10th February 2015
Steve Holley Interview Part I
Q: You’re a resident of New York these days…
SH: Yeah. I moved here in 1981 on July 3rd and I got bonded to New York City because my papers were not in order. I had a B2 visitor’s visa which was good for life but a producer down in Florida decided he would do me a favour and got me an H1 work permit which automatically invalidates any pre-existing agreement you have including the B2. So I found myself coming back into the country in 1981 with armfuls of Gold Records and personal belongings and they said ‘Oh! Mr Holley! How long are you staying this time?’ and I said ‘Well as long as possible – I love it here.’ They replied ‘OK. We need to see you at Immigration on Monday morning at 9am.’ And they withheld my passport. It took me three years to sort that out during which time I could leave whenever I wanted but I could never come back; it’s an Adjustment of Status as they call it. During those three years I met Joe Cocker and performed on Saturday Night Live with him and Jennifer Warnes doing Up Where We Belong when it was No.1 and I also met Stevie Winwood who was looking for a drummer to tour with Arc Of The Diver along with some great opportunities that I couldn’t take because they were all out of the country. So it was 1984 before that got settled and I was able to move around freely again when I got my Green Card and Permanent Resident status. That was all a bit of a hiccup and a costly one too but fortunately Ian and Mick came along later. That first tour with the Hunter/Ronson band remains one of my favourite tours in my entire life. It was so much fun and Mick was such a treasure. People realize he was great but I don’t think they really know quite how good he was.
Q: A lot of people don’t know exactly how much of a contribution he used to make.
SH: I agree with you and it’s so deep that to this day, I impart the knowledge he gave me to the new members of the band. His understanding of dynamics within a song were sublime and his choice of notes and arrangements was just fantastic. He was unlike anybody I had ever worked with before and very humble about it too. People don’t know for example that he produced Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side and that it was his idea to use two basses – one acoustic and one electric. He was also responsible for finding all the material that gave Tina Turner her comeback. You might know from England Graham Lyle and Benny Gallagher who had a beautiful album out – their first solo album (Gallagher & Lyle, 1973, A&M Records) which I adored - in the late 70’s but Graham Lyle wrote Steamy Windows, What’s Love Got To Do With It?, Private Dancer…all of those songs which Mick heard and decided they would be great for Tina Turner. He actually took those songs to Tina via her record company and he was supposed to be the producer for her comeback record but he fumbled it in the meeting with the executives. They had a budget of $4 million or something and they were all looking at each other thinking ‘Are we going to trust this guy with $4 million? I don’t think so…’ but he would have done a fantastic job. It would have been different but it would have been fantastic but anyway, Mick was a very powerful figure in the business, not only with David Bowie and Ian Hunter but he was a tour de force in terms of understanding music and musicians and understanding what they were capable of and not capable of. Bringing the best out of everybody, he was a genius at that.
Q: I had no idea that you have been with Ian Hunter for twenty-five years…
SH: Twenty-eight actually but there was a break for three years when I toured with Joe Cocker. Oddly enough, a friend of mine just sent me a photograph of me meeting Ian in 1978 which is a surprise to me because I didn’t remember which is odd. It’s a fantastic animated picture of the two of us and we are in a heated discussion about something and obviously having a very good time. I could tell by the clothes I was wearing that it wasn’t an ‘80’s picture and actually, it would have been 1979 when I was doing promotion for Back To The Egg in New York in a friend’s club. Prior to this picture which I first saw at the beginning of this year, I was under the assumption that we first met in 1987 so you can see how off that is. What actually happened in 1987 was that there was a concert for charity which I’m fond of, it was a program that sponsors musicians who typically have problems with drugs or alcohol or whatever and we were doing a fundraiser show and the guy from the Musician’s Union had invited all kinds of people to perform and they had all said ‘Yes’ and he had absolutely no idea how to put it together. He called the musical director Paul Shaffer first but he was unavailable so they called me and I said I’d give it a shot. I put the core band together and then we had a look at the list all the numerous guest artists including Phoebe Snow and Michael Bolton and there all of a sudden I saw Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson and thought ‘Oh my…this will be fun!’ so I contacted them and asked them what they wanted to do. I had a beautiful band with G.E. Smith and Jimmy Vivino who have gone onto to become very well seasoned players and we did a great show which was a big success. Ian and Mick and I got to talking afterwards and they said ‘What are you doing?’ I told them I was living in New York and very enthusiastically I joined them and within a few weeks were on tour in Europe.
Q: You’re famed for amongst other things being a member of Wings but you’ve done far more than that like the concert for the Special Olympics at the White House in 2000 with Stevie Wonder.
