The Magic Highway
Jeff Christie spoke to Justin Dealey from BBC Three Counties Radio, and Judy Spiers from BBC Devon, in August 2012 to publicise the album No Turn Unstoned. Here are some excerpts from these interviews, in which he also reveals the inspiration for Yellow River.

Justn Dealey

Justin Dealey (JD): Jeff has just released a double album of his 70s songs. It's a collector's item, as Jeff explains.

Jeff Christie (JC): It comes from 1970 through to about 1980. These are ostensibly demos and some of them are very rough and ready. They weren't meant to be finished, the idea was for us to go over to CBS studios to record these properly. Some are quite crude but some are also pretty well almost finished. It's quite a potpourri but the interesting thing is you can see the evolution of the different styles of songs on this.

JD: A track off record, Loser, had the potential to become a magnificent hit single. (plays song)

JD: Jeff is also our special jukebox selector today and he has chosen two of his favourite musical memories. First up is Jimi Hendrix. Jeff was in the band the Outer Limits and they went on tour with the rock legend.


Jimi Hendrix and
his flying V guitar.

JC: He was very shy. All the bands used to watch him on stage from the wings. He also filmed everyone. And at the end of the tour, there was a party at his flat, and he'd filmed all the bands and also the audience and everybody was invited. But we couldn't go because we had a gig .. typical! And it was something I've always regretted, not being able to watch that after-tour party. It would have been chaotic, pandemonium. He was going to show these films. At Newcastle he was playing a Gibson Flying VL. His guitar went off tune during Wild Thing and he took it off and he threw it like a spear with one hand into this Marshall amp stack, and this thing, which looks like an arrow, stuck in the stack, smoke was coming out, there was noise and the roadies behind were trying to hold it all together. The whole place went insane because they thought the whole thing was rehearsed.

JD: For Jeff's second choice, it's Glen Campbell and Galveston. Here's why.

JC: I remember hearing it and I just loved that song. I loved his voice, I loved the production, I loved the guitar part, a throwback to Duane Eddy, and the writing, the chord sequence, the way the whole thing moved. Yellow River was inspired by that. It became my Galveston, if you like. Yellow River was such a worldwide hit and the covers that it spawned was just phenomenal. It's my debt, if you like, if I hadn't heard Galveston and been so inspired by it, I might not have written Yellow River.

JD: We love the stories behind the songs. The original inspiration for Yellow River also came from a trip to a market when Jeff was 15 yrs old. He saw a bright yellow cowboy novel and that was the start.

JC: It really was a fictituous title that I suddenly invented. It had no relation to the Yellow River of China, it was in relation to this mythical western setting and I just conjured up this civil war scene about this confederate soldier going home on leave and sick of war and you put this together with this comic inspiration pulp fiction western cover that I'd seen. That was all swirling round in the computer and Yellow River was what came out. I was very prolific at the time, and I was writing a lot of songs in this sort of swamp rock country rock vein, when I was listening to people like Tony Joe White, Joe South, Jerry Reed.

JD: You must have been surprised at the success of Yellow River. As good as that record was, it was No 1 practically right across the world.

JC: To this day it's still an amazing thing. Sometimes I think that's not me, that was somebody else. It was another time, another life, an amazing time.

Judy SpiersJudy Spiers (JS): Christie shot to fame in the early 70s with Yellow River, receiving six gold records in the UK, and gold in Japan, France, Germany, Brazil. San Bernadino won the group three gold records in UK and has been adopted as the city's official song. Most of the band's songs were written by leader and lead singer Jeff Christie, who won an Ivor Novello award for this song. Jeff is back in the studio reviewing his masters and he has just put out a two-CD set which was recorded in the 70s, No Turn Unstoned. Good morning to you, Jeff. What inspired Yellow River?


Glen Campbell's Galveston.

JC: What inspired it was a Jim Webb song called Galveston. Every songwriter hears songs from time to time and says "Why didn't I write that, and of course that acts as a spur to write better songs, just like we've been just watching the Olympics and hopefully a new generation of young kids were watching these athletes and saying, "I wanna do that". You get inspired by whether it's great athletes or great pieces of art or music, and if you get an inkling of that, then that's your goal .. to write something as good as that. By the time I had written Yellow River although, I had already had two records out ... the first one (One More Chance) would have been classed as a minor hit today.

JS: That was the band that went on the Hendrix tour.

JC: Yes, the Outer Limits. And that's when I realised I could start playing my own songs. We used to be a covers band doing Motown stuff and then we started opening with one of my songs, Sweet Freedom. Lee Jackson from the Nice said "What was that song and I said that was one of mine, and he said that's what you should be doing, not Reach Out, I'll Be There, with greatest respect to Holland and Dozier. I came out of that tour and started writing more songs.

JS: Yellow River made CBS the biggest record label in 1970, featured in an Andy Capp cartoon and was covered by a wide range of people.

JC: It's fantastic, it's still being covered. On my website are the most incredible versions including artists like REM, Lobo, Joe Dassin.

JS: San Bernadino was a success. Why didn't success follow?

JC: You can blame anyone, including yourself. The song was massive in the states, six months but there were visa problems and we didn't go there. The nearest we got to the US was a Mama Cass TV special which was recorded in London. South America was very popular. We started off with a good producer, Mike Smith, but then later we got put with another producer. And with our third hit, Iron Horse, we were outselling Johnny Nash, who was on the same label. We'd done lots of TV on that one. We were both sitting in the top 50 and we knew we would break into the top 30. But very mysteriously, Johnny Nash went forward and we went out. There was an unholy stink and manager Brian Longley went absolutely ballistic because it looked like we were sacrificed. Why, I don't know. If Iron Horse had been a top 30 hit, we would have a longer shelf life.

JS: You never stopped writing and producing. Did you turn down a really big one for a big drinks firm?

JC: You mean Coca Cola? Well we were busy and never had time at all. We were very successful and in very high demand. They don't see the work or travelling that goes into it. There's a limit to what you can do. But many years later I did do a Coca Cola jingle.

JS: Tell me about the album.

JC: This stuff is all from the 70s, from demos, between tours, songs I wanted to get a notepad down for. So I went into small unsophisticated studios and I just did them quickly so I could do them properly later at a bigger studio. They're all there in their ragged glory. My record company loved them, all warts and stuff. One of the songs, Movin' On, was done in Boston and started off as a drum track and I wrote the song around the track. I didn't even have a melody, it was just built round a drum pattern.