned or leased during the previous decade, so much so that this had come to the attention of the brilliant investigative journalist Paul Foot. Martin doesn’t go as far as to lay the blame directly at Heginbotham but he naturally suggests this is too much of a coincidence. His detailed analysis of events surrounding the fire and its aftermath also throw up questions about the haste in which the official inquiry into the fire was conducted, conflicting evidence offered to it by Heginbotham and others, the abysmal lack of safety precautions at Valley Parade and why letters from the local council and fire department drawing attention to this were ignored by Heginbotham (who died in 1995). At the very least, Fletcher’s investigation suggests that criminal charges of negligence ought to have been brought against Heginbotham and, probably, others. The only man who queried Heginbotham’s role in the tragedy, the fan club secretary, was promptly banned from the ground.
Part autobiography, part investigation and part condemnation, Martin’s book opens with a portrait of an immensely happy family with an industrious dad keen to do the best he could for his family. And so he does, working hard, gaining promotion as a bright salesman, doing all the things that the Thatcher government of the time encouraged. Unfortunately, and this is one of the many sub plots in this wonderfully readable book, he and the rest of his family were football fans, and the Thatcher government cared not one jot for this section of society which is why ground safety recommendations made by various committees were never enacted into law by her government. Hell, they had more important things to do: defending the Falklands, trying to force through the poll tax, selling off public utilities to their rich friends and, most importantly, putting miners out of work, many of whom might just have been have been Bradford City fans.
Martin’s book goes on to describe in graphic detail the events of 11 May 1985 and his miraculous escape, the speed in which the fire spread, his separation from the rest of the men in his family, his arrival on the pitch and at a hospital, thanks to the good nature of a stranger called Margaret, and his eventual realisation that he had survived. Then there was the agonising comprehension of what had happened, the new-found closeness with his mother and the ongoing mental and physical issues he has suffered as a result of the disaster. Martin doesn’t hold back in describing all of this, nor in his determination, the years of painstaking research he undertook, to uncover misconceptions about the fire and get to the truth. The second half of his book describes in enormous detail how he uncovered the facts about what precisely happened on 11 May 1985.
If you care about truth, if you care about justice, if you care about how society desperately needs to address issues that politicians of whatever hue and men of wealth and power seek to brush beneath the carpet in order to be re-elected or sustain their position, read this book. Martin Fletcher is a hero and no mistake.


JACKSON BROWNE - 1973 Interview, Part 2

The second half of my encounter with Jackson Browne from November, 1973.

Ultimately Denny Cordell was hired to produce Jackson’s first album but this, too, proved unsatisfactory. Jackson was under the impression that Cordell would hire top session men to work on the album, and in this way guarantee fine music for his songs. But Jackson was unable to exert his influence over the musicians and the sessions stopped.
“Denny saw that either we would have to do the album real quick and it would be real bad, or he would have to put in a whole load of work on it which he didn’t have time to do. I wasn’t even on his label and he had his hands full with Shelter which was just opening, so we decided to pass.”
Another six months elapsed before he finally made the album with Richard Orshoff, an engineer who produced it along with Jackson. “Now I’m always like that. I’ve got to the stage where I always do things myself. If I need a plumber, I’ll go out and buy a wrench and try to do the job myself rather than call a man to do it for me.
“I’d rather figure things out and make my own mistakes, rather than have those decisions made for me and never be confronted with them and never learn anything. That was what happened with that Elektra sampler. For years I knew it was terrible but didn’t know why because decisions were made for me.”
Since the release of the first album, Jackson’s career has taken a more organised path. He’s made a couple of trips to England, one of which saw him appearing at the Festival Hall in London – a concert he’d rather forget as the sound system failed half way through his set.
“I think I got through four numbers in half an hour. It was one of those scenes where the mike would whistle for half a minute during a song and then go off completely. Nothing. It was funny because it was so stupid, and so impossible.
“Join Mitchell was on too, and she played through the house system. She did one of the best sets of her life there because there was so much to get across in such circumstances. The audience probably never realised it. English audiences are funny. They’re like time bombs. If they like you at all, they’ll wait until the end and then really let you know.”
His writing, he says, relies entirely on personal experiences. His material has been covered by many, including former Velvet Underground vocalist Nico, for whom he played back-up guitar at the New York Electric Circus when he lived in the Big Apple between 1966 and ’67
Three of Jackson’s songs were featured by Nico on her first album Chelsea Girl, though more recently the Eagles (which includes his old friend Glen Frey) recorded and had a big hit with ‘Take It Easy’. Tom Rush recorded Jackson’s ‘These Days’, and the Jackson 5 recorded his ‘Doctor My Eyes’. Linda Rondstadt, the Byrds, Bonnie Raitt, Ian Matthews, Greg Allman and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band have also recorded Jackson’s material.
“All the time it comes from personal experience,” he says. “Even when I thought I was writing a pure fantasy, I stopped to think and realised that I was writing about something that actually happened. I have written lots of songs that are completely true; ‘Song For Anna’ is word for word true, though ‘Jamaica’ was a song for a girl I knew. Many of the songs are for people I know.
“I’m not very prolific. The last year or two it’s been hard, as I don’t like being pressured. A second album is always a product of a short period of time, though a first album can be the product of years of work.
“I know the old saying of ‘I’m not going to let success spoil me’, but that’s really pretty funny as you can never tell. Other people’s attitudes have changed. I’ve woken up six months after I’ve said that and realised I’d been rotten to some people who really loved me. I didn’t mean to, but I didn’t realise it. In the long run this career can isolate you as people always want to talk about music. I really like to go places, and there are still a lot where I’m not known at all.”
He writes most of his songs at the piano. He taught himself to play and, he says, it shows. On stage he flits between guitar and piano, using a three-piece back up band of David Lindley (who used to play with Terry Reid) on fiddle, lap slide guitar, and guitar, Doug Heyward on bass and Larry Zack on drums. They’ve been together around a year.
“I’ve always played with people that tended to play right whatever they were doing, and I’m only just learning to get the most out of my musicians by saying what I want. Ultimately I always find people who play things right, but now I’m being influenced by David Lindley even though he’s playing my tunes. I’ve found some incredible players in studios.”



