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Friday, May 09, 2014

Terry Reid and the incurable disease of being a musician

In the sixties everybody thought it was only a matter of time before Terry Reid made it.

He'd left school at fifteen to go on tour with the Rolling Stones. He was managed and produced by Mickie Most, who'd made Donovan and the Animals into hit acts. He could sing, play guitar and was considered the best looking front man around. Others took this quality more seriously than he did. The story goes Jimmy Page wanted him to be the lead singer of Led Zeppelin. Terry decided it wasn't for him and suggested Page should talk to another young singer called Robert Plant. Page asked "what does he look like?" Reid wondered why he asked.

Ever since then he's had to put up with people telling him how unlucky he was. He doesn't see it that way. Funny how we see the people who didn't make it as the victims of cruel misfortune. It's more useful to reflect upon the one in a million stroke of luck accounting for the tiny handful who did.

Terry Reid has his own idea what he wanted to do and a few years later he did it, putting out two albums, "River" and "Seed Of Memory", which, while leaving the charts unbothered, were widely admired. Ahmet Ertegun, who got him out of his contract with Most, paid for the first one, which was produced by Tom Dowd and came out in 1973. When Ahmet heard it he said "you've given me a jazz album". Both records are notable for their grooves rather than songs. Reid's theory was that if you could get the right musicians they would lean together and magic up the loose-limbed, Brazil-inflected music he heard in his head. He was right.

He moved to America in 1971 and has been there ever since. There were a few major label tries but nothing that took. He still plays. He was at the Jazz Cafe on Wednesday with a band of high calibre musicians who were clearly playing for the love of it as much as anything else. Where else would they get the opportunity to play this kind of thing? The voice doesn't have the silvery highs but the people who turn up don't care much about that. That's the funny thing about the expansion of rock cults. More people than ever like to tell everyone how underrated their favourites are, thereby making them no longer underrated.

I talked to him on Thursday at his lawyer's house. Amazingly he's had the same British legal representative since the late sixties. I know what Hunter Thompson said about the music business being "a cruel and shallow money trench" but it's surprising what pockets of sentiment and loyalty you still come across. Rob Dickins, who used to book him in the late sixties when he was a university social sec, signed Reid to Warners in 1991 for an album called "The Driver". Robert Plant is still in touch. Jack White's group The Raconteurs have recorded his "Rich Kid Blues". Admiring young musicians turn up backstage, aware that what he does they can't really do.

I dropped him off at the station in the rain. He was going off to Southend to stay with a friend. He's here for a month but it's not the kind of visit that stretches to a hotel. That's the music business in 2014. More people than ever playing for less money. What sustains live music is not so much the audience's hunger to hear as the musicians' hunger to play.

Talking of which, Alex Gold and I were on the tube yesterday when we bumped into Carl Hunter from the Farm. He joked that the group were getting together for "another of our Saga holidays". They had a few big hits in the early 90s, enough to ensure they still get a few down the bill bookings at festivals. They enjoy it and presumably just about show a profit. In any other business it wouldn't be enough. But this isn't any business.

Alex has just got back from touring Germany with a ukulele orchestra. The musicians were all ages and backgrounds. The oldest one, who used to be Lulu's bassist in the 60s, flew over from Alicante to join them. He passed on to Alex the best definition of being a musician I've ever heard. "It's not a profession," he said. "It's an incurable disease".

Terry Reid's UK dates are here.