STRAT! – The Charismatic Life & Times of Tony Stratton Smith by Chris Groom

The photograph on the front cover says it all – a jovial looking, round-faced gent with a double chin whose shirt is stretched rather too tight across an ample belly, a loud, polka-dot tie, a drink and a customised “Charisma” Union Jack in one hand, an oversized, joke top hat in the other, a packet of Benson & Hedges protruding from his jacket pocket, hair that could use a trim, a cheeky grin on his face, a full bookshelf in the background, pens and pad on the desk in front of him, a scene abundant in mirth. 

Who was he? That’s the question with which Chris Groom wrestles in this biography of the man who founded, and somehow funded, Charisma Records, in the process discovering Genesis which made him a fortune. But Tony Stratton Smith remains elusive. There was something of the Will-O’-The-Wisp about him, his fingers in many pies, not all of them harmonising; and though his friends were many and all of them knew something about him, none of them seem to have known everything, so the author’s dogged persistence in interviewing and/or seeking assistance from no fewer than 207 named individuals in pursuit of the man still leaves a few questions unanswered. Which is how Strat, as he was universally known, probably wanted it.

Time to declare an interest. The manuscript for this book, all 268,898 words of it, landed on my desk at Omnibus Press about seven years ago. I declined to publish it, partly because it was far too long and partly because I knew from experience that books on music industry figures never sell anywhere near as well as books on music industry stars. Fast forward a few years and Chris Groom rings me up to say that he has found a publisher who requires the book to be cut by over 100,000 words, a task beyond him. Could I help? So, Chris crossed my palm with silver and early last year I reduced it to 154,000 words, eliminating repetition and rewriting large chunks in the process, tinkered with the chronology, followed a lead or two of my own, restructured and retitled the chapters, and added an index. This seemed to satisfy Wymer, the publishers, and the book finally saw the light of day at the beginning of this month.

Having thus contributed considerably – so much so that the author has seen fit to add my name to the cover, alongside that of Peter Gabriel who has written a Foreword – I can hardly review it in the customary sense. Suffice to say that although Tony Stratton Smith – the Stratton was adopted early on to differentiate him from a work colleague with a similar name – somehow manages to confound the author as regards the full picture of himself, I defy anyone to pull together a more comprehensive picture of this extraordinary man.

“Well, I never knew that about him,” was repeated to me several times by persons I spoke to for clarification on certain issues as I worked on the manuscript. This certainly confirms that those who knew – or thought they knew – him as well as anyone will find something to surprise them in the book. 

Strat was a journalist, sports writer, author, traveller, music publisher, concert promoter, manager of rock bands, record company boss, film producer, wheeler and dealer, gambler, racehorse owner and, finally, a tax exile. There were rumours, unconfirmed, that he might have worked for the British secret service. He was gay, a borderline alcoholic, overweight, addicted to risk and spoke with a posh accent that belied his humble upbringing in a suburb of Birmingham. Born out of wedlock, he never knew his father. He was befriended by millionaires and paupers. He was generous to a fault and might have been defrauded by persons who saw him as an easy mark. He died, quite suddenly, from a gastrointestinal haemorrhage attributed to pancreatic cancer, aged 53, and left no will. 

        As the head of Charisma Records, Tony became known as a generous patron of talented musicians whose work was not necessarily in line with commercial trends, an attitude that endeared him to many in the industry but may have ill-served him as regards Charisma’s balance sheet. His legacy was a label that defies logic in today’s terms. Best known for Genesis and Lindisfarne, it was also home to such disparate talents as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Sir John Betjeman, Julian Lennon, The Nice, John Arlott, Vivian Stanshall, Bert Jansch, Price Far I, Peter Hammill and many more. 

What everyone agrees on is that Strat was a joyful, carefree man of the world, often to be found propping up bars in Soho, glass in hand, when he should have been working. Fortunately, his staff – many of whom went on to become leading figures in the music business – covered for him, though they could be forgiven for rolling their eyes at some of the boss’s more unrealistic ventures. I knew him briefly and can confirm he was splendid company. That he was loved dearly is clear from the testimony of so many friends and business associates in this book. Most will be saddened to read about his final months as a tax exile in Las Palmas where he seemed to be rudderless, rarely sober and lacking the support of genuine friends. 

