“Hail Caledonia! Thy name acts like magic on each Scottish heart when they’re far o’er the sea.” (Hugh Ogilvie, 1912)

“Haw! Somebody get me a taxi, puleez!” The voice was loud and unmistakably Scottish. I naturally rushed to his aid in the middle of A&M’s parking lot and suggested, “Haw! Take mine. I’ll be here for a while.”

Dougie Thomson promo
Dougie Thomson

The voice in question came from none other than Dougie Thomson, bass player with my A&M stablemates Supertramp and a proud ex-resident of Rutherglen, Glasgow. We chatted fondly of the rainy weather we were now avoiding here in California and compared our shared near-death experiences while playing the Mill Hotel in his native suburb.
“Here, huv ye met Andy? He’s English ye know.”
Andy turned out to be Mr Summers, guitar player with multi-million seller’s The Police and I had indeed met him many years before.

“Do you remember the early years?” I asked him over a beer in the staff room.
“It’s pretty much all I remember now,” Andy replied rather sadly.
“Oh, good!” I said, ignoring his obvious despondency.
“We used to rehearse in the same studios back in ‘78.”
“Uh, okay.”
“Yeah,” I continued regardless, “I was in a band called The Mirrors and you lot were next door practising a song I think was called I Don’t Want No Day Job, right?”
“Yeah, that was one of our first…”
“Aye, it was Shite!” I interjected.
“Excuse me?”
“Nothin’ personal. You and I used to play on the pinball machine? You always beat me, mind?”
“Billy? Are you Billy?”
“Aye!”
“Aw Man! Now I remember you. Is that you on the billboard out there? Fuck me. I loved kickin’ your arse on that machine!”
“Steady on Andy…”
“You sucked Man!” He was laughing now, me not so much. Ach, who am I kidding. I was laughing too.
“I really miss those days,” he went on to say. “I wish sometimes we were back there,” and he meant it.

Andy-Summers
Andy Summers

Not me, though. There was a pinball machine next to the toilets, so I challenged Andy to a rematch. He kicked my arse again. Fortunately, my disappointment was short-lived as A&M had cancelled my flight home that day to have some brainstorming meetings about my ‘dreaded 2nd album,’ as Andy put it. “I hope you don’t end up miserable like us Bill,” were his parting words as he left to go back, I assumed, to his Malibu mansion.

 I wasn’t miserable at all, nor was I dreading making a 2nd album. Hell, I had what everyone was telling me was a hit record, my very own band and 6 or 7 songs which I played snippets of on an acoustic guitar to the bigwigs who loved them all. “At least we’ve got the next album title,” said an elated Jordan Harris after I’d played them Crankin’ Up The Handle. Along with Jordan and Gil Friesen, manager Jim White was in attendance, and we seemed to thrash out all the details in a relatively short time, well most of the details. It was agreed for instance that John Ryan would continue in the producer’s role although I’d briefly suggested my new mate Mick Ronson for the gig. “He’d be up for it,” I told everyone. “I bet he would,” said Gil before assuring the rest of us that Mick hadn’t done a great job with their Canadian signing The Payolas a few years back. I disagreed but was outvoted. Also agreed was that drummer Gary and bassist Max should be hired. No more drum machines and a heavier ‘live’ sound was the order of the day. Finally, which studio should we use? Various suggestions were made: Air Studios Montserrat, too expensive, especially when the bar bill from 2XS was mentioned. A&M’s own studio right here on the lot was also ruled out due to its proximity to Sunset Strip and the distractions that offered. Several more candidates were bandied around until: I swear you could’ve heard a pin drop if it wasn’t for all the laughter when I put my hand up and declared:

“I wanna do it in Glasgow.”

I was sick and tired of everything when I called you last night from Glasgow.” (ABBA: Super Trouper, 1980)

When the laughter had died down, I was able to state my case, albeit under much snobbery and unfounded mockery.

What good has ever come outa Glasgow?”
Maybe your Faither. Ask yer Maw.”
Do they have electricity? Indoor restrooms? Do they hunt the wild haggis?”

Ca-Va
Ca-Va Studios

My counter-argument was that Ca-Va studio, Glasgow was every bit as well equipped in comparison to any top-rated studio in the world but, because it had no track record of major label acts working there, it would be much cheaper. Most importantly to me, it and its owner Brian Young deserved a chance. I can only imagine the transatlantic phone conversation which took place between producer John Ryan from his home in the Hollywood Hills and Brian from Ca-Va in Glasgow’s Bentinck Street, but as I know both of them well, I’ll give it a go.

So Brian, tell me about the studio.”
Well John, it’s situated in a Grade A listed building covering over 2,000 square metres and is within walking distance of Glasgow’s city centre.”
And the desk?”
24 track Neve with fully automated faders, able to be upgraded to 48 track when required.”
Speakers?”
Yes. We have two of them. Big Bastards, so they are.”
Is the vocal booth fully soundproofed?”
Indeed. We have access to many empty egg boxes here in Scotland.”
Ah, but do you have a rack-mounted DX400 digital compressor?”
No, but we can hire one in from Edinburgh. It’s only half an hours drive away.”
Excellent. Finally, Brian, does Ca-Va have the facility to capture the ambience of a large room in which we can record drums, vocals or just generally large sounding instruments?”

Indubitably. It’s a Fucking Church!”

