Television, CBGB's and Five Decades of Rock and Roll
EVERYTHING IS COMBUSTIBLE
An excerpt from Chapter 48
Recording Marquee Moon
Television had signed with Elektra and it was time for us to record an album. We had been playing the songs for three years straight and had pretty damn good arrangements for all of them. Tom picked the songs we were going to record. He struggled with Elektra because we wanted to produce the record ourselves. After Brian Eno, Allen Lanier and the rest of the producers we tried to work with didn’t pan out, we realized that we knew our own sound the best. We wanted a younger producer who was also a top music engineer.
I found out later that Tom had considered Rudy Van Gelder but he wasn’t available. The next choice was Andy Johns. Andy was the brother of Glyn Johns who had recorded many of the English invasion bands like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Who. Andy had become Glyn’s assistant and second engineer. On some projects, he was the engineer and handled the mixes as well. We knew we wanted him because he had recorded some of the greatest guitarists alive, and some of the greatest bands in existence.
I was excited about having Andy record our record, and Tom and Fred went around looking for an appropriate studio. They finally chose Phil Ramone’s studio on West 48th Street mostly because it was shaped like the loft in Chinatown where we rehearsed—Terry Ork’s loft. It had a very archaic recording console with helicopter controls. I don’t believe it had any real panning or equalizer (EQ).
The day came for us to begin recording and we had a start time of 2 P.M. We had arranged for our equipment to arrive at the studio the night before. Our stuff was there when we dutifully arrived on time—but no Andy. We didn’t know how to get in touch with him, so we just waited a few hours until he showed up. He apologized for being late and told us that he had been in the studio the night before setting up the drums and recording some of the drum tracks. He asked if we wanted to hear them. Of course we said yes.
I asked him how he recorded with nobody to play the drums—who played the drums? He said that he did it by pushing the record button and running into the studio room and laying down some drums and then running back and turning the tape machine off. We all went into the control room to listen. Oh boy, what came out sounded just like Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham—a huge drum sound. I liked it but Tom freaked out and said, “Oh no, no, no! We don’t want big drums! We want small drums without all the effects on.”
Andy got miffed and said he was going to go back to England and that he would quit because that drum sound was his signature. He kept asking us if we wanted to sound bad or what—was it some kind of New York thing where we wanted to sound as awful as The Velvet Underground? I said, “No Andy, we chose you because you’ve recorded the greatest guitarists on earth and we are a guitar band and we want the guitars to be heard with the drums as support, not the other way around.”
He was still kind of angry. Andy and Tom went out into the hallway and talked for a while and smoothed things over. Andy came back to do his job with the kind of “harrumph” you use when you’re going to do something you don’t want to do. He also said he couldn’t record without some outboard equipment. We rented a couple of 1176’s and an LA2A, which were standard in the recording industry for compressors. Andy said he could not work properly without an 1176, and the LA2A was perfect for vocal recording. We also brought in a Pultec equalizer. That was all that was used on the recording until the record was mixed. It’s one of the reasons the record sounds so pristine, even today.
I can’t remember what song we started with, but we eventually got underway. I loved Andy Johns’ rock ‘n’ roll style, although Andy could not figure out our all-business style. He had come from Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin recording sessions were there was a party before, during and after the recording. With Television, nobody was in the studio except the band, Andy and the assistant engineer, Jim Boyer, whom I had known since high school.
One day we came in and Andy was asleep in his chair snoring with a bottle of wine dangling from his left hand and several empty bottles on the floor. He had ordered a case of wine for himself and us—but he drank most of it while I drank some too. He had a burned out cigarette between the first two fingers of his right hand. We didn’t want to wake him so we asked Jim if we could tiptoe around him and record a song because we were eager to get started. That song was “Prove It.” When we felt we had a good take we came in and listened at low-volume so as not to wake up Andy. It felt good so we played it again a little louder, and then again even louder. Suddenly Andy snorted and woke up. As paranoid as he was about producing the record, he looked back and forth and forth and back and then asked, “Did I record this?” We all nodded yes and winked at Jim who told him, “Yes Andy, you recorded that—you don’t remember?” Andy's tension drained away and he proclaimed, “I am very good, aren’t I?”
The truth was that the microphones and all the wiring had been set up by Andy, so in a way it didn’t matter whether he was awake or not for that recording.
An excerpt from Chapter 28
Keith Moon and the Sartorial Splendor
It was1972 and I was living in Los Angeles, mostly falling into swimming pools at rock ‘n’ roll parties given by large record companies. I was staying at the house of the rock ‘n’ roll music writer Richard Cromelin. We were constantly on the lookout for free food and backstage passes and whatever else we could finagle out of Cromelin’s status.
