Extract No. 4 from my new Meat Loaf biography, Like A Bat Out Of Hell, out this week
When, later in 1975, most of the National Lampoon gang were hired for a new live comedy-variety TV show called NBC’s Saturday Night – soon to be retitled Saturday Night Live – Meat Loaf was also invited to audition for the show. Meat saw it as a chance to sing on the first show, but the team led by production Lorne Michaels, a 28-year-old maverick writer and comedian who’d previously worked on the groundbreaking Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In show, had other ideas. As Meat recalled, ‘They said to me, “Are you interested in doing a show?” And I said, “No” – a mistake! ‘I should have done it!’ (In fact, after he became famous Meat Loaf would appear on the show a further three times and remains the only musician, aside from Mick Jagger, to ever perform anything other than songs. His most notable ‘skit’ partner was another occasional guest called Eddie Murphy.)
Another talent involved in the Lampoon shows destined to become more involved with Meat Loaf’s career was composer and musician Paul Jacobs. Speaking in 1985, Meat recalled how he had ‘wanted Paul in the band from the very beginning but he didn’t want to work with [Steinman] and Jimmy didn’t want to work with anybody that was any good, really. That’s not to put him down – but he had a fear of musicians, at that time, he doesn’t now, who knew more about music than he did.’
In truth, when Steinman staged a workshop production of Neverland, in 1976, Jacobs served as musical director and co-arranged the show’s score. Later, after Steinman left Meat Loaf’s touring band, Jacobs as a pianist and background vocalist replaced him.
But that was in the future. Still locked into the idea of making an album of original material with Jimmy, Meat’s next paying job came when he grabbed at a stopgap role in Rockabye Hamlet – a kind of To Be Or Not To Be Hair – directed by Goward Champion. ‘He’d done a lot of hit stuff,’ Meat shrugged, ‘and when you have an opportunity to work with people like that, you do it.’ Indeed, Champion had enjoyed a successful career in movies as a dancer-choreographer before graduating to musical theatre in the 1960s, directing four hit shows in row, including Bye Bye Birdie and Hello, Dolly! This, though, was a step to far for the now aging director. Bringing the Bard to the love generation was a laudable aim. But Champion knew as much about the post-hippy audiences of the mid-seventies as Meat Loaf did at the time about vegetarianism. The result was a complete disaster than stumbled along for just seven shows before being unceremoniously dumped.
‘It was a terrible show,’ the singer conceded, ‘it was a dreadful part but I learned from him.’ What Meat Loaf learned, he said, was ‘how to give and take focus. That’s a very important lesson performers need to learn from the viewpoint of how to perform. You see, if you’re me you don’t want people looking at you all the time, you want them going somewhere else and then coming back to you. There’s very few people who have the kind of strength that I do onstage so when I give them the focus and then take it back, it rockets. This is not an ego trip because I don’t have anything to do with it, it’s just there. I know what I can do and what I can’t do. I don’t pretend and don’t try to fool myself. But in that show, I was onstage with 72 other people and I had to take focus – and I didn’t. And Goward Champion said, “You’re the first person I’ve ever seen that can take focus from a group of 72 people dancing about you at high-energy and you’re not doing a fucking thing but everyone in the audience is watching you!” And I said, “Well, I figured it out.”’
Meat Loaf took another one-off gig adding some vocals to the second album, Free For All, from his old Detroit pal, Ted Nugent. With his flight and hotel paid for, plus a thousand-dollar fee waiting for him, he scooted down for a few days to The Sound Pit studio in Atlanta Georgia, singing lead on five of the album’s nine tracks. As on the Stoney & Meatloaf album, he was credited wrongly as Meatloaf. But he didn’t care about that. What stuck in his craw was that $1000 fee, which seemed like easy money at the time – then looked like peanuts after the album sold over a million copies.
There were also one-off cash-in-hand gigs: recording a song called ‘Clap Your Hands And Stand By Me’ also featuring Procol Harum drummer BJ Wilson and Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, and destined to become one of the forgotten classics of the era. Meat also took a trip to London to record a song titled ‘Tulip Baker’, written for a girl who ended up failing to produce the necessary vocal. In stepped Meat Loaf to the rescue. ‘You wanna know how high it was?’ he laughed. ‘Almost blew my brains out!’
Highs and lows, lows and highs, and the story hadn’t even got properly started yet.