Zappa 84

I was searching for something and accidentally came across this. I read it and was surprised how relevant it still seemed. So I thought I’d out it here. From Kerrang! October 4, 1984

MICK WALL gets uncomfortably numb in the company of the terminally cynical FRANK ZAPPA.

AT SCHOOL I was never quite the same as other normal kids. At least, not after The Accident.

It happened one stormy night when I stayed over at a friend’s house. It was pissing with rain and I’d missed the last bus and, anyway, my friend, through the infinite kindness of his stinking rich parents, was the proud possessor of a brand new Hitachi stereo with all the multicoloured trimmings.

Now he was weird my friend; for instance, he was the first kid in class to have an Afghan Duvet and a colour television, but his older brother was even weirder. It was the older brother who owned all the records in the house. At the time I was going through my Alice Cooper period and so I figured I had the boundaries of rock and roll pretty well figured out. I mean, Alice was the wildest back in those days, you can hang your skeleton on that one boy.

I was 16 and I was trés k.o.o.l.

So when Big Bro’ suggested kicking off the night’s entertainment with something I’d never heard of before called Frank Zappa, snickering right into my face, I felt like I was ready for anything. Like, impress me …

That was when The Accident occured.

It turned out that the music I was listening to was at least five years old at that time, but to my innocent soul it sounded light years ahead. It reached out of the Hitachi and seized me by the hair. My mind began to travel very fast and I could feel my bowels turning to water. It was an easy intelligent groove with lots of busy drums to stab home the misty mood-swings. It was called ‘Peaches En Regalia’, and the album was ‘Hot Rats’.

Slight pause and then came ‘Willie The Pimp’, all fiendishly funky guitars stomping across your back and a grisly lead vocal digging its dirty nails into the frontal lobe …

“What is this s**t?” the youngster I was asked incredulously. I still don’t know all the smart answers to that one, and I don’t expect I ever shall. It’s that kind of music, y’see; it doesn’t go away when you tell it because, God forgive it, the wicked stench of truthpervades all of Frank Zappa’s work.

The Reality Clause is the primary equation in the complex Zappa scheme of things. It’s got a funk of its own, fused by direct identification with rock, Be-Bop, a cappella, jazz, blues, name it … and it’s human enough to accommodate the Theatre Of The Absurd, ruthless enough to twist the knife in good where it hurts. That’s what makes it so interesting, so special, which is precisely why Frank Zappa holds such a unique, untenable position in rock and roll …

So back to The Accident. The plain truth was that I couldn’t take it, I couldn’t go all the way that first time, and I felt a bit jolted, a tad soiled by the experience. And I solemnly vowed to put the ghastly matter right out of my tiny walrus mind forever and ever.

IT’S WEEKS before I got my next taste of Zappa and by then I’m going half-crazy because I can’t get little bits of his extraordinary music out of my head.

Keeping it brief, what followed was a period of years where I took my Frank Zappa wherever I might find it. Apart from scoring my own copies of ‘Hot Rats’ and ‘Joe’s Garage’ (a masterpiece), I relied on tapes of his music friends would run off for me, I read bits and pieces here and there about him, I saw his film ‘200 Motels’ – probably the ultimate, uh, on-the-road rock movie (haw! haw! haw!) ever made – and I never so much pursued his vast career as let his music come to me, wheresoever I lay.

To date, Frank Zappa has to his name 39 albums including a variety of doubles and triple-boxed sets, not to mention the recent seven-disc set of Mothers Of Invention early LPs; 32 compositions for orchestral and choral groups; four ballets; two feature films and two video specials.

In the distant past he has worked with Captain Beefheart and Wild Man Fischer, he even produced and played guitar on a Grand Funk Railroad album, ‘Good Singin’, Good Playin”. Just over a year ago he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in a performance of one of his ballet pieces, and for the last three years he has disengaged himself completely from the rock world, devoting time and money to his more ‘classical’ musical pursuits, hovering on the fringes of the ‘serious’ music world like some predatory rhino grinding a magnificent horn up against the goal-posts of paradise.

In 1971 a fracas at his concert at the London Rainbow resulted in Zappa receiving a broken leg at the hands of some, uh, overzealous‘fan overtures’.

When he returned to London a year later at Crystal Palace[1] he walked on stage with his new personal assistant John Smothers who closely resembled Mr T’s godfather. Big, black, and completely bald, Smothers was introduced to the crowd by Zappa as the man hired to kill anybody from the audience who wanted to try a re-run of the Rainbow incident. 10 years on, Smothers remains by Zappa’s side, wherever he walks, sleeps or eats.

Zappa is always an imposing figure on stage, his much-vaunted ‘contempt’ for sections of his public the source of many a True Story …

There’s the one about the time he was performing in America, when the band hit the stage and the first number of the set turned out to be a long 15 minutes-plus jazz improvisational piece with more time-changes in it than the Tardis on a good night. At the climax of the piece some lunkhead at the back of the auditorium started hooting and whistling for some rooocckkk an’ rooolll. “You liked that one, did you motherf**kers? Well, we’ll do it again for ya…” was Zappa’s response, and they did the whole damn thing again.

One time in Italy, it is said, the local promoter had promised Zappa his money in cash and up-front of the actual gig. When the moolah failed to arrive as promised Frank and the boys went out on stage and charged into the grandest, most vulgar and verbose intro they could manage – white noise melting into slow death – and ended it with low bows followed by the uniform raising of long index fingers up the nose of the crowd. “F**k you!” said Frank, and walked off.

Oh God, there’s hundreds, some funnier, some not. When word got out that the kid had an interview arranged with the man, the looks of anguish and the words of condolence he received from all sides, plus the strange words of warning foisted upon him by previous scarred and beaten Zappa interviewers, was enough to make his balls ache.

“He is a very, very bright person and he doesn’t tolerate arseholes, so just don’t try to f**k around with him. HE’LL EAT YOU!”

Oh God…

AND LO! It came to pass that in the rainy streets of Brussels, Belgium, where he was rehearsing for the start of his first European tour in many a bygone year, I plucked up my courage and whiled away a half hour or so with Mr Frank Zappa.

There’s a new rock album released this month called ‘Them Or Us’, available on Zappa’s own Barking Pumpkin Records (through EMI), his first for three years.

A double (of course), ‘Them Or Us’ harks back to the ‘Joe’s Garage’ era, which means we’re in for a joy-ride through Be-Bop [doo-wop] (‘The Closer You Are’), fused with the more instrumentally eloquent chaos of tracks like ‘Sinister Footwear’ and ‘Truck Driver Romance’. The humour is as convoluted and hysterical as ever, and the scenarios are all pulled from the same generous black cloak of fiction worn by ‘Catholic Girls’ or, going right back, ‘Brown Shoes Don’t Make It’.

The other thing to mention here is Zappa’s guitar. He’s a stunning guitar player and a meticulous technician and has to be heard to be believed and understood.

Anyway, the reviews can come later. For now, let’s have a word or three with the wise. Let’s talk to Frank …

It’s widely reported that you hate coming to Europe and England, but you’re here now. Do you still dislike the Continent? 

“Of course, and for a very good reason. When people think of the Continent they think of little cathedrals and quaintness and everything being nice, nice, nice. But I’ve been over here often enough to recognise that there’s more hatred on the Continent than in any other place I’ve ever had to work. There’s ethnic hatred that goes back thousands of years, and it permeates everything. And when you’re forced to tour around, when every day is a different country, then every day you find a different prejudice, a different hatred. It’s lurking everywhere.

“Belgium is in a preposterous state, the people there can’t even agree on what language they’re gonna speak. Everything’s written in at least two different languages, if not three, sometimes four on the signs. It’s as ignorant as the situation in French Canada.

“In the United States you have a land mass much bigger than the size of the Continent and, sure, we have our regional differences, but nothing like the ethnic hatred I’ve experienced in Europe. And when people are filled with that much hatred it’s difficult for them to laugh at anything, and basically what I do is very humour orientated. It’s music, but the most important ingredient is humour.”

Do all those thoughts and feelings come out when you perform in Europe?

“They don’t come out immediately, but it comes out of the audience. They’re responding to what you’re doing in a certain way. And the other thing that alters the response of the people over here is barometric pressure! The weather over here is so much more detestable than it is in the United States. Over here everybody is suffering from the low pressure syndrome, you know? So you’ve got the language barrier, which means no-one knows what you’re singing about (even if they’ve seen the words on a record sleeve they still don’t know what the songs mean); you’ve got the inherent ethnic hatred; and you’ve got the low barometer. So five weeks in Europe is not as much fun as five weeks in the United States.”

OVER HOW long a period was the new album ‘Them Or Us’ recorded?

“Over the last two years. Same time as I was doing all that symphony stuff, I kept working in the studio on ‘Them Or Us’, ‘Thing Fish’, and the ‘Francesco’ album.”

How do you keep all that going on at one time in your head? Going from chamber music, to conducting, to some of the wilder rock stuff’? 

“It’s no problem. You just have to schedule it right, that’s all.”

Did you ever have any classical training? 

“No. Just the library and practical experience. That way I’ve learnt to conduct and construct … it’s not as much fun as playing lead guitar though!”

You play a different show every night, right? 

“Every single night it’s a different show. Right now the band (Ike Willis, guitar and vocals; Ray White, guitar and vocals; Bobby Martin, keyboards, sax and vocals; Alan Zavod, keyboards and exotic dancing; Scott Thunes, bass; Chad Wackerman, drums) have a repertoire of 66 different numbers. When a couple of the guys have been with me a little longer they’ll know more.

“It’s better that way, it keeps us from getting bored. Right after the soundcheck every night I write out the set list. Sometimes I write out five different lists before I get it right, then the final list gets circulated to all the people that need to know and 15 minutes before we go onstage I get the band into a huddle and I tell them how the different songs connect to each other. We have a non-stop, seamless two hour show …”

You have a reputation for being wildly unpredictable on stage. You’re not afraid to give an audience verbal abuse … 

“Hey, if somebody gives me s**t I’m not gonna stand there and bend over; I’m not a jukebox, I’m not a robot, you know, I’m a human being and I’m not up there to do anything but entertain. If you want entertainment I’ve got it for you, if you wanna be an asshole, believe me, I’ve got ways of dealing with assholes!”

With your vast backlog of work and diverse artistic talents, have you ever thought about going into the Theatre? 

“I’ve tried, I wrote a Broadway musical, but I couldn’t raise enough money to do it. They needed five million dollars and I could only raise $400,000, so I gave up on it. It’s coming out as a three-record box set in September though, so you’ll be able to hear it at least, even if you won’t get to see it. It’s a musical based on the concept that somebody invented AIDS on purpose …

Going back a few years to the time you produced Grand Funk, would you ever be enticed into producing another Top 40 band now? 

“Doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I produced Grand Funk because I liked the guys, I did it as kind of a favour. I mean, I’d never heard any of their albums before, but they played me some songs and they were nice so I did it. No big deal, but I wouldn’t wanna do that now. Besides, being the producer is a thankless task … if the record sells millions it’s your fault it didn’t sell more, and if it bombs out it’s your fault for that, too. Somebody’s career goes down the toilet and it’s your fault.”

Do you still enjoy performing live? 

“Yeah, I do. Especially with these guys. They’re all great musicians, but they are also FUN FUN FUN guys too. I’ve played with some great musicians but you wouldn’t wanna do three month tours with them, boy, they’d put you to F**KING SLEEP! I won’t mention any names or pee on anybody’s sexuality, but there was this one band I had and the hottest thing they could think to do after a gig was little quiz games. On the f**king tour bus, in the hotel, it wasn’t like, hey, let’s go get some girls, it was what f* *g score is it?”