Chris' House 1978 with John Martyn
Billy with John Martyn 1978

With a thumbs up from John, we were all set to hopefully put Glasgow on the map for future big-budget acts to follow, and we did. To quote from Ca-Va’s own website: “In 1984 Kirkintilloch Rocker Billy Rankin had just signed for US record label A&M and decided he wanted to record his Crankin’ album with Brian Young engineering at Ca-Va. US musicians were flown over as was US producer John Ryan – The Chicago Kid. In 1985 Island Records John Martyn began recording his Piece By Piece album here and, from then on, the list grew to include major label acts including Deacon Blue, Hue & Cry, Wet Wet Wet, live recordings from Oasis, Paul Weller and Supergrass among others.” The site goes on to list many TV soundtracks and, in what I found particularly touching was, a reference to Brian producing the Runrig album Mara in 1996 on which Billy Rankin supplied the backing vocals. As for John Martyn’s album, I dropped by while he was recording it and I had Mary and the kids in tow. I hadn’t seen John since we won the darts tournament doubles together at the Minstrel Boy, Muswell Hill back in ’78 so much hugging and joviality was going down til Mary lambasted the guy for daring to roll a joint in front of the children. To his credit, John apologised profusely and went to the bathroom to finish the task. Thanks then in a small way to John & I, Ca-Va became a player in the UK studio marketplace. After it was booked for April/May 1984 by A&M, Brian and I went out and got royally smashed at the Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow’s West End.

But not in front of the children’s section

“Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face. Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race.” (Address To A Haggis: Robert Burns, 1786)

It was such a schizophrenic time. Here we were recording Crankin’ in April and I was spending much of my time doing press and promo for Growin’ Up Too Fast which had only been released in January.

1984.03.10-Billboard
Billboard 10th March 1984

Billboard 18.2.84
Billboard 18th February 1984

It’s a well-known fact that everyone deals with pressure in different ways. I must’ve handled it well cos, despite the time between writing and arranging the songs before going into the studio being a mere few weeks, I don’t remember feeling anything but excited. I was in, as far as I could tell, a fortunate place. ‘Growing’ success (sorry) in America on the first attempt with a major label is mind-blowing enough, but to have a second album commissioned and to be recorded in a studio familiar to me, close enough to be home with my family every night: Where’s the pressure in that? In addition, I had two exceptional musicians coming over to have fun playing with, a producer I knew well and respected, and an engineer I’d trusted to bring out the best in me before I even knew what that was. Oh, and Everyone loved the songs.

John Ryan chose a boutique-style hotel a few blocks from Ca-Va, which served him a breakfast he’d never experienced in LA. Sure, he got his muesli and freshly squeezed artichoke juice, but also something called Stornoway black pudding, lorne sausage and tattie scones. Not healthy by any means, but Big John loved it. “Wait til the guys on Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach get a load of this,” he must’ve thought. Never. He also developed a taste for Haggis suppers which he’d frequently request someone get him, “As soon as the Goddam Chippy opens.” Always washed down with a diet soda. Gary and Max went with my recommendation of the Lorne Hotel, which was within crawling distance of the studio, served everything Johns place did except artichoke juice, had a late-night action-packed bar with American-loving barmaids and the option of taking it all downtown, which they often did. Max, in particular, attracted what in Glasgow would rightly be considered dangerous company. One evening after jokingly insulting a fellow bass player in a pub, he found himself surrounded by the guy’s mates. “Don’t even think about it, you Damn Scotch Muthas!” he yelled. “Ah’m an ex-Marine an’ Ah’ll kick your Asses!” Moments later, he was helped from the barroom floor and, having a beer bought for him by his assailants, one of them put his arm around him, saying, “Mate! Ah would’ve stabbed you if Ah could’ve stopped laughing long enough tae get ma blade oot!” Yep, the Americans loved Glasgow and vice versa. In the studio, we bonded straight away as can be heard in a recording Brian made to check the studio sound levels: We made a good noise. Within a week, all the drum and bass parts were done so Gary & Max headed home with a promise we’d be playing together again sooner than we all thought. Our remaining Yank and rapidly expanding producer John Ryan wanted things to be like Growin’ Up where we’d get everything done from the outsiders leaving just me to get vocals and guitars recorded.

Come On Boys live rehearsal Ca-Va Studios March 1984

“Ah, but I want guests in first,” said me.
“You’re bringing Him in again, aren’t you?”
“Yep, and a few others.”
“Are they as crazy as Him?”
“You might think they are, but nobody’s as crazy as Him.”
“When’s Him coming in?”
“Today. The others, tomorrow.”
“Shit! What time is it?”
“11.30am.”
“Get me a Haggis supper, and a diet soda, dammit!”
“Anything else?”
“Yes. A single fish, 3 fritters and a pickled onion.”
“Shut it, Brian, I was talking to the Yank.”

A-Haggis-Supper
A Haggis Supper

Later that day, Him arrived.
“Hi, Zal. Thanks for coming.”
“Always a pleasure, William. Is that fritter goin’ free?”

I had 3 tracks in mind for Zal to solo over. Come On Boys, Crankin’ Up The Handle and Takin’ Care Of Business. He did all with his usual flair before adding some really tasty underdubs on Look Back In Anger, then he was gone, cash in hand. Next day my other guests arrived, scaring the Yank into ordering more Haggis. They sang splendidly on the same 3 tracks Him had played the solos on before joining us in the control room for a listen back.

“You know what, Billy. Your playing is So like Zal.”
“It Is Zal, Uncle Pete.”
“Ah telt ye that was Zal!” said my other guest.
“Holy Fuck! So we’ve got you, Zal, Dan and me on the same songs?”
“Aye. Nearly a reunion, eh?”
“Shame we missed him, that would’ve been something.”
“Zal asked me to pass ye’s on a message.”
“Oh Aye?”

“Aye.” He said, “Gie me ma Nazareth royalties!”
Silence…. then: “So, Billy Boy, did we agree on the session fee for this?”
“Aye, Pete. Same as Zal got. Seems fair.”
“Oh Aye. Seems fair, right enough.”
“He means Fuck All Pete!” said Dan McCafferty with a nod and a wink towards yours truly.

“He means we get Fuck All!”

