Pete Wingfield in Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame at the “Bullet” entry
You may not know the name but you sure love the music, there’s no doubt about it – if you watched “Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels”. Yet having played on zillion of records, Pete Wingfield is not about one song only, no matter how great it is. Let’s see what another musician says of him,
“Everybody in town said, “He’s your man”. He just came, whoever you said, “Who’s the great pianists around now?” “Pete Wingfield” “Who do you think is playing good rock and roll?” “Pete Wingfield” And Pete had a record over here. He had a hit. A little thing called, “Eighteen With A Bullet”, a number of years ago, which was a great little song. And a lot of people remembered that. So I knew that if he had a hit record of his own best, he would be very at home in a studio. And, you know, so the combination of that made him a good choice.”
That’s Paul McCartney’s words – do you need more regalia, then? So meet the master!
- If you were to choose only one recording you’re on, what would it be?
The toughest question first, huh? This is virtually impossible to answer – I would say it would probably have to be something that I also produced, since there is so much more satisfaction in being part of a project from start to finish. Just occasionally you manage, for whatever reason, to catch lightning in a bottle, preserving the feeling for evermore. Using that kind of criterion, I can think of a few candidates – maybe, THE PROCLAIMERS’ “Sunshine On Leith” or “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”, THE PASADENAS’ “Tribute”, Mel Brooks’ “It’s Good To Be The King”, or the SUGARHILL GANG’s “The Lover In You”. Of course, the one that meant the most personally was my own “Eighteen With A Bullet” – it doesn’t sound too bad today….
- A curious thing: your involvement in Paul McCartney’s “Run Devil Run” has overshadowed all your previous work. Isn’t that a bit sad?
Is that really true? I’d like to think that music-biz people here in the UK know me more as a session player and for my production work in the Eighties, chart buffs know me for “Eighteen With A Bullet”, and American audiences for my years on the road with the Everly Brothers. But anyway, even if it’s true, it’s not sad – it’s an honour to have been associated with him at all!
- What memories do you have of those sessions?
Good ones! – although the whole thing took so little time it was over almost before we started… we’re talking five days, Monday to Friday, with only two sessions a day, 10.00-1.00 and 2.00-5.00. Paul said to us at the outset that he wanted to get back to the way he used to record in the early days of THE BEATLES – in Abbey Road Studio 2, with Geoff Emerick engineering, taking a lunch break and with no late nights! Every day in the studio, Paul said, they would meet up, have a cup of tea and a cigarette, share a few jokes, then either he, Paul, or John would strum away to show the others how the next tune went. So this is exactly what he did: he insisted on us having no idea in advance what we were going to play, and refused to let us hear any of the original recordings (the album being all covers) – we just took the inspiration from him strumming the song in front of us. The only difference this time was no cigarettes! To be there in Studio 2 playing keyboards just a few feet away from Paul, who was giving it his all, singing everything live at the same time as playing bass (the famous Hofner violin-shaped one), with not a note or a syllable replaced later, was a great experience and one I won’t forget in a hurry!
- Judging on McCartney’s interviews, you didn’t know each other before, though, I guess, you knew David Gilmour who you played with on Roy Harper’s “The Unknown Soldier.” So was it David who got you the McCartney gig?
Well, I hadn’t worked with Paul before, but we had said “hello” a couple of times – in fact in 1975, when “Eighteen With A Bullet” was in the charts, I happened to bump into him walking down a street in Soho with Linda on the way to his office in Soho Square. He actually recognised me, and was gracious enough to say how much he liked my record! As far as Dave Gilmour is concerned, I didn’t think we’d met before, and nor did he! I’d completely forgotten the Roy Harper sessions – unusually, I don’t have a copy, so it had slipped from my mind until I saw it a couple of months ago listed amongst my entry on allmusic.com. I certainly don’t remember Dave being there – but then I don’t remember a single thing about the sessions, where they were recorded or anything… Of course, either his or my part could well have been an overdub, so we wouldn’t have met the other musicians.
In any case, no, he had absolutely nothing to do with my getting the McCartney sessions; I believe I was there simply because Paul knew my playing style etcetera, and thought I might be right for the job, which was confirmed when he asked around various friends and people in his office. I think drummer, Ian Paice, was brought in by producer Chris Thomas – he and Paul had definitely not worked together before. As for guitarist Mick Green, he had already done a rock ‘n roll album with Paul – it was a one-day special, recorded in the early Eighties, I believe, specifically for the Soviet market! Plus Mick had been a member of JOHNNY KIDD AND THE PIRATES, who were rockin’ in the UK before THE BEATLES were heard of!