Yeah, rock and roll, eh Frank? 

“Forget it! I can’t relate to people like that, it doesn’t make any sense…”

Am I right in supposing that your rock albums and shows finance the other projects you like to get into? 

“Yeah, absolutely.”

Given the situation where all your projects were financially autonomous, would you gradually fade from the rock field altogether? 

“No, I wouldn’t stop the rock and roll. You have to remember that if I conduct a symphony orchestra it’s the same people that come to see it. I don’t have two different audiences. It’s all my music. It’s just so happens that the audience that listens to what I do has a wider range of musical tastes, that’s all.”

In the recent press pictures your record company has been sending out, you are pictured holding one hand high at the camera. There is an oven-glove on that hand. Is this your own personal Michael Jackson backlash? 

“Well, it’s not just to do with him, but Prince, all of ’em. I call it the Numb Hand Syndrome. All these fabricated Eighties stars giving the Numb Hand they got from jerking off too much to an audience of Numb Hands so’s everybody can get a Numb Hand together when listening to this garbage.”

You’re not a big fan of modern music, then? 

“Of course not. None of it’s real any more. The record companies are so corrupt, the A&R executives are so frightened of losing their jobs they’re not gonna risk their careers on anything new or dangerous. And as a consequence, there are several fine musicians who can’t turn a buck without dressing up in the right Superman suit and singing the same old s**t.

“Honestly, you should see these poor bastards when they walk into the record company looking for a deal. They waddle in backwards, their head scraping the floor, their two hands holding the cheeks of their asses open, yelling: ‘Oh stick it to me please, do anything, but can I have a contract please …’

“I’m telling you, there is no hope for the world.”

WOULD FRANK Zappa ever consider writing an autobiography? 

“I wouldn’t know where to start, and besides, the amount of lawsuits and suicide attempts and death threats that would undoubtedly result from the publication of my autobiography I can really do without right now.”

One last thing. I hear your son Dweezil is a big fan of Kerrang!. 
(Zappa has four kids: Moon Unit aged 16, Dweezil aged 14, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan aged 10 and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen aged 4).

“Yeah, he gets a subscription to every issue.”

He likes his rock ‘n’roll then, does he? 

“He likes Heavy Metal. Randy Rhoads is his big hero. He plays a pretty mean lead guitar also.”

Has he stolen any licks from the old man? 

“No. He loves Randy, though.”

Fast Eddie No Hammer

Metal Hammer asked me to write something about Fast Eddie and Motörhead. I wrote the following but they rejected it, said it wasn’t what they were looking for. Maybe you will enjoy it.

“I should have seen it coming,” said Lemmy years later. But he hadn’t seen it coming and when Hawkwind sacked him while touring America in the summer of 1975, Lemmy was devastated.

“I was fired for doing the wrong drugs,” Lemmy would tell me during one of our many nights on what he called “the old buck-you-uppo.” Hawkwind were all were “acid heads,” he explained. Lemmy was “a speed freak.”

He got his own back, though, when he returned to London. “I shagged all their old ladies. Take that you bastards!”

And that children, is how Motörhead came into being. Or rather that is how Bastard came into being – Lemmy’s original name for the group. Until his manager Doug Smith told him: “Come on, Lem. You’ll never get on the radio or the telly with a name like that.’”

When Lemmy refused to listen, says Doug, “I just went ahead and put out a press release saying his new band was called Motörhead.”

Lemmy was furious. Until everyone kept telling him what a great name it was – it being American slang for ‘speed freak’ and Lemmy being… well, you know…

Already a rock star having sung the lead vocals on Hawkwind’s 1972 mega-hit Silver Machine – “When Lemmy sang of having ‘an electric line’ to ‘your Zodiac sign,’ he meant it,” says Doug – getting Motörhead off the ground still took slog and luck and drugs and the help of some friendly bikers and willing groupies.

“I wanted it to be like the MC5,” Lemmy told me, referring to the Detroit legends whose infamous call-to-arms, “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” defined the hardcore rock scene in America in the late-1960s. “Fast and vicious.”

Former Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis was first to join. He had a low-slung style and attitude that fitted. The trouble, said Lemmy, was “Larry worries. As soon as he gets hold of anything, he drops it on his toe.”

The drummer was a street urchin named Lucas Fox. He had never played in a ‘name’ band before but what he lacked in experience he did his best to make up for in nervous energy.

They did a string of shows around the UK, billed as Lemmy’s Motorhead (no umlaut in those early days) and got nowhere fast.

Lemmy: “We were doing a lot of covers and I had this blue-painted skull on my amp. It didn’t help. It was terrible.” A review in NME described one show as having ‘all the panache of a butcher stripping meat from an overripe carcass.’

Fox was fired soon after for daring, as Lemmy put it, “to try and keep up with my habit – the veins were standing out on his head.” Wallis simply stopped coming to rehearsals.

Fox’s replacement was a 21-year old former skinhead from Leeds named Phil Taylor. “I met Lemmy through speed really,” Taylor explained. “You know, dealing and scoring.” It was Phil who brought a new guitarist in: a part-time TV repairman named Eddie Clarke.

Eddie was 25, had played in a succession of no-hopers, and saw this as his last chance.

Eddie did one audition, he recalled when we spoke last year, and thought, “Oh, well, that’s it. Then the following Saturday morning, I’m lying in bed comatose and there’s this banging on my front door. I go downstairs in my underpants and Lemmy’s standing there with a leather jacket and a bullet belt in his hand. He gave them to me, said, ‘You’ve got the job,’ and walked off again. I just stood there in my underpants gobsmacked.”

It wasn’t just the clobber that went with the job. As with ‘Philthy Animal’, Lemmy would now add a sobriquet to the new guitarist’s name, making him forevermore ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke. And so was born the most famous line-up of Motörhead, the Three Amigos, as they became known – the one that over the next five years would record all Motörhead classic hits, beginning with the first thing they ever wrote together, the supremely aptly titled ‘White Line Fever’.

“After we got Eddie and Phil in I knew we had something special,” Lemmy recalled. While Clarke confided that, “It wasn’t until after three or four rehearsals that I realised we didn’t sound normal.”

Indeed, over the next five years Motörhead would release six bones-into-dust albums that came to define a ‘new’ normal in rock and metal that would influence both the early-80s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene and the birth of what became thrash metal.

“It’s simple,” Lars Ulrich, who ran the Motörhead fan club for a while, told me, “No Motörhead, no Metallica.” It was the same for Slash from Guns N’ Roses. “Lemmy, man, is the real fucking deal. When I die I want (We Are) The Road Crew played at my funeral.”

Of the albums they released between 1977 and 1982, when Fast Eddie told them to fuck off for the final time, the four must-haves-or-die are Overkill and Bomber – both released in 1979 – Ace Of Spades (1980) and the live No Sleep ’til Hammersmith (1981).

You think you know how to rock it? You think you know the meaning of metal? Kid, you don’t know shit until you’ve plunged your head deep into the apocalyptic whiteout of classic Three Amigos Motörhead.

Four Top 20 singles, three of which went Top 10. Six Top 30 albums, including two that went Top 10 and one all the way to Number 1. It was also now that Lemmy (words) and Eddie (riffs) co-wrote all the songs that would make Motörhead a legend.

“Lemmy was still finding his feet as a lyricist,” Eddie told me, “ and I’m not a virtuoso. But Eric Clapton never came up with the riffs to Ace Of Spades or Bomber. My job was giving Lemmy something to sing over. I mean, Stone Dead Forever, fucking hell! Did I really play that guitar?”

What’s more, these fuckers lived it. The idea of ‘stage clothes’ was not a concept Lemmy recognised. ‘Philthy’ wore whatever he liked when he liked. Eddie favoured a black shirt, done up to the collar, long dark jeans studded along the seams with metal stars. For Lemmy it meant a black shirt open to the navel, an Iron Cross dangling from his neck, dark blue jeans, and always but always those dirty-white cowboy boots.

The band’s blood-oath: Born to lose, live to win.

“I walked into this chick’s flat once,” Lemmy told me. “ And she goes, ‘Argh!’ I said, ‘What the fuck’s the matter with you?’ She said, ‘You’re dead!’ I said, ‘I assure you I’m not.’ That was a rumour. I heard that one twice. From the time I stayed up for two weeks solid on Methedrine. You used to get it in glass amps. They used to put it in with hydrochloride BP with a skull-and-crossbones symbol underneath it. You were supposed to inject it but we didn’t inject it. We used to put five in a glass of orange juice and drink it – and go and talk to everybody in Hyde Park within half an hour! Zzzz! Ahhhh! Buzz saw mouth, you know?”

He narrowed his eyes. “That shit is lethal. But good fun, you know?” By the time Lemmy had stopped, “All me teeth had gone…”

It didn’t matter. When ‘Philthy’ Phil broke his wrist on tour, they simply gaffer-taped the drumstick to his hand each night. When Eddie kept quitting they just ignored him and dragged him to the next gig.

Lemmy had an answer for everything. I quizzed him once about his immortal line from Ace Of The Spades, about being born to lose, and how gambling’s for fools, ‘But that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t want to live forever!’

How true was it, though, I asked. Wouldn’t it come back to haunt him? “Of course!” he laughed. “But ‘forever’ is a long time. You could be 294 and not reach ‘forever’. But I think you’d be sick of it by then. I think anybody would be sick of it by then. Even me. And I like to stay up late, you know?’

He paused to blow cigarette smoke in my face. “Actually, I’d like to die the year before forever. To avoid the rush…”

When Eddie left for real in 1982, after an amphetamine-fuelled argument with Lemmy about keeping Motörhead metal (and not doing a cover of Stand By Your Man with Plasmatics singer Wendy O Williams), it was the end of the classic Motörhead line-up.

When ‘Fast’ Eddie died last month at the age of 67, it brought about another ending for the Three Amigos, following the deaths in 2015 of both Lemmy and ‘Philthy’ Phil.

What lives they lived though. As Eddie told me the last time we met, discussing the controversial track, The Chase Is Better Than the Catch from the Ace Of Spades album.

“It’s about the true life experience of what it’s like being in a band like this. Cos when you haven’t got a pot to piss in and slogging around the country and having a fucking laugh, you haven’t got time for thinking. If you got a drink and a joint and toot you figure your fucking life’s sweet, man, and a bird’s fucking sucking you off, what more do I ever want?”

The Essential ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke Motörhead Playlist

Ace Of Spades

As Eddie Clarke acknowledged there were many other technically superior guitarists, but none of them could come up with a death-grip riff like this.

 

(We Are) The Road Crew

If a guitar could learn to drink and smoke and fight and fuck all on its own, this is what it would sound like. Bludgeoning, relentless, undeniable, all bloody nosed.

 

Motörhead

Eddie’s secret ingredient as a guitarist – and the special sauce in the classic Motörhead line-up – was the comic invention of his playing. Like one punchline after another, ha fucking ha.

 

Overkill

One of the all-time epic Motörhead tracks, maybe even the best thing they ever did. Lead drums, lead bass, lead vocals and that glorious, crazed, speed-twitching lead guitar. And repeat…

 

Bomber

Another quintessential bugling, manic-laughter ‘Fast’ Eddie riff, so simple only a very complex, intensely fucked-up mind could have conceived of it. Not even a real solo just riff-riff-riff. Mental-metal deluxe.

