America Revisited - Epilog
by John Corbett
Ian Samwell Interview: October 21, 1998
Ian Samwell: Hello?
John Corbett: Hi, is this Ian?
I: Hold on just one second. [answering machine in background]
I: Stupid thing.
J: Hello, Ian?
J: This is John Corbett calling.
I: Hi there.
J: How you doing?
I: I'm good.
J: Well listen, I was really excited to read your email there and hear that you had some things you wanted to talk about.
I: Well, you know, you get used to reading it all wrong in the press…
I: Mistakes kind of perpetuate themselves. You know, one writer will do some research
and incorporate three or four mistakes from previous articles. But when it comes to
J: Well, absolutely. I've been actually working on that history for years. I started it about two and a half years ago and I've never actually had a chance to interview anybody in the group. But I've read so many articles and I've collected all their albums and I've gotten transcripts of interviews that other people have gotten. I've gotten -- I thought -- a very clear view of how the group had gotten together. But of course as you do more and more research and you come into contact with other people the story changes and certainly what I know now is a lot more than what I'd originally thought. I'm more than happy to retract anything that does not match the historical record. That's what it's all about.
I: From what I've read so far -- I mean it's a tremendous effort. You've done an awful lot. I'm amazed that you haven’t spoken with the guys. Have you met them at all?
J: No, I've never met them. Actually I'm pretty good friends with Steve Orchard, who has done three interviews with Dewey and one with Dan in 1985. He's given me the opportunity to listen to those and use comments and excerpts of those to get a gist of what was going on, to add quotes for the history. So that was really nice. As soon as I got that I realized it's a good time to rewrite it…
I: Uh huh…
J: I'd certainly love all the
input I could possibly get. But this
isn't just simply about
That is a long way back! [Chuckles]
Well I guess you know about skiffle.
Skiffle was a craze -- I suppose you could best call it -- that took
J: So is this sort of like a British version of American rockabilly?
I: Well no, it predates rockabilly. I'm talking about more of Appalachian, early stuff, but folk music by black singers like Huddy Ledbetter and so on, who wrote a song called "Rock Island Line", which is about a train. There was another train song called "The Wreck Of The Old '97" and various other sing-along-type folk songs that people used to do in the old days in the American East, not too much in the West in those days.
J: So how did you personally get involved in that?
I: Well, everybody was doin' it. Everybody bought a guitar. It was a fun thing to do. It was just kind of a hobby. So I joined a skiffle group called the Ash Valley Skiffle Group. And John Lennon and Paul McCartney joined one called the Quarrymen.
J: I've heard of that.
I: And that's what we played, but it got kind of boring. And rock 'n' roll was happening at the same time. And there was a guy by the name Tommy Steele who had what was technically the first British rock 'n' roll record. It was called "Rock With The Caveman", but it was a pretty poor attempt and it was really a rip-off of Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock" type thing. Then there was kind of a long gap when one or two other people tried to do something or other. And Cliff was in a group called the Dick Teague Skiffle Group along with his original drummer, Terry Stone.
J: And if I'm not mistaken on this, his original name was Harry Webb, and you suggested the name Cliff Richard.
I: Uh, yeah - there was a guy by the name of
Harry Greatorex who came down from the
I: Sorry about that. Fortunately you chose to do this in the
evening so the phone isn't gonna be ringing too much. I shouldn't say that, 'cause now I said it
and it's gonna ring off the hook.
Right, well, I wouldn't want to drag out the whole thing. Anyway, but yeah, certainly this guy said,
"Well, Drifters alone is not enough.
You need to have another name like Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps or
Bill Haley and The Comets," you know.
But Cliff's name was Harry Webb and… it just wasn't cool. Everybody in
J: And certainly they're very well able to remember him after you wrote the song "Move It", which became a really big hit back in 1958. How does that feel after all these years to see that that has become such a legendary song in the history of rock?
I: I guess the thing to say about that is that I
didn't sit down and say, "Okay I'm going to go write the first real rock
'n' roll song in
J: Well, it certainly worked out well. Obviously Cliff has been a huge superstar ever since, and you were his original guitarist…
I: Original lead guitarist. We did have a rhythm guitarist by the name of Norman Mitham, but he dropped out pretty early on. At that time, I hadn't really been playing very long. I'd been playing acoustic guitar in a skiffle group but switched to electric guitar while I was still in the group. I had an electric guitar; I hadn't been playing it long enough to be really good at it. So I had to drop out in favor of Hank Marvin, who is a legend in his own right, who inspired all kinds of people like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jim Beck.
