Interview with CHRIS SPEDDING

February 2015

Chris Spedding

Chris Spedding could be called an integral part of British rock’s scene if he wasn’t a personification of it. Working mostly – as far as the public eye sees the veteran – behind the scenes but, in fact, present in many a vital musical moments, Chris’ guitar is heard on a string on classic records, including his own “Motor Bikin'” – Spedding’s only solo hit. There’s a lot of solo albums, though, the latest being "Joyland" which found the artist calling some of his friends to reciprocate and lend their chops to his stew, and which may serve as a reminder of the fact that Chris’ leather jacket created a link between similar outfits of both SEX PISTOLS and Bryan Ferry.

If this screams “style,” Spedding has it in spades, and no matter how comfy he dressed coming down for our conversation, the artist chose cravat as an accessory: quite a telling element of his public persona. Still, the stories he was telling were much more revealing and personal.

– Chris, I’ve always maintained that you’re an English analogue of Link Wray. Would you agree with that?

(Laughs.) Well, I suppose that’s because of a Robert Gordon connection, but all right: we’re a similar generation, [we have] similar influences I suppose.

– As of influences, what I hear in your music is a lot of Chuck Berry and maybe Scotty Moore.

Yes, Scotty Moore, pretty accurate: I was really into his guitar playing. Scotty Moore was somebody I consciously listened to back when I first started, in 1956. I used to buy records by Elvis, and “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” was the first guitar part I tried to learn, Scotty Moore’s part. And I wasn’t really aware of Link Wray ’til a bit later: I don’t think I heard “Rumble” until the Seventies.

– Back then, you said, “There’s nothing more boring than being respected”: what’s your take on this today?

(Laughs.) I might have said that in the Seventies when I was trying to make pop records, and people said, “You’re a very respected rock musician, and you shouldn’t be making this!” And I just said, “Well, you know, people got to really like you to buy your records, and if you’re just respected they might not do that.” They thought I was some kind of serious jazz player or something… I know people couldn’t believe that I wasn’t serious about playing jazz and that I was just playing around playing rock ‘n’ roll, but I was more interested in the pop field than jazz which I thought was gone – it was doing good things in the Sixties but I thought it was just vain when it became fusion and it wasn’t so interesting to me.

– But you played a kind of fusion with NUCLEUS!

Yeah, yeah. But by the time I played with NUCLEUS, I was bored with jazz, and I think they invited me to join because I was the totally rock ‘n’ roll musician. They were all jazz musicians – all of them! – and I was the rock guy. So they called it a fusion group because of my presence, and I would play completely ordinary rock ‘n’ roll guitar, Steve Cropper stuff, you know. And that’d be very impressive ‘cos they’d not heard it before, and I just thought, “What is this stuff, really? I should be playing something a bit more challenging.”

– To me, “Elastic Rock” sounds like Miles’ “In A Silent Way” given a twang…

I do like “Elastic Rock”: I think it was a very good album. I do like that one! We did some stuff that I like very much

– …and there’s a piece of yours on it called “Twisted Track” but it has minimum guitar.

Well, I’m playing guitar all the way through, but I don’t play solo, only an accompaniment. That was an old BATTERED ORNAMENTS song that I wrote with Pete Brown – it was on “Mantle-Piece” – and I adapted it for NUCLEUS, yeah. That was my style: I would like to play ensemble stuff, and it was an ensemble improvisation, “Twisted Track,” which I thought was quite good, and I was quite interested in that, more than playing a series of solos – like a sax solo, and a piano solo, then a guitar solo – I like it all being mingled together. Like the old New Orleans jazz: the clarinet, the trombone, the trumpet all playing together at the same time – ensemble.

