MOJO Magazine used to run an irregular feature titled â€œSound Your Funky Horn,â€ in which musicians of particularly distinguished pedigree would reminisce about their all-time favorite recording sessions. It was always a good read–and the selection of the artist typically proved the magazineâ€™s editorial astuteness.
So I was slightly befuddled in 1996, when the magazine asked me to profile British guitarist Chris Spedding for a slot in series, and the piece never ran.
I suspect it may have fallen in between the cracks during an editorial shift there (of which there were many), or else somebody there simply didnâ€™t think what Spedding had to say was all that interestingâ€”but, um, if that was the case, one might ask, why did they set up the interview in the first place?
Editors: they are so wacky!
Presented here in two parts, then, is the previously unpublished Spedding pieceâ€”which, considering the timeframe covered within, is as relevant today as it was in 1996, when it was written. In a manner of speaking.
SOUND YOUR FUNKY HORN: CHRIS SPEDDING
(Interviewed on March 3, 1996)
1)Theme From An Imaginary Western
Jack Bruce, from Songs For A Tailor (Polydor 1969)
It was kind of my first session–my first big session, anyway. I was pretty well unknown in the session field at that time. And I didn’t really know how records were made. Jack came in with the piano part and Jon Hiseman played the drums, and it was left for me to fit something in between the drum part and the piano part. When the record came out, I heard this great song–“Theme From An Imaginary Western.” I always thought, well if he’d have played me the song, I might’ve played this or I might’ve played that. I didn’t know how records were made. I was trying to fit in. So whenever anybody hears that, bear that in mind–that I’m trying to fit in between a piano part and a drum part. That was all I heard to go on. I didn’t hear him sing, I didn’t hear a bass part. And I thought that was how people made records. Of course that was just how Jack chose to make that particular record. I always thought I could’ve done a little different and it might be better, but Jack must’ve liked what I did, because he brought me back to do his next album, Harmony Row. It was his first solo thing after Cream, and I was a bit conscious of stepping into Eric Clapton’s shoes. And I was conscious of–well, Eric would’ve done this, so I’m gonna do totally opposite. I was conscious of playing totally opposite so I wouldn’t get compared to him. I thought he wanted somebody that was different to Eric because he’d played with Eric for so long.
The song was written by by Pete Brown and Jack Bruce. That was how I came to know Jack–I was in the right place at the right time. He’d wanted a guitar player, and he came to see the band [Pete Brown & the Battered Ornaments] a few times, and he must’ve figured that he could use me on the other stuff. The reason I like this song is because it’s a great piece of music, it’s a great melody, and it has a great mood to it. And I found after I chose all these songs that I really chose things that had a good mood to them, that actually depicted a picture, had a great feeling or a great mood.
I think Jack knew what he wanted. Neither Felix [Pappalardi, producer] or Jack gave me any direction, and at that point I think I was kind of in need of some direction. I was totally in deep water–I’d jumped into the deep end of the pool with that one. It was a big-time session and I wasn’t being given any clues or help or hints and I guess I managed to do the best I could.
It was also one of the first big records that Andy Johns did, who at that time was the staff engineer at Morgan studios, and he also worked with the Battered Ornaments, so Jack used our studio and our engineer. Pete Brown’s Battered Ornaments, we recommended Andy Johns to him. Andy Johns at that time was pretty much an unknown–later on he went on to do “All Right Now” and “Brown Sugar.” That was one of his first projects.
Harmony Row was a bit more jazz-fusiony. Jack was a little bit ahead of his time with that. If those records had come out maybe three or four years later…Because the Mahavishnu Orchestra became popular, and Miles Davis’s Bitches’ Brew and stuff like that. He was kind of a pioneer at that time with jazz fusion. Because it wasn’t commercial at that time. It was kind of a shame that a little later on that would’ve been a little more acceptable to some people, that type of stuff.
