MY STINT AS MELODY MAKER’S MAN IN AMERICA, PART 12 – New York, December 1973-October 1974

When Christine flew back to LA and Barrie to London I was on my own in New York and had to fend for myself. As I did in LA, I called up all the record and PR companies to inform them of my presence here and, sure enough, the promo LPs started to arrive again, along with tickets for gigs and invitations to interview all and sundry. This time I at least had a record player on which to play LPs, albeit one belonging to her whose flat I now occupied.
         Like Roy Hollingworth and Michael Watts before me, I presented myself at the offices of IPC, Melody Maker’s parent company, several flights up in the Chrysler Building at 205 East 42nd Street. With its stunning art deco spire, it is still the most elegant of all New York’s many skyscrapers. Here I became acquainted with the man who ran IPC America, a plump old Squadron Leader type of chap, complete with bushy moustache, who suggested I find myself somewhere to live in Yonkers, wherever that may have been. I had other ideas. I wanted to live in Manhattan, where the action was, and decided to ignore his housing advice. He introduced me to a pleasant Italian girl called Gina who would occasionally retype my stories on a ticker tape machine, this being the fastest way to relay text from New York to London in those days. Gina would also call me with occasional ticker tape messages or cables from London.
         ‘Mr Coleman wants you to interview someone called Lou Reed.’
         ‘OK. Thanks Gina.’
         ‘Who is he?’ she would ask. ‘Is he famous?’
         Once established, each Thursday afternoon for the next three years I would leave my package of typed pages and photographs at these offices, from where a courier picked them up for delivery on Friday mornings to MM’s HQ in London’s Fleet Street. I would also collect my weekly cheque for $150 to cover my ‘living expenses’ and on the way home deposit it at a nearby branch of Hanover Trust, the bank where I had opened an account. The rent on my flat, the phone bills, gas and electric were all paid by my Squadron Leader.

New York in January was bitterly cold but, as in LA, I was warmly welcomed into the rock fraternity. I was invited to dinner at the home of Lisa and Richard Robinson who had the biggest private record collection I’d ever seen, and they showed me all their American Beatles LPs, thus satisfying my curiosity on that score. I was astonished by a double LP set that featured The Beatles on one disc and The Four Seasons on the other. Lisa published her own magazine, Rock Scene, and wrote a New York column for New Musical Express, while Richard was the record producer largely responsible for Lou Reed’s re-emergence after the Velvets called it a day. Their friend Lenny Kaye, another writer, joined us there and he invited me to check our Bleecker Bob’s Golden Oldies record store where he worked part time, which I did a day or two later.

         I was also invited to a party at the midtown apartment that Newsday rock critic and Rolling Stone columnist Dave Marsh shared with his partner Barbara Carr, who worked in the press office at Atlantic and before long would go into partnership with writer Jon Landau in the management of Bruce Springsteen. They had a hell of a lot of records too. Dave and I bonded over a deep love of The Who and at his place I met fellow rock critics Bob Christgau of the Village Voice, John Rockwell of the New York Times, and Paul Nelson who wrote for Rolling Stone and, while working for Mercury Records, signed the New York Dolls which cost him his job at the label.
         I was already moving in the right circles but at the same time noting how earnestly all these writers viewed the jobs they were doing, always seeking a deeper meaning in the rock music they wrote about, a bit like Townshend I suppose, which is why they all loved The Who but looked askance at Led Zeppelin who for all their skills lacked intellectual depth, at least as far as they were concerned. I think some of them looked askance at me too, a fairly happy-go-lucky Brit whose domestic circumstances were cushioned by the big selling music paper for which I worked – perhaps a source of envy – but it seemed to me that my MM brothers and I had far more fun writing about rock music than they did. No matter, I have always subscribed to the notion that rock’n’roll’s basic function was to provide fun, and I still do. 
         Meanwhile, a friend I’d made in LA, Peter Philbin, had moved to New York to take up a position as press officer at CRI – Columbia Records International – with special responsibility for looking after visiting foreign press. Since I was the only foreign music press guy on a semi-permanent visit to the city, that meant he was mainly looking after me. Very opportune, I thought, as every single Columbia LP release, from rock and pop to country, jazz and classical, as well as spoken word like How To Speak Spanish, came winging my way.