J: Pretty nice resume.
I: But he was the essence of The Shadows. They really are -- still -- the world's most
successful instrumental band even though they never came close to making any
noise. They're a lot like Cliff -- I
mean they're big everywhere else.
They're huge in
J: And it's interesting, too, that you mentioned that in another skiffle group you had Lennon and McCartney involved and then mentioned on your web page that the next big rock act signed by EMI in '62 was The Beatles. Which was kind of interesting after Cliff Richard was signed.
I: I don't know who first suggested that, but I guess there's some truth in it. If we hadn't been the success that we were -- that is Cliff and The Shadows -- I'm not sure that EMI would have had all that much interest. In fact most of them didn't. The Beatles were shopped to every other head of EMI and it wasn't until George Martin heard it that they got accepted.
J: And of course, ironically enough, George
Martin also went to work with
I: Yeah, well that was a pretty natural choice. Yeah, everybody likes George. Everybody knew George. I was out of the picture by that point. But I certainly approved of him as a choice. George is brilliant.
J: Yeah it's kind of hard to argue with that. But you yourself -- you're not just a songwriter and a guitarist, but you're also a producer and you worked with quite a few bands during the '60s after you left Cliff Richard and The Shadows. Can you tell us a little about those groups?
I: Well, I started making demos of songs that
I'd written. Because I really didn't
like the way that other people were doing demos of them. And Decca Records, which is a very big deal
J: Which brings us naturally
I: It's kind of funny who you talk to. Some people know me for Cliff. Some people know me for the Small Faces,
which became The Faces and then became Rod Stewart, but most people in the
J: Now, with regard to
I: Well, I thought they were enormously
talented. How it happened was that
someone came into my office at Warner Bros., and my job at that time was
looking for talent. I'd already brought
in Rod Stewart and The Faces and a girl called Linda Lewis, who went on to have
tremendous success in Britain. But this
guy came in. His name was Dave Hauson. And he had some group that he wanted me to
hear. I was kind of sitting in my
office, and he said, look, "They're up at the Roundhouse Studios right
now, can you come?" And it's only
about a mile and a half or something. So
I said, okay, I'll come up and listen.
And when I got there, they had equipment problems. So instead of actually playing me something,
they played me a tape. And in the middle
of this tape was this guitar solo. So I
said, "Well, who played the guitar solo?" And they said, "Well it's this friend of
ours, his name is Gerry, uh
J: Hang on a second here, Ian. I'm having some phone trouble here.
I: I can hear it. [Some brief dialogue about switching to landline phones.]
J: Okay, there we go.
I: Oh, that's much better. There you are. Alright.
J: Kind of getting back to what we were talking about so far that you had gone to see this group play. Was that Daze by any chance?
I: Was the name of the band "Daze"?
I: I have absolutely no idea. I really wasn't that interested. They weren't that good. No offense; they're probably all rich and famous now under some other name. But… at that time it was nothing.
J: I think the connection was so bad, can you go over -- I hate to ask you to do this again but as right now it's so much better -- but a little bit about what happened after that, because that's when the phone started to go haywire.
I: Well I invited them up to the office and we talked about it and they explained who they were and what they were doing. I said, "Well, come on over to the house and play me some songs." I had a house which I shared with Jeff Dexter and the girl I previously mentioned, Linda Lewis. It was a big house, so we had a music room with enough space to rehearse. We really wouldn't have wanted to take one of today's bands into it. As you probably know, America was unplugged before anybody else. So that kind of worked. But what I wanted them to do was get some experience playing around the clubs. And Jeff Dexter was the ideal man to do that. And he agreed to get them some shows, and out of that he became their manager. And took about a year from the time I first picked up on Gerry's guitar solo to the time we actually got them signed. Warner Bros. were a little bit reluctant. I don't think they got it. You know, they just didn't see it. And so in the end I said well, look, I'll produce it if you sign them. And from that point they said fine.