        “Ultimately, what he really cared about were the people,” writes Chris Groom, “the creativity, about imagination, inspiration and risk, and the sheer joy to be had in bringing all those elements together, lighting the Charisma-pink touch paper and standing back, glass in hand, to watch what might happen when the sparks began to fly.”



Time was when Genesis Publications, the Guildford-based company founded by George Harrison’s friend Brian Roylance, had the monopoly on expensive limited-edition rock books but they were joined a few years ago by Rufus Stone Limited Editions in Newbury, which specialises in hard rock. Now there’s another new kid on the block: This Day In Music Books, an offshoot of the website run by musician, PR and editor Neil Cossar which, as you might expect, lists music-related events on any particular day of the year. Yesterday, June 21, the day I began to write this, Columbia Records in 1948 in New York launched a new vinyl disc that spun at thirty-three and a third revs per minute. Caught on didn’t it?

        TDIM Books have already published several conventionally priced music books but this is their first foray into the luxury book market. Rock’N’Roll Fantasy: The Musical Journey of Free and Bad Company, compiled by uber-fan David Roberts, is a full-colour 400-page large format book printed on art paper that in its £75 top-of-the-market edition is hard-cased with an accompanying bag of goodies like replica concert tickets, what looks like home photos and artwork prints. You can get the book on its own for a penny shy of £40. 

        And very nice it is too, though I must declare an interest since my reports for Melody Maker on Free and Bad Co occupy several pages within. Indeed, my arrival on MM in the summer of 1970 coincided with ‘All Right Now’ topping the UK charts, thus confirming Free’s ascendency to rock’s high table, at least until instability, competing egos, poor management and hard drugs forced them apart. I thus found myself covering them fairly closely, interviewing them and seeing several shows. Best of all was one in Sunderland on June 26, 1970, at the local Top Rank Suite. ‘Freemania broke out in Sunderland on Friday,’ I reported somewhat sensationally in one of my earliest MM concert reviews, which can be found in the book. Over 50 years later I can still recall the euphoric scenes as Free, on the cusp of greatness, triumphed on the singer’s home patch. 

        The truth is I loved Free. They weren’t naturals on Top Of The Tops miming to ‘All Right Now’ but they were naturals on stage: Paul Rodgers, an expressive, soulful, confident and sexy vocalist (1); Paul Kossoff, a tasteful guitar player who unlike many in his trade knew not just what to play but also just what to leave out; Andy Fraser, a bassist with an elastic style all of his own; and Simon Kirke, tough as old rope, solid and unfussy at the back, a handsome devil too. They had a spring in their step in those early days, the best young band of the year in my view, and I was massively disappointed they didn’t stay together for longer.  

        The rise and fall of Free occupies the first half of Rock’N’Roll Fantasy, with the rest of the book largely devoted to Bad Company aside from a few pages given over to other projects involving those former Freemen, like Fraser’s Sharks, Rodgers’ Peace, Kossoff’s Back Street Crawlers and, later, Rodgers’ solo work and his adventures with Jimmy Page and Queen. It is heavily illustrated with pictures of all the bands, record sleeves and miscellaneous memorabilia, and due tribute is paid to those members of the groups who have passed on.

        The text is largely made up of long quotes from fans, friends and a few industry insiders, some famous, most simply devotees, stretching back from Rodgers’ early life in Middlesbrough to the present day. I was particularly amused by one quote from a fan who was arrested for fly-posting. In reality he was trying to remove a poster of Free from a wall so he could hang it in his bedroom. Since the book is authorised by Rodgers and Kirke, they contribute extensively throughout.

