The Magic Highway


In 2007, Jeff Christie was featured on The Lost 45s, a radio program syndicated across the USA which focusses on music artists from the past decades. Here's a brief recap of the answers that Jeff gave to questions posed by host Barry Scott.

Q) Before Christie, you were in a group called The Outer Limits. How did Christie come about?

A) I had met my publisher Brian Longley and we offered the song Yellow River to a band called The Tremeloes, but they decided not to release it. At that point Brian felt the song was a hit, and that I should do it myself. He got in touch with me and we got it done and released and the song went round the world like a wild bushfire.

Q) Why the name Christie?

A) The band was named after me. It was the fashion in the 60s for bands to be named after the singer and focal point of the group, like Manfred Mann, Santana. It was short and snappy, and the name stuck and was well-received.

Q) What was the inspiration for Yellow River?

A) I went to the US in 1962 because I had family there, and as a 16 year old, I was blown away by the experience. I was fascinated by the old west and by the romantic feel to it. There was a strong resonance to it and I tapped into the vein. The song was about the civil war, but I know it was picked up as a Vietnam war song. It didn't matter, it was a loose anti-war song that could fit any period of war.

Barry Scott

Q) What was the influence for the country pop sound of Christie?

A) I was listening to people like Joe South, with his electric sitar, and Tony Joe White, and my songwriting took a curve into that area and I just mined that seam.

Q) You were called the English answer to Creedence Clearwater Revival.

A) I'm not sure I sit comfortably with that, but I take it as a big compliment.

Q) Yellow River was no 1 in many places around the world, but only got to 23 in the US. Was that because of an anti-Vietnam backlash?

A) The song was a massive hit, and number 1 in 23 countries. It got as high as number 16 in the US Cashbox charts and was in the charts for six months. A backlash against anti-Vietnam songs may have been possible, but I don't know for sure.
  The whole Vietnam thing was going on when the song was released, but I was a young man more fascinated with the past. The great thing about songs is that everyone interprets them differently. I'm fine with that as long as it's not diametrically opposed to what I'm saying, which in this case is the theme that war is a bad thing and the guy just wants to go back to his girlfriend.

Q) The second single San Bernadino was another success across Europe, but only made the top 100 in the US.

A) It was very successful in Europe and South America. It was written at the same time as Yellow River. It came from the headline of a newspaper article I was reading which said "Prison riot in San Berna(r)dino". At the time I love the sound of that, the Spanish rolling feel to the name and I felt there was a musicality to it. I started singing over the name and within a few hours I had the bones of the song.

Q) Do you think Epic Records (the US imprint of CBS Records) did not push the single enough?

A) Possibly Epic didn't get behind it enough. It's difficult, we were touring all over the world, and it was hard to find out about decisions made elsewhere. Sometimes we wouldn't find out till months later and even then we weren't sure if they were true.

Q) You also tried a heavier sound. Did the company get behind you on that?

A) The recording company just wanted Yellow River parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. And no wonder, it was a winning formula, a world-beater. But from an artistic point of view, I wanted to be free and write whatever I wanted, and rise or fall by that. I don't think I had the full support of the recording company.

Q) Why did the band break up? The last single was released in 1976, Most Wanted Man ..

A) That was the last record under the Christie name, but I did that myself with session musicians. In terms of a functioning band, we probably broke up in December 1974 in Mexico. It was like most bands where the members were getting tired of being married to each other for three or four years .. there were money problems .. and the musicians union were also threatening to ban us because we fled from riots in Zambia! These things make it hard to keep together and produce good songs.

Q) You then released some solo recordings.

A) I was living in the States in an apartment in west Hollywood in 1978 and got a call from RK Records. I had bottled a lot of stuff in the preceding years and had enough to make an album, which was completed but unfortunately the company went down in the recession and it had no muscle to promote the album. I reformed the band in the 90s and we played across Europe.

Q) You also wrote jingles ..

A) That was during a period of not knowing what to do, and writing advertising jingles was something that appealed for a while, as writing 30 second songs and radio commercials was something different. But I didn't like the restraints, like glorifying a bar of chocolate or soap into a song. It was a fun thing to do for a while. But money isn't everything and it wasn't the artistic path I wanted to follow.

Q) Do you have a message to the people who love the song Yellow River?

A) Well, if the record isn't played on your radio station, write in and ask them to play it! It's a great song and played all over Europe and it's a classic. I know it'll probably be in an oldies spot, but it'll be great to get it back on radio.

Barry: We play it a lot, and we'll keep it alive!