J: I've heard many, many times about Jeff Dexter's role in actually promoting the group and your role in history, at least in everything that I have read to this point has just been, Oh yeah, he was Jeff Dexter's roommate and he's the guy who produced the first album. So how did Jeff Dexter wind up getting all the publicity? Was it because he was a big DJ over at the Roundhouse and people just knew who he was?
I: Uh, yeah, he was definitely one of the world's most well-known people on the London Scene. To be perfectly honest, I discovered him, too. I was being a DJ over at the Lyceum Ballroom. We used to do giant record hops, two-thousand kids. And amongst all those kids was one little guy who was, I don't know, sixteen, seventeen years old, and he could do the twist like nobody. He was very cool. He was the boy from New York City. He had a mohair suit and a button-down shirt. Totally hip for the time. When he started to do the twist, groups of people would gather around him in a big circle just to watch, to try to learn how to do it. So I invited him up onto the stage and then I invited him to be a co-DJ with me and we became great friends. I went through a divorce. He wanted to move out from his parents' place and he moved in with me.
J: And was this a long time before you met the trio?
I: Oh yes, this would be around '62 or something like that. We were long-time friends. We weren't always together, but there was one point at which a house became available that was, you know, big, too big for just me. And we had all decided that it would be fun to -- we'd spent so much time together, all of us, not just me and Jeff and Linda but a couple of other people, too. And so we all rented this house on Hamptons Way in the north part of London. Very nice kind of district. And we all pitched in together. That's how that happened.
J: So now you meet the group and you have them going around basically the London circuit for the most part, all the big clubs around there…
I: Well, "big" would be the wrong word -- almost all clubs here. At that point there weren't really many big clubs, but there were certainly clubs and pubs and things that you couldn't play in. Jeff Dexter knew everybody and everybody knew Jeff. He was a very identifiable character.
J: And also, too, I've learned about some of the groups that America toured with before they even got signed. I believe they were at the time with the group Family, they toured with them a little bit. I've heard also that they toured with Cat Stevens.
I: "Touring" is the wrong word. They were doing shows, but "touring" would be overstating it. They didn't actually do any tours or such.
J: So would it be like maybe a series of two or three concerts together or something…
I: Or one-ups.
J: So now it's about a year after you met them and finally Warner Bros. said, okay, go ahead and record the album as long as you do it. So what was it like telling these guys they've got a contract, they're going to record this? And what was it like making that first album? At least the first eleven songs.
I: Very much straight ahead. We had already planned out what we were going to do. We had already recorded rough sketches in a very small demo studio called Central Sound, which is on Denmark Street in the center of London, and it is also known as Tin Pan Alley. So everybody in music would be there at one time or another. In fact at Central Sound the Rolling Stones made their first-ever record, called "Come On". It was a cover of Chuck Berry song. So in order to kind of pre-produce it, I'd taken them into Central Sound and we'd already done it. So in the process of doing that I made all of the amendments and alterations and things that you do in terms of pre-production.
J: What about the often-told legend that America recorded their first demos at a farmhouse? What's the deal behind that?
I: I never heard any of that. I don't know that that applies -- you'd have to ask Gerry, or I could ask Gerry or something, if they did something on tape before I got to hear them. They may well have used a farmhouse for later products, but the first and the second albums were both pre-produced and pre-recorded at Central Sound. Now none of that recorded information was used in the final albums…
J: So there were actually quite a bit of material out there that was recorded during those sessions that really has never even seen the light of day.
I: No, and it would probably not without their permission. I still have one of those tapes, number one because they gave them to us.
J: Would you say that it's any good compared with some of their other stuff?
I: No, not at all. I mean it was a really, really small recording studio. Very few facilities. No toys. Very primitive. Two-track tape recorder. Maybe at best a four-track, but I think it was really up to two. It was just a matter of having something, a rough sketch to stand back and look at. Look at things like construction and lyrics. And do we need a solo? What do we want to do in terms of the end? Shall we end it, shall we fade it out? All of that sort of thing. What additional instruments do we want to throw into the pot?
J: See that's one of the most interesting parts. You guys go into the Trident Studios and you have all this equipment and all these people you can work with, and it's still such a strikingly simple album in that it's so acoustic and it's basically the three-part harmonies and it really stays true to at least some of the earlier live early stuff that I have heard off of tape. I'm just wondering, though, in those sessions, is there any aspect of their music or their lyrics that they originally came in with that maybe you produced out of it or that you sort of persuaded them not to do? What are some of the changes to their sound that you saw as that first album came together?