        I was never as enamoured of Bad Company as I was with Free. I acknowledged that they were a solid, hard-rocking, hard-working four-piece band whose success was more or less inevitable, given that they included Rodgers and Kirke, along with Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and wild card bassist Boz Burrell, and were managed by Led Zeppelin supremo Peter Grant. Despite their success, I felt there was something predictable and rather formulaic about their music; as if – much like Queen – it was designed on a drawing board where essential requirements for success were ticked off according to market research. Still, they made it big and their fans loved them, as can be seen from the citations from the many admirers who have contributed to this book.

A spread from the book showing Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers on stage. 

        I saw Bad Co several times, the most memorable in New York’s Central Park on September 4, 1974, when Jimmy Page, watching from the side-lines, hopped up on stage to jam with them on their closing number, much to the horror of Foghat whose unenviable task it was to follow them. My review of that night is also in the book, as is my report from California when they performed two nights at Winterland in San Francisco and a night later at the LA Forum, where once again members of Zep stepped up on stage to boost the excitement to fever pitch. A picture taken that night made MM’s front page the following week. 

        What I didn’t mention in MM at the time, for obvious reasons, was that on Bad Co’s Viscount jet from SF to LA I was sitting minding my own business when one of their roadies came down the aisle and whispered in my ear, “Peter wants to see you.” It was like being summoned to face the judge. I made my way to the private room at the back of the plane where Peter Grant was holding court with some of the band. On a table in front of him was a big mound of cocaine. Peter offered me some and I partook. “Did you enjoy the show?” he asked quite pleasantly. 

        “Er, yes Peter.” 

        “Well, mind you say so in that paper of yours. You can go now.”

        There was a big smile on Peter Grant’s face but the hint of menace he conveyed is as memorable today as that night all those years ago in Sunderland with Free.


(1) One day in 1972, during one of his periodic bouts of dissatisfaction with Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore confided in me that he thought Paul Rodgers was the best young singer in the UK and wanted to form a band with him. “Can you have a word with him?” Ritchie asked, knowing that I knew Free. I never did. 



Unwelcome, misunderstood and barely tolerated by the hierarchy at the BBC, Radio 1 was for many years the Corporation’s unloved bastard child. Its parents, loathed to an even greater extent, were the pirate radio ships that took to the UK airwaves between 1964 and 1967, chucking egg in the faces of the stuffy old Beeb as pop fans throughout the UK disdained the fogyish Light Programme and tuned in their thousands to Caroline, London and all the rest.

        So, when the Labour Government of the day brought in the Marine & Broadcasting Offences Act to sink the pirates, it was clear to the BBC that since the nation’s appetite for non-stop pop was here to stay they had better to do something out it, albeit very reluctantly. Their solution was Radio 1 which, in its own way, continued to chuck eggs in the same direction by becoming the country’s most popular station, proving the rule of thumb that you cannot legislate against something people like – if that wasn’t the case the “War on Drugs” would have been won 50 years ago. 

        So it was that on the morning of 30 September 1967 the “cheery” DJ Tony Blackburn, a refugee from Caroline, launched Radio 1 and, like it or not, it’s been the country’s premier pop station ever since. Its struggle for survival in the early days, its ups and downs, and its heroes and villains, are covered extensively in Robert Sellers’ The Remarkable Tale Of Radio 1: The History Of The Nation’s Favourite Station 1967-93.

        According to this book, the reality is that Radio 1’s existence has been a constant battle between the traditionalists on the one side and the progressives on the other, with each step forward resisted by the established powers, not only those at the top of the BBC itself but also the Musician’s Union, who viewed the playing of records as a danger to their members’ jobs. It’s hard to believe that for years the playing of records in the top ten on the radio was monitored by upholders of archaic cultural values, the sort of people who write letters to The Daily Telegraph from Tunbridge Wells and like to blame everything they don’t like on those with progressive ideas. The ongoing crusade is an almost endless theme of the book, tapering off somewhat after the two-thirds mark at which point it becomes less interesting, and it’s a given that after 1993, the point where the book ends, things finally loosen up.