– THE BATTERED ORNAMENTS were a strange band, given Peter Brown’s not a singer as such…

He’s a lyricist, he had a big success as a poet. But he got a band together, a band of misfits: some of them were jazz musicians, like [flautist] George Khan and bass player Butch Potter, the drummer [Rob Tait] wasn’t – he was a rock musician… So it was very anarchic set of people who had not really been in a rock ‘n’ roll band before and didn’t really know what to do, and it was a learning experience for me. And in the end, we got together and sacked Peter, a leader, but it was a democratic vote, because we didn’t like his singing. The hilarious thing about that was, once we’d sacked him we realized that he was probably the best singer in the band, because nobody else could sing. (Laughs.) So that’s when we made that album, “Mantle-Piece,” we’d done all the backing tracks and we had to do vocals, so I started singing, [although] I’d never sung before: that’s how that started.

– And still, you couldn’t keep it together?

No. The rest of the band – as you said, it was a strange band – weren’t interested in continuing. I just thought that this was silly: we had the opportunity of recording at Abbey Road as were signed to EMI. So I said, “Listen, I’m going to do the record. Mind if I do some records?” That’s why I did it – by default, I became a singer-songwriter with a record deal, because nobody else was interested. I wrote the music for “Backwood Progression,” and I was doing lots and lots of sessions at the time, and then, between those, I did the “The Only Lick I Know” record that took me a while to do it. But the good thing about it was that when I was working with all these artists, doing sessions, I was able to go in the studio and do my own records, whereas a lot of session musicians get very frustrated that other people get the glory, other people get the hits, and the money. I had the opportunity to try to do what the other artists were doing and I was very humbled as I realized it wasn’t as easy as it seems, it was a lot more difficult than I thought, because my records didn’t sound any better and they didn’t sell any better.

– By the way, were you the official guitarist in NUCLEUS or a guest player?

No, I joined them. Bernie Holland was the first guitar player that was in NUCLEUS, but they didn’t record with him; I was the guitar player on their first two records.

– Wasn’t there a two-guitar situation when Ray Russell joined?

Oh, that was a long time after I left. I wasn’t with them then, but I did play with Ray Russell with Mike Gibbs at the same time. Mike Gibbs made a record [1970’s self-titled debut] with Jack Bruce on bass and [percussionist] Frank Ricotti, and Ray Russell on guitar: that Mike Gibbs’ track was the only time I ever recorded with him because I left the session scene by 1977-78, so we didn’t get to work together.

– You saw yourself at that time mostly as a guitar player or a composer?

Oh, a composer that plays guitar, I guess.

– I mean your first solo album seems to have more keyboards than guitars on it.

I had two keyboards on “Backwood Progression” – that was ‘cos I tried to sound like THE BAND. I was very influenced by THE BAND – you know, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson – and also by [Bob Dylan’s] “The Basement Tapes” and that sound. PROCOL HARUM used that sound as well: the organ and piano.

– I have an impression that you were somehow averse to progressive rock.

Well, that was why I wrote “Backward Progression.” There was supposed to be a play on words: we are progressing by going back to the woods, back to country music, like THE BAND, who also used gospel and R&B. I was into that and I didn’t like progressive music.

– But still, you mentioned PROCOL HARUM.

Chris SpeddingTo me, they were a kind of a pop band, with “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”: that’s the only record of theirs I’ve ever heard.

– “Joyland” is binding together many strains of your career, and you invited many friends from different eras of it to play on this album.

It was just a coincidence that I’d caught up again with Andy Fraser the year before so I was able to hook up with him, which was great, and yes, that was something that was from the early Seventies and something I’d always wanted to do that, after THE SHARKS, but it took a lot of doing. And Steve Parsons, I’d always, over the years, been friendly with him, and we collaborated a lot since THE SHARKS. The band broke up, but me and Steve didn’t – we just kept doing stuff. Bryan Ferry: I’ve been working with him on and off since the Seventies as well. Who else was on there? Oh, Johnny Marr’s a new friend. I met him only about three or four years ago, playing with Bryan Ferry who likes to work with a lot of guitar players, so me and Johnny ended up on the same shows playing together, and we got on really well. We obviously found that we had a lot in common, so I invited him to play on the album.

– So the original idea was to use different voices on the album?

