How I Became A Record Producer

by | May 21, 2022

TRANSCRIPT

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[Music] hi my name is tony millward and welcome to the rockface podcast
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this week i had the pleasure to meet a man who’s been in the music industry since 1967. when at the age of 15 he
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joined dj and music as an office boy and was soon to work his way up to assistant engineer engineer and then producer he
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was very heavily involved in the rise to fame of a man called reginald kenneth dwight soon to become world famous as
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elton john he was elton’s personal assistant on his extensive usa tours and
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was soon to become personal assistant kiki d he has since worked with chris ria paul weller robbie williams oasis
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among many others so it’s my great pleasure to introduce engineer producer songwriter and
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musician stuart epps hi stuart how are you doing i’m good
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good how are you yeah it’s great to meet you thank you i thought if we could start
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with the early days um you were born in 1952 i mean that is the early days yeah i can’t remember that
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far back i’ve seen it written down so it has to be true that i was actually born in 1952
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yeah well i won’t ask you about those on the second of april yeah like you know what was it like being born was it
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traumatic yeah i don’t know right so we move on a few years yeah so you’re brought up in mill hill were you born in
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mill hill i was i was bought actually born in london but i grew up in mill
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hill yeah right so yes i was brought up in mill hill in north london
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and um i was always into into music and i had a guitar from a very early age actually my dad was very into sound and
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music an interesting story is that uh i was probably only about five or six
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and he sat me down in front of the tv and had the tv on on and had the radio next to it and i
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thought what’s going on anyway apparently they were broadcasting for the first time stereophonic sound
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right so um you know and there was like someone playing anyway it was an amazing experience but
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basically my dad following that bought one of the first stereo radiograms they were called and he was very into sound
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i’ve still got the album it’s called a journey into stereophonic sound oh yes wasn’t that used at the beginning
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of that used on on a art of noise quite possibly crack well it was an
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album with all experimental stereophonic sounds so and my dad had tape recorders
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all over you know we had tape i had tape machines from an early age so as well as growing up
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loving listening to music i was also introduced to recording if you like from
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a very early age and i was fascinated with it the fact that you could shout into a microphone play it back and it comes
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about is just magical yeah so and and i had had the gear you know so and also
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early on i joined bands i just wanted to be the singer in the band and get the girls so
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i joined the band with my mate clyde franks who’s i’m still friendly with who uh went on to work with elton
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and um you know that’s all i was really interested in but age 15 or probably 14
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actually uh this this guy clyde franks who’s bit older than me uh he was the first one to
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get a job and he got this job working for a guy called dick james who was the beatles music publisher in new oxford
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street and uh clive got this gig this job as office boy and we just idolized he come back
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with all these stories he’s had to take the sergeant pepper album to the uh to the printers and paul mccartney came
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in yesterday and just bastard really got all these great stories you know anyway i was getting pretty fed up at
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school so um he then says oh he’s gonna get booted up you know there was a bit of a
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hierarchy you did there when you went from one job to another and um he said he said he’s getting uh
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he’s getting uh going on to the next stage so i thought oh great you know i’m gonna go
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for this so i went out for an interview i didn’t tell clive got the job as office boy uh dick james music all right
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so you didn’t tell him i don’t think i told him yeah because he he might but anyway one way or another i got the job
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which was not the most glamorous of positions you know in fact the first day
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i turned up in a three-piece suit because this was my first job you know and uh i went up there with clive to new
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oxford street and we’re standing outside and there’s two big metal dust spins and he says there you go because he’s
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going to be telling me they’re showing me the ropes really so the first thing is dustbins gotta go upstairs i said all
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right will you take one i’ll take the other one he said no no you haven’t got this right abby stewart those are your
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dustbins he’s been promoted he’s not gonna do that anymore exactly so i’m struggling up the stairs with two metal
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bins they were in those days trying to look cool going through reception had all these beautiful
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receptionists there and out to the kitchens and all that next job was clean out the coffee
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machine powdered milk all over me you know get the toilet paper out anyway didn’t
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bother with the three-piece suit the next day overalls was sort of better but anyway
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working at dick james music this is 1967 in london was a pretty amazing experience one way
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or another i was getting six pound a week which was five pound fifty more than i’d been getting so i was now
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extremely rich as well and uh starting to learn the music business
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really by being the office boy so packages round to uh denmark street
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going to you know publishers record companies seeing how it all went apart from that
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also there was all these amazing characters at dick james at that time yeah one of whom was reginald kenneth
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dwight and we became mates pretty quick and uh you know i know you don’t want to focus
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on him but uh this was just part of my growing up that’s very growing up and he played me some songs and i just thought
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wow this i only wanted to be the singer in a band to be honest uh but after hearing him i just thought
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this is this is something else how can i don’t write music as good as that so you thought i can’t compete with that because definitely
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it was the first time someone had sat down played a song in front of me live uh that i’d never heard before and i
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just this was uh amazing so um so i just thought well