 

Damage Case

Lars Ulrich was 16 the first time he heard this. Four years later when Metallica recorded their first album Kill ’Em All, it was like this track split into 10. Geddit?

 

White Line Fever

Lemmy sounds like he’s got a bottle stuck down his throat, Phil’s trying to sound like a proper drummer, and Eddie clearly doesn’t give a fuck. Nurse, quick, the screens…

 

Stone Dead Forever

Killer riff. Blood-spattered solo, spunk stains down the jeans. Lemmy, a giant gargling with nails wielding his bass like a knife. Phil fucking giving it… Did I mention the killer riff?

 

The Chase Is Better Than The Catch

Some female rock crits had a shit – calling it sexist! Most boy fans testified to its telling-it authenticity. Eddie ignored them all and just rode his guitar like a bitch. Oh, right, sorry…

 

Iron Fist

The last cool thing the Three Amigos did. A rewrite of Ace Of Spades, but so what? This was Motörhead, baby. They could do what they liked. Until Eddie left and they couldn’t anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden In Plain Sight: Slip Of The Tongue

“Any time, any place, I’m just the fool who puts a smile on your face…”

It’s 1989 and David Coverdale is putting on the moves like never before. The previous Whitesnake album, 1987, went mega-plat, MTV rolled over, and David (never Dave) even got his new “excellent piece of ass”, as he described her to me, in all the videos, helping him have even more hits.

Two years on what could possibly go wrong?

Well, just about everything. Except the music, which was glorious in that shamelessly, brilliantly, look-at-me Coverdale-way. And that voice, of course. Which after ‘Mistreated’ on Burn could never be thought of in any other way than utterly superb.

But no one was paying attention to that. They were too busy whispering to each other about how Steve Vai had – literally – been bought-in to bolster the line-up after Adrian Vandenberg had already co-written all the songs with David. Publicly, this was because Adrian had damaged his wrist and couldn’t play for a while. In reality, Vandenberg’s guitar parts were already recorded. But Vai refused to come onboard unless they stripped Adrian’s existing guitar parts from the tapes – and allowed Steve to re-record them, plus add his own ‘sonic tapestries’ on top.

Then came the videos. Where the videos for 1987 had all featured Tawnee Kitaen and had all been deliciously sexy and fun, the first for the new Vai-ramped ‘Fool For Your Loving’ was so dark you could hardly see the band, then had to do with just quick glimpses of Tawnee in drive-by silhouette. Instead it was now down to Steve Vai to do the slut writhing on the floor bit. I feel a little bit of sick in my mouth when I see the video even now.

And the song. ‘Here I Go Again’, upgraded from its 1982 Marsden-swagger into a John Sykes propelled MTV firework had worked brilliantly two years before. Attempting the same with the even older Marsden-Moody classic had the opposite effect. Swapping heartfelt shimmy for wank-off homo-erotica. The single was not a hit.

And nor was the next one, ‘The Deeper The Love’, but at least they brought Tawnee into the video within the first 10 seconds – only blonde, instead of the tawny (geddit) brown she had been before. And she was in a long black dress. With frills. Like a younger Stevie Nicks. Without the witchy-power. It didn’t work. Everyone just looked too smug.

By the time ‘Now You’re Gone’ was released as the third single, no one cared anymore. Same same same, only not as good.

And yet the album… I travelled with the band on some of their US tour that year and they were still awe-inspiring. The new material fit like a velvet glove (wrapped around a dildo, natch) and tracks like ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ and ‘Judgement Day’ were positively titanic. Vai was brilliant, the addition to the show of his extended solo spot adding thick icing to a very hot cake – the best two tracks from his also new then solo album, ‘The Audience Is Listening’ – action learned at the knee of his previous boss, David Lee Roth – and ‘For The Love Of God’ – celestial brain-quake learned at the knee of actual God.

And all the good stuff from before – ‘Slide It In’, ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’, ‘Still Of The Night’, ‘Here I Go Again’. In those days of Bon Jovi for breakfast and Motley Crue for tea, this was the real fucking deal. But the weird vibes surrounding the Vai appointment, the lack of one decent video and hit, the mistaken grasping for same-again likeness to 1987, it left the album stranded.

And that’s a shame. Listen to it now and hear how 1980s big-hair rock ruled the world, baby, when done right the way the ‘American’ Whitesnake could it. Hairy balls guitar. Hairy chest vocals. Hammer to head drums. Private jet sex and cocaine stained $100 bills.

‘Kittens Got Claws’? Oh yeah. And doncha wish your favourite band was hot like that?

Meat Loaf extract

Chapter Eighteen

Helicopter Al

Al Dellentash had balls of steel. He needed them to be. In the seventies, he had begun heading multimillion-dollar operations flying Pablo Escobar’s primo manufactured cocaine from Columbia to Carlo Gambino’s crime family in New York. Neither Escobar – then busy massacring police officers, judges, locals, and prominent politicians with impunity – nor the Gambino organisation – responsible, though never convicted, for nearly 200 contract-killings during the late-seventies and mid-eighties – had reputations as soft and fuzzy new-age employers, so you did your best not to fuck up. Al found out what the drug smuggling business was about when he flew his first mission, somewhere around 1974 he reckoned. Born in 1948, he’d had a pilot’s license since he was sixteen years old. It just seemed magical to him, a chance of freedom and escape from his humdrum life in New Rochelle, Westchester County, one of the plusher environs in New York State.

Al’s dad – Alfred Senior – was in construction – the chief ‘legitimate business’ owned by the Gambino family – and his mom was a local Republican and fine, upstanding American. Growing up, Al had just two passions: music and flying – well, three if you counted women, and four if you counted drinking and having a good time. He followed his father into construction, married young and had two kids, but he found suburban life stultifying. He bought a wrecked plane from a dead guy called ‘Flamin’ Eddie’ and discovered in the process that the bank would give him a substantial loan against the title of the aircraft. He set up a sales and charter operation at an airfield in New Jersey, where he ran into a guy called Lenny, who wanted to buy as many of these Swedish light planes with trapdoors in the bottom as Al could get his hands on. It turned out that flying drugs into America under-the-radar was a fast-growing business in the mid-seventies, and planes with trapdoors were perfect for the job. The New York Times had even written about it. Al read that some guys were making $50,000 per flight! That sounded good to Al, who seemed to be permanently on the breadline and struggling to keep his business going.

His first job for Lenny involved a trip to Belize. He used a Cessna Skymaster 337, which had its propellers on the front and rear, an unusual design. One of the Belize guys walked into the rear propeller almost as soon as Al had taxied to a halt. As he lay on the runway bleeding to death, a man pulled out a revolver and put the poor guy out of his misery right in front of Al. No fucking around.

Welcome to the jungle, baby…

Al got into the music business when he was chartered to pick up Mick Jagger and fly him from Woodstock to New York. He got talking to Mick and discovered that all of the rock bands that were making millions of dollars on the road in America were chartering their own planes, so Al forged a bank loan agreement to buy a Falcon jet and soon he was flying ELP and the Grateful Dead, Kiss and the Doobie Brothers, his plane full of rock stars, groupies, booze and everything else on the menu in the star-crossed 1970s. Al loved the action, absolutely fucking adored it, and soon he was rocking the skies with his own fleet, each chartered out to a different band. People magazine wrote an article about Al and his floating palaces of excess, kitted out with ‘thick carpeting, plants, phones, telex printer, electric typewriter, bedroom and bar’ – everything a self-respecting rock star might need at 30,000 feet.

Al boasted to his friends about his money and his lifestyle, about all of the contacts he’d made in the entertainment industry. Then he began to think that maybe he could become a mogul too, like Albert Grossman and all of those fat cats. He signed up a few bands and tried to manage them, but that didn’t really work out until one day in 1980, when a couple of guys he’d chartered flights for introduced him to David Sonenberg, music business lawyer, and manager of the writer and singer of the biggest album of 1978, Bat Out Of Hell.

The only problem was, Al was still in the drug-smuggling business via the Gambino family’s main drug trafficker, ‘Steve Teri’: a ruthless mobster named Salvatore Ruggiero – aka ‘Sal the Sphinx’, aka ‘Sal Quack Quack’, aka ‘Sally’. Steve Teri introduced Al to his ‘Columbian connection’, aka Carlos Lehder, a big-time cocaine supplier with a direct line to Pablo Escobar. Al pondered, it was strange how the drug business was a lot like the music business – you knew a guy who knew a guy, and you sort of hooked it all together and you were away, up into the clear blue skies, where no-one on earth could touch you… At least, that’s what Al thought, anyway. The perfect guy, then, to manage an overweight, oversensitive singer in a mid-career crisis – yet that’s what happened in 1981.

Around the time that Meat was finishing up Dead Ringer and making plans to go on the road: ‘David Sonenberg had come to me and asked if he might transfer half of my management contract to Al Dellentash,’ the singer later wrote. ‘I gave him my permission. Dellentash leased planes to celebrities. They called him ‘Helicopter Al’.’

Meat knew that Sonenberg was super smart, and that in many ways Dellentash seemed to complement him, to fit Sonenberg in the same way that he fit Jim. Sonenberg was a Harvard lawyer who dressed in expensive linen suits. Al was a more classic Noo Yawk Italian-American street guy… shirt unbuttoned to the navel, shades, chunky jewellery, moustache, respectable wife, lots of sexy girlfriends. Al was now the frontman in Meat Loaf’s management company, the negotiator, the guy who walked in and demanded the money. After all, once you’d negotiated with the Mob and Pablo Escobar’s guys, how hard was it to walk into CBS Records and get them to write a cheque? As the British writer Jeff Maysh put it: ‘Dellentash brought street charm and muscle to the bargaining table; Sonenberg crunched the numbers.’

It was Helicopter Al who’d tough-talked CBS into paying $1.5 million for the Dead Ringer movie. By the start of the eighties and his increasing involvement in Meat Loaf’s career, Al had money pouring in from all sides: from CBS (he’d got another $250,000 out of them for a Bay City Rollers album, which he had Dead Ringer producer Stephan Galfas oversee); from the aircraft leasing business, where he now owned three Convairs, two helicopters, a Boeing 707 and a Lear Jet; from the other business he conducted in the skies between central and North America…

With all of that cash burning a hole in his pocket he decided he needed an HQ fit for a mogul like him. He found a grand place on Riverside Drive on the West side of Manhattan and set about filling it with expensive crap. He had Louis XV furniture in reception; a pink ‘party room’ with a pale pink grand piano; a gold lobby; an in-house chef; all real rock star shit. In his office, Al’s desk was twenty-five feet long and his chair was from the first-class section of a decommissioned airliner. He had a bodyguard called the Brick, and as he told Jeff Maysh, had: ‘a full-time guy just to keep the fireplaces roaring at all times and a theatre room with a twenty-foot screen. We’d host sex parties with all the best girls.’

Sex parties were of no interest to Meat Loaf, with Leslie now expecting their first child together; a girl, Amanda, born in January 1981. In fact, Al’s excesses were starting to seriously freak Meat Loaf out. Al was full of stories – the Pakistan gunrunning trip that ended in a shoot-out; the box-loads of US currency he was moving to an offshore tax haven using his own planes… He’d get up in the middle of meetings and disappear, too, sometimes for days on end… As Meat Loaf recalled in his memoir, “The music biz was just a sideline for Al… He would tell these stories of flying to Libya with a load of automatic weapons.’