SH: Yeah! He has always been one of my favourite artists of all time. I was the drummer in the house band of course, it reads well but it was literally one rehearsal and one performance but there was an aside to that that wasn’t been published which you may find interesting…
Q: This is the Clinton era right?
Q: Did you meet Hilary?
SH: Yeah we got to meet everybody. I shook hands on stage with Bill and I had rehearsed in my mind what I would say if I had the opportunity to say anything at all. I had a few things worked out and when he actually did shake my hand all I could muster was ‘Thank you Mr. President.’ (laughs) It was fine and he gave me a nice smile. I tell you though, I thought I was working hard but on that day he had addressed Oxford in the UK, flown to Ireland and addressed the situation there and then flown back to Washington D.C., was debriefed about world events before we could start the concert which started at 9pm because it took that much time to bring him up to speed. That was exceptional but let me go back to what I was going to tell you.
Q: Please do.
SH: Al Gore who was the vice-president at the time had decided to run for President and had conceded and gave his concession speech on the same day as we were rehearsing for the show and it also coincided with his Christmas party. We got a phone call from one of the show organizers who said he was at the party and that Al Gore was absolutely devastated at the event of having to concede running for the Presidency and that the band they had booked to play the Christmas party were not particularly good and that he was miserable. He said that if any of us had the strength, he would like to invite us to come, commandeer the stage and turn the disaster into an event. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers who were also on the bill agreed immediately and we were asked as the house band to go over and join in. Now, when do you ever get invited to the vice-president’s house for a Christmas party? So we all said ‘Sure!’ We all got in a van and were driven there, walked in and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers took the stage immediately and played I Won’t Back Down. I watched stunned at the bar with a glass of red wine in my hand as Al Gore took off jacket, rolled up his sleeves, grabbed a bottle of Heineken in one hand – Tipper Gore went onstage and played congas – and Al grabbed Naomi Campbell and started dancing (laughs) and I thought ‘This is amazing…what a life!’ Then after Tom Petty played five or six songs, we went up and took over and lo and behold, Stevie Wonder walked in. He got on the stage and said ‘I hear there is another harmonica player in the house’ referring to John Popper from Blues Traveler who is a tremendous harmonica player. So Stevie asked him up and said ‘We’re going to do a Blues in G, I’m going to make the words up as we go along but it’s for you Al.’ He made this song up and we played it and then his guy came to take him off the stage and the band leader Bobby Bandiera looked at me and said ‘Do you know Higher Ground’ so I said ‘Yes it starts with a drum fill’ and he said ‘Kick it off will you.’ So I played the drum fill, Stevie stops dead in his tracks and puts his hand out for a microphone. They gave him a cordless mic and we are outside in a tent with heaters and he sang it as he walked outside to his limousine and the last thing we heard is him singing ‘Keep on moving, ‘til I reach a higher ground and he drops the mic on the ground in the gravel, the door clicks shut and the car drives away in the P.A.. It’s impossible to explain what that sounded like: it was magnificent and all I kept thinking was ‘Damn, I wish I had some film of that!’ Then I looked out in the audience and everyone is holding their cellphones in the air so you know that a video of that somewhere exists.
Q: I guess you rescued the party then?
SH: Yeah a good time was had by all. We ended up being invited to the White House and saw the Christmas tree and watched their band play with everyone letting their hair down and dancing and having a grand old time. It was one of those moments in life - I’ve had a lot of them. I was at the Berlin Wall when it came down on the day. That was with Joe Cocker and we were scheduled to play I believe in Denmark and we were asked by Michael Lang if we would be up for flying in to play three songs for the first 10,000 people that came through from the DDR (East Germany). Again it was ‘Yeah – let’s go.’ We had a private plane and we had to put the Hammond on it because Chris Stainton (keyboardist) couldn’t play without it so we had this little tiny plane with a Hammond on it and we were more worried about the weight of that than anything - We got onto the plane and they were seating us by our weight! Anyway, we flew into Berlin and we had a motorcade escort to the festival site and by the time we took the stage which was in the Stadthalle in Berlin just by the Brandenburg Gate, there were 10,000 people inside but another 10,000 or so outside and they put big screens up and another P.A. as well. I just remember when we hit ‘I get by with a little help from my friends’…I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a roar of approval like that in my life. Just fantastic. Then there was another motorcade back to the airport and we flew back to…it was either Sweden or Denmark actually, I can’t remember but we went onstage an hour and a quarter after our advertised start time. We made it an interesting double. (laughs)
Q: You must have woken up the next day wondering if that really happened.
