Captured from Loreley 82
TP: Let's start at the beginning. Your first band was the Fontana Showband. What exactly is a showband?
RG It's an Irish dance band. During the early sixties, the dance bands became mare showy the musicians stood up instead of sitting down, began reading music; they were supposed to put on a show as well. Very few of them actually did put on a show. The music you'd play would be rock and roll, a bit of country and western, a bit of Irish music, a little comedy —— that was a showband. You played in large dance halls the average dance hall in Ireland holds 2000 people.
TP: Did most Irish musicians get their start in showbands?
RG Not so much nowadays because it's feasible to put together groups now. In the early sixties, a young guy couldn't -- I couldn't form a group I had groups after school all right, but I couldn't get a bass player, or something else, so eventually, I just joined the Showband, and played with them two years. It was a way of constant work, even though I was still in school, a way of getting a guitar and an amplifier. I learned a lot about being on the road, and playing. I was only about fifteen, but it was great - I got to tour in England.
TP When was this?
RG ‘64 and ‘65.
TP Were you a big music fan then?
RG At that point, I’d already had my ears open for years, ‘cause I started listening as a wee toddler. I was playing acoustic when I was nine. At that point, I was a Buddy Holly fan, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed. I was aware of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly through a singer called Lonnie Donegan, who used to do skiffle. I got into blues the normal second—hand way. I was interested in everything that was going on —- the Stones, Spencer Davis, Kinks...
TB: When you quit the Showband, did you immediately form your own group?
RG: Yeah. I was fed up with showbands. I enjoyed it, playing half an hour of Chuck Berry, but then you had to stand back and let someone do Jim Reeves imitations. I left the Showband and for six months nothing happened, I just sat in with all kinds of people in Ireland, and then I went hack to England, went to Germany with the drummer and bass player from the Showband, who'd split up by this time.
TP: Who wore they?
RG John Campbell and Oliver Talbot. We went over and played in the clubs in Hamburg for a while on a temporary basis.
TP Was there a name?
RG No, but there was a band celled the Fendermen who were booked in the club. They didn't show up, so we kind of snuck in the back door. I had no intention of staying with that particular bass player. The drummer was great though. That ended after a few weeks, and then I formed a three piece, because I liked the idea. In August ‘65, I went back to Ireland. That Christmas, I formed the first Taste, with Eric Kitteringham on bass and Norman Damery on drums. By this time, the group scene had really developed in Cork the way it had in Belfast and Dublin in the two years I had been in the Showband, and there was a group called the Axels, which had split up, which is where I got these two guys. I’d known them for a while —— I’d stood in with them when their guitar player was ill. We just played around Ireland, then we went back to Germany in January of 1966. We did the clubs there again, it's the ideal place for to a band to play.
TP What sort of music did the early Taste play?
RG Early Taste was a weird mixture of R&B-type stuff, a couple of instrumentals; ‘Green Onions; Booker T, and a couple of things that we'd all inherited from other bands. Even as a group, we had to play really long sets, particularly in Germany, we'd do seven hours a night so anything we remembered, “Midnight Hour", anything... Then, as the months went by, we moved to Belfast and worked out of Belfast instead of Cork because it's a better place for groups. Eventually, we supported a lot of bands: Mayall, Cream, Anysley Dunbar so the word got back to England that we were a good group. We got a couple of odd gigs in London and people saw us. We went back and forth between London and Ireland, getting what gigs we could, particularly at the Marquee. The next thing, Polydor were interested so we decided to move to England which we did, in '68 by which time we had a record contract and gigs lined up, an agency, Robert Stigwood, and that was it. We were ready for action.
TP Then did the other two members of Taste change?
RG August 1968. The band just fell apart after two years. It's a sad thing you work and strive to get to a point and then just when the band is on the curve towards making it, it falls apart. I suppose musically it was better to change at that point. After John (Wilson - drums) and Richard (McCracken -bass) joined, we did the first album. That was the autumn of '68, and we stayed together until the autumn of '70.
TP What was the first thing you recorded?
RG: We did some recording with the early Taste in Belfast. They came out on an album recently, totally without permission. But officially, there was a renegade single from the earlier Taste called “Blister On the Moon", an earlier version of this song, with “Born on the Wrong Side of Time” on the B-side. It was on Major Minor, which is an Irish branch of Decca.
TP: You toured with some big names ... When was the first U.S. tour?
RG: We did the Blind Faith tour here in ‘69, we spent five weeks with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends.
