Superlungs Warms Up for Belfast
He could have led Zeppelin, instead he rolled with the Stones and witnessed Cream turn sour. Terry Reid talks us through a career on the fringes of rock history
The tragedy of Terry Reid’s career is that he is better known for what he didn’t do than for what he did do. And, as any learned rock lover will know, what he didn’t do was join Led Zeppelin in 1968 when invited to do so by Jimmy Page, who was then forming the band.
The job went instead to Robert Plant, of course. But Plant’s much-quoted comment that Reid ‘should have had my life’ feels rather patronising, for Reid has had a long and distinguished career, releasing several admired albums produced by the likes of Mickie Most and Graham Nash.
‘Yeah, it is a bit patronising,’ he laughs. ‘But I see Robert quite a lot and sometimes he’s sounded like he really wanted my life!’
Reid feels that his voice is better now than in the mid-60s when he joined Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers and his talents first became recognised. ‘Different things influence you as you get older,’ he reflects. ‘And your singing settles. It was always too frenetic in the beginning. You can utilise your voice a lot better when you get older.’
Astonishingly, Reid was only fifteen when he joined the Jaywalkers, who almost immediately set off on tour supporting the Rolling Stones. ‘It was manic,’ he reminisces. ‘There was a riot at the Albert Hall the first night and all you could see was a seething mass of women and a guitar neck sticking out of the top of it.
‘And I remember we did Glasgow Odeon and there were three thousand people outside and three thousand inside and when they let the three thousand out it was vicious. The police brought in dogs and it got real nasty.’
Reid has maintained a relationship with Keith Richards. ‘A few years ago I was playing a club in L.A. and in rolls Keith and says, “Hey, guys, let’s play,”’ he recalls. ‘Afterwards we’re standing around talking and of course we’re, “Remember that night when we …?” My memories of that tour are very sharp but Keith remembered all sorts of things that even I didn’t. He’s real good at remembering.
‘And he’s an absolute sweetheart and funny as hell. He [doesn’t] seem any different now to when I first met him.’
Also on the bill on that Stones tour were Ike and Tina Turner. ‘I can never forget it,’ smiles Reid. ‘They were tremendous. After they played everybody looked out of breath whether they’d been on stage or not!
‘And we were all on the tour bus together and I vividly remember nights when Tina would sing and it was deafening. Gosh, my eyes were watering.’
After Reid went solo he supported the legendary supergroup Cream – Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker – on their farewell tour of America in 1968. ‘They were playing amazing,’ he says, ‘but they’d had enough of it. The marriage was over, you might say, and they didn’t really talk to each other. After the gig they’d go back to their own hotels and they didn’t interact at all.
‘But Ginger Baker was very funny. Some nights you’d wonder, “Is he mad or is he just putting me on?” And you sort of didn’t want to find out!’
Reid’s first album, Bang Bang You’re Terry Reid (1968), was produced by Mickie Most, who had been responsible for hits by the Animals, Lulu, Herman’s Hermits and Donovan. ‘He was like “Take 1 … Take 2 … Next song!”’ says Reid. ‘It was basically us live in the studio. But what went wrong with me and Mickie was more the second album [Terry Reid, 1969].
'I went to France for these gigs and he said, “Don’t worry, we’ll mix it when you get back.” I get back and he’s mixed it and shipped it and sent me a copy! That didn’t go down well and there was a bit of a ruck and he said, “You’ll never work again.” So for a year or two I couldn’t make an album.’
Reid toured the States in 1969, again supporting the Rolling Stones, but luckily missed the free gig that ended the tour, the dystopian Altamont Festival, where the Hell’s Angels were famously hired to provide security and murder ensued. ‘[Promoter] Bill Graham was organising it and me and Keith were sitting with him and he said, “I’ll give the Angels a bunch of drugs and booze.”
‘“Oh sh*t,” I thought. “This is starting to sound a little hairy.”
‘Anyway, Keith said to me, “It’s a free gig. You can go or not go.” We were all worn out and I said, “I’d rather go home.”’
Reid did however play the record-setting Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. ‘You could see people for miles in all directions,’ he says. ‘With that many people, when you get into a song and dig in emotionally the whole audience will erupt. I swear, it makes your hair stand on end.’
The following year Reid played one of his strangest gigs when he was hired to be the entertainment at the wedding of Mick Jagger and Bianca Macias in front of an audience of rock superstars.
‘They were all out of their minds,’ he guffaws. ‘I’ve never seen such a bunch of drug reprobates. It was out of control. And everybody said, “Let’s get up and play!” but everybody was way too wasted to get anything solid together. They should have definitely stayed sitting down!’
Reid signed for the legendary Ahmet Ertegun’s Atlantic Records and his 1973 album The River is often compared to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. But Ertegun was dissatisfied with the album. ‘He said, “It’s not exactly what I thought,”’ recalls Reid. ‘He thought it was going to be rock and roll and it turned out to be an R'n'B record.’
The album only sold modestly as did its follow-up, the Graham Nash-produced Seeds Of Memory in 1976. ‘That was the most fun I’ve had,’ enthuses Reid. ‘Graham’s a really good friend. He’s a very sincere person and a true mentor to me. If I can’t figure something out I can always ask Graham.’
Rogue Waves in 1979 was, surprisingly, a much harder rock album. ‘I wanted to do something completely different and it was nice winding all the amps up in the studio,’ he admits. Even more surprisingly 1991’s The Driver, his last studio album to date, produced by the vogueish Trevor Horn of Frankie Goes To Hollywood fame. ‘It didn’t work too well,’ Reid acknowledges.
Despite poor album sales he continued to gig, however. In the '90s, for example, he toured extensively with former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, with whom he’s still friendly.
‘He’s a laugh,’ he chuckles. ‘He comes to gigs and he’ll say, “I just want to watch,” and next thing I’ll be playing and I’ll feel there’s someone beside me and he’s standing there going, “Give me a guitar, let’s have a play.” He does that all the time. But he’s one of the definitive English blues guitar players and I love playing with him.’
Reid is playing solo at his upcoming Belfast gig. ‘I love that because you’re totally free,’ he says. ‘You can talk to people more and you’re not rushed and I do songs I wouldn’t normally do. Somebody will say something from the audience and sometimes I just do it. I might stumble if I haven’t played it for thirty years, but it’s a challenge.’
Terry Reid plays the Black Box, Belfast, as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival on May 4. Tickets are still available to book via www.cqaf.com/2016/terry-reid or by calling 028 90 246 609.