        We hear from all the relevant sources, executives, programmers, producers and, most of all, the DJs, some of who are in it for the music, others for the glory and opportunity to move on to TV, fame and fortune. Invariably they are the less likeable. No one likes the odious Jimmy Savile, which is a relief, and John Peel comes across someone the establishment would love to dump but can’t because he’s so popular. Blackburn, on the other hand, is a bit of a prima donna.

        Sellers has done his research well, talking to all the right people and his book will certainly go down as a definitive history the nation’s ‘favourite’ radio station. Then again, there hasn’t really been that much competition has there?



Eight days after I first saw The Who in person on August 9, 1969, at the Plumpton Racecourse near Lewis in East Sussex, they appeared at Woodstock, an epic performance played out in the most dreadful of circumstances that in many ways sealed their reputation as the greatest live band of their or any other era. 

        For reasons related to the 50-year copyright lapse, it is now possible to buy The Who’s full Woodstock set on a CD of questionable legitimacy advertised freely on the internet, as I did last week. Universal Music, which recently acquired The Who’s entire back catalogue in a deal worth a reputed $50 million, would be justified in taking legal steps to curtail such releases but seem disinclined to do so, probably because no sooner had they stamped on one pirate copy than another would crop up elsewhere.

        In my book Tommy At 50, published in 2019, I was asked by the publishers to write a small feature on the Woodstock performance that was separate from the main text. “Most estimates suggest that as many as four hundred thousand were in attendance,” I wrote, “but disorganisation meant the band’s appearance occurred eight hours later than planned, and, in the meantime, they had inadvertently sipped drinks laced with LSD. The delay, the acid, and the difficulty their tour manager had experienced in extracting the balance of the group’s fee [$11,200] in cash from the promoters meant they were all in a foul temper. Finally, at around 4 a.m., they took the stage.”

        Until I acquired the CD on the London Calling label (illustrated above) from Amazon last week I hadn’t heard The Whos Woodstock set in its entirety which, according to the sleeve, was ‘broadcast on WNEW-FM’, the inference being that the recording is taken from the broadcast*. This, of course, is untrue. No act’s set from Woodstock was broadcast, not at the time anyway, though the entire festival was recorded on 8-track by the noted engineer/producer Eddie Kramer. We can therefore assume that the CD comes from Kramer’s tapes. 

        Originally, all that could be heard of The Who at Woodstock was ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, included on the triple Woodstock LP released by Atlantic in 1970, and ‘Sparks’, ‘Pinball Wizard’ and ‘See Me Feel Me’ (ie, the coda of ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’) on The Kids Are Alright double LP released in 1979. Additionally, I included what we called ‘The Abbie Hoffman Incident’ on the 1994 4-CD box set 30 Years Of Maximum R&B, which I think my co-producer Jon Astley found among Pete’s tape collection. Hoffman barged on stage in the middle of Tommy to express his disgust at the jailing of MC5 manager John Sinclair on drug charges. Pete dispatched him into the pit with a wave of his guitar, an action he later regretted. In 2019, however, The Who’s set was made available on Woodstock - Back To The Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive, a very expensive 38-CD collection that was limited to just less than 2,000 copies, but those who’ve heard the disc with The Who on it claim the sound mix is poor, not an issue with the CD I bought.

        So, what’s the CD like? It begins with an easily identifiable twang from John’s bass before the announcer, Chip Monck, speaks, somewhat profoundly. “Will you please warmly show your appreciation… a group that came to us specially for this festival… please warmly welcome The Who,” and without hesitation they crash into ‘Heaven And Hell’, the regular set opener during this run of shows. They sound like they mean business too, with John’s vocal ringing out loud and clear, Pete’s guitar wafting in and out of the mix until it settles and Keith exploding at the back. There’s a two-second delay before ‘I Can’t Explain’, a sharp, angry, needle-fine version that puts to the sword any ideas about this festival being about peace and love. I doubt that any performer could have taken Woodstock by the scruff of the neck like The Who did at four am that morning. 