Yes. Yeah. When I write songs, I write them for myself because I can’t ever get anybody else to sing them. But in the case of the Arthur Brown song [“Now You See It”] it was I think the first time anybody else besides me has actually sung my song, and he’s a really good singer, Arthur Brown’s a fantastic singer – he still sounds as good as he did in the Sixties, still got the same range. I should’ve done this before, trying to invite other singers to sing my songs, but it was the record company’s idea, and I didn’t think of it before.

– “Joyland” seems to be a concept album, but what’s the concept of it? Something along the lines of “you can check out… but you can never leave”?

All right, I had the music for “Joyland” the song, it was an instrumental piece, a guitar piece, and I didn’t know what to do with it – it didn’t seem complete – and then Steve Parsons came along and said, “Well, I’ve got to write something for it,” and it became this song: strange, I call it dystopic, about the screwed-up world. And it seemed that the only place to put it was at the front of the album as if it was introducing the rest of the material. I guess the reason I like working with Steve Parsons is that he has a very dark way of writing lyrics – his lyrics are always very dark and strange – so that’s why I like to go to him for that. The “Joyland” lyrics suit the overall atmosphere of the album, so in that respect I guess you could say it’s a concept album; but like with most concept albums – “Sgt. Pepper” being the first of them – it’s only a concept album for the first two songs (laughs) and then it’s just a bunch of songs.

With Jack Bruce, Hyde Park free concert, 1971 © Maurizio Comandini

With Jack Bruce,
Hyde Park free concert, 1971

– Even when doing sessions, you contributed much to the finished result, like it was on Jack Bruce’s early records. You and John McLaughlin: not a bad company!

I’ve not compared that; I know that John McLaughlin played some of the same tunes with Jack Bruce, but I haven’t listened to that record [“Things We Like”]. That was a good period, though.

– Did you land the gig with Jack through Peter Brown?

Yes, Pete Brown got me the job with Jack Bruce. Jack was writing the songs that became “Songs For A Tailor” with Pete, and he was looking for a guitar player; I suppose he was looking for a guitar player that didn’t sound like Eric Clapton – everybody wanted a guitar player that sounded like Clapton, but Jack didn’t want one like that because he’d just been working with Eric. And I, when I first heard Clapton – it was in 1966, on the BLUES BREAKERS album – I thought, “This guy has really got that style down, so I’d better not try to do that!” Every other guitar player was following him, and I decided not to. I avoided playing blues guitar, right at the time when it was really successful; I almost gave up playing the guitar and started playing the bass – I played bass with Dusty Springfield and with Alan Price. Not the guitar, the bass, because everybody expected that style, that blues style, and I wanted to play it slightly different, but I think it was a bit negative of me to do that.

– So it was you who played bass parts on “Guitar Jamboree” when quoting Bruce?

Yeah. Well, I played the bass on a lot of my records – I most enjoy playing the bass. When there’s no someone like Andy Fraser to play the bass, I do that.

– You emulated a whole array of great musicians on “Guitar Jamboree” and, live, jokingly added Robert Fripp to the usual line-up.

Oh yeah, I did, yes. It was a kind of sending it up, satirizing him. Same with “Layla”: it was tongue-in-cheek. Being a guitar player, people expected a guitar from me, and it was a way of me playing lots of guitar and still being entertaining, as I didn’t really liked long, self-indulgent guitar solos.

– How entertaining it was recording serious music with Jack Bruce, then? I didn’t know Jack, but I knew Dick Heckstall-Smith and Jon Hiseman, and they could be very funny.

Well, a lot of musicians have got this special sense of humor. When we’re working together on the road, playing and jamming, it shows on-stage, but I worked with Jon Hiseman and Dick Heckstall-Smith in very concentrated situations, where there wasn’t much time for humor – we were just making the album: “The Pirate’s Dream” [a track from Heckstall-Smith’s “A Story Ended.” – DME] or something – a really concentrated stuff, very difficult to play. I’ve still got the music for that, it was all written by Clem Clempson and Dick Heckstall-Smith, but for some reason Clem Clempson didn’t play on the record, on that particular song, so they got me. I don’t know why they got me; I ended up being asked to do it, I think because I’d played with all these people with NUCLEUS, and Jack knew that I could play that sort of music, but it was very challenging.