- Was playing at The Cavern with Paul a special experience for you?
To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the gig itself very much. I was honoured to be part of the event, and very pleased to be there, but from a strictly practical point of view, it wasn’t a great gig. For one thing, by the time we, the band, arrived the small stage was covered with lighting and camera equipment, so I couldn’t move an inch from my allocated position, which happened to put my ears a matter of inches from Mick’s amp! – as a result, everyting was way too loud, and I hardly heard anything I played throughout the set… Also the place was crawling with journalists snapping and recording away during the afternoon soundcheck (which was the one and only rehearsal) – and Paul, being a trouper of the old school, really rocked out for them – so in some ways the soundcheck was better than the gig!
- Also many tend not to know who that is singing “Eighteen With A Bullet” on the “Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels” soundtrack. But was your hit making it to the cult movie a surprise for you?
Yes, it was, and a very pleasant one – I knew about it in advance, because the writer has to give agreement, but it was only a few weeks in advance. (It seems that with films, the music is always the last thing to be added.) All the other songs just had a few seconds featured behind dialogue, but “Bullet” was played all the way through, upfront and right through the end credits! I’m sure a lot of people now will visualise the hand reaching over the bridge when they they hear my bass-voice intro to the song… Incidentally, I can’t reach those high notes anymore!
- You were a vital member of Maggie Bell’s band, a fact best documented on recent "Live At The Rainbow" album. How did your involvement with Maggie come about?
I really can’t recall exactly how it came about – I know I’d been playing with Colin Blunstone immediately previous to joining Maggie’s band, but that’s all…
- It was your part which basically made Bell’s version of THE BEATLES’ “I Saw Her Standing There” an oustanding performance…
Thanks! You know, I haven’t played that track in twenty-eight years – like a lot of musicians, I never revisit anything from my past if I don’t have to. Phil Everly’s the same – neither he nor I have ever watched the Everlys’ Reunion Concert video from the Albert Hall in ’83!
- Did Ringo Starr really drop by while you were recording the track?
Well, we were recording at his house – in Ascot, the home formerly owned by John Lennon, and containing Ringo’s “Startling Studios” – so it’s not surprising he was around.
- Then, you must be proud to have had Jimmy Page play on your song – I mean, “If You Don’t Know”. Are you? It’s hard to remember Page lending his solo to others since he quit doing sessions…
Did he play on it? News to me! Again, that might have been an overdub… I do seem to recall there was some kind of tie-up between Maggie’s management and LED ZEP’s.
- Having played on many Blue Horizon recordings, do you have any favourite session?
Well, I’m not sure I played on that many sessions for Blue Horizon itself (although you may be right!), but I did continue to work for Mike Vernon for many many years after the Blue Horizon label folded, and he’s still a good friend along with his brother Richard. I also worked behind the counter of the Blue Horizon record shop in Camden, North London in ’70-’71… Anyway, everything with Mike was fine, but I guess I’d pick out albums with Lightnin’ Slim, Freddie King, and Jimmy Witherspoon as highlights.
- As of other sessions, I heard you worked with Bill Haley. If so, where and when?
I’ve a vague memory of playing on a few tracks for him one morning, I think at De Lane Lea studios sometime in the late Seventies – early Eighties, towards the end of his life, but again, I don’t have a copy of the record. It’s not a session that’s stuck in the mind! However I should tell you that the very first record I bought with my own money was Bill Haley’s “See You Later, Alligator” in 1956 at the age of eight!
- Could you, please, tell a bit about the band you started with, JELLYBREAD?
Sure. We were all students at Sussex University, which is near Brighton, on the South Coast of England. Paul Butler on guitar, John Best on bass, drummer Chris Waters and myself all arrived there in 1967. Actually I’d been in other bands at school etcetera – including my teenage R&B band THE GROOVEDIGGERS, which I still think is a great name! – but JELLYBREAD was the first one to achieve any kind of success. We all had different tastes, but were basically a blues band, which was one thing we could agree on musically, and happened to be what people wanted to hear, as this was the tail end of the British Blues boom. I’d known Mike Vernon since the mid-Sixties, when we’d both had R&B fanzines – his, “R&B Monthly”, much bigger than mine, “Soulbeat!” – so naturally I sent the Vernons a copy of JELLYBREAD’S self-financed first demo album – now very collectable!.. We ended up with a recording deal with Blue Horizon / CBS and made our first official LP “First Slice” – in all we made several singles and two albums while I was with the group (they went on to do another without me in ’72, and with a slightly different line-up) – in 1970 we all graduated, including the roadies! We were on the road in the UK largely on the then thriving college circuit – I can remember regularly travelling through the night in the back of a windowless van after a gig in Scotland so as to be in Brighton, five hundred miles away, in time for some seminar at 9.00! We’d stagger in sleepless and think nothing of it – you can do that when you’re twenty, but not when you’re fifty!