        After Explain the group embark on Tommy with no introduction, opening with ‘It’s A Boy’ as the ‘Overture’ wasn't played until later in the year. By now The Who had performed Tommy almost 50 times, in both the UK and US, and what follows over the 17 linked songs is as fluent a chunk of Who live musicianship as you would expect after such training. ‘Amazing Journey’, a bit faster than usual, bursts out; ‘Sparks’, already heard elsewhere, opens with a distorted rumble from John and screaming feedback guitar from Pete through the endlessly repetitive opening section before sliding into the lighter octave drops and surging peaks, Keith skittering around his kit, as towering a version of this Who staple as you’ll hear anywhere; ‘Eyesight To The Blind’ sees Roger, Pete and John singing in perfect unison; and ‘Christmas’ features Pete roaring ‘Tommy can you hear me’ before Roger replies ‘See me, feel me…’ for the first time. When Pete repeats his lines, he sounds truly deranged. 

        By now it’s clear the group are on a roll, the indignities of earlier in the day forgotten in the rush of their performance. ‘Acid Queen’ fairly zings along, followed by the intricate ‘Pinball’ strum, again a bit faster than usual, and in the final verse John conjures up a drone of feedback for Roger to sing over. With this momentum having been achieved it’s no wonder Pete angrily dismissed Abbie Hoffman who intrudes before ‘Do You Think It’s Alright’. On this recording, however, there are edits that weren’t there on 30 Years…. The word “shit” (Hoffman) is edited out, while Pete’s “Fuck off my fucking stage” is so low in the mix as to be unheard unless maximum speaker volume is applied. 

        Tommy continues at this frenetic pace until the end, the already released ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, with ‘I’m Free’ another vigorous workout. Finally, there’s ‘See Me Feel Me’, commented upon by Roger in the eight-page pamphlet accompanying the disc. “Shortly after 6 we got to ‘See Me Feel Me’ and the bleeding sun came up. Right on cue. You couldn’t have topped it. After all the shit we’d been through, it was perfect. It was extraordinary. It was one of those moments you couldn’t ever recreate if you tried. Once in a lifetime.” 

        The Tommy presented here is certainly on a par with the live versions from Leeds and Hull now circulating (or any others for that matter). This, of course, is a much earlier reading  perhaps the earliest on record  which finds The Who performing their opera long before they became weary of it. It shows too. Despite the arduous circumstances surrounding the Woodstock festival, there’s a spring in their step, a sure sign they’ve lost none of their enthusiasm for Pete’s first magnum opus. If it had been available to me, I’d have included ‘Amazing Journey’ (as well as the ‘Sparks’/’Underture’) on 30 years

        But the show wasn’t over yet. After the 8-minute 46-second climax to their opera The Who lurched into a brutal ‘Summertime Blues’ (as seen in the movie, split screen too) and, without hesitating, ‘Shakin’ All Over’. Both are played ferociously, as good as Leeds. “Ladies and gentleman, The Who,” says Monck, a bit of an understatement, as the crowd cheer. Pete returns. “Thank you very much indeed,” he says, sounding quite humble. “We’d like to play a song which, kinda, is our… we knew we were gonna come back and do it… this is kinda our hymn. It’s a song about you and me, we’re getting a bit old now, it a song called ‘My Generation’.”

        The bass solo never sounded better, and neither had Roger though the backing vocals – ‘Talkin’ about…” – seem a bit strained which isn’t surprising considering the trial they’d endured before. ‘My Generation’ ends suddenly, followed by loose chords from Pete that morph into the licks that would eventually wind up as the chorus of ‘Naked Eye’. Roger is largely frozen out, and a fairly tight jam breaks down after about three minutes when Keith and Pete lose the plot, only to reconnect moments later. Then, as seen on film, the Gibson SG that Pete used gets some abuse and is thrown into the crowd. 

        As I wrote in 50 Years Of Tommy: “The ovation they receive was long and loud, still ringing in their ears as they hopped aboard a helicopter that took them to New York City. The performance onstage and in the subsequent film of the event turned The Who into superstars, brand leaders of the stadium rock explosion waiting just around the corner.