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that’s for me you know so um i actually did become the cutting engineer after becoming uh
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uh office boy which um that involved mastering as well well it didn’t because we
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see we had a small studio at dick james uh elton would be making demos there even the beatles came in there but it
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was only for demos but then following the demo they would want a disc cut that was before
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cassettes even yeah or a reel to reel so that would happen in the copying room
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and i spent about a year being in this copying room and i loved that job and it was we had a cutting load but
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it wasn’t masters it was demos right but it was a great job and also
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i’m still amongst these amazing people so and also with the beatles music publishers when
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the when the white album came out you know we got the first copy or the first tape and i remember putting it on in the
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cutting room and elton and caleb who was a guitarist uh and everyone would congregate in this
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room to listen to the beatles down for the first time so if the whole thing was quite magical
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really yeah it must have been a fantastic time it’s a fantastic time because they’re always
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it’s like everybody’s in london yeah carnaby street times people freaking out all over the
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place yeah you know one minute the accountant would come in with a suit next day come in with beads and jostics
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and all that and uh yeah so i’m just a bit curious um so so you you got you left school
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you were 14 15 15. um so what was your parents take on this did
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they good question no i mean obviously i had to check that with my dad really because they expected and i expected to
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have to stay on at school till i was 17 or 18 yeah but when i said to my dad or my parents um i’m fed up i want to leave
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i want to go for this interview my dad said go for it did you really yeah they were always incredible
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well he uh he was the managing director of a coat factory and uh
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and yeah you know he was great guy uh but also quite passionate about music
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and yeah extremely passionate about sound so when i was telling you about the uh
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journey into stereophonic sound we used to have two 10-inch speakers in the lounge and they’d be racing cars roaring
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and orchestras going off and neighbors knocking on the door turn the sound down all that so
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so it it had the added for me you know growing up um because i
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think those years when you that when you’re growing up that’s so important and have such a bearing on what you’re
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doing later on absolutely yeah definitely you know so i i thank those times and my dad for
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that because it introduced me to to recorded sound which actually i’m still fascinated by still doing it
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do you remember what records he used to have in his collection what you used to listen to like your introduction to
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music well it was all the pop stuff well you see i also had two sisters well i’ve still got two sisters yeah so the record
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collection was made up of do you know what that’s a very interesting question my dad and my it wasn’t just my dad in
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those days it’s your mom and dad so my mum and dad used to go to um actually that specifically they used to
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go to uh you know musicals and then they’d buy the album from that musical so right
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sound that wasn’t sound of music it was these um big orchestral big whatever
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they were west side story i don’t know and they come back with that my dad actually would be jewish family so
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grew up with a lot of jewish music connie francis and and also i listened to music in the uh
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synagogue where it’s all sung so yeah i grew up with all sorts of musical
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but my sisters would buy ray charles and pop records so we listened to the radio
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when i was about six or seven or maybe earlier i had a great radio one of the big white uh
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jobs in my bedroom and that is and we’d listen to uh radio luxembourg which was the only
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station where you could hear pop rock music yeah i used to listen to that in bed with one of those single sort of
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mono earpieces stuck in my ear well you see that’s because you’re only 61 we didn’t have mono single well we must
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have done but i was somehow i got away with being able to listen to it on used to fall asleep listening thing with
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luxembourg was that and people have you might remember anyway that the reception was terrible it was yeah so
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you know this record would come on maybe it’s the beatles new single and you’re just getting into it and then it would
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fade out drifting in and out wouldn’t it yeah so it actually made music even more magical
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because it was on the airwaves and it was all crackly and it was like what and then it’s gone and then it’s fading out
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and it made you somehow um be more you know [Music]
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in tech where you’re sort of listening to it in a different way yeah not watching a screen or seeing the artist
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it gets the brain you’ve got to make an effort to access it exactly yeah also it uh conjures up
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much better when you’re listening to music that way than if you’re looking at a screen or
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whatever so um that was also a great way that’s the main way i used to listen to music really yeah yeah yeah we had
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records and the stereo and all that but uh so you joined the band as well didn’t
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you called the fables yeah we had about yeah yeah i had and that was even before you left school i
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was head hunted for that band actually when i was right when i was only about i don’t know 10 or 11 so
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so yeah i was in this band the fables we used to play locally i then got clive in the band right um so
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that must have been when i was 50 uh well no i don’t know but how did i do that no because i met clive before i met
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him at school we used to go to uh youth club so the fables was uh but we
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took it fairly seriously yeah um and it was a good band that so did you play in
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like working men’s clubs and pubs or no no we played generally at uh jewish mute
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youth clubs uh a few clubs right um but um mainly uh you know mainly
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youth clubs yeah we don’t have working men’s clubs in mill hill you know it’s quite
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quite a posh area yeah they might have some middle class for that i don’t even know what to work in men’s club
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yeah so um yeah we had the fables then we was lots i was always in a band i mean i love to
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sing so i was the singer in the band also i’m the one with the microphone that’s how i got the job so um
