The Magic Highway


Here's Pt 3 of an interview Jeff did with Beatleg Magazine, Japan's leading magazine devoted to music from the 50s-70s.

Beatleg6Q: So why did The Outer Limits finish and how did Christie start?

JC: Well, we did the Hendrix tour in November 1967 and had the single The Great Train Robbery out, which was produced by Andrew Loog Oldham, but when '68 came around, there were a couple of people in the band who had had enough. There was a guy older than me who was fed up of having no money and his girlfriend was always paying for him and there was someone else … you know, the spirit just went out of the band. It wasn't my decision to break up: people just kind of broke away because they had had enough of sleeping in vans and vans breaking down, no money and all that stuff because it was hard and you have to be very dedicated. I was. I suggested we go to London, knock on doors and sleep in the van, live on cornflakes and do whatever we have to do. It was naïve but anyway, nobody wanted to do that.
    Then we did a documentary for Yorkshire TV which was called Death of a Pop Group. This was probably late '68 - I can't remember exactly when the band actually broke up - and I had started going out with a TV presenter named Liz Fox, who was the main face of a program called Calendar on Yorkshire TV and through her I got too meet a lot of TV people, one of which was a producer named John McFadden. He said he really liked us and wanted to help us and wanted to make this film and then there was Austin Mitchell (who is currently the Labour MP for Grimsby, UK) who was one of the anchormen of the program. He made this great documentary which was about 15 minutes long.

Q: It's ironic isn't it that you received that much exposure through the TV show at that time in the band's career.

JC: Yes. It was a big show with a big audience rating. It was a good documentary but if you look at it you can see how jaded and dejected everybody was. One of the things that strikes me when I watch it now is how defeated everybody looks - understandably so - and yet for some reason, I am quite amazed by my own sense of optimism. I think I was accepting that this was the end of the line, I was heartbroken about it but I was going to try and get on with it. I actually say in there that I was going to try and make it as a writer because I couldn't imagine being in another band. At this point, I was about 22 years old and had been playing since I was 13 or 14, so I had been playing for eight or nine years and was a bit of a veteran.

Q: When did you write your first song?

JC: The first attempts were probably around when I was 18 in 1964. We had failed a record audition with Decca and the A&R guy told me that we were a good band but we weren't going to get a record deal playing other people's songs and that was the catalyst. I've still got the demos although they are very rough and a bit wet, you know the 'I love you, you love me' stuff. It was a starting point and I progressed from there listening to Motown, Blues and everything. The first record that we actually did was for Leeds University Rag Week and was called When The Work Is Through and was written by a guy called Godfrey Claff.
    It is the opener on the Outer Limits/Jeff Christie Floored Masters album, I was credited as a writer which is not really correct even though I did a little bit of a re-write on it. The next song of mine that was used was Just One More Chance and by the time I had got to that, I had been sending all kinds of songs to our agent in London and he sent a cable back saying 'That's the one, that's great!'.

Q: We digressed…

JC: Death of a Pop Group was aired and The Outer Limits broke up and I got a job playing bass in a nightclub that my dad was a part-owner in, called the Lido Revue Bar in Leeds. It wasn't what I wanted to do but I could write songs in the day and at night play in a trio. We'd be backing strippers and all types of dodgy cabaret singers and then we'd get to do a little spot ourselves. This went from late '68 right up to 1970 but I was writing full pelt and it would have been in that time, in early '69, that I wrote Yellow River. I was writing two or three songs a week and going to see artists at the Batley Variety Club, which was very famous at that time.
    Jerry Lee Lewis was there, Gene Pitney, Louis Armstrong as well. Batley was just a little mill town in Yorkshire but they would have all these incredibly famous international stars and I got to meet these people because you could get to people back then. Gene Pitney took a load of my songs away with him but I don't know if he ever did anything with them. Roy Orbison was there, The Marmalade, Alan Price and I took them all these songs and of course The Tremeloes came up also, whom I had written a song for but they said that the style of song was what they were trying to get away from and said they would like to do Yellow River instead.

Q: So this is the genesis of Christie.