“The Bastard’s Tale. A classic piece of literature, if I ever heard one.” (The Revolution: Tom Verlaine, 1996)
Billy Jr giving it 'More Drums!' Ca-Va Studios 3.84
Billy Jr giving it ‘More Drums!’ Ca-Va Studios March 1984

To musicians, sound engineers and producers are bastards. Usually, this sentiment is mutual. Sound engineer and producer Calum Malcolm recites a perfect example from his (bastard) standpoint involving a Motörhead type band he was recording at Castlesound Studios. For these purposes let’s call ‘em The Smelly Long Haired No Brained Interfering Bastards, or The Smellies as Calum would’ve no doubt written on the tape box to disguise his true feelings. His attempts to mix their potential No.1 debut single were being hampered by constant interference from individual Smellies screaming for “More Bass!”  “More Drums!” and, I’m with them here, “More Guitar!” Eventually, Calum called for silence and played his Sound Engineer/Producer Bastard card. “Look, guys. Why don’t you all go next door to the pub, have a pint and give me an hour, okay?”  “Aye okay. Get it sounding right or we’ll kill yer Maw!” Once alone, Calum did nothing. No adjustments to the sound, the levels, nothing. In fact, he went to the pub too but had his pint in the adjacent lounge where he could watch the Smellies debate which one of them was to deal his Maw the fatal blow. On their return, Calum was back at the controls and announced with a wry smile, “Ready guys? Check this out.” Leaning forward, he simply turned the desk volume up to maximum and pressed play. “That’s It! That’s It!” the Smellies yelled in unison. “You got our Sound!”

What a bastard.

This kind of blatant foolery was obsolete by the time we were mixing Crankin’ due mainly to the desk’s automated software. Once locked and loaded, everything remained the same: Faders rose and dropped on cue without the touch of human fingers, EQ was adjusted, again as if by magic, and playback er, played back exactly like it did last time we pressed play.

Brian Young was and still is, a fan of Edinburgh soccer team Heart Of Midlothian and, on this fateful day, a Sunday, his beloved Jam Tarts were involved in a major game being broadcast live on TV at 1pm, local time. For this reason, Brian had been hard at work since 8am mixing You Don’t Have To Go with input from John Ryan (after his Haggis supper) and at five minutes to 1pm requested a leave of absence to watch the match. “No,” was John’s reply. “Fuck You!” was Brian’s considered response before storming out of the room and, minutes later, I arrived.

“Hey, Big Guy. Did you get any fritters with that?”
“No. We’re ready to print this sucker, Bill, wanna hear it?”
“Aye, but where’s Brian?”

Skipping a load of dialogue I went upstairs, the match was on TV, and the ancient brass keys of Ca-Va were on the table. After driving around the area, I spotted the bastard sound engineer walking aimlessly. The bastard producer had made Brian abandon his own studio cos he’d been refused permission to watch a football game.

“You’ve got to understand,” I tried to reason.
“He’s worked with Greg Allman, Santana, The Doobie Brothers, Me, and nobody has ever walked out on him… except for Santana when his Guru advised it.”
Brian calmed down enough to get into my car, but only for him to ask me to drive him home to watch the game.
“Nope. We’re going back to the studio and you’re watching it there. By the way, your team’s winning Brian!”
His demeanour improved, then, “But what about the bastard producer?”
“John works for me,” I countered. (Technically so did Brian but I wasn’t going to play that card.) “So I’ll make it happen,” and I did.
Back at the studio, the two bastards shook hands and, while they watched the remainder of the match together, I snuck into the control room and updated the mix, turning all the guitars up.

Musicians are Bastards!

You Don’t Have To Go (Bastard musician mix)

Another development during this time was getting a call from CBS Japan, A&M’s distributors in the Land of the Rising Sun who’d gotten the job of supplying a song to be included in an up-and-coming movie about Sumo wrestlers. They asked if Crankin’ had a suitable track. This created much hilarity amongst us: Come On Boys took on a whole new meaning, and Oh Rose got renamed Oh Ma Nose, but the bottom line was it didn’t. I’d have to write one and, with no musicians remaining due to being in Mix mode, I’d have to play it all too. A quick dusting down of the Linn drum machine and a bit of brainstorming on my part resulted in Come Out On Top, a slightly less pervy title than Come On Boys but CBS loved it which led to Crankin’ being released in Japan.

Come Out On Top

Billboard 9.6.84
Billboard 9th June 1984

As the mixing process came to an end, one final event occurred: On 21st May 1984 in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Mary gave birth to our third child whom we named Jordan after my friend at A&M, Mr Harris. Wee Jay’s arrival warranted a mention in one of the US’ most important music rags but, as with this business, they got some of the facts wrong. Namely the date and place of birth but, being the caring father I’ve always been, I’ve tried to reassure him ever since.

“Son. I am your Father. We’re just not sure who your Mother is.”

“No worries Faither. Last time I checked there’s only one bastard in the Rankin family.”

“I look forward to Billy getting his own band in a few years. Because of all he’s gone through with us, he’ll be shaking his head at all the bullshit and goin’ “What ARE you doin?” He’ll be a Rock N Roll Veteran at 25. (Pete Agnew: Nazareth interview, 1981)
1984.06 The Billy Does Dingbat Itinerery extract
US solo tour itinerary extract June 1984

You know sometimes you can be talking to someone for the first time and go, like, You’re an Asshole?
Of course you do.
I was wiser than my years when, after delivering Crankin’ to A&M, it was decided I should embark on a solo US tour. My first stipulation of having Gary & Max as my bandmates was agreed to, but my suggestion of getting us on a support tour with some band struggling to sell tickets without a new album out was explained away with, “Sorry Bill. Nazareth aren’t touring right now.”

Burn!

I, however, used this to my advantage by insisting Naz stalwart Harry Williams be hired as tour manager since he was clearly at a loose end. Big H was instantly on board. Next, the band obviously needed a second guitarist capable of replicating the other guitar parts from Growin’ Up and the soon-to-be-released Crankin’ album. Gary Ferguson delivered big time in the shape of Pete McRae. My first impression of Pete wasn’t positive. On arrival at our rehearsal studio in LA, I mistook him for a roadie cos my standard Marshal stacks were in place, but on the opposite side was a single Fender twin combo being played by a short-haired, short-sighted geek using a Telecaster.