I: Well I guess the first thing I should say is that their idea at the time was to do something more like Sgt. Pepper. They were very creative. They had tons of ideas. I actually said, really, it's not a good thing for you to be doing this, you won't be able to support it on stage. I love what you're doing just the way it is. We'll enhance it a little bit with the odd thing here and there, and of course the sound quality will be good. But if you start bringing in piccolo trumpets and anything else that George Martin might have done for Sgt. Pepper, then you're just not going to be able to live up to it on stage. And in any case, you're magic the way it is. Eventually they all agreed to that. I think they were a bit disappointed at the time.
J: It's interesting because then you played such a large role in them becoming known as an acoustic group. I've heard on an interview with Gerry in the past that he mentioned that they started out as an electric group in high school and they switched to acoustic guitars rather than the other way around [as it was] for a lot of other artists. It kind of made it sound like it was an intentional sound. And so you're telling me that they really wanted to graduate past that a lot faster than they eventually did.
I: Oh, definitely. They did. In terms of the record, they would like to add a lot more. More sophisticated, more complicated arrangements, so on and so forth, you know. But I mean here were three guys who were the group, and to add other people, expand the group into a five or six-man group in order to achieve what they wanted, or to have the problem later of hiring independent musicians to play the parts they couldn't play themselves. Well, really, it just didn't seem the right way to go.
J: Now, the first single from the album was "I Need You". How did you feel about that one being the first one out? Did you feel that that was really the most appropriate one? Were you satisfied with the record at that point?
I: No. Absolutely not. No. I wasn't satisfied with "I Need You" at all. I wasn't satisfied with the way that we had recorded it. I did think that it was the best song on the album as a potential single, but I really didn't think it was strong enough for the first single. And I kept on about that, saying, "Well, do you have anything else at all?" And so Dewey played me "Horse With No Name" and I just like fell in love with it immediately. Of course it wasn't called "Horse With No Name" at that point, it was called "Desert Song". But the name of it was obviously "Horse With No Name" so I asked him to change the name and he did.
J: So, that was later recorded at Morgan Studios. I guess that was toward the end of 1971.
I: Well we couldn't get back into Trident. I chose Trident for a reason. I thought it was the best studio in town. And I chose Ken Scott to be the engineer because I thought he was the best engineer, certainly for that project. And I chose Apple Studios to master the album. The very next year, Music Week, which is the British equivalent to Billboard, voted Trident the best studio, Ken Scott the best engineer, and Apple the best cutting facility. So I think I got straight A's on that.
J: Definitely. But you were able to bring all of those people to Morgan with you, were you not?
I: Well we did have Kim Haworth, who was a friend of theirs playing drums, and I brought in Ray Cooper to do the percussion because I wanted to simulate horses' hooves. I don't know if you know Ray, but he's the guy who plays all the time with Elton John now.
J: Oh really. Still to this day?
I: Oh yes. Well, I'm not sure if he did the last tour, but he was associated with Elton John for many, many years. He's brilliant. He's played on lots and lots of hit records, I couldn't even remember. He had a whole truckload of percussion-type instruments. I remember one time asking him if he happened to have any wind chimes. And he said sure, if you want brass or glass or wood. And he took me down to this little truck that he had and opened up the door and all this stuff inside. The guy is brilliant. So, that was that.
J: When "A Horse With No Name" was recorded, and I believe that it was also recorded with "Everyone I Meet Is From California" at Morgan Studios, I heard that there were at least four songs recorded at that point, maybe more, and I also know that there was at that time consideration of making a second album. Were you actually making or shooting for a second album?
I: Shooting for a second album, but didn't do that at Morgan. We did it at a place in Chelsea. I think the name of it was Sound Techniques. And the only thing I remember… I think we did "Don't Cross The River", "Ventura Highway".
J: That's another interesting thing, too. I actually have a tape of America playing in Holland in January 1972, and some of those songs are included on the Heard CD which I've distributed along Steve Lowry on that [America Fans] page. If you'd like I can send you a copy of that, too, it's kind of interesting some of the stuff on there. They're playing "Don't Cross The River". I'm often curious, how many of the songs from the Homecoming album did they already have developed at around the time they recorded "A Horse With No Name"?