The idea was that the movie would not only be great (obviously, how could it not be with Big Al behind it…) but that the videos for the singles would be re-cut from the footage. The castings for Dead Ringer were held on Riverside Drive. While Al was calling-in girls to jiggle about in front of his twenty-five foot desk, he met Bonnie, a Playboy bunny for whom he would eventually leave his wife.

Rockin’ Rick Remembered

A year ago today we lost Rick Parfitt. A proper rock star, he was one of the loveliest musicians I ever met. We had been working on a show together at the time he died – An Evening With Rick – which with his new autobiography and solo album would have set him fair for 2017. But then he died last Christmas Eve.

So… I thought I’d show you this little biog I wrote for him just before he died. Nothing too deep, just bullet-points really. But hopefully with some of the real flavour of what it was like to know Rick. Merry Xmas everyone and god bless all of us.

Biography

When Rick Parfitt appeared on stage with Status Quo at what was supposed to be their farewell performance –at Milton Keynes Bowl, on July 21, 1984 – few amongst the 60,000 fans there that day truly understood why the band was breaking up – least of all, it seems, the band themselves.

Billed as The End of the Road show, “Up until the moment we walked off stage at the end, I’d sort of looked at the whole thing as a publicity stunt,” says Rick Parfitt now. “Then as the helicopter took off and I looked down at the crowd below, it started to sink in. This was no stunt. The band was over. Thank you and goodnight. I was heartbroken…”

With inter-band relations at an all-time low, behind the scenes his and Rossi’s personal lives were now in such drug-induced disarray friends privately expressed fears that one or both of them might die if they didn’t curb their excesses.

“The trouble was,” says Parfitt, “we were both completely gone in those days, so there was no one to apply the brakes. We didn’t know if we were coming or going and it didn’t matter, we didn’t give a fuck. Nothing mattered other than getting your next fix. We were gone and we weren’t coming back. Ever…”

The story of Status Quo was always essentially the story of two people: Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi: “The blonde good-looking one and the balding one,” as Rossi once said. Or: “A faggot and his friend,” as Rick jokingly puts it.

Parfitt continues. “These days, people see us as two peas in a pod; different sides of the same coin. But it wasn’t always like that and how we got there is still something I scratch my head about sometimes. All I know is, at some point the original band broke up but that, ironically, it proved to be the start of me and Francis really getting our acts together. First as people – and then as Status Quo.”

It was a rollercoaster ride that would see the band through some incredible highs – from opening Live Aid at Wembley Stadium with ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’, to Rick nearly dying several times through multiple heart attacks and cancer scares, precipitated by two decades worth of drugs and alcohol abuse.

“Drugs are such a cliché,” observes Parfitt. “Like the one that goes: things have to get worse before they get better. Well, that was certainly true for me. Things got as bad as anyone could imagine.”

The lowest point, he reveals, came with the death in 1980 of his two-year-old daughter, Heidi, drowned in the family swimming pool.

“It took me a long time to recover from the death of my beautiful little girl. I remember going into the garden at night at screaming at God, crying hysterically, demanding to know why.”

Over the years the band broke up, got back together again, shed members, managers, record companies, wives, girlfriends. “Some people say you have to sell your soul to rock’n’roll,” says Parfitt. “There’s definitely some truth in that.”

At sixteen, Richard John Parfitt (b. Oct 12, 1948, in Woking, Surrey) was already a veteran of the “holiday-camp cabaret circuit” when he met Rossi. At the time, the fair-haired guitarist was going under the name of Ricky Harrison in a cabaret trio called The Highlights. Rossi was fronting his band The Spectres.

“My first impression of Rick was that he looked like a flash poof,” recalled Rossi. Rick, who in reality was neither camp nor gay, simply remembers watching Rossi and his group rehearsing and feeling jealous. “They were playing ‘Bye Bye Johnny’ and it sounded absolutely fantastic. I was terribly jealous because by then I was starting to grow up and want to do my own thing – just like they were doing.”

It was another two years before Parfitt joined the band as rhythm guitarist. Signed to Pye Records in 1966, they were about to enjoy their first Top 10 smash with the flower-power derived ‘Pictures Of Matchstick Men’, replete with trendy Carnaby Street “threads.”

Parfitt: “People say what are the highlights of your career and it’s obvious to say Live Aid or working with Prince Charles and all that. But for me the major highlight of my career was hearing the band on the radio for the first time. I nearly fainted! I literally went weak at the knees. I was like, ‘Mum! Mum! Come quick!’ No drug ever gave me a high quite as good as that one…”

A follow-up single, ‘Ice In The Sun’, also made the Top 20 but subsequent releases flopped. Ironically, it was their failure to produce more copycat hits that allowed the band to “try things our way”; ditching their ornate pop style in favour of basic, unpretentious, four-square boogie.

They also grew the bobs out of their hair, swapping their cod-psychedelic image in favour of the basic T-shirt-and-jeans look they have maintained ever since. “It was a very easy look to maintain,” smiles Rick. “The older and more horrible the jeans looked, the better. I think I wore the same pair for about ten years.”

Such determination finally found its reward in 1973 – the year both the ‘Paper Plane’ and ‘Caroline’ singles hit the UK Top Ten – and the next ten years saw Quo enjoy an unbroken run of number one albums and countless hit singles that are as well-known today as they were when they were first performed on Top Of the Pops. ‘Down, Down’, ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’, ‘Again And Again’, ‘What You’re Proposing’…

By the start of the eighties everybody was familiar with the Status Quo sound. It didn’t matter whether you actually liked the jaunty riff to hits like ‘Whatever You Want’ or ‘Just Supposin’’, one listen and they would be stored in the memory forever, like a nursery rhyme.

“There’s no doubt a lot of our hits were what you might call ‘whistling milkmen’ songs,” laughs Rick. “Some people look down on stuff like that, but that’s what pop music is all about, isn’t it – making catchy songs? I did actually hear my milkman whistling ‘Whatever You Want’ once. I don’t think he even knew he was doing it or that it had anything to do with me. It was just something he had stuck in his head…”

But where other seventies rockers like Rod Stewart’s Faces or Thin Lizzy were eulogised for such populism, Quo were always stereotyped as being little more than ‘three-chord wonders’. An idea gleaned from their bloke-next-door image. By 1976, the sight of Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi hunched over their guitars, their hair obscuring their fretboards, had become such an enduring one that the Levi Jeans company offered to get involved in the promotional campaign for that year’s ‘Blue For You’ album and subsequent tour.

Because of that, says Rick, even after several hit singles and albums, “we still never considered ourselves big. We always felt like underdogs. But that’s showbiz. Whether people think you’re a bunch of wankers who can’t manage more than three-chords, or that you’re the greatest rock band in the world – that’s all that people want really, the fantasy.”

By the start of the eighties, even the “perks of the job” failed to excite. “I fell into the lifestyle very easily,” Parfitt admits. “I thought it was fantastic, but it was the start of a downward spiral. For years I was completely out to lunch – it cost me huge chunks of my life and two marriages. I still meet people who say, ‘Remember me? I’m the guy who put the roof on your house’, and I go, ‘What house?’ I was drinking a bottle of whiskey a day, plus two or three bottles of wine and doing three grams of coke – every day.”

Life on stage and off became one long blur: “I only just remember doing Live Aid. I was already out of it before we even went on stage at midday! Francis was the same. I’ve seen pictures of it since of course and the funny thing is I look quite normal. You’d never guess I was so fucking gone I thought I was still in the pub…”

Nevertheless, the worldwide acclaim that followed Live Aid revived Quo’s fortunes. ‘In The Army Now’, in 1986, was their first single to go to No.1 for nearly ten years and with a new line-up behind them, Status Quo was about to be re-born as a new, much more family-oriented attraction.

First though, they had to sort themselves out. “It wasn’t easy,” says Rick. “For years, I was either totally up, or utterly and completely down. No middle ground; no time when you were ever ‘normal’. We didn’t do ‘normal’. We thought normal was sitting there in a darkened room for five days with an ounce of coke.”

Even when he had a quadruple bypass operation following his first major heart attack in the late-nineties, within days Rick had discharged himself from hospital, “then went home, bought four grams of coke and a case of champagne. I figured I owed myself a big night after that.”

What finally brought an end to such dedicated rabblerousing, he says, was “mainly just getting older, I think. I just couldn’t take the hangovers anymore. The gap between feeling good and feeling bad was getting longer and longer. In the end, it starts to frighten you. It was like Jekyll and Hyde. You’d think, god, where am I going to end up this time? I just couldn’t stand it anymore…”

As a result, here in the second decade of the 21st century, the name Status Quo has become a British institution – darlings of the tabloids, relentless fund-raisers for royal charities, headliners of Glastonbury. Loved by students, grandparents and big sisters everywhere.

“You look out from the stage some nights and you can literally see three or four different generations of Quo fans, all bopping along together. It all makes for this wonderful atmosphere at the shows. Like the best of both worlds – a rock gig and a right old knees-up down the pub!”

The personal cost for Rick Parfitt, though, has continued being high. His first marriage to Marietta ended after the death of their daughter. Then he went through a multi-million-pound divorce case in the nineties with second wife, Patty – before getting back together again.

Then, in 2008, Rick married for the third time and became a father, at 60, to twins: Lily and Tommy. “My relationships with women have all be unbelievably complicated,” Parfitt admits. “I’m still trying to figure them out myself! All I can do is be truthful and let people make their own minds up.”

Parfitt admits he never dreamed his career would last so long. “I remember Francis and I having a chat back in about 1973 where we agreed that if we could hold on to our success for five years and put fifty thousand quid in the bank, we’d have made it. If somebody had told me then that one day I would have tax bills for more than that I would have keeled over!”

But then Rick Parfitt has never let anything get him down for too long. He cheerfully recalls how, after a spell of insolvency in the mid-1980s, the first thing he did was buy a Rolls Royce. Then get Patty to dress up as a chauffeur and drive him down the Kings Road.

“I was sat in the back waving at everybody and people were waving back. It was great!”

He says his main regret about the collapse in June [2016] which led to him leaving Quo and reconfiguring his life, was the five long months he was deprived of his driving license.

A petrolhead to rival Jeremy Clarkson, who swaps Bentley’s and Rollers as often as he changes socks, being unable to drive his latest love, a custom-built Porsche Panamera GTS, “nearly killed me all over again.”

However, having recently taken his driving test again and passed with flying colours he is now back behind the wheel.

“You couldn’t make up my life. People don’t now the half of it. Stand well back!”

One Thing About X-Mass

I like that small space of days before the Big One. When companies close early, when people flee from work. That’s when I enjoy driving around, turning up unexpectedly to get some unscheduled ‘stuff’ done. When everyone else has thrown in the towel or left early to get ‘ready’. It lets me off the hook. No pressure to get anything ‘done’, or not the usual kind. That moment when just briefly you may find yourself somewhere – else.

So I’m in the butcher’s. They don’t know me. And I ask: is it too late to buy a bird for X-Mass? The guy, tall, tash, traditional, looks at me, trying to size me up. Am I taking the piss? I add: not a turkey, a big chicken. He looks relieved. He won’t have to throw me out after all. Yes, he says, 3 kilos? Perfect, I say, not really knowing but imagining a lot of chicken sandwiches too.

That’s when the spirit jumps me. Next thing me and wife are driving around looking for somewhere  to buy vegetables. What shall we get? EVERYTHING! I say. A fish suddenly dreaming of warm water. So off we go. Cabbage, sprouts, carrots, parsnips, pigs-in-blankets, potatoes, chocs and sweets and… We see a book shop.