SH: yeah there’s been quite a few days I’ve woken up feeling like that but that was truly a remarkable day. I still have my T-shirt declaring that I had been there.
Q: I also want to ask you about playing with Chuck Berry at the Bicentennial Concert in 2006.
SH: Yeah that’s the first time he actually recognized me. I played with him eight times in all. The first time was in Mexico City for about 30,000 people. That was possibly one of the worst times of my life because I was so depressed after it. I’m on record as having said that No Particular Place To Go was the first record that completely and utterly turned me onto Rock and Roll and it’s true. So I was really looking forward to the opportunity but you don’t meet him until you’re onstage and I made the classic mistake. What I meant was ‘What song are we going to play first?’ because I hadn’t got a clue as there were no rehearsals but instead I said ‘What are we going to play Mr. Berry?’ and he said ‘Chuck Berry songs boy.’ Then he said to me, ‘Gimme two bars up top most of the time, watch my foot, that’s where the beat’s at.’ Then he proceeded to play games with me throughout the entire show. He would count the song off in one tempo and then start playing slower or faster and then glaring at me, looking at me as if I didn’t know what I was doing. Lots of things went on but the funny thing was, we finish the concert and I’m feeling bloody awful and at the end of the show, the promoter had already been uptight with him for some reason and he’s looking at his watch as we’re walking off and I hear him say ‘Chuck, we paid you for an hour and you played 55 minutes.’ Chuck looked at him and without skipping a beat he said ‘It would have been an hour if the drummer hadn’t sped everything up.’ (laughs) At first I was so angry but then I just laughed my ass off. I just thought it was such a classic comment.
Q: It is. That’s a gem.
SH: Anyway, as time went past, I got asked to play with him again and I said ‘No – I don’t want to do it’ but G.E. Smith who asked me said it would be all friends and I got talked into it. We did two nights at B.B. King’s club in New York and it was kind of fun but the centennial was the first time he recognized me and the last time we played together. After that he started bringing his own band around and closed ranks a little bit but at that gig he walked on stage wagging his finger at me and I just smiled back. He actually walked back in that show and traded fours with me in that he’d play four bars and then I’d play four bars solo backwards and forwards. It was kind of fun as well because he had no idea what I had accomplished or even what my name was but he knew he had played with me so he’s introducing the band and he gets to me and says ‘And on drums, we have errr…err…we have err…’ and I heard somebody in the audience yell ‘That’s Steve Holley you asshole!’ (laughs) Then Chuck goes ‘Yeah we got Steve on drums.’
Q: Good old Chuck.
SH: Yeah what a treat: what a gem. There’s nobody like him. All I think of is John Lennon’s wonderful comment which was ‘If they were going to give Rock and Roll another name it might as well be Chuck Berry.’ I always that that was classic although I have my beliefs that Rock and Roll started in 1947 with Louis Jordan.
Q: Ooh I fully agree! Oh I wish we had a few days for this conversation…
Q: Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five; he was the first guy to put together that bass, drums, piano, sax and guitar combination.
SH: Too me, that’s the birth of Rock and Roll right there and I’ll defy anybody to tell me any different and it’s also the first time I heard straight-eight against a swing drum. My Dad’s a sax player and my Mum’s a singer and my next-door neighbor was the drummer in the band so I grew up with music all around me. I was rattling skins since before I was three. There are photographs of me in the yard looking at the snare drum and pumping it like crazy so it was just something I always wanted to do. There is a wonderful gentleman in England called Professor James Blades who wrote the most authoritive book on percussion instruments and their history and that’s what it’s called. I studied that book and I still study that book and he refers to tribalism which gave me so much insight. The oldest instrument in the world is the human voice and the second one would have to be some form of clapping, stamping or percussion so I started looking at old cave paintings wondering how far back it went and what it conveyed. Then I got into thinking about him and I actually managed to talk to him. His book is startling in its array of information but he refused to take seriously anything after 1964. Basically, for him, the birth of Rock and Roll was the death of music which I understood from a couple of brief exchanges. I said to him, ‘It surprises me because you refer to tribalism all the time and stamping and how people would group around an animal kill and stretch the hide over the ground – and that’s a drum – why don’t you see that Charlie Watts and The Rolling Stones is just a bigger tribe?’ but he wouldn’t have it so said ‘Well you know what? What you have given me is what I am supposed to do.’ so I started writing a book from 1964 onwards based on his work. I had a publisher lined up and then a good friend of mine gave me a book for Christmas called Drumming At the Edge Of Magic written by Mickey Hart. I started reading it and my heart sank because it’s exactly what I was writing so it was exciting but really disappointing at the same time. I get to the third chapter and Mickey states quite clearly and categorically ‘I would like to thank at this point Professor James Blades and his book, Percussion Instruments and their History.’ (laughs) However, I’ve since been thinking about it and I’ve morphed it into a situation where I do these interviews. Some of them are just ‘What was it like playing with Paul McCartney?’ and I say ‘Great, interesting but you know, 30,000 years ago…’. (laughs) The first time it happened, people were looking at me thing ‘What is he going on about?’ but I am enjoying talking about percussion instruments and their history and how they changed the face of the world which is immeasurable. People hear the stories and think ‘My God…it was a drum that allowed them to do that!’ There are all kinds of things like the Zulus defeating the British army which happened solely because they could signal for twenty miles every movement the army was making and they stayed in formation and the Queen’s army were annihilated by five thousand Zulus. There are lots of points in history that were affected by the drum.
