When I retired three years ago I was approached by a publisher to write a book about my period as Melody Maker’s US Correspondent between 1973 and 1977. It was to be called My American Adventure but in the event the publisher backed out which left me with screeds of unpublished memoirs, about 50,000 words, so I’ve decided to serialise some of it on my blog. The post two days ago, about the final months of 1974, represented a tiny fraction of this. The various chapters are each far too long for one post so I’ve divided this first section into ten parts, which will follow daily.
Here’s Part 1. It’s August, 1973, and I’m about to begin my role as Melody Maker’s man in America.
On August 26, 1973, a Sunday, I flew from London Heathrow to Los Angeles LAX, 12 hours in a TWA 747, my assignment to ‘cover the US music scene’ for Melody Maker. It was my ninth flight across the Atlantic but my first visit to California, stiflingly hot at LAX and there was a two-hour delay in immigration. I was met on the other side of customs by Jenny Halsall, an English girl I knew who’d worked as a PR for EMI in London but was now employed by Elektra Asylum Records in LA. Jenny drove me to the Chateau Marmont, my temporary berth, to drop off my single case and thence to the Hollywood Bowl, a huge outdoor concert venue, to see America, the acoustic trio, supported by Jackson Browne. Backstage I encountered David Crosby smoking a joint and a beautiful blonde called Victoria who offered to drive me home. On the way we passed a street-scene being filmed for a movie and she waited while I got out of her car to take a look. Then she drove me to the Chateau but declined my invitation to join me for the night, probably for the best as I had neither showered nor slept in 36 hours.
So began my five-year American Adventure. In that time, I would cross the USA many times, visit all its great cities and see and interview all the great rock stars of the era. I would chase Bob Dylan in New England, Crosby, Stills Nash & Young in Denver and The Beach Boys in Pasadena. I would record the thoughts of John Lennon on both coasts, catch Paul McCartney in Detroit, see The Rolling Stones playing on a flatbed truck on New York’s Fifth Avenue, fly Led Zeppelin’s Starship plane somewhere above Colorado, travel in the same Starship with Elton John and Alice Cooper, watch Eric Clapton and Pattie Harrison giving each other the eye in front of 50,000 fans in Pittsburgh, and witness The Who implode backstage at Madison Square Garden. I would interview and watch David Bowie perform in Detroit, the same concert that Madonna later revealed was the first rock show she ever attended, travel down America’s East Coast with Bruce Springsteen two years before Born To Run was released and watch Glen Campbell perform in Las Vegas, afterwards relaxing in his dressing room, the same one used by Elvis whenever he was in town. I would see perhaps 300 concerts, interview 100 stars and find myself drawn into New York’s nascent punk scene at CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City where Debbie Harry and Chris Stein asked me to manage their new group Blondie.
I fell in love with New York. It became my home for four years from the end of 1973 to the spring of 1977. I lived in an apartment on the Upper East Side, on 78th Street between Park and Madison Avenues, but I spent my nights downtown, in and out of the clubs and bars of Greenwich Village. I would come to understand that being English in the USA in the mid-seventies was like being a member of an exotic species, especially in the minds of American girls, and I would take full advantage of this and many other indulgencies on offer.
My role as Melody Maker’s American Correspondent, a full-time staff position that brought with it a carefree lifestyle of endless rock’n’roll hedonism, was a rock fan’s fantasy. It changed me for life.
To understand how all this came about we need to backtrack a little, to the spring of 1972 when the editorial staff of Melody Maker were invited to a party at the Wig & Pen Club on London’s Aldwych to celebrate the news that the paper had become the best-selling music weekly in the world, its circulation now topping 200,000 copies a week. After a short speech congratulating us all on the fine work we were doing, editor Ray Coleman announced that Melody Maker would henceforth send one of its staff writers to live in New York and report back on the world of American rock. Also, there would be an American edition, printed in Queens, which would be ‘edited’ by the New York-based writer, trimmed down to 40 pages from the UK edition which by then had anything up to 96 pages a week.
The coveted position of US Editor would not be permanent and, as the paper’s News Editor, I wasn’t in line for the role, at least not yet. Instead, it was decided that Roy Hollingworth would be the first London-based MM reporter to be given the job, staying in New York for six months, whereupon he would be replaced by another member of the staff. Roy duly flew off and settled into a fancy apartment in Sutton Place, an upmarket neighbourhood overlooking the East River in Midtown Manhattan.
To say that Roy distinguished himself in the role would be an understatement. Within weeks we were publishing stories and interviews of all that was happening in the world of American rock music, and first-hand accounts of US tours by UK artists. Now that we had a presence in the country, UK acts could no longer exaggerate their popularity in America as they had invariably done in the past. The only downside, at least from Roy’s point of view, was the vexed business of the American edition which was soon abandoned, the victim of IPC’s failure to pay graft to the right people in the world of American magazine circulation. IPC – MM’s owners – had a New York office that was run by a transplanted Englishman of the old school, a Colonel Blimp type who bristled at paying bribes to shady characters to ensure that the US edition of MM hit the newsstands in New York and elsewhere, and as a result most of them ended up on a garbage tip somewhere out near JFK Airport. The few that did hit streets were never displayed prominently on newsstands but hidden away where they couldn’t be seen.
The IPC office was on East 42nd Street in the Chrysler Building with its magnificent art-deco spire and they had set aside a room where Roy could work, not that he used it very much. This was the days before faxes and e-mails, so each week he would type up his interviews, show reviews and a New York news column and parcel up the sheets of A4 paper for a courier to airlift to London. Anything urgent could be sent via a ticker-tape machine that was operated by a girl in the office. Roy received a weekly $150 ‘living allowance’, and all his bills – rent, electricity, phone – were paid for by IPC. Meanwhile, his salary was banked in London and since he wasn’t there to spend it, it simply mounted up.
After six months Roy returned to the UK in triumph to be replaced by Michael Watts. Roy was never the same again. New York did something to him and the damage was permanent. In NY he’d stepped out with a beautiful mixed-race girl called Iris Brown, a secretary at Atlantic Records and, subsequently, Rolling Stone magazine. Back in the UK they pined desperately for one another so Iris followed him across the Atlantic and, for reasons unexplained, took a course in French somewhere near Marseilles. Roy subsequently spent a good deal of time somewhere near Marseilles and, when she had to return to the US, he left MM and followed her, settling into her family home in the Bronx and doing his best to establish himself as a singer-songwriter
Michael Watts’ six-month stint was extended to something like 10 months and, to ring the changes, the final two were spent in Los Angeles where he resided at the Chateau Marmont. This was a temporary measure until he found an apartment in LA but in the event assistant editor Richard Williams left Melody Maker in the summer of 1973 to join the A&R staff at Island Records and Michael was recalled from LA to become his replacement. I was duly sent out to replace him and, due to internal changes and other unforeseen developments in London, the temporary nature of the US job was abandoned. Aside from a couple of three-month breaks, I would thus spend the better part of three and a half years as MM’s US correspondent, far and away the longest term of anyone who occupied the position.