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was well into that love being in the band yeah it’s usually the man with the van that gets the job in a band yeah so
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they can log all the gear around bass players had the van i think oh okay yeah
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so um when you went for this job at uh dj and music were you interviewed by dick james himself not at all no right
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no i never met dick really quite a while well he’s he’s the big man so yeah no no
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dick james music was about 40 50 people working there three floors on new york’s
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street it was a pretty big organization yeah and i was interviewed by a chat called ronnie bronn right it was the um
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he had a title i can’t remember what it was and um i think i went for two interviews
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actually it might have been the next time i saw his secretary but to be honest you know
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qualifications for office boy i mean you turned up you look alright
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and you can speak english you’re in very different to today
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where you probably need a degree the thing is that it was an amazing place i mean you didn’t just have a
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and anyway i can talk about that for hours because obviously i went from office boy to diss cutter i went to
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assistant engineer in this little demo studio then i became engineer but i always was focused on
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working in the business really yeah and that was when i i also at the same time when i was cutting met steve brown i’ve
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got loads of stories i can fill up hours of chatting about myself great so
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you know steve brown who is this uh very hippie sort of guy came in to work for dick
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james came to the cutting room without and elton bernie was sat there we played
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them this album hadn’t been released he didn’t like it what’s a bastard he
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doesn’t we all thought it was amazing anyway he um we became friends
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and uh he was in the a r department but he was quite a charismatic guy and him
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and elton got good got very friendly uh elton steve then became elton’s producer produced lady
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samantha out in his first proper single then he produced empty sky yeah and uh me and steve were getting on
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great so then following um me in the studio i did do a little bit of a stint as a song plugger
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but i didn’t do very well there because i couldn’t drink enough half a beer and i was out of my head
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so i became steve brown’s assistant then and then at some point we started djm
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records and now steve’s heading is the uh he’s heading dj i’m records i’m his
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assistant and we’re doing everything really uh for the record company very involved with elton
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um i mean it goes on and on i then ended up aged 18
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uh going on a three-month tour with elton as his personal assistant and uh they were amazing times really it
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was amazing times anyway let alone being involved with uh elton now who’s
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now you know going from obscurity and uh nothing happening at all to when we went
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to the states people are actually really getting into it he’s getting into it he starts his uh flamboyant
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you know sort of style on stage and seeing this all happen and then the records start to sell
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you know it was a great time it must have been amazing and you came such a long way in like three years when most
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people are just thinking about starting a career yeah and there’s you being uh elton john’s
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personal assistant on yeah on a three-way second tour yes well you see you say that but actually it sounds
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glamorous now yeah but at the time it was just someone’s got to do it and i’m i was
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happy to do it the thing is we were all experiencing this uh new world at the same time going to
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america touring you know staying in in american hotels hamburgers holiday inns and elton
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included you know we’re experiencing this for the first time so it’s not like every anyone would say oh you’re lucky
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to be doing this it’s like actually you’re lucky to be staying alive half the time right in america tour and you
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get these ernies we used to call them the ones that you know they’re from box
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i don’t know chrysler or something and you’re booking at the hotel and they’ve all got their name plates here we used
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to call them annie’s right and it was in the days of um if you had long hair you know you get
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into a lift with one of them and they’d start making comments like oh what’s your name dear and all that i mean it was pretty it wasn’t a great
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thing to be doing touring in the states until you got to the gig where there’s all these amazing people digging out and
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john and getting into it so um looking back it was all very glamorous
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i mean the last tour i did was glamorous that was in 1974 when now we’ve started rocket records
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who i’m working at rocket okay so we were you employed by elton john then or was that never been invited by elton
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john so that was still connected with uh dj records when we formed rocket which was formed by steve brown yeah and i
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left dick james after five or six years um uh rocket was formed by that you know
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the directors being elton uh gus dungeon uh steve brown john reed
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out and the manager and we we started the office i helped start the office out up in waldo street you know this was one
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of the first independent record companies really rocket records and the idea was that we
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started signing new acts you know and bringing them on in the same way as we did with elton and that was
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extremely exciting times as well uh one of the first acts we had was a band called long dancer and there was a
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funny funny guitarist in there called dave stewart very peculiar bloke but he did well yes
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and uh and we’d be offered all these sort of um new bands um
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one of which was queen right yeah which no one thought much of the tape that we
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were given we didn’t know there was a band we never saw any pictures of anyone it was just two ten inch boxes from
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trident studios bands called queen here it is i used to put it on the reeboks
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i thought bloody good i mean it sounds good i love those guitar harmonies i don’t remember thinking much about the singing
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harmonies were good but anyway they wanted a hundred thousand pounds at the time in about 1972 or three that was a lot of
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money was you must they must be mad anyway they did get it and they went on to do quite well apparently yeah yeah i
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think i’ve heard of them yeah yeah um did you ever