Q: Bringing that back to music, Pop music through the sixties and seventies was guitar and keyboard driven and now it is completely drum and percussion driven.
SH: Yeah. It truly is; the wonderful 808 sample. I’ve played with them and I realized early on that they were going to be the focal point of recording and that I had better understand it as much as possible. The early days were the worst because everyone was a drummer including the producers. In those early days, the producer would program the beat and then had you play along with it and he’d be saying ‘No! You’re out of time. Ah! This beat’s off.’ and that’s just not how music breathes. It’s not meant to be like that, that’s why orchestras have conductors. It’s not wrong for the chorus to push a little bit and the verse to sit back, they’re missing the point. It’s all right for Dance music - four on the floor go-for-it – but the subtlety is being pushed out and squeezed out of everything. I was having that argument for so many years until people realized but you know, we go through these changes and it is what it is. My father said to me, ‘You’re going to be a drummer? Be as versatile as possible and remember there are only two types of music: it’s good or it’s bad – it doesn’t matter what the genre is’ and it’s true.
Q: Well talking of versatility, you mentioned your Blues stuff and I haven’t even touched on some of your other recordings. Julian Lennon, Elton John, Kiki Dee, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Gary Brooker I think you worked with, Ian McDonald Tommy Shaw Live in Japan...versatile is your middle name isn’t it?
SH: It’s getting that way yeah. I started out playing Folk music as well and I just met Bridget St John for the first time who is living over here now. I didn’t know what happened to her and I used to go and see her in London at the Roundhouse when I was a teenager. I was infatuated by her work and then she just disappeared. This week I did a recording session with the legendary Gordon Edwards who is the bass player who was with Stuff and Steve Gadd and lots of others and his wife is Bridget St John! She was so powerful she opened for The Nice and Pink Floyd at one concert. She was a great singer. I always thought she was up there with Sandy Denny and Judy Dybl and she admitted to my wife that her favourite was Buffy St Marie but getting back to playing, within the drum set, I use a little bit of everything I’ve ever learned. Reggae as well of course as I was with G.T. Moore and the Reggae Guitars which was one of my favourite bands and I worked with them for years. That was the early ‘70s in the UK and we had a minor hit in Holland and England with its connection to Jamaica meant that the Calypso/Ska/Reggae thing came through much quicker than it did in America. For example, when we used to play in London, I can remember us playing our version of Knocking On Heaven’s Door and looking up and seeing Eric Clapton in the audience and Stewart Copeland and Sting. They had to have been listening to what we were doing: there’s no question about it. We had a version of The Supremes’ I’m Still Waiting which we did as a one-drop Reggae tune and we did an early version of Like A Rolling Stone. It was all Reggae-fied and we were unquestionably there way before The Police. We had two or three albums out before anybody else jumped on that bandwagon but that’s just what happens. One thing begets another in music but I use all those styles in everything and what I do is a mash-up of everything but versatility in a drummer is so important.
The Reluctant Dog
Q: Your solo album is not a normal drummer’s solo album. It’s a collection of great Pop songs that you wouldn’t expect from a drummer.