TP Was that before the second Taste album?
RG I Think it had already been recorded, but not released.
TP, Did you tour a lot with Cream?
RG We did the farewell concert in London and a couple of Irish gigs. We never did an extended tour with them.
TP Weren't Taste compared with Cream quite a bit? Do you the comparison had any validity?
RG We were a three piece and we had the same agency —that's about it. We all liked the Cream, but our lineup was formed before the Cream. We were more influenced by the earlier three-piece like the Big Three, and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, which had three instruments and a singer. We didn't do the extended numbers like Cream did, we weren't as loud...
TP: Also, you were more jazz oriented
PC: Not taking anything from Cream, there were more elements in our music. I'm just pointing out differences.
TP What happened to your saxophone playing? There was a lot of it on the second Taste album, some on your first solo album., but then ...
RG I still play bits and pieces. On Tattoo, it's on "A Million Miles Away.” There's a little hit on “Hands Off,” and “Seventh Son of The Seventh Son.” When I started playing it, I was going to play actively on stage; two guitar to one sax number, about that, but my interest in sax ebbed a bit. I was going through a jazz phase, very fanatical, back in '69-'70.. I'm going to resurrect it one of these days. Playing sax with just bass and drums; it's alright if you're Ornette Coleman, but when you've got to take your guitar off and pick up a sax ... I've so many plans I want to learn classical guitar, and learn to road music, and learn the piano.
TP: How long have you been playing harmonica?
RG: Since about ‘63.
TP: you give the impression that you play every night of the year. One gets the feeling that you've never sat down, put your feet up, and watched television. What's the reality of your life?
RG: First of all, I don't play every night of the year, so I'm not killing myself. We end up working an awful lot. I don't know why. There's a very strong demand for us to play in various countries. If we didn't do well in the States, we wouldn't have to play here so much, but as it happens, thank God, everybody has us booked up all the time. We get breaks —— it's not as terrifying as it right seem. This summer we had it reasonably easy, but we never take off months and months at a time.
TP: So you like being on the road?
RG: I don't like every aspect of it —— getting up in the morning and stuff. It's pretty hard and tedious sometimes, but I hate being in one city. I like moving on all the time.
TP: Do you have a family?
RG: Well, I'm not married.
TP: What are your present tour plans?
RG: After this U.S. tour, which is five weeks, we have two weeks off, then we do a month in Europe, then we record an album. In the summer we'll be back over here sometime. The road doesn't kill me the way it might a lot of people. The band seems to enjoy it. I'm not one of those guys who freaks out on the third night of a tour and says ‘I can't take this.’
TP: Where and when do you write?
RG I write between tours. I wish I could write on tour; I write odd bit, and pieces, but I could never do the Paul McCartney six—songs-in-a-hotel~room. I usually write in Ireland when I go back home, or sometimes in London. I usually write in bulk three or four nights in a fit of insomnia.
TP After Taste split where did you get your new band?
RG I knew Gerry McAvoy (bass) and Wilgar Campbell (drums) from a band called Deep Joy which had also moved from Belfast to London. They toured with Taste on a few occasions. After Taste split up, there were a lot of contractual problems, so that took me a couple of months to get solved. Gerry and Wilgar were ideal, and I knew them as people, so it was great.
TP Where did Wilgar
that Donald Duck drum?
(Ed note: memories of the first solo tour)
RG: He painted it himself, he's got a lot more interests than the normal guy — he builds tables and chairs. He's also a soccer fanatic. He can tell you what jerseys a certain team wore in 1935 in a fourth division game. He can tell you, too, that it was the only time that the tear had worn that color, he's playing with a group called Dogs which is kind of the old John Dummer band reformed. He also spent some time with Mick Abrahams in his band. He doesn't like to tour. He'd rather stay in London and do the pub-rock scene.
TP How did you come to meet up with Rod de’Ath and Lou Martin?
RG: Gerry got to know Rod first. He rented a room off him. He used to hang out and catch the Killing Floor gigs ( Rod and Lou were both in KF ) . I used to see them at the Marquee, and they used to come to the odd gig ‘cause Gerry was in the band, so I got to know them that way. Once, Wilgar got ill and couldn't fly over for an Irish tour, so on literally hours notice, I rang up Rod cause he was the only man who had any vague idea what the songs were. He did that tour. Then Wilgar didn't turn up for a Swiss tour so Rod was brought in again. Wilgar eventually left after that, so Rod just stayed on as Killing Floor were just splitting up. I said “bring Lou down some night to jam,’ cause he’ s just too good a keyboard player not to get hold of.