Harmony Row was more of a jazz fusion thing, which I’m not good at. I can just about make those weird time signatures and stuff–just about make them–but I’m not that comfortable with them. I always think it’s like a heartbeat in music–a beat which goes dum, dum, dum–you’re gonna give somebody palpitations, or at least it’s going to make them feel awkward, and they won’t know why. It’s got to be like a regular beat, not with any odd eighth notes in the measure. But of course Jack was well into that, and he’d have all these 7/8 and 9/8 signatures and chop them and change them in and out of time. I remember that I was working with John Marshall on the Harmony Row thing, and sometimes we’d be there before Jack would arrive at the studio, and we’d think, what sort of monumental piece of music do we have to master today? What’s he gonna bring us in today? Music to me should feel comfortable, because then the listener will feel comfortable. And we used to try to make these odd pieces sound as comfortable as we could. To me they always sounded a little bit awkward. But “Theme For An Imaginary Western” I think is a great piece of writing–and I forgive him for all the 9/8 stuff, if he writes the occasional song like that.
Nucleus, from Elastic Rock (Vertigo, 1970)
I think they’d already cut the backing track, and they got me in one morning–I was bleary-eyed at 10 in the morning and I was just wondering whether my car was parked properly or was going to get towed away. And they played me this track which had some odd time signatures in it, some very odd time signatures. They had just replaced [guitarist] Bernie Holland with me, and they gave me kind of a first- take solo–and I was quite pleased that it came off as well as it did. There are a couple of little dodgy notes in it, but I don’t think I could do it again, you know? It’s what it is, you know? But then again it has a good mood to it. And it was a title track and the album did well, so I was quite proud of that, because it’s a good representation of my jazz-solo style,if you can call it that. I was very influenced by Jim Hall, and it has that sort of sound to it. And I don’t think there’s another recorded example of that style that I’m proud of, so that’s why I included that.
I guess they were kind of following in Miles Davis’s footsteps there. There was a clique of musicians there that would always buy Miles Davis’s latest album and rave about it. And of course they decided they wanted to go into jazz rock, and they needed to add a rock element to it–and I became the rock element. Because I’d been through a phase of playing jazz, so I could relate to jazz musicians easier than most rock ‘n’ roll-based guitar players could. I had certain common roots in the bebop thing that they did, and also I could play rock ‘n’ roll that sounded like rock ‘n’ roll–it didn’t sound like some jazz guitar player trying to play rock ‘n’ roll, you see.
I was quite amused by the fact that I could play the corniest old Steve Cropper lick–not to say Steve Cropper is corny–but the simplest basic Steve Cropper lick, and because the drummer was playing like Tony Williams and the bass player was playing like Ron Carter, it would sound totally different, and they’d be floored by it. And it would be the most simple thing imaginable. I could come up with a cliche that a guitar player would never dream of playing, and in this context it would sound amazing. And they never heard this cliche before, so they would think I’d be very inventive.
I always must say that I was not quite in the same bag as being totally into doing a Miles Davis/Bitches’ Brew kind of thing–I always look at it as sort of a bit bogus. Why don’t we just play rock ‘n’ roll if you want to do it? I always said to John Marshall, at the end of an hour-long set, he’d be thrashing away on the backbeat, and I’d say, why’d it take you 50 minutes to get to the backbeat? Why don’t you just start off playing the backbeat, like Ringo would? But it was a good experience; I’m glad I did it.
The Wombles, from Superwombling (CBS, 1975)
I thought I ought to include the Wombles. Mike Batt was a talented writer. The Wombles were a kiddies puppet show, he wrote the theme music, and it became a big hit. And it was a jumping off point for him to use his very eclectic talents, to put together Womble music for all these kids. I’m always very proud of the fact that most adult listeners in England today, as adult music fans, probably had their first musical experience with a Wombles record. That’s something to be proud of.
Clem Cattini on drums, Ray Cooper did the percusion, Les Hurdle and sometimes Herbie Flowers on bass–[Batt] had a little sort of session team he used to use. It was at Wessex Studios. And those were huge records, and of course because of the fact that it wasn’t supposed to be known that we were session musicians, I didn’t get known for being on the Wombles records until I actually spoke up and said, â€œHey, I’m on those recordsâ€–and I was proud of being on them, because they were well-made records, and hugely succesful in England.