JACKSON BROWNE - 1973 Interview

In November 1973, I was midway through my stint as Melody Maker’s man in LA, a six-moth sojourn that ended when it became clear that the distance from London and an eight-hour time change made it less practical than NY as a base for the paper’s US correspondent. It was a productive period though, and I immersed myself as best I could in the LA rock scene of the period. Among the many I interviewed there was Jackson Browne, though it wasn’t until his great 1976 album, The Pretender, that I became a real fan of his music. Then, contrary to critical opinion, I went on to love his eighties albums Lawyers In Love and Lives In The Balance.
         Here’s my 1973 interview with Jackson, in two parts.

Jackson Browne arrived half an hour late. He’d been figuring out how to repair the plumbing at his house, and had finally succeeded in getting the water flowing freely again.
         An irrelevant story? Far from it – for it reflects this man’s attitude to the whole business of music – do it yourself. With few exceptions, Jackson will try his hand at anything rather than get someone over to help. He’s alway learning.
         Right now, Jackson Browne is on the brink of becoming very big indeed. His first album, released a couple of years ago, was received with critical acclaim everywhere and his second, For Everyman, was released a month ago in the US and is more than emphasising Jackson’s potential.
         Jackson belongs firmly in the school of California singer-songwriters, having been brought up in the Troubador, rubbing shoulders with what has now become the hierarchy of West Coast music. He’s also managed by the “supergroup” office of Elliott Roberts and David Geffen, who largely control the interests of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell and countless others.
         Jackson was born in Heidleberg, Germany, but raised in Los Angeles where his American family relocated when he was three. His only formal musical training was trumpet lessons at school, but that, he says, was like learning maths or history. “It was a studious trip,” he says in a relaxed Californian accent. “It never got to the point where it was fun.
         “My father was encouraging me to play it but there was nothing social about a trumpet. I was hanging around with a whole load more juvenile delinquents, vandalising cars and things, and I could never imagine bringing my trumpet to a party for anything.”
         It wasn’t until Jackson reached 15 that the radio brought him folk music in the form of Joan Baez and Dylan, who, he says, opened everything right up for him. “Right around that time there were the blues players, too, like Dave Van Ronk, Jack Elliott, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, a whole bunch of blues players. I didn’t get into all that as a social thing, but as something I could do all by myself.
         “I’d dig the records at home because I didn’t make it at some things. I didn’t dress very well, I didn’t have a car. The one thing I loved to do was surf and in the winter months, it got too cold for that. I was really skinny, too. I’d get carried in real easy.”
         It was on the beach that Jackson first picked up a guitar. “Everybody plays on the beach. Everybody I knew seemed to know how to play the guitar a little, just enough to have fun. The first couple of years I could play I never had a guitar of my own. I’d borrow one and when the owner wanted it back, I’d just go and borrow another. My brother played and he gave me his old one when he bought an electric.”
         Jackson’s recording debut was on a sampler for Elektra, a sort of music workshop album which involved four or five singer/songwriters who had stayed together in California and who were supposed to represent the music that Elektra stood for.
         It wasn’t successful. “They were a very image-minded company in those days and they wanted this to demonstrate what they were up to, but the people involved ought to have been able to make their own albums.
         “As an album it was very unsuccessful because we didn’t have time to get to know each other, and, to be honest, I was terrible. Even if I’d made my own album, it would have been awful. It takes a long time to become a musician, and I hadn’t been able to learn everything at all.”
         At this time – 1968/9 – Jackson was playing regularly at the Troubador Hoot nights, Monday evening shows when whoever turns up has an opportunity to play.
