The Magic Highway


Here's Pt 2 of an interview Jeff did with Beatleg Magazine, Japan's leading magazine devoted to music from the 50s-70s.

Q: The Outer Limits' first single, Just One More Chance, came out on the Deram label and it did ok and the second, called The Great Train Robbery, was banned by the BBC because of its connotation to the actual great train robbery that happened in 1963. That came out on Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label.
JC: Andrew produced it.

Q: Yes, and the arranger was Tony Meehan, who was an ex-member of The Shadows and was working at Decca, so how did that combination of label/arranger/producer come about?

JC: I don't know how Andrew got Tony but he pulled Tony in to do the string arrangements. I met Tony a few years before he died (28 November, 2005). There was a big TV show in either 2001 or 2002, a New Year's party for a lot of people that had been number 1 in the UK and they televised it on BBC on New Year's Day. They took me down there - I think it was Dale Winton that did it - and there was Nancy Sinatra, Roy Wood, who I toured with when he was in The Move, and they were just fantastic.
    Anyway, after the show, there was this big party and there were loads of people there I hadn't seen for a long time and it was lovely. Mike Sarne (Come Outside, No 1 in UK 1962), was there and I met him and what a lovely bloke he was; he was having a whale of a time! Arthur Brown was also there. I knew Arthur because he went to Roundhay Grammar School in Leeds so I spent a large part of the evening hanging out with him but I also met Tony Meehan and Jet Harris there and I had a lovely chat with Tony.
    Jet looked a bit sad for some reason but I told them that as a kid I idolised them as The Shadows as they were, for me, much more important than Cliff Richard. They were fabulous. Jet Harris was so cool but he looked so sad at this gig; his whole demeanour was down. He didn't have much to say for himself either but as I said, I had a great chat with Tony. When we talked about The Great Train Robbery, he said "You know, that was a really good record but unfortunately the BBC just wouldn't play it." It was crazy though. If you listen to the lyrics, it talks about a train robbery in 1899, a fictitious thing that I made up from the title. I knew there had been a great train robbery in the 1960's but the BBC wouldn't play it. The first record we did though was a small hit and I'm very proud of it.
    One of the problems that I've had is that Yellow River was such a monster. It is now in its 43rd year and it is still played all over the world, people are still recording it in different languages but it has dwarfed everything else I recorded. Just One More Chance was bubbling under the top 50 which in today's terms means it would be sitting between 50 and 60 in the charts and a respectable hit. It was a turntable hit which meant that all the pirate radio stations played it; it got great reviews and was covered by The Patrick Bradley and The Hondells in America; the Patrick Bradley version was a 'double' 45 disc with a vocal version on one side and an instrumental version on the other side which became a big hit in the New York dance halls. The Hondells were a bit like The Beach Boys. If you go onto my website and search out The Hondells, you'll hear this fantastic five piece harmonies version of it and you know who was in the Hondells … Glen Campbell.

Q: I didn't know that.

JC: Yeah. I don't know if he was in the group at that time but if he was, it is really ironic. I would love to think that he was in the group or in on that session that did Just One More Chance because when Glen Campbell came out with Galveston -which is a Jimmy Webb song in 1969 that was the song that inspired me to write Yellow River.
    Jimmy Webb was another idol of mine and I met him a few years ago when I went to see him in York. I did all the usual obligatory grovelling that you do when you meet your idols and said to him, "I have to tell you that your song, Galveston, inspired me so much that I wrote a song that set the world charts on fire and paid my mortgage ever since." And he said "Is that so?". He was a lovely guy, really cool but that's the circle you see. The Glen Campbell song which is really a Jimmy Webb song with Glen's genius arrangement inspired me to write Yellow River. Glen's arrangements are just another genius of Glen Campbell along with his brilliant voice.

Q: He was also a member of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound back in the sixties.

JC: Phil Spector was another genius. He influenced us all with stuff like River Deep Mountain High. Us English kids used to listen to those American records and wonder how they got that guitar sound. Buddy Holly's Peggy Sue was another and Scotty Moore. I loved Scotty Moore who was of course Elvis' guitarist and those early rock and roll records were just phenomenal. I still play them. Jackie Wilson I really loved as well, and he asked me to write a song for him when I met him. I also met The Platters and Ben E. King … do you know what the 'E' stands for?

Q: No.

JC: Earl. Isn't that perfect? Ben Earl King.

Q: Going back to The Outer Limits, you did that amazing tour in 1967 with Jimi Hendrix, The Move, the Pink Floyd, The Nice and Amen Corner. What memories do you have of the tour?