SH: Well the piano is my second instrument. I am a pedestrian pianist although I did take the four years of classical piano which I’m very grateful for. I didn’t particularly enjoy them at the time but on reflection, it gave me an insight into songs and music that doesn’t always come into a drummer’s hands. More often than not, drummers are more concerned with the beat what they are doing and whether or not they can play nineteen patterns of paradiddles. It’s a different sort of head so it isn’t a drummer’s record at all and in fact, the drums were the last thing that went on. I recorded all the tracks to the dreaded click-track with a piano and I wasn’t trying to make an album is the truth. I had a bunch of songs I had written – I’m not a prolific songwriter, they develop very slowly – and there was a whole bunch of them that just wouldn’t go away so a friend of mine from South Africa, Keith Lentin, suggested I go over to his house and start assembling them so they were in some form. I thought was good and that maybe I could get a publishing deal on them and sell them to somebody else to record. Then Mick Ralphs who was touring with Ian Hunter in 2005 or something had a listen to it and said: ‘Who’s playing piano?’
‘Well that’s me and playing drums.’
‘That’s me too.’
‘I didn’t know you sang. Who wrote the songs?’
‘Hmm…Do you mind if I play this to somebody?’
So he played it to Peter Purnell at Angel Air Records who basically deals with archives and 60’s and ‘70’s but he said it sounds very much like the kind of stuff I would like to put out. To be honest, there a few songs on it which are old recordings: The one with Denny was recorded at the same time as I was playing with Paul McCartney so it has my sound from those days but I’m glad I did it. It’s the only album I’ve ever put out. I have written enough songs for another album now and it will have a couple of things on it that will focus on me as a drummer more but the drums on the first album were almost an afterthought.
Q: I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath for that second solo album though.
SH: (laughs) No probably not. I’d love to think I’d do it quickly and Keith is pushing me into doing it saying just start it.
Q: Let’s come up to date then. What are you plans for the next few months?
SH: Well the aforementioned Beatles band that we need to put together of course and my own band is doing very well which is The Sydney Green Street Band. We are going to be recording a second album and are being inducted this week into the New York Blues Hall of Fame which is fun. I’m already in as an individual but the band are going in and all getting their individual inductees. I’ve also been reproducing the music of a band called The Rascals or The Young Rascals. I have a band with Gene Cornish and we just played the first show with The Alessi Brothers in the band, Gary Von Skyoc on bass and some really good players. That’s a seven piece band and they’ll be a few more of those dates and I’m also doing two or three sessions a week, mostly for artists that are just starting to break through or singer-songwriter stuff. Then we will be playing some concerts with Ian Hunter around his birthday (June 3rd). There is a box set of his stuff coming out and we will be recording a new album - we can’t do that after the box set has been out for a while. We are also looking at the possibility of doing another swing through Japan and including Australia and New Zealand because he absolutely adored Japan so he seems to be up for that. There are also some festivals in the summer. I even have a Christmas 2015 date for the 19th of December. It’s a beautiful place called the Record Collector, a vinyl shop in New Jersey and they have a Christmas party every year which I played last year and they’ve just called me and booked me again. You know, it’s a lovely game when you’re not sitting around wondering when the work is going to come in and already, I’m wondering how I am going to do everything that is there.
Q: More to add to your CV which must be huge: do you know every record you’ve played or recorded on?
SH: No. I do try and keep up with it. There is a wonderful thing called AllMusic () but it’s confusing because I dropped the ‘e’ in my last name in the mid ‘70’s. It appears on everything up to Back To The Egg as H-o-l-l-y but it’s really spelt with the ‘e’. Oddly enough, I put the ‘e’ back because at one of the concerts we did for Buddy Holly with Paul, Maria Elana Holly – Buddy’s widow - was there and she said ‘I enjoyed the show but I object to you taking my husband’s name as a stage name.’ So I said ‘Actually Maria Elana, it’s not a stage name, it’s my given name and it’s actually spelt with an ‘e’’ and she said ‘So was Buddy’s.’ I asked her why he took it out and she said it was because nobody ever put it in which is exactly why I took the ‘e’ out of my name. It still question’s it in Spellcheck and even my own bank in England would send me back cheques without the ‘e’ in my surname. In the end, because nobody put it in, I decided it was easier to leave it out and that’s exactly what he did. I started looking into it and it is entirely possible; his genes go back to the south of Ireland and so do mine…It’s pretty peculiar but I suppose there could be some weird link there. Then, oddly enough, this year I’m recording an album of previously unrecorded songs by Bob Dylan and also a Buddy Holly tune that has been dug up from when he lived in the West Village where he lived for a while towards the end of his life so that’s a full circle. It’s supposed to have an April release date and it’s a great song.
Q: You of course were on the Rockestra theme which was an amazing array of Rock royalty. Was it chaos on the day or was it reasonably together?