– You played on the original “Theme For An Imaginary Western” that Clem later recorded with COLOSSEUM and went on to play live with Jack Bruce.

Did they play it with COLOSSEUM? I didn’t know that. And I don’t know Clem Clempson very well. I know that Leslie West and MOUNTAIN played that.

– Among your sessions were ones with Harry Nilsson: how did you find it working with him?

Again, it was one of those situations where you hear a lot about Harry Nilsson throwing a party and getting high and his “Lost Weekend” with John Lennon, but when we were working with him he was very serious. I have an image of Harry playing the piano, with his head down, very concentrated. We would just play the songs until we got them right, basically – very hard work but very rewarding. We knew we were doing something special, a special sort of an album, because Richard Perry was a big American producer and all of top guys were there: Herbie Flowers, Barry Morgan, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman and Peter Frampton.

– But the most famous song on “Nilsson Schmilsson” doesn’t have a guitar part on it, right?

That’s right: “Without You” doesn’t have a guitar, yeah. (Laughs.)

– Did you play on the original version of another classic, “Handbags And Gladrags”?

With Mike d’Abo? I worked with him but I didn’t know that was an original version of “Handbags And Gladrags.”

– Both Mike and yourself were on “Jesus Christ Superstar”: could you point out your parts there?

On “Jesus Christ Superstar” we did a lot of the instrumental links between the songs – we didn’t play the songs – and NUCLEUS was hired to do those links. That’s why I’m on that. There was [drummer] John Marshall, Jeff Clyne on bass, Karl Jenkins on the keyboards. That’s how I remember that record.

– Marshall and Jenkins ended up in SOFT MACHINE. Was there a chance you join that band, too?

No, I wouldn’t do that. They were too progressive for me! (Laughs.)

SHARKS © Brian Cooke

SHARKS

– So why were you on Brian Eno’s “Here Come The Warm Jets”?

That was the result of me being in THE SHARKS and supporting ROXY MUSIC: that’s how we got to meet Brian Eno and he invited us to do that album. That’s how I also got to meet Bryan Ferry.

– Later on, you also recorded on Nick Mason’s “Fictitious Sports” – talk about not liking prog there!

Yes. When I first went to United States, I went upstate to Carla Bley’s house – I knew Carla because she used to come to Mike Gibbs’ concerts – and it was Carla who wrote all the music for that Nick Mason’s album, so I was invited to play on it.

– What about Rodriguez, who’s become a legend lately, after the “Searching For Sugar Man” film?

Oh yeah, I have no memory of those sessions. I remember Steve Rowland, the producer, as I used to do a lot of work with him; I remember this studio, Lansdowne; but I don’t remember the Rodriguez sessions. There were so many sessions with people who would just do one record and you never heard of them again. So I can’t recall anything about those sessions. I’ve not seen the movie; I had a listen to a couple of tracks from the album I did, and I thought it wasn’t very good: I thought, “Uh, could’ve done better than that. We could’ve made a better record.” I’m not very good at predicting success. (Laughs.)

– Another producer you worked with was Phil Spector.

I like Phil Spector, yeah, I like his music and the fact that he was trying to do the perfect three-minute single, and I was interested in making short pop records. When he was doing “All Things Must Pass” with George Harrison, he booked Trident Studios for the bunch of guitar players – I sat with Ray Russell on that – all playing twelve-string guitar, acoustics, but George wasn’t there, just Phil Spector. He didn’t take his gun out (laughs) but whatever we wanted we did, as you do when you work with a legendary producer. It was about three hours, and I don’t know what track it was; I don’t think it’s on any album, so I can’t really put it in my resume, in my CV.

– Around that time, in the early Seventies, you tried to get a band of your own together. Why didn’t that happen?

I don’t know. There was a number of reasons. I’m good at making records but not at getting a band together. I guess I didn’t feel like a leader. I could have gotten a couple of gigs for us, and I got a recording project to put that rhythm section together, like with “Backwards Progression” – that was a band, for a week, to make the album, and that was it. That had a sort of “Basement Tapes” sound to it.