I: All of them.
I: No just after that. After "Horse With No Name". We had already started work and went back into Central Sound and did all of the second album.
J: So by the time that they came to California by the end of 1972, when they were at the Record Plant, they already had all of those songs well rehearsed, including… did they even have "Head & Heart" at that time or is that something they picked up later?
I: Which one was that?
J: "Head & Heart". That's the cover of the John Martyn song.
I: Oh what a great song that is, isn't that?
J: Yeah, I love that song.
I: Boy you should hear John Martyn's original version. Yeah, John used to come… The house I was telling you about in Hampstead was kind of like open house to any musician that wanted to come. Cat Stevens used to come. Mark Boland used to come. Al Kooper. Oh, a who's who of rock and roll people. John Martyn used to sleep on a mattress in the music room.
J: So that's probably how they got a hold of that song.
I: Yeah, exactly. I find it irresistible, but I don't think I had anything to do with the pre-demoing of that song.
J: But for the rest of the songs… the other nine songs off of Homecoming were original songs they wrote and they really all had that stuff down and they worked that out with you then originally, didn't they?
I: Oh yeah, I was going to produce the second album. Until they -- as Dan said in your [actually Steve Orchard's] interview -- they just bolted. And I was already in Los Angeles producing an album for Claudia Lennear, who was one of the Ikettes, from Ike and Tina Turner. Warner Bros. had just signed her and had produced an album called Phew. That was an interesting project because half of it was co-produced with Allen Toussaint, out of New Orleans. And the other half I did work with Ry Cooder, which was great. But I was there, and I got a call from Moe Ostin, who said, I don't know if you know it or not but your boys are in town and they want to meet with you up at David Geffen's house. And I went up there and that's when they said, Well we've decided to come back here, and we're not going to be working with Jeff anymore. Actually, we're not going to be working with you, either.
J: Was it a parting on good terms at that time? Were you a bit shocked or angry?
I: I was shocked. But, my initial reaction was, I hope you're gonna take care of Jeff. He put his entire heart and soul into what he did. He's that kind of a guy. And he really worked his buns off for them. But I have to say when something that big happens to you that fast, that you need good, strong representation in the country that it's happening. In England Jimi Hendrix had Chas Chandler who was very experienced, being a member of the Animals. In America, to have the David Geffen-Elliott Roberts team looking after you, especially if it's what Warner Bros. really prefers, was… ohh… a very tough step to take, but they did it.
J: It's interesting, too, because they really didn't hire anybody to replace you. They wound up really producing those next two albums on their own.
I: Well, I'd already pre-produced the thing, so there wasn't all that much to do. My contention would be that it might have had a little bit more magic if I had been involved. But you can't always get what you want, especially when something that big happens. I mean the album was absolutely huge. It was doing three or four million -- this is again on the first album. It was number one for four weeks. "Horse With No Name" was number one for four weeks. "I Need You" was top twenty for a long time. In fact what Warner Bros. should have done was taken a third single off it. They came off it too soon. They easily had three singles off of that album.
J: And of course they added later "Sandman" onto the greatest hits, so I assume that kind of implies that might have been the third one.
I: Um, I think "Sandman" was on the B-side of either… oh you'd have to look that up.
J: Yeah, I don't know that offhand.
I: Uh, it may have already been released as a B-side and that's why they didn't. The reason that it's included in Ray Baisden's profile of me is that it's become stock play for golden-oldie radio stations. It's a nice fast, uplifting thing and could easily have been a hit single itself.
J: Well, the whole album is great. I remember I… This is kind of funny, but I was at a Denny's in San Luis Obispo maybe about three years ago and they were playing "Riverside", so I think that's really a testament to know the songs that they wrote and the feel that you cultivated for those albums and what you did for that. Certainly, that is a testimony to… you really hit the original sound dead-on. It sounds like you really captured for a large audience what a lot of people in those small clubs around London really saw at the beginning.
I: Well that's what I tried to do. Some producers want to make their album. And they bend and shape and twist the artist to their way of thinking. But I don't. I go the other way. I look to see whether or not the artist is a diamond, and then I polish it. I wouldn't try to turn a reggae act into a country act just because country is hot. Or I wouldn't tell anybody to dye their hair green and move to Seattle. If you've got something special, then I can relate to it. I won't try and change it, I'll just try to improve it.