SH: It was very well together. It transpired because we had been mucking around in a studio and Paul had written the Rockestra Theme several months earlier and he was wondering what it would sound like with a Rock and Roll orchestra – having seven or eight guitars rather than fourteen violins for example with three basses, three drums, three pianos, etc and I said ‘Well it would probably sound fantastic’ to which he said ‘Yeah but who would I invite?’ I then remember saying ‘Well, I would think you could invite whoever you wanted and I’m sure most of them would take it. (laughs) This doesn’t seem like something people are not going to want to do. If I were in your shoes, I would just pick your favourites and ask them’ and that’s what happened. At that time, 24 tracks was the most that were available and that’s what we had so we, as a band, decided to take 8 tracks and record it and then take another 8 tracks and record it again. So we actually triple tracked ourselves which I would love to have a copy of but nobody seems to have. It was a demo just to see what it would be like and it sounded exactly as you would imagine (laughs) but I thought a live performance of this would be great fun and it was originally scheduled to be Keith Moon, John Bonham and myself. Naturally I was more interested in who the drummers would be although I was highly delighted to see Dave Gilmour and Hank Marvin added to the mix. Then there was Pete Townsend and I thought ‘This is ridiculous…what a day this is going to be’ and it was! It was a wonderful time with some brilliant people there.
Q: Keith passed away just before it though so Kenny Jones stepped in didn’t he?
SH: Yeah that’s exactly what happened and so we delayed the recordings. As a matter of fact, we played the Buddy Holly show at the Empire in Shepherds Bush that Paul was promoting because he had recently acquired Buddy Holly’s publishing catalogue and he wanted to do it justice. He wanted to put together the Buddy Holly Story and bring him to the fore again and we played that show and had an after-show party at either Peppermint Park or Peppermint lounge. I took a Polaroid picture of Paul and Linda and Keith who had his back to me - I’m trying to find it at the moment. I know I still have it, it’s not gone…it’s in my house somewhere but anyway, I took this lovely photo of Keith talking to Paul and Linda, he was saying goodnight to them and then he left and it was later that night that he died. I was in a little cottage in Northiam in Kent, I basically cried my eyes out and played Elton John’s Funeral For A Friend for three days. It just destroyed me and then of course less than a year later, John Bonham was gone too. It was dreadful. The thing is, I knew Kenny was close to Keith and I knew he would be an obvious choice but we needed some time to pass before we brought it up again. It was an incredible day although I must admit would have loved to have had the opportunity to sit between Keith and John.
Q: The two maddest drummers in the history of Rock…
SH: Yeah. I adored both of them and Kenny too but I knew Keith because he used to live four miles away from me in Chertsey – this was before I lived in Kent – and I had met him at his local pub several times. I had even gone dancing with him and his wife, Kim, a couple of times believe it or not. I first met him at the level crossing gates at Staines on his way to a club called Sgt Pepper’s in my hometown (Staines) which used to be open until 2am. You may know that the licensing laws back in England then were that the pubs on one side of the river (Thames) closed at 10:30pm and on the other side they closed at 11pm which was always a thrill to me because you had more drunks on the road at 10:30pm trying to cross the river to get to the 11pm pubs than anywhere else on the planet (laughs). So anyway, I was at the level crossing gates and the gates were down and Keith was on the other side driving a red…I’m not sure what it was but it was like a 1940’s Pontiac or something and he was standing on top of the level crossing gate going ‘Come on you bloody train! Hurry up!’ I thought, That’s Keith Moon’ so when came by me I did a U-turn and followed him into the car park and into Sgt Pepper’s and introduced myself. Kim was sitting there and he said ‘Do you dance?’ and I said ‘Well not really’ and he said ‘Oh come on’ and dragged me up he was into pogoing at that time just jumping up and down going boing boing boing and then he would fall down and hit the floor. Then he’d jump up and start again; he was hysterical. Lovely guy, a really sweet man. I was also playing at the Playboy Club the night that he, Viv Stanshall and Oliver Reed were all dressed in German military uniforms. They marched in goose-stepping, jumped on the tables…it was ridiculous. I was playing in a band called London and for some reason they wanted us dressed in clown outfits so nobody knew who we were anyway and I’m onstage, looking at all this and it was surreal. Believe me, it was so strange. Vivian Stanshall I played with later as well. I’m digressing a lot here but it’s just interesting how all these people were in and around that neighborhood and the Rockestra thing was the bringing together of a lot of the people I knew on the peripheral but never actually been directly involved with. A wonderful session with a few sad moments – Ronnie Lane for example.
Q: I’ve always loved his bass playing.