JC: It was unbelievable. It was pretty well that last of the great package tours. I used Amen Corner's Blue Weaver's Hammond for the tour and we opened the show and did three or four numbers. Jimi was amazing and painfully shy and there was a bit of a jam session that went on one day in the dressing room with Trevor Burton from The Move - this was before Jeff Lynne joined them - and a few were trying to play along with him. I was standing in the doorway thinking 'Dare I?' but I didn't join in.
    Hendrix filmed all of the bands from the wings on the tour and at the end of the tour, everyone was invited back to his flat which I think was in Edgware for an after-tour party and he was going to show these films but we couldn't go because we had a gig and I was absolutely gutted. Hendrix pretty much kept himself to himself and travelled separately but he would mingle a little bit backstage before he went on.
    I always remember once when he walked past me as he was about to go on, his hair looked like he had just been electrocuted and gave me that shy smile and said, 'Gee I hope my hair's not too messed up, man.' He'd give you a little wink and a smile. Just watching him was amazing. I never bought any Hendrix stuff until a few years ago because nothing ever seemed to capture his essence because he was so amazing live.
    One particular thing I remember was pretty close to the end of the tour at Newcastle City Hall. We all used to stand and watch the other bands and I didn't really dig Floyd that much at that time because they were a light show with music. I liked Arnold Layne and See Emily Play and later when they started getting into writing great songs but I wasn't a big fan of their light shows. I preferred The Move with Blackberry Way, Fire Brigade, etc because Roy Wood is another genius and they had to keep The Move and Floyd apart because they didn't like each other. The reason being that Move were working class lads from Birmingham and Pink Floyd were all artsy-fartsy students.     There was lots of this stuff going on and I also remember Keith Emerson experimenting by throwing knives into his Hammond. I remember them talking about how they could get more attention and be more visually exciting and that was the start of the knife-throwing stuff.
    One day, Hendrix said to Keith "Come on, throw the knife at me" or something equally provocative. As to the exact when and where of the tour that's a little bit of a blurred memory though. Anyway, Newcastle City Hall and I'm standing with Carl Wayne from the Move in the wings, watching Hendrix do his set. It gets to the end of the set and he was playing Wild Thing and in that song, he used to play a really bizarre solo of the song Strangers In The Night. He would play it completely out of key to Wild Thing but it worked. Now, in those days there were always problems with guitars going out of tune because of the heat. You used to go onstage and if it went out of tune you just toughed it out as best you could until you had the chance to tune it up as there were no guitar techies changing and retuning guitars like there are these days: Stratocasters were a nightmare particularly with the tremolo arm.
    Back to Jimi and during this performance his guitar is going way out of tune and we could see him getting more and more angry and more and more pissed off and it was really buggering up his number. Of course the audience didn't know. Very few members of an audience realise if a guitar is out of tune or a there is a bum note unless they happen to be musicians themselves but Jimi, as an artist, wanted to get it right. On this particular night, he was playing a Gibson Flying V and he's standing about eight or nine metres from the Marshall stack. One of the roadies was Lemmy (yes, from Motorhead) - although I don't really remember him from then - and in those days the roadies always used to stand behind the stacks because they never knew what Jimi was going to do. Anyway, Jimi took off his guitar and threw it like a spear and it stuck right into the middle of the Marshall stack. It went right through the speaker, seemed to explode, smoke was coming out of it and the whole thing started moving and making bizarre noises. The audience went ballistic and all of us watching in the wings, our jaws were on the floor (gobsmacked!). The chances of it happening were almost nil but he threw it almost perfectly and it hit the middle of the stack and quivered and it didn't fall out. If somebody had that on film it would be worth millions; it was just one of those spontaneous things. A once in a lifetime moment that was a highlight of the tour. It's also the tour that Syd Barrett went mad on of course.

Q: Syd went mad, Hendrix threw guitars into Marshall stacks, Keith started to lay the foundations for progressive rock and The Move pumped out hit after hit. What a tour!

JC: ELO graduated from it as well. I loved The Move, they were great. They had these great rock and pop songs and I think Roy Wood is very underrated. Ray Davies is another one. Someone like him should be Sir Ray Davies.
    You know when all that Blur/Oasis stuff went on? I kind of sided with Oasis because they were northern lads and doing stuff similar to The Beatles but as time has gone on I have a lot more respect for Damon Albarn, who is trying to push frontiers - like Peter Gabriel - trying to push the boundaries but all the Gallaghers are doing is re-writing The Beatles songbook but I guess for a whole new generation that doesn't really know what The Beatles were like …

Q: I couldn't have put it better myself. Whenever I hear Blur, I think they are far better than Oasis because they don't seem to deliberately go out and plagiarise their heroes. I think that their song-writing in the 1980s and 90s is on a par with Ray and Dave Davies in the 60s and 70s.

JC: I like Graham Coxson - I bought a couple of his albums and I think he's got something. I was listening to James Morrison the other day and bloody hell he's good! I loved Amy Winehouse - God she was a talent! She was a one-off…a big, big tragedy that and a terrible waste. There's a lot of great stuff around but my most comfortable era is the music of the era that I grew up with in the 60s and 70s, it was an exciting time. I'll tell you another great songwriter, Nick Kershaw.

Q: Yes! Now why wasn't he more successful?

JC: Well … it's a funny old business isn't it? (laughs) He's very well respected in the song writing circles, very well respected amongst his peers. I just bought his new album and he's still making great music. You know in England that we build people up and throw them away after a few years … whereas in America and a lot of other places, older artists are still revered. I go to places like Germany and other European countries and my contemporaries and I are treated with affection and respect.

Q: Japan as well, I am glad to say.

JC: Nice to hear. This was a sad thing. I have a gold disc from Japan and we were supposed to go there but it was a complete balls-up with the visas. Two places I really regret not getting to are Japan and the States. Yellow River was a massive seller in the States and was in the charts for six months on the National Cashbox chart where it got to number 16. At that time it was on par with Billboard which gave it a lower chart position of 23, I think. It was number 1 in lots of individual States including Arizona and California and has spawned loads of covers. You know, with REM recording it, you can't get more of an accolade than that.

Part 3