ZigZag No.62, July 1976:
Editors's preface: due to space problems (mostly caused by that ridiculous heading!), I have taken the liberty of chopping the first part of this account considerably - particularly Cal's lengthy description of the Feelgood's set, (with which British readers are no doubt familiar), and their much publicised brawl with the hotel authorities - but I've tried to retain the flavour of the piece as much as possible. Starting where we left off last month, you'll recall that the curtains were about to part to reveal Dr. Feelgood making their American debut at the CBS Sales Convention in San Diego, when an over-enthusiastic Showco roadie rushed across the stage, tripped over Lee's slide guitar lead, and smashed the neck clean off ... OK, Cal, take it away.
Festering Jupiter ... that's all we needed! My heart plummetted into my stomach, sick with fear, and Wilko's face began to register dismay and alarm ... I mean, if you fxxx up in front of this audience, you might as well kiss America goodbye. Lee, however, cool as a cucumber, merely whipped his song list from his hip pocket, struck off the two songs which featured his guitar ... "We'll knock those on the 'ead, then", he said, completely unconcerned by the mishap.
John McEuan (who was guesting with the Michael Murphey band), seeing what had happened, offered to lend Lee a Stratocaster he wasn't using, but it was a lovely guitar - light guage strings, really low action - and Lee has his Guild strung with great fat strings, and the action inches off the frets ... I mean, he's a masher - really rams that bottleneck up and down with a vengeance! So he respectfully declined the kind offer, and they went straight on.
Considering the audience was a bunch of sales reps, the reception was staggering - they were even up on their chairs whooping. The Feelgoods just tore the place apart with a short (25 minutes) sharp set built around 'Malpractice', which was to be their first American release.
The set was by far the best-received of the convention; the execs, who get used to tapping their feet and displaying other outward signs of being tuned in to the magnificent CBS music flowing off the stage (no matter how bad it might be), were lapping it up with genuine pleasure, and Dan Loggins, the A&R guy from England who had been instrumental in getting the band onto the label, leaned back in his chair, cigar clenched in teeth, clapping proudly - the hugest grin of triumph pasted across his face. He was almost as happy as I was.
The party afterwards was outrageous. Bacchus would've been proud. All the pleasures of the mind and body were at hand - right down to CBS shipping in 20 hookers from LA. It was a wing dinger, I'm telling you.
"That was a great show, Wilker ... a great show", bubbled some pissed exec.
"All our shows are great, mate ... some of them are bad, but they're all great".
Everyone, it seemed, was babbling excitedly about the band ... "Hey, didja see that guy Brilleaux ... the way he grabbed his mike ... it was I like an eagle swooping down on its prey" ...
Martyn Smith, an old friend of the band, who'd somehow got himself invited to the festivities, was explaining to a whole circle of enraptured execs that Wilko's eccentricity was the result of 'centuries of inbreeding, isolation and boredom on Canvey Island ... a forgotten settlement 15 miles off the coast of Essex'
"You don't say", they gasped, utterly spellbound.
They'd obviously passed the test ... the word COMMERCIAL had glowed above the stage in capital letters, and the audience hadn't been slow to see it. Nick Lowe was amused: "In England, people go to Feelgoods concerts and cheer manically ... they just wait for their celebrated effects and stage manoeuvres ... the finer points of their perfomance are usually drowned in the applause and audience reaction they provoke. This is the first time that I've actually heard them for ages".
We milled around in the kind of infectious delirium that can only be induced by a thousand bottles - and I fear that Martyn (apparently a noted debauchee) and Sparko overdid it.
Now I've seen quite a few drunken rock stars in my time, but Sparko is the only one I've ever seen who gets literally blind drunk ... drinks so much that his eyesight goes. He staggers about - can't even focus on his watch. So he was lurching about, doing Dalek impersonations, answering questions like "What do you think of Californian girls, Sparky?" with "We peel them with our metal knives...". Nobody had a clue what he was talking about, but he was having a great time.
Anyway, Sparko and Martyn got diabolically out of it, locked themselves in the lavatories, and destroyed every fixture and fitting in the place.
They emerged grinning and spluttering, to find a long queue of execs dying for a piss - and they fell about as these poor unfortunates, were obliged to pee into broken pipes, projecting out of the floor!
Well, we thought it was curtains ... expected all manner of retributions, but next morning all these guys kept coming up, saying things like "Hey, wasn't that great fun last night? What's your bass player's name? Sparky? Boy, he was great! He really got loose last night!"
They thought it was great! The authentication of the event! Rock stars smashing the bathroom suite to smithereens! They loved it!
Showco were apologetic about Lee's guitar, but wouldn't pay for its repair. They probably took one look at it and thought it was a write-off ... I mean, it's a one pick-up Guild, about the cheapest you can buy ... but Lee was fond of it, so Chris had it repaired by a guy called Valdez, on Santa Monica Blvd. He makes guitars for Clapton and Jose Feliciano, and he ilayed the word LEE on the fretboard in mother of pearl. Looks great. Ought to - it cost more than the guitar did! Like doing a Rolls Royce paint job on an old Volkswagen.