SH: One of the greatest bass players, greatest songwriters and again, one of the sweetest people. I think the only person in the room that would have known he was suffering would be Pete Townsend because Pete was letting him live on his property at that time. Ronnie’s Mum died from multiple sclerosis but none of us knew that at the time and none of us knew that Ronnie knew about himself. I didn’t know until much later when I saw an interview with him two years prior to that recording session; he’s looking at Pete Townsend and he says ‘Is my disease showing?’ and I thought, ‘Oh Jesus…he knew that long ago.’ We unfortunately thought he had availed himself of the bar a little too much and the following day when we were listening back to sessions and soloing the tracks we were saying ‘Bloody hell, he’s all over the place’ but it was because he was actually ill and we didn’t know: That was bitter-sweet. I was in the audience at his tribute concert at Madison Square Garden when he walked out which was great. There were a couple of other things for me at that session: Hank Marvin – we had to take a break at 6pm because he taught bible class so we had to put everyone on hold for an hour while he…
Q: I’m sorry…did you say Hank Marvin taught bible class?
SH: Yeah. He’s very heavily involved – a believer.
Q: Ok, let’s move on. Let’s talk about the Japan 1980 Wings tour, the one that stopped before it started because of Paul’s drug bust. I have one of the programs for you which I found in a collector’s shop.
SH: That’d be wonderful – thank you. I also had a Wings Japan Tour Jacket but I’m not sure what happened to it. I wish to God I still had it. When I flew back all dejected from Japan, I wore that jacket and the other non-event of the year, I had a shoulder bag for the Moscow Olympics (laughs).
Q: Everyone knows the story of Paul being busted in Japan in 1980 but unknown is the story of what happened to the band. Did you all have a few days her, go home, or what?
SH: First of all. I came in with Denny Laine from London on a direct TWA flight and we had multiple-entry, open ended tickets for anywhere in the world, First-class, valid for one year. I questioned Denny about it and asked ‘Why have we got tickets like this?’ and he said it was his guess that if the Japan dates go well they will add more shows in another country. Apparently they did that in ’75 or ’76 where they did a tour and then were told to take two weeks’ vacation and then regrouped in Australia or Sweden or wherever. So he in effect was telling me that he thought or hoped it would be the start of another world tour which of course made me delighted. However, it has to be said in hindsight and with retrospect, Paul wasn’t the happiest guy on the planet before we left. At the rehearsals, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to take the horns on tour as he did in ’75 and ’76 and he had asked us all individually but I was the new guy so I wasn’t going to say we shouldn’t have a horn section and put four people out of work. It was not my position and I would never ever choose to accept that, plus the fact I liked the guys and I thought that retaining the horn section was a good thing; I enjoyed it on the tour we did for twenty-two dates in the UK but I could tell that Paul wasn’t entirely happy with the way rehearsals went to say the least. Then, we were briefed in London at the MPL offices where it was said ‘We are not suggesting that you do use drugs but if you do, we ask you to make sure your clothes are clean, your fingernails are clean and the linings of you pockets are clean. This is a tour where we are going to be scrutinized for our behavior and we don’t want any mishaps.’ So Denny and I flew in from London ahead of Paul, Linda and Laurence came in from New York and I can’t to this day imagine why this happened. I’ve thought about it and you know as well as I do that there are at least a dozen theories but none of them seem plausible to me. So I can’t tell you what happened but I can tell you happened when it went down. We were all obviously very stressed out by it and the brutal efficiency of Japan as well was shown by the fact that when we rode in from the airport to the hotel, there was a poster every hundred feet (30m) saying ‘Wings – the greatest rock band in the world visits Japan 1980!’ They were everywhere on billboards, lampposts, buildings in store windows…it was inestimable how many there were and in the morning, they were all gone.
SH: There was no Beatles music on the radio, the records were out of the stores, it was phenomenal and we were ordered out of the country because of guilty by association. We were with Chris and Mika Thomas - you may remember Mika from the Sadistic Mika Band?
SH: Well Chris was with us having worked on Back To The Egg and his wife was Mika who was like Rock royalty in Japan so we had a little deception and pretended to go to the airport but actually took the bullet train to Kyoto. We hung out there in the hope that they would manage to solve this, spring paul and that we could salvage some of the tour but after four days it was apparent that it was not going to happen. He ended up spending nine days in jail which was the longest separation he ever had from Linda and I found out later that he was upset because he thought we’d just buggered off and left him too it but that was not the case. We were upset obviously and he carried the weight for everyone but after a time it wasn’t going to happen so I spoke to Alan Crowder (from MPL office) and suggested we move on and he agreed. I told him I wasn’t going straight home if he didn’t mind because of this splendiferous ticket I had so I visited my Uncle and Aunt in New Zealand and my dad in Australia. I got offered a job there and took it and lived there for a while but always staying in touch. Even when he was back in England though, it was months before we heard anything so I just swung around a bit including going to Hawaii and Canada and that was that.