One night Richard Cromelin and I were backstage at a Mott the Hoople concert. There was a party going on even before the band took the stage. Quite a few celebrities were there, most of whom I didn’t give a rat’s ass about. Suddenly I bumped into someone, turned around, and lo and behold, my face was two inches away from Keith Moon’s forehead. He was dressed in a full tuxedo and had a martini in his hand. I can’t remember whether it had an olive or an onion, but I thought to myself, “Where the hell did he get a martini?”
I also don’t remember exactly how the conversation began, but it was probably something along the lines of, “Oh excuse me, quarters seem to be pretty close around here,” which I would’ve said because I almost knocked his hat off with my nose. In any case, he was in a fine and charming mood, with the martini, or perhaps the results of the previous martinis, working their inevitable magic as they do on us alcoholics, taking us on a roller coaster ride through the full gamut of emotions. Keith was in the bloom of cheerfulness, probably just a brief stop on the way to maudlin or lascivious.
We made small talk and chitchat—talking about nothing and laughing at each other’s jokes when somehow the conversation landed on clothes the way a fly will land on shit after floating around the room haphazardly. Keith seemed to feel as if he were making quite an impression, which to tell the truth, he was. Backstage, at a rock ‘n’ roll concert, in a full tuxedo, drinking martinis in the top hat when everyone else was dressed on a rock star groovy or California hippie tie-dye bent.
Well, I was really not about to let him get away without giving him props for looking like he was at a wedding, so I told him, “You are truly one beautiful cat, Keith, but I, I am dressed to the teeth.”
He looked me up and down, lingering over his assessment of my rags. Remember that this was in 1972. I was dressed in triple-colored platform shoes, skintight pants with absolutely no underwear and some gorgeous shirt that was probably really a girl’s blouse and which shimmered like the wings of a butterfly. I had long dirty blonde hair with Brian Jones bangs so good that when Mick Jagger first laid eyes on me he did a double take that I can still remember.
I had a beer in one hand and a hard drink in the other. And if I didn’t have a cigarette hanging out of my mouth like Humphrey Bogart, it was only because I was between ashtrays. I looked at Keith while he sized me up. Anyway, he was going to have to admit that I was no slouch and he retorted, “Well, you are dressed up pretty good, but I am dressed to the nines. There is no comparison.”
I retorted. While we were certainly the two best dressed dudes there, it was clear that I was chic, while he looked out of place at a rock ‘n’ roll gig. I think my actual words were “Keith, I am heavenly, and you look like you’re at a wedding.”
Keith bristled and laughed it off, and came back with another zinger. We were both having fun, and it was turning into a classic food fight of words.
“Richard, I’ll have you know that I am Top of the Pops, and you are bottom of the pickle barrel mate!” I said, “Keith, I’ll have you know, that I’ve already been propositioned by both men and women 13 times tonight, and you look like a penguin!” Back and forth it went…
Then, all of a sudden, it turned … ugly. And in a hurry. Keith’s face fell and I could tell that it wasn’t fun for him anymore. I had been playing with one big cat and the cats temper turned. I saw another Keith Moon. I recognized this one too, and frankly I saw the homicidal glaze come over his eyes.
Now it wasn’t so much fun for me either. I made a tactical decision. After all, I was a nobody, and I’d been going toe to toe with Keith fucking Moon, for Christ’s sake. I know my place sometimes and I summed up the angles quickly. Polite is right. That’s the way to get along, as the old blues tune goes. So I took off my imaginary hat to him and I bowed, deep, in a kind of Elizabethan solo, and I said, honest to God:
“Oh, highly esteemed and most visibly High Lord Keith Moon, it is as clear as a spring stream on a sunny afternoon that you are the one in sartorial splendor, and peasant I, dressed in paltry rags. I beg your indulgence and kindness so kind sir, for departing from what is most evident, only for your amusement! I meant no harm, because, oh my God, just LOOK AT YOU, radiant like the sun in the sky!”
He was taken aback by my effluence, and I could see the gears turning inside his mental assessment Rolodex. Half a minute later a sly smile came over him and he returned to the loveable Keith I had originally had before me.
“You are putting me on, pulling me leg?” he said with a quizzical Gemini look on his childlike face.
“Yes sir, Mr. Moon, as surely as the sun sets in the west I’ve been putting a good one over on you”
“Well then,” he said, “let me buy you a drink!”
Well, the drinks were free that night, but with that he put his arm around me and we stumbled over to the open bar where he proceeded to “buy” me a drink with a big flourish, and we partied on into the night.