Too late. I’m in there in a trance. It is not a very good shop but I can’t help it. Trance, wander, trance, pick up, wonder, wife says: I’m carrying on down the street. Call me when you’re done. She’s still waiting…

There Ain’t No Sanity Clause

“Are you ready yet for Xmas?” Everyone says it like it’s somehow never been said before. Like we’re in some big arms race where should you get caught out, not having splurged on enough presents, cards, cakes, drink, TV, trees and tinsel and lights and please-kill-me-shitting-Xmas-songs-fuck-you-George-Michael, you will be shot.

I can’t stand it. I never have been able to. As a child my Xmases were so shite it would take me years to recover, if I ever did. Then in my late teens and 20s, as a loan soldier out there in the cold dark emtpywank, I would pretend to ‘get into the spirit’ then get as quickly out of my brain as possible. Not that that helped. Even my late-20s when I would be with she-who-was-dangerously-insane, we would start Xmas morning with a glass of champagne, Phil Spector’s Xmas album and present opening… ooh! Ahhh! Woooooooow! I love you too!

Only I didn’t. I hated the whole rotten ritual. When people tell me, “I love Xmas.” Or: “I love this time of year.” I take a step back and inwardly shudder, wondering what must be so wrong with them that they actually like all this skin-crawlingly horrible shit.

When my babies were small, it was fun. For five minutes. Except they would get you up way too early in the hungover dawn, then make a huge mess with all the wrapping and search for batteries and sugar-high choccies for breakfast and fighting and screaming over whatever. The whole such a fucking ordeal.

I dread it every year. And every year it gets worse. Oh, I get moments of disconnect pleasure. But then I get that throughout the rest of the year too. And yes, I feel the time-passing and forced refresh of the ‘new’ year. But I always fall towards the end of the year like a man passing out from a brain haemorrhage. An arrow through the head. A sudden shove under the train. And it’s cold and it rains so I feel like an actor and I think of Ma and I want to get back there…

Your face, your race, the way that you talk, I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk. And Xmas has nothing whatsoever to do with that. And never will have.

Freezing Asses

Snow up the wazoo. Ice in my fingers. Schools closed, roads undrivable. Keep going, Joe. You got to go, ho. Go ho go, like in New York City. Back in 72. When Thunders was still young and the boy with the name like a knife was still frantically learning.

Or not like that at all. Agency blues. The uber-agent anxiety. The proposal and counter-proposal. The end of the line looking you straight in the freezing ass. Cancer of the career. Give you 12 months. That’s the fear. The endless nightmare. Check the tarot. The End, but don’t be sad face, it’s all about new begins. New begins at 60. No consolation. No phone call. No ez-fx.

Not even a decent blog out of it. Just some kind of pressure. In the head. Outside the head. Frozen.

Robin 2 Post Mortem

I was surprised when I got to the gig last Tuesday night that I would be walking around with a mic in my hand, delivering my stuff to a seated crowd. At my readings, from which this show has sprung, I’m always seated too.

Not tonight. Also, instead of there being two 45-minute sets, with a 20-minute interval, they told me just to run straight through. 90 minutes, walking around, me and the mic, to people seated, no pressure whatsoever.

Well, maybe it’s the grand old age, maybe it’s the brand new pills, but I just thought, yeah, all right, and went for it.

And… flat start when I made a joke about Robert Plant (a local) being tight with money, and got dead silent disapproval as my reward (a joke!!), then – blimey! – it all warmed-up very nicely, to the point where the whole joint was laughing and applauding by the end.

I haven’t done anything exactly like that before. Oh, I’ve acted the goat on TV, on radio, in person, and all over every pub in the known rock world. But not straight like that, to a paying audience, no breaks, just me and them – us – for 90 minutes. Like a comedy act with the occasional horrors.

I loved it. When I got the signal from Keith the kindly sound guy that the time was up, I was amazed. It had flown by. Well, staggered briskly. And I hadn’t been pilloried, hadn’t seen any walkouts (which I have at my readings when the f and c words come out, as they always always always do, sorreee).

Then stood there signing books and doing selfies for another hour. What a incredibly lovely – and very funny in their own right – bunch of people. Got some honest feedback too. Told I should go and see Danny Baker, I might pick up some tips (cheers for that, I promise I won’t) and asked for the real real REAL story behind stuff I had just told them. (Which I did, sshhhh…)

What a night. The place was closed by the time I finished so I just went straight to my room and slept. Woke up like I’d just been hit by a truck. Then drove to work. And eventually into the back of another car. (Very minor, 1st gear kiss of bumpers, I came off worse, to the tune of £600 excess, thank you rock god.)

Would I do it again? Of course. The real question is: would you?

Robin 2 – Tonight!

Tonight – Tuesday, 8pm, December 5 – I will be appearing at the Robin 2, in Bilston. One of the country’s best rock venues. There will be ROCK. There will be METAL. There will be DRINKING. And there will be STORIES!!

Do come along. It’s about time we met – in person. About time you got to hear what happens when no one else is listening. Sssshhhh….

You can ask me anything you like. And I will tell your fortune. And reveal the truth behind such fun people as Ozzy, Pagey, Lars and James, Francis and Rick from Quo, Malcolm Young, Bon Scott, Rob and KK from Judas Priest, Axl, Slash, Phil Lynott and Robbo, the Lepps, Jon Bon, Lemmy, or should I say LEMMY.

And more.

Please also remember to bring your lady friends and family. For rock means nothing without the ladies. Let’s be honest, nothing means much without the presence of the female-spirit. Us men only live in their world because they let us. And here’s the sweetener, they have some of the very best stories to tell and you know they do. I have been lucky to know quite a few, from Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks to Debbie Harry, Suzi Quatro, and that whole generation of Ladykillers we used to worship and adore in Kerrang! – Doro, Lita Ford, Joan Jett, Lorraine Lewis, Kim and Kelly from Girschool, the Rock Goddess family, Pat Benatar, the Great Kat, Anne and Nancy Heart, Anne Boleyn, Motorcycle Irene… and of course not forgetting Shazza Oz in her younger rock heyday, when she really did have the X-factor.

£8 for tx if you buy before the show, £10 on the night. I’ll also be bringing a ton of my books to sign, all cheaper than you’ll ever find them anywhere else.

Feeling strange… like you need to just fucking ROCK? Step this way, the doctor will see you Tonight…

Meat Loaf Would Do Anything – And Did

The latest extract from my new biography, Like A Bat Out Of Hell, the Larger Than Life Story of Meat Loaf, out now.

The video they shot to accompany the ‘I’d Do Anything’ single was excessive even for those progressively over the top MTV-dominated times. Directed by twenty-eight-year-old Michael Bay, a graduate of the Jerry Bruckheimer-Don Simpson school of production aesthetics and soon to become better-known as the fast-cutting, style-over-substance, explosion-obsessed director of such ‘high concept’ action movies as Armageddon, Pearl Harbour, and the Transformers franchise, the seven-and-a-half minute video for ‘I’d Do Anything’ perfectly mirrored the convoluted, death-or-glory romance of Jim Steinman’s music.

There were two versions of the video – Bay’s extravagant almost-eight-minute spectacular, and a shorter, MTV-friendly version. The concept was based squarely on a cross between the Beauty and the Beast story and that of The Phantom Of The Opera. The full-length version begins with the noise of Eddie Martinez’s motorcycle guitars, the words flashing across the screen, ‘I Have Traveled Across The Universe Through The Years To Find Her…’ and then we’re off. A cloaked Meat-as-Beast-Phantom roaring towards the city limits on his customized Harley Davidson pursued by cops on bikes, in cars and helicopters, the outlaw chasing his destiny. Finally he escapes into his mist-encrusted gothic castle, past crosses and headstones, the cops mysteriously unable to follow up through the gates.

Cut to Meat-Beast-Phantom in profile, his face made-up to look very much like a commander of the Klingon Empire, all warts and ridged forehead, as he croons the opening lovelorn lines of the song, while regarding his long, werewolf-like fingernails. It’s ludicrous, bombastic; laughable even; an overfamiliar, sick-making fairytale we already know the ending to – and that’s just the first 45 seconds.

After that Meat-Beast is back on his bike, riding straight through walls as grand chandeliers crash to the ground, vanquished cops scattered to the four winds as Meat-Beast leaves his bike and begins swinging through a dark forest like an overgrown Quasimodo. The queasy spell only broken by the appearance of the beautiful Dana Patrick, not so much miming to Lorraine Crosby’s vocals as slinking around like the lead actress in a soft porn Playboy shoot.

At the video’s long climax, there is the moment when the goddess-like Patrick holds the beast in her tender embrace and – wait for it – he begins to turn human again. If only the beautiful princess had kissed the ugly frog, the way Karla De Vito had all those years before, the moment might have had at least a semblance of pathos. But she doesn’t of course because that really would have scared the big kids who owned the playlists at MTV.

Filmed on location in LA County in July 1993, the opening chase was shot at Chávez Ravine, with the interior gothic castle scenes filmed at Ned Doheny’s famous old Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. The cinematography was by Daniel Pearl, best known for his work on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, who described the video as ‘one of my personal all-time favourite projects.’ Meat’s make-up took two hours a day to apply and was designed to be scary, yet ‘with the ability to make him sympathetic.’ Filmed over four days in 90-degree heat, naturally, the whole thing went madly over budget. According to one executive, it ‘probably had the budget of Four Weddings And A Funeral’ – the hit movie being filmed at around the same time, which had a reported budget of $2.8 million.

The success of the single – and the album that followed in its wake – more than justified the outlay. Released in September 1993, ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’ went to No. 1 in almost every country in the world that bought pop singles – including spending seven weeks at No. 1 in Britain – and in the rest it went to No. 2. In January 1994, it won Meat Loaf a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, and is now remembered as one of the defining songs of a decade otherwise supposedly hung-up on grunge, Britpop, alternative rock, nu-metal and a dozen other sub-genres that meant nothing to most people. Most people may not have known much about the bleeding edge of popular culture but they knew what they liked and suddenly they all liked Meat Loaf again.

When it reached No. 1 in America, even Jim Steinman had to admit he was impressed. Meat Loaf nearly went out of his mind again. In the sixteen years since his only previous hit single at home in the US, ‘You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth’, Meat Loaf had released 27 singles – all flops. Now with the video in heavy monster rotation on MTV, the song all over every radio station nationwide, the biz was going crazy.

Meat became the must-have guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, he was asked to give and receive awards at various music, film and comedy shows. He was invited to sing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which he breathlessly described as one of the biggest highlights of his career. Even Dana Patrick received several offers for solo record deals from overexcited executives who hadn’t checked the small print and just assumed she was actually singing in the video.

After what felt like a lifetime of no one really seriously believing anything Meat Loaf did or said, now as the singer celebrated his forty-sixth birthday he had the whole world hanging on every word.

Sometimes, Meat Loaf told Rolling Stone in 1993, when he first heard Jim Steinman’s lyrics, ‘I think they’re the funniest things I’ve ever heard.’ Once he started singing them, though, they became as serious and unyielding as night. Because, he explained, he and Jimmy were more like an actor and playwright than a singer and songwriter.

‘I play everything for real. That’s the best comedy.’ He wasn’t a clown though. He was a method actor. ‘I’m different from Bette [Midler] or Cher or Sinatra,’ he declared, as though there was some confusion over the matter. ‘This might be a huge ego thing, but I tend to think of myself as the Robert De Niro of rock. I know that’s absurd, but my idols are either sports figures or Robert De Niro.’