Q: Are you still in touch with Paul or Denny?
SH: Oh yeah. Not so much Paul but Denny and I played together last year and we’re going to play together this year. We did a couple of solo things post Wings as well. Last year Denny, Laurence and I played together and I don’t mind telling you I got shivers playing with them –it was really great! We were aided and abetied by Terry Sylvester on vocals from The Hollies so we did his songbook to with a band I have here called The Cryers. It came together to the utter amazement of everybody because nobody knew it was going to happen. We just did it on the fly, it wasn’t announced and we played to a small group of people in Louisville, Kentucky at something called the Abbey Road on the River Festival which celebrates the music of not just the Beatles but the Abbey Road studio. I can tell you as well that I am debuting a band in Liverpool this year which we would like to bring to Tokyo. Me and some friends were sitting around and we thought wouldn’t it be fun to have a band where everybody in the band with every member of the Beatles. We started looking at how that was possible and we have come up with a band with Earl Slick who played with Paul, John and George and has also been with David Bowie for twenty-six years, Joey Molland from Badfinger, Mark Hudson who is one of the Hudson Brothers and Ringo’s producer, Gary Van Scyoc from Elephant’s Memory and myself so between the five of us we played with all the Beatles.
Q: I think there would be a lot of interest in Japan for that.
SH: We are going to test the water with it in Liverpool doing two nights at the Philharmonic Hall as part of the Beatle Week which takes place on the August Bank Holiday weekend (Aug 29/30/31). The advertising is already out for that and the working name for the band is Story Fellahs and the whole concept is that we will engage in a conversation amongst ourselves, field questions from the audience and perform music which is of The Beatles and then honoring all the individual members. That’s the plan, we haven’t rehearsed it yet but the shows are booked (laughs).
Q: It must be difficult to get away from the Wings tag at times.
SH: I do owe Paul a great deal of gratitude though because without the association, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my career wouldn’t have been what it is. I’m not denying myself or belittling myself because I work very hard to do what I do and I will continue to make an enormous amount of records in areas that people don’t even realize. I’m picking up an award this week for my work with Blues music. I’ve made over fifty albums in that category and people don’t even know I’ve done that. I’ve played on records with Joe Louis Walker, Charlie Musselwhite, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Phoebe Snow, Johnnie Johnson…I have a huge body of material in the Blues and Southern Rock area and that’s just what I am; a journeyman and I record nearly every day. It’s funny for me because I talk about working with Paul more than anything - I played with Elton John and Joe Cocker as well – but Mr. McCartney eclipses it all. I am aware of that but I was hesitant to capitalize on it and I remain that way but on the other hand, as it’s been put to me, there is no pretence here. It’s was not a cover band, I was there, doing it, I was part of it and it’s true and there are not many people left that can say that.
Q: You could never be accused of capitalizing given that you’ve waited some thirty years before playing the music again. Revisiting would probably be a better word.
SH: Yeah. Revisiting or honoring if that is at all possible. One of the things I always felt when the band was over was that that was the time we were in a situation to do something really good but then again, if you think of the longevity of The Beatles which was just a little under ten years, it was the same with Wings. I think Paul just gets itchy after that amount of time and as we all do, wants to do something else – that’s a very natural turn of events. I didn’t like finding out about it from a newspaper which is what happened – I found out that the band had been disbanded from the London Evening Standard which came through my letterbox but that’s the only fly in the ointment in that whole thing. I called him on it immediately and he apologized saying that he had been meaning to call. It’s all understandable and his reason for the band being dispersed by the way was that he wanted to work with George Martin again and George Martin wanted to work with Paul but not within the constraints of Wings which is very plausible.
Q: That’s all part of being a musician though isn’t it?
SH: It is. My feeling was though that Paul just couldn’t bring himself to tell us because it would destroy us but in actuality, not knowing is more harmful than being told. If I had been told like that initially I would have said ‘I understand.’ I would have been disappointed but I would have understood. There’s certainly no hard feelings or regrets between us and in fact Wings breaking up as it did gave me a lot of other opportunities as I mentioned last month.
Q: Steve this has been a real pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your life with us.
SH: Thank you Glenn. Feel free to stay in touch.