“Sorry mate,” I began. “Are you finished?”
“Huh?”
“It’s just that we’ve booked this place for the next few days.”
“Ah, you must be Billy Rankin,” said the geek before launching into the opening bars of Baby Come Back, and playing it wrong.

“Oh, that’s no right,” said the Scotsman to the Geek.

To explain a little, footage exists of Keith Richards in a rehearsal studio with Chuck Berry where they’re running through Chuck’s Oh Carol. Keef stops Big Charles in mid- riff and suggests an easier way to play the riff. A riff Mr Berry invented decades previous and had been playing His way forever. “How dare you!” yelled one rock legend to the other. “Whoa, Chuck, Baby,” Keef says trying to defuse the situation. “I’m only trying to help, Cat!” I’d like to think Chuck’s response was to shoot him in the face or, if he’d been Scottish, just say “That’s no right!” cos it isn’t.

Alvin-Lee
Alvin Lee

I did it once myself to Alvin Lee.

It was backstage in TYA’s dressing room 1990 when my hero let me look at his cherry red Gibson 335 made famous at Woodstock 1969. In a moment of what I now recognise as ‘Trying to impress your Idol by playing something he’d been playing for years and had thought it up in the first place.’ I launched into one of Alvin’s solos from the legendary concert, then made things worse:
“If you had added your pinky here it would’ve been so much easier to play,” much like Keef tried on Chuck Berry.
“Wow!” mocked Mr Lee. “If only I’d had you around when I played it, Bill. You were, erm 9 or 10 at the time?”
“That’s no right,” would’ve sufficed, but instead he just shook his head.

Billy with Pete McRae Rock Island Live Dayton OH 4.7.84
Billy with Pete McRae. Rock Island Live, Dayton, OH 4th July 1984

Pete McRae wasn’t a roadie. When I’d heard his attempt at Baby Come Back’s riff and smugly informed him, “That’s no right,” his response was to hand me his Telecaster and ask me to show him. Now, before anyone thinks I’d compare a Chuck Berry riff (or Keith Richards classic copy of one) or Alvin Lee’s brilliant pinky-free blistering solo he could play with a piece of wood to my Baby Come Back 8-bar intro. Don’t. I simply played a simple guitar part which other guitarists played simpler, but didn’t sound like MY way of playing it.

That’s makes it ‘no right,’ right?

Gary-Ferguson
Gary Ferguson

Anyhoo, after a few days in rehearsal, the tour began and we were a short band of reprobates for sure. There was me, Gary, Max, Pete, Harry, Si the ‘other tour manager’ who was in charge of equipment, load-ins and general dog-work and driver/2nd roadie Sandy who set up the drum kit, tuned guitars and secretly wanted to be In the band, but wasn’t. There was one final member.

The Asshole Sound Guy.

Billy's notes
Billy’s notes re possible set and sound

I only call him this cos I genuinely don’t recall his name, but he was our sound-guy and an Asshole. He had an attitude of: “Bill. You need to turn the fuck down. I can’t hear the bass. Pete, you need to stop playing like that. It sucks. Max, your bass is crap, ever tried a Gibson Grabber? I know your hands are bleeding, Gary, but hit those skins harder.” After the first gig, I asked Harry to check out the Asshole Sound Guy’s sound. “It’s crap Budzo. Can’t hear Pete cos he’s only got a Fender Twin, you’re too loud cos you’ve got the usual Marshal stacks, Max hates the Asshole Sound Guy and Gary’s asking for bigger drumsticks.”
“That’s no right,” I probably said. Asshole Sound Guy’s response was predictably ‘no right’ too.

So we fired him.

Geoff Newsome 6.84
Geoff Newsome June 1984

Only one Sound Guy came to mind: Geoff Newsome. He had handled the Nazareth sound for many years. Add to that Ted Nugent, UFO, Ozzy, The Cars, Bob Marley and countless others. He also watched in horror on 19th March 1982 from the crew bus as the light aircraft carrying Randy Rhoads clipped the top of Ozzy’s tour bus and crashed, killing Rhoads, makeup artist Rachel Youngblood and pilot Andrew Aycock.

A quick phone call from Harry and he was in. Geoff called a Spade a Fuckin’ shovel.

The first gig we did was a revelation.

Geoff ordered Pete a stack of Fender amps, Max got 4×15 speakers which would blow the balls off a moose at 40 yards (an old Nugent quote), my Marshal stacks were doubled and the average ‘house PA’ was used as drummer Gary’s monitors. “If it’s too loud yer too fuckin’ old,” was Macclesfield’s most famous son’s mantra. Jeez, it worked. Aside from giving our club-sized audiences nosebleeds, the combination of arena-hardened me, Harry and Geoff added the much-needed experience to make the tour run smoothly. By which I mean the experience needed to get a bunch of guys travelling together in an RV, towing a U-Haul of equipment, to play some club in the middle of nowhere, America night after night.

This tour wasn’t called ‘Billy Does Dingbat’ for nothing.

Beach party Oklahoma City 23.6.84
Beach party Oklahoma City 23rd June 1984

Occasionally, we hit an MTV-popular location such as Oklahoma City where we were headlining their annual Beach Party. A quick look on a map reveals the city is nowhere near a beach but, in typical American fashion, they just dumped 50 million tons of sand on the main street, added some palm trees and beach volleyball courts, pumped in some seawater and partied like it was 1984, cos it was. We arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the atmosphere, and there were posters and billboards of ME everywhere, unlike in Dingbat. The band before us were going down a storm and, on spotting us, their lead singer announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Billy Rankin and his band are here.” Much whooping followed then he made a fatal mistake. He launched into the opening bars of Baby Come Back, and played it wrong. This prompted my, by now totally integrated ‘Scottish’ guitarist, Pete McRae, to exclaim, “That’s No Right! Get him telt!” So, instead of waving to the crowd from the side of the stage, I climbed the steps, took up position behind the frontman and gestured he raise his hands in the air while I played the riff the way I’d thought it up in the first place. This seems somewhat counterproductive in the grand scheme of things, but what the fuck.

