In 1974 Jeff “Skunk” Baxter was at the Knebworth Festival playing with the Doobie Brothers, on a bill that featured the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Van Morrison and The Allman Bothers.
A founding member of Steely Dan, Baxter loved being on stage but due to Steely Dan’s reluctance to tour he found himself with enough free time to tour and record with the Doobies as well as Linda Ronstadt that year.
When he informed the Doobies at Knebworth that he was about to quit Steely Dan as they wanted to inhabit the studio rather than play live, they said “great you’re a Doobie now“. Baxter accepted their offer and promptly introduced his mate Michael McDonald to the band to create Doobies 2.0.
Baxter’s playing on the first three Steely Dan albums is pretty special and there are multiple highlights, with his solos on the track “My Old School” being a big favourite of the ‘Dan Loyal’
Baxter would go on to play on six Doobie Brothers albums as well as various sessions for Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and Todd Rundgren.
A keen collaborator, Baxter has also toured and played live with Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Elton John and is renowned for his virtuoso plating as well as his pedal steel guitar, skills.
Baxter was a ‘studio rat’ for much of the 80s playing on numerous sessions including the guitar solo on Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” before forming a short lived super-group called The Best, with Joe Walsh, John Entwhistle and Keith Emmerson.
The talented Mr Baxter also carved out a second career as a military advisor working with the US Government’s Missile Defense Agency and in 2005 was invited to join NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration.
After dabbling with politics, Skunk has rediscovered his love for music and has released a new album supported by a US tour.
Forty-six years ago I tuned in to the Old Grey Whistle Test to catch a piece on Led Zeppelin and their long-awaited movie – The Song Remains the Same.
After his chat with Robert Plant, Bob Harris introduced Armatrading who played two songs – the ubiquitous “Love and Affection” and my favourite Armatrading track – “Down to Zero”.
As teenagers in the 70s we were prone to making assumptions based on our limited awareness, so when Bob introduced Armatrading and I saw a black female with an afro and an acoustic guitar I wasn’t sure what to expect. The female troubadours of the day tended to look like Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt or Carly Simon.
As she played the opening chords to “Down to Zero” any preconceptions evaporated and were replaced with… ‘wow, where’s she been hiding?’
It was one of those eureka moments which had maximum impact as she was an artist that not many people knew anything about. In fact it seemed like everyone who saw her OGWT performance that evening rushed out to buy the album, (which had already been on the record shop shelves for several months), so, overnight you had 100,000 people all claiming to have ‘discovered’ her.
Of course, we would later learn that Armatrading had already done the hard yards, paying her musical dues for ten years before the OGWT ‘breakthrough’.
The album was beautifully produced with Armatrading’s vocals and guitar at the front of the mix, however at the time I don’t remember it registering with me that the man on production duties was the prolific Glyn Johns.
Johns’ resume includes production & engineering chores on landmark albums for The Who, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Faces, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles and Eric Clapton. So, it was quite a compliment when he said that the Joan Armatrading album is “the best he’s ever been associated with”.
Armatrading’s second song that evening would become her signature tune, the classic “Love and Affection”, with the killer opening line…
“I’m not in love, but I’m open to persuasion”
The haunting saxophone solo on the track was provided by Gallagher & Lyle sideman Jimmy Jewell and the baritone backing vocal was provided by Clarke Peters, better known to some as Detective Lester Freamon from The Wire.
Grammy nominated, Armatrading, in her own quiet way has gone on to cultivate a long and fruitful career, doing things her way, still successfully touring and recording with a newly released live album and book of selected lyrics.
Three and a bit years after the final Beatles studio album, Let It Be, Paul McCartney released Band on the Run and there was a collective sigh of relief – the commercial one from the Beatles hadn’t lost his mojo, after all.
Not that he’d been twiddling his thumbs since leaving the fab four, far from it – five albums and ten singles in the space of three years is hardly putting your feet up.
The concern for some, was that Macca’s solo output pre Band on the Run, had been a bit patchy – the early albums despite having the odd gem like – “Maybe I’m Amazed or “Another Day’ weren’t that commercial and if there was one thing we expected from McCartney, it was a catchy pop song.
Conscious of this perhaps, he released a series of singles that probably went too far the other way – “C Moon”, “Hi, Hi, Hi” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, were all a bit too commercial.
By this point McCartney had decided to form a group (Wings), but it would take a couple of years for the band to find its feet. The first positive sign was the single “My Love” which featured a great solo by guitarist Henry McCullough this was followed by the theme song to the new James Bond movie, “Live and Let Die”.
Just as things were looking up for Wings, drummer Danny Seiwell, and McCullough left the band, reportedly because Macca was a tight git plus they weren’t over-impressed with Linda McCartney’s musical chops or vocal range (or pitch, or tone).
Suddenly the quintet was a trio and Paul, Linda & Denny Laine all headed off to sunny Lagos in Nigeria to record Wings new album – Band on the Run.
As well as restoring his musical credibility the album turned out to be McCartney’s most successful non-Beatles project. The critics hailed it as a return to form for the former mop-top and the record went to number one on both sides of the Atlantic.
Two singles were released from the album- “Jet” and the title track but there were three or four other tracks such as “Let Me Roll It” and “Bluebird” that could easily have been as successful.
The album cover featured the band and six celebrities all caught in the spotlight of a prison searchlight. Imagery to support the albums theme of freedom and escape, given the recent parting of the ways with Beatles manager Allen Klein.
The photographer Hugh Arrowsmith would later claim that he struggled to capture a shot he was happy with, due to the fact that the subjects had been partying hard the night before and were all the worse for wear…
Band on the Run kickstarted Wings and they would go on to release a few decent albums in the mid 70s until ‘corny Paul’ kicked back in with “Mull of Kintyre”. Moving in to the 80s things started getting pretty patchy again, not helped by cheesy MTV-inspired collaborations with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder…. until the ultimate nadir that was “We All Stand Together” (frogs chorus).