(Incidentally, as well as getting his guitar customised, Lee bought loads of albums - really obscure stuff that I'd never heard of ... on labels like Cobra, Jin and Jewel - but Wilko only bought one. Apparently, he's only got about twenty albums altogether ... "Dylan, Morrison, Taylor ... don't listen to too much".)
Before we leave the convention, and move our scenario north to LA, and even further north to Mill Valley, I would just like to say a word of thanks to some of my new friends at CBS. Now, three months later, as I finally get this story re-written (from the version I wrote for the Culver City Star), it's just a memory; we've done 10,000 miles, been in 15 states - so my recollection is hazy ... besides which, I shook more hands than the average clergyman does in a year. But my special thanks to Rebecca Denny of the Atlanta office and Dave Demours of the Hartford office, both of whom went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
At lunchtime, be draggled and debilitated by an excess of fare, we pulled out - heading north for Los Angeles, where manager Chris rented Skip Battin's old house in Laurel Canyon ("real old ... built in 1948"), re-christening it Feelgood House, LA.
So there we were, holed up in this timber bungalow, precariously erected on a ledge jutting high over the Canyon, with time on our hands - 2 weeks before the start of the tour proper ... time for these limeys to engage in a spot of rubber-necking.
Obviously, I could cram many pages with accounts of the wild scenes which ensued, but knowing that your editors were interested in my writing up the 'Clover Episode', I'll leave all that stuff for some other time, and confine the remainder of this article to that sadly under-rated mass of talent.
It was Nick Lowe, still travelling with us, who instigated the search for Clover - a group I had never even heard of, to be quite honest. Nick was flabbergasted at my ignorance, insisting that they ranked alongside the Band and the Brinslies as pinnacles in the historical scheme of things - in fact, the way he kept babbling on, I wouldn't have been surprised if his admiration of them had extended to drinking their bathwater ... and when he finally met them, he was as coy and speechless as a schoolboy meeting the President, Like John Tobler meeting Jim Morrison, or Mac meeting John Phillips.
Brinsley Schwarz, it appeared, had always been well into Clover's music, which in Britain had gone out under the same label - Liberty/United Artists. "We got their first album as soon as it was released", says Nick, and it just bowled us over like nine-pins. Then their second (and last) album came out, and put us on our backs - we played it on our old stereo up at Rickmansworth until it was literally worn out ... till there was more surface noise than music. In fact, the Brinslies did a lot of Clover songs on the boards; we did 'Harvest' for quite a while, and 'Love Is Gone' was in the set for about two years".
By some pre-destined quirk, the Clover/Feelgoods/Lowe jigsaw was conveniently put together by the arrival of one Pete Thomas, formerly drummer with Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers (and a great friend of both the Feelgoods and Nick Lowe), and for the past year a member of John Stewarts's band. Before his recent move to Malibu, Stewart had been living in Mill Valley, where Clover are based, and Pete had been jamming and partying with them ever since he'd come to California ... so it was he who led the expedition to the Palomino in North Hollywood, where Clover were booked for two nights running.
"That can't be them!" exclaimed Nick, as the band came on stage - the lead singer wearing a white suit. (Nick later explained that they all looked much fatter than their sleeve photos, and they'd also expanded and switched their personnel, which threw him completely) ... but as soon as they started playing, he turned to me with a look of jubilation on his face, saying "It fxxxing well is them!"
Everyone in the party was exstatic about Clover's musical prowess - and I have to say that they grabbed hold of my uninitiated ears and just burned them, until I was grinning along with the rest. Alex Call's voice has to be one of the most distinctive and beautiful voices in rock, and their playing was ust brilliant ... the kind of telepathic tightness that comes only after years of playing together.
For people in a glamourous profession, they are not overly imposing to look at, but can they play? Can they play! I mean, some of the stuff John McFee was playing ... well, I just couldn't believe my ears and eyes ... and here they were, playing to an audience of about a dozen!
Pete introduced Nick, who went through his big ("This is really an honour to meet you guys ... I can't tell you what an honour it is ... I've been looking forward to this moment for years, and it reallly is an honour") hero-meeting number - even though the band mean absolutely jack shit in Los Angeles, or any other part of America for that matter. In terms of international status, they must be on par with some of your pub-rock bands - but Nick made them feel like the Rolling Stones!
The second set was fantastic: Nick and Pete joined them on stage, and got them playing songs they'd almost forgotten ... things like 'No Vacancy', 'Love Is Gone', Keep On Trying', 'Stealing', 'Harvest', 'Forty Niner' ... and they just had their minds blown apart.
To find that two 'blokes' from London were so familiar with their music freaked Clover completely - to the point that they began to imagine that they must be well-known in Britain - little realising that their albums sold less than a thousand each.
(Edit, edit ... scissors come out, and large lumps of second night details flutter into bin, so as to leave room for 'The Trip To San Francisco').