– I found “The Only Lick” a very interesting record in the sense that “London Town” had a slide guitar and glissando guitar on it and it was like country rock, and then there was “Don’t Leave Me” with its dirty, punky guitar style. Did you try different approaches to your playing?

Yeah. I was interested in writing songs and doing the best arrangement, orchestration of the song. If it needed a country treatment, I’d give it a country treatment; if it needed a rhythm-and-blues treatment or funk, I would try and treat the song as it needed to be treated. I think THE BEATLES used to do that: there wasn’t really a style of arrangement that THE BEATLES used to do – if they needed an orchestra, they had an orchestra; if they needed trumpets, they got trumpets. And that’s what I would do.

– That punky guitar sounded very unusual for its era.

On “Don’t Leave Me”? I can’t remember what that would have been but I think that I was trying to do like a rhythm-and-blues, Motown type of thing.

– Do you think punk bands such as SEX PISTOLS listened to your songs like this and that was the reason behind their wanting you to work with them?

With SEX PISTOLS

With SEX PISTOLS

Oh, towards the end of THE SHARKS I was starting to get a retro look together, and the only place in London where you could but Fifties clothes that weren’t old was “Let It Rock” which was run by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren which later became the “Sex” shop. So I went to them to get straight-leg jeans and leather jackets and stuff like this – it was 1975, when I did “Motor Bikin'” and wanted that look – and they said, “Would you like to see this band that we have?” So SEX PISTOLS came about because of my clothes, not music. (Laughs.) Maybe they’d heard “Motor Bikin'” and were influenced by it as the punk thing started in 1977, but I was a bit too old to be a punk: I was 33 years old and they were teenagers.

I couldn’t understand why people were frightened by SEX PISTOLS – when I first came to see them in the “100 Club” there were about fifteen people in the audience and by the time the band finished playing there were only five of them, including me – because I was I was fascinated by them. I thought they were great and that it was what music business needed, but most other people in the business, including journalists, didn’t get it at first. People thought I was ruining my respectable reputation associating with SEX PISTOLS which was really silly; I would say to all those journalists, “If you don’t like them, where did you see them?” – and they said, “Oh, I haven’t seen them but everybody knows they’re terrible!” So I felt SEX PISTOLS needed me, as I knew about studio, and a tape with three songs, because a record company wasn’t going to come and see them, and I offered to do that tape. I did the tape, took it to Chris Thomas who would become their producer and Malcolm McLaren took it to EMI – that was my involvement with them.

– Did you feel any affinity with them because of them not liking art-rock?

Everybody, when they start making music, when they’re 19 years old or 20 years old, they always think that they’re the best thing and everybody else is rubbish. I always thought if Johnny Rotten could hear himself in 20-, 30-years time, he would be one of those boring old farts he was talking about and he would avoid talking about that. (Laughs.)

– You seemed to have embraced punk yourself, what with “Pogo Dancing” and “Get Outa My Pagoda”…

Yes, yeah, yeah. That was my nod in that direction, and it featured THE VIBRATORS. Apparently, the punk people thought that they weren’t punk, that they were like a pop-rock band, but I didn’t make the distinction. It was only SEX PISTOLS that I thought were good; a lot of the rest of the bands were not very good. It didn’t mean to say that I was totally into the punk ethos and their philosophy and anarchy – I didn’t care about all that, I just heard a band that was playing… You know you can’t say that this music is good and this music is bad; what you can do is, you can say that it’s in time and in tune: those are the only two properties that have something to do with music – after that, it’s just your opinion. Still, there’s plenty of good singers I really hate. (Laughs.)

– On your solo albums – like “Hurt” and “Guitar Graffiti” as well as “Joyland” – you have Snips’, Steve Parson’s songs. You obviously remained friends. So why did SHARKS break up?

Oh, I don’t know. It was just bad luck. Andy Fraser left after six months, and we were left high and dry after that. But I’ve never had much luck with bands; most of my best successes have been me solo or playing with other people.