TP Did you add Lou just because he was both good and available, or because you'd gone as far as you wanted as a three piece?
RG: I'm still happy with a three piece, but you get the old hankering to play with another instrument on stage —— for harmonies, a little bit of cross-play. Some of the songs needed that extra instrument. It's spread out the sound a bit and it gives the bass and drums a little more room -— everyone takes on a slightly looser form as a result. It's nice to hear chords coming over from the other side of the stage that you can work with.
TP: to you have more electric guitars than just the Strat and Telecaster you use on stage?
RG: I've got a couple of other ones. I don't have any kind of great collection, they're all unusual, pawnshop things. I got a Silvertone for $15 once, and I used it on “Cradle Rock.” I have a Japanese guitar that was a gift, and a spare Strat for when this one dies, and a couple of odds and ends —— a twelve—string Harmony, but I don't have a glass cage for a collection. But I have gotten a couple of odd ones over the years.
TP: You must be pretty happy with the Strat.
RG I am. It's playing really good now.
TP: You ought to threaten Fender with an ad campaign showing year guitar and saying “I've only had this for three weeks..."
RG: Fender, I swear to God, I never got a set of strings from them. I have a Telecaster that once fell off the truck that brings baggage from the plane to the terminal, the wheel of the truck went over the guitar. The case was ruined, and there was some wearing off the side of the guitar, the bridge was broken, and all the strings, but that's it. I got new bridges, and filed down the bit that was gone, and it was all right. They're really indestructible. I saw Townshend play once with a Telecaster, and he tried to break it, but it wouldn't break. It was breaking the amplifier, but not the guitar. He got a great sound with a Telecaster, although he always used it for “My Generation.” The Rickenbackers give great sound —— I don't know why he doesn't use these again. I suppose they don't have the fat sound that Gibson has. He used to stuff up the hollow parts with cotton wool to make them solid. It's very difficult to get the right guitar for Townshend. On one hand he wants the clear crisp chording sound, but on the other... Maybe he should try the solid Rickenbacker, but they don't sustain enough.
TP: Do you have plans for the future? You seem to be learning about studios more.
RG: The music's not going to get any fancier just because we're getting mere relaxed in the studio. I never think in terms of projects, I think projects are just to please the critics. Most musicians would rather try and improve their songs, and progress in their own way. I don't consider myself a pop artist. A true pop artist is always thinking of making a musical version of the Bible or something. My idea of a concept album would be about some character that you knew of. Mine would be too corny anyway. It would be about Jesse James or something like that.
TP: Have you ever considered doing an acoustic album?
RG: That's in the cards. It wouldn't be all straight blues. It's like the way I did “Out On the Western Plain” with a Celtic feel, a Celtic tuning. Aping old blues things doesn't do anything for the blues legacy at all, you have to try and reinterpret the thing and bring it up to date without put-ting a varnish over it. There's so much you could do on an acoustic album —— you could have everyone playing on it -- mandolin, mandola, National steel. You could really dig deep in the acoustic, which you can't really do on an electric album with one or two acoustic numbers. In Europe, a lot of people ask me because they've heard a lot more acoustic playing from me than over here.
TP: What do you think of singles? Did you ever try to have a hit?
RG: No. We don't release singles. Singles are an age-old hang-up with me. A couple of early Taste things were released kind of against my will in Europe. One did very well -- ‘What's Going On —-in Belgium and Holland and so on. There was a time when I thought singles were all right, but as the years go by, I’d hate to have to perform a single over and over, and on TV, dress up, and really crawl to make it a hit. I could have brought out Tattooed Lady or Cradle Rock,’ not to be hits, but for radio exposure, but I never got the enthusiasm up for it. Then people suggest that you cut three minutes off here, and I’d never do that. LP’s though, that's more my kind of thing. I’d hate to be battling up the charts with John Denver and Helen Reddy. And then if you don't have a hit with your second, everyone thinks you're finished.
TP: What do you think about the chart bands these days?
RG: There was a time when I liked a lot of what was in the charts, but now I like less and less. That mock soul, that disco, it's an insult.
This from TOTP. Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press. America's Only British Rock Magazine
from the April / May 1976 issue.
Thanks to Michael Young for passing it along.
reformatted by roryfan
Mailing & Discussion List
Rory and Slash