interviewed Jeff Christie for his excellent podcast website,
Strange Brew, in July 2010. Here are some excerpts.
JEFF Christie will forever be associated
with the country pop rock smash hit Yellow
River which hit the top spot across the globe in
1970. However, his career in cult 60s band The Outer Limits
and subsequent releases demonstrate that to pigeonhole him
would be to greatly underestimate one of the most talented
songwriters of the era.
Jason Barnard and Jeff
PART 1: OUTER LIMITS
Jason Barnard (JB):
When you were growing up in Leeds in the 1950s did the austerity
at the time lead you onto the work like Great
Train Robbery and Yellow River
which drew upon tales from the old West?
Jeff Christie (JC): Im
a man of many faces goes the song and it reflects
my need to diversify my songwriting and draw upon any area
that fascinates or interests me. I went to America when
I was 16 in 62 when I was still banging out Shadows
numbers with the Tremmers. It was that which changed me.
I just fell in love with it - California - the whole way
of life. I didnt see beyond the veneer - there were
plenty of problems. But when I compared what I saw over
there to over here,. I would come back and look at England.
Everything was dinky and small minded and parochial. I just
thought that this is not where its at!
However out of that dinky place
came great talent and creative forces, which shaped me,
but the US had a massive effect on me. Like all other kids
I grew up with cowboys and Indians. I was always somehow
more in tune with the Indians. I knew the names of many
of the tribes and was fascinated by the whole Native American
culture. I still am to this day.
I was completely besotted with it.
We were gonna go to the States. The reason we didnt
go was that my brother and I would have been conscripted
to Vietnam. My mums sister lived in San Francisco.
My mum and dad went to the American Embassy and the guy
said to my dad that if you come over your sons will be eligible
for the draft. That was it - the decision not to go was
based primarily on that.
You seemed to be into music from an early age?
JC: My genesis was The
3Gs Plus One. Everyones first name started
with a G- mine was the only one with a J. All the guys were
two or three years older and at university. They were a
little bit square but for me it was a chance to get up and
play a little bit. One of them was called Gerry and he came
with me to the Tremmers while the other guys went off and
did other stuff. I taught Rod Brooks bass and then we got
Stan Drogie who was a weightlifter. We just went from there
- that was the Tremmers.
The Shadows thing went for so long
and then we were into RnB. We started off doing
not only Shadows but Ventures. A lot of instrumentals. Then
we got a few vocalists and got more bluesy etc. Then that
morphed into the Outer Limits.
JB: The Outer Limits were more
JC: We came away from the instrumental
stuff and became more rnb and blues, Smokestack
Lightning and all that. We then went onto the Tamla stuff.
We were playing with people like Spencer Davis and Stevie
Winwood and John Lee Hooker at The Club a Go Go in Newcastle
and other places like The Twisted Wheel in Manchester and
Blackpool, the Mojo and Esquire clubs in Sheffield helmed
by Pete Stringfellow.
We experimented with musical styles
it was of the times. This was me paying my dues,
learning my instrument, assimilating all these different
One More Chance was released in 1967. That was such
a big change. You wrote it?
JC: Yeah, by now I was really
getting it together as a writer. From 1965 we were doing
record auditions and doing covers. One A&R man said
its a good little band you have there but you have
more chance of getting a deal if you start writing.
JB: In terms of writing did
that alter the sound?
JC: Its a good question.
I was experimenting with sound and feel all the time, and
especially by using different guitars. But it just felt
a natural progression
I used to play semi-classical
piano, and was not that great at it. I would get bored and
start doodling. It came out later when it grew into writing
Just One More
Chance originally was called
If I Try. We did a demo of it and sent it down to
London, a telegram came back from our agent saying Thats
a single. So we went into a studio and we were as
nervous as hell as it was the first time we had been in
a London recording studio. I had a terrible cold when we
did the b-side Help Me Please.
JB: The difference between
the two sides. You wouldnt almost recognise them as
the same band.
JC: It was the two sides of
me. Just One More Chance very
much epitomises the love of melody. The melodies just work
their way in to your brain. Help Me
Please was what we were more like on stage
very hard driving. We did a great version of Price
of Love by the Everly Brothers.
JB: How did you get to work
with Andrew Loog Oldham and release Great
JC: Andrew liked the band and
wanted to produce the single himself after we were recommended
to Immediate by Tito Burns, our agent at the time. Great
Train Robbery was on Immediate but they created a
sub-label called Instant as it was a little more poppier.
Freedom was the b-side and is a brilliant song.
JC: Well, theres an interesting
story. When we were on the Hendrix
tour we used to open it and Amen Corner were coming
after us. Wed do 10 minutes, 15 minutes tops. Even
the top of the bill did 35-40 minutes back then. We were
still doing Motown and soul stuff, I was writing but didnt
have the confidence to play my songs in a live context.
