When I arrived in New York I checked into the Gorham Hotel – now renamed The Blakely – which was a dump. Tucked around the back of Carnegie Hall on West 55th Street, it was the hotel from which The Who were evicted in April, 1968, after Keith Moon is alleged to have walked out on to a ledge several floors up and chucked cherry bombs down on police below. Like the Gramercy Park at the bottom end of Lexington Avenue, it was much used by English musicians unable to afford the more expensive Drake or Essex House, let alone the St Regis, Waldorf Astoria or Plaza.
I hated it and had to find somewhere else to live. A friend who worked for Columbia Records came to my rescue, finding me a one-bedroom apartment above a deli on Lexington Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets. It belonged to a friend of his, a girl who’d gone off to live with her boyfriend, quite hurriedly it seemed as she’d left all her possessions behind: books, records, furniture, kitchen stuff and a closet and drawers full of her clothes too.
She didn’t have many records but among them was her copy of Revolver which I scrutinised closely. It seemed to be lacking three tracks, ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, ‘And Your Bird Can Sing ’and ‘Doctor Robert’, and at first I couldn’t figure out why. This was the first indication I’d had that American Beatles albums were different from the UK ones, something I’d never realised until now.
After three months I moved from Lexington Avenue into apartment 3D at 51 East 78th Street, my home away from home for the next three years, of which more later.
In the meantime, life became even more hectic on the rock front in New York than it was in LA. My first assignment was a quick trip to Chicago where, with MM photographer Barrie Wentzell for company, I caught up with Emerson, Lake & Palmer, reviewing a show at the International Amphitheatre on December 3. I think Barrie had been asked by ELP’s management to take some live shots of them for promotional use and he’d checked into the Gorham on the same floor as me, which meant I had a drinking partner in New York, for a few days anyway. Roy Carr, the NME writer, had come over to do a story on ELP too.
ELP were not really to my taste and I was a bit surprised that their brand of bombastic pseudo-classical rock found such an enthusiastic audience in a Chicago shed. Although they closed their shows with a vigorous stab at ‘Nut Rocker’, a much-loved variation on Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker’ first released in 1962 by a studio group called B. Bumble & The Stingers, ELP’s music was in sharp contrast to the perennially popular US-style non-stop boogie. They were big on special effects and showmanship, not least Keith Emerson abusing his Hammond organ with knives, and I figured this was what probably won over US audiences.
After the show Barrie and I copped a ride back to the hotel in the same stretch limo as Keith. I’d known him since he was in The Nice, when he and his Danish wife Elinor used to drink in La Chasse, a private members club catering to the music biz on Soho’s Wardour Street. He was always a friendly, down-to-earth fellow, quietly spoken and quite different off stage to the knife-throwing extrovert his audiences thought they knew. We were chatting away about mutual friends in the back of the limo when the driver turned around and informed us we were being followed. Then he drove like a madman, skipping lights, making quick unsignalled turns and alternately slowing down and accelerating really fast. Keith, Barrie and I grabbed on to straps, hanging on for dear life. “We’ve lost him,” he announced after about ten minutes.
This was the first of many visits I would make to Chicago and O’Hare Airport, the world’s busiest. Each and every time I passed through it I was accosted by ingratiatingly subservient young women in smock tops, ankle-length skirts and sandals with flowers in their long straight hair, promoting religious cults, all smiles and platitudes but chillingly persistent. “Thank you but I’m not interested,” I would say politely, mindful of what happened to Jeremy Spencer of Fleetwood Mac, and walk away. Then they’d follow me and try again. After a while I realised that the only way to get rid of them was to be filthy rude. “Fancy a fuck?” usually did the trick. Worked with Moonies too.