– Maybe it’s just my perception of that, but you seemed to have changed your guitar style with SHARKS: from jazz-inflected manner to a rock crunch.

When I joined THE SHARKS, I decided to give up all the studio work, so for two years – from 1972 to 1974 – it was total concentration on the band. That was what enabled me to develop a style, the more overt rock guitar style; that was when I was able to put it into shape. The rest of the time I was doing so many different things, in various styles, but after I came out of THE SHARKS I had more of a recognizable style.

– Talking of style: everyone remembers Gary Moore’s sustained note on “Parisienne Walkways” but nobody credits you with such thing on SHARKS’ “Sophistication”…

Oh, it’s a difficult thing to do, although a lot of rock guitar players will try and get it. Now you can do it easily, because there are special guitar processor, but back then it was kind of a challenge to get a sustained note properly every night, but that was I wanted to do.

– Is it true you turned down Robert Palmer as a band’s potential singer, given he was a friend of Andy’s?

I think he turned us down. He was having success with his own records at the time I think, so he didn’t want to do it. I didn’t have much to do with that, that all happened without my being there.

– You toured America with this band, as a support for MOUNTAIN, but had you been to the States before that?

Yes, I went to the Newport Jazz Festival with NUCLEUS, and we also played “The Village Gate” in New York in 1970. But before that, no.

– I have this SHARKS bootleg where Leslie West joins you on “Colors”…

Oh yeah, he used to come and jam with us. He liked the band. But I’ve not heard that recording – I would like to hear that. Steve Parsons and some other people who are trying to put together a SHARKS compilation of out-takes, sand that live thing would be a good addition to it.

– But there also was an entire unreleased album, wasn’t there?

We’re going to try and release that album. We’re just talking about it now.

– That song, “Colors”: was it on there?

Yes, it was. I don’t know whether we still have a version of it, but that was one of Steve’s songs, yeah. And also, “Music Breakout” that I used on my own record was on the unreleased SHARKS’ album – I liked the song so much that I just did a version of it.

– Was it the only song you repurposed from that record?

Live, I sometimes used to do “Snakes And Swallowtails” and “Music Breakout”: those were the two songs I took from THE SHARKS.

– And it was after the band had ended that you became a kind of rockabilly figure. But is it true you didn’t like the term “rockabilly”?

I didn’t know what it meant; we didn’t use that term: we didn’t make a distinction between early rock ‘n’ roll and later rock ‘n’ roll. We called the early rock ‘n’ roll “rock ‘n’ roll” and later on we called it “rock.” When I met Robert Gordon, he said, “I hope you can play this rockabilly stuff,” and I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You know Scotty Moore and stuff like that.” And I said, I could do that, and there was no need to learn, as that was the first music I ever heard. So that was rockabilly… That’s what Gordon tells me anyway.

– So was that what you decided to focus on on your solo albums?

Maybe I did, I don’t know. Well, “Motor Bikin'” was an attempt to sort of go back to rockabilly, even though I didn’t know what it was – at the time it was just early rock ‘n’ roll; it was kind of influenced by Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran more than anything else.

– What’s interesting is that you, being a rocker you were, signed with Mickie Most’s RAK label that specialized in pop. Was it a conscious commercial decision?

Well, there weren’t any rockabilly labels in 1975. And if you listen to the album “The Only Lick I Know,” there are attempts to make a pop record, like “White Lady”; the same as on the record with the car on the front [“Chris Spedding”], the “Motor Bikin'” record. There are different styles of pop record: sometimes it’s a Buddy Holly style, sometimes it’s a Gene Vincent style, sometimes it’s a Ricky Nelson style… I was borrowing from various styles I’d grown up with.

– The other prominent rocker on RAK was Cozy Powell, and you played on his “Dance With The Devil.”

Yes, I played on that, yeah. I didn’t know him before; I met Cozy on that one session – that was just one session. Oh, maybe I’d played with Donovan with him! [Chris had: on 1973’s “Cosmic Wheels.” – DME]

– Which of your sessions was the most memorable? Acker Bilk?

I don’t know. But yeah, I remember Acker Bilk (laughs): big orchestra. [Elton John’s] “Madman Across The Water” had a big orchestra as well.