JeffJC: Yes. I was committed to writing and playing my own songs - this is what I wanted to do and the only way I would do it is if it was my group and everybody knew it - that was the deal. Now, The Tremeloes sat on Yellow River for months and months because they couldn't decide if it was a single or an album track or whatever but it started to make waves and producers, artist and managers started coming on to me and then that famous word kicks in - greed.
    The Tremeloes had had all these amazing hits with other people's songs and they did very well, making a lot of money but the lion's share is if you write the song. I wasn't aware of that at the time - that was part of my naivety - I was naïve about the business, the fiddles and things. I knew stuff went on but not to the extent that it was. Anyway, The Tremeloes started championing me as a new young writer and the association was quite good at first and as everything they recorded was top 10, I thought that would be my entry as a successful writer and people would start coming to me .. and they decided not to do it. They had already had a hit with (Call Me) Number One and then did a song called By The Way which in actual fact was a very nice song, but it bombed, and while all this was going on, a lot of other people had heard Yellow River and thought it was a smash.
    Gordon Mills, who managed Tom Jones, heard about it and I went to see him. He had Tom, Englebert Humperdink and some others at the time and he offered me a lot of money for it. I also saw Jonathan King who said I had some great stuff and he put me onto Wayne Bickerton at Decca. The story goes that Wayne lost his job because he turned Yellow River down but I don't know how true that is.
    By now I was a bit depressed because I was so close to my big break and the song was just languishing and then suddenly I get a call from Brian Longley who was The Tremeloes' publicist. He told me that he had heard my demo and that it was fine and that The Tremeloes had recorded it but were not going to do anything with it. He suggested I go down to London, which I did, and he met me at King's Cross and took me to his house in Sunning Hill, where I stayed with him and his family.
    I got on well with him and liked him and felt that he was honest. He didn't bullshit me, told me he couldn't promise anything but also said he thought Yellow River was a smash hit and although The Tremeloes had made a great recording of it, he told me I could do it and that he would like to manage me. Around the same time, I had gone down to see Peter Walsh who Brian was working with. Peter managed The Tremeloes and The Marmalade and many others and I had gone down with my dad who was still trying to help me.
    Before we go on, I must tell you a great little Hendrix story about my dad. We were doing the soundcheck at Sheffield City hall and my dad walked up onto the stage to Hendrix who was sat on Mitch's drums, out of his head, just tapping away. My dad puts his hand on Jimi's shoulder and says "You've made it Jimi, my lad's just starting. Look after him, Jimi."
    I was sat in the stalls and my chin dropped. He did it in such a charming way and I was really embarrassed but when I look back at it now, it was just a dad trying to help his son. Jimi looked at him and just said "yeah man..."
    Where were we? Oh yeah… I had decided to go with Brian but as it came out later, he wasn't telling me the whole story. Mike Blakely said that his brother Alan, who was in the Tremeloes, said "We are not going to do this Mike, so you should do it with Jeff and Vic (Elmes)". Mike and Vic were both in a band called The Epics who later became The Acid Gallery, but they were not successful, and I think Alan thought he could give his kid brother a helping hand. Before I knew what was happening, I was embroiled in this whole situation. I didn't have anyone to advise me so I signed the publishing to The Tremeloes who were on CBS, CBS were going to put the record out and I was going to do vocals on the backing track. I didn't want to do it that way, I wanted to go into a studio and do my own version of it but the pressure was on as it had already been recorded by a number of artists and a release date had been set so they insisted that I just go into the studio and sing. I went along with it because I didn't really have any other choice.
    Brian then suggested to me Vic and Mike, saying that I would need a ready-made band for when the record comes out and I said I knew lots of people that I could play with, but again there was a pressure to meet them and this is where Brian played his cards very carefully. If he could get these two guys in the band, it would be a readymade group and it would keep The Tremeloes happy.
    I kicked against it and I met these two guys and I didn't like them. They thought they were hip Londoners and I was the upstart northerner who didn't know how to look or dress but I was swept along on this rollercoaster. I felt uneasy about it and I was made to feel very quickly that I was joining them, not the other way around, but the record had a date to come out so contracts were signed.

Q: What happened when the record came out?

JC: I had no control over anything. We were spirited away to a house in the country to get our act together, and as you know the record smashed through the charts and we were all over the place playing gigs, doing interviews and on national television. Half the time at gigs we couldn't hear ourselves because of the screaming but I knew it wasn't right. The band wasn't good enough even though I worked them and rehearsed them as much as I could.
    I was unhappy with a lot of things and we soldiered on for several months but eventually I said to Brian that it was either them or me. I had to put a stop to it and rebuild and that's eventually what I did. Mike was eased out, which caused a lot of trouble with the Tremeloes and CBS. Mike still gets royalties to this day from Sony even though he didn't play on anything but the B-side of the Yellow River single, Down the Mississippi Line, because his name was on the contract! It's only in this last six or seven years that Sony started paying me because they said they hadn't recouped fees, but that's another story …

Pt 4