If you think of rock music as a house with many rooms, we’re going to open a creaky door into a dusty room that was once a popular party space, but hasn’t seen much activity for almost fifty years, since the time of the hippies. It was so exciting, only partly because of all the new music that came out. It was as much of a massive cultural shift as you’ve gotten tired of hearing, but it was the music…. The music was for us. After the Beatles and Stones had their pop phases, a new wave of artists crossed the pond, and among them was someone who had a great impact on me. I loved him; I waited for his music to come on, I grooved to him, and then he was gone.
I have something a little special planned for next month, but for the nonce, we visit a barely-remembered but much-beloved footnote in rock history. Well, okay- much beloved by me, if you have to ask, but footnotes are fun. And if this guy ever comes up on Final Jeopardy, you’ll be ready.
I know, I know, I know. I know. There are those who missed the 60’s, there are those who miss the 60’s, and there are those who never want to hear another fucking word about that over-exposed, over-analyzed and over-praised god-forsaken decade. Well, settle down out there, as we here at The Music In Me Headquarters are about to reminisce with you about someone who’s been called “a man with an interesting story to tell.” Well, he’s not here today, so I’ll tell it for him. To whit:
Singles? We didn’t have no stinkin’ singles. Of course, I don’t know if anyone still listens to the radio, but the selection of songs and artists you might hear on the internet today has exploded into uncountable options, but in 1968 the selection was limited to several dozen artists who dominated the airwaves, and among those acts was Terry Reid, of whom Robert Plant said, "Terry was probably the best singer of that period."
Reid had a sexy, rasping tone that sounded at once intimate and dangerous. His riffs were simple, direct, and his songs rocked with an attitude that said he knew whatever he was singing about: he’d lived it and he felt it. He was young, he was dangerous, he was real, he was confident, and I believed him. He was all over the FM radio back then, but if I don’t tell you about him, who will?
Reid quit school at fifteen and played anywhere that they let his band play. You know- the early days. He was spotted by a touring act and the next year his band opened for the Rolling Stones. Graham Nash of The Hollies was at a Stones show at the Royal Albert Hall, saw them, and got them a contract. But the single failed and the band broke up. He was then found by famous record producer Mickie Most, who was a partner with the infamous Peter Grant. Reid put together a group with a drummer and an organist, a modestly successful single was issued, but the album tanked. A tour had been booked to push the album, but it was in the United States where Reid found an audience when they opened for Cream, and this is where it gets interesting.
The aforementioned Peter Grant managed guitarist Jimmy Page, whose group, The Yardbirds, had just disbanded, leaving Page with rights to the name, but he needed some band members for a Scandinavian tour that had been booked. He was looking for a guitar-playing vocalist and wanted Reid, but Reid was already under contract for two tours with the Stones and one more with Cream. He told Page that he’d like to be in the new group, tentatively titled the New Yardbirds, but he a needed two things from Page before he’d sign: He wanted to be paid not only for the gigs he’d work, but also for the gigs he’d miss, and he wanted Page to call Keith Richards to explain why he was backing out of his contract. Peter Grant refused to do that, so Reid was out, but not before Page asked him if he could recommend another singer. A local group named the Band of Joy had a singer that had impressed Reid, and he recommended that Page check him out, and the drummer was really good, too. The singer was Robert Plant and the drummer was John Bonham. John Paul Jones was asked to play bass because he was a session musician that Page had worked with and felt was talented. They got together, rehearsed, changed their name to Led Zeppelin and went out on tour. So: good for all those guys, not so much for Terry.
Unfortunately, none of the raves from music critics after any of those tours helped Reid all that much, and he drifted in obscurity until the singer from Deep Purple left the band, and they offered the spot to Reid. Again, Reid was tied to contracts and was unable to accept, and he went further into obscurity. So 1968 wasn’t such a good year for Terry Reid.
In 1969 Reid opened for Jethro Tull and Fleetwood Mac, but his records were ignored and I never heard anything about him after the infamous 1969 Rolling Stones tour, the one that ended at Altamont Speedway, but Reid was off the tour by then. Once off the tour and disappointed in his lack of charting success, Reid fell out with producer Mickey Most, who wanted Reid to follow his formula, demanding that Reid stop rocking and start crooning. Mining his waning popularity, Reid’s brief tours were most effective in the U.S. Playing sporadic dates while waiting for the outcome of his lawsuit over his contract with Most, he returned briefly to Great Britain to perform at the Isle of Wight Festival, and after the lawsuit, Reid fell deeply into obscurity, where he remains until this day. But not for me.
When the spliffs get passed around and the music gets serious and conversation turns to nostalgia, I am apt to bring up Terry Reid, whom of course, none of my younger friends know. But a few years ago those ramblings about the past paid a dividend.