That was the turning point. On that tour we were doing Reach
Out Ill Be There and This
Old Heart and so on and then one day for some reason
I decided to put Sweet Freedom
We stuck it in and it was well received.
Lee Jackson (The Nice) came up to me afterwards and said
What was that song you did after Reach Out?
I replied that it was one of mine, its called Sweet
Freedom and he said Thats what you should be
doing. The Nice were in ascendancy and that gave me
confidence. That was an amazing tour to be on and I went
up a level. By 1970 I had an amazing CV and played with
anybody who was anybody.
JB: In terms
of the tour, there were great bands like The Pink Floyd,
Hendrix, The Move, Amen Corner, The Nice, Eire Apparent.
Did you hang out with those guys or get to play with them?
JC: All the bands would hang
out backstage to watch Jimi. I wasnt really into Floyd.
They were more interested in their light show. The Move
were great. Roy Wood was an inspiration and Carl Wayne was
a great frontman.
JB: Did you get to play with
JC: There was a bit of a jam.
One day, at one of the venues I cant remember where
it was, he was sat in the dressing room jamming and there
were a few of us. I picked up a guitar for 10-20 seconds
and played a couple of chords but I dont think I added
too much, it was enough to be there, a great memory. He
filmed all the bands onstage during the course of that tour,
I never did see Jimis super 8 film of the Outer Limits,
maybe one day itll surface along with all the other
bands that would be interesting.
JB: Of the Outer Limits demos
recorded which are your favourites?
Magees Incredible Banjo Band, I love that.
I wanted to have loads of banjos playing. Funny
Clown was based on the Pagliacci opera. Its
been used a lot - the clown laughing but tears inside. A
lot of these songs would have been enhanced by better production,
although they do have character and a certain organic charm.
JB: Where they all recorded
at the same time?
JC: They were all recorded
over two to three years [1966-68]. The tracks would have
formed the basis of singles, b-sides and album tracks.
JB: How did the Death
of Pop Group documentary come about?
JC: I was going out with Liz
Fox, who fronted a Yorkshire TV program called Calendar
at the time and she introduced me to the producers. At the
time the band broke up there was no money. You can see how
jaded we were. Someone thought it would make a good TV program
and Austin Mitchell was a sympathetic interviewer. The band
all wanted to quit but I didnt. I was always the engine
of the band, I would find the songs, learn the chords and
do the arrangements in the band so it wasnt that bigger
step to focus on my song writing which I concentrated on
after the break-up.
the full interview here.
PART 2: CHRISTIE
that famous story about Yellow River
and the tape for the Tremeloes..
JC: I was gutted when they
changed their mind on it as they were a big band at the
time. They went and did it but decided to pass. Theyd
written a song called By The Way
which is a nice song
but it was to be their biggest
career mistake. They all said it would have been the biggest
song they ever did and couldve extended their chart
career by over five years.
JB: Was it
their backing track? Its really good.
JC: Yes, its a good track.
In the time they had it the song was creating such a buzz
in the industry. Loads of people wanted
to do it. There was a lot of pressure from the record
company. The Tremeloes were with CBS so I kind of got into
that camp. Brian Longley said that the track was already
done, theres a lot of people who want to do this,
we need to move quickly. I was persuaded. I was young, I
was 23 and Id been trying to make it for years.
The thought of using someone elses
backing track horrified me. I thought I can do this.
But there was a lot of pressure. They said We can
do this quick. We dont need to re-record it.
We put it out and signed up to the
Tremeloes publishing company Gale Music
JB: That first album and San
Bernadino was that all your songwriting that
you were trying to get to other artists or was it that you
did Yellow River and you were
under pressure to do a similar sound?
JC: Well there was always the
pressure to repeat the success of Yellow
River. But I had actually written San
Bernadino in the same time frame and Long John Baldry
wanted to record it. There are similarities between San
Bernadino and Yellow River.
Id hit on that chord sequence for Yellow
River, using a lot of minors, together with majors.
And thats why it was unusual. There was nothing out
like it, even though its country pop rock. A lot of
the country songs have three or four chords. There are quite
a lot of chords in there and is very interesting musically.
JB: Did you write it quickly?
JC: Fairly quickly, probably
in a couple of hours. But I was writing a lot. By the time
I hit pay dirt I had a backlog of these country pop rock
songs. Theres lots of songs that didnt even
go on the album which I had done demos. I remember starting
writing Yellow River on the
piano in the lounge of my parents' house in Scott Hall Road,
Leeds, in 69 and I have a memory of getting out an
acoustic guitar after Id been going at it for a while
and trying it out upstairs and then downstairs to see how
I could bounce some ideas off the different room ambiences.