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meet um dick james’s son stephen courtside yes so so he was more
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sort of accessible of course i see steve steven every day i mean he was at dick james music along
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with dick but he was more accessible than his dad no one really liked stephen much because he was the boss’s son right
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you wouldn’t swear when he was around you had to sort of you know he’s the boss’s son i mean when i was office boy
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the only thing i really remember is he would send me out for the 200 marlboroughs a carton of malwares and used to give me
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a fiver and i think i used to give him a three pound change um you know he uh
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he wasn’t the greatest musical genius you know he signed a singer
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called massiel who’s spanish and she won the eurovision song contest
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with a terrible song called he gives me love
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great but it did actually win the bloody obviously not written by bernie torpin bloody eurovision yeah but stephen you
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know he’s all right i mean you gotta feel sorry for him in recent years and not funny at all because that
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uh rocket man phil portrayed dick as this terrible yes well i was going to mention that yeah awful
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uh character i mean dick never swore i never we never heard dick utter a full
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letter word and the portrayal of him in that film is is quite disgusting and of course stephen went to see the film
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and was appalled at poorly i could imagine you should be able to sue for that portraying your father
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who’s a very well respected uh man in that disgusting way yeah he was also
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very angry with alton john because he had a lot of involvement in the film uh the fact that he allowed him
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portrayed that way of course and do you think it might be because there was uh
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there was a bit of a dispute between no i think it’s probably because an american film company have now paid 100
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million and i suppose uh an upstanding admittedly jewish very jewish actually
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my boy and all that yeah um probably thought that wouldn’t be the greatest way to portray this character
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from the american audience so they go oh no no we gotta have a like a car dealing
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yeah swearing you know slimy git yeah and he’ll go down a storm
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and so that’s how they portrayed dick and also you know elton’s mum didn’t get
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portrayed very well either but these people are dead you see apparently you can say anything you like about dead
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people and they can’t sue you mm-hmm just what i’ve heard i think there’s a certain thing this is going out elton
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might hear this i don’t i hope so but i doubt i don’t care really no i think really
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it’s like he said it was a film based on you know loosely based on fact and
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fantasy they called it something to get away with well they always do that don’t they i mean it was like in the film titanic they portrayed the the i don’t
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know whether it was the captain but one of the crew as being this coward all right and the
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family were really annoyed oh there you go because that wasn’t it wasn’t facts it’s just to sort of embellish the the
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story and what’s annoying though is that that then becomes historically factual
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yeah because people just think that is fact it’s pretty sure everyone on the planet went to see that elton well not
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on the planet but most people went to see that film everyone i’ve met they’ve seen the film
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yeah i’ve got to tell you a quick story when i was um when i was about 14 years old i thought this my interview
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go on go on a mannequin it is to do without a job i thought we weren’t talking about
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all right let’s do it john reed is to do with john reed possibly you but i don’t think so oh
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sure um it’s just that we uh yeah we went on our push bikes to um wentworth estate virginia water where elton john
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had hercules yeah yeah and i think he bought his mama house just down the door yeah yeah
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and so we were hanging about outside these big sort of cast iron gates and um
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we can see uh through the neck curtains we can see these um sort of um through the neck curtains yeah they hadn’t cur neck
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curtains um there was a very low lying window it’s almost it could almost be a almost
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a basement sort of thing all right and we assumed at the time oh that’s his recording studio but it probably
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wouldn’t have replaced it okay and there were a couple of um sort of silhouettes we could see outlines and
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then a door opened and um this guy came out and
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i was 14 it was a long time ago but he was wearing i can remember he was wearing a suit and i think he has
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sunglasses on but possibly not and he walked up to us and he said um
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hey boys can you do me a favor yeah and we excited he said yeah yeah what he said off
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was it in a scottish accent well i can’t remember to be honest that’s a bit rude isn’t it yeah
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you can’t remember what you look like well i can just remember a suit possibly a cigar but that might just be a cigar
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well stephanie are not john reed but it could have been anyone though definitely was nell i’m sure he’s wearing glasses
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yeah i don’t know i don’t know it could have been his dad i suppose he wasn’t rude his dad he wouldn’t he
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wouldn’t no but that wasn’t very nice well what were you doing were you looking through the curtains what’d you expect well exactly we’re
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hanging around being you know yeah being a nuisance but i can remember we wrote a letter um we we
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wrote a little note and put it through his post box oh yeah and uh i can’t remember what was written in it but it was headed dear elton which probably
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didn’t go down very well either oh well anyway back to you well hercules was
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elton’s first kind of mansion yeah nice house i used to go there loads yeah did you of
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course yes girl there are right i don’t think it was you who told us to off definitely not but well it might have
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been i thought you were going to get invited in and next minute you’re
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invited to take your pants down or something maybe it’s just as well we were told
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i don’t well that’s a bit i don’t know who that would have been there elton wouldn’t have done that i
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don’t know but that was very good with the people generally really fans and all
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that i mean he’s got a bit of a temper as we know but um but uh
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virginia water that was yeah virginia water yeah i was going to ask you since you mentioned his temper how did you or how do you