Whereas today the Hoots are more organised, five years ago singers who turned up around 5 p.m. and waited would get to go on stage at the prime time. “I’d go on sixth which was the best time, before people left and after they’d been there a while so they’d gotten into it.
         “That’s always been a strange audience because they tend to ignore you, but if you catch their attention or be outrageous or something, they’ll cheer you on and go for it. I used to do it every week, five times in a row, but now you can’t do that. They limit you. After a while I started to get a positive reaction there, but it was tough.
         “Most concerts I do I like to wander around the town and visit the record store, or a guitar shop or a restaurant, just to meet someone who will be at the show, and know them. They’re so many robots in America, people who just say ‘have a nice day’ and do it automatically without meaning it.”
The first offer that came along for Jackson was the Elektra sampler and he admits he jumped at it without realising all the implications. He realised there was more to being a singer than just singing his heart out as often as possible, so a period of travelling, learning and self-organised club appearances followed.
“Around the time I started to get hungry, I decided I’d have to get a little more serious about it. My whole attitude was so relaxed, but I knew one of these days I’d make a record.
         “I did a week at the Troubadour and they passed on my option because I hadn’t taken up any record-offers that came in so they thought I wasn’t interested. [Troubadour owner] Doug Weston, who’s been very helpful to me really, was disgusted and didn’t hire me, but I knew I needed a manager, and a friend told me about David Geffen. I had the impression that you needed an audition to get through to him, and an introduction, but I made a demo tape and sent it to him.
         “I did ‘Jamaica’ and did it all wrong. I got John David Souther on drums, and Glen Frey, Ned Doheney and David Jackson and it was all back to front and it sounded terrible. I sent it off, though, and left town for a while. When I got back I was really surprised to learn Geffen had been trying to get in touch with me. He told me to relax and enjoy myself and that he’d figure something out after a while. And he did just that.
         “I wasn’t one of those people who could go to a record company, get a deal and go into the studio the following week, spend a month making a record and have it out. I don’t know how to go about making a record; I was no musician, though I’m getting to be one now.
         “There was talk about me getting some big superstar to produce my record, but I figured it would end up sounding like his records and be a hype, so I didn’t want that.”

Tomorrow: Success beckons, and so does Nico. 


CHINESE BEATLES - and Russian Zeps, Stones & CCR

Like hair dryers and feather pillows, The Beatles were deemed by the leaders of the People’s Republic of China to be evil products of decadent Western capitalism. Nevertheless, somehow or other, their music found its way over the Great Wall. To combat any suggestion that Western capitalism might be a good thing after all if it was the source of such great pop music, the Chinese rulers decided to co-opt The Beatles for themselves, give them a quick makeover to hoodwink the proletariat into believing they were the product of good wholesome communism, just like everything else. 
          Although you can now access this picture quite easily on the internet, I happened on it in the 1980s, brought into my office by a guy who wanted to do a book about obscure Beatles albums. He had a few other weird picture sleeves too: Chinese-featured JPG&R walking down a street that could have been in a Chinatown anywhere, The Beatles caricatured as old men, and all those strange early American Capitol albums that mixed Beatles songs with songs by others or told ‘The Beatles Story’ in breathless fashion between snatches of screams and a bit of music.
          This Chinese Beatles album is a bootleg of course, insofar as whoever released it in China, probably a state sponsored label, never asked permission and never had a contract, let alone paid royalties to JPG&R. I like how Paul’s eyes are rounder than the others, just as in real life. 
          I would love to have been able to show this to John. He’d have laughed his head off.

