Big Noise May 1997
“That’s a great song, Billy Lad. I wish I could write a song That Good.” (Joe Elliott, 100 million album-selling songwriter)
This was Big Joseph’s reaction to me playing him a song which would be included on my 3rd and final solo album: Shake.
From anyone else, it could be taken as a condescending comment from a comfortably superior songwriter with a proven formula for writing a song ‘That Good,’ but Joe Elliott isn’t one of those. He’s from Sheffield where they call a spade a bloody great shovel. This is the guy who, despite barely knowing me at the time had offered me the keys to his Porsche so I could pick up my wife from the airport during a bomb scare in London. He is also the guy who, along with myself, watched with interest as tight-arsed Radio Clyde DJ (and mutual friend) Tom Russell stuffed dozens of Earl Grey teabags into his pockets backstage at Def Leppard’s concert in Glasgow. Joe collapsed in fits of laughter when Tom’s leaky sweat pants left a trail of evidence all the way from the dressing room to the Marriott hotel. “Why didn’t you steal the Jack Daniels or champagne?” he asked the Beard of Doom later in the hotel bar. “Cos my wife doesn’t buy Earl Grey teabags,” was the response which tugged on Joe’s working-class roots enough to make him laugh all over again.
Joe, I may add, is also an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and that got me thinking. How many of them do I know? And by ‘I know’ I mean those with whom I’ve had a connection, however tenuous.
So I’ve made a list. Sounds a bit egotistical, but who doesn’t love a list?
Obviously, we start with Joe himself and his Def Leppard bandmates, guitarist Phil and drummer Rick, all previously mentioned on this site. Now let’s go alphabetically which means AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm, both having propped up a hotel bar with Naz and me somewhere, sometime over the years. We’d always joke together that they were the only band who were actually shorter than us.
During our early ’80’s touring schedules I’d pulled a needle out of Steven Tyler’s arm, mistakenly referred to Joe Perry’s wife as his previous wife and, at the request of our drummer, Darrell Sweet, helped carry his fellow percussionist, Joey Kramer to his bed.
Black Sabbath is a given due to us supporting them in ‘83, but I’m also going to include Deep Purple cos Ian Gillan sang with Sabbath during our gigs and also joined Nazareth for that embarrassing Athens performance of Smoke On The Water when Pete didn’t know the fourth chord. (A bassists problem, eh Barry?) ELO? Why not? Bev Bevan was Sabbath’s drummer at the time.
Bob Seger (I played his guitarist’s strat.)
Bon Jovi (I introduced him to Asics Tiger wrestling boots) and even Bruce Springsteen I can include cos our bus driver, in 1981, swapped a guitar pick with Bruce for one with my name and logo on it. I lost Bruce’s. He’s probably still coveting mine.
Cheap Trick’s Rick and Robin can count on me as their friend cos I didn’t sue over that ‘subconscious plagiarism’ event, although Robin was far less worried, he probably still doesn’t give a shit, but he’d remember, and this is my point.
Dire Straits, particularly Mark Knopfler: We spent 3 days together in Germany where he taught me the Sultans Of Swing licks and Frank Zappa sent his seriously underage, but outrageously talented band to bed just so he could hang out with us.
Genesis I can personally take credit for the association due to an encounter in the bar of the Whitehall Hotel, Chicago when I foolishly told Phil Collins they were better with Peter Gabriel. I can still feel the slap I got.
My connection to Led Zeppelin can be traced back to the wedding of Bad Co’s Simon Kirke (signed to Swan Song Records) which I attended. Jimmy Page’s bodyguard subsequently removed me due to Jimmy’s intake of nitroglycerine based “Who the fuck are You? Get him away from me!” syndrome, even after I’d bought him a drink.
Lynyrd Skynyrd are up next, but only because Rickey Medlocke is now playing with them, so technically I’m cheating.
Muddy Waters, if he was still breathing might remember me as he refused my request to say “Hi” and shake his hand after a gig in an all-black Chicago club gig in 1982. I respected that. He was with his own people and, besides, what would I have said to such a legend? “Hey Muddy,” would’ve probably been it.
Neil Diamond? Easy. I fell on him. We were walking, sorry, staggering back to the hotel after he’d sent his limo driver home to hang out with us at LA’s Record Plant Studios in 1981. Neil turned to laugh at something one of us said which he couldn’t understand and, in the confusion, Mr Diamond lost his balance and I fell on him. Laughed? We nearly passed our fags round. Totally made us forget the autograph we’d promised to get for our wives.
Paul McCartney and his wife, Linda, not only took me into their control room at Air Studios, London when I was visiting Chris Glen, but they also gave me tea and biscuits.
Peter Gabriel, I met backstage at the Eisstadion, Graz, Austria in May 1983 before his gig there. We were only present cos Naz were playing the same venue the following evening. Peter was a true gent even when he overheard me trying to poach his drummer Jerry Marotta and bassist Tony Levin for my soon to be recorded Growing Up Too Fast album.
Queen’s Roger Taylor may not remember me to talk to, but will probably never forget Mick Woodmansey’s impression of me at the Mick Ronson gig in London.
Rod Stewart, while having actually talked to me on the phone at Frankie Miller’s house, wouldn’t admit to it cos he thought I was someone else. (More details to follow.)
Rush is another given as I’m probably still barred from going out drinking with Geddy Lee, and Stevie Ray Vaughan for the totally opposite reason if he was still with us.
The Kinks’ Ray Davies not only met me at a phone box in London 1978, but graciously spoke to my friend, John Burnett, who I’d been on the line to at the time and made his life as a Kinks fan, if not complete, then certainly enhanced.
The Police, as previously covered on this site, shared rehearsal facilities with The Mirrors during which times Andy Summers repeatedly gubbed me on the pinball machine.
As for The Rolling Stones. Bassist Bill Wyman can never forget, surely, that fateful night after the Ronson Memorial gig, when some drunken, big-nosed Scotsman pushed him aside at the bar in his own restaurant, Sticky Fingers, with the explicit command, “Haw! Make way Arsehole! Ah need a drink!”
The Who can be included here for numerous reasons. Firstly, tour manager, and I mean both Nazareth’s and my solo tour manager, Harry Williams, was Pete Townsend’s personal assistant during the band’s early ’70s high points. Roger Daltrey, apart from sharing the Hammersmith Odeon’s stage with a fellow Mick Ronson fan, also once had a memorable conversation with Dan McCafferty in Heathrow’s departure lounge bar about Zep’s Robert Plant. “I mean, we all cheat a bit Danny Boy, but fuck’s sake, he’s ripping the pish, ain’t he?”
Oh, and Keith Moon’s replacement Kenney Jones’ wife appeared in our video for Love Leads To Madness as Dan’s ‘love Interest’ which resulted in me being smacked in the face with a billiard ball.
Now, to the last band alphabetically in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s inductees. I’d like to draw your attention to a venue in the Texan city of Austin where, in 1984, I was playing a solo gig. I became aware of a certain cowboy hat-wearing sharp-dressed man in the audience whom I recognised. With no words exchanged, just a nod, he accepted my offer of joining the show and proceeded to trade licks with me on the most bizarre version of Baby Come Back we ever played. Billy Gibbons, you didn’t have to shake it like you did, but you did, but you did, and I Thank You.
As for the song I played for Joe Elliott which earned his respect and guaranteed its inclusion on Shake, it’s not what you or I would have expected.
Let’s all head-bang along to…
One In A Million home demo 1985