The Magic Highway


Evie Christie reminisces about growing up with a rock star in the family

evieSmashing and Crashing: Christie and Yellow River

"EVERYONE grows up with a kind of family mythology.
  While I grew up in a small village in Ontario, the easy chair/ white bread/new country/ FM/ patio/ Zen mastery was not mine.
  The closest I saw my dad come to crying was with his realisation that my brother and I had dragged yet another needle across yet another selection of LPs for an unattended hour.
  I grew up under the influence of 60s-70s music and a bona fide legendary Brit rock and roller, my father Mark’s cousin Jeff Christie. And a story: Teenager from Leeds forms a band called Outer Limits, the rest is history, so it goes.
  Jeff Christie and his band Outer Limits had already toured with Hendrix and Pink Floyd in his teens and early 20s before the band dissolved.
  BBC interviews from this time reveal a pensive Jeff Christie, a man not eager to remain in the limelight but rather steadfast; it was this work ethic that had him working as a songwriter, writing constantly and pitching songs to sell to big names that took a young Jewish kid from Leeds to number one on the charts before he reached 25 yrs of age.
  After selling his song Yellow River to The Tremloes, Jeff formed his own band, aptly named Christie, along with Vic Elmes and Paul Fenton.
  The band recorded a self titled debut album including Yellow River and signed with CBS Records UK. The band quickly reached number 1 in countries across the world (number 6 on the charts in the US) and stayed on the pop charts for 22 weeks.
  They kept up a heavy touring schedule and traveled the world becoming one of the top touring bands ever. This is where the story kind of halted for me.
  It was true that Elton John and others were covering his insanely popular Yellow River while I was still in feety pyjamas.
  Even when REM covered Yellow River there wasn’t a lot of fanfare in my home country, a radio show here or a 70s hits LP there at most reminded me of these early albums.
  So what happened? Early fame (too early), burning out, packing it in?
  Most agree that the band’s fame was stilted by some poor business decisions. Releasing a second quite popular single followed by a third, Man of Many Faces, from another second album yet to be released, a rather unconventional and ill chosen single for the immediate and timely nature of pop charts.
  And so another album, For All Mankind, would never see the same level of success as the self titles debut with its golden Yellow River.
  Meanwhile Jeff Christie was traveling everywhere else it seemed. It wasn’t until I traveled a bit that I realised how widespread this early notoriety was.
  In the UK I could hardly go anywhere without hearing Yellow River, it was on the radio, my favourite UK mystery TV show and was the frequently heard Yellow Pages song after all - another
early business decision Jeff neither endorsed nor agreed with.


Jeff with Evie’s brother Caleb on cousin Mark’s farm.

Jeff relaxing at the farm (with black eye after accident playing squash!).

  And then there was the front man and songwriter Jeff, whom I traveled alone to meet and stay with during the summer I was 17.
  His face was its own recognisable brand it seemed, as women in cafes ogled the man who was footing my bill for drinks -- on roundabouts they stared and winked dangerously from luxury sports cars.
  He hardly seemed to notice, retreating to his studio to write at the end of the day, asking me to be careful with his stereo (eye-roll) and help myself to the German beer in the fridge (which I did, feeling bad now for the eye-rolling incident circa moments earlier).
  It was clear that he was not absorbed with recapturing his early years, instead focusing on his professional songwriting career, touring with his band across Europe, TV appearances, lecturing, his close-knit family and his hair (as all men of music do).
In my close-to-a year in Israel I learned that they danced to Yellow River in clubs, and my German, Danish, Japanese and Swedish friends covered it in their best drunken broken English in hostel bars and discothèques; I had to wonder why after a couple of successful albums and a pretty constant touring schedule, multiple re-masters and releases around the world when Yellow River, admittedly a great song, wouldn’t give way to another Christie song.
However I also learned that to write one good song that made people happy even momentarily was quite a lot to achieve.
I left Jeff’s home with a newfound love of imported cigarettes and alcohol and a gift — a book of poetry, which would be my formal introduction to the serious work of Auden, Douglas, Hughes, Larkin, and Yeats and some advice: don’t live a clichéd life, my dear.
As a writer this advice was indispensable: work hard, be original. I also learned that beyond the work ethic one could only do so much and that a good poem, story (and indeed hit song) is quite a lot to give the world."


Jeff Christie mellowing out, sitting on the front porch of his late Uncle Morris' house in Lakefield, Ontario , with Gary Christie (whose son is speed ace Jodi), Grant Christie, a guy named Frank who was a friend of the man next to him, Mario Weissenberger, and Mark Christie (Evie’s dad).
  Jeff recalls how he met Mario:
“One day whilst the band were trying to negotiate a meal in Mar del Plata, Argentina, a guy over at the bar watched our antics with amusement.
  “He came over and introduced himself saying he would be happy to translate and end our famine!
  “This he duly did and then sort of attached himself to our circus; though at first treated cautiously by all, he eventually overcame our suspicion and became indispensable as we toured Argentina continually.
  “He and I became good friends that lasted many years.
  “Born in Buenos Aires from German immigrant parents, he married a New Jersey girl called Judy, had kids, settled there and worked for her father. He was he was always gracious and kind to me and never tried to be anything other than a good friend.
  “He brought his family to meet me one holiday in the El Montiboli Hotel in Villajoyosa, Spain, which in later years was where the England squad stayed during a World Cup.
  “He also came to meet up on one of my many visits to my family in Canada as seen in picture, and I also stayed with him at the family home in New Jersey one time.
  “The last I heard of him was around '84/5 after he left his wife, hooked up with a much younger woman and came to England where he made a beeline to me, stayed at the house for a few days before repairing to the Lake District with me.
  “I never heard from him after that and couldn't figure it at all. I tried not long ago to track him with no success.”