All of this reminds me that in the mid-eighties, when my Russian friend Artemy Troitsky visited the UK for the first time, he brought me these three Russian vinyl albums, by Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival. This was in the days before Glasnost, of course, when contact between Western rock and Soviet culture was pretty much non-existent. I am certain that these albums, on the state owned Melodiya label, had been manufactured simply by copying tracks from Western albums bought in the West and brought back to the USSR by Kremlin-approved agents and, as in the case of the Chinese Beatles, no permission was sought from the artists and no royalties paid to them either.



Further to my post on Monday I have received word from the publishers of the Lynyrd Skynyrd biography Whiskey Bottles and Brand New Cars, and also its author Mark Ribowsky. Both have apologised for misquoting me on the matter of allegations that Pete Rudge’s penny-pinching was an indirect cause of the 1977 plane crash insofar as this false economy resulted in his hiring a cheap and therefore defective plane. They have also agreed to remove this citation from further printings of the book.
         I think it’s worth adding here that these allegations would only really hold water if the cost of the plane rental came directly from Rudge’s own pocket, but this is highly unlikely to have been the case. It is the custom in the music industry for an act to pay tour costs such as staging, transportation, hotels, together with the wages and expenses of additional musicians and road crew. At the end of a tour these costs, together with advertising, agency and management fees are deducted from the gross takings and the remainder goes to the act. (Since these costs, which are often exorbitant, do not escalate in direct proportion to the size of the audience, it is easy to understand how financially important it is for an act to graduate to bigger and bigger venues.)
         So thank you Chicago Review Press and Mark Ribowsky for agreeing to amend the book. And while you’re at it, remember to spell Townshend with an ‘h’.


LYNYRD SKYNYRD – Why I Don’t Like This Book

Browsing Amazon last week I came across a Lynyrd Skynyrd biography published last year called Whiskey Bottles and Brand New Cars: The Fast Life and Sudden Death of Lynyrd Skynyrd by Mark Ribowsky. Amazon invited me to ‘look inside’ so I did so and discovered that my name appears in the index with seven page references. I was unable to access these pages but my curiosity got the better of me and I bought it.
         My brief but memorable relationship with Lynyrd Skynyrd is detailed in a post elsewhere on Just Backdated. In a nutshell, in 1977 I worked for the company that managed them, Sir Productions, which was headed by my friend and former Who associate Peter Rudge. 1977, of course, was the year in which the group was decimated by a plane crash that killed three members of the band, including singer Ronnie Van Zant, their personal roadie and the two pilots.
         Surprisingly, Mark Ribowsky did not get in touch with me about his book which would not have been difficult as I’m hardly the shy and retiring type who’s cut off means of communication. Instead he accessed the story about my experiences with Skynyrd on the website Rock’s Back Pages, which is more or less the same as a post about the group on Just Backdated (but lacks the postscript about my presenting Skynyrd with a Classic Rock award in 2012), and reproduced large sections from it in his book, either directly or as paraphrased material. Ribowsky didn’t ask permission to do this but like most writers I tend to accept that once something is out there on the internet it’s pretty much fair game, though I think he has taken a bit of a liberty in lifting as much material as he has without so much as a by your leave (though I am credited in the bibliography). More seriously, though, he states that in the course of this article I imply that Peter Rudge was “always looking for ways to scrimp and save”, with a veiled suggestion that this parsimony on the part of Rudge may have prompted him to rent a substandard plane on the cheap, the logical inference being that this might explain why it fell out of the sky.
         Over the weekend I re-read my Lynyrd Skynyrd article and cannot find any suggestion whatsoever in it that Peter Rudge was a cheapskate. If fact, I don’t believe he was at all. So this supposed ‘testimony’ from me – “according to Chris Charlesworth, Rudge was always...” is what it says in the book – is an outright invention, and I’m not happy about it. Neither am I happy that this invention seeks to indirectly lay the blame for the tragedy – completely erroneously – at the feet of my friend Peter Rudge.
         Rudge’s name is not mentioned in the acknowledgements which suggests he didn’t interview him. Neither is mine, of course.
         Also, amongst other things that don’t quite ring true, Pete Townshend’s name is spelt wrongly throughout (missing the ‘h’) which always pisses me off and leads me to believe that a writer who makes this elementary error doesn’t know his stuff.
         I will complain to the publishers – Chicago Review Press – and hope the complaint reaches Mark Ribowsky. If I get a response I’ll let you know. 