If I’d been Chuck Berry, I would’ve shot him in the face.

Rip It Up – Lakeview Arena, Marquette MI 3rd July 1984

Call Me Automatic – Charlestown, PA July 1984

Crankin’ Up The Handle – Charlestown, PA July 1984

Never In A Million Years – LA Palladium 3rd March 1984

Growin’ Up Too Fast tour radio spot 1984

“Hey, Geoff! I think the muffler’s blew.”
I don’t give a fuck what colour it is. Fix it!”
 (Dingbat tour bus, June 1984)
Esther-&-George-Wong
Esther & George Wong

Esther Wong was a remarkable woman. First up, she ran a Chinese Restaurant in Santa Monica with the additional attraction of having a ‘Floor Show’ as entertainment while you dined. This didn’t go too well til she started booking bands. Up-and-coming outfits such as Ramones, The Knack, Black Flag, The Police and Red Hot Chili Peppers to name but a few. She’d also go out on a limb occasionally and hire bands no other venue would touch such as, get this, a punk outfit called Pearl Harbour And The Explosions. In a Chinese Restaurant? Woah! That’s a poster I’d love to see.

Alternate Crankin' cover
Alternate Crankin’ cover June/July 1984

This all led to Esther being hailed locally as ‘Godmother of Punk.’ Her venue, Madame Wong’s West, became an unlikely hot spot for west coast audiences seeking a more intense live experience with food thrown in, sometimes thrown at the stage no doubt. This venue was one of our first stops on the ‘Billy Does Dingbat’ tour and was also chosen by A&M as the location for a photoshoot to be used as the album cover for Crankin’. The original idea was to take live shots during the gig itself but A&M’s art director, Chuck Beeson, decided to take no chances with airborne fried rice dishes and opted instead to set up a controlled session during the afternoon soundcheck. As this only involved yours truly, the rest of the band and crew were happy to sit back in the empty club and lob the odd spare rib in my general direction. Oh, how they laughed, but not as much as they did when Madam Wong herself arrived and, shaking my hand announced, “Welcome Mister Wankin!” Various outcomes of the photoshoot would be sent to me by Chuck via Fed Ex during the tour. Eventually, one shot became the album cover, as intended.

Crankin' photo shoot 14.6.84 with notes
Alternate Crankin’ cover with Chuck Beeson’s notes June/July 1984

Now on to the tour itself.

As the Dingbat reference implies, we played a lot of unmemorable venues in forgettable locations so I’ll just single out a few highlights from my point of view.

Due to me using a wireless microphone, as already mentioned, at our Dayton, Ohio gig, this also presented us with an opportunity to upstage the headliners at another outdoor event blighted by heavy rainfall. In this case, the headliners were Southern rockers Molly Hatchet who, quite rightly refused to follow me and close the show due to worsening weather conditions. This resulted in the local promoter going onstage and branding the Hatchet “Damn Pussies” though I’m sure he made certain they’d left town before making this statement: The Hatchet were BIG guys.

Another highlight and an example of how someone can be both awesome and down to earth happened with the Billy Rankin Band’s 2nd appearance at the LA Palladium, this time as support to some cowboy hat-wearing nobody called Stevie Ray Vaughan. I say ‘nobody’ cos, to our eternal shame, none of us had heard of him. Our 30-minute opening slot went down well, though to be fair, we didn’t exactly set the crowd on fire. After we’d played, Stevie appeared in our dressing room with a bottle of Jack Daniels, thanked us for supporting him then poured everyone (himself included) a large snifter. I remember thinking “He didn’t have to do that. What a nice gesture. Who the Fuck IS he?” Then we all went side-stage and witnessed who the Fuck HE was. Jeez! He was like Jimi Hendrix except he could sing and his guitar was in tune. Pete McRae yelled in my ear:
“Hey Bill, maybe we should’ve played more bluesy tonight? No wonder they didn’t join in with the Baby Come Back singalong.”

“We got off light Pete. They could’ve sung ‘Baby Fuck Off.”

The Baby Come Back singalong was never bettered than on our night supporting 38 Special in Marquette, Michigan. So much so that we got a mention in Rolling Stone magazine the following week and I proudly quote, “Rankin was too awesome.” Awesome we weren’t but, to be fair, we did make an impression despite being out of tune (just like Hendrix) and totally distorted cos Geoff Newsome had control of an arena-sized PA so just pushed all the faders to the max.

Baby Come Back – Lakeview Arena, Marquette MI  2nd July 1984

Lakeview Arena, Marquette MI ticket 2.7.84
Lakeview Arena, Marquette MI ticket

A last and worthy tale regards another outdoor gig we played, originally as headliners but, due to an earlier screw up on live TV, we were lucky to escape with our lives. On Thicke Of The Night months earlier, the host, Alan Thicke, asked me two questions, both unrehearsed and forcing me into answering without engaging my brain.

“So, Bill, where’s the best city you ever played?”
“No brainer, Alan,” I responded with absolute confidence. “Detroit.”
“And the worst?”
Now at this point, I should’ve answered with somewhere I’d never been or might never visit in the future, but instead, I replied, “Buffalo, New York.”
“Guess where you’re playing in a few weeks, Budzo?” said Harry during some downtime in our shared hotel room one night.

Niagara Falls 7.84
Niagara Falls July 1984

To cut a long story short. By the time we arrived and did the whole Buffalo Wings eating contest and Niagara Falls boat trip, the promoter was rightly concerned.
“You badmouthed this town, man. I recommend you play early and get the fuck out.”
This was taken on board and we agreed to ditch the headliner’s slot, giving it to a popular local band.
Then a strange thing happened, and this strange thing had a name.
“Yo, Muthafucka!” he began. “You got some serious balls comin’ here after the shit you pulled on National TV, Muthafucka!” he reiterated.
“Aye Man,” I agreed. “I was dumb, and a Muthafucka to boot.”
“Well, Shit Muthafucka! You got the balls to admit it, sure nuff!”
“Muthafuckin’ right!” I tried to concur. “What do I do?”
“Leave it to me, Muthafucka!” he assured us.
“Ah’ll take care of your Ass!”