– But John Cale’s project was something completely different.

With John Cale

With John Cale

I wasn’t aware of John Cale and his story with VELVET UNDERGROUND until I met him. When I met John, I found that I had a lot in common with him musically, ‘cos we both like to improvise. I like to improvise in the same sort of freedom that a jazz musician does – but not playing jazz: improvise but playing rock, or improvise a song, try and guess what the next chord’s going to be. It’s the same sense of freedom that jazz musicians have, but they just do solos based on standards, but to improvise a song and follow each other around… John could do that, and I liked to do that with him, so for the time being, for a couple of albums, we both enjoyed working with each other. In fact, I was touring with John when I had “Motor Bikin'” in the charts, but the music business was so fragmented into different compartments that the people that would come to see John Cale would not be in the slightest interested in what was popular, and the fact that I’d just been on “Top Of The Pops” that day or the week before didn’t mean anything to them. There were the John Cale guys and there were pop guys, so I probably had quite a lot of a following but those fans would never be in the same place at the same time. (Laughs.)

– Both you and Cale recorded a song called “Mary Lou.”

Yes, but these are different songs. My “Mary Lou” is Ronnie Hawkins’ “Mary Lou” but John had another song with the same title. But I had a riff that went: (sings) “Ta-da-da ta-da-da-da-da…” I did that riff with John, on his “Mary Lou” – that was my contribution to the session, but he didn’t come to me and say, “We should share a songwriting [credit] on this,” so I decided to take my riff and do my own song. I used it on “Video Life” on “Guitar Graffiti” – it also was used on BLONDIE hit “Heart Of Glass” – and, of course, when John heard my song he said, “Oh, you stole my ‘Mary Lou’!” But you can’t copyright that; you can only copyright a vocal line and a lyric.

– And Roy Harper? Was your contribution to his “HQ” an interesting experience or was it only a session?

I like a few of his songs: I like “When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease” and I like one other song on the album [“The Game” where David Gilmour plays. – DME], though I don’t think I’m even on it, doing the song that I like. Two songs I like on that album, and I’m not on one of them! (Laughs.) Roy worked a lot with Jimmy Page who came to play on a few of his songs, and I think Roy wanted to make his songs not so much folk but more rock – he wanted to do what Bob Dylan had done ten years earlier, to electrify his folk pieces – so I was hired by him and his manager, Peter Jenner, to Led-Zeppelinize his music. I think that’s what they hired me for, and I did the best I could, and then we got Bill Bruford and we got the bass player from THE SHARKS [Dave Cochran], and we put a band together. It was kind of a challenge, to adapt his song, to put some heavy guitar on them: I wouldn’t say it was an art – it was more like a craft, to play that very loud on the electric guitar to make it sound like rock ‘n’ roll. So it was interesting from that point of view. We did a tour, and I suppose the album sold pretty well, but that was it, really; I didn’t do much more with Roy.

– Wasn’t that around that time that you auditioned for THE ROLLING STONES?

With Roy Harper's TRIGGER

With Roy Harper’s TRIGGER

I’ll have to tell the whole story about that. Mick Taylor left THE STONES in January 1975, around about the time I left THE SHARKS, so I was free, and THE STONES needed a guitar player. Six moths later, in June, after every guitar players imaginable had gone to audition for them, I got a phone call from Mick Jagger. He asked what I was doing in August, and I said I was doing a tour with Roy Harper: that was it, really. (Laughs.) I don’t know why he waited so long. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Rory Gallagher, all the greatest guitar players wasted their time trying to go to Holland for rehearsals, but I wasn’t invited.

– Would you accept the offer if you were?

I think Mick Jagger called me up because he wanted to see what I would say. Keith Richard had wanted Ron Wood, so Jagger wanted to see if he could have this guy, and I was going to be his guy – but he knew from my reaction that I wasn’t going to be it. So they didn’t make an offer.

– How do you remember the Hyde Park concert where both THE BATTERED ORNAMENTS and THE STONES played in 1969?