In 2004, my pal Eddy had a club in LA and knew what the what was in that town, and he called me one night and said, “Hey, remember that guy you used to talk about? Terry Reid?” Yeah, I remembered, and lo, Eddy told me that Terry Reid was playing with a pickup band Monday nights in a dive bar in West Hollywood, and I should come up and see him. Yeah, I said I would, and then it got better. His pick-up band had different players each week, but they were all the best players in town, the stars and the session players, and it was the place to be in LA on Monday nights. Well, I didn’t much care which was the place to be, but wherever Terry Reid was playing was where I wanted to be. It was less than a three-hour drive to the club, so I drove up and Eddy and I went out for dinner and over to The Joint on Pico Blvd in West L.A.
It wasn’t so much a Terry Reid gig as a pickup gig. Yes, Reid was the singer every Monday, but it was more of a jam among friends, musicians who look for a place to play for fun, and this was the spot for the hot session guys in L.A. Yeah, I was going! The band was put together and led each week by Waddy Wachtel, who readers of liner notes will recognize from playing with Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, James Taylor, Iggy Pop, Warren Zevon, Bryan Ferry, Joe Walsh, Jackson Browne, Andrew Gold, and others, plus much work on film scores. Waddy Wachtel is a heavy.
That night the band featured Bernard Fowler, who I knew as a singer from previous Stones tours, plus Waddy Wachtel, Rick Rosas, a legendary session player with Neil Young, and I can’t remember the name of the drummer. The band was great, just great musicians, all of them. They were a treat. This was rock and roll played the way I like it: great musicians in a small club.
Yes, rock stars can make a lot of money and live well, but those on the fringe or those who hadn’t had ongoing success might be worse for wear, and so it was. It was a disappointment. Maybe it was me. I mean, the musicians were great, the music was great, the songs were classic and bluesy and rhythm & bluesy, standards, pop, a cheesy hit or two, and altogether the band was clearly enjoying themselves. Well, we knew they weren’t there for the money, and this is always the best way to see live rock ‘n’ roll: played by masters for fun. But it looked like Terry Reid had had some hard years, and I guess I was looking for something from the past. Because, y’know… the past.
Now he was sort of… puffy. He looked a bit bloated in a sharkskin suit that didn’t quite fit. And a pork pie hat. You know, a snap brim. Okay, it was a trilby. But the puffiness… you know how drinkers look. I didn’t know what to think then, and I’m still unsure about what I wanted from Terry Reid. I was glad he was alive, I was glad he had such impressive friends who wanted to play with him. I think I just wanted more. Pop songs, some hits, some blues and some rhythm and blues. Everyone was into it, and so was the crowd of maybe twenty-five people. He was having a good time, and in the end, that is what I took away. I’m sure the problem was with me. We had both aged over forty years and neither of us had what we had in 1968. The rasp was there , but the swagger was not. He hadn’t weathered the past well and I should not have had the expectations I had, but he’d been so dynamic back then. Maybe I shouldn’t have been disappointed. I had I good time and saw some great music, right?
Reid was a shooting star: observed by few, of little discernible impact, but a wonder when seen. I have to say I’m really sorry I never heard more from him, and when I did, I wish I could say it was on a comeback. Maybe I wanted too much from him that night in LA, but I wanted more. I wanted him to be dynamic, impressive, not just good. I wanted to be transported, not pleased. Know what else I want? I want world peace, a steamer trunk full of fifties and a girlfriend named Lola.
Although you might not have heard of him, Reid hasn’t been idle since his heyday in 1968. His 1973 album River has received some glowing reviews, but again, scant album sales. Since his heyday, Reid has accumulated an impressive list of credits as a player on other people’s albums, as a composer of songs for other artists and for film soundtracks, and as a player on the club circuit. There are simply too many credits to list here, and many of them are impressive, so here’s Terry Reid's Wikipedia page for you to peruse as your interest dictates:
Here’s Reid’s website: Terry Reid
And perhaps you know about Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF, and here is terry Reid in 2016 on WTF:
Now, how about seeing and hearing what I’ve been talking about:
I’d always thought rockers were his strengths, but you, like I did, may find otherwise.
Checkout the trailer for the Superlungs documentary about Terry Reid. Looks really good. - Editor
Gilbert Klein has enough degrees and not enough stories. He’s been a radio talk show host, a nightclub owner, event producer, and has written two books: FAT CHANCE about the legendary KFAT radio, and FOOTBALL 101. He threatens to write one more. He spent 25 years in New York, 25 years in San Francisco, and is now purportedly retired in Baja.