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deal in general with um sort of um creative people’s
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temperamental personalities i mean you you must have come across
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to be honest elton and me and i used to get on brilliantly most of the time
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and we both had the same star sign and whenever he’d go off on one it was
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generally it’s only recently we’ve fallen out actually i could tell you about that but in those days we just got
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on great you know and uh i was a very good assistant i would always be looking i mean i used to keep
27:11
people out the dressing room make sure he was happy and you know not sitting around waiting for this that
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the other cars or whatever and uh you know i i always related to his temperament really and anyway he you’d
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get signs that he wasn’t happy like he started to start to go red like a volcano and he’d start to
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go like that and i think he’s gonna go if someone was annoying him maybe they’re taking photos or
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you know pushing i don’t know just getting annoying in the dressing room and i’d keep an eye on it i think he’s
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gonna go in a minute and then he would he’d explode into this tear tirade of
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expletives that you’d make up on the spot some of them are unbelievable these swear words that you didn’t invent
27:56
you and then just be they’re going for hours get out of here you anyway it was quite frightening for
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people that maybe hadn’t seen it you know and thought hello in fact his mum i remember going bridge ridge language you
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know and all that and uh but anyway the great thing was that half an hour later he’s like he’s got out his system we’d
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be laughing about it you go what did i say and i tell him some of the things we have a good because he’s got an
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amazing sense of humor elton he’s one of the funniest guys i mean it can get a little bit
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weird his sense of humor but generally he’s hilarious so he would just blow up and then be laughing about it
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half an hour later yeah and um it’s good really i i learned a lot from that it’s good to you know get it out if
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you like yeah have you come across anyone else with that sort of temper
28:45
chris rear yeah but he’s not funny and he’s not funny with it because he can’t handle pressure
28:52
and uh you know the thing is that without and you see i mean i can talk about him as
28:57
you know forever and when it comes to the studio and when it comes to him in the studio out in the studio he’s
29:03
just amazing he is a genius anyway and uh but his whole work ethic because he grew up
29:12
grew up as a session guy really and was in the band so he’s done it all and he’s you know he’s so thorough and so
29:18
brilliant but um and extremely uh you know
29:25
put up with a lot what’s the word for that uh i mean patient i mean gus was
29:31
an amazing producer but put put out and through you know what not just elton anyone he worked with put him through
29:38
the you know the ringer and all that whatever the expression is yeah and elton would be able to take all of it
29:44
you know i mean elton could sing a song like that and it would be a brilliant vocal gus would have been there for
29:49
hours doing it line by line word by word you know really i mean gus was a total
29:55
perfectionist and ridiculously put everything under a microscope which is how i learned
30:01
producing and engineering from someone who just spent forever doing any everything
30:07
but it was a great way to learn so did you find that sometimes you would end up going back to the original take never
30:13
really gus would never do that he’d never go back he’s always going forward he’d never go back
30:19
even if we played him a demo something and went it’s pretty good isn’t it he went yeah it’s all right but anyway
30:25
anyway when we get to this you know it’s always the mission was to
30:30
the mission of the recording process yeah from the beginning to the end was the process that you went through and
30:37
right very rarely went back on yeah we’d remix something you know even though we’d spent three
30:44
months mixing it the first time he did get results didn’t he i mean his recordings were amazing exactly
30:50
that’s a very good answer when he didn’t get results yes especially with elton and that’s why they did all those albums
30:56
for years and years and and elton sort of put up with put up with all the uh
31:02
hours spent and the meticulousness is the word i was looking for because the results were phenomenal
31:08
yeah i mean i was listening to um the elton john album yesterday uh what did you mean be out in the
31:14
blackout and john yeah yeah i can talk about that forever now yeah yeah well
31:19
yes since i mentioned i mean i was going to say it’s a fantastic production absolutely amazing really i
31:25
mean i love the strings if you compare that you see that’s i like talking about that because um
31:32
the funny thing is that a lot of elton uh fans you know later on yeah they
31:39
wouldn’t necessarily know the order of how things were made so the first down
31:44
actually there was an album before empty sky the one that sonny steve brown thought was but really the first
31:49
album empty produced by caleb yeah produced by caleb yeah yeah it was all very hippy and that was
31:55
before elton was writing with bernie so the lyrics are all very weird and uh but the first proper owl meant
32:01
being empty sky well if you compare that in fact the story is that not many people know about
32:07
uh is that steve brown who was elton’s producer really sorting out the whole career
32:12
um we started the next album after empty sky where we had the songs might have even
32:18
had your song but definitely i’d take me to the pilot uh bored a song and a few others yeah so
32:24
we went to um olympic studios and uh started with caleb with the hook
32:32
foot pretty much to make this next album and uh thought it was brilliant really i mean
32:38
it was very much a band because hookford were pretty much elton’s back up back yeah doing gigs with him and everything
32:44
else it was quite funny one of the most things i remember about is we were trying to get out and smoke dope
32:50
and and he he couldn’t handle it at all he because he didn’t smoke cigarettes so he was spluttering all over the place
32:56
why are you doing that to get him to relax because everyone else was the only one not doing dope yeah you had to do
33:02
what everyone was doing yeah but uh but they were great sessions at um at olympic admittedly take me to the
33:09
pilot i think had a four-minute guitar solo in it but anyway following that steve went it’s not good enough it’s not
33:15
good enough he was quite meticulous and also had a pretty clear vision of how he saw
33:22
elton and also we did have these great songs that had been demoed yeah and um
33:28
he just said no it’s not good enough we gotta find a different producer and i thought blimey i don’t know about that i thought yours produced anyway so he
33:35
starts looking around george martin and the guy who produced cat stevens can’t
33:40
remember his name anyway most people turned it down and the story is that um
33:46
but then uh steve’s knew this guy who who was the manager of
33:51
a an arranger called paul buckmaster right so the story is that uh steve had a meeting
33:58
with paul he loved paul amazing character yeah didn’t he do arrangements for somebody
34:04
else absolutely yeah all of the arrangements on the elton um so while in that conversation paul
34:10
said who’s producing this album and steve said i don’t know we haven’t got anyone yet he said well you should try
34:16
gus dudgeon and that’s how gus got that gig and then
34:22
that produced the team that made the elton john album it was a team of gus
34:27
steve uh obviously elton bernie uh caleb was still involved but then
34:33
paul buckmaster and i helped put the sessions together yeah and that album was really put together
34:39
like uh you know the coordination and everything it was all meticulously planned yep uh
34:46
trying the studios it was done very quickly but the thing is that album compared to to empty skies
34:53
well compared to most albums is completely unique different level yeah totally different level the sound was
34:58
amazing but it still sounds amazing today that’s gus that was gus yeah i
35:04
mean admittedly the songs were outstanding as well you got you know these semi-classical songs that
35:11
no one was really doing you know 60 years on and yeah all that stuff so can you just tell me about your i do waffle
35:17
about that’s fine it’s great that’s perfect that’s what we like yeah
35:23