It was as if he couldn’t stop looking in the mirror, asking fitfully as he flipped out his gun, ‘You talkin’ to me?’

And that the answer was and always would be: ‘Well, who the hell else are you talkin’ to?’

Ritchie Mysterio

There is always light beyond the dark. And for all my sticky-fingered stories from the past, there are just as many that bring me joy. And often laughter. Working with superb musicians like Jimmy Page and David Bowie, sitting round the campfire listening to the stories of Phil Lynott, Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy… priceless moments spread over many years. I was first published as a music journalist 40 years ago this year. Then worked in music PR, management, and for major record companies. Spent a lot of time with the heavy end of the spectrum… the righteous Iron Maiden, the fabulous Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Metallica, Dio and etc.

Easily one of the most fascinating musicians I ever encountered though was Ritchie Blackmore. As a teenager some of the first albums I ever bought were Fireball, Machine Head, Made In Japan and Burn. Then later my good friend Pete Makowski introduced me to the Blackmore-Dio line-up of Rainbow. Went to see them and said goodbye to my mind. Ritchie liked to play fast. He could burn a hole right through you with his guitar. But he also knew how to put the wind under your wings and send you soaring to the heavens.

There was obviously so much going on behind that inscrutable expression on his face, not just the multi-level music, but… something more.

When Purple reformed and made their UK comeback appearance at Knebworth in 85, I was supposed to do a phone interview with Ritchie Blackmore, to publicise the show. Then was told that, no, Ritchie had decided he didn’t want to do a phone interview, he would only speak in person. Only snag: I would have to fly out to New York to meet him. When? Uh, right now.

Oh shit. Really?

Yes, really.

Fuck it, let’s go! I got the plane later that day from Heathrow, and landed at JFK that evening, NY time, a few hours later body-clock-wise for me. I was told which hotel to go to and that Ritchie would be waiting for me in the hotel bar at 8pm. On the dot of eight, I went into the bar, did a thorough scour of the room – no Ritchie. I waited half an hour, sipped a beer, then sloped back to my room thinking maybe I’d got the wrong time.

I went down to the bar again an hour later and checked again. Still no Ritchie. I waited another half hour. Still nothing. By now it’s 3.00am UK time for me, and I am v-e-r-y-t-i-r-e-d. So I give up and go to my room thinking there might be a phone call and…zzzzzzzzzzz.

Until the phone rang. It was around 2.00am US time. It was Ritchie’s manager on the phone berating me for not showing up to meet Ritchie. “He waited for you all night in the bar!”

But, but…

“Well, he’s pissed off at you now and says you’ll have to come to him.”

And where was that?

“Long Island, where he lives.”

(For those of you that don’t know, Long Island is about 50 miles from New York.)

But, but… how on earth would I get there?

“You’ll have to get a train.”

What?

“Oh, and he says you’ll have to play football with him. He’s got a game on tomorrow. He’ll lend you some boots.”

Then he hung up.

Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep after that. Long Island… train… boots… Ritchie pissed off…

Looong story short… They eventually sent a car to ferry me out to Long Island. It was after the football match. I was taken to a beautiful restaurant where they clearly knew Ritchie and had saved him the best table in the place. I’d been there about 10 minutes when in he came – the man in black – along with a couple of friends. We sat down together, had a wonderful dinner. I got out my old-fashioned cassette recorder, and he gave me one of the best interviews I had ever done.

I laughed quite a lot because Ritchie Blackmore has a wonderful sense of humour – blacker than blacker, but of course – and when we were done I was taken in my very flash car back to the airport and flew back to London.

There were other occasions our paths crossed, at Purple gigs, until he finally bailed. Not for Mr Blackmore the inanities of stringing out a career based on past triumphs.

When he formed the marvellous Blackmore’s Night in the mid-90s, it was thrilling. Yes, he received a certain amount of WTF from hardbitten rock crits, but for me what he was doing with the obviously incredibly talented Candice Night was astonishing – brave and bold. I even loved the stage outfits. Medieval? But of course. Why not? I caught the show at a venue I don’t recall the name of but in Aylesbury (I think), somewhere in the mid-00s, and it was fantastic. Candice not only sings, she charms, she radiates. While Ritchie also radiates but in his own deeply individual fashion, that is, unique.

Then just when you thought you had it figured out, out came Blackmore’s singing electric guitar, sounding better, more mellifluous than ever.

I love traditional music. My father played it, my mother sang it. Albeit with more Irish and Scots emphasis. But so much of the sound and instruments – the deep spirit and ancient magic – overlap. It was sitting listening as a child to the stories my father and mother would tell deep into the night after a gig, laughing and drinking with their other beardy muso friends, that I acquired my taste for storytelling. How I became a writer – and lover of music.

Cut to now and we have Blackmore’s Night touring and Rainbow. Why doesn’t he get more credit? No offence to certain other guitarists of Blackmore’s generation but where are their bold new musical directions? Their risk-taking? Mayhap they are all Wind-Suckers! Hufty-Tufties with Noses of Wax. (Look that one up.)

The Castle

This is a thumbnail of some of the stories we might get into at the Robin 2 show in Bilston next Tuesday December 5. I’ll also be selling signed copies of several of my different books, all brand new but cheaper than you can buy them anywhere else including Amazon. Hope you can make it.

I’m writing a piece at the moment about a certain rock festival from the past that has since gone down in history. It has stirred up memories of other festivals from the past I found myself an often confused participant in: the US Live Aid in Philadelphia in 1985; Moscow Music Peace Festival in 1989; both the first and second, utterly calamitous Rock In Rio festivals in 1985 and 1991; various Readings, Milton Keynes Bowls, and so on down the years. Plus all the Castle Doningtons that I was a more willing, if often less reliable witness to. Back when no one referred to as the Monsters Of Rock festival, even though that’s what it was, but simply Donignton. As in, “You going to Donington this year” Answer: “Do bears wank in the woods?” Well, bears will wank anywhere but you get the drift…

Back when men were men and women stayed well away – unlike the rock festivals of the present century, where the place is pleasingly overrun by women of all ages, backgrounds and bra-sizes.

My first visit was 33 years ago, in 1984, the year when Van Halen – with a JD-guzzling, ray-catching Diamond Dave – blew the place up only for AC/DC – with a cloth cap-wearing, possibly ferret-concealing Brian Johnson – to send the pieces spinning like shrapnel into orbit. I don’t remember much about that end of the day, though. For me the festival was all but over before it had begun. Me and my drug buddy Krusher and our friendly record company girl, Kelly, had set off from the tower block we all lived in, in the pre-gentrified London Docklands, in a car fortified with a bottle of Mescal (worm curled up invitingly in the bottom), a bottle of Old Granddad whisky, two cases of warm lager, three grams of sparkly pharmaceutical cocaine and a small plastic sack of jolly green giant weed.

I mean, man, we were fuck-headed before we’d even hit the Watford Gap. How we ever got to the site without killing ourselves and/or others none of us could say the next day, but somehow we did. I remember falling out of the car in the VIP parking area before hobbling on my knees towards the backstage enclosure. The only bands I remembering reviewing were Y&T, who I enjoyed while lying face-down on the ground, and Gary Moore, who I managed to turn onto one side for. Well, I was being sick at the time and it seemed like the right thing to do.

But then I don’t recall much about the next 12 months either. Indeed, in my memory it’s like I woke up again at the 1985 Donington festival just in time to catch Marillion sloping onstage. We had a hotel to stay in that year. The same one I stay in now whenever I’m in the Notts/Derby area, weirdly, but while I couldn’t remember anything about it at all, I did recall sitting in the bar the night before the show when an impossibly young and keen Jon Bon Jovi came bounding over to tell us how excited he was to be there.

I remember us all smiling indulgently and waiting for him to go away so we could go back to our drinking. Later that same night, Venom singer Cronos, who was also there for some reason, passed out at the table and me and Lars Ulrich of Metallica had our pictures taken standing next to his prone, face-down figure. Our cocks out and pointing at his ears, big silly grins on our faces.

The following year wasn’t any better. The crowd was mean, throwing bottles of piss at the stage throughout the entire show – so much so Radio 1 DJ Tommy Vance went on in an American football helmet. “You’d think they’d be grateful,” said the presenter of the only national rock show in the UK in those days. “But they don’t give a fuck!” No one did. Hanging out with ‘spoof’ Comic Strip rockers Bad News, who were filming themselves pretending to be a real band, Ade Edmondson was so ‘in character’ he seemed genuinely upset when the crowd proceeded to bottle them off.

Motorhead fared better, of course, as no one had the guts to try throwing anything at Lemmy. But only Ozzy, who was headlining, really got away with it, after picking up the first bottle of piss that hit him in the face and drinking it. “More!” he screamed. “I’m thirsty!” That halted the bottle-throwing – briefly.

The following year, 1987, when Bon Jovi headlined, was more together but dull as ditchwater by comparison, enlivened only by a seriously pissed-off James Hetfield threatening to kill Jon Bon for daring to helicopter over the stage during Metallica’s set, thus causing the for once female-oriented crowd to begin screaming at the clouds and forcing their boyfriends to take their eyes from the stage right in the middle of chanting “Die! Die! Die!” during ‘Creeping Death’.

Biggest and best of all, though, was 1988, the year it all went so spectacularly right with what we knew even on the day would be the best Donington bill ever (Iron Maiden, backed by Kiss, David Lee Roth, Megadeth, Guns N’ Roses and Helloween) – and yet so tragically wrong when two young fans were trampled to death in the rain-swept swampland surrounding the stage during GN’R’s set. “Don’t kill yourselves!” shouted Axl unwittingly as he exited. Oh, how we laughed. Not knowing yet how hard others would be left crying.

Earlier on the tour, when the festival reached Holland, I had been the onstage host. No helmet needed that day. The hash tents kept the crowd happy and high. Anthrax was on the bill that day and they dared me to jump onstage with my trousers round my ankles. Like I ever walked around any other way at festivals. I also recall standing with an intensely morose David Lee Roth as he perused the crowd before he went on. Within seconds of hitting the stage, though, he was the laughing, jiving, rock clown of all the videos. “Wow!” he trilled. “We’ve got a lot of people here tonight!”

Paul Stanley, who was there with his new ‘girlfriend’ Samantha Fox, stood next to me watching Roth, mouthing the words. I looked at him, puzzled. “Shit,” he smiled, “Dave’s been saying that every night for the past 10 years.”

The Real Story Behind Paranoid…

… not the song, but the book I wrote and first published in 1999 – and then in unedited, unexpurgated form as a Kindle in 2014. Putting this here in case anyone who is coming to the Robin 2 in Bilston next Tuesday worries I  might be afraid to go dark. Well, ho, ho, ho…

Iggy Pop once told me that what he called “the Christ-age” – that is, 33 and a third – was the most important moment in a guy’s life because, as he put it, “you either die or you ascend to heaven…” Then looked at me and added without smiling – “… or to hell.”

Iggy was right. At the time I wrote Paranoid, I was 39 and had been living in hell for six years. Ever since I’d walked out of the game called fame and hung up my rock writing boots for what I was determined would be the very last time. Man, I was done, you know?

Done with bleating rock stars – take it from me, get to know one really well (hi, Axl), you’ve got to know them all – done with PRs more concerned with crawling up their clients’ arses than actually doing their jobs. Done with record company nitwits trying to sell me their shit as though it was gold.

