MIKE HARRISON The 70s star who walked away from the music business and almost didn’t come back. Mike Harrison reckons that “after bull-fighting, music is the second dirtiest business in the world. As much as I loved it, I had to walk away because I just wasn’t making any money.”
Archive: Lost In Time And Space
From bands gone missing in action to equipment and fan traditions: a nostalgic look back at those we have lost.
Those words of caution come not from the mouth of a 20-something failed rock wannabe, but from a singer with a string of hit records to his name.
Once hailed as 'the white Ray Charles', Mike Harrison felt that his band Spooky Tooth were “becoming stale” in the early 1970s, so he quit for a solo career. But it didn’t match up to previous exploits, and he soon discovered that his royalties were being cross-referenced against unrecouped Spooky Tooth debts.
“Island Records kept us on a weekly retainer, but it just wasn’t enough,” he explains. “My manager had even tried to make me sign a piece of paper that meant if I couldn’t play through illness or whatever, his doctor could certify me as insane. I’d had enough.”
During the years that followed, Harrison seemingly vanished. In fact he worked as a barman, then in a nightclub, and later drove a meat delivery truck. He also had a spell as a milkman. One wonders if, with 11 million album sales to his name, people recognised him as he delivered their morning pintas?
“No. And where on earth did you get that figure from?” Harrison says with a laugh, calling into question his new label’s press release. “Believe me, if Spooky Tooth sold that many records I never got a penny. If only I had a music lawyer, I’d have pursued things a lot more tenaciously. If I had a business brain I’d be sitting in a country mansion by now. Legalities are something I’d still consider.”
While Harrison was still in self-imposed limbo, in 1999 the Hamburg Blues Band offered him a regular monthly gig, which eventually led to fortuitous meeting with one Mike Haslen, a Spooky Tooth fan who also owned a label called Halo Records. As an aside, keyboard player Gary Wright and drummer Mike Kellie joined Harrison in a Spooky Tooth 2004 reunion tour of Germany [sadly, bassist Greg Ridley, who was also in Humble Pie, had died]. All three remain friends, but nobody knows for sure if it might happen again.
“Who can predict anything?” muses Harrison, who at the end of 2006 was talked into releasing an album of cover versions called Late Starter.
“I’d sworn never to sign another record deal again, but Mike Haslen from Halo is someone that I trust,” Harrison says. “Reviews have been pretty good, and the plan from here is just to get back on the road. I don’t mind playing small venues again, the closer you get to a crowd the better. I know that I won’t be playing to thousands of people, but if I could get 500 each night then that would make me very happy indeed.”
ROCK POWER Music magazines trying take a broad, pan-European attitude never worked, and Rock Power came no closer than any other to making the concept successful.
Arriving in the early 90s, the monthly mag attempted to mix a British approach and an open-minded awareness of what was happening on the continent. Ultimately the project failed. Its coverage of the UK scene offered nothing substantially different from many of its rivals, while input from European bases proved perfunctory and confusing. After a couple of years the title disappeared. These days it’s recalled mostly for the cunning inclusion of a regular Judge Dredd comic strip.
In the early 70s he was at every festival and London gig, banging his tambourine and dancing like a loon. 'Jesus' was as famous as some of the bands.
“The Desperate Housewives of rock.”
Given that the band brings together former members of Vixen, Femme Fatale and Megadeth, and until recently had ex-Silent Rage man EJ Curse as their bassist, it’s tempting to describe Roktopuss as a full-blown lost supergroup.
Vocalist Lorraine Lewis, erstwhile frontwoman of big-haired 80s rockers Femme Fatale, and ex-Madam X/Vixen drummer Roxy Petrucci teamed up in 2004 after the VH1 show Bands Reunited attempted to get the original Vixen line-up back together.
“Not enough bling-bling was going kerching-ching,” Petrucci explains from a Nashville studio where Roktopuss were at the time recording a debut five-song EP with producer Michael Wagener. “Janet [Gardner, vocals] left and I followed because the money ran out on the road. As much as I love the rest of Vixen I wasn’t going to play for free; we’re not millionaires.”
Femme Fatale broke up, leaving an unreleased second album. [“There are 17 songs. The only way I can see them coming out is if we re-release the first album and add some bonus tracks,” Lorraine says.]