And he did.

Billy Does Dingbat soundcheck 6/7.84
Billy Does Dingbat soundcheck June/July 1984

We took to the stage that day amidst booing, jeering and numerous hand-held banners saying “Rankin Go Home,”  “Buffalo Hates You Back Rankin” and “Fuck Off Muthafucka!” You get the picture. Halfway through our 3rd number and trying like Muthas to dodge incoming beer cans, our new strange friend halted proceedings and took centre stage. Everyone cheered (he obviously wasn’t a stranger to Buffalo locals) then he addressed them by calling me a “Muthafuckin’ Asshole.” No argument there, even I nodded in agreement.
“But he knows it now! He told me he’s been a dumbass!”
“Now hold on….” I wanted to say but didn’t.
“This Dumbass, Shit for Brains Asshole said he’s sorry, an’ I reckon we give the Lame-Dicked Little Faggot another chance! Whaddaya say?”

Well! I’d never been so totally insulted in all my life, but it worked.

Rick James
Rick James

The banners went down, the missiles stopped and we got a Baby Come Back singalong going at the end. Hell, we even got an encore. Afterwards, in the dressing room, I thanked our new strange friend for saving our lives. “What’s your name, Saviour?” I asked. “The name’s Rick,” he replied. “Rick James. Wanna party at my house?” We all accepted immediately except for bass player, Max, who sheepishly enquired, “Will there be girls there?” Max also famously put his foot in it when, upon meeting my A&M recording pal Joan Armatrading at our Washington gig and on being informed by Joan herself that she was a lesbian, Max put his arm around her and whispered, “Only cos you haven’t been with me yet, Honey.”

I feel an aside coming on so here goes:

Billy Does Dingbat tour 6/7.84
Billy Does Dingbat tour June/July 1984

Thanks to this crazy Rock N Roll business I’ve met all my Idols and in most cases they didn’t disappoint. Some, like Rick James, actually became my friends. In 1981, with a few hours to spare before a screening of Nazareth’s Live in Texas video, I popped into Air Studios, London intent on surprising Chris Glen who was recording there with MSG. While sitting in reception, a guy wandered over. He was strumming a ukulele, wearing sweat pants and, as I recall, barefoot. “Hello. You waiting for someone, mate?” he asked. What I wanted to say in response was, “Holy Shit! You’re Paul McFuckinCartney!” (Barry once confronted Dan McFuckinCafferty with this very observation to which Dan replied, “Aye, ah know Baz. It’s okay mate.”) Instead, I cooly informed Sir Paul I was here to see Big Chris. “Aw, he won’t be in for a bit. Wanna cuppa?” What followed is still the most surreal moment of my life (even for me) in which I joined Paul, Linda and George Martin for a playback of an ex-Beatle’s solo album with tea and biscuits. And yes, Pauly put the kettle on.

In what should’ve been a similarly awesome experience back in 1978, having blagged my way into Simon Kirke of Bad Co’s wedding, I found myself at the bar beside Jimmy Page. After accepting my offer of a whisky and replying, “Sure man. Getting a Scotch from a Scotchman! Ha Ha!” we were getting on swimmingly til he returned from the bathroom a different person.
“Want another Scotch Jim?”
“What? Who the hell are you?”
“It’s me. Bill. The Scotchman. Are you okay?”
He clearly wasn’t.
Turning to his minder who’d escorted Jimmy to and from the bathroom, he pointed at me and yelled, “Get him away from me!”
I tried calming things down and explained to them both we’d been fine a minute ago but to no avail.
“I know man,” said the minder insinuating James had taken ‘something’ apart from a piss in the bathroom. He then placed a massive hand on my shoulder, saying, “I’m sorry, but you have to leave. He’s a little strange.”
“He’s a little C*nt!” I added before seeing myself out.

Bang A Gong (Get It On) – Charlestown, PA July 1984

Holiday – Lakeview Arena, Marquette MI 3rd July 1984

Get Me Outa Here – Lakeview Arena, Marquette MI 3rd July 1984

Okay, aside over so to conclude:

Woodland Hills with Billy Jr 7.84
Woodland Hills with Billy Jr July 1984

The rest of the tour went well (in fact more dates were added which are not included in the itinerary we’ll feature here in The Vault) and we arrived back in LA to much rejoicing. Crankin’ was ready for release including artwork and two more tours were being scheduled which would take us up to Christmas 84. My family were flown out from Scotland and we were to be relocated to a gated community in Woodland Hills but, before all that, a party was in order. The future looked bright with band, crew and record company united under the slogan “I’m Bankin on Rankin til, during a certain party held at the exclusive Le Dome Restaurant in Hollywood, events changed, literally overnight. Events neither of my making nor within my control.

Shit was about to hit the fan.

“If all managers are sharks, I want a Great White.” (John Lennon, 1969)

The Jaws-like figure Yoko’s other half was referring to was Allen Klein. A businessman with a fearful reputation who’d represented Sam Cooke, The Dave Clark Five, The Rolling Stones and a small beat combo known as The Beatles. We didn’t have a Great White.

We had a Jim White.

Jim White & Pete
Jim White with Doug Banker & Pete Agnew

A limousine driver hired by Mountain Management who’d extended his position to be in charge of all equipment/artist related transport. After Mountain’s fall into bankruptcy, he had seemingly, single-handedly, prevented Dan, Pete, Manny and Darrell’s houses, cars, boats and children being sold off to pay the liquidators. Like our comparison, Allen Klein, Jim White did this by forming companies of which he held not a major, but influential stake in controlling every aspect of his client’s business. Mick and Keith, John and Paul, Dave Clark (and the other four), even Sam Cooke found themselves at first grateful then hateful as years of building a reputation went crashing down into years of legal Shitstorms. My first encounter with Jimbo was just after the Zal Band had ended. I’d been put together with Chris and Ted to work on some of my songs in Chris’ garage. A phone call from Mountain’s limo driver on the make informed me they were doing an inventory and I was to have all my musical equipment collected from my house to be, well, inventoried.

