The Magic Highway


Here's Pt 2 of an interview Jeff did with Ralph Gowling, editor of the UK publication Beat Magazine, which appeared in October 2012.

JEFF Christie says The Tremeloes reacted like a bunch of Duracell bunnies when they first heard a demo of Yellow River!
he song was a worldwide No.1 for Christie, but there have been different reports over the years about The Tremeloes' involvement in the record and just how close they themselves came to charting with the highly commercial and catchy number penned by Jeff.
 Beat Magazine  Here, in the second part of The Beat's interview with Jeff, we get the definitive version of events.
   "I think it's well-documented but sometimes information gets warped through lazy journalism and misinformation," said Jeff, currently basking in glowing reviews for Christie's new double- CD package entitled No Turn Unstoned.
   "If I would have had my own band at the time I would have gone into the studio with Yellow River myself, but The Outer Limits broke up mid-68 a few months after the Jimi Hendrix tour ended.
   "Prior to this I had two records - four tracks - released with The Outer Limits, one of which was produced by Andrew Loog Oldham who needs no introduction from me, so I wasn't a novice and I was learning fast.
   "Between The Outer Limits break-up and 1970 I was very prolific and wrote songs almost every day whilst playing in bars/ nightclubs in a trio at night. Having played with so many of the big names through the 60s, I was able to access those that didn't write their own songs whenever they played locally, as those days it was easier to get to see artists.
   "I met Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Gene Pitney, The Seekers, Marmalade and Tremeloes, to name a few, at Batley Variety Club, which was a 30- minute drive from Leeds.
   "As I had no band at the time I had no vehicle for my songs, so I would get myself to Batley with my Grundig tape recorder and case full of reel-to-reel 7-inch tapes and try to get these artists to listen to some of them, which mostly they all did.
   "There was much more personal contact in those days, somehow a more human and satisfying way of trying to get covers than today's soulless way of sending of music over the net and never seeing someone's face react to your song or even knowing if, in fact, they actually did hear your song.
   "I had specifically written a song called Tomorrow Night for The Tremeloes as they had had success with smiley, happy clappy Italian songs translated into English at the time. So I wrote a shiny happy one for them. When I saw them and played it for them, they said, 'We're trying to get away from that kind of song and looking for songs that are a bit heavier or generally have a bit more depth".
   The Tremeloes had already announced their change of direction in 1969 with (Call Me) Number One, a UK No.2 hit.
   "They asked if I had anything else so I played some more songs that I thought might suit them. Yellow River wasn't one of them. After a while it wasn't happening and it was time to call it a day. Then Yellow River came on just as I was about to pack up the tape deck," Jeff said.
   "Suddenly it was like the Duracell bunnies advert. They all started getting animated, bouncing around, twitchy feet started tapping and voices started singing along on the chorus. They wanted a copy to take back to London and would get back to me.
   "The saga went on for months and months, in which time they recorded a version which was earmarked for an album cut. I think it might even have been mentioned as a single or B-side at one time but languished as they eventually decided to put their own song out instead.
   "Their publicist Brian Longley had heard my original demo, which was a sparse BBC Radio Leeds recording, with my vocals over that rolling piano feel, some acoustic guitar and some brushed snare drum that I did myself. He thought that I should record it myself as he felt I'd make a good fist of it in a decent recording studio with a good producer.
   "He believed in the song, saw its potential and thought I would have a worldwide hit with it. It seems many who heard the song in the music business had the same view and saw swimming pools and yachts when they heard it! Even Tom Jones' manager Gordon Mills wanted to buy it off me!
   "Enter Mike Smith, hit producer with The Tremeloes, and others, and an already finished backing track by the latter. By now because there was such a buzz about the song and there were several other versions by different artists in the pipeline for release, CBS started to panic when they realised someone might steal their thunder from under their nose.
   "So there was this pressure on me to get my version out first. So I was given some studio time, not much, and went in to put the vocals down and that was it. Bottom line is The Tremeloes were by default the session players on the record.