Fans were thrown a curve-ball when Lewis dabbled in a punkier style with her next band, Snowball. Vixen’s 1998 reunion album, Tangerine, suffered a similarly muted response.
But two new songs – Dog Bite and Naked – posted at Roktopuss’s MySpace site confirm that a difficult corner has been turned for a group who disarmingly refer to themselves as “the Desperate Housewives of rock”.
Roktopuss have already begun making live appearances, and Lewis says they’ll play in the UK “if someone makes us an offer”. “We’ll put on our leather and high heels and come rock the house again.”
LOST IN CANADA
One of Canada’s finest rock bands return with an anthology on CD and DVD. And that’s just the start.
Twenty-three years of stunning accomplishments on record and on stage make Honeymoon Suite one of Canada’s most important rock bands.
Fronted by vocalist Johnnie Dee and guitarist Derry Grehan, the group has a glowing discography and history, including two triple-platinum, one double-platinum and two gold albums in Canada and a Juno Award for Group Of The Year. Their singles have included one No.1, nine Top 10s and three Top 25 chart placings in Canada, as well as three hits on the US Billboard chart. Honeymoon Suite’s music has featured in Miami Vice, One Crazy Summer, The Wraith and Lethal Weapon, and the band have toured with Aerosmith, Jethro Tull, Heart, Bryan Adams and Status Quo, among others.
Despite their success across the Atlantic, the band never really gained a foothold in the UK. A newly released two-CD anthology is a long-overdue and richly deserved celebration of their extraordinary career, and includes material and hits from their WEA catalogue as well as from more recent albums, plus rarities and previously unreleased tracks taken from the vaults and the band’s personal collection. Warner Music is also releasing a career- spanning DVD featuring all their videos plus interviews and live footage.
Classic Rock put a few questions to guitarist Derry Grehan.
What have Honeymoon Suite been doing since their 2002 album Lemon Tongue?
The band has continued to tour and Johnnie, and I have both ventured off into various solo projects when not on the road with HMS. In the last year we have also signed with new management in the form of Tom Treumuth, who has been a long-time friend of the group and was also the producer of our first album [Honeymoon Suite] in 1983.
How did the song Lethal Weapon – which appeared in the classic Mel Gibson action movie – come about?
We were asked to record the song by Warner Brothers in Los Angeles, who Honeymoon Suite was signed to at the time. The track was to be produced by Ted Templeman, and we jumped at the opportunity as we were also looking for a producer for our third record. We hit it off right away with Ted, and he went on to produce Racing After Midnight for us.
You’ve just released a new compilation CD.
Yes, and it is very special – a two-CD set including all the singles, great album tracks and rare unreleased songs from the past 20 years. Honeymoon Suite owes a big thanks to the UK because that’s where the project has been spearheaded.
And you are also releasing a video anthology?
The new DVD is slated for release in March. It’s called Bed Of Nails and will contain all of our videos, bonus live footage and interviews plus two new videos. It is being released on Warner Music in Canada.
What are the band’s plans for 2007, and will fans see Honeymoon Suite in the UK again?
Johnnie and I have both been writing during our winter break and we intend to start a new album sometime in 2007. We’re working on some selected US dates, starting in February. Another exciting bit of news is that we’re planning a reunion tour by the original Honeymoon Suite line-up. We begin rehearsals in February and plan to play shows in the summer. We would love to come back for a tour in the UK, but it’s an expensive venture so it will all come down to timing and money.
Missing in action for so long that many presumed they’d called it a day, veteran metalheads Raven have lined up a rare UK appearance at Camden Underworld on March 4 . Back in the day, the Gallagher brothers – bassist/vocalist John and guitarist John – were notorious for their studio-trashing behaviour and excessive alcohol consumption.
Raven’s songs relied on cranked-up chainsaw guitars, screaming vocals and fast, thunderous rhythm parts. They were perfectly timed to join the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, but preferred to use the term ‘athletic rock’ instead.
LOST AOR GOD
Slamer - The one-time guitarist-for-hire’s own band.
Mike Slamer has played guitar with some of melodic hard rock's finest groups – including City Boy, Streets, Steelhouse Lane, Seventh Key, and now the equally acclaimed Slamer. Swapping BlackCountry smoke for Atlanta, Georgia’s humidity, Slamer formed Streets with ex-Kansas singer Steve Walsh. Streets (1983) and Crimes In Mind (1985) became cult favourites, but Mike admits that in terms of sales both failed to live up to expectations.