4)In Your Mind
Bryan Ferry, from In Your Mind (Polydor, 1977)
Let’s Stick Together was not done as an album, it came out as an EP in England, and it was put together with some other tracks that I wasn’t on as Let’s Stick Together as an album in America. I think I did the Let’s Stick Together songs first, and then we did this–which was an album, and this track is the title track of that album. By the time we got to the album, I was in a situation where [Ferry’s] manger called me once to see how the session was going. And I was saying how bored I was with sitting around waiting for everybody to learn the song–that by the time it came to my solo, my spontaneity was gone. People have said I play better on other people’s records than I do on my own. There’s a good reason for that, if it’s true. On other people’s records, I go to the studio with my mind completely blank and I play spontaneously and react to the music that’s going on. If I’d have to do a solo, maybe I hadn’t heard the track before and it’s a first take. How can I do that on my own records, when I’ve written the song and I know what it is? There’s a certain spontaneity that’s lacking, and if what they say is true, that’s probably the reason.
And Bryan Ferry was very hip–inasmuch that he realized that I was getting bored hanging around doing a track, so he’d make the guys come in in the morning. I’d be sitting at home, and I’d get a call and drive in. They’d have everything set up for me and I’d do my solo, first take, maybe having heard the song only once–and this was the case with the solo on “In Your Mind.” Again, it was very hip of Bryan to do that, which is what I’d like to say about Bryan.
I always get asked what’s your favorite artist you’ve worked with, and I get worried because all these people will be left out. But I can say two artists. I enjoyed Ferry in the studio–on the road it wasn’t spontaneous at all, because we were just recreating the record. But John Cale in the studio–he’s a little too experimental to make a great record. Never sort of locks in and concentrates–it’s always sort of throwaway in the studio. But I love him live. The band I was in with John Cale promoting Slow Dazzle was dynamite–things would be in different keys, different tempos, and I’d be surprising him with stuff. It was a very creative thing. It’s a pity [the gigs] weren’t all recorded, because they’d be all great stuff …
I always wanted to get John to do that stuff in the studio, but he never wanted to trust me producing in the studio to try to get that. It would involve doing stuff to a click track and then editing in afterwards. I always wonder what would happen if we got together and did that, with me sort of controlling it a bit more. I don’t think it’ll happen, which is a shameâ€”because together we could do something really amazing. He can improvise, lyrics and chord progressions, and we can follow each other. Occasionally you have a train wreck, and if you’ve got a click track, you can cut it out and meld it together. That’s my idea of getting the best of John Cale. It would be brilliant. There would be nobody who could touch it. I think maybe if he reads this, he can call me up.
5)All The Way From America
Joan Armatrading, from Me Myself I (A&M, 1980)
That was a good experience, thatâ€™s probably one of the better albums that I’ve done as a session guy. It was a very fulfilling experience–we did it in New York, and it’s probably her biggest-selling album, actually, I think. I didn’t know her at all, I was just called for the session. All the other guys were American session players. We had a bit of trouble with “All The Way From America” because the other guitar player, this American guy on it, they’d given the lead part to him. And it was alright, but they wanted some special flavor to it.
And as a British person I was thinking, now what is a guitar sound that says America? And I came up with this sort of Duane Eddy sound. I didn’t change what was being played, I just played it in a Duane Eddy sound. And everybody said, â€œOh, of course, that’s perfect,” so I got to play the lead part on it, and it turned out pretty good. There again it had a mood to it–because it was a mood thing, Duane Eddy/spaghetti Western/wide-open type cowboy sound. And it just fitted a song about America by somebody who wasn’t American. Maybe because of the fact that I was the only other British person on the session, and I came up with the idea–which an American person probably wouldnâ€™t have the same vision of, of what is an American guitar sound, you see?
She was one of these moody artists, the uncommunicative moody artist, but I was fascinated working with her. Because she knew exactly what she wanted and she’s extremely talented, so what more can you want, you know? I know there was one part where I was playing a ballad part and I had my guitar really distorted, but it was the sort of part that, say, Steve Cropper would play really cleanly. And she really worried about it, so I said, “No, trust me, it’s gonna sound great,” and she did. And it’s on the record like that. I would be pretty uncompromising myself, and so would she, and it came off as an artistic result. I have the highest regard for her.