“Does this include my Gibson 335, Marshall 50W amp, 4×12 cabinet and WEM copycat?”
“Nah, Bill. Just the Mountain stuff. TEAC 4 track, Ovation Breadwinner guitar and Hugh’s Mini Moog.”
“Mini Moog’s fucked. Miniature vodka bottles screwed up the inners.”
“Shit! We need that for Crazy Cat.” (Crazy Cat were a recent signing for Mountain.) This careless response was relayed an hour later by me to Chris and Ted, setting off alarm bells.
“He’s a Gonk!” Chris concluded. “We’re getting dropped and they’re clawin’ back our stuff.”

He was right.

diary 16.12.80
Billy’s diary

Jim White was not good at diplomacy but was also too dumb not to reveal the facts. That day our rehearsal at Chris’ garage was shortened as my bandmates hurriedly stashed away the tools of their trade before the limo arrived to collect them. This was typical of what was to follow and I should’ve seen Jim White for what he was. He wasn’t Allen Klein. He was Adolf Hitler. Now, as far as I’m aware he wasn’t a mass-murdering fuckhead but, like the Führer of the Third Reich, he seems to have followed a similar path. Namely taking full control of things he had no real knowledge of controlling and ultimately taking everything and everyone under his control down with him. In my case, White’s version of Mein Kampf was simple and involved what was called a Production Deal. It had been done before and, like Napoleon’s attempt at taking Russia during the winter of 1812 and the Nazis in 1941, it would fail, tragically for all concerned. (Warning. If this description is enough for you, dear reader, then feel free to skip the entire section to follow cos what’s coming is about to get boringly detailed and very, very personal.) As a last and truly mind-blowing example of the Hitler connection we’ve made here, this actually happened.

When he was promoted from limo driver to transport manager at Mountain, Jim White suggested purchasing a limousine to ferry their top band to and from Heathrow Airport. All hailed it all as a brilliant plan which, due to exorbitant charges by the company he’d previously worked for, meant a serious reduction in cost to Mountain Records. A reliable limo was obtained and everything was hunky-dory… until: “Hey guys. Why don’t we get a private plate for the car? That way the band won’t have to search the whole airport limo rank for it, especially after a long transatlantic flight.” Again, this was a clear indication of the man’s leadership skills… until: “Hey guys. I’ve found the perfect plate and it’s surprisingly cheap.” Brace yourself. This is no joke. The private plate Jim White had found was:

NAZ1

“You suck my blood like a leech, you break the law and you preach, screw my brain till it hurts. You’ve taken all my money and you want more.” (Queen: Death On Two Legs, 1975)

On the face of it, Jim White should’ve been hailed as a good guy. He got Nazareth out of the potentially fatal collapse of Mountain Records, freed me of my potentially leg-breaking contract with Delta Records, got me a solo deal with A&M Records and a songwriting contract with Almo Irving, their publishing wing. Unfortunately, this all came at a terrible cost to Naz and me cos Jimbo only did things for you when he had you by the balls. In the case of Nazareth, he formed Fool Circle Management and Fool Circle Music, both of which he was MD which we all had to sign to. That put paid to me ever getting royalties from 2XS and Sound Elixir in the years to come. I still don’t. Then he formed I-Rate Management and Money For Music from which he then signed me to A&M etc. During one of my last visits to his offices in Kent, I noticed boxes of albums. On closer inspection, they turned out to be new copies of every Nazareth album and the entire back catalogue of SAHB, all stamped with the name Sahara Records.

“Yeah,” said Jim when I prodded further.
“That’s my new label, Bill. I own Mountain’s output.”
“Doesn’t Dan, Pete, Manny, Darrell, Zal, Chris, Ted, Hugh and Alex’s widow, Trudi, have anything to say about that?”
As it turned out, they did, and a series of ugly and expensive lawsuits followed with everyone losing.

Everyone.

His destructive methods had by this time extended to my solo career, which deserves further explanation. Despite Growing Up Too Fast being a successful debut album with a hit single and a follow-up, Crankin’, in the can, A&M dropped me like the proverbial hot potato. Why? Well, first we have to understand important people in the music business and why they ARE important people in the music business. They are not to be fucked with. Jim White didn’t seem to realise this and the aftermath affected us all though he managed to blame the important people in the music business and we, well me anyway, believed him. Then I didn’t.

BMW 635 at Dalgety Bay house 84
BMW 635 at Dalgety Bay house 1984

When Meat Loaf recorded Burning Down, Almo Irving and their UK counterpart, Warner Chappell Music, were ecstatic, as was I. Jim tried to force me into signing yet another production deal, which would’ve meant he owned all future rights and royalties to the song and bagged a major advance into the bargain. When I tried to deal directly with the friends I’d made in the companies involved, he legally forbade them from speaking to me. The same went for Jordan Harris and others at A&M when I’d finally sussed what damage White had done to Nazareth and me . The final straw for me was when I looked out the window of my luxury home in Dalgety Bay and gazed upon my luxury BMW 635 in the driveway, and it hit me. Unless I capitulated and signed his new contracts, I couldn’t afford to go to the supermarket never mind live this life of luxury, as Ray Davies once said. I made the phone call:

“It’s over, Jim. I quit.”
“You can’t quit. I own you
.”

“Bye, Jim.” He couldn’t let this happen without a last-minute all-time-low attempt at blackmail.
“How does Mary feel about this, Bill?”
“Mary agrees with me, Jim. Enough is enough.”

“Ah, okay. Does she know you do coke?”