- You played on a couple of NAZARETH albums. Are there any stories to tell?
Not really, other than that they were a nice bunch of guys.
- How do you feel about your music being sampled by many contemporary hip hop artists like SUGARHILL GANG?
The SUGARHILL GANG didn’t sample anything – I wrote, played on and produced the record “The Lover In You” for them. What happened was that I’d done a record with Mel Brooks, the film director called “It’s Good To Be the King”, a funky spoof-rap thing that was a big hit in France and also for some reason in the New York area – it was played a lot on radio station WBLS. Sylvia Robinson (the same Sylvia of Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange” fame), then running Sugarhill Records with her husband Joe and hot with “Rapper’s Delight” etcetera, did a cover of the song and called it “It’s Good To Be The Queen”. She was so taken with the Mel Brooks’ record that she found out where I lived, phoned me up, and suggested I came right over to New Jersey to cook up something for her… I wrote down some ideas on the plane going over, and went straight into their studio to cut “The Lover In You” a couple of days later, with the fantastic house rhythm section including Keith Leblanc and Doug Wimbish. In those days, I’m talking 1982, it was just before the advent of drum machines, so everything was played ‘live’ to a click, and to 12-inch length (up to eight minutes or so), with the producer calling the shots as the track went down. Really exciting! I played all the keyboards, sang back-up, and produced the track – it was a lot of fun from start to finish.
To deal with your general question regarding sampling, well, I’d never dream of using somebody else’s record in one of mine, but I don’t mind if the reverse happens, so long as I get paid! THE OLYMPIC RUNNERS have had a number of samples used by rappers and hip-hoppers, notably EVERLAST – mostly a few seconds repeated a million times.
- Were OLYMPIC RUNNERS formed in the wake of the “Eighteen With A Bullet” success?
No, there’s no connection between the RUNNERS and my solo stuff – in fact the band’s initial success was in 73, long before I signed as a solo act with Island Records in ’75. The OLYMPIC RUNNERS were all session musicians, and the idea for the group name came up in 1972, when we were booked to play on an album at Olympic studios in London with bluesman Jimmy Dawkins, for Mike Vernon of course. Jimmy’s plane was delayed, so we cooked up a funk track in the spare studio time and Mike managed to sell it to London records in New York. The first single, “Put The Music Where Your Mouth Is”, was something of an East Coast R&B hit, and from that point on we would meet up in the studio every eight months or so, think up a bunch of wacky ideas, and record them immediately (always at Chipping Norton studio, other than the first album, which was recorded during all-night sessions in Brussels, Belgium, for some reason that I can’t remember!). Barry Hammond the engineer would always keep a 2-track quarter-inch tape running so as to catch us jamming between takes – then we’d use that jamming as the basis for the next track. It was painless, we made album after album that way, it only took a couple of weeks out of the year, and we were selling records! For the first few years the band were completely anonymous – people assumed we were a US act as the records came out on the London-American label here in the UK. Later on in the mid-late Seventies disco era, we stepped out a bit and did some TVs and touring behind hits like “Keep It Up” and “Whatever it Takes.” I prefer the older, more ‘outside’ stuff though – and so do the hip-hop samplers…
- Will their records and your solo album “Breakfast Special” be reissued any day soon?
I’d love to tell you yes, but as of now the answer is no. There were plans for Ace Records (reissue specialists here in the UK) to do a compilation CD of the OLYMPIC RUNNERS, but Polygram who own the rights wanted too much money to lease the material. As far as “Breakfast Special” is concerned, I’d like to see it reissued as a two-for-one CD along with my second album for Island, “Love Bumps And Dizzy Spells”, which was never released. I have the tapes ready to go – but nobody’s interested!
- Are you now a full-time member of HOGAN’S HEROES?
No, none of us are – we’re all freelance musicians who come together to work with Albert Lee in Europe when his and our other commitments permit. I’ve only been involved with the group for four years or so – the guy who played with HOGAN’S HEROES before me, Mike Bell, went off to live in Luxembourg – although, of course, I’d worked with Albert as part of the Everly Brothers band, mostly in the US, since 1983.
- And the last one: is there a chance for a new solo album?
Maybe, but not unless someone asks me!
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