J: Well just following up on all of this. First of all, have you and Jeff stayed in contact? And have either of you or both of you stayed in close contact with the group and later on with Dan Peek over the years?
I: Dan I haven't seen for… ever. Jeff I'm in occasional contact with and I see him when I go to London. He's doing just fine. Gerry I talk to all the time, and once in a while if America are within shooting distance of wherever I am I'll show up.
J: Would you ever consider working with them again, or just playing a little bit on one of their albums or anything like that? Or is it just kind of more at this point just a friendship-friendship as opposed to a working-friendship?
I: It's just a friendship. No, I don't have any input into what they currently do. That's not anything that we've ever discussed or talked about. I don't think that I have anything at the moment that I can offer them. I don't walk around with a button saying, I'm a record producer. I'm a songwriter. I occasionally produce records if I think I'm the man for the job, you know. But I'm not really, technically, a record producer even though I produced a lot of records.
J: Now, of course after America, you continued to recruit some pretty neat artists. You brought, for instance, Al Jarreau, to Warner…
I: That was just a recommendation, I never... You know, I went to the studio a couple times. I knew his manager. In fact I found him, "discovered" him, so to speak… I don't want to use that word. Please don't use that word. I then saw him at a club called the Baked Potato in Los Angeles, and he was playing with just a keyboard player and blew me away completely. I got the tape, took it to an A&R meeting at Warner Bros. in Burbank and said, You gotta to sign this guy. And they were, "Mmmm", "Uhhh", "Interesting".
J: I remember reading in a book that it was said that he was discovered by a Warner Bros. person at the Troubadour but I guess…
I: That's a different person. Okay, here's what happened. I'm not sure if this should be on the record or it shouldn't be on the record, but I'll say it to you and you can use your own best judgement. Alright, a few weeks after I had been screaming and shouting to everybody that you've got to sign this guy, Pat Rains, who managed -- probably still does manage -- Al Jarreau, arranged for Al to appear at the Troubadour for a week so that the people from CBS could come down. During the course of that time, Moe Ostin, who was the president, or chairman, of Warner Bros. Records, went down, saw him and signed him on the spot. That's the guy who went to the Troubadour. He and possibly Joe Smith, who was then president and later went on to become the head of Capitol. And so I phoned Moe and said that guy you just signed, that's Al Jarreau. That's the guy I was screaming about. He said, Oh well, I guess your timing just wasn't right. So I never actually got any credit for it, but at least I did from Al. He once introduced me to somebody as the "first guy who ever went to bat for me."
J: Can you tell me a little bit about the other group that you got involved in later on when you moved out there, Uncle Rainbow? What's all that about?
I: Oh, that's a very sad story, actually. They were out of Dallas, Texas. They were brought up in the Bay Area by the Doobie Brothers. They were hotter than a pistol. But, they were a day late and a dollar short. They came in as disco was starting and everybody in the record industry wanted disco. Uncle Rainbow sounded like… of the Tower Of Power, Earth, Wind & Fire, Eagles genre. Definitely not disco. And we cut an album that was funded by Billy Gaff who managed Rod Stewart. He offered it to Mercury; they turned it down. He sent it back to the group. They shopped it around. Couldn't get a deal. I went back to England. They hooked up with Narada Michael Walden. He tried to get 'em a deal; he couldn't. They were a day late and a dollar short. And they broke up. And when they broke up, two of them, Brent Bourgeois and Larry Tagg, decided to carry on and form a new group. They sent me a tape. They'd obviously moved and on and they were headed into… more along the lines of Talking Heads and the New Wave stuff. And that was interesting to me because I'd moved on, too. I didn't move on into disco, but I didn't kind of have an interest in that [sic]. And so I came up and we started to record simply as a duo, like a Hall and Oates or a Simon and Garfunkel or something like that, with backing, you know, drums, bass and everything, but just really as a duo. And I took the tapes down to L.A. and everybody that I spoke to there said, well it is great stuff, but we've got to see something. I said, well there's only two guys, there's nothing to see. They said, no, we have to see something. So, they decided on the basis of that they would put together a group and they would call it Bourgeois-Tagg. And they were involved in a lot of contractual problems because of the finances of the album that they had started to cut and I had started to produce. And so I stayed around a long time to coordinate the effort, and that's when I moved to Sacramento without any real intention of moving here.