“Neither even came close,” he reflects. “Things began to pick up after a tour with Loverboy, but then Steve decided to return to Kansas.”
At the suggestion of producer Beau Hill, Slamer and his wife upped sticks and moved to Los Angeles to become a session player, and started to write music for soundtracks, and for other artists including House Of Lords, Hardline and Stryper frontman Michael Sweet.
“There are quite a few artists who wouldn’t appreciate me telling you that I played on their records,” he confides, “although my being on Warrant’s first two records escaped out of the bag.” Slamer eventually returned to thestage for the first time in 22 years after teaming up with vocalist Terry Brock and Kansas bassist Billy Greer in own self-titled group. Slamer initially soughta younger name to front his band, but ex-Strangeways man Brock breathed life into a gloriously pompous set of songs released last September as Nowhere Land. “I’ve no idea how such a record might fare in this day and age,” Mike Slamer concludes, “but that didn’t stop me from wanting to make it.”
LOST CAVEGIRL BIKINI
Canadian rock goddess who caused a stir in the 80s has hung up her broadsword for good.
Ah, Lee Aaron – sultry Canadian songstress supreme. In the 1980s, she was a goddess of the highest order among salivating male rock fans. She was a self-styled Metal Queen, and she had the armour-plated brassiere and Excalibur-wielding pose to prove it. Her songs Whatcha Do To My Body, Sex With Love and I Like My Rock Hard left nothing to the imagination. And neither did those moist patches on her bright red spandex trousers...
So, where is she these days? Sadly, not to say tragically, she appears to have sheathed her broadsword and is now pursuing a bluesy, jazzy direction. [Which is actually how she first started out, singing jazz and Broadway standards in a local Toronto choir.]
After a period of disowning her rampant rock-chick persona Lee has now come to terms with it: “Sure, I’ll be your Metal Queen, baby, but I feel I’m also so much more,” she said in a recent interview.
But don’t bet on Ms Aaron retrieving her cavegirl bikini for another Oui magazine photo session anytime soon.
Ah, the tell-tale aroma of wet dog.
It doesn’t half take you back...
The term ‘prog rock’ may conjure up images of things like men in gold lamé wizard capes, but down in the trenches at your typical Yes show circa 1971 the punters were sporting a rather less glamorous garment. If you wanted to demonstrate how hip and anti-fashion you were, the unisex uniform you adopted was an ensemble of long and lank centre-parted hair, faded Levi’s shirt and – most essential – the best Afghan coat you could afford. The Afghan coat – usually sewn crudelyfrom pieces of sheepskin [or was it yak? Who knew?], with an embroidered pattern around the border – may once have signified that the wearer was a veteran of the hippy trails from Kathmandu to Kandahar. Top-of-the-range Afghans were white; bog-standard brown Afghans suggested that the wearer’s journey to the East went no further than Petticoat Lane market.
After you and it had got soaked in the rain, the Afghan dried as stiff as cardboard. They also stunk to high heaven: an odour of wet dog that no amount of patchouli oil could disguise. Around 1976 Afghan coats disappeared from the streets of Britain virtually overnight. Some blame the rise of punk and the decline of hippies. More likely is that the UK’s entire supply had simply rotted away. _
Gaffes galore on forgotten C4 rock show.
ECT was a live Friday evening rock show, screened in Channel 4’s earliest days. It started off well but soon ran out of steam. Nevertheless, there were several notable highlights. Among them: Cronos of Venom stage-diving and crashing nose-first on the floor when the audience parted like the Red Sea. Magnum’s Bob Catley being hoisted up on a crane and getting lodged in the studio rafters. And best of all: Misty, singer of the New Torpedos, losing her skirt during a high-kicking routine. She retrieved said item only to have it torn off again by grasping headbangers. Old VHS tapes of said incident should be sent to the usual Classic Rock address.
Britain’s best blues rockers return after a long time away...
