The Magic Highway


A LOOSE transcript of a Radio Leeds show which Jeff did with host Roger Day in May 2008 to promote the Outer Limits/Jeff Christie double album.

roger dayRD: We’re talking to you, Jeff, because there’s a reissue of a band I didn’t realise you were part of .. The Outer Limits.

JC: Yes, the Outer Limits .. more than just a TV show!

RD: I must have played it in my pirate radio days, because on Radio Caroline there was a thing called Caroline Sure Shot … new records … and I seem to remember that Just One More Chance was on the playlist. But it didn’t actually make it, did it?

JC: In a way it did make it. There was a top 50 and it was in a section called Bubbling Under. I presume that would mean somewhere between 50 and 60, so technically speaking, it was a small hit. It got to number 1 in Berlin also, by the way. It also spawned more than a few cover versions across the world .. it was covered by two American bands, one on the east coast and one on the west coast. The west coast band was called the Hondells, who had Glen Campbell playing one time, which is very strange, because it was Glen Campbell’s recording of a Jimmy Webb song, Galveston, which was the inspiration for Yellow River. It’s funny how things come around. I had the pleasure of meeting Jimmy Webb a couple of years back and I said to him “I gotta tell you one of your songs inspired me to write a song which eventually became an absolute smash hit all round the world, reached no 1 in 26 countries, and sold zillions of records”. He was well pleased with that. He’s an extraordinary man, great talent. A modern day genius.

RD: Who were your other influences?

JC: Well, songwriting influences and obviously guitarists. I started off playing classical piano and gone from there and was influenced by rock and roll of course after seeing Elvis Presley. Of course Buddy Holly was an inspiration because not only was he a frontman, he was a writer, and a great writer. And of course people like Jimmy Webb, who I mentioned, and people like Burt Bacharach and classic American songwriters, like Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, people like that. Also Lennon/McCartney, and Becker and Fagan of Steely Dan. Some of the West Coast musicians, the Eagles, Link Wray …

RD: We were talking about the Outer Limits reissue on the Angel Air label. You toured with Hendrix ..

JC: Yeh, what was his name .. Jimi. It was the last of the great package tours. There was Pink Floyd, the Move, who were massive at the time, there was Amen Corner .. There was a review recently in Classic Rock which did a four page spread on the tour and if you want to know what the tour was like, find a copy of the magazine .. the review was just accurate. It was an amazing tour from November to December. Royal Albert Hall was one of the gigs .. first time I had played there .. I had been playing for years and years with the Outer Limits and I was never nervous about playing live. But I remember playing Royal Albert Hall, which was so overwhelming .. it was very exciting .. I remember opening up the first number, my mouth dried up so badly I thought I was going to swallow my tongue .. but we went into auto pilot somehow .. I really was nervous on that gig. It wasn’t the cast we were playing with, we’d played with most of the big names by then .. the Outer Limits were a very hardworking band, touring up and down the country.

RD: One of my favourite stories is how you wrote Yellow River, offered it to my old freinds the Trems and they foolishly turned it down.

JC: We just couldn’t make any money so I went into a writing hibernation .. I was trying to make my way forward as a writer after the tour because I had no band anymore .. in those days, you could still reach the other bands, the big acts .. it was helpful also because I had worked with so many of them, I’d turn up at the gigs, and I had my reel to reels with me and I tried to get them to listen to them. The Trems were appearing locally .. I’d actually written a song specifically for them, Tomorrow Night … in those days I was writing three songs a week … they listened, it was getting time to go, and I was in danger of overstaying my welcome, so I played them Tomorrow Night, but they said that was the type of song they wanted to get away from. I was on target but they changed their target, so to speak! The last song they got to was my demo of Yellow River, which was done in this very studio I’m talking to you now. They started to get into that, they started harmonising, asked if I could leave them a copy, and they’d get back to me, so that’s what I did … it went on for months and months, and at this stage I was like a yo yo .. one minute Yellow River was going to be a single, then on an album, then it was going to be a B-side, in the end they decided to go on with their own songs. They wanted a change of direction from the revamped Italian ballads they used to do. To this day, the Trems say it’s one of their biggest mistakes to have turned it down. Alan Blakley told me that before he died, and I’ve worked with Chip Hawkes who said the same thing. Yellow River was just one of those songs which took off and caught everyone’s imagination.

RD: We used to play Yellow River all that summer. Earlier on you mentioned the Eagles. It’s interesting there’s a Malaysian band called the Eagles who have done a cover version of Yellow River.

speaker JC: There are so many covers of that song. There some amazing versions. I’m more proud of covers by people like Elton John, Doyle Lawson, REM did it a few years ago .. and then there’s the French Tom Jones Joe Dassin, he had a massive hit with that called L’Amerique .. it’s a funny thing, so many great artists have done that, but nine times out of 10, people say it’s not the same as the original. The original artist knows it’s their baby, it’s so special, you may not be the greatest singer or guitar player, but you put something special into your own song.

RD: I want to talk to you about a very underrated band, old chums of mine, who used to be Harmony Grass, and turned into Capability Brown, and a couple of them joined you in a reformed Christie.

JC: That’s true, in fact the last time I saw them was at a Steely Dan concert a few years ago. They were with us for the last eight months of the life of Christie. They came to Mexico, South America, Roger was the drummer, Tony Ferguson was on guitar. It was kind of getting towards the end of the shelf life, personnel were coming and going, I had it for five years and was getting tired. It’s like being married .. you’re in the same hotel, on the road with them, so wrapped in each other’s lives, you don’t really have a life outside of that, it’s very difficult.

RD: You’re still gigging?

JC: Yes, I did a TV show in Hamburg a few months ago, I still gig, most important part is I’m still writing, that’s the point of this interview. The double CD is representative of the Outer Limits and there’s a solo disc called Floored Masters which I did in the late 70s and early 80s … it’s good to have these out .. it’s also had fantastic reviews in the states .. whether it makes any money or not, it’s kind of a nice feeling to have it out there.