Most of all, done with myself. Between the ages of 19 and 33 I’d done nothing but write about and work with rock bands. In print; on TV; on the radio; in the bath. (That is, when I wasn’t dishwashing or on the dole.)

Dude, I’d monkeyed with them all. Snorted gear off Phil Lynott’s plectrum; woken up in bed drunk with Steve Clark; helped Ozzy cook Sunday lunch; had a shit and wiped my hands on the curtains at Lemmy’s; shagged [FAMOUS ROCK STAR]’s wife while he slept in the next room. I’d even been onstage with some of them (Iron Maiden, Marillion, Dread Zeppelin…) and made an album of my own (don’t ask).

And what had it all taught me? Only the deep, dark stuff; the nasty shit that leaves the stains that never wash off. Very little of the joy we imagine as teenagers sitting on our beds listening intently to the latest masterwork from one of the superhumans that made albums.

At least, that’s how I viewed it at the time I wrote Paranoid. By then, I was on the outside, but no longer looking in. Things that had amused me with wrigglement at 25, made me twitch with nausea at 35. And I was bitter. All my so very close rock star friends that I had given my days and nights to for so very long were now living somewhere over the (Hollywood) hills and far away (from wherever I was).

And I was broke – I have always somehow managed to be broke, it’s just a matter of degrees – but this was serious now. I literally had nothing. Not a chair to weep in, not a bed to wank on. I was friendless and without glee. So I had decided to write the rock book to end all rock books, the one that came clean finally, because I was clean finally and could see at last what I thought there was left worth seeing.

Ooh, I was gonna tell it. Bam! Fuck you very much.

And, well, I did. At which point something changed – something died and something was born or reborn, depending on whether you’re Hindu or Hullabaloo – and like a snake shedding an old stinky skin, I found the lonely tin I’d been floating in for so long suddenly re-entering earth’s orbit. And at great speed.

For between finishing Paranoid and getting married (the very next day, bizarrely), a new magazine was about to draw breath, like a premature birth, soft and whiny and just a little bit too early, but here nonetheless so now we’d all have to deal with it – called Classic Rock. The older-offspring of an already established magazine I’d also work for called Metal Hammer.

And that was it: new leaf, new planet and, best of all, brilliant new rock mag.

I thought, “Shit! Is it too late to stop them printing that fucking book? If they read that I’m fucked!’

It was. I am.

Did I Mention I Was Doing A Gig?

Yes, at the Robin 2, in Bilston, Wolverhampton, on Tuesday December 5. Tix £8 in advance, £10 on the night.

Telling stories. The usually unprintable kind. Like this one…

It’s different now of course but back when I started, rock writers were regarded with almost as much intrigue as rock stars. With no internet, no MTV and only Top Of The Pops and Radio One to sift through, usually in vain, for the music you loved, weekly music papers like Sounds and NME were the main gateways to the stars, their top writers the angels-in-human-form you relied on to convey messages to and from the gods.

If there was one thing better than sitting listening to the new Zeppelin album, it was sitting reading Nick Kent’s latest interview with Jimmy Page while listening to the new Zeppelin album. As for reviews, I always imagined some soundproof room where, say, Geoff Barton would be seated on the throne, headphones clamped tight to his head, nodding along taking notes as he sought to unfurl the mysteries of the latest Kiss live album. At night they would all convene – rock stars and writers – at some guest-list-only club where they would laugh and snort cocaine together while digging the latest Aerosmith bootleg and taking their pick of the resident groupie population.

It was an illusion I continued to labour under right up until I began scribbling my own reviews for Sounds, in 1977. On those brief occasions when I was allowed into the Sounds’ office to collect whatever crumbs were left for the likes of me on the shelf of LPs that no-one else wanted to review, I was disappointed to note how unerringly it looked like every other dull office I had ever dragged my feet in. No music blaring, no fat joints being rolled, not even any good-looking chicks.

I blamed punk, which had arrived onto the London music scene at the same time I had, though with somewhat more effect. I had arrived too late and with too little, that was all. The days of Pete Makowski riding around on the back of a motorcycle with gun-toting members of Lynyrd Skynyrd were simply over.

Or were they? When the magazine rang one day and asked if I’d be “into” interviewing Ian Hunter, I was thrilled as a) I’d never actually interviewed anybody before and b) I had only recently taken down pictures of Mott The Hoople (and all the other pre-punk “old farts” it was no longer socially acceptable to admit you ever liked) from my bedroom wall. Not that I had ever stopped listening to Mott or The Hoople. But you could do that when no-one else was around, like playing Subbuteo.

Best of all, interviewing Hunter would include a genuine slice of early-70s extravagance in the shape of a “limo” which would pick me up from my “pad” and whisk me to the plush studio outside London where the sun-glassed one was working. As my pad was my parents’ house this involved the somewhat surreal sight of my mum and half the neighbours in the street waving me off as the car wafted out of view.

Even harder to take in, though, was what awaited me inside. A fully stocked bar, a very diva-ish PR lady, all cigarette-holder and champagne, and, more ominously, a dour-looking older woman writer from Record Mirror who had plainly not only Done It All but was currently overseeing mass-production of the low-cut T-shirt that went with it. Needless to say, I was utterly out of my depth and sat there forlornly as the two spent the entire journey chatting away about the sorts of people I had only ever seen pictures of or read about in the music press gossip columns: who fucked who and why and when and what everybody else thought about it, darling.

Fortunately, the lady PR had handed me a bottle of cognac and so I had at least one friend I could turn to in the 90 minutes it took to reach our destination – and for me to finish the entire bottle. Not that I was pissed. I was much too nervous for that. It was only when I fell out of the limo and practically into the arms of Ian Hunter, standing in the courtyard of the farmhouse residential studio waiting for us that I realised just how shitfaced I was.

“Ian,” tinkled the lady PR, waving her perfumed cigarette, “this is Mick from Sounds. He’s a big fan.”

“Is that right?” said Hunter, looking me up and down and ignoring the hand I held out. “I’ve got a son about your age.”

And that was it. I was dead in the water before the ship had even set sail.

He turned to greet the dowager from Record Mirror. Old friends, darling, from the Dudes tour. Kiss, kiss. Much laughter. They walked arm-in-arm towards the studio while I followed at a safe distance behind. For the next two hours I was told to “sit there and keep out of my way” while Hunter went about his business, pushing faders, twiddling knobs, while laughing and joking with Mrs Record Mirror. Eventually we were led into a side room where, because he was so busy, it had been agreed that we should interview Ian together. I fished out my old cassette recorder from the polythene shopping bag.

Hunter glared at me again. “I don’t do tape-recorders,” he said. What? But how would I record the interview? “What’s the matter? Don’t you do shorthand? Aren’t you a proper journalist?”

Of course I don’t do fucking shorthand, I wanted to say. Of course I’m not a proper journalist. I’m from Sounds. Then noticed the old cow from Record Mirror sitting poised with notebook and pen. She kindly tore off a page for me to scrawl on while I fished around in my pockets for a biro.

There followed the most excruciating hour of my young non-journalistic life as Hunter directed all his attention to competent, old-friend Record Mirror, and barely more than a sneer to twatted and drunk young Sounds.

In the limo on our way back, I was handed another bottle of cognac while Lady PR and Queen Mirror resumed their rarefied dialogue. Soon, however, the queen had begun to doze, at which point Lady PR ran her fingers over the crotch of my jeans and pulled me close. “Did you get what you wanted?” she asked, before plunging her tongue into my grateful-for-the-attention mouth.

I supposed it would have to do.

Winter Diet

This time of year is aways tricky for us fat bastards, so here are some useful tips for keeping off the pounds this winter as the days get darker and the Season of Goodwill and Suicide leaps upon us. Try this weekly diet and the pounds will literally float away.

Monday. Start the week right with two double espressos, two over-boiled eggs and a slice of burnt-black toast. That will keep you going until lunchtime when you will need two espressos and a large cup of cappuccino with an extra shot – milk or soya optional. And don’t forget the sugar! Shovel it in, as my nasty old dad used to say.

At this point a packet of biscuits is useful. Make sure it is a new packet, that way you can keep nibbling at it for the rest of the afternoon.

Dinner. Local pub. A roll of any description and four- to six-pints of strong ale accompanied by four double whiskeys. Single malt if you can stretch to it, but Jameson’s will also suffice. If feeling especially peckish, a packet of plain crisps is also a good idea.

Bedtime. Two bottles of mineral water and a sedative to ensure a restful night’s sleep.

Wake up and repeat for the next 48 hours. Expected weight loss – three-to-four pounds.

Thursday. If you’ve been following the diet properly so far this week you deserve a treat. So off to the Groucho (other private members’ clubs are available) for lunch with an old friend who also happens to be following the Winter Diet.

Go nuts and have a starter – two vodka martinis should do it. Followed by soup. Then wine, can be red or white, or best of all a bottle each, followed by coffee and brandy – or whiskey, whatever your body is telling you.

Home in time for the pub. A roll but only two pints of strong ale and one double-whiskey. You don’t want to be a pig. Expected weight loss two-to-three pounds

Friday. Normal day-time routine followed in the evening with ‘business’ dinner. Why not try an Indian? After all, it’s the end of the week and this is the ‘sugar lump at the end of the race’. Order four large bottles of Kingfisher beer – beer of Kings – two double whiskeys, and a curry and rice – you can take most of the food away with you at the end of the night if you want, and feed it to the dog who will shit everywhere in the night giving you a flying start to…

Saturday morning, aka The Weekend, aka Fun Time. See if there’s a party on somewhere Saturday night. If not why not throw a party of your own? Invite everyone to bring a bottle. Lay on some Pringles, and being the genial host, splash out on several boxes of ale and wine.

Sunday. Give yourself the day off. Lay in bed until the room stops spinning. Then come dark manage to hold down a mug of tea and a bucket of water. Eat some aspirin. Stand under the shower for a full five minutes. No need to bother with all that troublesome gel, just step out and straight into the clothes you were wearing the night before. Ah, that’s better!

Then weigh yourself. And… feel amazing! Be proud of how much weight you’ve lost in the last seven days – nearly 10 pounds! Well, get you, skinny arse! The chicks are never going to be able to resist you now.

Telling Tales

You know what they say: one door closes. Then another and another and another…

Then someone opens the window a crack, you say fuck that, put your whole boot through it, thrill to the sound of it smashing to pieces, and finally get some air. Bloody cold, of course, it being this time of year. But definitely breathable.

So… just been talking to KK Downing about my upcoming Robin 2 gig in Bilston and he asked if it was going to be like my old Monsters Of Rock show on Sky. I hadn’t thought of that. But what a good idea. Too late to organise for the Robin show, but maybe next time…?

Of course, you’d need guests – and music – and you. What do you think?

MEANWHILE… the December 5 show is going to be something more intimate. I shan’t be removing any clothes you’ll be relieved to learn, but I am going to come amongst you. That is, in the sense of making sure everyone has a drink in their hand first – including me – then settling down to tell a few stories. The don’t-say-I-told-you-BUT kind.

Some of you have been kind enough to send in some questions. Some more of you should too – I will be answering everything and anything you can think of. EVERYTHING and ANYTHING. God help us. I will also be bringing some books to sign for anyone that’s interested. All cheaper than in the shops or amazon. All from my own collection. All personalised, you might say. With skulls and kisses and other obscenities – especially for you.