It’s hard to stay mad at Macca for long though as he’s written and performed so many classic songs that are part of our lives.
Take “Band on the Run“, – every time I hear that song, it takes me back to the daily school, bus run in 1974. It was always being played on one of the resident transistor radios, either from Noel Edmunds breakfast show or from “Diddy” David Hamilton’s afternoon show, as we travelled home.
We took it for granted back then that the guy who’d written “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be” would just keep producing fantastic pop music, and Band on the Run was certainly that.
When you go to a gig nowadays to see one of your favourite 70s bands, words you rarely want to hear are…. “and here’s one from the new album folks”.
As a case in point, I went to see the Stones this summer, I’ve seen them a few times and you kinda accept that due to their colossal back-catalogue there’s gonna be some notable omissions. Which is why, when Mick said here’s a new song I wrote about Lockdown, there was a collective sigh, and that’s how 65,000 of us got lumbered with “Living in a Ghost Town” instead of rocking along to “Brown Sugar” or “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”.
It wasn’t always the way though – exactly 48 years ago today on Thursday, 15th November, 1974, I sauntered out to the record store in my lunch-hour to purchase Country Life by Roxy Music, on the day of its release.
The reason I couldn’t wait a day longer is because I’d been to see Roxy a few weeks earlier at the Glasgow Apollo and they’d premiered a few songs from their unreleased album, Country Life, that had blown me away and had been swimming around in my head ever since.
Although predominantly an album band, Roxy always had the knack of releasing great singles – “Virginia Plain,” “Pyjamarama”, “Street Life” and “Love is the Drug” to name a few. The lead single from Country Life, “All I Want is You”, was no exception and was another great teaser for the album.
I’d been a Roxy fan since their first appearance on Top of the Pops with “Virginia Plain”. Their Apollo appearances for the Stranded tour the previous year had been talked about as one of the gigs of the year, so I was really looking forward to seeing them live.
The first thing that struck me was the crowd, up till then most gigs I’d attended at the Apollo had been dominated by Rory Gallagher doppelgänger’s, but this was more like a nightclub crowd, plus there was the unmistakable smell of Charlie (the perfume!) and Aramis in the air, as opposed to the usual aura of perspiration and Newkie Brown.
Roxy Music vintage 1974, was an impressive unit. Apart from the original four of – Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay and Thompson, they’d added a couple of Prog Rock stalwarts to their roster – Eddie Jobson to permanently replace Eno and for the live shows ex-King Crimson bassist John Wetton.
On the night, Roxy got the balance just right by playing all the crowd favourites – “Do the Strand”, Editions of You”, “In Every Dream Home”, etc, whilst slipping in a few new tracks from the album.
I remember vividly a sequence of three songs that has set the bar for any gig I’ve been to since.
Bookended by “Mother of Pearl” and “Song for Europe” was a new song that I would later discover was called “Out of the Blue”, it climaxed with a magnificent electric violin solo, played impeccably by Eddie Jobson on his clear plexiglass violin, which for dramatic effect lit up the darkened stage during the solo.
I still get goosebumps when I hear the song and that violin solo.
To show it was no fluke, exactly the same thing happened a year later when I went to see Roxy again, this time they were showcasing songs from their soon to be released album, Siren, which became another record that I had to go out and buy on the day of its release a couple of weeks later.
After Siren, Ferry focused on his solo career for a bit and Roxy Music drifted apart, it was probably smart timing on their part to take a sabbatical during the Punk era although we would learn that the first band Steve Jones & Paul Cook of the Pistols formed, was called ‘The Strand’, in tribute to Roxy Music. To affirm the connection further, Roxy’s producer, Chris Thomas would go on to produce Never Mind the Bollocks.
Roxy Music reunited in 1979 with a new album Manifesto and this smoother, slicker Roxy sound peaked commercially with Avalon in 1982. I didn’t mind these albums but they sounded more like Bryan Ferry solo albums than peak 1972-1975 Roxy to me.
I still listen to Country Life and apart from being a good album it maintains Roxy Music’s glorious tradition of featuring glamorous femme fatale’s on the album sleeve.
The story behind the Country Life cover is that Ferry met two girls who were on vacation from Germany in a bar in the Algarve where he had decamped to write lyrics for the album. Ferry needed some help translating lyrics into German for the song “Bitter Sweet” and Constanze who was the sister of Can’s Michael Karoli and Eveline (Karoli’s girlfriend), not only assisted with the translations but went one better, by also posing on an Algarve beach for the album cover.
Constanze & Eveline, pictured above, 40 years later….
The gig in Glasgow opened with the closing track from Country Life, a song called “Prairie Rose”, which in hindsight was an undeniable love letter to his Texan beau at the time, the model, Jerry Hall.
“Hey, hey, you’re tantalising me“
I always suspected Jerry made a bad call by choosing Jagger over the dashing Bryan Ferry and it has to be said that Mick’s insistence on performing his new Lockdown song instead of “Brown Sugar” only supports my case!
The set list for the gig is below and there’s also a link to an audio recording from YouTube of Roxy in Newcastle on 28/10/74 which was a few days after the Glasgow gig and the final gig of the 74 UK tour….
Prairie Rose / Beauty Queen / Mother Of Pearl / Out Of The Blue / Song For Europe / Three And Nine / If It Takes All Night / In Every Dream Home A Heartache / If There Is Something / All I Want Is You / The Bogus Man / Street Life / Virginia Plain / Editions Of You / Remake Remodel / Do The Strand