That song was inspired by Galveston
by Jimmy Webb. They thought it was a Vietnam song because
apparently there was a place
a transit camp called
Yellow River in Vietnam or the Deep South. Theres
letters from Vietnam Vets and that was one of the songs
that they related to.
Hugh Grundy: one of
the drummers on Christie's first album
JB: Were there
only two singles off the first Christie album?
Looking Out was seriously considered for a single
but just two singles were the final yield.
Vic Elmes joined on lead guitar
and sung backing vocal. That first album featured Hugh Grundy
from the Zombies and Clem
Cattini exclusively on all the drum tracks between them.
Clems on the faster ones like Mississippi
Line and San Bernadino,
although I had to overdub Clems drums on San
Bernadino as they were not loud enough.
JB: If the first Christie record
was the country rock album, the second, For
All Mankind, released a year later, felt like the
JC: Yes, it was the zeitgeist.
I was left-leaning at the time. But it was altogether a
bit heavier and a bit darker.
Its funny how the album has
grown in stature. It came out after the first yellow album
which was very country/rock/ pop and quite good in its own
way. Some of the songs have been covered by Swedish punk
and Russian grunge bands. But because of the song writing
I didnt want to be pinned down. For me I went through
the country rock phase, but it was just one genre of song
One of the ads that were run by
CBS when the album came out was Christies music
runs a lot deeper than Yellow River but it never really
got across. The problem was that when it came out, the Man
of Many Faces single got rave
reviews in all the heavyweight papers (Melody Maker,
Sounds) and it completely died in this country. It was a
hit in Germany. It was coming after San
Bernadino. Everybody wanted this sort of Yellow
River sound. I should have gone a little bit slower
and brought the fans around gradually.
JB: A bit more like Iron
JC: Yeah, the thing about Iron
Horse was that even though we had lost some momentum
with Man of Many Faces, when
Iron Horse came out we got
great radio play, a turntable hit and it started moving
into the top 50. It got to something like 42 or 43 and we
were poised to break into the top 30 with the good sales
figures we were getting.
That should have been top 10. To
this day, Iron Horse is considered
a hit. It should have been much bigger. Its got that
great hook, jangly guitar, which had become a Christie trademark,
a neat subject matter about pushing west across the Prairies
and pushing the Indians out the way. But it wasnt
to be. These days its got its own set of enthusiasts
on youtube with their train videos using that song.
JB: Didnt getting
stuck in Africa take a lot out of your schedule?
JC: The Equals played in Zambia
and we ended up out there. There were riots in one place
and we ended up out there far longer than we should have
been. Brian our manager had to fly back and plead our case
with the Musicians Union asking us what we were doing
in Rhodesia - but we were there to flee death threats. We
had no money and we were being sued for the gigs we were
supposed to be doing in England. It broke the back of the
band financially and caused all kinds of problems. It wore
everybody out and things went down hill from there and Paul
left for Carmen
JB: And Vic then left?
JC: I dissolved the band and
wanted a rest. I was greatly disillusioned. However, after
a few months, I reformed the band with new members but it
was never the same. The last Christie record was The
Most Wanted Man which came out in Germany in 1976.
JB: Ive read that the
period after this was a time of self-reflection.
JC: I moved to the States and
I was recording some of the tracks that were later released
on Floored Masters. I had an
apartment in LA but came back after my father died and stayed
here. Two years later I got a call from Robert Kingston
at RK records and I started writing all these songs. There
are a lot of demos from the time and theres over an
album's worth of stuff there to be released.
I aspire to be a good songwriter
but sometimes feel Ive been overlooked in many ways.
Many people are just not aware of my range and body of work.
JB: Out of your whole career,
whether it was a hit or not, what is your favourite track?
JC: Thats such a difficult
question. I think you cant leave Yellow
River out. Its been such a special song and
even though sometimes I can get tired of performing it,
it has such a life of its own. Its become a classic.
There are songs that I recorded that Im very proud
of that are not even on general
For All Mankind
is up there. Its a beautiful song. If
Only is a good one, I sit down to play it and Im
struggling to remember the chords! There are some that stand
out. Turning to Stone is sort
JB: Going forward, what are
your plans for the future?
JC: I keep on writing and performing
and try to be the best I can be for as long as I can. I
keep playing gigs although it doesnt get any easier.
But theres nothing you can compare with the buzz you
get with several thousand people singing your song back
at you on stage, even after 40 years later, its the
biggest high. I love to write and record. Theres a
life outside of this but I dont make too many far
reaching plans other than to just keep on keeping on.
the full interview here.