My next assignment from New York occurred just over a week later, on December 11 & 12, when I found myself witnessing Alice Cooper in action in Madison, Wisconsin, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, flying from La Guardia with his shrewdly clever manager Shep Gordon. There was snow everywhere and it was unbelievably cold. The exquisitely fragrant actress Cybill Shepherd was also accompanying Alice, covering the tour for some up-market woman’s magazine. We interviewed Alice together in his hotel suite, and for a moment I thought Cybill and Alice were an item but they weren’t. Of course, I found it difficult to purge the image of her stripping naked on the diving board in the famous swimming pool scene from The Last Picture Show. Most unsettling it was.
At this time Alice Cooper was the name of the group, not just their lead singer who subsequently took the name for himself and replaced the band with hired hands. But the writing was on the wall as during the concerts there was a hidden guitarist called Mick Mashbir playing the tricky parts in the wings where the audience couldn’t see him. No-one tried to hide this from me. It was regarded as perfectly normal but I remember thinking how outrageous it would be if, say, The Who or Led Zeppelin had a guitarist in the wings covering for Townshend or Page – unheard of! And the Cooper band was aspiring to the same level.
My connection with the Cooper crowd was eased by a solid friendship with Ashley Pandel, his publicist who worked for the Cooper set-up, Alive Enterprises, which was run by Shep. Ashley, whom I’d already met in London, would go on to form his own PR company in New York, the Image Group, with Alice as a star client, along with Lou Reed, The New York Dolls, Todd Rundgren and a few others. My ex-MM colleague Roy Hollingworth, now living in New York, went to work for him as a copywriter and on Friday nights a gang of us – Ashley and his girlfriend Nancy, Roy and his girlfriend Iris, Mandi Newall, who also worked for Ash – would head up First Avenue to an Australian bar called Waltzing Matildas and play darts. That December, when we were joined by Barrie, Roy Carr and music writer Lorraine Alterman, Mandi took a few pictures of us all in the bar, and I’ve attached them below. They’re only contact sheets so a bit small but every time I look at them I'm reminded of this period of my life, how nights like this, out with friends, made my first December away from home not so bad after all.
At the top we find Barrie with Nancy, then Barrie with Iris, followed by Lorraine, Nancy and Iris; next row, Ashley, Barrie and Lorraine, then Ashley, Barrie, me and Lorraine; next row, Roy, then Roy Carr with Barrie; and we’re all somewhere or other in the big contact sheet.
It was during my first year in New York that Alice’s tall blond drummer Neal Smith married another statuesque blonde, a model by the name of Babette, followed by a reception on board a boat that circled Manhattan, to which I was invited. Because police intervention could come only from another boat that would be seen approaching, parties held off shore like this offered opportunities for extreme debauchery, and this was no exception. Gallons of booze, shitloads of cocaine, fragrant cigarettes made from Old Nick’s navy cut, casino-style gambling and private cabins for intimate liaisons – you name it. It was well after dawn when the boat docked and its dishevelled, bleary-eyed passengers disembarked.
It being close to that time of the year, back in New York I wrote up my Alice Cooper story as a spoof whodunit in the style of a Sherlock Holmes Christmas story, in which I became the great detective on the hunt for Alice and his gang, solving the mystery of the distinction between the identities of Alice and Vince Furnier, his real name.
This was my first Christmas out of the UK, and – as I related at the conclusion of my last batch of memoirs – I invited Christine, my English ex-girlfriend from Los Angeles, to spend it with me, even offering to buy her flight ticket. To my surprise and delight she accepted and we agreed that from now on our relationship would be platonic. On Christmas morning I took her for a ride around Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage and later in the day had Christmas dinner with my friend Peter Rudge, his wife Frankie and their two kids. Pete had set up in business in New York to manage The Who’s American affairs and supervise the Rolling Stones’ touring worldwide. Knowing how much he loved sport I bought him a grid football outfit, complete with ball, helmet and the shoulder padding that US footballers use. I can still remember the look of delight on his face as he ran off to his bedroom to try it on. He returned to where we all were in the living room, looking something like this.