And speaking of obscenity… I hope you don’t mind swearing. I mean, you know, fuck off if you do, fuck off if you don’t. I don’t fucking mind. Just don’t expect it to be asterisked out of the conversation. I can’t help it. I really can’t. I like it too much. I’d even say it’s impossible to talk about people like Ozzy, Priest, Zep, Lemmy, Metallica, AC/DC, Slash and Axl without recourse to words like cunt (the most used word in Scotland and Ireland) and fuck (the most used word everywhere else in the world).

Oh, and wait till I tell you about the time Kate Bush wanted my body. Or Stevie Nicks tried to seduce me. That’s how I remember it anyway, ladies. I was getting a lot of signals anyway, put it like that. But those are two-pint stories. Wait till we get to the double-whiskies…

Who’s up for it?

Malcolm

I wanted to say something as soon as I heard, like everyone else. But I knew what was coming – the plaudits, the sentimentality, the nostalgia, the don’t speak ill of the dead obits by the same people that think Guns N’ Roses are the same band today as they were in the 80s. The people who now bow and scrape to the name AC/DC because it’s the law. The new classic rock reality where we just have to love them simply because the fuckers have been going longer than most of the people sucking it all up now have been alive.

And there’s a real point to be made about that, actually. Malcolm really was the hotshot rhythm dynamo, the cat who got the cream when it came to coming up with so many great riffs, great chug-a-lugs, great hangs.

He was much more than that though. He was the band leader. He cracked the whip. Hard. Every successful band has one – Axl in GN’R, Iommi in Sabbath, Page in Zep, Harris in Maiden… The one who isn’t afraid to tell the others to shut the fuck up and do it his way. Malcolm was harder than most. A mangled-faced street urchin from the Glasgow projects who hired and fired at will. Who beat the shit out of Phil Rudd then slung him out of the band. Who told Jonno to keep his mouth shut onstage when he first joined cos no fucker in the audience could understand a word the big Geordie said. Who got rid of Mutt Lange after the producer had gifted them their legend-status with Highway To Hell, Back In Black and For Those About To Rock – because he resented the money Mutt was making and figured he’d learned enough to do it without the producer.

Malcolm was wrong and the band almost sunk without trace in the late 80s because of it. But then this tough nut came back and did it all again in the 90s, leaning on the ancient formula for sure but just dig that face-slapping rhythm, getcha rocks off at the sheer audacity of the cunt.

One thing about Malcolm, he may not have been the nicest man in the room, ever, but you couldn’t keep him down. No matter how hard you beat him. He just came back and kicked your ass some more.

Of course we knew he was going. The Alzheimer’s had been there for years. We’d already bid him adieu. We just didn’t expect him to go so soon. 64 – that’s five years more than me. Five years and several lifetimes getting wasted on the hellish highway, wanting blood, letting it be rock, going down, ruby, ruby…

That just leaves Angus. Angus and when he’s around, Axl. Is it enough? What that and the music? More than a touch too much. What a brilliant, bad-assed little bastard he was though.

Meat Loaf Extract 4

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.

Meta Loaf Biog Extract 3

Extract No. 3 from my new Meat Loaf biography, Like A Bat Out Of Hell, out this week

On paper, Amherst was about as far removed from the countercultural remedy Hair espoused as it was possible to be, but it wasn’t completely immune to the changing times, the sudden arrival of vibe and connectedness, of revolution, daddy. Nowhere in America was and twenty-year-old Jim Steinman was determined to push it, or at least try it on, see how it looked, flaunt it, exploit it. He started small but defiantly weird with a short-lived drama class offshoot group he named Clitoris That Thought It Was a Puppy. Funny, ha, yeah, don’t bogart that joint my friend…

Things got more real when, in March 1968, he wrote the music for an Amherst production of Bertolt Brecht’s modernist play A Man’s A Man, in which the playwright tells the story of a hapless civilian who is transformed into the perfect soldier, exploring human personality as something malleable, interchangeable, that can be picked up and put back together into new shapes like a puzzle, a bigger, more effective machine: a parable that the Pulitzer Prize-winning American critic Walter Kerr described as a ‘curious foreshadowing of the art of brainwashing.’ Jim, the puppet-master in the making, was enthralled by the idea.

He followed that, in May 1968, as director this time of an Amherst production of Michael McClure’s The Beard. The McClure production edged Amherst more explicitly towards the counter-culture. Thirty-five-year-old McClure was a refugee from the Beat Generation of writers, one of the five poets who read at the famous San Francisco Six Gallery reading in 1955 (where Allen Ginsberg first read ‘Howl’), as immortalized in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. Since then the poet who Barry Miles famously once described as ‘the Prince of the San Francisco’ had transmogrified into a hippy, counterculture-vulture, giving a reading at the epochal Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park in January 1967, befriending Jim Morrison of The Doors, whose bad-dream poetry he indulged, and writing The Beard, a suitably wiggy play built around a what-if meeting ‘in the blue velvet of eternity’ between Billy The Kid and Jean Harlow, with a theme exploring McClure’s ‘Meat Politics’ theory that humans were nothing more than ‘bags of Meat’.

Kenneth Tynan described The Beard as, ‘a milestone in the history of heterosexual art.’ Jim loved its unhinged depiction of the male-female relationship with its almost cliché obscenities and Grand Guignol set pieces, the gloriously spiraling out of control hurricanes of verboten emotions and final, coming together to be torn apart kiss-off. What Variety called ‘a reduction of all male-female spats, courtships, fetishes, etc, to simple animal circling, snarling, sniffing, teasing…’ Exactly the sort of thing Jim liked to write about in his music, to suffuse his own fantasy courtships with, male or female.

Even The Beard was nothing, though, compared to Jim’s plan for his senior year, a musical that would, in his words, ‘make Hair look like Hello Dolly’. The fact that it would count towards his final graduation mark was neither here nor there. Jim’s aims were far loftier than that, and they went beyond simple outrage – any fool with a flower in his or her hair and a bare breast could pull that off. The musical would be called The Dream Engine and it would be the first visit to the interior hinterland that Jim had been cultivating, a place where his fantasies and obsessions could be fully expressed and visualised.

‘I was flunking all over the place,’ he explained. ‘I had to convince the college governors that I could do this project. So I went to see them, and they were very impressed by my idea. But the main guy reaches behind him for this folder and says: “Well, it’s all very interesting this stuff, but we do have to deal with reality. The facts show that you have 19 per cent in physics and 32 percent in calculus. How do you explain this?” I thought… well, I’m basically fucked here. So I said, “I guess I’m better at math’s than I am at sciences”. Then they all broke up laughing, and I’m convinced that’s why they gave it to me.’

The story wasn’t up to much, a simple enough yarn about a character called Baal who falls in with a tribe of kids living a violent and primitive life on the California coast. But the concept and the themes were outrageous and provocative, full of the bullish confidence of privileged, un-wasted youth. Jim told the Amherst College newspaper, The Record: ‘The flower child, sunshine hippie has been replaced with a far more dangerous kind of kid, conditioned by the brutality of assassinations, a war that goes on forever, police riots in Chicago, a political system that refuses to change. American children are being transformed into revolutionaries, willing to fight in the streets if necessary. I think it’s more dangerous to live in Greenwich Village today than to fight in Vietnam. The play tries to reflect that physical and moral danger. This is not, I think, the usual kind of musical.’

Cringe-making though the remark about Vietnam was, The Dream Engine certainly caught the moment exactly as Jim had wished it. Jim took the role of Baal, a character he described as ‘a cross between Che Guevera, Mick Jagger and Billy the Kid,’ and encouraged the director, his classmate Barry Keating, to push hard, ‘using many of the techniques of the avant-garde radical theatre’ to produce something purposefully provocative. ‘It has been a trying experience, from beginning to end,’ Jim explained earnestly in his college newspaper interview. ‘But it has been the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. It may offend some people, but I think it will stand on its own as a work of art.’

That is, he hoped it would offend ‘some’ people. The Dream Engine played at Amherst’s Kirby Theatre for four nights from Friday, April 25, 1971 – but it took just one performance for Jim to know that he was onto something. Speaking in 2003, he gleefully described the musical as ‘a three-hour rock epic with tons of nudity, it was everything I dreamed of. It got closed down by the police. Written up in the newspapers. Caused a sensation.’

More important than any of that, though, was the intense reaction the play got from Joseph Papp when he turned up unexpectedly one night – and became so overinvolved he went backstage during the intermission and talked Jim into signing a piece of paper giving the impresario the rights to take the play to his Shakespeare In The Park festival. Fresh from producing Hair on Broadway, Papp, the Shakespeare evangelist, the experimental theatre guru, felt The Dream Engine offered even more potential for helping define the era: these weren’t professional actors dressed up as hippies, these were college students, the real children of the revolution.

‘It was like one of those legendary stories,’ Steinman recalled in 2003. ‘He was in the dressing room and I remember signing the paper, I didn’t know what I was signing,’ he laughed. ‘I just said what the hell, it’s better than going to graduate school studying film. That’s what I was going to do. I also remember we were all nude because the second act was almost all nudity.’ More laughter.

It was the start of a significant working relationship that would last for almost seven years and would underpin every move Jim would make in his career. ‘I identified with [Papp] immediately because he saw no difference between Shakespeare and Hair, basically. It was all theater and I grew up with opera and rock’n’roll and didn’t see any difference… Papp became sort of my surrogate dad. He loved being a mentor to people and he sort of took me in.’

Within an hour or so of his first original musical hitting a stage, Jim had been recognised as an extraordinary talent, his musical universe already fully acknowledged. Indeed, though The Dream Engine would never finally reach New York, Papp’s vision was born out for decades to come as Jim’s musical themes and motifs became obsessive recycled and revisited, expanded and refined. ‘I still think it’s the best thing I’ll ever do and it’s all been downhill from there,’ he would say, not even half-joking.

The story turned on what he later described as ‘a really violent pack of kids running amok n some unnamed Californian city, warring against church and state, cops and baron robbers, ‘basically like the Lost Boys. It was all sort of a science fiction version of Peter Pan – that’s always been my biggest vision. It’s sort of like this huge breast that I suckle on. Everything I take is somewhat related to my Peter Pan vision.’

Every important song he would write would be seeded in this very earliest iteration of his universe. For example a song called ‘Formation Of The Tribe’ contained the line and vocal melody ‘Turn around Bright Eyes’ – the line that would recur throughout so many of his future songs, most memorably for Bonnie Tyler on her earthshattering hit, ‘A Total Eclipse Of The Heart’. What Papp saw immediately was that Jim’s talent was big, but its focus narrow. The return again and again to certain lines and melodies, the constant re-working of those ideas, would characterise the rest of his creative life.

Joseph Papp knew talent when he saw it. He was no fly-by-night chancer. As well as his lifelong passion for Shakespeare, in particular delivering it free to New Yorkers at Shakespeare In The Park, where he had use of the open-air Delacorte Theatre, he’d also worked with almost every major stage actor, and among the new work he delivered to the Public Theatre (which would be named after him upon his death in 1991) were early plays by Tony Award winner David Rabe, and the Pulitzer Prize winners Jason Miller and Charles Gordone. His taste in contemporary theatre was also unsurpassed. After Hair, Papp would oversee first Broadway productions of A Chorus Line and a completely revitalised Pirates of Penzance.

Jim understood the value of the patronage of such a theatrical titan. Not that he always showed it. Jim Steinman was nothing if not singular, a headstrong young maestro who flounced out on several occasions, once goading Papp into throwing an ashtray at his head, but it was Papp that catapulted Steinman from college weirdo to the real-world musical titan in one giant step.