TERRY REID could have been the lead singer in Led Zeppelin. Richie Blackmore wanted him to be Deep Purple’s frontman. Both incidents have gone down in legend to cast Terry as rock’s ‘great nearly man...’, but to think this way is to forget that Terry Reid has always been his own man.
Terry Reid began his career as a mod-rock/soul singer in the mid-1960s and since then he has never stopped working, recording albums, working with some of the best in the business, and playing prestigious clubs and festivals.
On Tuesday May 3 at 8.30pm Terry Reid will make his Galway debut when he plays upstairs in Kelly’s Bar, Bridge Street.
“Galway has always been somewhere I’ve wanted to visit, just to see that beautiful bay,” Terry tells me from his home in California. “I am so excited about this visit to come and see you all and spend time with friends and hear music I love.”
Terry was born in 1949 in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, and Cambridge was a perfect environment for a creative individual to grow up in, not only with its small, but very noticeable and cutting edge arts and bohemian scene, but also for its landscape and scenery.
“Cambridge brings to mind many mornings, about 5am walking about two miles in the freezing snow to go fishing on the river,” says Terry. “The peace and quiet I think is what gave me the chance to hear all those tunes floating in the air.”
Cambridge was also home to three musicians who would later become members of Pink Floyd - Roger Waters, Syd Barrett, and David Gilmore. Did Terry ever come across them when he was growing up?
“One day I was doing some shopping in the market square of Cambridge,” recalls Terry. “There’s a famous fountain that’s been there for hundreds of years, but on this day one of the statues looked a little different...as I did a double take I realised it was Syd reading a book, I commented ‘It must be a good book.’ Syd replied from under the fountain, ‘It’s wonderful Terry you must read it.’ Everybody was pretty crazy back then.”
Like Syd, Terry eventually moved to London and became immersed in the music scene, originally as a heavy mod/soul singer, a period which produced the mighty ‘Tinker Taylor’ and other songs as collected on Super Lungs The Complete Studio Recordings 1966-1969.
His powerful vocals and strong songwriting quickly got him noticed. “There are only three things happening in London - The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Terry Reid,” said Aretha Franklin in 1968, and around the same time guitarist Jimmy Page was also looking to the Cambridgeshire man with interest.
Page had just finished touring with his band The New Yardbirds and was in the process of rebranding and renovating them as Led Zeppelin and he saw in Terry someone who would be a great lead singer.
Page asked Terry to join his new band but Terry had just landed himself a slot supporting the Rolling Stones in the US. Terry said Page would have to ask Keith Richards if it would be OK, but neither man fancied the task, Page saying he would be afraid The Human Riff might shoot him!
So Terry went off to the States with the Stones, but not before he gave Page a hand, telling him he should check out a singer from Birmingham called Robert Plant. To this day Terry is proud of the role he played in brining the two men together.
“It was the biggest happy accident I’d ever seen happen, and actually one I’m quite proud of,” he says.
Not long after, another ace guitarist Richie Blackmore was looking for a frontman for his band - Deep Purple and he went after Terry. It could have been Terry’s face on the Mount Rushmore-esque cover of In Rock instead of Ian Gillian but it did not happen “‘cause I wanted to be in Screaming Lord Such and the Savages,” replies Terry.
By this stage Terry had switched to a more hard rock sound and had recorded two well received albums - Bang Bang You’re Terry Reid (1968 ) and Terry Reid (1969 ) - and the next year he played the legendary Isle of Wright festival in 1970 on a bill that included Bob Dylan, The Who, Leonard Cohen, and Jimi Hendrix.
The festival took place from August 26 to 31. Hendrix would be dead of a drugs overdose by September 18.
“Yes he was a very good friend and one hell of a sweet guy,” says Terry of his fallen comrade. “Knowing how many directions he loved to try musically, I sometimes really miss where he would be going now, seeing that his legacy is the biggest influence of any guitarist today.”
On a happier note, what are Terry’s fondest memories of playing that festival?
“When I walked on the stage somebody said this is the biggest one to date, and they sure were right,” he says. “Also that nutcase Keith Moon disappearing for a few hours and appearing back on site with a mint condition second world war army assault vehicle complete with gas arc lights, explaining. ‘We were short on light.’ Unfortunately he forgot the asbestos gloves you must have when they heat up...therefore frying his hands. He then proceeded to tape the drum stick to his hand and then went on and played the set...he’s nuts!”
Things to try
Terry relocated to the States permanently in the early 1970s and is today based in Palm Desert, California. “It’s about two hours from LA and an hour from the Mexican border,” he says. “It’s very dry and extremely hot in the summer.”
So does he feel more American than English at this stage? “Not on your life,” replies Terry. “When in Rome be yourself.”
From this point on new albums and live shows became less frequent, yet for his fans and many music critics the 1970s marked Terry Reid’s creative peak with jazz-folk album River (1973 ) and the rock, funk, country, and jazz mix of Seed Of Memory (1976 ). Interestingly Terry did not initially think either album was that extraordinary.
“It’s funny how tracks, when recording them at the time, that didn’t seem that good later on become very endeared by many,” he says. “This just goes to show, you can sometimes be your own worst judge.”
One of Terry’s collaborators on Seed Of Memory was his old friend Graham Nash, first of The Hollies and later of Crosby Stills & Nash.
“I’ve known Graham since I was 14 and not only has he been very kind and supportive, he’s shared many of the amazing experiences of his own over all these years,” says Terry. “Therefore recording an album together was the most comfortable I'd ever been in the studio. It’s a real trip to sing with him. I saw him this last year twice on stage with Steven and David, these are fond memories you’ll always retain.”
Terry took time out from touring in the 1980s to concentrate on session work and over that period released only two albums The Hand Don’t Fit The Glove (1985 ) and The Driver (1991 ), but the release of Alive (2004 ) signalled a return to more regular and active duties in studio and on stage.
“I’m always working on new songs or revisiting ones from the past, which brings me to how I approach playing live,” says Terry. “This last year we played three nights at Ronnie Scotts in London, everything just fell into place musically and the band never stopped grinning the whole way through the set. Luckily enough the recording did the whole thing justice, so I’m releasing the two CD set this year.”
Terry’s career has embraced soul-rock, hard rock, jazz/folk, and country rock and for him music has “always been an adventure”.
“From when I was a kid there was jazz with rhythm and blues and country,” he says, “but as the years uncover all the different origins you can see and follow the trails of nationalities as they migrate and take their music with them, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Support is from Vertigo Smyth and Carol-Anne McGowan. Tickets are €15/12. For more information contact 091 - 563804.