yeah makes it much easier for me um but yeah i was what was your involvement in those early
35:29
albums i mean you you weren’t sort of producing or engineering but you were still heavily
35:35
involved weren’t you the product yeah the out and john we’re now running we’re running
35:41
djm records so i was doing everything from organizing there’s only me and steve and some secretaries so i was
35:49
doing everything from organizing equipment for the sessions hiring the backing vocalists everything
35:56
to do with those sessions at trident uh throughout hiring the pianos the organs whatever was needed to then
36:02
organizing press receptions everything to do without what wasn’t just elton on the label but yeah he was the main focus
36:10
yeah so doing everything it wasn’t anything that i wasn’t doing yeah and then when they were touring you know i’d
36:15
be booking carne’s and planes and taxis and you know i’ve still got my where is it
36:21
i’ve still got this blue book somewhere actually it’s here i thought you had a
36:26
red book sorry i haven’t got a red and a blue because i’m talking too much it is red actually
36:33
there it is look so i had several of these and i’ve only
36:38
kept this one that that uh logo that sticker is one of the first pieces of
36:44
elton john publicity ever made right
36:50
i mean we go for a lot of money that boot we used to stick them all over the uh
36:56
over the tube and all that so in here it’s like every day you know
37:01
when i could write and stuff like that you know your dates to remember border song release 20th of march as probably
37:08

elton john lp 10th of april elton reception at revolution birdsville
37:14
feather el recording at trident you know so every day and unlike this
37:19
stuff is historic now i suppose yeah because it’s literally the beginning songs
37:24
and then i used to be a r as well so i’d be sending out songs to uh i just saw i sent some of elton songs to the love
37:31
affair i marvel at my when i tell these when i’m telling this story
37:37
i can’t believe it myself really the things that i used to do and what that what we did in those days and
37:44
of course if elton had gone the same way as say a guy called philip but could hand tate who actually did quite well
37:50
and was a bloody good singer-songwriter at the time but no one’s heard of philip goodante so if elton had become hadn’t
37:56
been we wouldn’t be you know it obviously makes because we never thought he’d be as
38:02
he never thought he could be as big as uh he was he is
38:09
that his flop you see we call him flop he was he was
38:14
hook foot’s roadie and i’m still we’re still mates all right he’s mid 70s now he was he was hooked footstop what’s he
38:21
doing now he’s retired like everyone else i know
38:27
multi-millionaire written no he’s he’s good bloke flop you never saw flop he was always either
38:33
unpacking or packing the van but he was on all those early gigs without without
38:38
and hookford right it’s amazing really
38:43
hello ah paulus now i’m doing an interview now all about you
38:49
well about the guy you dress up as yeah but um
38:55
we can get together though later you’re gonna come over
39:01
go on come over in an hour then half 12 all right we’ll have a bit of
39:06
lunch or something or other okie doke i’ll include you now in this interview
39:12
yes what’s your name again elton ultimate what is it
39:18
ultimate reg okay i’ll tell this chat see you later
39:25
paul bacon yeah he’s great he’s great he is but it’s because of
39:31
him i’m probably not in elton’s will because up until then we were good buddies
39:36
and um elton’s mum sheila got in touch well actually through bob who was
39:42
looking after sheila who used to look after alton and she’d seen my she’s seen paul and
39:47
she went he’s brilliant because he she talks like the guy who was
39:54
right yeah she was well like you now he’s marvelous he is i want him for my 90th birthday
40:00
and i thought wow but so we did do it and cause elton
40:06
wasn’t too happy really but paul played at her 90th birthday that he wasn’t at of course he
40:12
wasn’t that because they’d fallen out he went bananas yeah so
40:18
don’t get the postcard anymore can’t call him we’ve fallen out that’s it oh my god yeah
40:24
i mean we weren’t like you know i mean i actually i got elton to sing on a frankie miller record and we we got
40:31
together and he was all pally then well i could i could text him you know we were buddies still yeah but he really
40:36
didn’t like that especially because on the front of the daily mail was a picture of sheila with
40:43
her arm round paul all right yeah did they go down too well just a nerve
40:48
because he sat out with his mother was over john reed or well it was over john reed bob
40:55
and a couple of other people that elton had fallen out with and she stayed friends with and the story is that yeah out and called her up
41:02
and said you can’t talk to them anymore and she went i’ll talk to whoever i
41:07
she’s brilliant she does she’s such an amazing lady i mean that’s where out and got all his
41:12
that’s where he got all his personality from was her yeah yeah and she she could be fierce but the two of them were the
41:19
three of them really it was elton sheila and der fred stepfather they were an amazing trio i
41:26
mean they they were so close and uh yeah they’d have rao’s elm elton
41:31
and his mom i mean i remember went out and you know it was like he wasn’t being funny he said you can’t call me reg
41:36
anymore this is it and he changed his name by deed pole yeah so that even his mum’s gotta call him elton now which at
41:43
the time to be honest was like what what the that all about you know
41:48
so he he almost became a parody of himself in a way he changed his
41:54
identity completely to what he molded himself into you could be a reporter with that sort
42:00
of with that sort of talk exactly whether that’s a compliment i
42:05
say i whether that whether that’s the guy that he always no
42:10
you see it’s interesting isn’t it because that guy he invented and became yeah
42:16
but it’s true i mean he wasn’t born that guy he was born reginald kennedy but he obviously thought first of all he didn’t
42:21
think he was booked you know there was lots of other things about his personality that didn’t go
42:27
along with how he was born if you like no because you you you uh mentioned in in another podcast
42:34
that um when he came back from america he his persona had onstage persona had
42:41
changed he was sort of getting up from the piano and
42:47
and you found that’s what’s amazing he became the person that he wanted to be yeah i
42:52
mean you know caleb he wrote caleb out of his will as well because caleb called him uh billy bunter you know i mean
42:59
and and if you look back at pictures of elton i mean all right he wasn’t cliff richard but or elvis but he didn’t look
43:05
that bad but what was the what was the thing was that elton is the pianist and
43:11
really when he was doing the hook foot uh tours he would not talk much he’d just sit there and play he was well into
43:17
the music i mean it wasn’t you know to be to get up and start even clapping your hands you people would go
43:24
what the are you doing you know we were all into the music the music was what was important you know he’s a great
43:29
songwriter a great singer but not a bad singer an amazing musician but
43:34
you know it was all about the music not being some sort of outrageous performer yeah but obviously in his head the
43:40
people he loved which we didn’t know were little richard were jerry lee lewis were liberace you know i
43:48
mean he used to play down the park and he’d be doing all that so we didn’t know that was part of elton’s personal i mean
43:54
he was an outrageous character yeah but we didn’t know really what out i didn’t know what outrage just was anyway so he
44:00
wore all these funny shirts and would try and put his hand down your trousers but he didn’t quite know what what that was what was going on there but
44:07
when he came back from the states because i didn’t go to that first tour steve went
44:12
and uh i wasn’t at the troubadour you know but what we did see was this picture of elton stood up
44:19
banging a tambourine on his bum and it said dylan digs elton and uh that was the first time he had a
44:26
headline of the melody maker i went to see them at the revolution club first time i’d
44:32
seen the band rehearse i’ve never seen him play and my story is that uh during this rock and roll medley that elton did
44:38
he got up off the p he’s caught up from the piano and started walking around the stage i thought well is he going in the toilet what the he doing and he’s
44:45
got a tambourine and he’s banging it on his bum i thought this is embarrassing i could not bear to watch i thought
44:51
me he’s blowing it this time is he mad anyway i’m looking around people are clapping along
44:58
i thought well it they seem to like it but that was the first time because they don’t know it’s true for sona they think
45:04
that’s him that’s what he does well it was taking a risk because they could
45:09
have gone boo you know but to be honest what it was was when he went out to america he was
45:15
determined to be a success yeah and he was determined not to be he was determined not to be you know not
45:22
to be ignored anymore i mean he wasn’t dressed up as donald duck he was wearing dungarees he looked like a rock guy
45:29
and and in america anyway they loved it they went mad yeah and he a lot of his songs did have a bit