   "Much has been said about this over the years, but Brian's energy and belief in me and my songs made it all happen. He picked up the ball and ran with it while others dithered, for one reason or another. The truth is The Tremeloes had cooled on the track and released their own song instead, so their priorities changed."
   Yellow River went on to sell millions around the world, was No.1 in 26 countries. It was three weeks at No.1 in the UK and reached No.16 in the National US Cashbox chart and stayed in the charts for six months.
   "I was awarded the BMI citation of achievement for Yellow River in the US and the Ivor Novello award in the UK. It spawned hundreds of covers and is still being covered today.
   "If someone would have told me back then what would unfold, I'd never have believed it!!"
   Christie had two more major international hits with San Bernadino and Iron Horse that underlined Jeff was a standout songwriter.
   His gift of being able to write pop songs with lyrics that tell complete stories and music that conjures up images is once again in evidence on the 40 tracks on his new CD, No Turn Unstoned.
   For many fans the classic Christie line-up was Jeff (lead vocals/bass), Vic Elmes (lead guitar) and Paul Fenton (drums).
   "Paul was a friend who I had worked with a lot in 1969 in a trio at the Lido Revue Bar in Leeds," Jeff said..
   "We had originally met several years before while he was in The Peppers and I was in The Outer Limits. We both supported either The Who or Small Faces at the Queens Hall Leeds in the mid-60s. We worked well together and had a good musical rapport as well as liking each other, so it was inevitable I would want to bring him into my next band whenever the opportunity arose.
   "Vic Elmes came from The Epics along with Mike Blakeley, brother of Alan (from The Tremeloes). Incidentally you might see in various publications or websites that I was a one time-member of The Epics and Acid Gallery - not true.
 Beat Magazine  "When Yellow River was released Brian suggested that as I would need a band to go out and promote the record I could use these guys who had been together for a while and had been trying to break through but not making much headway: a lifeline for them. But I resisted at first because I had some good players in the Leeds area, of which Paul was one, that fitted the bill. The thought of being put together with strangers musically and personally did not appeal. But I liked and trusted Brian and went along with it all eventually, against my better judgement.
   "It all became very political in the countdown to the record's release with pressure from The Tremeloes camp, CBS and to a certain extent Brian to make this happen in order to please all the relevant players in this scenario so they could hold the purse strings of the revenue streams from the publishing and recording rights.
   "They were all like a family and I was the outsider that had stumbled into this powerful little clique with something they all wanted very much to own and control.
   "So I assigned publishing rights of the song to the Blakely and Hawkes (Tremeloes) publishing company, Gale Music, and signed the record contract with CBS with the other two guys with some reluctance.
   "Alan Blakely was trying to help his brother up the ladder: his brother came joined at the hip with Vic Elmes, and Brian was a personal friend of The Tremeloes, and Mike Smith assumedly had some clout at CBS, being one of their top producers.
   "It was all very incestuous and a bit intimidating and ultimately hard to say no to. Paul actually didn't join until Mike Blakely's exit a few months after the record started to storm the charts.
   "While making the first album, Hugh Grundy (Zombies) and Clem Cattini (Tornados) were the session drummers and the lead guitar work was done by Vic Elmes, with me on acoustic and bass guitars. I sang lead vocals and played piano also.
   "The second album, For All Mankind, featured Paul on drums, Vic on guitar and me on bass. But increasingly I was finding it more productive to have the other two lay down the basic tracks with me and then build the tracks up vocally and instrumentally myself when the others had left the studio.
   "I had a history of doing this long before Christie was formed as I found the best way to decorate my songs was playing as much of it myself and calling someone else in to do what I wasn't able to do. This is how I liked to work and still do to this day and that is the mainstay of No Turn Unstoned.
   "For gigs, we were, at first, just a three-piece and then, later, brought in a bass player so I could play guitar and piano. This gave the band more space to stretch out and be a bit more adventurous with arrangements."
   The guitar sound is a big feature of Christie numbers and Jeff says he found inspiration from many players.
   "Segovia, Paco de Lucia, Paco Peña Django Reinhardt, Hank Marvin, Duane Eddy, Bob Bogle, Jeff Beck, BB King, Eric Clapton, Albert Lee, Ritchie Blackmore, Chet Atkins, Les Paul, Mark Knopfler, Jeff Baxter, Peter Green ... I could go on!" he said.
   Who is Jeff Christie away from the music business?
   "Depends what I feel like when I wake up!"

Part 1