J: And how long ago was that? That was middle of the '80s, wasn't it?
I: Oh yeah, that was '82, '83, something like that.
J: Now you yourself you had a few years ago in the '90s you had a life-threatening heart condition and survived a successful heart transplant, and I'm sure that's got to give you a new lease on life. You stated that you consider yourself being in "active semi-retirement". What does that mean?
I: [Laughing] Well, I do what I can to support local groups. There's a sensational group out of here called Mumbo Gumbo, who are probably the best outside act in America. They play a kind of Cajun, Tex-Mex, zydeco, rock and roll mix. It's very hard to put your finger on what they do. Enormously talented. They're two girl singers. I got some of their music onto Northern Exposure, but they produced their own album and they have their own little label.
J: Is it available nationally at all, or is it still pretty much local?
I: Yes, it's available at Tower Records. They have three albums… actually four albums. And they make tremendous money, they just haven't been picked up by a major act, and they may not.
J: Now did you write songs at all for them, did you produce them, do you just promote them? What's your role?
I: It's just a behind-the-scenes helping hand. I don't try to produce them, they're self-contained. I mean they might benefit from me, but it just hasn't come up. I'm not here all the time. I also go back to England. I have family there. Once in a while I'll go down to L.A. and see old friends or go to Nashville and see old friends. Uh, I'm writing a little bit. I wrote a second verse to "Move It", the original version having only one long verse. And that was recorded by Cliff Richard and Hank Marvin on a Hank Marvin album called Hank Plays Cliff, which is entirely instrumental except "Move It". And that new version they played at the Royal Variety Performance.
J: So that must have just been a thrilling experience to see that come about.
I: Yeah, I was sitting in the balcony and I wasn't very far from the queen when it came on. I think I saw her tapping the Royal Foot.
J: Do you ever work at all with Cliff Richard anymore? Do you keep pretty close contact with him?
I: Um, no… I couldn't honestly say that. I mean we're old friends who don't see much of each other, which is hardly surprising. We live six thousand miles apart. And he's the hardest-working man in show business. Forget James Brown. [Laughter]
J: Well James Brown's been too often in and out of prison I think to keep up a big work schedule lately.
I: Well that's what they call him now, is the hardest-working man in show business, but trust me, it's Cliff. He's non-stop. He's amazing. Absolutely amazing. Do you know his new single has gone into the British Top Ten?
I: First single off his new album.
J: Still at it after forty years, huh?
I: Forty years.
J: Amazing. And look at America, too. Both these groups you've been involved with; America, too, has got to be one of the hardest-working bands. I think they do something like 150 shows a year.
I: And their new album is selling.
J: We've got our fingers crossed right now. It's up on the Gavin charts. It hasn't quite cracked Billboard yet. That's always the hard one to do because I don't think they've gotten exposure in places like VH-1. They've gotten it in certain adult contemporary formats. You're out in California, you probably would hear this a lot more than me in Denver here. My mom says she vaguely remembered "From A Moving Train"; she heard it in a supermarket, and said I know that's the one I saw in concert, 'cause I dragged her out to a concert a couple months ago. So, got our fingers crossed. But it's just amazing how these groups you've worked with… so many of them have lasted. All the ones that we've mentioned…
I: That's what you're looking for when you're looking for a new act. You look for longevity. I mean it's very easy to find, for instance, some pretty good-looking guy and take him into the studio. But unless they really have what it takes to stay the course, then you're talking about a one-hit wonder. Not everything that I've done has been a success, but I think I've been very fortunate in coming across certain things or perhaps just recognizing talent when I see it.
J: Well that I can most certainly attest to. I want to thank you, Ian, very much for taking the time to answer some of my questions and queries because I've been looking into all of this for a long time just studying this kind of stuff. There really isn't a lot of stuff written out there. There's a lot of speculation and every now and then you come across a really thinly-worded essay about the group and especially how their first album was made. There's so much talk about "A Horse With No Name" and all that and the overnight phenomenon of America I don’t really think they ever stop to consider the people who are behind it, who gave that sound a final touch.
I: When you're behind the scenes you're not looking to become famous or anything like that. One or two people emerge like George Martin or Quincy Jones but most of us aren't really interested in that. We're the support team.
-- END INTERVIEW --