On January 2 I was invited to see my pals Slade in St Louis, Missouri. Noddy, Jim, Dave and Don were playing the sold-out Ambassador Theatre, capacity 3,000, and I soon realised this was an unusual state of affairs as far as Slade were concerned. Because a local DJ took a liking to them and played their records a lot on his radio station, St Louis was one of few American cities where Slade were massively popular, and later in the year they would sell out the 10,000-seater Kiel Auditorium there, again with me on hand as a prejudiced observer.
         We stayed at Stouffer’s Riverfront Hotel, a tall circular tower that overlooked the Mississippi, by far the widest river I’d ever seen, which inspired Noddy to write the lyrics for ‘Far Far Away’. The hotel was next to the Gateway Arch, the world’s tallest arch and at over 600 foot the tallest man-made monument in the western hemisphere, and the Riverfront had a revolving restaurant on the top floor.

Stouffers Riverfront is the tower to the left of the arch

The concert was a riot of fun, just like Slade shows in the UK. This was the first time I’d seen Slade headline in the US and I was surprised Noddy didn’t tone down his exuberant patter for American audiences who were traditionally less inclined towards getting their boots off, getting down and getting with it. Here in St Louis, I thought, I might as well have been in Wolverhampton. Unlike in LA, where I saw them support J Geils, the unique Slade rapport hit bullseye.
Afterwards the usual gaggle of fans, mostly female, found their way back to Slade’s hotel and in the bar I befriended a blonde heiress called Debbie who told me she was a model, and from the look of her and the way she dressed I wasn’t about to argue. We hung out together for a while and a couple of weeks later she came to stay with me in New York where I took her out to dinner with Peter Gabriel and his manager Gail Coulson. Gabriel, who always had a keen eye for the female form, seemed quite taken with her. Debbie and I hooked up on my subsequent visits to St Louis and in the spring, immediately after my first visit back to the UK since the previous August, we took a week’s holiday together in New Orleans, of which more later.
As it happened, it wasn’t long before I was back in St Louis. On February 11 I made my second trip to Chicago to watch Black Sabbath in the same shed where I’d seen ELP in December. The following day I flew with them to St Louis in a small plane, a 12-seater I think, my first ever flight in this type of aircraft, and saw a second Sabbath show at Kiel Auditorium. Their manager Pat Meehan was gobsmacked when Debbie was waiting for me in the lobby of the Riverfront – all the bands stayed there apparently – when we arrived to check in. I’d told her I was coming, of course, but only rock stars were supposed to have a glamorous girl in every city. Debbie and I watched the show at Kiel from side of the stage and afterwards, back at the hotel, Meehan did his absolute best to move in on her, without success I’m pleased to say.
Black Sabbath’s brand of what soon become universally known as heavy metal wasn’t really to my taste but, as with ELP, there was no denying the enthusiasm of their fans who loved Tony Iommi’s doomy solos, Ozzie Osbourne’s peace-sign posturing and the relentless, machine-like pounding of their rhythm section.
Backstage in their dressing room I was surprised to see the cheap luggage in which they transported their unwashed and rather grubby stage clothing, a sharp contrast to the five-star valeting practices employed by acts like The Who, Led Zeppelin and Elton. Pete Townshend always mounted the stage in newly dry-cleaned and sparkling white clothes, Jimmy Page’s embroidered stage suits were lovingly maintained and Elton’s many outfits were shuttled from place to place in state-of-the-art portable wardrobes and tended by an on-tour seamstress. Ozzie’s fringed tops looked soiled and shabby to me, however. They’re not being looked after properly this lot, I thought to myself. I was right too, and in ways that went far beyond their laundry. 

No comments: