The Magic Highway


A LOOSE transcript of a BBC Radio Cumbria interview between Tony James and Jeff Christie in February 2009.

tony james

TJ: Today we go back to the early 70s and Christie. They had a few hits but this one, Yellow River, will live on forever! Our very special guest later on, the LEGENDARY Jeff Christie!

(Plays song Yellow River)

  It's a really interesting story. Jeff Christie was in a group called the Outer Limits, and they've got a new album out with all their classic hits like Just One More Chance, and toured with Jimi Hendrix, which was absolutely amazing! And then he kind of went on his own way and did his own thing ... they still are very active, they gig across Europe, 12 shows in Germany this year, and one of them, 12,000-capacity, sold out! This is good stuff. So Christie, Yellow River! Can you remember the other hits? Before we talk to our special guest, let's hear one another one of them.

(Plays song San Bernadino)

  There we go, a 70s hit for Christie, San Bernadino. Hello to Sue, the post lady, she texts "Just to let you know, Tony, I have Yellow River for my messager on my mobile phone, brilliant song! Looking forward to the interview".
  So here we go again, then, a couple of days ago we caught up with the man singing San Bernadino and the classic Yellow River.
  So you'd been in the Outer Limits, which was critically acclaimed and you toured with Hendrix, etc, a big deal, so how did Yellow River come around? You offered it to the Tremeloes first.

postcardJC: Having worked in the Outer Limits I grew up with everybody and in those days you could have access to bigger artists, especially if you had a personal connection like I did, from playing with them. I'd written lots of songs, one of which was Yellow River, which was not for the Trems. I'd written a specific one for the Trems ... they really liked Yellow River , they wanted to pass on this other song I had, Tomorrow Night, which had been much in the style of the Trems songs at the time, you know Italian songs with English lyrics like My Little Lady .. I just wrote it on spec, I thought "This is the Trems".
  The Outer Limits had broken up and I was just concentrating on writing, I didn't think at that particular point that I 'd put another band together. I was disillusioned and I thought I'd try and crack it as a songwriter. I'd been to see quite a few people .. Alan Price, the Marmalade, Jonathon King, and Jonathon said there are some great songs there, go and see so-and-so, and one of them was Wayne Bickerton at Deram, and Wayne turned Yellow River down, and I understand that Wayne lost his job over that. People who passed on Yellow River were like people who passed on the Beatles, heads rolled when mistakes like that happen.
  The Trems really liked Yellow River, but sat around with it for ages and ages and eventually decided not to do it and I went into the studio to finish it off.

TJ: But they had put it on as an album track. Let's hear it.

(Plays Trems' version of Yellow River)

Where did you go from there because you obviously thought it wasa hit single?

JC: No I didn't think it was a hit single. I was very prolific at the time, I was writing a lot of songs, I was coming up with three or four songs a week, and I thought it was a good song, but I thought a lot of the songs I was writing were good at the time! That was very much the calibre of the swamp rock,country rock kind of thing which I was experimenting with as a writer. I hoped that if I could get a song away with some big artist then it would raise my profile as a writer, and then maybe come through the back door and get a record deal again.
  When I put my version out, it just went crazy, it just went round the world like wildfire.

TJ: Then you ended up having to form a band and keep recording, almost by default. The next single, San Bernadino, was excellent, it really is a good record, but I guess when you have such a massive song like Yellow River , it's almost impossible to follow up.

JC: It is very hard, some people can do it, the Beatles, the Stones .. San Bernadino was a big hit, but the following record we went in a different direction, it was called Man of Many Faces, that was a hit in Germany but it sort of bombed in Britain because it was a lot heavier. The press gave it great write-ups but unfortunately the public had gotten hold of two songs with this country jangly pop rock, and that's what was expected, and sort of what the record company expected.
  That didn't do so well but the third song that was a hit was a song called Iron Horse. That should have been a bigger hit but something very strange happened. We were stablemates with Johnny Nash, who had a record out called I Can See Clearly Now. We were getting sales figures every day and the record was a certain turntable hit, and the figures for Iron Horse were much higher than I Can See Clearly Now. The most bizarre thing happened: Johnny Nash jumped into the top 30 and we disappeared out of the top 50. There was a big stink about it and everytime our manager tried to investigate, doors were slammed in his face. You have to be careful what you say on radio, but something wasn't very right there. When it comes down to it, if Iron Horse had gotten into the Top 30, like it should have done, the whole perspective would have changed, because we would have had three massive hits then.

TJ: How do you feel now about Yellow River?

JC: It's like a child, like a little baby that has grown up and done well. I always get a kick out of hearing it because it reminds me of those days, they were exciting times. Still played all around the world and covered by lots of artists. On the Christie website, the cover versions that appear here are incredible, and a lot of them are on youtube.

TJ: Can you give us the website address?

JC: It's It won an award in Australia and was put together by a young Australian lad who came to see us in Perth in 1971, his dad brought him to see the band, and he was a massive fan, and about eight years ago he tracked me down and said he'd like my permission to do this website.
  He finds out things about me that even I don't know! Just really fantastic.

TJ: That's wonderful! It's been a complete honour to talk to you, Jeff Christie, and Yellow River is one of the finest British pop records ever made and I genuinely believe that, and it's still superb, it sounds as fresh today as when it first came out. Jeff Christie, an honour and a privilege, thank you for being with us.