The second part of my extract from Omnibus Press’ Big Time: The Life of Adam Faith by David and Caroline Stafford, about Adam’s unpleasant encounter with South Africa’s repellent apartheid regime in 1964.  

Adam with promoter Ronnie Quibell & Sheriff C Malan

Adam Faith arrived to a Beatles welcome. Screaming fans endangered life and limb on the airport balconies; but opposition was building both from the South African government, who were determined he wouldn’t play for mixed audiences, and from the press back home who suspected his ‘convictions’ were no more than publicity-grabbing flim-flam.
         The Daily Mirror, as a test, sent one of their journalists, who was Asian, to buy a ticket for one of Adam’s shows in Johannesburg. The box office said he wasn’t allowed. The cynics preened themselves.
         At his hotel, Adam received anonymous phone calls warning him not to “criticise our politics”. Adam and [his manager’s husband] Maurice Press were never sure whether the armed coppers who stood guard over them 24 hours a day were there to protect or to intimidate.
         Despite [promoter] Ronnie Quibell’s assurances, for the first two weeks, Adam found himself playing mostly to white audiences. Ronnie assured him that this was a temporary glitch and things would get better when they got to the more liberal parts of the country.
         The crisis came at Ronnie Quibell’s own Luxurama Theatre in the suburbs of Cape Town – where Dusty had stirred it up by playing to a non-segregated audience. In the intervening weeks – between Dusty’s concert and Adam’s – the authorities had clamped down. All the same, Ronnie said, there would be brown faces among the white.
         Half way through a matinee performance, the houselights went up and two jackal-eyed police started stalking the aisles. Adam stopped singing and watched. An usherette pointed the way and the cops homed in on two pre-teen girls, sitting in the front stalls. The girls were not quite white enough. The police manhandled them out of the theatre.
         Worst of all, as the police bundled the two little girls up the aisle, the rest of the white audience applauded their diligence.
         Adam walked off stage.
         Ronnie Quibell harangued Adam in his dressing room, telling him that he would sue the arse off him if he didn’t honour every one of his engagements in South Africa – segregation or no segregation.
         Adam and Maurice consulted with lawyers and even attended a meeting Ronnie had arranged with the Secretary to the Minister of the Interior. The Secretary was unsympathetic to the British sensibilities.
         Arthur West, their lawyer, made preparations to smuggle them out of the country. Tickets were purchased, using the name of Terry Nelhams, for a flight back to Johannesburg and, from there, to the UK.
         The first leg of the flight seemed to go well. Adam and Maurice landed at Jan Smuts airport in Johannesburg safe and sound, but, as they disembarked, they realised they’d been rumbled. The press were there to greet them.
         “I’ve tried for 15 days to come to some compromise about mixed audiences,” Adam announced, “But today the Secretary for the Interior, Mr G du Preez, told me finally the Government could not change its decision”
         Even though they had first-class tickets, Adam and Maurice were denied entry to the VIP lounge and had, instead, to wait in the concourse where their white and almost universally pro-apartheid fellow passengers hurled insults and jostled.
         Then the flight was delayed. Adam and Maurice learned from the attendant journalists that Ronnie Quibell had taken out a summons and now a warrant was out for their arrest. A Sheriff was heading to the airport.
         The Captain of a passing VC10, probably an old Drumbeat fan, took pity. With cavalier disregard for bureaucracy and protocol, he hustled Adam and Maurice through immigration and onto his plane. Within minutes, he’d been cleared for take-off and was taxiing to the runway.  Soon they’d be in the air and on their way back to blighty. Another order came over the pilot’s headphones. Permission to take off had been revoked. The plane braked violently.
         “The door flew open,” said Adam, “and the next thing I knew, I was staring down the barrel of a rifle. A woman in a buff-coloured C&A dress was telling me to leave the plane.”[i]
         The woman was Mrs C. Malan, Deputy Sheriff of Kempton Park district. She had a Supreme Court Writ for Adam’s arrest. Unless he could come up with forty thousand Rand (around £20,000) to compensate Quibell for the broken contract, he was going to prison.
         It was Friday. The banks were closed. BACS had not been invented. Prison was the only option. Adam was marched back into the airport and a wall of baying journalists. Though some of the journalists worked for the more conservative papers who believed that brutal torture followed by a sound hanging was the only language Adam’s sort would understand, many – the majority even – were liberals, who, being able to see both sides of the argument, found it laughably easy to dismiss one of them. They defended Adam from the Sheriff’s impertinence.