We played just before them. I had a terrible hay fever that day; I was in the band wagon the whole time, which they asked me to get out of because they wanted THE STONES to come in. They used our wagon, a horrible old ambulance; nobody would have thought THE STONES could have been in there – everybody thought they were in the limousine.

– In the late Seventies you started working with Frankie Miller.

That was enjoyable, I remember doing [1977’s “Full House”], with Chris Thomas who brought me in to play on the backing tracks, but solos were played by another guitar player [Ray Minhinnet]. But I went on to do some other album with Frankie Miller, after this, including one that was produced by Barry Beckett [“Standing On The Edge” from 1982].

– Don’t you find it ironic that, for Miller, you played on Andy Fraser’s song – having parted company with him?

I know, yeah: “Be Good To Yourself.” I played on Andy Fraser’s song but I didn’t play on Andy’s version of it.

– Your guitar is also prominent on Jim Capaldi’s “Short Cut Draw Blood.”

On “Love Hurts” and “Short Cut Draw Blood”… That was my Island period, when I was with THE SHARKS, and Chris Blackwell was producing Jim Capaldi.

– The same year, 1975, saw you record on Jack Lancaster‘s production of “Peter And The Wolf” album. How did that come about?

It was a strange thing. I was told that I was supposed to be The Duck, so I said, “All right, I’ll play the wah-wah, then”: quack-quack-quack – and that’s about as far as I got with that. I played all my parts on a wah-wah [pedal].

– What was so special about “The War Of The Worlds,” then, that you played not only on record but also live quite a few times over the years?

I really like Jeff Wayne’s arranging and writing and producing; he really gets good sounds. That was a good project, and we’ve done about five good tours in the U.K., the last time it was in 2006. By the way, “The War Of The Worlds” has a lot of sustained notes.

– Come the Eighties, and you’re on Tow Waits’ “Rain Dogs”: another experiment?

That was interesting, but I had to leave that session after about three weeks, as I was booked to go on tour, and I ended not finishing the album – Keith Richards and Mark Ribot took over from me. And that was a shame that I was only on one track.

– Some years ago you had a new band, KING MOB, with Glen Matlock of PISTOLS. What was that about?

We had Martin Chambers on drums, and Andy Newmark on a couple of tracks; Glen Matlock, and Guy Pratt on bass; and Sixteen and myself on guitars. That was kind of a live band – we cut those tracks live – and that was an attempt to do something new in rock ‘n’ roll. I like our record [2011’s “Force 9”], though. But we never got any work, really; we played maybe one or two gigs, and that was it.

– What was the project you were involved with with Paul Gurvitz, Snips’ former colleague in BAKER GURVITZ ARMY?

Paul Gurvitz was working at this store sold recording equipment and he sold me some of it – “Pro Tools” and stuff – so we got to talking. Turned out we both knew Snips, Steve Parsons, and we wanted to put a band together. Paul was writing some songs, and I played with him one show, at a showcase in Los Angeles.

– You covered THE KINKS’ song “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”: was it a statement on your part?

I like the song and I wanted to do it. I suppose I felt I could identify with the lyrics, so yeah, yeah. And my version of the song was not like anybody else’s version. (Laughs.)

– And fairly recently you played on the title track of Dave Davies’ album, “I Will Be Me”… Did he invite you to help him out?

Chris Spedding during the interview

Chris Spedding during the interview

The record company, Cleopatra, invited me and, as a result of me playing as a guest on that – as well as on THE VIBRATORS’ record and THE DOORS tribute – they asked me to do my own album with guests.

– Two of the drummers that played on your records, Anton Fig and Tal Bergman, went on to work with Joe Bonamassa. What do you think of him?

I haven’t really discovered him. But when I heard that sort of guitar playing, I said, “Oh yeah, I can play that”: I don’t think there’s anything new to be learned, but I’m glad that there’s somebody doing it and people like it.

– Your credits include Paul McCartney. Is there any other aspirations?

It would be nice to play with Bob Dylan. But my greatest achievement is still being alive I guess, still playing being 71 years old. (Laughs.)

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