“Later, though, all of The Who, especially the guitarist, would say how much they hated Woodstock. ‘Fucking awful,’ was their most common observation. 

        The next show The Who played, on August 22, was at the Market Hall in Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England, where the capacity was just short of one thousand.” 


*Indeed, a note in the accompanying booklet states that all London Calling releases feature FM radio broadcasts from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s



Two days before my friend Johnny Rogan passed on January 21 this year I received an email from him drawing my attention to an article by Niall Brennan in Untold Dylan, a scholarly Bob Dylan fanzine, published in July 2020. In it the author posits the theory that Dylan’s song ‘Goodbye Jimmy Reed’ from Rough And Rowdy Ways was inspired by a passage in No Surrender, Johnny’s Van Morrison biography. 

        In his email to me Johnny wrote: “I’ve just been sent some scholarly articles, one in the Dylan academic zine Isis, and another below. Both make mention of the theory that Dylan’s song ‘Goodbye Jimmy Reed’ on his last album Rough And Rowdy Ways was inspired by my Morrison book No Surrender. Read on. What do you reckon? Anything that connects me with Dylan is just all right by me...”

        Thats fantastic, I responded. Good on you. Hope to get together soon when the Covid restrictions are relaxed. 

        I never heard back from Johnny. 

In his piece Brennan writes about the song ‘Goodbye Jimmy Reed’, offering a brief biog of Reed before analysing the song and, finally, drawing attention to the passages in Johnny’s Van Morrison book that bear a remarkable resemblance to some of its lines. Below is the relevant passage. 

July 13, 2020


One of [the] new songs is of a quite different nature to Jimmy Reed’s city blues. ‘Key West’, the stately, paced, gorgeous meditation on time, nature, and happiness that closes the first record contains a multitude of beautiful lines and imagery. One in particular struck this listener on first hearing.

I’m searching for love and inspiration

On that pirate radio station

Coming out of Luxembourg and Budapest

        Aside from the fact that Radio Luxembourg was not a pirate radio station, both it and Radio Budapest feature in Dylan’s fellow music expeditionary Van Morrison’s song ‘In the Days Before Rock and Roll’ from his 1990 album Enlightenment. In these lines, narrated rather than sung by Irish poet Paul Durcan, the speaker is on his knees,

At those wireless knobs

Telefunken, Telefunken

And I’m searching for

Luxembourg, Luxembourg 

Athlone, Budapest, AFN

        When Durcan finds the station he and Van need, the song proceeds in a most Morrisonesque manner deep into Proustian reverie, namechecking such heroes as Fats Domino, John Lee Hooker, Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, Little Richard, Ray Charles and so forth, in a remarkably similar cathartic fashion to Dylan’s invocation of his cultural heroes, via the legendary DJ Wolfman Jack, that closes the majestic ‘Murder Most Foul’ on the second disc of his new album.

        Thus we find Dylan and Morrison, two old soldiers, raised on the old records, paying homage with the help of old radio stations and late DJs to the crackling sounds that first alerted them to the world outside their northern homes. Touching that dial, turning that wireless knob just a little brings us back to those Dylanesque incongruities the listener might skip over on first hearing in his Jimmy Reed homage. But as with much of Dylan’s work, with a little diligence, secrets can be uncovered.

        Considering the first verse of ‘Goodbye Jimmy Reed’, the very Northern Irish derogatory word for Protestant, ‘Proddy’, made this listener think of Belfast soul man Morrison again. This lead to a search through Johnny Rogan’s magnificent 2005 biography Van Morrison: No Surrender, and aside from an entire chapter entitled ‘Are You A Proddy?’, uncovered several further references, some oblique, some quite precise in the lyrics of Dylan’s ‘Jimmy Reed’ song. An initial study revealed the following (page numbers are noted in parentheses). 