45:35
of an american absolutely sort of tinsel even the early ones yeah tomboy connection country comforts and it’s all
45:42
about the american west i mean you see that’s how we get into talking about because i can talk about it
45:48
forever the thing is that the elton john bernie taupin
45:54
relationship is it’s genius it’s just amazing it’s incredible because elton is singing
46:01
he’s not singing his words his words were taught and colored lady and uh tide will
46:06
turn for rebecca some really weird songs with actually his lyrics and john’s name yes terrible really well we didn’t think
46:13
they were that what about lady samantha was that his lady cement that’s a very good question
46:18
that’s like a tiger it must have been elton’s yeah do you know what i’m not sure i think i think it might have been
46:24
caleb elton i don’t think that’s a bernie talk no i don’t know that
46:30
that’s not good is it i don’t think it is bernie talking but they met the same year that i joined
46:36

but the thing is that it’s incredible really because elton singing those
46:42
words which makes him even more of a a great artist really because he’s
46:48
singing these very deep poetic lyrics you know yeah no one’s thinking ah but you didn’t write that
46:55
they you know it’s him that’s singing it so as far as they can maybe did write it yeah i mean the music is i mean it’s
47:02
just as good as the lyrics isn’t it i mean you put them together they’re a total marriage yeah yeah and the thing is that
47:08
it also made elton write those those lyrics kind of formed this new these new
47:14
songs you know he was very loyal wasn’t he he’s very loyal he’s very generous
47:20
he’s very everything yeah absolutely i mean davey johnston dean murray nigel laughs
47:27
and ray cooper they weren’t all on every album but they do appear on
47:34
you know they sort of come and go or they appear on a couple of tracks like through the years
47:40
sorry d won’t be he’s dead yeah sadly no the thing is that um
47:46
it i see i study star star signs and i’m very into them so air
47:52
is aries is one that i know rather well elton aries and i i relate to his character so i
47:59
relate to his character even more understanding it because of my own character so when something’s working
48:06
you know what’s the point in changing it so yeah elton was always in the more in the
48:12
earlier days i mean you know he’s got his band now and he’s retiring apparently so he’s not likely to change
48:19
things that much then in the early days he was always looking to improve you know he would never be standing
48:26
still he’d always be looking to improve with the songs and uh and of course he had the nigel
48:32
i mean the first store i did was only nigel it was a three piece so it was nigel
48:37
uh dean and elton and it was an amazing three piece and he didn’t take caleb on
48:42
that tour because actually uh to be honest caleb’s
48:48
um ego was bigger than elton’s if you like and i think uh caleb was getting bit fed up with being
48:54
known as elton’s um back-up band and and probably almost getting a bit fed up with being
49:00
three-minute guitar so i was all over the place yeah so when they went to america he didn’t take a guitarist which
49:05
was pretty weird i mean i i went to the rehearsals i was looking around for caleb where the hell is he oh no he’s not yeah we don’t talk
49:12
he’s not in this man but because it was a three-piece band it meant the piano could be blasting it’s got nothing in
49:19
the way and it was an amazing sound so i think that really added to this uh
49:25
the whole beginning of it really so did they fall out over that or
49:30
well i don’t they didn’t fall out verbally or anything it was just i mean in those days it was like when i was in
49:36
a band what used to do if you wanted to to kick someone out the band is you go and form another band without them
49:41
actually i just remember that’s probably what he did yeah you go and form another band without them and so you didn’t actually
49:48
have to kick them out but um anyway then davey because they because they we done uh you know davey
49:54
was working in the studio with elton yeah and uh they were going down you know and he was
50:00
getting pali without any great it wasn’t an electric guitar as he was only playing he was in folk man’s davey
50:07
didn’t even have an electric guitar elton gave him a les paul that he bought at manny’s that he couldn’t really get
50:13
to grips with and and then it became this four piece which in the early days and that’s the
50:19
tour i did as well with the four four piece and of course davian and nigel and
50:24
dee you know put them out of uh giant a little bit because you know they were quite happy as a three piece we don’t
50:30
need a guitar so that that took a little while but davey’s been there 50 years so
50:36
and he’s an amazing guy amazing guitarist and amazing arranger and
50:42
and and uh and you’re right elton is very generous
50:47
kiki d he says he’s generous he says if you like his house he’ll give it to you i’ve got a tape you see called the
50:53
murray tape because i told you elton is a total uh he’s a real comedian and so in the
50:58
studio he’d be he’d start because he gets bored elton yeah you know if something doesn’t happen like that he
51:05
gets bored and he’d be waiting for gus to run the table and the mill which we haven’t talked about no it was
51:11
this million pound studio that gus built phenomenal place and uh and got an elton’s out there
51:17
doing the um doing the single man album no not single man album
51:23
now it wasn’t with gus when we were talking about it was when we were doing the single man album and now and clive was producing
51:29
and he’d be out there going look at this place look at it look expect to see all flynn swinging anyway he put on
51:35
this jewish sort of accent and i’ve got it’s about half an hour long call it the murray team
51:40
and um it’s hilarious i’d love to hear that yeah so you you
51:46
engineered on that album didn’t you i did yes yeah so that must have been
51:51
quite easy without them at the mill we did what what oh that was at the mill was it yeah
51:57
oh yeah absolutely that’s one of my stories when we ran out then he ran out of tape when we were recording song for
52:02
guy one of my stories like i don’t know i’m knackered now i don’t think i could do that now really
52:09
well i could do it you want it then yeah go on yeah all right here we go so this is the song for guys story yeah
52:15
right well clive is my big buddy and he’s been on the road with elton now and doing the out front sound
52:22
and then um yeah i don’t know why he wasn’t using gus because gus has built the mill gas
52:28
is very busy doing all these things and for one reason or another elton was going to come yeah i don’t even know how that
52:34
happened maybe elton couldn’t face another three months of making an album so it’s a clive let’s do it so anyway book the
52:41
mill and um and we start recording uh what became
52:46
the single man album anyway we’ve been recording during the day and all day
52:52
uh now and again out and said oh before we go i just got this i got an idea of a thing i want to put down
52:57
all right anyways about 11 o’clock it’s only me and clive we’re all packing away and elton suddenly goes oh i want
53:02
to get look i just when it won’t take five minutes you know just want to record this song so i stick
53:09
a bit of multi-track on i think well i’ll put multi-track on at least you never know elton goes out there clive just me clive
53:16
and ellen he starts playing this tune
53:21
funny old melody really but it’s nice quite like he’s not singing it’s an instrumental i think he’s a brilliant pianist but
53:28
anyway he kept making mistakes he’d only get about 10 seconds in and he makes a blob or
53:34
something so we rewind the tape he goes again
53:40
another blob you know and he’s getting he’s starting to go a little bit red because he he said this wouldn’t
53:46
take long and he doesn’t like getting annoyed with himself yeah he’s getting annoyed with himself yeah anyway so but
53:52
to not i can carry on that part of it for quite some time but i won’t other to
53:57
say other than to say he now is playing dun du du du du dun and he’s been going for
54:03
quite a while and i look down and it’s not i didn’t only put a bit of tape on
54:08
i think you know it must be enough can’t be that long can i well as it turned out he’s still playing
54:14
down to the end and it and i look round and it’s it’s really really not much tape left oh my god and so now
54:21
we’re just thinking of the scenario that he’s spent all his time it’s the first time he’s got this far into the
54:28
track into the song what if i run out of tape
54:34
it’s it doesn’t bear thinking about that volcano is gonna go so now me and clive were really
54:41
always starting to sweat you know walk around and i’m looking at it and i don’t know if you ever worked on
54:46
on reel to real before though but um it’s hard to actually see
54:51
how much tape you’ve actually got left because there’s like a a rim or whatever you’re like sellotape
54:57
you think oh there’s plenty of that’s it when you’re wrapping up there it seems to be going faster now faster than 30 inches per second which is quite
55:04
a lot anyway and we’re going what the help you know how to does he look like he’s going to stop no well how much
55:10