Chris, Lee, Spargo, Nick and I had been planing to shoot up to San Francisco for a few days, just to have a look around - so they invited us to call them when we got there ... which is exactly what we did.
We'd booked into this Japanese hotel in Frisco - a real uptown place which had been recommended to us as 'a bit of a laugh'. All of the rooms were done up Jap style, with paintings, paper screens, two baths (I don't know what that was all about), and it was really expensive - but it was obvious the staff didn't like us one bit - so we moved out the next day, and into the Howard Johnson's in Mill Valley ... an ordinary motel, but perfect for our requirements. And Clover were just great ... so welcoming and helpful, it was untrue. They showed us around, took us to the beach, drove us around San Francisco, took us to Mount Tamalpais - they were so friendly, and funny too ... a brand of humour closer to an English band than any other bunch of Americans I've met.
Next night, Clover had a gig down in Palo Alto, at the south of the bay, a three hour drive away ... a private party affair - so we tagged along. We didn't even know if we'd be able to get in, but we thought it'd be worth a try, and we traveled in convoy.
Hughie (the harp player) took Sparko and Lee in his pick-up truck, and since he knew the way, he went first.
I'd pulled this boiler, who had a nice old Buick, so I went with her; then there was the Lincoln that we'd rented for the purpose of grooving about, and finally Clover's estate wagon ... and we rolled down there in a line - stopping a couple of times for refreshment.
We were all juiced up when we got there - and we encountered no problems gaining entry. It was a sort of cowboy party; it was this chick's birthday, and her folks obviously had 'a few bob', (as Chris put it), because they'd rented this saloon/bar for the night, and the place was loaded with funsters, dancing and drinking and having a good time.
So Clover set up and played, and everybody grooved along and consumed more liquor, and Nicky got up and played a few numbers, then Sparko joined them for a while ... and they wanted Lee to get up and sing with them.
It was obvious that the Clovers really dug Lee, but he was still something of a mystery man; here was this mild-mannered, almost self-effacing, soft spoken, quiet gentlemen ... with short hair, a tie, and a suit. I mean, nobody under 50 wears a tie in the whole of Marin County, and cheap suits with thin lapels are not the most commonly worn outfits in Mill Valley this spring ... so they didn't know quite what to make of him. They had never heard him sing, either live or on record, and I think they were rather dubious that such a polite, quiet guy could handle any kind of up-tempo material.
They were about to find out.
Finishing a song, Alex stepped to the mike and said "We're gonna ask another friend of ours from England to come up on stage ... Mr. Lee Brilleaux, the singer with Dr. Feelgood".
Lee, standing at the bar with his back to the stage, was obviously unsure how to handle the situation, so he pretended he hadn't heard the invitation - and we had to prod and cajole him to respond ... "Oh ... er, I see ... me? ... oh, yes ...".
They decided to attack and old R&B classic called 'Checkin' Up On My Baby', which happens to be common to the repertoires of both the Feelgoods and Clover ... and with the mike in one hand and a harmonica in the other, he waited for the band to strike up.
"Well, fxxx me, I just wish I'd had a camera to catch their faces! As soon as the music started, Mr. Modesty became a WILD ANIMAL! Unaided by flasks of drug, this quiet fellow suddenly did a Jekyll and Hyde, and turned into a bulging-eyed, pumping-fisted, wild man - blowing the back off his harmonica and bawling his lungs out.
Sinews and veins are sticking out all over his sweating, contorted, snarling face, and he's snorting and bellowing and roaring and blowing ... and the band cannot believe it. They can NOT believe it! But their initial shock has now settled into shit-eating grins - they're all looking at each other as if to say "Hey, this cat really can sing after all!"
So they're playing along, rollicking away behind this frenetic fireball, who's flailing and cleaving the air with that flying piston fist ... and people, have stopped dancing and drinking, and are clustering round the stage to take full stock of this mad man. They have never seen anything like it in Palo Alto. "Golly, Molly ... won't you look at that guy".
Lee literally had everybody's blood pumping faster - all eyes are on him, watching his every move - and the band are grooving along ... when suddenly, Lee turns round and really gives the drummer a number: "COME ON, YOU FXXXER ... GIVE IT A BIT OF FXXXING STICK", he bellows ... and the drummer, totally unprepared for such an outburst, just snaps into gear instinctively - almost a reflex action - and speeds up until the band is just rocking like a fxxxing mule!
Well, the partygoers went berserk - they were hooting and cheering ... it was fantastic ... and Clover just fell in love with Lee after that - they were all over him.
The song ended, and Lee reverted to Mr. Modesty ... "Er, thanks a lot fellers ... that was very nice ... thanks a lot".
Nick reckons that of all his nights in America, that was the one he enjoyed most ..." A real primo night, man ... the best!"
Good knows how we all got home in one piece, but we managed ... and, before returning to LA to conserve our strength for the rigours of the coming tour, we partied on for a few days in Mill Valley.
Next month: The Clover Story - interview and photos.
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