Charlie Minor
Nuno Bettencourt with Charlie Minor 

Before we end this section let me tell y’all about Charlie Minor. In fact, let me first inform you of his net worth as of 2018. $18 million. Not that he’s able to enjoy it mind you. To quote Net Worth Post: “Charlie Minor was a top A&M executive known as Party Animal for his Rock and Roll parties which included scores of bikini-clad women and celebrities at his Malibu beach house. He was murdered at that same Malibu beach house by his former girlfriend on May 15th 1997.” My mate, Charlie, was amongst guests at Le Dome Restaurant in Los Angeles, July 1984 when A&M threw a massive party in my honour following the US tour for Growing Up Too Fast. My bandmates and crew, friends at A&M, producer John Ryan and his wife Diana, scores of bikini-clad women and celebrities and Jim White were in attendance. It was a jolly affair right up til something kicked off in the parking lot. We all rushed out to witness Charlie and Jimbo knocking five shades of shit out of each other over the bonnet of White’s Bentley. As I rushed to quell the carnage, or at the very least offer encouragement to whoever was winning, Charlie looked up from delivering another blow to exclaim, “Rankin! You’re finished on this label!” He was wrong, of course.

Thanks to Jim White, I was finished on every label.

“The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever becoming one.” (Billy Connolly: Famous Glaswegian shipyard welder)

But I didn’t know that…. yet.

Woodland Hills with Anna 7.84
Woodland Hills with Anna July 1984

In the days following the ‘Minor Outburst’ at Le Dome, the Rankin family got settled into our Woodland Hills home. A&M’s Bob Garcia supplied us with tickets to Disneyland and other family-friendly attractions which didn’t include his own residence for reasons apparent to all. Bob’s parties were legendary and, at the very least, rivalled Charlie Minor’s for sheer “What the Fuck have I just survived?” effect. On several visits to the company lot I was assured by Jim, Charlie, Jordan, Gil et al that everything was fine, just a (no, I’m not gonna say ‘Minor misunderstanding,’ but I just did.) Let’s call it a small hiccup between two egotists. The first sign it was more serious was when Jim visited us in Woodland Hills the following week to say we’d be flying back to Scotland sooner than later. Just to clarify, we’d been planning to be in the US til Christmas. Mary and the kids in LA, me and the boys out doing ‘Dingbat II: The Heretic’ and Crankin’ getting an autumn release. Shit, we’d even rented out our Dalgety Bay house for a year.

“Why, Jim?” was my obvious response.
“A&M has withdrawn their tour support.”
“They don’t want me to promote the albums?”
“Yeah, Bill, they’ve got us there. It’s not in the contract. They don’t have to finance touring.”
I got a similar response at A&M who all assured me promoting the albums could be achieved by shooting some more videos.
“Okay, but what about Gary, Max, Pete, Harry, Geoff etc.?”
“Not our problem,” said someone. This was Politics. I’d never dealt with Politics before and I was late to the party.

So be it.

We flew back to Scotland, managed to shorten the rental of our house to 6 months, rented another property for the remaining time we were homeless, and waited. The next word I got from Jim, then confirmed by a call with Jordan at A&M was they wanted me to do a few remixes, re-record Come Out On Top for American ears and maybe knock out a couple of bonus tracks for Crankin’.

Err, okay.

Steve Nye with David Sylvian

Ca-Va Studios was dutifully booked but, as neither my band nor producer John Ryan was part of the plan, I called around. My first choice, Ken Scott, was busy producing someone else. I called 2XS/S’Naz producer John Punter who was also otherwise engaged but suggested I hire Steve Nye. Steve and John had worked together as in-house engineers with Air Studios and I’d heard of the guy. He’d worked on albums by Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, Japan and even Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage so, when he agreed to come to Glasgow, everyone seemed happy though I later realised A&M wasn’t even interested.

Politics.
I still hadn’t grasped the concept.

The sessions at Ca-Va were great fun. Working with Brian Young again was terrific, and Steve’s remixes added something to the originals, although we all couldn’t figure out why they were necessary. The new version of Come Out On Top was recorded along with T.Rex’s Get It On. As this had initially been a bonus track on the cassette version of Growin’ Up Too Fast, it made sense to do a new take on it as a bonus for Crankin’. I wrote the brass section parts, which makes it the only time I made use of my A level music degree. Lastly, A&M had hinted they’d like me to write another Baby Come Back so, just for fun, I came up with Givin’ Up which is nothing like Baby Come Back, except it is, if you’re mad. Its only saving grace is that it included the fabulous voice of Kim Beacon on backing vocals. Once complete, the tapes were sent over to LA and I heard nothing back. Manager Jim White was becoming more evasive by the hour, blaming A&M for using loopholes in HIS contract with them and me when suddenly the penny dropped.

Politics. Or to be more accurate, Filibustering.

It had been a tactic since Ancient Roman times wherein someone talks, then talks some more til everyone else’s patience is stretched to breaking point and time runs out on the negotiations. Cicero was good at it, so much so that Caesar tried to stab him off the platform in the Forum. Jim White thought he was good at it, but A&M was better. Charlie Minor’s hatred of my manager was ending my career as a solo artist. Despite the success. The reputation. The respect. The commitment. Everything was fucked. Unless, I thought, perhaps A&M would consider signing me directly, thus ending Jim White’s control over everyone. It was worth a try, but I foolishly suggested this to Jim during a brief phone call. “Don’t even fuckin’ think about it,” he hinted coyly.

With this advice fresh in my mind, I called the only guy I could really trust in all this: Jordan Harris. He’d been the one to take me aside in Montserrat during the recording of 2XS and convince me I had what it took to make it as a writer and recording artist.

“Hey, Jordan. Listen, I’ve been thinking. What if I signed directly to A&M? We could end Jim White’s control over this.”
Silence.
“You there?”
“Uh, yeah. Sorry, Bill. I’m not allowed to talk to you anymore.”
“What? Why?”
“Your manager.”

What he meant to say was: “Politics.”