        ‘I live on a street named after a Saint’, Dylan begins. Rogan quotes Morrison directly in this childhood memory: "Catholics all went to schools named after saints and Protestants went to schools named after streets" (40). Further down the same page Rogan describes the volatility that existed between young Catholics and Protestants in the Belfast of Morrison’s youth, and the various ways respective faiths could be identified from afar. In the same way 20th century blues musician Reed could never fully escape the societal divide brought about by a century of American history, the struggling musicians of Belfast similarly had to walk a careful line, keeping their distance in a very literal societal divide. ‘I can tell a Proddy from a mile away’, Dylan continues, as later on the same page of his biography Rogan quotes a childhood friend of Morrison’s: ‘you could tell by looking at somebody if they were a Protestant’ (4). The contents page of Rogan’s book tells us of a later chapter’s title: ‘Are you a Proddy?’, referring to an incident years later when comedian Spike Milligan would query the more elderly Morrison on the nature of his tribe. But is this sufficient evidence that Bob Dylan might have shoehorned the word ‘Proddy’ into a tribute to one bluesman as a wink to a second? 

        Reading and listening further, the second verse begins: ‘For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory’, Dylan intoning some of the Lord’s Prayer, and on the same page of his biography, Rogan writes: ‘Protestants add[ed] an extra line for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, omitted from the Roman Catholic version’ (40). Dylan’s verse continues: ‘tell it in that straightforward puritanical tone’ as Rogan refers to Morrison’s ‘puritanical upbringings’ (43). Little is known of Reed’s youth, and the effects, if any, that faith had upon his life and work, but even a casual listener recognises the immense importance of religious belief and writings in both Morrison’s and Dylan’s work.

        In the next verse, Dylan’s accounting of the young Reed’s first attempts at playing to an audience is remarkably similar to Rogan’s account of Morrison’s early band, the Monarchs. ‘You won’t amount to much the people all said, because I didn’t play guitar behind my head’, Dylan sings of Reed, while Rogan tells how ‘the Monarchs enlivened their stage act ...playing guitars behind their heads’ (42). And again, Dylan: ‘never took off my shoes and threw them into the crowd’ and Rogan: ‘the famous Morrison trick of taking his shoes off on stage’ (44). 

        For those who know Belfast, the world-renowned Crown Saloon has been a favourite watering-hole for generations, but given the more complete cliche used by Dylan in ‘I’ll put a jewel in your crown’, reading the opening few pages of Rogan’s book we find, in referring to the boyhood Morrison’s educational opportunities, his area ‘included a number of inner city schools in the scheme with Orangefield [Morrison’s school] regarded as the jewel in the crown’ (25).

        So,did Dylan have Rogan’s book to hand when composing this song for the late Jimmy Reed? Has he at the same time crafted a tribute to his friend and fellow Reed fan, Van Morrison? We could suppose further. Perhaps Reed’s butcher’s hook is not only a reference to his time at the Chicago meat plant, but also a darker reminder of the so-called Shankhill Butchers, a Protestant gang who spent their nights getting high and kidnapping Catholics to torture and kill. Killing floor indeed. 

        But there is one further moment, from late in Rogan’s book, and later in Morrison’s life. He has found love with former model Michelle Rocca, and in the throes of love, Morrison has written and recorded one of his lesser works. The song is called ‘Perfect Fit’, which in Rogan’s opinion is ‘a transparent paean to [Morrison’s girlfriend] Rocca’ (434). Morrison’s love song contains the line ‘see that dress you’re wearing baby suits you right down to the ground’. Dylan’s song, of a different hue, goes: ‘transparent woman in a transparent dress, it suits you well I must confess’. Let the listener and the reader judge for themselves what Dylan might be referring to here.

        Dylan’s song concludes with him meeting a friend, a brother, seeking out the resting place of their mutual ancestor: ‘God be with you, brother, dear’, Dylan invokes once more, and one can’t help but recall the 1989 BBC Arena documentary that brought both of these singers together on the Hill of the Muses in Athens, to sing each other’s songs for a while in the setting sun.

        One hopes that Jimmy Reed might have approved, from down in his metaphorical Virginia.