         When a riot looked likely, Mrs Malan called for back-up. Within an hour, the High Sheriff of Johannesburg had turned up, an old-school, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, side-of-condemned-beef racist and professional hater. He set about the process of dragging Adam off to jail.
         It was a Spartacus moment. One by one the liberal journalists stood out from the crowd. “If he goes to jail, you’ll have to take me, too.”  “And me.” “And me.”
         Some of them were able to persuade the High Sheriff that what he had on his hands here was not a run-of-the-mill-Commie-delinquent but potentially a major international incident.
         The Condemned Beef backed down. Adam and Maurice managed to put through a phone call to London and contacted Sir Joseph Lockwood, Chairman of EMI, who arranged for an EMI representative in South Africa to bring the requested cheque for 40,000 South African Rand to the airport.
         Word, too, found its way to Gerald Croasdell, General Secretary of Equity, who did his best to foment the threatened international crisis by sending a telegram to Patrick Gordon Walker, the Foreign Secretary: “Urgently request every assistance for our member Adam Faith now under threat of imprisonment South Africa.”
         The presentation of the cheque was, of course, no more than a token settlement because it could not be honoured until Monday, when the banks re-opened, but it did keep Adam and Maurice out of jail. But all the same, they had their passports confiscated and were placed under house arrest at a hotel.
         On the Monday, the cheque cleared, Adam and Maurice were escorted to the airport by security guards and hours later landed at London Airport.
         Nell, worried sick, and Adam’s sister Pamela were at the airport to greet him. So was an ITN reporter. Adam was in no mood to play the innocent “Don’t-know-nuffink-about-politics” pop star.
         “Isn’t it a fact that if you’d not spoken out about it before you went out, there is a good chance that you would have played before mixed audiences?” asked the reporter.
         “No, because they definitely asked me to sign a piece of paper saying I wouldn’t.”
         “In fact mixed audiences are barred by South African Law but they are....”
         “But there you are wrong, you see. You don’t know South African Law. There is not a law in South Africa that says that mixed audiences are barred in the theatres. There’s no such law. It’s not been put in the statute book. When they made the apartheid laws they left out the theatre. Because it was for culture”
         “So they do endure mixed audiences?”
         “They don’t ‘endure’ them or anything, what they do... it’s government policy. The Prime Minister there made a speech to say that he would not permit artists to go into the country and dictate who they want to play in front of. It’s not a law, it’s just a speech made by the Prime Minister.”
         A subsequent trial in South Africa found in favour of Ronnie Quibell in his demand for compensation and he was awarded the 40,000 Rand that EMI had put up as surety to secure Adam’s release. EMI deducted the money over the next few years from Adam’s record royalties.
         The Foreign Office seemed almost to agree with the South African government that visitors, especially pop stars, should shut their mouths and do as they’re told: “If artists embark on foreign tours without first ensuring that the arrangements comply both to the requirements of local law and custom” such an oversight did “not provide grounds for government intervention on their behalf”.
         More shamefully still, Jimmy Edwards, handlebar-moustachioed star of TV’s school sitcom Whack-O! and Honorary Chairman of Equity’s sister union the Variety Artistes’ Federation, said, “It is no part of the unions’ function to thrust doctrinaire policies [like anti-racism] down the throats of its members. If they sign contracts to go to South Africa or elsewhere and break them, they ought not to involve the government. We regard South Africa as a very useful outlet for employment and it is not part of our function to deprive members of any outlet in any part of the world on doctrinaire grounds.”
         Max Bygraves, of all people, wrote a piece in the Express saying that South Africans “do not expect rock’n’roll singers to arrive and start making laws to suit themselves”. He followed this up with: “I feel sure that responsible men with an age of experience who make the laws know more about the situation.”
         Adam presumably took a sharp intake of breath before telling the Express the next day: “Didn’t people say the same sort of thing about the ‘responsible’ Adolf Hitler 30 years ago?”

Adam and Maurice Press arrive back in the UK.