Stretch were regarded by some music critics as the best British blues rock band of all time. They scored a Top 20 hit with Why Did You Do It? and recorded three excellent albums: Elastique, You Can’t Beat Your Brain For Entertainment and Lifeblood. The band showcased the superb vocal talents of Elmer Gantry and the blistering guitar work of Kirby Gregory. In 2007 Stretch - now comprised of original members Gantry, Gregory and drummer Jeff Rich [ex-Status Quo] plus bass player Jim Scadding – are back for gigs in May and an album later in the year.
Why did you split in 1978?
Kirby: We felt that we had given it our best shot with three Stretch albums and a whole lot of touring but we ended up feeling like we were going backwards. After the initial success of Why Did You Do It? expectations were high. We developed well as a live act but the records weren’t selling. We were determined to keep plugging away at it because we knew we were a great band, but we couldn’t maintain the momentum and became frustrated at the lack of support we were getting from our management.
Elmer: We became very self-critical and ultimately self-destructive. It wasn’t until the BBC sessions were released on CD that I re-listened to some of our stuff and said: "Fuck - we really rock!"
How did you feel about your biggest hit featuring in the Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels movie?
Kirby: Shocked! A friend called me and said they thought it might be in the film so I went to see it. I’m glad to say I managed to control the urge to stand on my seat and shout: ‘Hey, that’s my song!’ But, man, it sounded good.
Elmer: Every time I heard the track on TV or as part of some new compilation, my pleasure was undermined by knowing that I wouldn’t be getting paid anything. The Lock Stock... version was different in as much as not only was it beautifully placed, it was with a company that understood that the artist should get a share, so finally, after about 25 years, I got some artist royalties.
Why have you re-formed Stretch after such a long break?
Kirby: Because we’ve still got something to say musically. It’s definitely not a nostalgia thing; we have simply picked up where we left off.
LOST GUITAR NAMES
It's all in the name
Guitars used to be called cool things – why the hell aren’t they any more?Let’s face it, in order to rock you need a guitar. A six-string behemoth that you plug in, crank your amp up to 11 and let rip. 'Twas ever thus. And it used to be that these fine weapons of mass distraction had names to be reckoned with; where would Jimmy Page be without his trusty Les Paul? Would Clapton and Hendrix have the same clout without their Stratocasters? James Hetfield opts for Explorers while Randy Rhoads favoured a Flying V. And we’ll bet that most rock fans can recognise those guitars.
But lately, a nasty trend has spread over the guitar world. These days, your favourite axe hero might wield an ESP LTD EC- 1000VB, a Jackson USA SL2H-MAH, a Lag RF200BSH or even strum a Martin 000C-16RGTE – lovely guitars, we’re sure, but they’re not very rock.
So come on, guitar makers, please try harder – we wanna see the new beasties that shatter our eardrums given names they can live up to – where’s the Dynamite Pincer, the Silver Sabre, the Demon Scratch, the, er, Nitro Stapler? (That’s enough – Ed.)
Queen’s Brian May even named his homemade guitar – granted, the Red Special wasn’t the most exciting moniker, but at least he tried. It’s time the professional guitar makers did too.
LOST RECORD SHOP
After that special 12” single import from the US? Here’s where you got it. It was an institution, but alas is no more. If you were a serious rock fan in the 80s, then Shades [in St Anne’s Court, London] was the place to go. Want that obscure AOR album? Shades had it. Want to get your stuff autographed by the latest metal band? Shades is where you went. And it wasn’t just for Londoners either, we travelled from all over the land to cross its sacred threshold. Oh, the memories.
OTHER 'LOST' CAUSES
Cassettes. Remember how much of a problem they could be, as these would unravel while playing? Now, they're a cult item. Bands have even started to release albums on this format!
Flexi discs. They were seven inch discs made of thin, floppy plastic, and given away stuck to the covers of magazines in the late 70s/early 80s. More resilient than you might imagine. But tough to play.
Notorious. Late 80s band who were gonna rule the world. Featuring Sean Harris, ex-Diamond Head and Robin George, a guitar hero who was hailed as a rock god in the early 80s. But their only album was such a flop, despite the money lavished on it, that they soon disappeared.
* Canterbury Fayre. Festivals have come and gone. Some are missed, others are best forgotten. This one happened three times, from 2001-3. Among those who played were Hawkwind, Porcupine Tree, Caravan Kevin Ayers, Arthur Brown, The Damned,. Robert Plant was the final headliner. Financial problems ended up finishing off the festival.