tape you got well i don’t know it’s no word of a lie he finished the
55:16
last note and the tape ran out just got it as he was
55:21
[Music] and we both collapsed on the floor and elton’s like did you get it
55:28
yes actually we told him this story i i never told him the story although i told
55:33
everyone else yeah a few years ago he couldn’t have been less interested it was like the most boring story ever in his life
55:39
but um but from that though the thing is though he then put another piano on and then he
55:45
put another piano on and this fairly innocent whatever the word is sort of
55:51
instrumental developed into this hit record i think it was number one
55:57
i think it was being played on the radio somewhere in the world now you know so it did become a bit of a
56:04
an amazing track yeah inspired by a motorbike accident the death of a
56:10
courier for rocket records is that right which some people thought was actually because it’s called song for guy
56:16
and apparently guy the gorilla had also died at london zoo and people thought he wrote it about
56:22
the gorilla right but it was about this yeah this um
56:29
yeah he he dedicated it to the uh office boy who got killed on his motorbike yeah
56:35
yeah yeah that is very sad yeah yeah um
56:40
i would like to mention claggers oh my goodness so
56:46
when you’re still working at djm well i can tell you anyway so what we used to do we’re very naughty boys we
56:52
had the key to dick james music or someone did i did or clive did or someone did so at weekends me me clive
57:00
and jeff titmus who was now the office warrior so jeff tipless because we went to school together there were different
57:05
ages so jeff titmus was now the office boy i was the disc cutter clive was in the studio and we
57:12
all play we’re all musicians so um weekends would come what should we do let’s go up the dick’s gaff so we used
57:19
to more or less break in actually i mean yeah we had the key but it was
57:24
pretty bad i can’t believe we did it now that i’m telling you and um and we just around you know there’d
57:30
be some instruments there we’d record we’d get stoned we’d play it backwards we’d have a great loon
57:36
anyway at some point at some point it got a bit more serious kaplan k
57:43
who’s a great guy he’s still a great guy his dad was an actor davey k he was a singer songwriter as well and
57:50
at some point we started getting together and doing things more seriously
57:56
and um but it’s not i’ve got some great stories i should write a book you ought to but
58:02
sort it out so anyway so i’ll give you something actually which i have got a cd
58:07
a talking book did i give you uh no i’ve listened to some of it i’m going to give you a copy of that amazon music yeah
58:12
make sure i give it oh thanks so that’s the whole elton story yeah so we need to talk about him it’s all on
58:18
there but uh it’s also about me as well anyway so right one day terrible day
58:24
comes we used to get memos in those days dick james would like to see all the
58:30
studio staff in his office at whatever it was 11 o’clock hell what it’s what is this
58:36
about so we all go in there me clive cap and jeff must have been
58:42
before us and we go in there and the first words are right
58:48
i’ve heard you’ve been coming in here at the weekends using the studio equipment without any authority
58:53
authorization yes dick and we’re thinking this is it we’re gonna get four i was gonna get fired he
59:00
said well what have you been doing so well we’ve been uh you know we’re like half talking you know and then he cried
59:07
we’ve been you know uh recording and uh he said oh have you well we better have
59:12
a listen then have you got anything i can hear it’s a cat goes out brings in a i think
59:19
it was a song called train song and uh we put it on and and dick’s he’s he’s yeah he said oh
59:26
it’s all right isn’t it he said so he said well we should put it out
59:32
i said oh and we’re sort of cheering up a bit now we’re actually going to be superstars we’re not getting uh
59:38
we’re not getting fired he said well have you got a name for the band or we weren’t a band and we certainly didn’t
59:43
have a name how the someone had the balls to come up with that we said
59:48
clackers because that was like this terrible name anyway i’m not even going to tell you what it means
59:54
but i can’t tell you i’m it’s some serious terrible thing called clagnut actually right it’s like
1:00:01
a something that can happen to you you’ll have to look it up anyway so this works so so caleb i think came up with
1:00:08
clangers so we see cloggers and he went oh well he said oh well as long as it doesn’t mean bollocks in the fiji islands or
1:00:14
something he said we’ll go for it and next minute we’re completing an album
1:00:20
uh called you know with the band called the claggers with the sleeve
1:00:27
[Music] yeah designed by the guy who did the who sleeve you know we’re using the whole of
1:00:32
djm’s um stuff well i’m still working for djm anyway so uh are you and well not now i
1:00:40
mean no i mean then i’ll edit that bit out
1:00:45
definitely so um well i wouldn’t mind it’d be nice to be working for someone
1:00:50
anyway so that was good that was plenty good fun but it was really done for a loon you know i mean actually you
1:00:57
can get the the quite sought after now you can get them on there yeah yeah well when i saw the the name
1:01:04
claggers i thought this is going to be like a a joke band you know like bonzo dog
1:01:10
doodah band sort of thing especially when i saw some titles like chumley’s laughing gear exactly it was all
1:01:17
supposed to be a laugh funny little fred funny little fred that’s people’s favorites yeah so i started calling eric
1:01:25
is calling whittington bly yeah that’s that’s kaplan’s captains are the more serious ones yeah i mean i i haven’t
1:01:32
heard the the whole album but i i have you got it man no it’s on youtube
1:01:38
and um yeah the great part is that we’re all still alive and yeah well that’s good so you could
1:01:45
have still got time for us we never know yeah caleb’s on it yeah he’s playing the guitar on it yeah
1:01:53
it’s it’s a good album it’s got some great vocals on it which i believe is you absolutely nice harmonies yeah i
1:01:59
think it’s the first records actually are you yeah yeah of course um
1:02:06
reminiscent of sort of um uh little feet the sort of rhythm you know you can’t say that
1:02:13
little feet one of the best bands ever but um yeah i should really have been a pop
1:02:19
star without a doubt do you ever
1:02:24
wish that you had pursued the performing route rather than the engineering producing yes yes then i
1:02:30
could own cook em rather than just living here um
1:02:36
to be honest i mean see i do albums with juliet uh well we’ve done an album we
1:02:42
we’ve sometimes performed she’s a singer songwriter and we write together and we’ve done like
1:02:48
um charity stuff and we’ve done some great stuff together i’ve got soundcloud site with a lot of it on
1:02:54
um i mean actually well because probably when i was a youngster i was more into it but
1:02:59
yeah i’m not i’m not i prefer studio i love the studio yeah so i’m not crazy about performing live no
1:03:06
and i think i would have retired by now had i been a pop star so um you know yeah i’m
1:03:14
prancing about on stage is not really what i’m
1:03:19
crazy about but prancing about in the studio i love the studio i love the studio
1:03:26
yes so should we move on to them i think we’re finished go on then
1:03:31
we could yeah let’s do another few few whatevers all right if we can we just part two
1:03:37
yeah well that would be great well that’s it for part one of the stewarteps interview
1:03:43
in part two i’ll be talking to stuart about how he came to be running the mill gustargen’s world leading recording
1:03:49
studio i’ve done everything been on tour with kiki i’ve fallen in love with a
1:03:57
girl who lived in an ice cream band in hawaii and i thought that’s for me
1:04:03
so i went to see gus telling him i’m leaving he said oh dear that’s a shame i’m building a studio i bought i’m
1:04:09
buying this place in them anything that gusted is going to be good so i said i’m i’m i’m with you i’m
1:04:15
coming on board the last zeppelin album is the first thing i did with jimmy and and he was he’s an amazing producer
1:04:22
really he’s a very intelligent guy with the code realm we did deathwish 2
1:04:29
which was pretty amazing project as well and then we did the phone which was definitely an amazing project with paul
1:04:35
rogers [Music] i was going to write a book called trouble at mill
1:04:41
[Music] there’s definitely a curse on that do you really believe it sorted yes
1:04:47
[Music] i brought him to the meal now he’s kicking me out
1:04:53
yeah so we had a good route about that but he’s a great big bull he is where is he
1:04:58
and that’s a taster of part two of the stuart epps interview which you can listen to next week on the rockface

Contact Stuart

About Stuart Epps

Record Producer Stuart Epps has worked with numerous recording artists including Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Oasis, Robbie Williams, Bill Wyman, Chris Rea, and George Harrison. With his extensive experience of producing top artists, Epps is giving new bands and solo artists music production help, from re-mixing home recordings to full studio productions – all at competitive rates. Epps also recently launched Epps Records.